Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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

leave a comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2019 at 4:22 pm

Out of this darkness we must find the will to fight back

leave a comment »

George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:

Yes, it’s dark. Darker, arguably, than at any point since the second world war. We have a government not of conservatives but of the radical right, who will now seek to smash the remaining restraints on capital and those who accumulate it. They will take their sledgehammers to our public services and our public protections. They cheated and lied to assist their victory; they will cheat and lie even more to implement their programme.

They are led by a man who has expressed overtly racist views, who won’t hesitate to stir up bigotry and xenophobia whenever he runs into trouble, scapegoating immigrants, Muslims, Romany Gypsies and Travellers, the poor and the weak. They will revel in outrage and affront, using every attack on common decency to normalise the unacceptable. This government has no vision for the country, only a vision for the oligarchs to whom it is bound, onshore and offshore.

So I don’t want to minimise the scale and horror of what we face. But documenting it is one task; the other is resisting it. Here, roughly and briefly, is an outline of how we might begin. I am as tired and shocked and frazzled as you are, so please forgive me if I have missed some essential elements.

First, we must park the recriminations and blame. We need to be fully occupied fighting the government and its backers, not fighting each other. Solidarity is going to be crucial over the coming months. We should seek, wherever possible, to put loyalty to party and faction aside, and work on common resolutions to a crisis afflicting everyone who wants a kinder, fairer, greener nation.

All the progressive manifestos I’ve read – LabourGreenSNPLiberal DemocratPlaid Cymru – contain some excellent proposals. Let’s extract the best of them, and ideas from many other sources, and build an alliance around them. There will be differences, of course. But there will also be positions that almost everyone who believes in justice can accept.

I believe we need to knit these proposals into the crucial missing element in modern progressive politics: a restoration story. A powerful new narrative is the vehicle for all political transformations. While all the progressive parties in the UK have proposed good policies, none of them have told a story that exactly fits the successful narrative template. Let’s work together to craft the story of change.

We should use the new story, and the proposals this narrative vehicle carries, to build mass resistance movements, taking inspiration from – and building on – highly effective mobilisations such as the youth climate strikes. We will draw strength from the movements in other nations, and support them in turn.

A major part of this resistance, I believe, must be the reclamation of a culture of public learning. Acquiring useful knowledge requires determined study. Yet we have lost the habit of rigorous learning in adulthood, once seen as crucial to social justice. This makes us vulnerable to every charlatan who stands for election, and every lie they amplify through the billionaire press and social media.

Those who govern us would love to keep us in ignorance. When they deride “elites”, they don’t mean people like themselves – the rich and powerful. They mean teachers and intellectuals. They are creating an anti-intellectual culture, to make people easier to manipulate. Let’s reinvigorate the workers’ education movements. Let’s restore a rich public culture of intellectual self-improvement, open to everyone. Knowledge is the most powerful tool in politics.

We must expose every lie, every trick this government will play, using social media as effectively as possible. We must use every available tool to investigate its financial relationships, interests and strategies. We should use the courts to sue and prosecute malfeasance whenever we can.

But while all this is happening, more and more people will fall through the cracks. I recognise that charity is no substitute for justice, and we can never fully compensate for the failures of the state. Even so, we must enhance the support and giving networks for the people this government will neglect or attack. No one should have to face the coming onslaught alone.

We will create, to the greatest extent possible, a resistance economy. This means local cooperative networks of mutual support, which circulate social and material wealth within the community. The astonishing work of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2019 at 3:52 pm

“I became part of the alt-right at age 13, thanks to Reddit and Google”

leave a comment »

An anonymous teenager writes in Fast Company:

When I was 13, I was convinced that Jews controlled global financial networks and that black Americans committed homicide at a higher rate than whites. I believed that the wage gap was a fallacy fabricated by feminists, and I was an avid supporter of the men’s rights movement. I accepted all of the alt-right maxims I saw as a Reddit moderator, despite my Jewish upbringing in a liberal household with a tight-knit family that taught me compassion, empathy, and respect for others.

Now, I’m 16, and I’ve been able to reflect on how I got sucked into that void—and how others do, too. My brief infatuation with the alt-right has helped me understand the ways big tech companies and their algorithms are contributing to the problem of radicalization—and why it’s so important to be skeptical of what you read online.

My own transformation started when I switched into a new school in the middle of eighth grade. Like anyone pushed into unfamiliar territory, I was lonely and friendless and looking for validation and social connection. But unlike others, I found that validation on the alt-right corners of the internet. The alt-right and the tech platforms that enable it became the community I needed—until I finally opened my eyes and realized it was turning me into someone who I never wanted to be.

A few weeks after I started going to my new school, I noticed that a bunch of the guys in my class were browsing a website called Reddit. I didn’t understand what the site was or how it worked, but I was desperate to fit in and make a mark in my new environment. I went up to one of those guys during study hall and asked how to use Reddit. He helped me set up an account and subscribe to “subreddits,” or mini communities within the Reddit domain. I spent the rest of that period scrolling through Reddit and selecting the communities I wanted to join.

That’s how I discovered r/dankmemes. At first, I only understood about half of the posts that I saw. A lot of the content referenced political happenings that I had never heard of. There were hundreds of sarcastically written posts that echoed the same general themes and ideas, like “there are only 2 genders,” or “feminists hate men.” Since I had always been taught that feminism and social justice were positive, I first dismissed those memes as abhorrently wrong.

But while a quick burst of radiation probably won’t give you cancer, prolonged exposure is far more dangerous. The same is true for the alt-right. I knew that the messages I was seeing were wrong, but the more I saw them, the more curious I became. I was unfamiliar with most of the popular discussion topics on Reddit. And when you want to know more about something, what do you do? You probably don’t think to go to the library and check out a book on that subject, and then fact check and cross reference what you find. If you just google what you want to know, you can get the information you want within seconds.

So that’s what I did. I started googling things like “Illegal immigration,” “Sandy Hook actors,” and “Black crime rate.” And I found exactly what I was looking for.

The articles and videos I first found all backed up what I was seeing on Reddit—posts that asserted a skewed version of actual reality, using carefully selected, out-of-context, and dubiously sourced statistics that propped up a hateful world view. On top of that, my online results were heavily influenced by something called an algorithm. I understand algorithms to be secretive bits of code that a website like YouTube will use to prioritize content that you are more likely to click on first. Because all of the content I was reading or watching was from far-right sources, all of the links that the algorithms dangled on my screen for me to click were from far-right perspectives.

I liked Reddit so much that after around a month of lurking, I applied for a moderator position on r/dankmemes. Suddenly, I was looking at far-right memes 24/7, with an obligation to review 100 posts a day as a moderator. I was the person deciding whether to allow a meme onto the subreddit or keep it off. Every day, for hours on end, I had complete control of what content was allowed on r/dankmemes. That made me even more curious about what I was seeing, leading to more Google searches—all of which showed me exactly what I already believed to be true—and subsequently shoving me deeper into the rabbit hole of far-right media. I spent months isolated in my room, hunched over my computer, removing and approving memes on Reddit and watching conservative “comedians” that YouTube served up to me.

In my case, the alt-right did what it does best. It slowly hammered hatred into my mind like a railroad spike into limestone. The inflammatory language and radical viewpoints used by the alt-right worked to YouTube and Google’s favor—the more videos and links I clicked on, the more ads I saw, and in turn, the more ad revenue they generated.

Some of the other moderators were under the influence of this poison, too. They started to focus on the same issues that alt-right forums and online media pushed into the headlines, and we would sometimes discuss how women who abort their children belong in jail, or how “trauma actors” would be used to fake school shooting events like the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Granted, not all of the moderators took part in these talks. It only takes a few though, and those were the few that I admired the most. It soon felt like a brotherhood or a secret society, like we were the few conscious humans that managed to escape the matrix. We understood what we believed to be the truth, and no one could convince us otherwise.

The alt-right’s appeal started to dissipate that summer, when I took a month-long technology break to go to sleepaway camp before the start of my ninth grade year. But the biggest step in my recovery came when I attended a pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., in September 2017, about a month after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist. I wanted to show my support of Trump while being able to finally meet the people behind the internet forums where I had found my community. After many tries, I finally managed to convince my mom to take me, telling her I simply wanted to watch history unfold (she wrote about the experience in the Washingtonian). But really, I was excited to meet the flesh-and-blood people who espoused alt-right ideas, instead of talking to them online.

The difference between the online persona of someone who identifies as alt-right and the real thing is so extreme that you would think they are different people. Online, they have the power of fake and biased news to form their arguments. They sound confident and usually deliver their standard messages strongly. When I met them in person at the rally, they were awkward and struggled to back up their statements. They tripped over their own words, and when they were called out by any counter protestors in the crowd, they would immediately use a stock response such as “You’re just triggered.” They couldn’t come up with any coherent arguments; they rambled and repeated talking points.

The rally left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Seeing for myself that the people I was talking to online were weak, confused, and backwards was the turning point for me. It wasn’t immediate, but I slowly and gradually began to reduce my time on Reddit, and I eventually messaged the other moderators and told them that I was going to quit to focus on school. They all said that they wanted me to stay and pleaded with me to just take a break and come back later. I stayed on as a moderator in name only, no longer making decisions about any of the content assigned to me. A few months later, Reddit sent me a message with the subject line: “You have been removed as a moderator of r/dankmemes.” I felt like the character James Franco plays in 127 Hours as he walks out of the canyon that had imprisoned him for days on end, bloodied but alive nonetheless.

At this point, we’re too far gone to reverse the damage that the alt-right has done to the internet and to naive adolescents who don’t know any better—children like the 13-year-old boy I was. It’s convenient for a massive internet company like Google to deliberately ignore why people like me get misinformed in the first place, as their profit-oriented algorithms continue to steer ignorant, malleable people into the jaws of the far-right. My own situation was personally very difficult but had no wider consequences. But don’t forget that Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015, was radicalized by far-right groups that spread misinformation with the aid of Google’s algorithms. It all started when Roof asked Google about black-on-white crime.

YouTube is an especially egregious offender. Over the past couple months, I’ve been getting anti-immigration YouTube ads that feature an incident presented as a “news” story, about two immigrants who raped an American girl. The ad offers no context or sources, and uses heated language to denounce immigration and call for our county to allow ICE to seek out illegal immigrants within our area. I wasn’t watching a video about immigration or even politics when those ads came on; I was watching the old Monty Python “Cheese Shop” sketch. How does British satire, circa 1972, relate to America’s current immigration debate? It doesn’t.

If we want to stop destructive, far-right, and alt-right ideologies from spawning domestic terrorism incidents in the future, tech companies need to be held accountable for the radicalization that results from their systems and standards. Google and YouTube should own up to their part in this epidemic, but I doubt they will. Ethics and morals have no meaning when millions of dollars are at stake. That’s the America that I, along with millions of other Gen Z kids, are growing up in.

During my ordeal into and out of the online alt-right, I’ve learned that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2019 at 3:09 pm

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

leave a comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survey analysis revealed that:

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

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

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

Continue reading. There’s much more.

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

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2019 at 8:21 pm

Why the Media Are Ignoring the Afghanistan Papers

leave a comment »

Alex Shephard writes in the New Republic:

This week, The Washington Post published the Afghanistan Papers, an extensive review of thousands of pages of internal government documents relating to the war in Afghanistan. Like the Pentagon Papers, which showcased the lies underpinning the Vietnam War, the Post’s investigation shows that U.S. officials, across three presidential administrations, intentionally and systematically misled the American public for 18 years and counting. As Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1974, told CNN earlier this week, the Pentagon and Afghanistan Papers revealed the same dynamic: “The presidents and the generals had a pretty realistic view of what they were up against, which they did not want to admit to the American people.”

The documents are an indictment not only of one aspect of American foreign policy, but also of the U.S.’s entire policymaking apparatus. They reveal a bipartisan consensus to lie about what was actually happening in Afghanistan: chronic waste and chronic corruption, one ill-conceived development scheme after another, resulting in a near-unmitigated failure to bring peace and prosperity to the country. Both parties had reason to engage in the cover-up. For the Bush administration, Afghanistan was a key component in the war on terror. For the Obama administration, Afghanistan was the “good war” that stood in contrast to the nightmare in Iraq.

The Afghanistan Papers are, in other words, a bombshell. Yet the report has received scant attention from the broader press. Neither NBC nor ABC covered the investigation in their nightly broadcasts this week. In other outlets, it has been buried beneath breathless reporting on the latest developments in the impeachment saga, Joe Biden’s purported pledge to serve only one term, and world leaders’ pathological envy of a 16-year-old girl.

The relentless news cycle that characterizes Donald Trump’s America surely deserves some blame: This isn’t the first time that a consequential news story has been buried under an avalanche of other news stories. But one major reason that the Afghanistan Papers have received so comparatively little coverage is that everyone is to blame, which means no one has much of an interest in keeping the story alive. There are no hearings, few press gaggles.

George W. Bush started the Afghanistan War and botched it in plenty of ways, not least by starting another war in Iraq. But Barack Obama, despite his obvious skepticism of the war effort, exacerbated Bush’s mistakes by bowing to the Washington foreign policy blob and authorizing a pointless troop surge. Now, although both Democrats and Donald Trump seem to be on the same page about getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, there has been little progress with peace talks. The pattern across administrations is that any movement toward resolution is usually met with a slow slide back into the status quo, a.k.a. quagmire.

The political press loves the idea of bipartisan cooperation, which plays into a notion of American greatness and its loss. It also thrives on partisan conflict, because conflict drives narrative. It doesn’t really know what to do with bipartisan failure.

During the impeachment hearings, news outlets gleefully covered the conflict between Trump and members of the foreign policy establishment, holding up the latter as selfless bureaucrats working tirelessly and anonymously on behalf of the American interest, in contrast with the feckless and narcissistic head of the executive branch. The Afghanistan Papers don’t provide that kind of easy contrast; they demand a kind of holistic condemnation, in which Trump and those bureaucrats are part of the same problem.

The media also has a long-standing bias toward “new” news. The Afghanistan War has been a catastrophic failure for nearly two decades. Because little changes, there is little to report that will excite audiences. (Though the Afghanistan Papers are startling, they are hardly surprising.) Given that the president is the greatest supplier of “new” news in recent history—his Twitter feed alone powers MSNBC most days—more complex stories, like the situation in Afghanistan, are often buried in favor of the political equivalent of sports sideline reporting.

The result is that this massive controversy receives disproportionately little coverage. Despite wasting thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, everyone in the U.S. government gets off scot-free. . .

Continue reading.

It is increasingly difficult to see how the US can get back on track. Too many different forces have motivation to stay the current course, which leads directly over a cliff.

This is How a Society Dies

leave a comment »

Umir Haque writes at Medium:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2019 at 11:14 am

The ‘Russia Hoax’ Is a Hoax

leave a comment »

Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2019 at 1:15 pm

%d bloggers like this: