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Extremist cops: how US law enforcement is failing to police itself

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Maddy Crowell and Sylvia Varnham O’Regan report in the Guardian:

Ever since he was a teenager, Joshua Doggrell has believed that the former slave-holding states of the American south should secede from the United States. When he was a freshman in college at the University of Alabama in 1995, Doggrell discovered a group whose worldview chimed with his – the League of the South. The League believes that white southern culture is in danger of extinction from forces such as religious pluralism, homosexuality, and interracial coupling. Doggrell wanted to protect that culture. In 2006, when he was 29 years old, he applied to be a police officer in Anniston, Alabama, a sparsely populated city at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, where more than half of the residents are people of colour. On his police application, Doggrell wrote that he was a member of the League. Shortly after, he was hired.

During nearly a decade on the police force, Doggrell was a vocal advocate for the League, working to recruit fellow officers to the group. He encouraged his colleagues to attend the League’s monthly meetings, which he held at a steakhouse not far from the police station. On Facebook, he posted neo-Confederate material, including a photo of an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and wrote that he was “against egalitarianism in all forms”. He often refused to be in the room when the department recited the pledge of allegiance in front of the American flag.

In 2013, Doggrell delivered the opening speech at the League’s annual conference, on how to “cultivate the good will” of police officers. “The vast majority of men in uniform are aware that they’re southerners,” Doggrell told the audience, which included the prominent neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach and another Anniston police officer Doggrell had recruited to the group. Doggrell added that most southern officers were “a lot closer” to joining the League than they were 10 or 15 years ago. “My department,” he added, “has been very supportive of me. I’ve somehow been promoted twice since I was there.”

“Everybody knew he was in the League of the South,” Matt Delozier, a retired sergeant from the Anniston police department, told us when we met him near Anniston earlier this year. “I think the general consensus was that nobody understood – if you’re out here in law enforcement in a supervisor’s role, why are you involved in this group?” But it wasn’t until 2015, when a leaked video of Doggrell’s speech led to a report that went viral across the US, that the city’s manager fired him. (Doggrell’s superiors did not raise any concerns over his conduct as an officer.) Doggrell went on to appeal the dismissal and sue both the city and the city manager, arguing that his termination had violated his constitutional rights.

Although it is unusual for a police officer to be so open about his involvement in an extremist organisation, for decades, anti-government and white-supremacist groups have been attempting to recruit police officers into their ranks. “It is something a lot of folks are overlooking,” says Vida B Johnson, an assistant professor of law at Georgetown University. “Police forces are becoming more interested in talking about implicit bias – the unconscious, racial biases we carry with us as Americans. But people aren’t really addressing the explicit biases that are present on police forces.”

According to Johnson’s research, there have been at least 100 different scandals, in more than 40 different states, involving police officers who have sent racist emails and text messages, or made racist comments on social media, since the 1990s. A recent investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from around the country were members of confederate, anti-government and anti-Islam groups on Facebook. But there is no official record of officers who are tied to white supremacist or other extremist groups because, in the US, there is no federal policy for screening or monitoring the country’s 800,000+ law enforcement officers for extremist views. The 18,000 or so police departments across the country are largely left to police themselves.

To much of the rest of the country, the town of Anniston, Alabama is primarily known as the site of a traumatic episode in the American civil rights movement. On 14 May 1961, the Freedom Riders, a group of black and white civil rights activists, arrived by bus in Anniston to protest segregation. They were attacked by a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen, who slashed the bus’s tyres, broke its windows and set fire to it in an attempt to kill the protesters. Even though the Anniston police department was only a block away, the officers didn’t show up on the scene until the early afternoon, and made no arrests.

Today, Anniston remains sharply divided along racial lines. The majority of the city’s black community lives south-west of downtown, in run-down, single-storey houses. East of the city centre, manicured lawns and picket fences adorn the predominantly white neighbourhood. Although roughly 50% of the city’s 24,000 residents are black, the people who govern the city are mostly white. “It always comes down to leadership,” said David E Reddick, one of the city’s two black council members and a former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, when we met in his office. “You’ve got a city where you’ve got three whites and two blacks on the council, and you need three votes to get anything done.”

“Blacks are being targeted in this city,” Reddick continued. According to the city’s other black council member, Ben Little, its officers regularly pull black people over for minor offences such as traffic violations. Little also said that members of the police department had often intimidated and harassed him, or stood by while others did. After being particularly vocal in his criticisms of police abuses in 2012, he woke up one morning to find caution tape wrapped like a noose around his truck. When Little and Reddick voiced their concerns about local policing two years ago, the local newspaper, the Anniston Star, responded with the headline: “NAACP leaders, with little evidence, claim racism by police, courts”.

Joshua Doggrell claims that his views are not unusual in Anniston. “My people are Southern people and we grew up proud of our Southern heritage,” he told us, when we met him at a restaurant where he used to host League of the South meetings. He is solidly built, with a round, puffy face, and drove a black pickup truck with Confederate flags on the front bumper. He insisted that he was not a racist or a white supremacist, and claims that he had ceased his involvement with the League by early 2015, but admitted he thought “there are some things the white race did better throughout the history of mankind, like governing”. He couched his extremist views in careful terms, often centred on his religious beliefs: he wasn’t “against blacks”, he claimed – he just didn’t believe God had created the races to be mixed.

Doggrell presented himself as a victim who had been wronged by the city when he was fired from the police department. When he joined the force in 2006, none of his superiors flagged his membership in the League of the South as an issue, he told us. (The police department refused multiple requests for interviews.) Three years later, Doggrell started a local chapter of the League, and invited a number of fellow officers to its first meeting. At the meeting, the League’s founder, a former history professor named Michael Hill, argued that the time had come for a new civil war. “The way I look at it,” Hill told the group, “This is round two of the same battle.”

The department’s tolerance for Doggrell seemed to be mirrored by some of the local press. When Doggrell held his League chapter’s first meeting, in an Anniston diner, he invited a reporter from the Anniston Star to cover it. The Star published a 380-word account of the meeting that read like the announcement of a new seniors’ night at the bingo hall: “Local Secessionists Hold 1st Meeting.”

But several people of colour in Anniston recognised Doggrell’s name in the report and were alarmed. Abdul Khalil’llah, the director of an Anniston-based civil rights organisation, sent letters to the Alabama attorney general’s office and the US secretary of homeland security in April 2009. “I was basically astonished to hear that a police officer – someone who’d taken an oath to uphold the law – could be in a neo-Confederate type of organisation,” Khalil’llah said.

Khalil’llah’s letters went unanswered, but in response to his complaints, the Anniston police department decided to conduct an internal investigation into Doggrell later that year. A few officers had found Doggrell’s views odd, but the department decided to take no action against him. “He is a dedicated, professional police officer,” then police chief, John Dryden, wrote in a report. “He has never showed any radical action in his duties as a police officer.” It was not a concern to the police department that Doggrell was part of an organisation that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors rightwing extremist organisations, had labelled a “hate group” since 2000. (The SPLC “can label anything”, Dryden wrote in the report.)

Not long after the investigation, Doggrell was promoted to sergeant and then, a few years later, to lieutenant. Doggrell’s former boss, Layton McGrady, acknowledged at a 2015 hearing into Doggrell’s dismissal that Doggrell’s association with the League of the South wasn’t a factor when he was up for promotion. Asked why not, McGrady said it “didn’t affect his job performance or the police department”.

While not every police officer who is tied to a white supremacist group will necessarily act out their beliefs violently, the presence of even a single radicalised officer can terrorise a community. “Even if the number of officers is numerically small, because of the intense risks posed of having a ticking time bomb like that in a department, that’s a big deal,” said Brian Levin, a former NYPD officer who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in California.

In a number of cases, ideologically radicalised police officers have gone on to commit extreme forms of violence. In one of the most disturbing cases, a civil rights lawsuit from 1991 alleged that a group of officers from the Los Angeles county sheriff’s department systematically terrorised and harassed minority residents by vandalising their homes, beating and torturing them, and even killing members of the community. The accused officers turned out to be members of the Lynwood Vikings, a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang”, according to a federal judge. (The county settled the case for $9m.) In 2012, an officer in Little Rock, Arkansas who had once attended a KKK meeting, shot and killed a 15-year-old black boy. Earlier this year, in Holton, Michigan, an officer was fired after a framed KKK application and Confederate flags were discovered in his home.

“Since the inception of this nation, black people have been under threat from the police,” said Whitney Shepard, who works at the DC-based organisation Stop Police Terror Project. “There’s not really ever been a time in this country where the police have protected our communities.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2019 at 4:22 pm

The Law Says She Should Have Been Protected From Birth. Instead, She Was Left in the Care of Her Drug-Addicted Mother, Who Killed Her.

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Governments in the US are not doing their job and in fact are betraying the public. That’s harsh and not entirely true, but examples of the failure of government are myriad, including those described in this ProPublica report by Emily Palmer and Jessica Huseman:

KOSCIUSKO, Miss. — The adults in her life began failing Jasmine Irwin before she ever left the hospital.

Born severely underweight — just 4 pounds, 3 ounces — to a mother with a history of dealing and abusing methamphetamine, Jasmine might have been exposed to drugs in the womb, doctors believed, which should have jump-started intensive efforts to keep her safe.

But hospital records show staff never followed up, failing to conduct drug tests on the baby or her mother, Tami Mann, before letting Mann take Jasmine home to the family’s trailer in this small town north of the state capital.

Countless children live with neglectful or abusive caretakers, which is why federal law requires states to ensure that certain professionals — like doctors and police officers — intercede when they suspect a child is in danger.

But a national survey by The Boston Globe and ProPublica found that not a single state fully complies with the nation’s primary child abuse law for children who are not in state custody. Mississippi is a significant offender. During Jasmine Irwin’s life, the state violated the law in multiple ways. For example, the state did not have procedures in place to protect infants affected by their mother’s drug use when Jasmine Irwin was born on Christmas Eve 2013.

And so she went unprotected. For almost two years, Jasmine lived in a home plagued by her parents’ violence and addiction. Ten months after giving birth to Jasmine, Mann made clear that she was struggling to parent her children. When she entered drug rehab, she wrote on medical forms that the sight and smell of children triggered incredible anxiety for her.

But Mann’s cry for help didn’t bring the support she needed — including protections that could have started the day Jasmine was born. Instead, Mann, struggling with both addiction and domestic violence, snapped. One day in September 2015, Mann grabbed Jasmine by the legs and pounded her head first into the living room floor as Jasmine’s older brother watched.

“My mom just keeps being mean to her,” the 4-year-old boy told investigators at the time. “And, finally, she had to go to the doctor.”

Jasmine died three days later. Her short life casts a long shadow, marking her as a casualty of both a brutally dysfunctional family — and of America’s ongoing failure to effectively combat child abuse. The Globe and ProPublica reviewed thousands of pages of legal, criminal, medical and child welfare records, along with recorded interviews, to piece together a full picture of the failings that led to Jasmine’s death, an all-too-common tragedy.

Child abuse and neglect have never received the national attention of other American scourges such as AIDS and terrorism, even as an estimated 700,000 children are mistreated in the United States each year. It’s not that Americans don’t care about protecting children, but Congress and the White House have long regarded combating child abuse as a state or local concern rather than a national one. It is an attitude that goes back at least to the 1970s and the presidency of Richard Nixon.

And almost 50 years later, that ambivalence persists — down to the most basic understanding of the issue.

Today, the federal government doesn’t even know how many children die from abuse and neglect — or whether the death toll is rising or falling. The most commonly cited numbers, from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, put the death toll at 1,750 in 2016, the most recent year available, the highest total since the government started keeping track in 1992. But researchers believe that the voluntary reporting which yields that figure badly undercounts child deaths and that the real number of fatally mistreated children could be more than twice that: somewhere between 3,000 and 4,500 each year.

The nation’s primary child abuse law for children not in state custody, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974, was supposed to help address this tragic toll by requiring states to make public the name and some basic information on almost every child who died from abuse and neglect.

But when the Globe and ProPublica tried to obtain this information from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, nine simply refused to provide it, while many others released only some of what’s required. The result is a murky, incomplete picture that makes it impossible to calculate the national death toll.

And that’s only the beginning of how states are failing.

In addition to filing reports on child abuse, the law, known as CAPTA, requires states to create plans to protect infants affected by drugs and provide mistreated children with representatives in court proceedings, among dozens of other mandates, in order to receive federal dollars dedicated to child abuse prevention. But still, noncompliance runs rampant.

“Every single state,” said one leading child welfare expert, Michael Petit, is “vulnerable to successful class action litigation for being in violation of federal law, every single one of them.”

Vulnerable but also, strangely, protected. One glaring weak link in CAPTA is that it severely restricts lawsuits by private organizations, meaning children’s advocates can rarely file class action lawsuits to force change. As a result, attorneys have largely given up on using the federal law to protect children who have not been taken into state custody. By comparison, federal laws protecting foster children give advocates more power to sue to improve their care.

But the survey of state governments by the Globe and ProPublica, the first such national assessment of the law ever conducted, shows Petit’s assertion of noncompliance is spot on. Although states routinely file reports with the federal Children’s Bureau — the agency charged with enforcing the CAPTA requirements — broadly claiming to follow the law, the Globe and ProPublica’s survey shows that is not true. In fact, not a single state upholds all 27 provisions of the anti-child-abuse law.

The 76-question survey, which was answered by 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, focused on five key areas of CAPTA, including proper care for drug-affected infants. State responses to the survey suggest that many treat strict compliance with the federal law as optional. Mississippi’s record is nothing special — in fact, its level of compliance puts the state in the middle of the pack. As a result, vulnerable children across the country are left in the lurch.

Survey analysis revealed that:

  • 49 of the 52 child protection agencies surveyed don’t follow federal rules to protect babies affected by drugs during their mother’s pregnancy.
  • 49 of the states as well as Puerto Rico are unable to show that they follow rules mandating that children receive representation for any court proceedings regarding their possible mistreatment. The result is that, far too often, no one speaks for the best interests of the mistreated child.
  • 45 agencies, including Mississippi’s, do not comply with three or more of the five CAPTA mandates that the Globe and ProPublica asked about. Yet, almost every state, including Mississippi, routinely files letters with the federal Children’s Bureau claiming to follow the law in order to be eligible for federal funding.
  • Six agencies, including those in Florida and Michigan, do not comply with any of the federal rules the Globe and ProPublica asked about. And not one agency was found fully compliant with the federal law.

The Globe and ProPublica monitored state compliance with the five provisions over the course of two years, contacting about 100 agencies in the process. Some states seemed almost to welcome the rankings, even if the findings made them look bad. Louisiana was found fully compliant with just two of the measured CAPTA provisions, but Catherine Heitman, a spokeswoman for the child welfare department, said that the new scrutiny could force systemwide improvements.

“We need help, we need funding,” she said. “And, hey, this might actually get us the help we need.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Mahatma Gandhi: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2019 at 8:21 pm

This is How a Society Dies

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Umir Haque writes at Medium:

When I ask my European friends to describe us — Americans, Brits, who I’ll call Anglo-Americans in this essay — they shake their heads gently. And over and over, three themes emerge. They say we’re a little thoughtless. They say we’re selfish and arrogant. And they say that we’re cruel and brutal.

I can’t help but think there’s more than a grain of truth. That they’re being kind. Anglo-American society is now the world’s preeminent example of willful self-destruction. It’s jaw-dropping folly and stupidity is breathtaking to the rest of the world.

The hard truth is this. America and Britain aren’t just collapsing by the day…they aren’t even just choosing to collapse by the day. They’re entering a death spiral, from which there’s probably no return. Yes, really. Simple economics dictate that, just like they did for the Soviet Union — and I’ll come to them.

And yet what’s even weirder and more grotesque than that is that…wel…nobody much seems to have noticed. There’s a deafening silence from pundits and elites and columnists and politicians on the joint self-destruction of the Anglo-American world. Nobody seems to have noticed: the only two rich societies in the world with falling life expectancies, incomes, savings, happiness, trust — every single social indicator you can imagine — are America and Britain. It’s not one of history’s most improbable coincidences that America and Britain are collapsing in eerily similar ways, at precisely the same time. It’s a relationship. What connects the dots?

Let me pause to note that my European friends’ first criticism — that we’re thoughtless — is therefore accurate. We’re not even capable of noticing — much less understanding — our twin collapse. Our entire thinking and leadership class seems not to have even noticed, like idiots grinning and dancing, setting their own house on fire. They are simply going on pretending it isn’t happening — that the English speaking world isn’t fast becoming something very much like the new Soviet Union.

So what caused this joint collapse? How did the English speaking world end up like the new Soviet Union? To understand that point, consider the fact that you yourself probably think that’s an overstatement. But it’s an empirical reality. The Soviet Union stagnated for thirty years. America’s stagnated for fifty, and Britain for twenty. The Soviet Union couldn’t provide basics for its citizens — hence the famous breadlines. In America, people beg each other for money to pay for insulin and antibiotics, decent food is unavailable in vast swathes of the country, and retirement and paying off one’s debt are impossibilities: just like in the Soviet Union, basics are becoming both unavailable and unaffordable. What happens? People…die.

(The same is true in Britain. In both societies, upwards of 20% of children live in poverty, the middle class has imploded, and upward mobility has all but vanished. These are Soviet statistics — lethally real ones.)

Politics, too, has become a sclerotic Soviet affair. Anglo-American societies aren’t really democracies in any sensible meaning of the word anymore. They’re run by and for a class of elites, who could care less, literally, whether the average person lives or dies. In America, that class is a bizarre coterie of Ivy Leaguers pretending to be aw-shucks-good-ole-boys on the one side, like Ted Cruz, and Ivy Leaguers pretending to be do-gooders on the other, like Zuck and Silicon Valley. In Britain, it’s the notorious public school boys, the Etonians and Oxbridge set.

That brings me to arrogance. What’s astonishing about our elites is how…arrogant they are…and how ignorant they are…at precisely the same time. Finland just elected a 34 year old woman as a Prime Minister from the Social Democrats. Finland is a society that outperforms ours in every way — every way — imaginable. Finnish happiness is way, way higher — and so is life expectancy, mobility, savings, real incomes, trust, among others. And yet instead of learning a thing from a miracle like that, our elites profess to know a better way…while they’ve run our societies into the ground. What the? Hubris would be an understatement. I don’t think the English language has a word for this weird, fatal combination of arrogance amidst ignorance. Maybe cocksure stupidity comes close.

And yet our elites have succeeded in one vital task — what an Emile Durkheim might have called “social reproduction.” They’ve managed to reproduce society in their image. What does the average Anglo-American aspire to be, do, have? To be rich, powerful, careless, selfish, and dumb, now, mostly. We don’t, as societies or cultures, value learning or knowledge or magnanimity or great and noble things, anymore. We shower millions on reality TV stars and billions on “investment bankers.” The average person has become a tiny microcosm of the aspirations and norms of elites — they’re not curious, empathetic, decent, humane, noble, kind, in pursuit of wisdom, truth, beauty, meaning, purpose. We’ve become cruel, indecent, obscene, comically shallow, and astonishingly foolish people.

That’s not some kind of jeremiad. It’s an objective, easily observed truth. Who else in a rich society denies their neighbours healthcare and retirement? Nobody. Who else denies their own kids education? Nobody. Who else denies themselves childcare and elderly care? Nobody. Who else doesn’t want safety nets, opportunities, mobility, protection, savings, higher incomes? Nobody. Literally nobody on planet earth wants worse lives excepts us. We’re the only people on earth who thwart our own social progress, over and over again — and cheer about it.

How did we become these people? How did we become tiny microcosms of our arrogant, ignorant, breathtakingly stupid elites? Because we are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2019 at 11:14 am

The ‘Russia Hoax’ Is a Hoax

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Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic:

If you are following mainstream news outlets, you know that in 2016, Donald Trump benefited from a Russian hacking and disinformation campaign designed to help him get elected, even as he sought permission from the Russian government to build a hotel in Moscow. You know that he deflected blame from Russia for that campaign, even as he sought to benefit from it politically. You know that shortly after the election, Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office that he didn’t mind their efforts on his behalf, inviting further interference. And you know that while those acts may not have amounted to criminal conspiracy, the president’s insistence that there was “no collusion” flies in the face of established facts.

If you are ensconced in the pro-Trump-propaganda universe of Fox News and its spawn, you know something different. You know that the Russia investigation was a “hoax” developed by the “deep state” and the media, an attempt by a fifth column within the FBI to engage in a “coup,” a conspiracy, a frame job, “nothing less than the attempted overthrow of the U.S. government.” Any evidence of wrongdoing by the president, in this universe, has been manufactured by Trump’s shadowy and powerful enemies—George Soros, liberals in the FBI, Barack Obama.

The belief that Trump is the victim of a vast and ongoing conspiracy is a crucial element of the president’s enduring appeal to his supporters. If the allegations against the president are all completely false, then his supporters can continue to back him with a clear conscience, because anything and everything negative they hear about the president must be false. The consistency of that message is more important than the actual details, which frequently end up contradicting complex explanations for the president’s innocence that are often incongruous with each other, such as the insistence that Robert Mueller’s investigation was a “total exoneration” of the president, but also “total bullshit.”

The Department of Justice inspector general’s probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, which was released Monday, found no evidence that any of the Trump conspiracy theories surrounding the origin of the investigation are true. The investigation was not launched on Obama’s orders, it was not an effort by pro–Hillary Clinton FBI agents to prevent Trump from getting elected, and it was not predicated on the existence of opposition research gathered by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The president’s defenders have taken to referring to the entire investigation as “the Russia hoax,” insisting that the entire investigation was an effort by “persons within the FBI and Barack Obama’s Justice Department” who “worked improperly to help elect Clinton and defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.” But the IG report shows that the “Russia hoax” defense is itself a hoax, and a highly successful one, aimed at reassuring Trump supporters who might otherwise be troubled by the president’s behavior.

The inconsistencies and contradictions of the “Russia hoax” narrative appear not to trouble the president’s supporters. Rather, as George Orwell wrote in 1944, “For quite long periods, at any rate, people can remain undisturbed by obvious lies, either because they simply forget what is said from day to day or because they are under such a constant propaganda bombardment that they become anaesthetized to the whole business.” The numbness to every new Trump revelation, no matter how shocking, is in part a product of the president’s success in fatiguing anyone who might be interested in what the facts are.

The IG report knocked down the various claims that Trump and his allies have made, one by one. The report confirmed that the Russia investigation originated, as has been previously reported, with the Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos bragging to an Australian diplomat about Russia possessing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, which the IG determined “was sufficient to predicate the investigation.” The widespread conservative belief that the investigation began because of the dubious claims in the Steele dossier was false. “Steele’s reports played no role” in the opening of the Russia investigation, the report found, because FBI officials were not “aware of Steele’s election reporting until weeks later.”

Republicans’ claim that the investigation began because the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain permission to surveil the former Trump campaign aide Carter Page was false. The IG also “did not find any records” that Joseph Mifsud, the professor who told Papadopoulos the Russians had obtained “dirt” on Clinton, was an FBI informant sent to entrap him. The former FBI agent Peter Strzok and the former FBI attorney Lisa Page, who shared anti-Trump sentiments over text and have become key villains in the Trumpist narrative of a “coup,” never had the power to do what has been attributed to them. The IG report notes that Page “did not play a role in the decision to open” the Russia investigation, and that Strzok was “was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker as to any of those matters.”

The IG report also determined that “the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened [the Russia investigation] to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity.” Moreover, the IG found “no evidence” that “political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions” to investigate Trump advisers with ties to Russia.

There is, in short, no “deep state” anti-Trump conspiracy, no network of perfidious liberals in the FBI seeking to take down Trump. There is, however, voluminous evidence of reprehensible behavior by the president, first taking advantage of a foreign attack on the 2016 election for personal and political profit, seeking to obstruct the investigation into that interference, and then falsely concocting an elaborate conspiracy theory to avoid accountability for his actions.

Nevertheless, there are important systemic problems with the FBI and the way that the U.S. government approves invasive surveillance techniques on American citizens. The report notes that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2019 at 1:15 pm

New York City Paid McKinsey Millions to Stem Jail Violence. Instead, Violence Soared.

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So of course McKinsey returned the money because they failed to deliver the contracted benefit. (Just joking — of course McKinsey kept the money and, I’ll wager, try to extend the contract to deal with the upsurge in violence.) Ian MacDougall reports in ProPublica:

In April 2017, partners from McKinsey & Company sent a confidential final report to the New York City corrections commissioner. They had spent almost three years leading an unusual project for a white-shoe corporate consulting firm like McKinsey: Attempting to stem the tide of inmate brawls, gang slashings and assaults by guards that threatened to overwhelm the jail complex on Rikers Island.

The report recounted that McKinsey had tested its new anti-violence strategy in what the firm called “Restart” housing units at Rikers. The results were striking. Violence had dropped more than 50% in the Restart facilities, the McKinsey partners wrote.

The number was bogus. Jail officials and McKinsey consultants had jointly rigged the Restart program in its earliest phase to all but guarantee there would be few violent episodes, according to documents and interviews. They stacked the units with inmates they believed to be compliant and unlikely to get into fights or to attack staff.

Publicly, McKinsey and top corrections officials touted the drop in violence in these units as an early sign of their project’s success — without disclosing that they had tilted the scale in favor of that result. After McKinsey handed off the inmate selection process, about a year into the firm’s work at Rikers, jail officials continued to manipulate the population of the Restart units to keep their violence numbers low.

In October of this year, the New York City Council voted to approve Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to close Rikers. The vote occurred during the same month that a federal monitor, appointed by a court to oversee reform at Rikers, revealed that violence by jail guards there continues to worsen. Overall, using the metrics employed by McKinsey, jailhouse violence has risen nearly 50% since the firm began its assignment.

The full story of how New York City came to pay McKinsey $27.5 million only to abandon many of the firm’s recommendations and decide to shut Rikers has never been told. A ProPublica investigation, based on interviews with 36 people, half of whom worked directly on the project, as well as more than 10,000 pages of project documents, internal emails and other records, reveals that problems dogged the project at every stage.

Among the issues that plagued the project: McKinsey, which had never before advised a jail or prison system, made data errors that further undercut the results it reported from Restart units. The firm also persuaded the Department of Correction to spend millions on the sorts of advanced data analytics favored by McKinsey’s corporate clients. The department never ended up using many of the those data products, some of which simply did not work very well.

What happened at Rikers is a cautionary tale of a public-sector consulting boom that has emerged over the past decade. In recent years, government agencies across the United States have entrusted management consultants with more and more facets of public administration, from designing school systems to shaping Medicaid policy. Public-sector consulting in North America is a more than $9 billion industry, with an average yearly growth rate of about half a billion dollars, according to ALM Intelligence, which monitors the consulting business. McKinsey was anxious to expand into a potentially lucrative branch of public-sector work, corrections consulting, according to a former McKinsey consultant who worked on the project.

A McKinsey spokesman defended the firm’s work. “The Restart program had a significantly positive impact in the housing areas of the jails in which the program was piloted,” he said. “These units experienced substantial reductions in violence as measured against comparably classified inmate populations.” He added that morale among corrections staff assigned to the Restart units improved.

The spokesman denied that McKinsey’s consultants were involved in or aware of efforts to “improperly skew or reduce the reported levels of violence in the Restarts.” He added, “We stand behind our team’s professionalism and integrity, and the results of their work.”

The Department of Correction referred a request for comment to the mayor’s office. A spokeswoman there, Avery Cohen, maintained that the decision to hire McKinsey was sound and denied that city officials were involved in manipulating Restart units. “We sought the help of an outside firm for a singular purpose: to reduce the level of violence against staff and inmates and improve the safety of our overall facilities,” Cohen wrote in a statement. “We stand by the reduced rates of violence we saw in our Restart Units.”

But the gaming of the Restart units was confirmed by Joseph Ponte, who was the corrections commissioner from 2014 to 2017 and trumpeted the Restart results in public hearings. In a deposition last year, Ponte was asked whether he had been told that the teams running the Restart units “were cherry-picking docile inmates” to ensure that rates of violence would fall.

“We did that, so that wasn’t news,” Ponte testified. “I was well aware of how we were selecting inmates in the Restarts — very carefully. It was a new process for us, and we wanted it to be successful.”

McKinsey was hired in the wake of media reports in early 2014 that revealed an alarming rise in violence at Rikers. In just two years, the most serious inmate violence and use of force by guards had both jumped more than 50%. The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan began threatening to take legal action to force reforms.

De Blasio, then just a few months into his first term as mayor, faced a groundswell of outrage. His top deputy, Anthony Shorris, and other aides decided to hire a consulting firm. They solicited proposals from firms on a pre-approved list from the previous administration. Despite its lack of corrections experience, McKinsey won the contract.

The mayor’s aides saw hiring a firm like McKinsey as a way to stave off the need for a federal jail monitor, three current and former corrections officials recall from meetings with them. Hiring McKinsey also offered political cover, those sources said, and the imprimatur of having a respected firm tackle the problem.

McKinsey was selected because of its reputation for “dealing with complex organizations” and its history of working with New York City government, according to Shorris, who left the de Blasio administration in late 2017. McKinsey, for example, had previously prepared a report on 9/11 emergency preparedness and, during the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had consulted for the New York Police Department on a reorganization and modernization.

The mayor’s office denied that McKinsey was hired partly to provide political or legal cover, as did Shorris, who is now a senior adviser to McKinsey and teaches at Princeton University.

Early on, the consultants took steps to avoid transparency. At McKinsey’s behest, a few top consultants and corrections officials communicated using Wickr, an encrypted messaging app that automatically deletes messages within hours or days. Ponte and his chief of staff, Jeff Thamkittikasem, downloaded Wickr, a spokeswoman for the mayor said, but neither could recall using it “in any significant way.”

But one person with direct knowledge of the practice said corrections officials and McKinsey consultants exchanged project documents over Wickr. That shielded portions of McKinsey’s work from government oversight bodies and public records requests. “It seems like there’s an intentional act to evade that system of accountability,” said Douglas Cox, an expert on public records law at the City University of New York School of Law. (A spokesman for McKinsey did not dispute that Wickr was used, adding, “our policies require colleagues to adhere to all relevant laws and regulations.”)

McKinsey’s work began in September 2014 with a $1.8 million contract and an ambitious mission: to determine the causes of violence at Rikers and propose solutions.

Almost immediately, signs emerged that McKinsey’s corporate orientation made for an awkward fit. When the consultants pitched Ponte on a proprietary workplace survey, they spotlighted how it helped lift output at a strip mine. “Productivity increased by 50%,” McKinsey’s pitch deck crowed. “~$180MM in annual run rate savings.”

As they formulated a reform plan, the consultants did not solicit the views of inmates, clinic staff or others with direct insights into drivers of violence. The closest the consultants came to interacting with the inmates during this stage was to watch them through Plexiglas from inside guard booths.

McKinsey began adopting the mindset of the correction officers, according to one of its consultants. The firm’s initiatives included facilitating the expanded use of Tasers, shotguns and K9 patrol dogs (“aggressive dogs,” in the words of one McKinsey presentation) at Rikers, a stance that seemed at odds with de Blasio’s claims of wanting to foster a more humane jail system. A McKinsey spokesman said these tactics were intended for use only in extreme situations and were designed to minimize injury while protecting inmate and staff safety.

At a 2015 meeting, a group of McKinsey consultants grew heated reviewing video of a jailhouse assault. There was talk of wanting to beat inmates to get the situation under control, according to a former McKinsey consultant with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Finally, Anish Melwani, a senior McKinsey partner, grew exasperated by the tough-guy posturing. “Guys, you’ve gone native,” the former consultant recalls him saying. “I think you’ve been spending too much time with the correctional officers.” A McKinsey spokesman said its team had no recollection of such a conversation. Melwani, who has since become CEO of luxury retailer LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s North American operations, said he did not recall the specific meeting or comment but “reviewing footage of incidents was a routine part of the work while I was involved, so such a meeting would not have been unique.”

By March 2015, McKinsey and corrections officials had settled on a strategy to curb jail violence, which they called the “14-Point Plan.”

The provisions were straightforward. They ranged from adding educational opportunities for inmates to improving staff training to revamping the internal affairs division.

Some observers thought the recommendations were obvious. “A lot of the points were things the department was saying before they had McKinsey say it,” said Elizabeth Crowley, who at the time chaired the City Council committee that oversaw the Department of Correction.

McKinsey “contributed” to the development of the 14-Point Plan, a spokeswoman for the mayor said, but corrections officials primarily drove its creation and its tenets pre-dated McKinsey.

Top city officials, pleased to have a reform strategy to present to the public, were untroubled. In the spring of 2015, the city extended McKinsey’s engagement, assigning the consultants a long-term task: to help Ponte implement the 14-Point Plan. The firm’s original $1.8 million contract had now grown to more than $6 million.

The Restart units were conceived in early 2015. Outside pressure to fix the city’s jails had increased. The United States attorney’s office had joined a lawsuit over civil rights abuses at Rikers, and city officials were embroiled in often contentious settlement negotiations. The mayor’s top deputy, Shorris, was impatient for signs of improvement.

A series of tense meetings with Shorris in February and March created a sense of urgency for Ponte and his staff. After one particularly stressful meeting, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Emphases added.

McKinsey seems very like a criminal organization dealing in fraud and coverups.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2019 at 12:30 pm

Trump’s Impeachment Is Partisan Because Republicans Changed Their Minds

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Donald Trump has been committing impeachable offenses since he took office. The president’s high-crimes spree has ranged from accepting undisclosed payments from interested parties to obstructing justice, undermining the law, and sundry abuses of power. Precisely why Democrats have decided to impeach him over these latest offenses is a matter of some controversy on two flanks. Progressive Democrats are agitating for a wider impeachment encompassing a broader, if far from complete, list of Trump abuses. Republicans insist Democrats are only launching impeachment now because the Mueller investigation ended anticlimactically, leaving the opposition panicked at a prospective Trump reelection.

The truth, however, is more anodyne. Democrats are impeaching Trump over the Ukraine scandal in large part because Republicans invited them to do just that.

When the Ukraine scandal burst into the news, a widespread consensus agreed that the allegations were deeply improper, and quite likely impeachable. “I think it would be wildly inappropriate for an American president to invite a foreign country’s leader to get engaged in an American presidential election. That strikes me as entirely inappropriate,” pronounced Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. “If there is evidence of a quid pro quo, many think the dam will start to break on our side,” one Republican told the Washington Examiner in September. “Maybe if he withheld aid and there was a direct quid pro quo,” add another. Even a sycophant like Lindsey Graham conceded at the time that he might support impeachment “if you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”

Even as the White House has withheld most documentary evidence and testimony from central figures like Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani, and Trump himself, the case has been proved beyond any sliver of a doubt. Trump and his agents communicated to Ukraine through a variety of channels that they intended to trade a presidential meeting and military aid for the announcement of investigations into Trump’s domestic rivals. The terms of the deal are so obvious that even a fraction of the evidence was sufficient to establish it.

The primary effect of the proliferation of evidence upon the Republicans has been to persuade them to change their standards as to what is acceptable presidential conduct. Oklahoma representative Tom Cole said in September that the whistle-blower complaint is “a serious matter, and I will continue to thoughtfully consider information as it becomes available.” But Cole quickly decided that he was tired of considering information thoughtfully. “It doesn’t matter much anymore,” he said last month.

Many members of the mainstream media have defined this response as “partisanship.” A New York Times analysis noted that the parties in Monday’s hearings “presented radically competing versions of reality. CNN’s Chris Cillizza called the hearings “a bunch of adults yelling at one another over matters that almost no one watching understood or cares about.”

The reality is that the parties have, if anything, converged on a shared set of facts, at least as it pertains to the Ukraine scandal. Whereas Republicans previously refused to connect the dots that showed Trump’s Ukraine extortion, they have increasingly accepted reality. They have simply redefined the unacceptable as acceptable.

Ted Cruz, appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, denied that Trump had engaged in a high crime or misdemeanor, without denying the underlying conduct. “I believe any president, any Justice Department,” he insisted, “has the authority to investigate corruption.”

The U.S. government has procedures in place to ascertain whether recipients of foreign aid have taken adequate steps to police corruption, and Ukraine passed the test. Indeed, Ukraine’s government is in the midst of a sweeping reform era, which is precisely why Trump — whose allies are working to recorrupt it — greeted the new regime so suspiciously. The “authority” Cruz is defending is ad hoc power to call any political opponent “corrupt” and demand an investigation. If Trump wants to ask Cuba to investigate Rafael Cruz for taking payments to help cover up the murder of John F. Kennedy Jr., by Ted Cruz’s reckoning, he has every right to do so.

Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has just completed another trip to Ukraine where he is continuing to promote a series of crooked and Russophillic characters and is openly telling the government it needs to give him his favored investigations if it wants Trump’s favor. Trump supported Giuliani’s . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2019 at 10:17 am

A Top Cop Accused of Racism Forces Austin to Confront Bias in Law Enforcement

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Michael Barajas writes in Texas Observer:

In late October, Assistant Chief Justin Newsom abruptly resigned from the Austin Police Department after 23 years on the force. Newsom, who oversaw the department’s downtown operations, quit the same day someone filed an anonymous complaint accusing him of using racial slurs: to refer to black officers, a fellow assistant chief who was black, a black city council member, and even Barack Obama when the president landed in Austin. According to the complaint—filed with the city’s Office of Police Monitor—the department’s leaders, including Police Chief Brian Manley, “were made aware of AC Newsom using the extremely derogatory term ‘nigger’ and failed to report it for investigation or review.”

The notion that an openly racist cop could rise to the top of the department has led to soul searching in Austin, a city with outwardly progressive politics but a history of racist policing. After Newsom’s departure, other complaints within the Austin Police Department started to surface. African American officers decried the lack of diversity within APD leadership; one complaint claims Manley approved of APD’s chief of staff forcing a family member into “conversion therapy” (the abusive and pseudoscientific practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation); another assistant chief stands accused of disparaging Latinx officers.

At a meeting Thursday night, Austin city council members said the fallout from Newsom’s resignation had shaken their faith in the department. With a unanimous vote, they ordered an audit of the department’s cadet training materials and an outside investigation to root out “racism and other discriminatory attitudes, training, protocols, or procedures” at APD.

Austin isn’t the only Texas city where trust between police and communities of color has frayed over the past year. In October, African American community leaders in Fort Worth called for a federal investigation into the police killings of black citizens after a white cop shot Atatiana Jefferson, a black woman, killing her in her home. “This is historic and it’s systemic and we understand that racism is at the heart of this,” Kyev Tatum, a Fort Worth pastor, said at a news conference after Jefferson’s death. “We have lost trust in our police department.”

Jefferson’s death occurred just weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who’s white, was tried and convicted of murdering Botham Jean, an unarmed black man she gunned down in his own apartment after mistaking it for her own. While the shooting reignited calls for greater police oversight, the trial this fall underscored Dallas’ trust issues with law enforcement; among other things, prosecutors pointed to racist texts and Pinterest posts in which Guyger joked about killing people.

The revelations in Guyger’s trial followed other evidence of bias among cops in North Texas. This summer, the Plainview Project published a database of social media posts by police officers in Dallas, Denison, and other cities, which included Islamophobic comments, racist stereotypes, and jokes about police violence. At the time, Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall announced an investigation into more than two dozen police officers, but her office couldn’t provide an update on those cases when asked this week. Denison officials said one officer was issued a written reprimand while others were “appropriately counseled.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2019 at 8:36 am

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