Sunday, August 31, 2014

Or We Can Just Do What Feels Good

President Obama's remark to reporter on Friday that "we don't have a strategy yet" for combating ISIL (Iraqi security forces it slay in June, photo below) has unsurprisingly found few defenders.  For example, according to The Daily Beast

One has to wonder what sort of signal this administration is sending to ISIS by using tough rhetoric on one hand and then contravening what top officials just said,” said a former Pentagon official who served in Iraq. “It’s not just demoralizing to those who want to stop ISIS in its tracks, but ISIS is just going to act with greater impunity now if they believe they got a free pass. Every single ISIS leader was watching that.

For its part, Politico Magazine on Friday published the opinions of six strategists on the course the USA should pursue to counter the most current terroristic threat.

Senator John McCain argues for arming the Kurdish peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army, as well as bombing Iraq and Syria.   By contrast, Douglas Feith, an under secretary for defense under Bush 43, urges the U.S. to recognize  "religious extremists" as "the enemy"  in order "to deal with them as an enemy... and counter the appeal of their ideology" by empowering moderate Muslims.

Lt. General David Barno advocates a three-legged strategy in which the Administration to "increase the levels of targeted air attacks in Iraq, employ unmanned lethal drones to attack ISIL in Syria and selectively employ Special Forces and covert intelligence teams to assess and facilitate targeting of key ISIL military capabilities."   Retired army major general Paul Eaton urges creation of a regional coalition, preferably with Turkey at its head.  Admiral James Stavridis recommends the President aid the Peshmerga and Iraqi security strikes and conduct employ airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Major General Charles J. Dunlap advocates a "determined American air campaign" because

Some pundits like to insist that airpower can’t do much, but they need to look harder at how ISIL’s style creates liabilities for itself. ISIL arrogantly eschews the furtive, hit-and-run tactics that other Iraqi (and Afghan) militants used to escape being bludgeoned by U.S. fighters and bombers. Rather, they like to collect themselves into brazenly visible groups and use their reputation for savagery to scatter their already terrorized opponents.

All of this actually makes them vulnerable to a determined American air campaign. Among other things, ISIL isn’t going to “scatter” or intimidate American airpower. What’s more, ISIL’s penchant for operating openly—as well as for seizing, occupying and trying to administer territory instead of hiding quietly among the civilian populace—presents targeting opportunities that other terrorists assiduously avoid.

There is overlap among the positions, especially those of Senator McCain and Admiral Stavridis.   None of the individuals recommends American ground forces, probably because the populace is dead set against it. (Still, we look forward to hearing in a few months about the limits of air power. Soberly stated with no sense of irony.)

But there is a reason the article is entitled "Six Strategies Obama Could Use to Fight the Islamic State." There are differences among all approaches, with each individual fairly confident he knows the way to success, unlike President Obama who admits to uncertainty.

It would be so much more comforting if we had an Administration as self-assured as the Bush Administration was about Gulf War II.  The nation had a vice-president who shortly before the fighting began confidently maintained "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators" and a president who four years later declared "as long as I'm Commander-in-Chief we will fight to win. I'm confident that we will prevail."   Years later, the invasion's proponents still don't acknowledge we lost the war years ago.

Act in haste, repent at leisure.  The quandary facing President Obama is illustrated neatly, though unintentionally (and this, too, without irony) by the President of the Syrian National Coalition, who told The Daily Beast

The political process is in a coma… As long as the regime continues in power, these terrorist organizations will grow in power and size, and the problem that started in Syria and crossed now into Iraq and Lebanon, will soon move across the region and eventually into Europe and the U.S.

Those terrorist organizations are the precise outfits which are trying to oust that regime.  Bomb the world's most brutal terrorist organization, and "the regime" of Bashir al-Assad, which rules with an unusually iron hand, is strengthened.   Lay off ISIL and his Baathist government will remain in power. It's a choice no one likes making, except for those who are sure they're right.

                                                      HAPPY LABOR DAY

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Not Perfect, But Much Better Than Good Enough

At a town hall meeting in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Senator Elizabeth Warren responded to a constituent disappointed, in view of the recent Hamas war, that she voted to send an additional $225 million to Israel for the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Cape Cod Times reports

"I think the vote was right, and I'll tell you why I think the vote was right," she said. "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world."

Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel "indiscriminately," but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have "not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for." When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel's attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the "last thing Israel wants."

"But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they're using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself," Warren said, drawing applause.

This kind of talk rankles Glenn Greenwald and some of the commentors on his website, who are miffed that a strong progressive is not charmed by terrorists such as Hamas. To be sure, Greenwald notes also that Warren was cool to the idea of another questioner who supports pressuring Israel to halt its settlements (a somewhat more defensible view), though Greenwald inaccurately complains she "rejected" the suggestion. He also commends "many of (her) domestic views" (and links to this appearance in February, 2013; video below), though sarcastically commenting they have "elevated her to hero status for many progressives."

It is evidently at least a venal sin to contribute to an ally's defense of its population against rocket attacks. (Better to ramp up the death toll.)  More oddly, Greenwald knocks the Senator for what is essentially boilerplate language on her Senate website.  The website, he notes, "still contains statements such as 'it is a moral imperative to support and defend Israel' and 'as a United States Senator, I will work to ensure Israel’s security and success.'"

Greenwald neglects mentioning that therein Warren has gone full-bore militaristic, rattling her sabers by maintaining

I am also a strong proponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I believe to be in the interest of Israel and the United States, with a Jewish, democratic state of Israel and a state for the Palestinian people. The U.S. can and should play an active role in promoting a diplomatic resolution to the conflict that is agreed to by the parties, but I do not believe that a lasting peace can be imposed from the outside or that either party should take unilateral steps - such as the Palestinians' application for UN membership - that move the parties further away from negotiations. 

Notwithstanding Warren largely merely restating the policy of the U.S. government,  Greenwald criticizes the Senator's defense of the Israeli bombing campaign for "echoing Benjamin Nentanyahu." That would be the same Benjamin Netanyahu who recently went to war determined “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria” because "I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan."

The journalist concludes by snarking  "That, ladies and gentlemen, is your inspiring left-wing icon of the Democratic Party."  Domestic policy typically doesn't capture his attention, allowing him to ooze sarcasm for a Senator who last November

appeared at a congressional event to attack regulators for failing to tackle the problem of financial institutions that are "too big to fail".

"We have got to get back to running this country for American families, not for its largest financial institutions," said Warren, who said the issue was an indictment of how little had changed since the 2008 banking crash.

The four biggest Wall Street banks are 30% larger than before the financial crisis, she said, while the five biggest institutions hold more than half the bank assets in the country.

Warren claimed this amounted to an $83bn-a-year taxpayer subsidy for some Wall Street institutions, because they were so large that they could safely rely on a government bailout in the event of a future crisis, and were therefore able to take bigger risks than rivals. She also cited research suggesting the crash had cost up to $14tn, or $120,000 for each American household.

If there were no Elizabeth Warren, there would be no Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Massachusetts Senator, recognizing the contribution of the financial sector to the economic catastrophe the country (and world) endured a few years back, also has been a leader in the effort to reform the student loan program.

There is a reason no one has been quoted as saying "The Israeli lobby owns this place." Ditto for organized labor, the insurance industry, the NRA, or reproductive rights supporters or opponents.  It's because no such claim can be legitimately made. But Majority Whip Dick Durbin in 2010 did credibly remark "The banks--hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created--are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."

Elizabeth Warren is mostly, perhaps not completely, right about Israel. But never mind. She is not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee but of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.  Fussing about her views about the Middle East, which are fairly standard, would be akin to being obsessed with the views (whatever they are) of Glenn Greenwald on gun control, abortion, or restrictions on genetically- modified ingredients in crops.

However, while the mega-banks have only gotten bigger and more powerful, no congressional Republican, and too few congressional Democrats, have taken them on. One who has is Elizabeth Warren. That is not enough to make her an "icon"- no human being should be- but it ought to make Massachusetts residents proud.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Less Militaristic Than Strategically Questionable

In late July, Gallup undertook a survey (below) of "Americans' Views of Actions in Current Middle East Conflict."  It broke responses down by political party, by subgroup (gender, race, age, and educational attainment), and by "how closely following news about the situation."

It's now a little dated, but somewhat instructive.  Gallup found Americans overall split on whether Israel's actions against Gaza were "justified" or "unjustified," though opinion came down overwhelmingly on the side of believing Hamas was "unjustified."   Most striking, however, was that pro-Israel sentiment increased dramatically as knowledge about the conflict rose, which is only fitting.

Nonetheless, now that yet another ceasefire has been implemented, the question seems, or should seem, rather quaint. There are few countries- none, one suspects- that would accept repeated missile attacks upon its soil (we would call it "the Homeland") without retaliating militarily.

But most nations would retaliate with an objective of victory. That, it seems, was never the intent of Benjamin Netanyahu.   Both Netanyahu and Hamas, perhaps even with straight faces, declared victory, but

"I don’t think any of the fundamentals have changed," said Daniel Levy, MENA programme chair at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

"Israel didn’t want to remove Hamas and it never defined its goals as removing Hamas from Gaza. Hamas has not been demilitarised. It has been weakened but only slightly, and [the war] did not weaken it politically. It is still standing and it is sending rockets.

"But given the disparity in strength, Hamas has not been able to impose its will on Israel and Gaza will not be opened up to the world. So no real change," he added. 

So let's review. Hamas retains the ability to fire missiles into Israel which, it prays, ultimately will be able to hit population centers.  The blockade against Hamas, with its damaging impact upon the actual Palestinians residing in the territory, has not ended.

It was neither a victory for Gazans nor for Israelis, the latter of whom recognize that a Jewish state will not be secure unless the grievances of Palestinians are resolved. But it may have satisfied the interests of their Prime Minister.  Knesset member Israel Hassan, former head of Israel Security Agency Shin Bet, argued approximately a week before the settlement

the diplomatic approach that determined the manner and pace of our operational activity during Operation Protective Edge was the one that says that this conflict has no solution and must be managed instead, so we cannot push anything to the edge. In other words, we mustn’t push Hamas too far into a corner and improve Mahmoud Abbas’ standing, because if he gets stronger, we will eventually have to pay him back in diplomatic currency, a currency that we are not willing to lay out...

I’m very sorry to say this — it actually hurts me to admit it — but I can’t think of any other explanation for the way the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] has acted in keeping with orders from the political echelon. I would like someone to please explain why the IDF didn’t continue advancing another half a kilometer [0.3 miles] into Gaza after finishing up with the tunnels, so as to force Hamas to start folding up its flags. All of that was possible, but someone didn’t want to make Hamas any weaker than it already is, because that same someone only wanted to strike at it in a limited way. This was meant to avoid a situation in which Hamas would be weakened in a way that would strengthen Abbas, turning him into the address for finding a solution. We stopped intentionally when we did.

This turns the common perception of the Israeli invasion on its head.   Israel's bombardment- while not undertaken as responsibly as in the past- and its incursion into Hamas-controlled territory were justified, but may not have been wise, from an Israeli (let alone from humanitarian) perspective. Asking whether Jerusalem's actions are "justified," while the standard and seemingly logical question, misses the central issue for the West. It rests on the premise that the action by the Netanyahu government is the most aggressive, and most zealous of Zionist interests, policy that might have been taken.

Considered more closely, however, Netanyahu's approach appears to be one careful not to destroy Hamas and not to empower the more moderate Abbas, whose influence would only grow with the demise of Hamas.   Notwithstanding whatever the Prime Minister's actual motive is, his actions imply a belief that establishment of an independent Palestinian state (which presumably runs through the Palestinian Authority) can be avoided, and that a one-state solution is attainable. They are consistent with his statement in July “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Evidence suggests Benjamin Netanyahu believes there still can be a Jewish state in the Middle East in the absence of a Palestinian state (aside from, of course, the current Palestinian state of Jordan).   His only problem is not one of morality or justification, but that the rest of the world disagrees.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Too Busy To Be Bothered

Mitch McConnell appeared two months ago at what The Nation described as "a secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers."  The publication and The Undercurrent obtained a video recording of the Minority Leader, alternately spinning  Repub myths and making no sense. In part, he is quoted (video, below) as maintaining

And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.

McConnell himself will have to explain, if asked, his sarcastic comments linking unemployment compensation and retirees.  Clearly, however, he is complaining about even debating the minimum wage, the effect of which on job losses "goes on and on — not just among politicians, but also among economists," reports an NPR blogger.

There is no question, obviously, that raising the minimum wage increases the pay of workers earning the minimum wage. Nor is there much question that it has an uplifting effect upon the wages of other other poorly-paid workers. And that is probably more important, given lagging wages and salaries throughout the economy. It appears it would have been especially helpful for Maria Fernandez (photo, below from the Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ), who

worked four jobs, including shifts at two different Dunkin Donuts.

Often she drove from job to job, stopping along the road to catch a couple hours sleep, police said. She kept a container of gasoline in her 2001 Kia Sportage because occasionally she ran out of gas, authorities said.

Early Monday, the 32-year-old Newark woman pulled into a lot off Route 1 & 9 in Elizabeth for a nap. She apparently left the car running and was overcome by carbon monoxide mixed with fumes from the gas can that had overturned, police said. Fernandes was found dead in the car about eight hours later....

New Jersey has tens of thousands of people working multiple jobs, said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

"These are are folks who would like to work full-time but they can't find the jobs," Van Horn said. "They wind up in these circumstances in which they are exhausted. More commonly it creates just an enormous amount of stress," he said.

Many people have been forced to work two or three part time jobs after losing a full-time position in the recession of 208.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7.5 million people nationwide are working more than one job, Van Horn said, and those jobs still leave people with less income than their full-time work.

"The average person who lost their job took a 10 percent pay cut (after returning to the workforce)," Van Horn said.

There is a particularly large number of  individuals like Maria Fernandez in New Jersey. There, recovery from the recession has lagged well behind that of the nation overall, as one should have expected under a thoroughly ineffective governor, whose main skill in in bribing companies, as illustrated below:

Very likely, Maria Fernandez would have benefited from a minimum wage increase.  She had plenty of jobs- four, in fact. Any impact minimum wage increases would have in cutting jobs would have little effect on these individuals who are able to find employment.  But people such as Maria Fernandez need work that pays a livable wage, or at least a nearly livable wage.

Maria Fernandez had no such job.  Elizabeth police lieutenant Daniel Saulner commented "This sounds like someone who tried desperately to work and make ends meet, and met with a tragic accident."  More tragically, she wasted Mitch McConnell's time.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

And Another Problem

In eastern Ukraine, the death toll probably has exceeded 2250 people. The "Gaza death toll," the Guardian estimates, is now 2,133.  More than 191,000 lives have been claimed in the Syrian civil war which, in an upset, has not been blamed on Israel.

So Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women declares (video below) "There is a war on black boys in this country, in my opinion. There is a war on African-American men." Moreover, "it`s going to turn into genocide if it doesn`t stop."  Not likely.

On the positive side, she included in her foolish remark with "in my opinion." A conservative Republican before Barack Obama ran for President, Bernard is still saying silly things, only not usually from a conservative perspective.  But she really should get out more, perhaps gain a bit more perspective.

There is, though, a problem. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, in his occasional guise as a libertarian rather than a conservative Repub, has accurately written

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

No doubt prisons are "full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences." In Kentucky, at least, and doubtless in many other states, most of them of a Republican bent.  Whether Paul meant prisons are full of minority adults ("men and women") serving excessive sentences because of what they did in their youth or, instead, is referring to juveniles serving excessive sentences is unclear.

Nonetheless, there is a problem, though is not "big government" which he claims "has been at the heart of the problem" of "militarization of local police precincts. Rather, it is the allure of profit combined with the Pentagon's desire to alleviate the sunk costs of military weapons and apparel it no longer needs.

By the time the stop-and-frisk policy in New York City was sharply curtailed as a result of a ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, the practice had problems going beyond race. Nonetheless, race was the focus of the lawsuit and an analysis by the Public Advocate's office of statistics compiled by the city's Police Department had revealed

the likelihood that a stop of an African American New Yorker would yield contraband was one-third less than that of white New Yorkers stopped.

The NYPD uncovered contraband in one out every 43 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 57 stops of Latinos and 61 stops of African Americans to uncover contraband.

Recent testimony by several New York police officers in connection to a lawsuit allege that the department regularly targets young black men and other minorities, which are judged by an arbitrary notion of “reasonable suspicion.”

But the RT report continued "the stop-and-frisk practice is allegedly tied to quotas by which superiors measure success rates over the city’s police precincts."   Additionally, only 729 guns were found out of 532,911 searches- an apparent success rate of .14%.

Except that's not how success was being measured.   Judge Shira (not Judy) A. Scheindlin critically noted "You reasonably suspect something wrong and you're wrong 90 percent of the time."  (According to the article, the actual figure would be 88%).

You're wrong 90% of the time begs the question: what about the other 9.86% of the time?Evidently, searching and frisking an individual largely at random, intrusive and troubling even if constitutional in the absence of racial bias, was considered successful when drugs, and not illegal firearms, were discovered.

There is something askew here, and it's not just race.  It's militarization of law enforcement,  as Senator Paul emphasized. and it's targeting people for possession of illegal drugs, in large measure because it's low-hanging fruit in  which police are likely to confront individuals less dangerous than those with firearms.  It's good for the numbers, good for the both law enforcement and civilian leadership, and more dangerous for the rest of us

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Interrelated, But Separate, Problems

While the right minimizes or defends the shooting death of in Ferguson, Missouri, reaction on the left falls along two separate tracks: there is a "war" on black men in the U.S.A., and the militarization of police throughout the nation threatens citizens and the commonweal alike.

You probably know where I'm going, and it's not where the white male Josh Barr of The New York Times and political consultant L. Joy Williams, a black woman, went on Saturday's Up with Steve Kornacki (video of segment, below).

I could have left their race out. There is no race problem in America, the right tells us, now that we've elected to the Presidency a black man the right criticizes whenever there is an opportunity, or even when there isn't.

Both Barro and Williams recognize the danger posed by law enforcement authorities who view the community as an enemy to be conquered rather than a group of citizens to be protected. But for them (Williams, more overtly) it stops there. In the video below, Barro maintains "the bigger and more important question is about ordinary everyday policing and whether that is being done in a racially just way and I think that's where the huge gap remains."  Moreover, "I think the everyday policing part is a much tougher nut to crack."

Williams, more enthusiastically, argues

we can't let people off the hook including Democrats, because it's a state run by a Democratic governor, that we can't let people off the hook and just have them focus on the miltarization of the police. It's larger than that- you know, the larger issue is how law enforcement deals with black Americans and not seeing all of us as criminals.

There is no danger of a free pass because Governor Jay Nixon has a (D) in front of his name. He is not a national Democratic figure and, anyway, it's easy to criticize a Nixon.  Nor is the militarization of the police a minor problem, nor  focusing on it "let(ting) people off the hook."

Alex Kane writes

The companies getting mileage out of the unrest in Ferguson are vast. The LRAD Corporation manufactures the long-range acoustic devices that have emitted piercing noises at protesters in Missouri. These sound devices can cause headaches and other types of pain. The police in Ferguson are also using the Bearcat armored truck manufactured by Lenco. That vehicle, costing $360,000, was paid for with Department of Homeland Security grant money, according to the New York Times. Since 2003, over $9 million in grants from Homeland Security have flowed to police in St. Louis, according to the Times. Overall, since the September 11 terror attacks, $34 billion in such grants have been given to law enforcement agencies across the country, showing it is the federal government fueling police militarization.

The Ferguson police department has received two armored Humvees, a generator and a trailer from the U.S. military, according to the Associated Press. Police departments around the nation have received the military’s surplus equipment, which has brought weapons used in Afghanistan and Iraq to local towns and cities. Congress first passed a law authorizing the funneling of surplus military equipmentto domestic law enforcement in 1990. It’s now known as the 1033 program, referring to the section of the program in the Pentagon budget.

The Justice Department has also gotten in on the action. Justice Department grants have paid for tear gas and rubber bullets, though it’s not clear if police in Ferguson used those grants to buy their own tear gas.

Whoever paid for it, the companies that make tear-gas are sure to benefit from the Ferguson demonstrations. Two corporations’ tear-gas products have been fired on demonstrators in recent days: Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) and Defense Technology. CTS, headquartered in Pennsylvania, is well-known for being a leading supplier of tear gas around the world, including to the governments of Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, which buy the weapons with the generous amounts of U.S. military aid given to them. Defense Technology, also based in Pennsylvania, has likewise profited from tear gas sold to Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, in addition to Yemen, Turkey and Tunisia.

Yet another company that will profit from the tensions in Missouri is Taser International. In the days since the shooting of Michael Brown, the company’s stock has risen 28 percent, CNN reported.According to the news outlet, the key reason its stock has risen is because of expectations that the images of police brutality and excess will lead to body cameras—a product Taser International makes—being outfitted on cops there.

Many of the corporations’ products that are being turned on protesters in Ferguson will be put on display next month—in Missouri. From September 17-19, a Military Police Expo will take place in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. “The Expo will provide opportunity for vendors to showcase their products and services to Military Police Soldiers, senior leaders and key decision makers…In addition, civilian law enforcement and Chiefs of Police will also be invited to attend,” the event’s website explains. Vendors participating include Combined Tactical Systems, Taser International, LRAD, L-3 Warrior Systems and many others.

The purpose of the convention is to “get these businesses in front of some of these government entities,” Chalette Davis, an exhibit hall manager for eventPower, which is planning the expo, told AlterNet.

It’s unclear how many of the civilian law enforcement agencies firing militarized weapons in Ferguson will be on hand. But at least one, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, will be there as a vendor. In addition to that role, it’s likely the patrol will be checking out the weaponry on display. “A lot of business is done that way,” said Davis.

Contrary to the fears of L. Joy Williams, efforts to de-militarize law enforcement will be more difficult than getting police not to "see them all as criminals," which in some jurisdictions is no problem at all..     While taking the toys away would step on business, not so with facilitating a better relationship with the poor black communities which have to bear the brunt of discriminatory practices.   And unlike restraining the militarization of law enforcement, curbing evidently racially biased police practices has its own special interest group, one of civil rights organizations (thirteen so far, says Williams) weary of a justice system with an apparent double standard.

The militarization of police has been, Barro claims, the "politically safe place for politicians to jump in on this. Nevertheless, the National Review already has counterattacked. Starbursts in his eyes, editor Rich Lowry is defending all things police in Ferguson and blaming disorder on "protestors (sic)  bent on mayhem."  Much of the right will follow, and it will be a tough slog getting back to the point at which "to serve and protect" is more than a slogan.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Or Maybe It's Money.

Joanna Rothkopf of Salon quotes Jake Tapper as saying (video, below)

What is going on in Ferguson, Missouri, in downtown America. These are armed police with semi-automatic rifles, with batons, with shields, many of them dressed for combat. Now why they’re doing this, I don’t know. Because there is no threat going on here, none, that merits this. There is none. Absolutely, there have been looters. Absolutely over the last nine days there’s been violence, but there is nothing going on right now that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing. So if people wonder why the people of Ferguson, Missouri, are so upset, this is part of the reason. What is this? This doesn’t make any sense.

Nothing "merits this," as Tapper observes, because "nobody's threatening anything. Nobody's doing anything. None of these stores that I can see are being looted. There's no violence." And that is "part of the reason" Ferguson, Missouri residents "are so upset."

But the deployment "doesn't make any sense?" Of course it does, and Jake Tapper ought to understand why it does.

The militarization of the police, prompted by the vastly increased firepower of narcotics dealers in some municipalities,  began as a tactic to fight the drug war.  But it is sustained by the threat of terrorism. And public acceptance of- nay, probably support for- this absurd state of affairs has been sustained by a  fear of "they're coming over here," as in the recent call for the President to "be honest with the threat we face. They are coming."   And that was not from Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, or Ted Nugent, but from a sitting U.S. Senator, one characterized by the mainstream media as part of the Repub Party's "moderate wing" (more accurately viewed as moderately extreme).

The paranoia was fueled by the recent statement by an ISIS spokesman (would be "spokesperson" were a woman allowed such a position in a radical Islamic organization) "We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”   If the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant were able to launch an attack in the USA anytime in the near future, it would be folly to announce it in advance.

The Levant is the eastern Mediterranean. Syria is Syria. Still, the threat added to the fear of average Americans and to the rationale for increased security domestically. It's not surprising we're seeing it elsewhere, with USA Today reporting

As part of Major League Baseball's security plan, metal detectors were added at some Yankee Stadium gates beginning Tuesday night, when New York hosted the Houston Astros. MLB has been working with the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate safety procedures, and all 30 big league parks will have metal detectors by opening day 2015.

The Yankees tried to prepare fans for the change, announcing last Friday they would start implementing the new system on this homestand. It will remain in place for the rest of the season.

Other stadiums have already put the metal detectors in place, too.

Fans will accept the added inconvenience.  They already are scared, and have been accustomed to having bags checked as they enter sports arenas and notwithstanding protests in Ferguson, false bravado of tea party supporters, and the occasional incumbent politician rejected at the polls, the American people are rather accepting of authority.

But maybe the enhanced security at Major League Baseball parks and stadia ultimately have little to do with security and other global issues.  The New York Daily News notes "As fans waited, security guards asked them to have their bags open, hats off and all items removed from their pockets to help speed up the process."

With all items removed from pockets, fans no longer will be able to smuggle in to arenas such dangerous contraband as peanuts, candy, or pretzels, which will result in increased sales by the food vendors and ever-more obscene profits for the owners of the sports franchises.

The Economy of Food at Sporting Events
Image compliments of Sports Management Degrees

So here we have another parallel to deployment, without threat, of police all decked out as if soldiers out gunning for the enemy on the field of foreign battle- but making "sense" of a sort.  This stuff was started because of the drug war but thrives because of the fear of terrorism, notwithstanding the absence of al-Qaeda from the streets of Ferguson.  Metal detectors are touted as a weapon against terrorism but, long after this threat will have been contained and even neutralized, the detectors will remain because profit is there.

(Main Street Liberal will be on hiatus for a few days.  Please return early next week for more scintillating analysis.  Or whatever this is.)

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Nobody Here But Us Chickens

Maybe crises bring out the worst in some people. Or perhaps it's only that we wouldn't hear from them were there no crisis.  Interviewed Monday by GOP TV, State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, whose district includes part of Ferguson, Missouri contended

The reason why I used profane language is because he has allowed us to get tear-gassed for three days.I am one of his senators in his party, and he was at the state fair enjoying a country concert while we were getting teargassed and shot at. And yes, anyone who's going to get tear-gassed deserves to say a few f-bombs here and there.

Three of those thoughtful, measured tweets from the state senator included  a)"You don't know shit bc you never communicate. FUCK you, Governor!;" b) "Get on your knees, Governor. Get ready";  c) "FUCK you, Governor. I'm calling your bullshit!"

Admittedly, these all were sent out between 1:30 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. last Thursday, the first preceded by Governor Nixon's incendiary tweet "Situation in Ferguson does not represent who we are. Must keep the peace, while safeguarding rights of citizens and the press"  and the last preceded by the offensive"As Governor, I'm committed to ensuring pain of last weekend's tragedy does not continue to be compounded by this ongoing crisis. "

Twitter brings that sort of thing out in so many people. However,  Ferguson mayor James Knowles did not need Twitter but only MSNBC to deny racial division in his town when he stated "I don't believe that's the case, still. There's not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson."  Asked by Tamron Hall "is that your perspective, or do you believe that is the perspective of African-Americans in your community?" Knowle responded "That is the perspective of all residents in our city, absolutely."

Evidently a frustrated professional pollster, Knowles has polled all 21,000 residents of Ferguson. Impressive, really- almost as impressive as the residents themselves who, if their mayor is correct, see things far differently than Americans generally (poll below from Pew Research Center via Digby's Hullabaloo):

It may be a sign of the apocalypse that we must go the world of sports- Sports!- to get some needed perspective.  Recognizing "The One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent," NBA Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar notes

unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Then we’ll start debating whether or not the police in America are themselves an endangered minority who are also discriminated against based on their color—blue. (Yes, they are. There are many factors to consider before condemning police, including political pressures, inadequate training, and arcane policies.) Then we’ll question whether blacks are more often shot because they more often commit crimes. (In fact, studies show that blacks are targeted more often in some cities, like New York City. It’s difficult to get a bigger national picture because studies are woefully inadequate. The Department of Justice study shows that in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009, among arrest-related deaths there’s very little difference among blacks, whites, or Latinos. However, the study doesn’t tell us how many were unarmed.)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

Abdul-Jabbar recognizes peaceful protests across the nation are

what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Other people, most consistently Thomas Frank, have made the same points.  But it's particularly noteworthy that Abdul-Jabbar makes this argument in the context of strife which has an obvious racial component. While  much of the left promotes the racial factor while the right either exploits or denies its existence, the former Los Angeles Laker keeps it in perspective and sees the wider picture.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Medved Fantasyland

Conservative Repub talk show host Michael Medved has tweeted "Attacking 'militarization' of police? If policing is so bad why is the crime rate down so dramatically over 30 years?"

A better question which arises is: does tweeting make someone stupid or is he already stupid?

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, who describes himself as 'An op-ed columnist at the Boston Globe, a purveyor of refreshing conservative cheer in the midst of a dusty liberal wilderness," has responded to Medved  "I'd give the credit to more and longer prison terms for serious crime, not to equipping police w/ RPGs & armored vehicles."

Medved is no statistician.  As the chart below (from Wikipedia) indicates, street crime peaked in 1991. Although it declined in the first thirty years of the '80s, it rose thereafter.  Perhaps "30" was a number chosen carelessly by Medved, though it is more likely the staunch Republican chose not to acknowledge that the highest rate occurred shortly before Bill Clinton came into the Oval  Office- as in while Saint Ronald was there.

One credible explanation for the drop in crime since the early 90s' is the conservative one, that of longer prison terms, as well as increased numbers of police and wiser deployment of law enforcement resources. The law of parsimony would suggest, however, that the greatest factor would be the age structure of the population. The graph below from wikipedia indicates, as this blogger argues, "most baby boomers have grown up with a crime rate that increased from the time they were around 10 years old (plus or minus, mostly plus) to the time that they were in their mid 40′s (plus or minus, mostly plus)."

The correlation, however, is not as strong as it likely would be if all other factors were held constant.  The rise, later fall, of the crack epidemic undoubtedly affected crime rates. So, too, did the legalization of abortion, largely accomplished by Roe v. Wade, as demonstrated by Steven Levitt and John Donohue in an academic paper published in 2001 and popularized in the book Freakonomics (excerpt from the movie, below).

The theory proved controversial, as one would expect, especially because Levitt and Donohue were (falsely) accused of recommending abortion, a sin to the right.  (At other times, conservatives blame crime on unprepared, permissive parents. Go figure.) Liberals were not thrilled because it implied individuals in poor communities and in black communities (which are disproportionately poor) more often engage in delinquency, a reality recognized by most Americans but which dare not be acknowledged in polite society. Aside from the data however, it is a notion (whose critics have been largely refuted by Levitt) rooted in common sense, unless one supposes that children who are wanted and able to be adequately cared for will go on to commit crime as often as unfortunate individuals.

Early last year, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum reported on research conducted on from 1994-2012 by economist Rick Nevins (his graphs of correlation between lead and IQ and of lead in gas and violent crime, below), graduate student Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, and others, and summarized

During the '70s and '80s, the introduction of the catalytic converter, combined with increasingly stringent Environmental Protection Agency rules, steadily reduced the amount of leaded gasoline used in America, but Reyes discovered that this reduction wasn't uniform. In fact, use of leaded gasoline varied widely among states, and this gave Reyes the opening she needed. If childhood lead exposure really did produce criminal behavior in adults, you'd expect that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime would decline slowly too. Conversely, in states where it declined quickly, crime would decline quickly. And that's exactly what she found.

Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world (PDF). This way, he could make sure the close match he'd found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn't just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?

Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany. Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn't fit the theory. "No," he replied. "Not one."

Just this year, Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke published a paper with demographer Sammy Zahran on the correlation of lead and crime at the city level. They studied six US cities that had both good crime data and good lead data going back to the '50s, and they found a good fit in every single one. In fact, Mielke has even studied lead concentrations at the neighborhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with the local police. "When they overlay them with crime maps," he told me, "they realize they match up."

Early this year, Drum linked to an article by Lauren K. Wolf in Chemical and Engineering News in which Wolf explained

Research has shown that lead exposure does indeed make lab animals—rodents, monkeys, even cats—more prone to aggression. But establishing biological plausibility for the lead-crime argument hasn’t been as clear-cut for molecular-level studies of the brain. Lead wreaks a lot of havoc on the central nervous system. So pinpointing one—or even a few—molecular switches by which the heavy metal turns on aggression has been challenging.

What scientists do know is that element 82 does most of its damage to the brain by mimicking calcium. Inside the brain, calcium runs the show: It triggers nerve firing by helping to release neurotransmitters, and it activates proteins important for brain development, memory formation, and learning. By pushing calcium out of these roles, lead can muck up brain cell communication and growth.

On the cell communication side of things, lead appears to interfere with a bunch of the neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter receptors in our brains. One of the systems that keeps popping up in exposure experiments is the dopamine system. It controls reward and impulse behavior, a big factor in aggression. Another is the glutamate system, responsible in part for learning and memory.

On the brain development side of things, lead interferes with, among other things, the process of synaptic pruning. Nerve cells grow and connect, sometimes forming 40,000 new junctions per second, until a baby reaches about two years of age. After that, the brain begins to prune back the myriad connections, called synapses, to make them more efficient. Lead disrupts this cleanup effort, leaving behind excess, poorly functioning nerve cells.

“If you have a brain that’s miswired, especially in areas involved in what psychologists call the executive functions—judgment, impulse control, anticipation of consequences—of course you might display aggressive behavior,” says Kim N. Dietrich, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The relatively low correlation between lots of babies and antisocial behavior roughly two decades hence suggests that another factor, perhaps the hollowing out of the middle class, has had some impact in increasing crime. Improved policing, reduction in cocaine use, abortion legalization, and lowering of atmospheric lead density all have reduced street crime.

It's unlikely, however, that many would-be offenders have been deterred by the thought of armored weapons and police in military uniforms.  Though one is tempted to go juvenile and say Michael Medved is now the one who is high on cocaine or whatever, that would be an unfair and inaccurate assessment of someone who is merely a GOP activist masquerading as a talk show host.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Good Bye Is Too Good A Word, Babe, So I'll Just Say Fare Thee Well.

The Daily Banter's Bob Cesca recognizes Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky as "an opportunist and will say just about anything in order to sucker either the far-right and the far-left into supporting him."

But the Washington establishment is more likely to be suckered by Paul than are movement liberals, such as when the Senator recently wrote in Time magazine

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action....

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

The Washington Post's Dan Balz- who nearly defines "inside the Beltway"- claims that conservative critics of the police response to events in Ferguson, Missouri

reflect a shift away from the usual support and sympathy conservatives typically show for law enforcement in such situations. Although possibly unique to the circumstances of the events in Missouri this week, the changing reaction on the right is clear evidence of a rising and more vocal libertarian wing within the Republican Party.

No better sign of that came Thursday than in an article by Sen. Rand Paul.

There are few things more typical of "village behavior," as Digby often has labeled it, than excitement over Repubs who utter statements suggesting they don't dislike people simply because of their ethnicity.  Balz continues "Paul also bluntly pointed to the role that race continues to play in law enforcement. 'Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention,' he wrote."

Michael Luciano, like Cesca blogging at The Daily Banter, admiringly notes "Paul has been one of the few Republicans in Congress who’s taken an active role in crafting legislation to mitigate the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He’s also faced pressure from the Right for his openness to compromise on immigration reform because, you know, Mexicans."

More likely, Paul has been criticized by the right because he has contended "if you want immigration reform, there has to be openness to compromise." Lacking detail, that is meaningless to the left but poison to the right, to which compromise is a four letter word (another four letter word, completely unrelated, in video below). It's only the mainstream media, lacking an ideological compass,which finds the notion of "compromise" without specifics so alluring.

Even The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn was impressed, maintaining "The politician who gave the strongest condemnation of police tactics in Ferguson, Missouri, may not have been President Obama or any of the other liberal Democrats you might have expected. It was probably Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky."

Unimpressed by Paul, Cesca notes that in April, 2013 the junior Senator from Kentucky had stated

I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him…

If there’s a killer on the loose in a neighborhood, I’m not against drones being used to search them out, heat-seeking devices being used, I’m all for law enforcement.

Doubting Paul's sincerity, Cesca argues

Rand Paul is against the militarization of the police — but he supports using $12 million predator drones to annihilate liquor store thieves in Anytown, USA — but he also opposes using drones against American citizens. If you believe he’s sincere on any of these positions, I have some robot insurance to sell you.

Again, he will say anything depending on which way the political winds are blowing. 

Moreover, beyond the headlines he provoked, Paul hints at the "crony capitalism" Republicans periodically trot out cynically to pander to the populist instincts of the GOP base. He criticizes "big government," which

has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies- where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is boilerplate conservatism, blaming "Washington" and the federal government for the overreach of municipal government(s) or the private sector.  Still, if Rand Paul believes that gets him anywhere closer to the GOP presidential nomination, he is sadly mistaken. Despite his (Ayn) Randian sentiments, and sincere or not, Paul has criticized law enforcement, raised the specter of racism in American society, and implied that liberals can't be simply wished away.

The Kentucky Senator will dial back those sentiments, which otherwise would doom him to failure far before Cleveland in July, 2016.  But the die has been cast. As Steve M. remarks "Buh-bye, Rand. I really thought you had a shot at the nomination, but you're toast. And if you don't believe me, wait till Monday when Pope Limbaugh excommunicates you from conservatism for that Time op-ed."

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Nothing New Under The Sun. Or With McCain.

Give a Republican some credit. The ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, has remarked

I regret the situation in Iraq has devolved to where it is and the many decisions and circumstances that have led us to this point. While I support the administration's short-term actions to respond to the current crisis, I expect them to lay out in the coming days the objectives they hope to achieve and the related time frame.

President Obama ought to offer the nation a forthright explanation of our objectives.  Certainly, he hopes- and expects- the military involvement in Iraq he recently announced to be of limited duration or, as the Tennessee Repub put it, "related time frame."

But two other Republicans have reacted as one would expect.  House Speaker John Boehner, with neither a clue nor a guiding principle, remarked "The president’s authorization of airstrikes is appropriate, but like many Americans, I am dismayed by the ongoing absence of a strategy for countering the grave threat ISIS poses to the region.”

John McCain, always with more principle than common sense, has commented to The Daily Beast of the smart bombs dropped on ISIS convoys approaching the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan

This is a pinprick... it’s almost worse than nothing because I fear the president is threatening and then he won’t follow through....It’s the weakest possible response and we cannot allow them to take Erbil. What [the administration has] done so far is almost meaningless.

McCain, who advocates more airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and arming the Kurdistan resistance, added "We are paying the price for inaction and we are paying the price for withdrawal.  [Doing more] would contradict some of the fundamentals of [Obama’s] national security policy. But it’s just tragic.”

It is indeed tragic that the Arizona Senator is still beating that dead horse, still evidently unaware that we are not paying the price for withdrawal but for the initial invasion of Iraq- and despite conventional wisdom, for the surge that McCain loves more than life itself.

The primary challenge to the Beltway wisdom that the Surge was a success has been from a few foreign policy experts who argue the Anbar Awakening was more instrumental in reducing the level of violence in Iraq.  However, last month Adam Barr explained

It cannot be denied that the surge and Anbar Awakening were successful in decreasing the levels of violence in Iraq, both against Iraqi citizens and coalition forces. However, I will show that the surge and the U.S. sponsoring of the SOI in the Anbar Awakening held only short-term benefits for Iraq that paved the way for U.S. withdrawal. These short-term benefits of violence reduction came at the cost of long-term stability in Iraq after the U.S. forces withdrew, due to the bottom-up approach that the surge and Awakening took, which was “adopted for near-term advantage by a frustrated administration” (Simon, 2008: 58). The bottom-up strategies of the surge and Awakening fostered the retribalisation of Iraq, undermining the authority of the central government and the cohesion of the country; encouraged the growth of warlordism – especially amongst the Sunni tribes; and failed to address the driving forces behind much of the sectarian violence, instead providing a short-term ‘band aid’ approach to the problem. Moreover, the U.S. failed to use its leverage against the Maliki government to pursue a top-down approach to stabilising the country in the long-term, which should have focused on repatriating the Sunnis back into the political process at an earlier date and brokered a more sustainable power sharing agreement. By addressing these issues, it is apparent that when it withdraws from Iraq, the

“United States will be leaving a country more divided than the one it invaded – thanks to a strategy that has systematically nourished domestic rivalries in order to maintain an illusory short-term stability” (Simon, 2008: 70).

And so it goes. Notwithstanding the apparent departure of al-Maliki (photo below from AFP/Getty via Foreign Policy blog The Cable), the situation in Iraq likely will remain unstable through the next presidential election. There will be no avoiding the issue for either side and it is no more likely the GOP presidential candidate or congressional candidates will blandly refer to "circumstances" than the Republican Party will assume blame for lighting the fire itself in Iraq.

Bob Corker's statement is an outlier. Complexity is as foreign concept to its side as the nation of Iraq itself. John McCain is paving the way for Republican candidates in at lest the next two election cycles to pound on the themes of premature withdrawal, "inaction," or "weakness," It's how they play the game, and the canard of Republican strength and Democratic weakness dies hard.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Occupying Ferguson

You can see this one coming from a mile away.  The Justice Department has promptly jumped launched an investigation into the police riot in Ferguson, Missouri (first photo below from Reuters/Mario Anzuoni, the following two from AP/Jeff Roberson). Police Chief Thomas

Jackson held a press conference on Wednesday, curiously at the same time as a peace march nearby. He said the Justice Department and local NAACP are coordinating a meeting between Ferguson police authorities and the Brown family.

“Race relations is a top priority right now,” Jackson said. He later said he was open to guidance on how to improve tensions within the Ferguson community: “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it”...

Brown’s shooting at the hands of a yet-to-be named officer, identified as a white man by a witness to the shooting who spoke with msnbc, unearthed decades-old tensions between the Ferguson community and the police department, which is 93% white.

Black residents say officers routinely harass them and that and old-boys network has kept the department from hiring more officers of color.

Jackson said that he has worked to improve the diversity of the department and that he has raised the base level of pay for officers, worked to improve equipment and create a welcoming culture to entice black applicants.

He said when he first took the job here after 31 years with the county police, about 10% of department staff were minorities or women. That number has slipped in recent years.

“Whatever we’re doing is not enough. We’re trying but obviously it’s not good enough,” Jackson said on Tuesday night, following a town hall style meeting at a local church, where he joined Gov. Jay Nixon, Ferguson mayor James Knowles and various community leaders in pleading for peace.

That's a good start which, likely will lead to improved race relations, hence community relations, in Ferguson, although it appears most of the mischief has emanated from St. Louis County police rather than from local law enforcement.But it isn't enough, and isn't the primary problem, as ex-San Jose police chief Joseph McNamara understood as early as November, 2006, when he wrote (in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal no longer available without a subscription but excerpted here by Digby)

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on "officer safety" and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York's highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today. Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy and we owe support to those who protect us. On the other hand, this isn't Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort.

Updated in response to the death by firearm of 18-year-old Michael Brown and ensuing protests in Ferguson, Paul Szoldra explains

While serving as a U.S. Marine on patrol in Afghanistan, we wore desert camouflage to blend in with our surroundings, carried rifles to shoot back when under enemy attack, and drove around in armored vehicles to ward off roadside bombs.

We looked intimidating, but all of our vehicles and equipment had a clear purpose for combat against enemy forces. So why is this same gear being used on our city streets?...

Putting aside what started the protests for a moment, it's worth discussing the police response to the outrage. In photos taken Monday, we are shown a heavily armed SWAT team.

They have short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles based on the military M4 carbine, with scopes that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters. On their side they carry pistols. On their front, over their body armor, they carry at least four to six extra magazines, loaded with 30 rounds each.

Their uniform would be mistaken for a soldier's if it weren't for their "Police" patches. They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or as the troops who rode in them call it, the MRAP.

When did this become OK? When did "protect and serve" turn into "us versus them"?

"Why do these cops need MARPAT camo pants again," I asked on Twitter this morning. One of the most interesting responses came from a follower who says he served in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division: "We rolled lighter than that in an actual war zone."

Let's be clear: This is not a war zone — even if the FAA banned flights under 3,000 feet. This is a city outside of St. Louis where people on both sides are angry. Protesters have looted and torched a gas station, and shots were fired at police, according to The Washington Post.

The scene is tense, but the presence of what looks like a military force doesn't seem to be helping.

"Bring it. You fucking animals, bring it," one police officer was caught on video telling protesters. In Ferguson and beyond, it seems that some police officers have shed the blue uniform and have put on the uniform and gear of the military, bringing the attitude along with it.

In Afghanistan, we patrolled in big, armored trucks. We wore uniforms that conveyed the message, "We are a military force, and we are in control right now." Many Afghans saw us as occupiers.

And now we see some of our police officers in this same way. "The militarization of law enforcement is counter-productive to domestic policing and needs to stop," tweeted Andrew Exum, a former Army infantry officer.

If there's one thing I learned in Afghanistan, it's this: You can't win a person's heart and mind when you are pointing a rifle at his or her chest.

There will be righteous outrage in the political class over an overwhelmingly white police force applying excessive force against a black community and (as it appears now) an unnecessary killing of a young black man by one of those white officers. But notwithstanding criticism from Senators McCaskill (D-MO) and Paul (R-KY) and Attorney General Holder, it will be more difficult to alter significantly the Pentagon program  in which local law enforcement agencies have used the drug war as an excuse to be armed and outfitted to the teeth.  

The policy must be changed; for If they buy it, they eventually will use it, especially as the sunk cost fallacy sets in.  And that will happen across the country, and not only in black communities.

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Simply a Felon

Commenting on a survey conducted by Ipsos on its behalf, Politico on Monday noted Among the most notable findings in our poll: 21 percen...