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After a Year of Investigation, the Border Patrol Has Little to Say About Agents’ Misogynistic and Racist Facebook Group

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No surprise, since I believe the Facebook group expresses the views of Border Patrol leadership and certainly the views of Border Patrol culture. A.C. Thompson reports in ProPublica:

Brian Hastings, a top Border Patrol official, stared grimly at the television cameras.

It was July 1, 2019, and Hastings was facing down a scandal: News reports had revealed that Border Patrol agents were posting wildly offensive comments and memes in a secret Facebook group.

Agents had shared crudely manipulated images of men sexually assaulting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and frequent antagonist of the Border Patrol; joked about migrants who died while trying to enter the United States; and made racist insults about Central Americans. The group called itself “I’m 10-15,” Border Patrol radio code for “aliens in custody,” and included some 9,500 current or former agents.

Critics of the agency — already concerned about the separation of migrant families and deplorable conditions in detention facilities — saw the vulgar Facebook posts as further evidence that a culture of casual racism and misogyny was festering within the Border Patrol.

On national TV that day, Hastings vowed that any agent who engaged in online misconduct would be held accountable. “We take all of the posts that were put out today very seriously,” said Hastings, who was then the chief of law of enforcement operations for the patrol and now oversees the Rio Grande Valley sector. “Each one of these allegations will be thoroughly investigated.” The internal affairs unit of Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, had already opened an investigation, he said.

Within days, the horrified leaders of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Reform announced a separate probe of the group, whose existence was first exposed by ProPublica.

But now, more than a year later, after one of the most sweeping internal investigations in the history of the agency, CBP has provided little new information about “I’m 10-15” or its efforts to address toxic attitudes within the ranks. Instead, it has released a basic summary of its findings. The agency has not said who was behind the group or its most egregious posts. And it has not explained how such a group — whose members included Carla Provost, then the highest-ranking official in the Border Patrol — had existed for nearly three years without any sort of intervention from patrol brass.

And in Congress, the oversight committee said its work has been derailed by a lack of cooperation from CBP leaders, who have refused to provide congressional investigators with the names of employees who made offensive posts or even identify the agents who’ve been disciplined.

“More than a year after the existence of the group was reported, CBP continues to obstruct a congressional investigation into the results of the agency’s findings, blatantly shielding agents that have dehumanized immigrants and fostered a culture of cruelty and violence,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat representing El Paso, Texas, who was mocked by agents in “I’m 10-15” posts.

Last month, the agency told the Los Angeles Times that it had investigated 138 employees, eventually deciding to fire four of them, suspend 38 without pay and issue warnings or reprimands to more than two dozen. CBP investigators cleared 60 agents of any wrongdoing.

But CBP has not revealed the exact offenses that led to this wave of firings and other sanctions, nor has it disclosed the key facts — such as name, rank or location — about the employees who’ve been disciplined. Such information could reveal troubling clusters of agents or supervisors at a particular station and whether the terms of the discipline were appropriate. The agency has long maintained that it is barred by federal privacy law from identifying employees who’ve been found guilty of misconduct, and it typically does not disclose the names of front-line Border Patrol agents.

In response to questions from ProPublica about the terms of the suspensions it has imposed, a CBP spokesperson would only provide general answers. “We are not able to share specific details, however, suspensions generally range from three to 14 days,” the spokesperson said.

Under the terms of the Border Patrol’s union contract, suspensions of up to 14 days are considered relatively minor punishment, while those that extend beyond two weeks are deemed to be more serious.

While CBP has not named the employees it fired, Border Patrol sources said that one of those who was ousted is Waldemar Ortiz, an agent who worked at the station in Deming, New Mexico. The sources requested anonymity because they had gone outside of the official chain of command to share information.

A former U.S. Marine, Ortiz posted comments suggesting that Border Patrol agents lock undocumented migrants in shipping containers, according to The Intercept, which obtained a huge trove of content from the Facebook group. The specific actions that led to the agent’s ouster remain unclear.

One source said Ortiz, who has enlisted the support of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing the nation’s roughly 20,000 Border Patrol agents, could potentially win his job back at an upcoming arbitration hearing. Ortiz did not respond to a request for comment from ProPublica, nor did union President Brandon Judd.

The union has condemned the offensive Facebook posts, saying the “inappropriate content” is not representative “of our employees and does a great disservice to all Border Patrol agents, the overwhelming majority of whom perform their duties honorably.”

ProPublica has not learned the names of the other three employees who’ve been fired or whether they’ll be appealing their firings.

At an unrelated court hearing last year in San Francisco, an attorney for CBP, Laura Myron, argued that documents identifying Border Patrol agents accused of misconduct should not be released to the public. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and no paywall.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2020 at 12:33 pm

Border Patrol Launches Militarized Raid of Borderland Humanitarian Aid CampORDERLANDS HUMANITARIAN AID CAMP

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The US Border Patrol is out of control: a government-sanctioned and protected band of arrogant armed bullies and thugs. Ryan Devereaux reports in the Intercept:

CAMOUFLAGED U.S. Border Patrol agents in armored vehicles launched a nighttime raid on a humanitarian aid camp in southern Arizona on Friday. Agents zip-tied volunteers’ hands behind their backs, shouted at them with rifles raised, and confiscated their cellphones, as well as the organization’s medical records. At least two helicopters hovered above the camp and a film crew documented the operation on the ground. Agents moved through camp structures and arrested more than 30 undocumented immigrants who were receiving treatment after trekking through the desert in the middle of heat wave.

The humanitarian group, No More Deaths, a faith-based organization out of Tucson, believes the operation was likely part retaliation, part violent publicity stunt. The raid marked the second time in two years that the Border Patrol descended on one of No More Deaths’ aid stations immediately after the group published materials that cast a negative light on the border enforcement agency.

On Wednesday, the group shared documents regarding a remarkably similar raid on the same camp three years ago, which showed the Border Patrol’s national union clamoring for a crackdown on No More Deaths. On Thursday, less than 24 hours after the documents were posted online, Border Patrol entered the camp without a warrant and took an undocumented woman into custody. The agency then surrounded the location and set up a checkpoint to detain and search volunteers as they came and went. The camp remained surrounded until Friday’s raid.

Montana Thames, who gathered accounts from the detained volunteers, described the operation as a militarized show of force that featured the same Border Patrol tactical teams that were recently deployed to suppress protests in Portland, Oregon. According to Thames, who is also a No More Deaths volunteer, when agents entered the camp in Arivaca, Arizona, roughly 10 miles north of the border, they claimed that they had a warrant but refused to show it. “They pretty aggressively got people out of there and then trashed the camp,” Thames told The Intercept on Saturday. In addition to the aircraft hovering above the camp, volunteers reported the use of at least two dozen marked and unmarked vehicles, ATVs, and armored personnel carriers.

Some of the agents looked to be members of the Border Patrol’s BORTAC teams, the same commando-style units that were filmed bundling protesters into unmarked cars in Portland, volunteers said — photos from the raid appear to back up those claims. According to Thames, members of the tactical unit raised their rifles and shouted at volunteers while they were zip-tied. The decision to wait until nightfall to conduct the operation felt deliberate and produced “unnecessary trauma” for the migrants receiving care and volunteers alike, Thames said: “They started rolling in when the sun was setting, raided the camp when it was dark, and created a lot more fear and chaos.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more (and there’s no paywall).

I was just reading a review of a book about the Stasi — the East German secret police. The Border Patrol has a similar cullture but with no need to keep it secret.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2020 at 10:02 am

“Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” @50

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Jeremy Adelman writes in

For two turbulent years, General James Mattis was President Donald Trump’s defense secretary. It was little secret that Mattis had profound disagreements with the president’s foreign policy decisions and strongly disapproved of his character, which ultimately led to the general’s resignation, in late 2018. But after leaving the DOD, Mattis went silent and refrained from publicly critiquing Trump. Until June 3. In the midst of a pandemic, and after days of watching the militarized suppression of legal and peaceful protests in cities across America, Mattis finally spoke out. “I have just watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” he wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic, alluding to the dispersal of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square with tear gas and rubber bullets. “Never did I dream that troops … would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Mattis’s outrage spurred many other establishment figures and organizations to denounce the repression and side with America’s homegrown, Black-led democracy movement. In what will surely go down as a critical moment in recent times, Mattis exhibited the power of voice—in this case the voice of a decorated, hard-to-dislike onetime loyalist—in shaping history.

Voice is to modern politics what DNA is to genetics. The strength of a democracy—and the measure of autocracy—can be gauged by the extent to which citizens are able to express themselves. One work that has deeply influenced how we think about voice is Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States. Now enjoying its 50th anniversary, it is a classic in the history of human sciences. But can a classic book of the fevered 1960s speak to us in our modern fevered times?

As Facebook and Amazon partition the attentional marketplace and politics turns tribal, the institutions governing modern life appear deaf to the clamor. What is so agonizing about the global street protests today is that there is a sinking feeling that the police will not change their ways, that gun lobbies will continue to pump the marketplace with ammunition, and that carbon-based fuels will dominate our energy options. When the Trump presidency ends, and the toll of years of toxicity and mismanagement becomes clear, we are going to need guidance on how to move forward. Can Exit, Voice, and Loyalty help us?

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty was conceived when the United States was at the height of its global power. It was the 1960s; civil rights, feminism, and consumer movements were on the march. Hirschman was optimistic about what lay ahead. He assumed that governments and firms would take heed of what they were hearing from the citizens who were agitating for change.

But by the late 1960s, as Hirschman traveled to Stanford for his fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), there were early warning signs that all was not well. He had recently published a study of the World Bank. One of the case studies was a project in Nigeria. His field notes were full of jottings about farmers complaining about freight rates, merchants grousing about cheating tax collectors; the air in Nigeria in 1966 was thick with tension. Yet Hirschman’s observations made little difference in his hopeful analysis. Soon after, a horrible civil war erupted in Biafra. Hirschman was shocked and dismayed. What was the value of social science if it failed to heed its own evidence of a looming crisis? He went to CASBS in search of understanding. During his stay, the great French psychologist Serge Moscovici delivered a paper on the role of small groups (including early Christians, suffragists, and the first Nazis) in swaying majorities. How did people who were marginal, disenchanted, and persecuted convince others of the value of their perspective? And what about the opposite: cases where people remained loyal to institutions (such as governments waging unpopular wars in the Mekong Delta) that had stopped listening to their constituents?

At the time, one example of how small groups could influence larger ones was the rising consumer movement. Hirschman struck up a correspondence with the crusading consumer activist Ralph Nader; they formed a mini mutual-adoration club. Nader became famous for his campaign against Chevrolet and its Corvair model, which had been implicated in a series of deadly accidents. Nader used testimonies from lawsuits against Chevrolet to mount a public campaign to indict the model and its maker. His work led to the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, a milestone in government commitment to consumer safety and the creation of the (now disarrayed) protectionist state. Later, “Nader Raiders” mobilized successfully to reform the Federal Trade Commission and get it to pay more attention to consumer safety. Hirschman took note. This expression of consumer citizenship struck him as a model for reforming capitalism.

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty was influenced by all of these inputs: Hirschman’s misjudgment in Nigeria; Moscovici’s analysis of the power of small groups that speak loudly; and Nader and the consumer movement. The book is like a road map through the intricacies of disappointment. What to do when your government stops listening, your car dealer sells you lemons, or the local public school cuts after-school music to save some money? For Hirschman, there were three options. One was exit. You could leave your country. (Hirschman was familiar with this option. He had fled tyranny, war, and intolerance on many occasions, starting in the spring of 1933, when he fled the Nazi takeover in Germany at age 17.) You could give up on Chevy and buy a Ford. You could withdraw from the public school and opt for a private one. In our day, examples of exit include General Mattis’s resignation from Trump’s cabinet, the decision by the majority of Britons to part ways with the European Union, and the flight of 70 million refugees worldwide from persecution and obscene neglect.

Another option was voice: expressing anger in a letter to the editor or making a complaint to the sales rep or, as many of the students at Stanford were doing the year Hirschman was in residence, protesting the Vietnam War. When demonstrators clashed in the streets of Paris and outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1968, or marched on Washington in the summer of 1963 to push for equal rights for African Americans, they exercised what Hirschman called voice: proclaiming one’s discontent loudly and publicly, in the hope that rulers got the message and changed their ways. In our day, we see voice when citizens hang a banner over a police station in Seattle declaring, “This Space Is Now Property of the Seattle People,” or pressure the governor of New York to make public the records of abusive police officers, or take to the streets of Beirut to denounce a corrupt and kleptocratic regime.

There was a third option: stay loyal. Hirschman didn’t think too much about loyalty. It wasn’t really an active option, more like a default setting. To this day, it remains the weakest conceptual leg of his famous tripod.

In the five decades since its publication, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty has been viewed as a guide to understanding how and why people squared up to the disappointments in their ruling institutions. It’s how I read it as a graduate student observing the explosion of voice in a democratizing Latin America in the 1980s. Indeed, it was how Hirschman himself read his own book amid the stream of essays that reprised its concepts to explain the fall of East Germany or the jostling between private and public medical systems. It was a book that helped us think about how to force institutions to change. We did not read it for insights about institutions themselves.

Nowadays, it’s our institutions that are in deep, deep trouble. Too often their leaders resist change, waiting for the outcry of the moment to blow over. Big organizations go through the motions of listening, make the right noises, but usually do nothing.

How can we get the ossified organizations of modern life to respond? Doing so requires a different reading of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Sure, we remember the famous trifecta of concepts mentioned in the title. But there are other recurring words all through the text that are equally important: “recuperating,” “recovery,” and “renewal.” They are the counterpoints to the decay and decline that figure in the book’s subtitle.

Whether organizations can swing from decline to recuperation depends on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

For decades, the takeaway was that we needed effective voice. But over time, market solutions to common problems became the policy orthodoxy. We let rulers extol the virtue of exit options: if you don’t like your school, start a charter; if you don’t like public health systems, enjoy the manifold benefits of private insurance; and if you don’t like your state, leave (though good luck getting a visa). So we watched as institutions developed artful ways to dodge their civic and public commitments.

There was an additional step in Hirschman’s argument. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2020 at 2:20 pm

Why the US Military Usually Punishes Misconduct but Police Often Close Ranks

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An interesting article on cultural differences between two hierarchical organizations. I think one should also consider the strongly hierarchical church organizations — for example, how the Catholic church protected pedophiles in the organization through extensive (and well-funded) coverups. Dwight Stirling writes in The Conversation:

Many U.S. military members publicly disavowed President Trump’s decision to pardon Edward Gallagher, the former SEAL commando convicted of killing a teenage detainee in Iraq in 2017.

Gallagher’s alleged war crimes were nearly universally condemned up the chain of command, from enlisted men to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. Indeed, it was Gallagher’s SEAL colleagues who reported the former commando’s actions.

This insistence on holding fellow service members accountable for bad behavior sharply differentiates the military from the police.

When police are revealed to have killed an unarmed suspect or used excessive force during arrest, police generally defend those actions. Cops who report wrongdoing are routinely ostracized as “rats” and denied promotions, according to a 1998 Human Rights Watch study. Researchers identify this so-called “blue wall of silence” – the refusal to “snitch” on other officers – as a defining feature of U.S. cop culture today.

Yet both soldiers and police officers put their lives on the line for their team every day. So what explains these two armed forces’ divergent attitudes toward bad behavior?

Military ethics

As a military lawyer and scholar, I’ve studied this unique aspect of American military ethics.

U.S. military culture stresses organizational, rather than personal, loyalty. When Gallagher’s SEAL colleagues reported him, they were doing what Navy SEALs are taught to do: They put the good of the institution before the individual.

And the pride Marines famously feel, for instance, comes from being part of this well-respected corps. Personal relationships with other Marines are of secondary importance.

Accountability for individual misdeeds is written into U.S. military law. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, culpability for criminal conduct is not avoided simply because a superior ordered a criminal act to be committed. Only lawful orders are to be followed.

“A soldier is reasoning agent,” a military court explained in the 1991 case U.S. v. Kinder, in which a soldier who killed a civilian was convicted of murder on the grounds that his superior’s order to do so was obviously illegal and should have been reported.

“It is a fallacy of widespread consumption that a soldier is required to do everything a superior officers tells him to do,” the ruling concluded, referencing the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II.

Playing politics

Not every soldier follows the rules, of course. The U.S. military has covered up atrocities.

The most notorious of these cases include the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, in which women and children were killed. In 2003, U.S. soldiers badly mistreated detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

But deeply ingrained military ethics generally make military members wary of the kind of group think that holds up the “blue wall of silence” in police departments.

The police detective Frank Serpico made the power of the blue wall infamous. While working for the NYPD in the 1960s, Serpico observed his colleagues running racketeering operations and punching suspects for fun. When he brought the corruption to light, he was shot in the face in a setup orchestrated by fellow officers.

This ethic is alive and well today, as former Baltimore detective Joe Crystal learned in 2011. Crystal was a rising star in the Baltimore police department. But after telling his superiors that a fellow officer brutally beat a handcuffed suspect, he was demoted, threatened and harassed until he quit.

“If you snitch, your career is done,” he was told, according to a 2011 lawsuit Crystal filed against the department for failing to protect him from retaliation.

Police reluctance to report a fellow officer stems from the politicization of police brutality incidents and the widespread perception among police that nobody outside law enforcement understands their dangerous jobsresearch shows. Frustrated at being judged by civilians and public officials who don’t face the life-and-death decisions they do, cops tend to close ranks when things go wrong, police monitors find.

No political interference

The military is also wary of political interference in military matters. That’s why it takes internal justice seriously.

The Department of Defense is the only governmental organization allowed to operate its own internal criminal justice system – a privilege as remarkable as it is fragile.

The civilian judiciary has long been skeptical of the military’s judicial system. The courts used to worry about due process, particularly the ability of military commanders to improperly influence the outcome of trials. In 1969, the Supreme Court severely restricted the jurisdiction of military courts.

“Courts-martial as an institution are singularly inept in dealing with the subtleties of constitutional law,” the court wrote in O’Callahan v. Parker.

That ruling limited the military justice system to handling purely military offenses, such as abandoning their post or behaving insubordinately. Serious allegations like murder and rape had to be tried in civilian courts.

After Congress and the American Bar Association made significant structural changes to strengthen due process in the military, the Supreme Court in 1987 restored the jurisdiction of the courts-martial. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2020 at 12:06 pm

We train police to be warriors — and then send them out to be social workers

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Roge Karma reports in Vox:

Richard Nixon called police forces “the real front-line soldiers in the war on crime.” Bill Clinton, in his signing ceremony for the 1994 crime bill, called them “the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day.” In 2018, Donald Trump described their job as follows: “Every day, our police officers race into darkened allies and deserted streets, and onto the doorsteps of the most hardened criminals … the worst of humanity.”

For decades, the warrior cop has been the popular image of police in America, reinforced by TV shows, movies, media, police recruitment videos, police leaders, and public officials.

This image is largely misleading. Police do fight crime, to be sure — but they are mainly called upon to be social workers, conflict mediators, traffic directors, mental health counselors, detailed report writers, neighborhood patrollers, and low-level law enforcers, sometimes all in the span of a single shift. In fact, the overwhelming majority of officers spend only a small fraction of their time responding to violent crime.

However, the institution of policing in America does not reflect that reality. We prepare police officers for a job we imagine them to have rather than the role they actually perform. Police are hired disproportionately from the military, trained in military-style academies that focus largely on the deployment of force and law, and equipped with lethal weapons at all times, and they operate within a culture that takes pride in warriorship, combat, and violence.

This mismatch can have troubling  even fatal — consequences. Situations that begin with civilians selling loose cigarettesattempting to use possibly counterfeit currencysleeping intoxicated in their carsrecreationally selling or using low-level drugsviolating minor traffic laws, or calling the police themselves because they are experiencing a mental health crisis end with those same civilians, disproportionately Black Americans, unnecessarily killed at the hands of a police force primed for violent encounters and ill-equipped for interventions that demand mediation, deescalation, and social work.

“Cops are very equipped to be the hammer and enforce the law,” says Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and 21-year veteran of the US Army who heads the criminal justice program at the center-right R Street Institute. “They know how to use those tools forcefully and effectively; for everything else, they are lacking. Of course that’s going to end badly.”

There is considerable disagreement about the best way to change policing. But as my colleague Aaron Ross Coleman points out, a cross-factional coalition is emerging, centered on the idea that America relies far too heavily on police to address problems that have nothing to do with what they are trained, hired, and equipped to handle.

“The spectrum of skill sets we are currently asking police to embody is simply not realistic,” says Christy E. Lopez, a legal scholar at Georgetown Law who investigated police misconduct as an attorney for the Obama administration’s Justice Department. “It’s not realistic to ask any profession to do that much.”

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken to a dozen current and former police officers, police reformers, legal scholars, and criminologists to better understand this fatal mismatch at the heart of American policing — and what it would take to fix it.

How police officers spend their time on the job

The best information on how police officers spend their time comes from “calls for service” data made publicly available by individual police agencies. These are often defined as calls to emergency operators, 911 calls, alarms, and police radio and non-emergency calls. Most calls for service are initiated by citizens, but the data I draw on here captures the officer’s final categorization of the incident.

The data overwhelmingly finds that police officers in aggregate spend the vast majority of their time responding to non-criminal calls, traffic-related incidents, and low-level crimes — and only a tiny fraction on violent crimes.

My favorite visualization of this data comes from former UK police officer and Temple University criminologist Jerry Ratcliffe, who used 2015 data from Philadelphia, a city with relatively high crime rates, to construct this graphic. The area of each box represents the proportion of reported incidents within that category:

If you squint a bit, you can see that violent crimes like rape, homicide, and aggravated assault are tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner. Less serious crimes like petty theft, drug use, and vandalism take up slightly more space but not all that much. The vast majority of calls have nothing to do with crime. Instead, they involve disorderly crowds, domestic disputes, traffic accidents, minor disturbances, and a whole array of “unfounded” calls where the officer arrived on the scene only to discover nothing was happening.

Of course, the exact incident breakdown will vary by place, but this general picture holds for a number of police departments in major cities. In a June article for the New York Times, crime analysts Jeff Asher and Ben Horwitz dug through the call data for the 10 police agencies that had made such data available, including in places with relatively high violent crime rates like Baltimore and New Orleans. They found that incidents that met the FBI Uniform Crime Report definition of violent crime made up only around 1 percent of calls for service.

Then, for the handful of police agencies that also provided data on when a given call for service was first reported and when that incident was closed, Asher and Horwitz used the difference between those two numbers to gauge the time officers actually spent on different types of policing activities. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including a chart of how police spend their time. Very interesting article that should shape recruitment and training policies and hiring decisions.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2020 at 10:31 am

To Protect and to Serve: Global Lessons in Police Reform

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Laurence Ralph writes in Foreign Affairs:

Public outcry over the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd earlier this year has ignited mass demonstrations against structural racism and police violence in the United States. The protests have reached every American state and spread to countries around the world; they arguably constitute the most broad-based civil rights movement in American history. Protests against the brutalization of communities of color by the U.S. criminal justice system have been growing for years, but the explosive scale of the uprising this spring and summer makes it clear that the United States has reached a national reckoning.

Most Americans now understand that their country needs a radical transformation: polls conducted in early June found that a majority of U.S. citizens support sweeping national law enforcement reforms. But as Americans embark on an urgent public conversation about policing, bias, and the use of force, they should remember that theirs is not the first or the only country to grapple with these policy questions. Many reform advocates and researchers have already begun to look overseas, pointing to countries where police training looks vastly different than it does in the United States: countries where police departments take far different approaches to the use of force or have even disarmed entirely, where criminal justice systems have adopted alternative sentencing programs, and where authorities have experimented with innovative approaches to de-escalation.

Some of these ideas could be adapted for use in the United States. For too long, a culture of American exceptionalism has been a barrier to the implementation of policies that have improved public safety around the globe. Now, the United States’ capacity to heal as a nation could very well depend on its willingness to listen and learn from the rest of the world.


If Americans and their political leaders are to glean useful lessons from the experiences of other countries, they must first examine the practice of policing in the United States and try to define—as precisely as possible—the nature and scope of the problem. The aggressive tactics that U.S. police departments employ today were shaped by the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. During the late nineteenth century, the slave patrols and militias that had regulated the movement of enslaved people before emancipation coalesced into more formalized police forces, and they continued to enforce the racial hierarchy in a segregated nation. In the second half of the twentieth century, as the country slowly and often grudgingly integrated, police departments honed the tactics of those earlier eras as a new means of controlling and repressing Black Americans. In response to the protests and unrest of the 1960s, police forces developed the kinds of quasi-military techniques that Americans today have seen applied to a new generation of protesters. In recent decades, police departments have systematically harassed Black communities with stop-and-frisk methods and aggressive fines, which municipalities craved to supplement their shrinking budgets in an age of tax cuts and austerity.

This kind of policing does not simply threaten the quality of life in Black communities; it is a matter of life and death. In 2014, ProPublica published one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of racial disparities in deadly police encounters. Its examination included detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides between 1980 and 2012, drawn from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports. During this three-decade period, ProPublica found that young Black men were 21 times as likely to be fatally shot by law enforcement as were their white peers.

The ProPublica investigation went on to describe how white officers, who were responsible for 68 percent of the police killings of people of color, typically reported that they had used deadly force out of fear for their physical safety. Reliance on this rationale increased substantially after the Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in Tennessee v. Garner, which held that the police could use deadly force if a suspect posed a threat to a police officer or to others. In the four years preceding Tennessee v. Garner, “officer under attack” was cited in just 33 percent of police killings; 20 years later, over another four-year period, it was cited 62 percent of the time, eventually becoming an almost infallible legal defense for police officers who kill.

The U.S. government has not made data on police shootings available to the public since 2013, despite a number of high-profile fatal police shootings that would have made these records a matter of keen public interest. Although the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 requires U.S. law enforcement agencies to provide basic information about the people killed while in custody, the extent to which individual police departments have complied with this mandate is unclear.

Citizen-led organizations have tried to fill the void. A group called Mapping Police Violence maintains a comprehensive, crowdsourced database on police killings in the United States, scouring social media, obituaries, and criminal records in an effort to account for every lost life. In an analysis of the more than 8,200 police killings that have taken place in the United States since January 2013, Mapping Police Violence found that African Americans were three times as likely to be killed by law enforcement as were their white counterparts. Crucially, the group’s findings contradict the common assumption that police officers kill African Americans at higher rates because they pose a greater threat: police departments of the 100 largest American cities killed unarmed Black people at a rate four times as high as the rate for unarmed white suspects. Still, in a shocking 99 percent of the cases the group analyzed, no officers were convicted of a crime.


The analysis by Mapping Police Violence also contained another revealing finding: the group compared the victim data it had compiled against published crime rates and found no correlation between levels of violent crime in American cities and the likelihood of police killings. This presents a stark contrast with the rest of the world, where correlations generally exist between crime, social instability, and police killings. The United States is a wealthy, stable outlier in the list of countries with the highest rates of police killings. In 2019, the rate at which people were killed by the police in the United States (46.6 such killings per ten million residents) put it right between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (47.8 per ten million) and Iraq (45.1 per ten million), both of which are just emerging from years of conflict. Countries with levels of police brutality comparable to that in the United States are generally far more violent places to live and include ones, such as Egypt and Iran, that are often described by human rights campaigners as “police states.”

Other factors also differentiate the United States from wealthy, stable countries with low rates of police killings. For one thing, the countries with the lowest rates, such as Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, and Japan, have instituted mechanisms for police oversight at the national level. Although police unions exist in countries with low levels of police violence, these unions are generally affiliated with larger organizational bodies, such as Sweden’s Confederation of Professional Employees and the German Confederation of Trade Unions, and do not have as much power to insulate officers from punishment as police unions in the United States do. Many professional groups in the United States have experienced sharp declines in union membership since the 1970s, yet American police unions remain strong, and union protection frequently makes it difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

Compared with the law enforcement infrastructures in countries that have lower levels of police violence, the U.S. law enforcement infrastructure is extremely decentralized. There are nearly 18,000 police agencies in the United States. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 2:56 pm

Kentucky town hires social workers instead of more police officers – and the results are …

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David Mattingly reports for WAVE 3 News in Louisville KY:

Faced with a tight budget and rising demands on its 17 officer police department, the City of Alexandria in Campbell County tried something different. Instead of hiring an additional officer and taking on the added expenses of equipping that officer, the police chief at the time hired a social worker to respond in tandem with officers.

The goal was to provide expertise and immediately connect people in crisis to needed services.

“I’m more the second responder, so the officer responds first,” police social worker Kelly Pompilio said. “There are times that I do go on scene with the officer but that’s only after it’s secured and safe for me to enter. But I try to assist the family in whatever services they need so they don’t have to, whenever they’re having a crisis, or having a situation where they need law enforcement, they don’t have to call 911.”

Pompilio is the first to work a position of her kind in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Instead of working at another agency and waiting for a referral from a police department after a crisis, Pompilio works side-by-side with officers to respond as calls come in.

“Every day is different. We have no idea what’s going to come our way,” Pompilio said. “The main calls are domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse.”

After four years on the job, Pompilio said there has been a significant drop in repeat 911 calls with approximately 15 percent fewer people going to jail.

Now retired, former Alexandria Police Department chief Mike Ward said the results were immediate both for people in need and taxpayers.

“It was close to a $45,000 to $50,000 annual savings from hiring a police officer the first time to hiring a social worker,” Ward said. “They (police social workers) started solving problems for people in our community and for our agency that we’ve never been able to solve before.”

Ward believes the results in Alexandria, a city of less than 10,000, could be replicated in larger cities like Louisville, where officers respond to calls involving mental health, domestic disturbances, and homelessness an average of once every 10 minutes.

“Louisville is very big with services,” Pompilio said. “They have lots of things to offer families. It’s just a matter of a social worker connecting.” . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 12:38 pm

Dismantle the Department of Homeland Security

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Richard A. Clarke served on the National Security Council for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He writes in the Washington Post:

President Trump has, often intentionally, damaged essential federal departments and agencies, driving from their ranks thousands of career civil servants who are global experts and national treasures. The country is seeing the results play out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but such damage has happened across the federal bureaucracy.

No national institution has been more damaged than the Department of Homeland Security. The youngest of the federal departments, the DHS is among the largest by employee count, ranking just below the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs. It was created in 2003 by smashing together 17 agencies from five departments in an ill-conceived response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Its divisions and agencies are now largely leaderless, because the White House refuses to nominate senior managers to replace those who have left. Quick, who is the secretary of homeland security?

You get my point.

Trump has done far more damage to the DHS, however, than leaving it leaderless. He has branded it as the department that cages children, swoops innocent citizens off U.S. streets, sends warriors dressed for the apocalypse to deal with protests, hunts down hard-working people doing “essential jobs” to forcibly deport them, and harasses foreign students at leading universities. The DHS has become synonymous with unsympathetic government overreach, malevolence and dysfunction.

For the patriotic, underpaid Americans working hard in the agencies of the DHS, what Trump has done to their reputations is a tragedy. The department, however, was doomed from the start. When such an agency was proposed before the Sept. 11 attacks, I was working in the White House, where I coordinated many “homeland” issues for almost a decade under President Bill Clinton and, later, President George W. Bush. Blocking the creation of the DHS was one of the few things on which Vice President Dick Cheney and I agreed. We thought that such a department would be too large, too diverse in function and too difficult to integrate into a well-functioning institution.

Congressional leaders, however, wanted to “do something” after 9/11, and it became impossible for the Bush administration to maintain its opposition to the idea of a homeland security agency. Instead, the Bush administration embraced it and quickly merged a raft of agencies ripped from their home departments. The new department never really came together.

For more than a decade, reports from the Government Accountability Office, think tanks and congressional committees have documented the failures of the DHS to coalesce into an effective entity. Its image steadily declined and was not helped by the popular television series “Homeland,” which despite its name depicted a dark world of CIA intrigue, portraying missions and functions that the DHS never actually had.. Contrary to popular belief, Homeland Security has never been the government’s lead counterterrorism entity. The FBI, part of the Justice Department, leads counterterrorism efforts within the United States.

The next administration would be well advised not to try to make the existing DHS structure work, for it will end up as another presidential administration that has failed in that task. Instead, the department should be reimagined — perhaps as part of a Reinventing Government effort, the first of which was led by then-Vice President Al Gore — with more manageable and mission-consistent entities. It should also shed its Orwellian name.

Federal departments and agencies develop personalities and images from their mission, and they attract people who identify with those personas. These identities are almost immutable, but new organizational designs and branding can reinvigorate and redirect agencies. Breaking up the DHS could have positive results.

One possibility would be to create a Department of Public Safety and Protection composed of the agencies engaged in protecting Americans on water, in cyberspace, in air travel and after natural disasters, as well as protecting U.S. leaders. A Department of Public Safety and Protection could include the Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the cyber agency CISA, Transportation Security Administration and the Secret Service. Such a smaller department could be better integrated into a well-functioning whole, with an improved public image, fewer agencies, greater transparency and positive outreach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 10:47 am

Organizations CANNOT police themselves: Example from police departments (with video)

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Zipporah Osei, Mollie Simon, Moiz Syed, and Lucas Waldron report in ProPublica:

AS PROTESTS ERUPTED AROUND THE COUNTRY in late May in response to the killing in police custody of George Floyd, police departments seemed to respond with more violence. In the ensuing weeks, hundreds of videos of police interactions with protesters surfaced on Twitter and other social media sites, often drawing outrage and, in some cases, swift disciplinary and legal action.

ProPublica wanted to find out what happens after these moments are caught on tape. We culled hundreds of videos to find those with the clearest examples of officers apparently using a disproportionate level of force against protesters and reached out to 40 law enforcement agencies about the 68 incidents below. For each incident, we inquired about any disciplinary action, investigations and whether the department would disclose the officer or officers involved. While some departments provided details or relevant public records, others leaned on state laws to withhold information. Here’s what we learned about each case. Do you have information about one of these cases? Tell us about it. | Related: What Has Happened to Police Filmed Hurting Protesters? So Far, Very Little →

Continue reading. Much more at the link, including videos that capture police misconduct.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2020 at 9:07 am

Organizations CANNOT police themselves: Example from Congress

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Police investigating police misconduct generally don’t find any; banks investigating bank misconduct generally don’t find any; Congress investigating Congressional misconduct usually doesn’t find anything wrong; church officials investigating priest/minister/rabbi/imam sexual misconduct didn’t find any.

For a good investigation, the investigating body must be independent of the group/organization/department being investigated. Although this seems obvious, it is also something that apparent is extremely difficult to grasp or to put into practice.

Matthew Cunnighnam-Cook reports in the Intercept:

LAST DECEMBER, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics released a report concluding that there was “substantial reason” to believe that freshman Rep. Lori Trahan had broken campaign finance laws in the final days of her tight Democratic primary in Massachusetts. OCE then kicked it over to the House Ethics Committee, which is run by a bipartisan panel of Trahan’s colleagues. They’ve now concluded their own investigation, with a starkly different finding: Trahan was cleared — despite not having cooperated with the OCE investigation nor providing key documentation to support her claims.

In 2018, Trahan faced a hotly competitive primary for Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional District, in the Boston suburbs, which she ultimately won by just 155 votes. In the final days of the campaign, Trahan had deposited $300,000 into her coffers that was classified as a personal loan, which she used to launch a TV blitz that, given the narrow margin, most likely swung the election.

By the time Trahan filed a personal financial statement, her records suggested that she did not have enough assets to have been able to make the loan to her campaign, as revealed by a Boston Globe investigation. Where, then, had the money come from?

Trahan’s critics floated the possibility that her wealthy husband’s companies had financed her last-minute surge, a charge that Trahan called not just preposterous, but sexist. She was asked about the money at a town hall last March, in the wake of the Globe report. “The suggestion that I did not have the personal resources to make that loan to my campaign is just inaccurate,” she said. “There’s a lot of narratives you want to change when you are taking on a run like this, and you’re going back to Congress as one of those 131 women, and that’s one of them, right? That women can start successful businesses, they can earn income, they can have affordable day care, they can get paid the same as men who are doing the same job, and they can make a loan that they can afford to their campaign.” She said that when her next financial disclosure in spring 2019 was revealed, everything would be cleared up.

Alison King, from NBC Boston, put the question to her directly a month later. “Can you categorically deny that your husband helped beyond the $2,700 allowed by law?” she asked.

“Yeah, look,” Trahan said, “the suggestion that I personally did not have the funds is completely inaccurate.”

It is now clear that Trahan was lying. What was ultimately revealed, after a series of corrections made by Trahan and $400,000 in legal advice, was that her husband had shifted assets out of companies he owned into a joint checking account which was then quickly deposited into Trahan’s congressional campaign. That’s not what Trahan’s critics are claiming — that is now her own story.

Yet, earlier this month, the Ethics Committee cleared Trahan by finding that, while the loan had indeed been made out of funds from her husband’s companies, doing so was legal because a prenuptial agreement stipulated that such funds were joint marital property. Trahan’s financial disclosure, however, lists all of the assets her husband used to make the loan as “SP,” for spouse, rather than “JT,” for joint, as she lists other joint property. And the prenup, in fact, stipulates that separate property will remain separate and that “each party waives, discharges, and releases all right, title, and interest in and to the separate property that the other party now owns or acquires after the execution of this Agreement, or acquires from the proceeds of any separate property now owned, including but not limited to any real property which either party may acquire with funds derived from the proceeds of his or her own separate property.” But the prenup also says: “All wages, salary, and income of each party earned or received during marriage, together with all property purchased with such wages, salary and income, shall also be marital property.”

But even if the committee granted that the funds were indeed jointly owned, part of the loan came from a company that was not subject to the prenup. A $50,000 loan made to the campaign by Trahan on June 30, 2018 originated with a company owned by her husband, DCT Development. DCT Development was founded prior to their 2007 marriage and not listed in the prenup as joint property. That was an oversight, Trahan said. “According to Representative Trahan, she and Mr. Trahan intended DCT Development, Granite Rock Businesses, and the income he received from those entities to be marital property under the agreement. Representative Trahan did not provide the Committee with any documentary evidence to support her explanation,” wrote the Ethics Committee in its final report. Federal campaign finance law states that a spouse cannot contribute more than the legal maximum (at the time, $2,700).

Some of the assets used by Trahan’s husband were not his alone. On April 2, 2018, the committee report reveals, Mass Eagle Development LLC deposited $100,000 into David Trahan’s personal account. He lists himself as just a one-third owner of Eagle Development in Lori Trahan’s financial disclosures (which list it as David Trahan’s separate property).

On August 21, David Trahan transferred $200,000 to the joint checking account with his wife. A few weeks earlier, he had drawn $180,900 from Middlesex Land Holdings LLC and $110,000 from Poplar Hill Development LLC. He lists himself as a half-owner of Poplar Hill. . .

Continue reading.

Congress seems more and more to be hopelessly corrupt. The future of the US looks increasingly bleak.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2020 at 8:49 am

Thousands of Police Discipline Records That New York Kept Secret for Decades

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Erick Umansky has a blockbuster report in ProPublica. It begins:

Until last month, New York state prohibited the release of police officers’ disciplinary records. Civilians’ complaints of abuse by officers were a secret. So were investigators’ conclusions. The public couldn’t even know if an officer was punished.

The New York City police officer whose use of a prohibited chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014 had a record of misconduct. Garner’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The city investigator who revealed the existence of the officer’s record was forced to resign in 2017; the officer himself wasn’t fired until 2019.

When the death of George Floyd and footage of his pleas for his life ignited worldwide protests, activists in New York renewed their push to repeal the statute that kept disciplinary records under wraps, known as 50-a. State lawmakers finally acted, voting to repeal the provision, which had been on the books for decades.

Soon after, ProPublica asked New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, for a list of officers, along with the complaints against them, and what discipline, if any, had been recommended.

Today, we are making this information public and, with it, providing an unprecedented picture of civilians’ complaints of abuse by NYPD officers as well as the limits of the current system that is supposed to hold officers accountable. We’ve published a database that lets you search the police complaints so you can see the information for yourself. Data experts can also download the data.

The database lists active-duty officers who’ve had at least one allegation against them substantiated by the CCRB: That’s about 4,000 officers out of the NYPD’s 36,000-member force.

Unions for city police officers, firefighters and corrections officers have sued New York City to stop the disclosure of most of these and other disciplinary records. The unions objected to the release of any cases other than “proven and final disciplinary matters.” That would exclude the vast majority of complaints against officers.

“We are defending privacy, integrity and the unsullied reputations of thousands of hard-working public safety employees,” a union spokesman said on the filing of the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the city, including the CCRB, from releasing disciplinary records. Judge Katherine Polk Failla also barred the New York Civil Liberties Union from disclosing data it had obtained. ProPublica has not been a party to the case and is not subject to the order by Failla, who has scheduled a hearing for next month.

In releasing the information included in our database, ProPublica is not publishing all complaints against officers. As we’ve noted, we’ve limited the data to only those officers who’ve had at least one substantiated allegation. And every complaint in the database was fully investigated by the CCRB, which means, among other steps, a civilian provided a sworn statement to investigators. We’ve also excluded any allegations that investigators concluded were unfounded, meaning investigators determined the incident did not happen as the complainant alleged. There were about 3,200 allegations listed as unfounded in the data we were provided, about 9% of the total.

We chose to include the basic information disclosed by the CCRB about allegations that investigators deemed unsubstantiated. Unsubstantiated means the CCRB — which has limited investigative powers — was not able to confirm that the alleged incident happened and that it violated the NYPD’s rules. Still, these records can help readers examine the records of officers who have been the subject of a pattern of complaints.

“We understand the arguments against releasing this data. But we believe the public good it could do outweighs the potential harm,” said Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s editor in chief. “The database gives the people of New York City a glimpse at how allegations involving police misconduct have been handled, and allows journalists and ordinary citizens alike to look more deeply at the records of particular officers.”

The CCRB receives thousands of complaints every year, but it is only able to substantiate a tiny fraction of them. In 2018, the agency examined about 3,000 allegations of misuse of force. It substantiated 73.

Investigators are often not able to reach conclusions on cases, in significant part because they must rely on the NYPD to hand over evidence, such as footage from body-worn cameras. Often, the department doesn’t do so, despite a legal duty to cooperate with CCRB investigations.

In other cases included in our database, investigators concluded that what a civilian alleged did happen, but the conduct was allowed by the NYPD’s rules. The Police Department’s guidelines often give officers substantial discretion, particularly around use of force. In the curious jargon of police oversight, those cases are classified as “exonerated.”

“I exonerated tons of cases that involved awful conduct that fell within the guidelines,” said former CCRB investigator Dan Bodah, who now researches police oversight at the Vera Institute of Justice. “It’s kind of haunting. The law and policy gives cops a lot of discretion.”

Despite all the limitations, some officers still have multiple allegations against them that have been substantiated. According to the records, 303 officers still working at the NYPD have had five or more substantiated allegations against them. The data we have only shows the briefest of descriptions of alleged abuse. Usually just a few words. But they add up: There are nearly 5,000 allegations of “physical force,” nearly 2,000 of “frisk” and more than 600 of “gun pointed.”

Readers can use the information in the database to request details on cases from the CCRB.

And, even without those further details — which the CCRB is currently barred from releasing because of the order by Failla — users can look at the records and see potential patterns of abuse. Thirty-four officers have had 40 or more allegations against them.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2020 at 10:43 pm

Signs of the fall

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

A year ago today, Trump had a phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and promised to deliver the money Congress had appropriated for Ukraine’s protection against Russian military incursions. Then he added: “I would like you to do us a favor, though….”

While Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was on the call, told his superiors what he had heard, someone else filed a whistleblower complaint. That complaint went to Trump’s own appointee at the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General’s office, Michael Atkinson. Atkinson agreed that the matter was both “credible” and “urgent” and that House and Senate Intelligence Committees must be informed, as required by law.

Atkinson followed the law, passing the information to the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, on August 26. Maguire had only taken office ten days before, on August 16, after Trump’s first DNI, Dan Coats, and Coates’s second-in-command, Sue Gordon, both resigned. As an acting director, rather than a Senate-confirmed leader, Maguire served at the pleasure of the president.

Maguire was supposed to scour the whistleblower complaint of all classified information before forwarding to Congress by September 2, as the law required. But, instead, Maguire took the complaint to the Department of Justice, headed by Trump loyalist Attorney General William Barr. On his advice, Maguire decided not to turn over the information to Congress.

When that happened, Atkinson told the relevant congresspeople that the DNI was illegally withholding the complaint. On September 10, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA) demanded that acting DNI Maguire produce it. Maguire refused, saying that the complaint was about someone not in the Intelligence Community, and therefore not covered by the whistleblower law. (The law does not give him the authority to refuse to deliver a complaint his IG considers credible and urgent. It says he MUST deliver it.)

On Friday, September 13, Schiff wrote a scathing letter to Maguire that brought this whole issue to public attention, noting that it sure seemed like Maguire might be protecting the president, and demanding Maguire follow the law and hand over the whistleblower complaint.

I happened to be scrolling through Twitter when Schiff’s letter dropped, and I recognized it for what it was: a powerful member of Congress accusing a specific member of the Executive Branch of breaking a specific law… the sort of moment on which American history turns.

And that, my friends, is how these Letters began.

Since then,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2020 at 8:46 pm

Police Tactics Seen in Nearly 400 Protest Videos.

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Talia Buford, Lucas Waldron, Moiz Syed, and Al Shaw have a very interesting report in ProPublica:

AS PROTESTS DENOUNCING POLICE BRUTALITY against unarmed Black people spread to thousands of cities, it was videos of police violence — this time, directed at protesters — that went viral. Clips showed officers launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, shooting pepper spray from moving vehicles and firing foam bullets into crowds.

ProPublica looked at nearly 400 social media posts showing police responses to protesters and found troubling conduct by officers in at least 184 of them. In 59 videos, pepper spray and tear gas were used improperly; in a dozen others, officers used batons to strike noncombative demonstrators; and in 87 videos, officers punched, pushed and kicked retreating protesters, including a few instances in which they used an arm or knee to exert pressure on a protester’s neck.

While the weapons, tactics and circumstances varied from city to city, what we saw in one instance after another was a willingness by police to escalate confrontations.

Experts said weapons that aren’t designed to be lethal, from beanbag rounds to grenades filled with pepper spray, can make officers more willing to respond to protesters with force and less disposed to de-escalate tense situations. Not only can some of these weapons cause considerable injury to protesters, particularly if misused, but experts say the mere presence of the weapons often incites panic, intensifies confrontations and puts people on all sides at risk.

And of course, unlike a mass demonstration urging action on an issue like climate change, the protests over police brutality are directed squarely at the officers standing watch. Any use of force can remind protesters what brought them into the streets in the first place and redouble their outrage.

To better understand the dynamics at play, ProPublica spoke to several experts on policing and enlisted two of them to review a selection of eight representative videos in which ProPublica could clearly identify problematic conduct by the police. We break down four of those videos below, accompanied by the experts’ assessment of the police tactics displayed.

The videos have forced the public to confront the reality of dangerously excessive responses by officers against protesters, but will that reckoning be short lived?

Experts said how police respond to demonstrations is, in part, dictated by the availability of nonlethal weapons and on how officers are trained to use them.

In 2016, Haar surveyed 25 years of research on crowd-control weapons used around the world, including three commonly used in the United States: projectiles such as rubber bullets or beanbag rounds; chemical irritants such as tear gas; and disorientation devices known as flashbangs. Her report found that when fired, tear gas canisters can cause vision loss or other traumatic injuries.

“These are all weapons that should be used as a last resort when open dialogue and communication fail and the violence is so out of hand that normal policing methods and arresting people have been tried and don’t work,” Haar said.

The size of protests also influences how police respond, Straub said. Small protests can likely be handled by specialized units that are regularly tasked with managing crowds. Larger protests may require many more officers, some of them drawn from parts of police departments that have less experience and training in crowd control and de-escalation, and thus may be more likely to resort to weapons.

In the Washington video, by not rushing the crowd when a protester threw a bottle, Straub said, the officers remained calm and acted with “restraint.” It would be unfair, Straub said, to require the police to analyze what protesters are throwing at them before reacting, given how quickly such an encounter could escalate. “One person throws a water bottle, five people throw water bottles, and then somebody throws a brick,” he said.

Experts said how quickly officers choose to deploy weapons in the field depends on their training, which can vary widely between departments.

No entity sets training standards for police use of force, experts said. However, departments, equipment manufacturers and state officials have mandated that officers undergo training before they are allowed to use nonlethal weapons. Depending on the training, officers may be taught how to shoot weapons so they “skip off the pavement” in order to decrease their velocity and risk of serious injury.

In firing their guns, officers are taught to aim at the person’s torso because it reduces the risk that a bystander will be struck. But with nonlethal weapons, officers are often instructed to avoid the torso, head or groin, said Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, a trade group for SWAT teams that also conducts training for police departments. Precise aim in a crowd is extremely difficult, he said.

“We explain to them that in a crowd control situation, it’s a dynamic environment,” Eells said. “It’s not the same as a paper target.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including video.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2020 at 8:04 pm

In Portland, the Baby Fascists Have Shown Their Face

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Timothy Snyder writes in Foreign Policy:

Fascism was never about actual people and their predicaments but about a glorious imaginary collective that had died but would be reborn. In the 1920s and 1930s, the idea was everywhere the same: At some point in the past, the nation or the race had been greater, purer, more beautiful. That ancient perfection could be seen in ruins, poems, monuments. Then, so the story went, another group, some inferior race, some cabal had come along and inexplicably ruined the people’s destiny. If only that group could be removed, then the race could be restored, made great again.

In U.S. President Donald Trump’s adoration of Confederate statues and in his mobilization of state power to protect monuments, it is easy to see a similar style. The specifics of the present, the plights of individual Americans, are irrelevant, beside the point. The death of George Floyd matters only insofar as it can trigger a desire to dominate. It is a prompt to a certain narrative in which, in the end, white Americans are the true victims and the U.S. president is the greatest victim of all. The deaths of tens of thousands of Americans from the coronavirus is neither here nor there. Here too the president is victim-in-chief, with a mandate to lead the people into myth. What matters is Americans’ ability, through the medium of metal and concrete, to see their way back to a past when they were great.

Consider what would have happened had the president expressed as much concern for people in February and March as for statues in June and July. There was no call earlier this year for haste, for sudden action, for interagency cooperation, for an expansion of the role of the federal government to defeat a pandemic. On the contrary: The states were told to deal with the coronavirus themselves, and individuals were left to sort through the confusion and contradictions of statements from the White House. But when statues are threatened, then, it seems, exceptional action is called for. What if all the men (and, yes, they are nearly always men) swinging batons now had been passing out masks a few months ago?

Who are the miniature stormtroopers now appearing in Portland and soon in other cities? That the men in mismatched shoes and ill-fitting uniforms lack identification and insignia recalls virtually every authoritarian regime. It is a basic feature of a state under the rule of law that a citizen can recognize legal authority and tell the police from the thugs. It is the nightmare moment of repression to be seized by unknown men. When the government itself elides the distinction between those who protect the law and those who break it, when it makes itself into a paramilitary wearing the wrong kind of camouflage, it invites others to do the same. It is not so hard, after all, to rent a van, play dress up, and start hurting people. When citizens do not know whether they are being intimidated by governmental or nongovernmental forces, the situation is rife for the kind of escalation that fascists liked.

Fascists thrived in crises and indeed sought them out. The unforgettable example is the Reichstag fire, which Adolf Hitler recognized right away as his great opportunity. As the German parliament burned, the Nazis mischaracterized the event, speaking of a vast left-wing conspiracy to destroy the country, the race, and so on. Something not so dissimilar is taking place now, as Attorney General William Barr and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf rationalize the use of force against Americans on the basis of a dark fairy tale about what the protests mean. The Nazis claimed that their main rival, the Social Democrats, were ultimately to be blamed for a terrorist act; Trump’s fundraising messages say the same about his own political rivals. By deliberately provoking protesters, Trump and his allies are working to create their own Reichstag moment. The difference this time, of course, is that everyone knows that this is what is going on.

After the Reichstag fire, the Nazis began to establish concentration camps. Like the U.S. detention centers for migrants, they were based on the premise that a territorial space could be excluded from the rule of law. The very first assignment of the SS was to serve as guards in the new concentration camps. This was the formative experience that made what followed possible. When Americans consider their own detention centers, which hold more people than the Nazi concentration camp system in the 1930s, they should pay special attention to the people these centers employ. It appears that some of the men taking part in the “special response teams” in Portland come from U.S. Border Patrol. It would be interesting to know how many of them already served inside detention centers.

When we use German terms for Nazi history, events and people seem dark and distant. Einsatzgruppen summons a notion of pure evil or perhaps an image of a death pit. But the term just means “deployment groups”; indeed the structure of these units in certain ways recalls that of the special response teams. The Einsatzgruppen were drawn from various units, deployed far from home, and asked to perform special tasks. Like the special response teams, the Einsatzgruppen had an unclear legal status. Their chain of command led through an ideological and party leadership that melded loosely, and only at the top, with the state. It is an awkward similarity that the Department of Homeland Security is directed by a myth-besotted ideologue who was never confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The people beating Americans are unaccountable to them.

All of this is a dry run for November. Republics do not usually collapse because one day one man declares a revolution. They collapse because men inside the regime look for loopholes in the law—as can be seen very clearly in the formation of these deployment groups—and then seek to expand the loopholes until the law itself has no meaning. A crisis is found and expanded until the leader (which is all the word Führer means) can claim that a state of emergency is necessary. Friendly lawyers and judges find some provision of some law that seems to justify this, making the idea of law itself all the less credible. The men who have already learned by running the camps that exception is now the rule thrive as agents of chaos. Elections are of course held, as they were in Nazi Germany, but with the violent men in the mismatched uniforms standing by. The outcome is known in advance.

It can happen in the United States, and some of it has already happened, but the rest of it need not. Major elements of the state, such as . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2020 at 3:35 pm

The US Federal government is now at war with US citizens, thanks to Trump

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Not just the attacks by Border Patrol agents on peaceful protesters, but lying to prevent citizens from gaining government benefits. And still the GOP in Congress will say nothing against it. Ed Shanahan reports for the NY Times:

Homeland Security officials made false statements in a bid to justify expelling New York residents from programs that let United States travelers speed through borders and airport lines, federal government lawyers admitted on Thursday.

The surprise admission, contained in a court filing, said the inaccuracies “undermine a central argument” in the Trump administration’s case for barring New Yorkers from the programs after the state passed a law enabling undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Federal officials had insisted that New York was an outlier in placing restrictions on immigration authorities from gaining access to state Department of Motor Vehicles records. For that reason, they argued, New York was endangering national security and could not be trusted to participate in Global Entry and related travel programs.

But in their filing on Thursday, government lawyers acknowledged that several other states, Washington, D.C., and some U.S. territories also restricted access to motor vehicle information and had not been subject to such a ban.

Against that backdrop, the filing said, “The acting secretary of homeland security has decided to restore New York residents’ access to the Trusted Traveler Programs, effective immediately.”

The filing came in response to lawsuits filed by New York State and the New York Civil Liberties Union over the decision to bar New Yorkers from the program.

“Defendants deeply regret the foregoing inaccurate or misleading statements and apologize to the court and plaintiffs for the need to make these corrections at this late stage in the litigation,” said Audrey Strauss, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan.

The court filing offered an explanation for the Department of Homeland Security’s unexpected announcement on Thursday that it was allowing New Yorkers back into what is officially known as the Trusted Traveler Program.

The announcement came nearly six months after the department barred state residents from Global Entry and other programs because of the state’s passage of the so-called Green Light law.

Unlike its counterparts in other states, the New York law restricted immigration authorities from gaining access to state Department of Motor Vehicles records without a court order.

When the government moved to block state residents from the travel programs because of the driver’s license law, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo condemned the action as “a form of extortion.”

The dispute escalated over the course of a week, until Mr. Cuomo met with President Trump at the White House in February in hopes of working out a compromise. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2020 at 6:51 pm

A clear description of Trump’s initiative to take over by force.

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Michelle Goldberg writes in the NY Times:

The month after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder published the best-selling book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.” It was part of a small flood of titles meant to help Americans find their bearings as the new president laid siege to liberal democracy.

One of Snyder’s lessons was, “Be wary of paramilitaries.” He wrote, “When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.” In 2017, the idea of unidentified agents in camouflage snatching leftists off the streets without warrants might have seemed like a febrile Resistance fantasy. Now it’s happening.

According to a lawsuit filed by Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, on Friday, federal agents “have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters, and place them into the officers’ unmarked vehicles” since at least last Tuesday. The protesters are neither arrested nor told why they’re being held.

There’s no way to know the affiliation of all the agents — they’ve been wearing military fatigues with patches that just say “Police” — but The Times reported that some of them are part of a specialized Border Patrol group “that normally is tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations.”

The Trump administration has announced that it intends to send a similar force to other cities; on Monday, The Chicago Tribune reported on plans to deploy about 150 federal agents to Chicago. “I don’t need invitations by the state,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Fox News Monday, adding, “We’re going to do that whether they like us there or not.”

In Portland, we see what such an occupation looks like. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on 29-year-old Mark Pettibone, who early last Wednesday was grabbed off the street by unidentified men, hustled into an unmarked minivan and taken to a holding cell in the federal courthouse. He was eventually released without learning who had abducted him.

A federal agent shot 26-year-old Donavan La Bella in the head with an impact munition; he was hospitalized and needed reconstructive surgery. In a widely circulated video, a 53-year-old Navy veteran was pepper sprayed and beaten after approaching federal agents to ask them about their oaths to the Constitution, leaving him with two broken bones.

There’s something particularly terrifying in the use of Border Patrol agents against American dissidents. After the attack on protesters near the White House last month, the military pushed back on Trump’s attempts to turn it against the citizenry. Police officers in many cities are willing to brutalize demonstrators, but they’re under local control. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, however, is under federal authority, has leadership that’s fanatically devoted to Trump and is saturated with far-right politics.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Donald Trump picked C.B.P. to be the ones to go over to Portland and do this,” Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, told me. “It has been a very problematic agency in terms of respecting human rights and in terms of respecting the law.”

It is true that C.B.P. is not an extragovernmental militia, and so might not fit precisely into Snyder’s “On Tyranny” schema. But when I spoke to Snyder on Monday, he suggested the distinction isn’t that significant. “The state is allowed to use force, but the state is allowed to use force according to rules,” he said. These agents, operating outside their normal roles, are by all appearances behaving lawlessly.

Snyder pointed out that the history of autocracy offers several examples of border agents being used against regime enemies.

“This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire,” said Snyder. “The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.”

Castro worries that since the agents are unidentified, far-right groups could easily masquerade as them to go after their enemies on the left. “It becomes more likely the more that this tactic is used,” he said. “I think it’s unconstitutional and dangerous and heading towards fascism.”

On Friday, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted about what’s happening in Portland: “Trump and his storm troopers must be stopped.” She didn’t mention what Congress plans to do to stop them, but the House will soon vote on a homeland security appropriations bill. People outraged about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2020 at 12:37 pm

A Navy vet asked federal officers in Portland to remember their oaths. Then they broke his hand.

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This Washington Post report by Marissa Lang indicates the sort of men Trump is sending to Portland (and now to Chicago):

He came to the protest with a question. He left with two broken bones in a confrontation with federal officers that went viral.

Christopher David had watched in horror as videos surfaced of federal officers in camouflage throwing protesters into unmarked vans in Portland. The 53-year-old Portland resident had heard the stories: protesters injured, gassed, sprayed with chemicals that tugged at their nostrils and burned their eyes.

David, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former member of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps, said he wanted to know what the officers involved thought of the oath they had sworn to protect and defend the Constitution.

So, he said, on Saturday evening, he headed to downtown Portland to ask them.

That night’s protests outside the federal courthouse — the 51st day of ongoing demonstrations — began with a line of local moms linking arms and demanding the federal agents stop targeting Portland kids. David, who had never attended a protest before, hung back and watched.

He was trying to keep his distance, he said, as a host of health problems have made him especially vulnerable amid a still-raging coronavirus pandemic. He asked one woman when the feds would show up, but she said it was also her first protest since the Department of Homeland Security deployed tactical units from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to bolster protections for federal buildings and officers in the Pacific Northwest city.

Just as he was about to leave, David said, the federal officers emerged. They rushed a line of protesters nearby, knocking them to the ground. David walked toward a gap in the line, calling out to the officers.

“Why are you not honoring your oath?” he bellowed. “Why are you not honoring your oath to the Constitution?”

An officer trained his weapon on David’s chest as several agents pushed him, sending David stumbling backward. But he regained his center and tried again. Another agent raised his baton and began to beat David, who stood unwavering with his arms at his sides. Then another officer unloaded a canister of chemical irritant spray into David’s face.

That was all he could handle, David said, he turned and walked away, flipping off the federal forces as he went.

A video taken by Portland Tribune reporter Zane Sparling that captures David’s moment of resistance has, as of early Monday, been viewed nearly 9 million times.

Unable to see from the chemicals burning his eyes and blurring his vision, David said, he stumbled into a cloud of gas that made him cough and retch. He found his way to a bench in the park, where a street medic aided him and eventually pulled him away from the advancing officers.

At the hospital, he said, he learned his right hand had been broken in two places.

In the time since, he has been hailed on social media as a hero. Some have dubbed him Portland’s own man of steel, a defender of the city, an anti-fascist super-soldier.

David said he is none of those things.

“It’s just us normal people out there,” he said. “There were a whole group of pregnant moms standing out there linking arms and they got gassed. You hear people like [President] Trump say it’s just a bunch of wacko fringe people in liberal cities who are out there, but no way. We’re all just normal people who think what’s happening is wrong.”

Click the link to watch the video in the tweet.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2020 at 1:39 pm

Trump’s authoritarian endgame is now underway

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Trump is shifting his reelection pitch, and it has frightening implications for the country.

Over the weekend, the federal crackdown in Portland, Oregon continued, with people in unmarked camouflage uniforms arresting peaceful protesters and taking them away in unmarked vehicles. And then, they appeared—for now—to let them go. The administration appears to be constructing a scene of violence and disorder for the news media to show to viewers.

It seems clear that the Trump campaign—which got a new director last Wednesday– is going to make its case for reelection on the idea that there is violence in America’s cities that must be addressed with federal force, and that only Trump is willing to do so.

This is an apparent attempt to overshadow the increasingly alarming news about the coronavirus, which is now burning across the country with renewed vigor. Even as Republican governors are backtracking and asking people to wear masks, Trump continues to insist—falsely– that our spiking numbers are because of increased testing and that the virus will eventually disappear.

In an interview tonight with Chris Wallace on the Fox News Channel (remember, Wallace is an actual reporter, not an entertainment personality like Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity), Trump claimed—again, falsely—that some of the states are rolling back their reopening not because of the ravages of new coronavirus infections, but because they are trying to hurt his chances of reelection. “Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test. Many of them — don’t forget, I guess it’s like 99.7 percent, people are going to get better and in many cases they’re going to get better very quickly,” he said.

When Wallace asked him how he would “regard your years as President of the United States,” Trump said: “I think I was very unfairly treated. From before I even won I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation.” Wallace tried to steer him back on track: “But what about the good—” Trump interrupted: “Russia, Russia, Russia.”

Wallace: “But what about the good parts, sir?

Trump: No, no, I want to do this. I have done more than any president in history in the first three and a half years, and I’ve done it through suffering through investigations where people have been—General Flynn, where people have been so unfairly treated….”

He went on, rehashing his grievances, until Wallace finally bade him goodbye.

From this wreckage, the campaign is trying to find a new, winning issue in law and order.

The footage from Portland shows what looks like a war zone, but the Department of Homeland Security’s own list of the actions of the “violent anarchists” in the city consists of graffiti, torn down fences, and fireworks, all situations the local police insist they can handle. The mayor, both senators, and the governor of Oregon have all asked for the federal troops to be removed, but the administration refuses. Yesterday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the protests were winding down before the federal troops came in and escalated the situation.

In an interview today on the Fox News Channel, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said that Trump is working with Attorney General William Barr and Acting Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to roll out a new plan to “go in” to make sure communities– like Chicago and Milwaukee—across the country are safe. People are assuming that means more federal troops in those– and other– cities, but Meadows did not, in fact, say that explicitly.

The Trump campaign immediately retweeted Meadows’s interview. Trump himself tweeted: “We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!” The argument appears to be that we should not pay attention to the administration’s failure to protect us from coronavirus because it promises now to protect us from “violent anarchists.”

On Friday, The US. Attorney for the District of Oregon, Billy Williams, recognized that the administration’s tactics in Portland had gone too far. He stated: “Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protesters without probable cause, I have requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to open a separate investigation directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum didn’t wait for an investigation. On Friday, she sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Marshals Service in federal court to try to get a court order to stop federal agents from arresting people in Portland. The complaint blames the federal agents for “the current escalation of fear and violence in downtown Portland.”

On Sunday, the chairs of the House Judiciary Committee, the House Homeland Security Committee, and the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to the inspectors general of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice asking them to investigate “the Trump Administration’s use of federal law enforcement to violate the rights of our constituents.” They tied the events in Portland to the larger story of the attack on protesters at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., and to the deployment of cold water cannons, pepper spray, and tear gas on those protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Standing Rock Reservation.

But, they noted, they had an even broader concern. “The legal basis for this use of force has never been explained—and, frankly, it is not at all clear that the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary are authorized to deploy federal law enforcement officers in this manner. The Attorney General of the United States does not have unfettered authority to direct thousands of federal law enforcement personnel to arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The Acting Secretary appears to be relying on an ill-conceived executive order meant to protect historic statues and monuments as justification for arresting American citizens in the dead of night. The Administration’s insistence on deploying these forces over the objections of state and local authorities suggest that these tactics have little to do with public safety, but more to do with political gamesmanship.”

The letter went on: “This is a matter of utmost urgency. Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country. Therefore, we ask that you commence your review of these issues immediately.”

It is not just officials who are objecting to the administration’s authoritarian demonstrations. There was a new force on the Portland streets this weekend: moms. Dressed in yellow shirts, wearing helmets and masks, several hundred women are forming chains between the officers and the protesters. They call themselves the Wall of Moms, and are chanting: “I don’t see no riot here; take off your riot gear,” and “Feds stay clear, moms are here!” Officers tear gassed them last night, but they came back tonight in bigger numbers.

Tonight’s protest was one of the largest this month.

That is Trump’s strategy. You can see reflected in these actions Trump’s admiration (and envy) of admires Robrigo Duterte, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and other dictators.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2020 at 8:31 am

Weird Monopolies and Roll-Ups: Horse Shows, School Spirit, Settlers of Catan, and Jigsaw Puzzles

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Matt Stoller points out more examples of modern monopolies a passive government allows. He writes:

Last week, after I described a land of monopolists, so many of you got in touch with me about your experiences with private equity and monopolies that I realized I’d have to do another issue about market power in niche areas. I’m going beyond just private equity this time, adding areas with just regular old monopolies as well. . .

A Nation of Weird Monopolies

Last week, I went into how private equity is consolidating fragmented industries using a strategy called a ‘roll-up.’ The sectors I profiled included portable toilets, mixed martial arts, prison phone services, dentistry, and mail sorting software. After I published it, I got notes from people involved in current and past roll-ups, as well as hobbyists who noticed consolidation in everything from tools to hearing clinics.

Inevitably, I also notes from people who assert that financier domination is just capitalism in America, and always has been. Some (usually on the right) like this model of development, others (usually on the left) find it dystopian, but they are unified in a pervasive view that such market structures are both inevitable and long-standing. I find such an attitude bizarre, not for any philosophical reason, but because concentrating wealth and power in monopolized markets was just not accepted as a legitimate way to do business for most of American history.

From the 1600s to the 1970s, asking the question of how to constrain wealth and regulate prices was a core part of our tradition and ideology. Here is, for example, something from a 1779 pamphlet passed out in Philadelphia against profiteering during the Revolutionary War: “You that have money, and you that have none, down with your prices, or down with yourselves.… We have turned out against the enemy and we will not be eaten up by monopolizers and forestallers [aka speculators].”

That legacy, hundreds of years old, is why Americans are mad when we are mistreated or overcharged. We aren’t cynics and never have been, and we don’t believe that our corporations and governing institutions should be corrupt. We know at one point they weren’t. And that populist sentiment is bubbling up, in every nook and cranny of our society, because we know something about how we do business today is very wrong.

In the 1980s, most of our elites on the right and left were persuaded that monopolies were natural and, good or bad, simply the American Way. They changed policy accordingly, which is why most of the monopolies we know about were formed during or after that decade. But corruption and monopolization isn’t natural, or inevitable. It’s a choice we’ve made, and a choice we can always undo. Remember that.

With that in mind, here are a few more sectors that have been monopolized. At the end, I’ll offer ideas for what we can do about this problem (which isn’t actually that difficult to address.)

1. Horse Shows

The stereotype of people who ride horses is not that of populist agitators, but there’s increasing anger at the monopolist that organizes horse shows. “I sent an email to the United States Equestrian Foundation,” wrote KB Sportshorses in a post on Facebook complaining about horse show prices, “telling them this is outrageous and it’s time we (USEF and riders) had a conversation about the costs and what can be done or changed in order to bring down the price of horse shows.”

The prices included hosts of charges (stalling fees, manure fees, schooling fees, trailer parking and hook-up fees, etc), the horse show equivalent of administrative fees tacked onto your cell phone bill, just for showing up with your horse. It makes it much more expensive to train a horse in the U.S. than in Europe, because you need to enter young horses in these contests to get show miles. The backstory here is that the governing body of the sport, the United States Equestrian Federation, doles out monopoly privileges to horse show promoters, which means horse jumping and dressage shows are ridiculously overpriced.

The USEF has something called the “mileage rule” which says that show managers aren’t allowed to put on contests on the same date within 250 miles of one another in most states. This rule creates local monopolies, including allegations that show owners “illegally buy and sell show dates they aren’t using,” which is a cartel-like behavior that allows show managers to charge high prices and ticky tack fees.

As usual, there’s a law behind this problem. The mileage rule has been in place since 1975, but the the the United States Olympic Committee gave USEF official monopoly power in 2004 by appointing it the sole national governing body for the sport under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. So the USEF tightened its control over the mileage rule in the mid-2000s. Show managers sued the USEF for antitrust violations over the mileage rule, but in 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the USEF could essentially do whatever it wanted as a sports federation because its appointment as a national governing body gave it implied immunity to the antitrust laws.

High prices and the exclusion of the middle class from the sport these prices imply have generated an increasingly populist spirit among horse lovers. The North American Riders Group, as well as other reformers within the sport, have engaged in longstanding campaign to eliminate the mileage rule; there’s even a petition with a few thousand signatures. As one rider put it, “Honestly I think it’s time we create our own foundation and bring affordability back to common Equestrians.”

2. The School Spirit Market (Class Rings, High School Athletic and Band Gear, Yearbooks, Graduation Materials)

In May, I wrote up a corporation called Varsity Brands, the Bain Capital-owned firm that dominates the cheerleading market, using anti-competitive tactics to control cheerleading contests, as well as sell cheerleading outfits and gear.

But Varsity’s business goes far beyond cheerleading, and the corporation has tried to use its position in selling to schools for cheerleading to build out control over a host of other school-related markets. Through its Herff Jones and BSN sports divisions, the corporation is involved in signet rings, yearbooks, graduation materials, school bands, athletic uniforms, and and even school branding/construction. Varsity has bought up athletic equipment distributors, band-related companies, and so on and so forth. It also does consulting work for schools on branding.

The strategy seems to be to become a monopoly supplier to everything a school does that isn’t classroom-related. Education is a very community-oriented activity, and it’s funded and regulated at a local level for that reason. The attempt to centralize branding and school spirit style activities by Bain Capital is just… creepy. If you want to watch a YouTube video that captures this level of corporate weirdness, look no further.

3. Tabletop Games

A few years ago, French board and card game publisher Asmodee bought the popular tabletop game Settlers of Catan. Asmodee was owned by private equity shop Eurazeo, and was engaging in an aggressive strategy to roll up the industry. According to one of their executives, “Over recent years Asmodee has been a consolidator in the board game market. As investors we want to continue to support the company to consolidate this highly fragmented market.”

Tabletop game business strategy is based on having intellectual property, because buyers of games are an affinity group with allegiances to specific games. Under Eurazeo, Asmodee bought 20 different companies, and Asmodee now publishes dozens of popular games 7 Wonders, Dead of WinterDixitSplendorStar Wars: The X-Wing Miniatures GamePandemic and Ticket to Ride, and “distributes Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! in some European countries.” Asmodee’s strategy is is to acquire intellectual property via merger or licensing and then it use to control distribution to stores, and then raise prices accordingly. Fans of these games have been complaining about price hikes for years.

In 2018, Eurazeo sold Asmodee to another private equity firm, PAI Partners.

4. Jigsaw Puzzles

Yup, there seems to be private equity activity engaging in financial engineering in the jigsaw puzzle market as well, which is similar to the tabletop game market. in 2015, private equity giant Mason Wells bought Buffalo Games, which has 45% of the jigsaw puzzle market. As with tabletop games, the main point is intellectual property. Corporations like Disney simply license their IP to Buffalo Games, which handles all the production and distribution. The leverage for Buffalo Games is its large basket of intellectual property, as well as distribution power to toy stores, and control over the supply chain (which is now at least partially in China).

5. Pharmacy Management System Software

As if there weren’t enough problems for independent pharmacists, there appears to be the beginnings of a roll-up in the software that pharmacists use to fill and bill prescriptions. It’s still a competitive market, with competitors like Computer Rx, Pioneer Rx, QS/1, Best Rx, Foundation Systems, Liberty Software, Prime Rx, Win Rx, etc still operating independently. But the roll-ups are starting, and private equity is coming. In an adjacent market, Tabula Rasa HealthCare (TRHC) is a roll-up whose strategy is to acquire many of the bolt-on technologies for pharmacies, like analytics, billing software for medical services, medication therapy platforms, and so forth.

6. Veterinary Clinics

As Bloomberg noted in 2017, “Pet care is undergoing the same sort of consolidation that transformed human health care in the 1990s.” And the story is global. From a reader: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2020 at 5:43 am

Political Correctness Is Destroying America! (Just Not How You Think.)

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Jon Schwarz has an interesting piece in the Intercept:

AMERICA TODAY faces a terrifying danger: political correctness. It is an existential threat not just to the United States, but all of human civilization.

By this, obviously, I mean right-wing political correctness.

Maybe you’re surprised to hear this. In the U.S. media, there’s no shortage of lamentations about political correctness and how it chills debate — but they’re almost always about the threat of left-wing PC.

In reality, political correctness, or cancel culture, or whatever it’s called, is not a phenomenon of the left, right, or center. It’s a phenomenon of human nature. All humanity’s infinite tribes are prone to groupthink and punishing heretics. That’s why the principle of free thought has to be defended: It is, unfortunately, a weird and unnatural fit for humans.

There absolutely are examples of ugly political correctness from the U.S. “left,” whatever that means in a country that, by historical standards, doesn’t have a left. But the vast, vast majority of political correctness in America is conservative. Conservative PC is so powerful in the U.S. that much of it is adopted by both political parties and all of the corporate media. Indeed, right-wing political correctness is so dominant that it’s politically incorrect to refer to it as political correctness. Instead, we call it things like “patriotism,” or simply don’t notice its existence.

A full examination of America’s conservative PC culture would take the rest of your life to read. So let’s limit this to four areas where the right’s PC causes some of the most harm: religion, foreign policy, the Republican Party, and police.


It probably doesn’t surprise you that exactly zero U.S. presidents have been open atheists. But since Congress first convened in 1789, it’s only had one openly atheist member: Pete Stark of California. Stark retired in 2013, so there are currently none.

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 23 percent of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” This means, Pew says, that “by far the largest difference between the U.S. public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group.”

So there are likely many members of Congress right now who are “in the closet” when it comes to not believing in God. The only explanation? They’re all too cowed by PC to come out.

This isn’t surprising, since the U.S. still demonstrates informal and formal discrimination against atheists. A recent poll found that 96 percent of Americans said they’d vote for a Black candidate for president; 95 percent for a Catholic; and 66 percent for a Muslim. Only 60 percent said they’d vote for an atheist. While it’s unenforceable, the constitutions of eight states actually prohibit atheists from holding office. This includes Maryland, one of the most liberal states, whose constitution also declares that “it is the duty of every man to worship God.” (Maryland women are seemingly free to putter around ignoring the Almighty.)

Pro-religion PC is practiced on both sides of the aisle. In one of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails published by WikiLeaks in 2016, the DNC chief financial officer suggested forcing Bernie Sanders to go on the record about whether he believes in God. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage,” the CFO argued. “My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

Even if, someday, a few national politicians screw up enough courage to admit that they’re atheists, it’s impossible to imagine any announcing that they’re actively anti-theistic. No member of the House is going to go on the CBS morning show and say, “I think all religion is pernicious, it’s a gross form of brainwashing children, and every religious leader is a con artist, including the Pope.”

No one on this plane of existence can say whether or not atheism is correct. What we can be sure of is right-wing PC has sharply limited free political speech in this area, and that’s made us less skeptical and more prone to authoritarianism.

Foreign Policy

America’s ironclad political correctness on religion plays into another aspect of our PC: The ferocious conservative restrictions on discussions of U.S. foreign policy. Since 9/11, many powerful Americans have demonstrated openness, perhaps even eagerness, for war between Christianity and Islam. Before the invasion of Iraq, then-President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac that he saw “Gog and Magog at work” in the Middle East. President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon has spoken about “the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam.” When the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether God sent Trump “just like Queen Esther to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace,” Pompeo responded, “I certainly believe that’s possible.” The right’s yearning to mix religion and violence is incredibly dangerous, yet is a staple of our daily political diet. Few politicians or powerful figures notice, much less attack this.

But our conservative PC on foreign policy goes much further. Everyone in the foreign policy establishment is aware that 9/11 and almost all Islamist terrorism is direct blowback from U.S. actions overseas. As a Defense Department report explained, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’” — i.e., what Bush claimed in front of Congress on September 20, 2001 — “but rather, they hate our policies.” The problem from the establishment’s perspective is that they like those policies, and don’t want to change them just because they get Americans killed. Top members of the military apparently say in private that our deaths are “a small price to pay for being a superpower.”

Yet perhaps the only national-level politician who’s spoken clearly and openly about this is former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. In 2004, a senior Bush administration official was willing to say that without U.S. actions in the Middle East, “bin Laden might still be redecorating mosques and boring friends with stories of his mujahideen days in the Khyber Pass” — but without his or her name attached. The 9/11 Commission’s report makes glancing reference to reality, but as one member later wrote, “The commissioners believed that American foreign policy was too controversial to be discussed except in recommendations written in the future tense. Here we compromised our commitment to set forth the full story.”

As with the conservative PC about God, Democrats also obey the conservative political correctness about foreign policy. For instance, in then-President Barack Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Cairo, he was too PC to tell the truth. Instead, he mumbled that “tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,” whatever that means exactly. In 2010, when Obama’s then-counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was asked why Al Qaeda was so determined to attack the U.S., he responded, “I think this is a, uh, long issue.” He did not elaborate.

The PC line on foreign policy extends far beyond terrorism. Israel is one of the most powerful examples. Every American politician who cares to know is aware that of Israel’s dozen or so wars, it was clearly the aggressor in all but two — the 1948 War of Independence and the 1973 Yom Kippur War — and even those are arguable. They also understand that Israel has rejected numerous offers to create a just, two-state solution with the Palestinians. In private, U.S. officials say that Israel has constructed “apartheid” in the West Bank. While a minor glasnost on this subject is currently in progress, this clear reality remains inexpressible by U.S. politicians.

And what about the media, that hotbed of freethinking radicalism? Even rich, famous TV hosts who deviate from the right’s PC line must issue groveling apologies or get canceled, literally. Sometimes they issue groveling apologies and get canceled. After Bush called the 9/11 hijackers “cowards,” Bill Maher took issue on his old ABC show “Politically Incorrect.” “We have been the cowards,” Maher said, “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.” Maher immediately said he was sorry, but it was too late: His show lost big advertisers and was taken off the air the next year. In other words, the moment “Politically Incorrect” was genuinely politically incorrect, Maher was yanked off-stage.

Next, in February 2003 just before the invasion of Iraq, Phil Donohue’s MSNBC show got the ax. It had the highest ratings on the network, but as executives fretted in an internal memo, it could become “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” In other words, since all of the rest of American TV was ultra-PC, and they had to be too. The same channel soon signed Jesse Ventura to a three-year contract for a new show but then found out he was anti-war and so paid him to do nothing.

Other TV figures made sure not to suffer similar fates. “I remember,” Katie Couric later said, “this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this? And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? … Anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.” At the time, when it actually mattered, Couric chirped on “The Today Show” that “Navy SEALs rock!”

Then there’s Chris Hayes, another MSNBC host. In a broadcast just before Memorial Day 2012, Hayes expressed exactly the kind of sentiment you’d expect to hear in an honest debate on war: “It is, I think, very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor. … I feel uncomfortable about the word ‘hero’ because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. And I obviously don’t want to desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen. … But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic.” The freakout from the right was so intense that Hayes immediately said he was “deeply sorry” because “it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots.”

Even opinions on events from a lifetime ago must be politically correct. After Jon Stewart said on “The Daily Show” that he believed Harry Truman was a “war criminal” for using atomic weapons on Japan, he came under immediate attack, and quickly came crawling for forgiveness. “I walk that back because it was in my estimation a stupid thing to say,” Stewart pleaded in a tone recognizable from any of history’s struggle sessions. “You ever do that, where you’re saying something, and as it’s coming out you’re like, ‘What the fuck?’ And it just sat in there for a couple of days, just sitting going, ‘No, no, [Truman] wasn’t, and you should really say that out loud on the show.’”

With no critiques about specifics permissible, a broad discussion about U.S. foreign policy is light years away. There won’t be any politicians or TV hosts anytime soon who’ll consistently emphasize Martin Luther King Jr.’s position that America is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

No one knows what foreign policy Americans would choose after an open debate. But it’s manifestly true that the current one, shaped overwhelmingly by right-wing PC, has caused gigantic damage to the U.S. and the world.

The Republican Party

Today’s GOP often enforces internal ideological purity more strictly than the Chinese Communist Party. This matters because the U.S. political system is so sclerotic it requires some buy-in from the opposition party for almost anything to change. So as long as Republicans stay in lockstep with each other, nothing will happen.

The GOP’s PC has been particularly disastrous with the climate crisis. The Republican president of the United States constantly calls it a “hoax.” For a decade, GOP politicians and the party’s apparat have almost all refused to acknowledge that it even exists. Newt Gingrich said in 2008 that “our country must take action to address climate change” — but when GOP PC changed, so did he. When Gingrich ran for president in 2012, Rush Limbaugh horrified listeners by telling them of a rumored chapter in a forthcoming Gingrich book that addressed global warming honestly. Gingrich obediently cut it. Then he began posting pictures on Instagram with captions like “More evidence of global warming, the Potomac iced over last night.”

Things are slowly shifting now as younger Republicans begin to understand the frightening future staring them in the face. Currently the party’s split between a faction that wants to continue denying reality, and one which wants to stop denying reality while doing nothing effective about it.

The GOP’s political correctness on climate change flows from a broader rejection of Enlightenment methods of figuring out reality. Limbaugh, whom Trump recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has famously proclaimed that science is one of the “corners of deceit” used by liberals to create “The Universe of Lies.” No prominent Republican politician has ever disavowed Limbaugh’s view.

Beyond this is further rigid GOP political correctness on almost all issues. A Republican politician must publicly profess belief in American exceptionalism. Cutting taxes causes government revenue to go up. Any increase in taxes on the rich and corporations will cause economic devastation. Evolution is a lie. Abortion is a titanic moral evil. Trump is a super-duper president. They have a great idea for bringing low-cost, high-quality health care to every citizen but don’t want to mention it right now and ruin the secret.

But facts don’t care about conservatives’ feelings. Our Republican-led coronavirus carnage is a preview of what’s coming with the climate crisis.


With millions of people turning out in demonstrations against police brutality, there are some obvious questions we should be asking ourselves: Why are cops acting this way? Why are the so-called bad apples never removed? No politicians or TV hosts are providing the simple answer: political correctness.

Police officers will almost never report another officer mistreating a civilian. This is understandable, since the best case for these “snitches” is usually having their careers destroyed. Some, such as the NYPD’s Adrian Schoolcraft, fare even worse. In 2009, after Schoolcraft found that his supervisors were manipulating crime statistics, his fellow cops broke into his apartment, abducted him, and committed him to a psychiatric hospital. Whatever you want to say about Oberlin’s student council, they’re not doing that.

Police department PC has been enabled by another layer of conservative political correctness on top of it. Until recently,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2020 at 9:55 am

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