Saturday, November 29, 2014

Law Enforcement Issue

Rand Paul made a few good points in a Time magazine piece Tuesday.  Chief among them was

Can some of the disparity be blamed on a higher rate of crime in the black community? Yes, but there is a gnawing feeling that simply being black in a high-crime area increases your risk for a deadly altercation with police.

Does bad behavior account for some of the interactions with law enforcement? Yes, but surely there must be ways that we can work to prevent the violence from escalating.

This is, however, weak tea, especially when considering Paul continues

Reforming criminal justice to make it racially blind is imperative, but that won't lift up these young men from poverty. In fact, I don't believe any law will. For too long, we've attached some mythic notion to government solutions and yet, 40 years after we began the War on Poverty, poverty still abounds.

When you look at statistics for the white community alone, you see that we've become two separate worlds in which the successful are educated and wait to have children until they are married, and those in poverty are primarily those without higher education and with children outside of marriage.

This message is not a racial one. The link between poverty, lack of education, and children outside of marriage is staggering and cuts across all racial groups. Statistics uniformly show that waiting to have children in marriage and obtaining an education are an invaluable part of escaping poverty.

I have no intention to scold, but escaping the poverty and crime trap will require more than just criminal justice reform. Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to relearn that not only are we our brother's keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn't include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.

As usual, Steve M. separates the wheat from the chaff, and remarks

So in what way is Paul different from any other Republican blaming the poor for their own poverty? Yes, he prefaces this with some hip talk about the drug war, and yes, he says that poor whites are also lazy, shiftless work-shirkers who can't keep it in their pants. How enlightened.

To Paul, the people who run the economy -- -- the haves and the politicians who do their bidding -- are utterly blameless when it comes to poor people's economic problems. It doesn't matter that blue-collar jobs have been rapidly disappearing and the overall middle class has been relentlessly shrinking. No one's to blame! It's that invisible hand!

Dave Weigel notes

Not mentioned, apart from an aside about an infamous case of police misconduct in Georgia, was the subject of Paul's first Ferguson op-ed, also published in Time. "We must demilitarize the police," wrote Paul in August, as he listed the ways that local police departments obtained and misused surplus military equipment. "The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it."

Three months later, as Evan McMorris-Santoro reports, the anti-"militarization" is nowhere. Even by Washington's amnesiac standards, the efforts to reform the 1033 program that makes military gear available to police departments faded absurdly fast. An Aug. 31 Politico story reported on lawmakers' optimism that Ferguson "actually will lead to some policy changes." One week later, Politico published a report about how "substantive action on the federal level is an uphill battle," and that lobbyists for the cops were likely to save the military gear program.

In an interview the same day as his piece in Time, Paul commented "I think part of the answer is trying to reform  our criminal justice system."  But he evidently offered little if any detail, mirroring his failure to repeat his concern about militarization of police departments (video below from CNN in August). He did, however, note the disproportional arrest rate  of blacks and asserted "folks rightly ask why are our sons disproportionately incarcerated, killed, and maimed?"

But we don't know, as Michael Hirsh writes in Politico Magazine

for sure how serious the problem is—now, or then—because there simply are no reliable national data on police violence in the United States. The data are lacking because police departments keep almost all those numbers to themselves, in defiance of a 20-year-old federal law—the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—requiring the Justice Department to compile an annual report on “the use of excessive force” by police.

It's not for lack of trying that the federal government can't get basic information from law enforcement's first responders. Hirsh explains

At the Justice Department’s request, the International Association of Police Chiefs conducted a pilot study. But according to John Firman, director of development of the IAPC, after a year “the Justice Department shut it down, and for good reason: The number of [police departments] reporting back to us was under 600” out of about 18,000 in the country. The law had no means of forcing cooperation, Firman added, and as for whether the government is simply ignoring the mandate of the law, “that was between the Congress and the DOJ.”

Now that's American Exceptionalism- police departments routinely disobeying the law.  Law enforcement agencies need not be held to a higher standard than the general public. They merely need to be held to the same standard of compliance.

Yet, police departments, alone among public agencies, believe accountability is not part of their job specifications.

Steve M. believes Rand Paul "dropped the subject" of police militarization once "the Ferguson story went nationwide" and the Fraternal Order of Police and National Sheriffs Association (successfully) "have lobbied furiously to keep the military gear flowing."  He quips "a real profile in courage, that guy."

If we had any reason to hope Rand Paul would be a different kind of Republican, that hope is fading and, as election season draws near, will continue to diminish. It is, however, fair to note there once was a Democratic candidate who promised "change we can believe in," who apparently was not referring to law enforcement, the criminal justice system, or- aside from (arguably) health care- much else.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

As Carville Would Have Put It: It's Grand Juries, Stupid.

Some things you just can't make up.   Writing on Think Progess, Judd Legum is unhappy that the grand jury in St. Louis County declined to return an indictment of police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of an unarmed Michael Brown and argued

There were several eyewitness accounts that strongly suggested Wilson did not act in self-defense. McCulloch could have, and his critics say should have, presented that evidence to the grand jury and likely returned an indictment in days, not months. It’s a low bar, which is why virtually all grand juries return indictments.

But McCulloch chose a different path.

There are quite a few curious elements in the Wilson-Brown matter. Announcement after dark of the decision by the grand jury appears to have been deliberately provocative.  And as this Washington Post article points out, the uncommon forensic practices followed should draw a great deal of scrutiny.   In general, the task of holding police officers and their departments accountable is daunting.

But there should not be, for the left, knee jerk condemnation of the decision of the grand jury. Legum cites defense of the grand jury system by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (AP photo by David Tulis), support which should give pause to a blogger employed by the Center for American Progress. The Associate Justice in a 1992 case maintained (emphasis Legum's)

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

This is the same Judd Legum who sixteen months ago, repulsed by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, blasted discrimination against black males in the criminal justice system.  Legum cited various sources- numbers 2, 4, and 8 are from Michelle Alexander- for outcomes for what he claimed is "the same conduct":

1. A black male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of spending some portion of his life in prison. 

2. In major American cities, as many as 80% of young African-American men have criminal records.

3. African-Americans who use drugs are more than four times as likely to be incarcerated than whites who use drugs. 

4. In seven states, African Americans constitute 80% or more of all drug offenders sent to prison.

5. Black students are three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

6. Black youth who are referred to juvenile court are much more likely to be detained, referred to adult court or end up in adult prison than their white counterparts.

7. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. 

These seven statistics largely don't necessarily mean much, although #6 is, on its face, very significant. But no matter. Legum is apoplectic about grossly differential outcomes in the criminal justice system.  And yet somehow, he neglects the factor with the greatest impact: the ingrained presumption of guilt in criminal matters.

High school civics teachers, as they are expected, will preach that in the USA, we're all presumed innocent, that we are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The reality is nearly the opposite.  Once a grand jury finds there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed by a particular individual, he or she will be bound over for trial and, to avoid tremendous time, hassle, and expense, nearly always will plead guilty.

Clayton County, Missouri prosecutor Robert McCullloch strained to avoid advocating for the state, not to convince the grand jury to return an indictment of Darren Walker for slaying Michael Brown. His approach calls into question (even fosters doubt about) his motivation,

But if his strategy were more common, there would be fewer indictments returned. Nevertheless, combined with more effective law enforcement and forensic method than followed in this case, indictments would follow when appropriate.

As established, the criminal justice system is heavily skewed toward the wealthy, hence against the middle class, even more so against the poor. A higher bar for indictment would remove much of the bias, resulting in fewer whites and many fewer blacks, going to prison unnecessarily.   One would expect that for journalists such as Legum and, more critically, ideologues such as Michelle Alexander, that would be a higher priority than citing statistics with little context and little meaning.


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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wilson, Maybe. Ham Sandwiches, No.

It seems Mike Huckabee on a "Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II tour" has suggested abortion is worse than the Holocaust.    That is ridiculous and offensive but, in our way, we on the left can spout our own nonsense. In our defense, however, it invariably comes from lesser lights, not from someone who has been a governor, presidential contender, or possible future aspirant. And so it is that Salon's Brittney Cooper yesterday wrote

Neither should we any longer submit to the disciplinary impulses of the “rule of law.” The rule of law wants to beat into us, through “discipline,” the belief that we –black people — would be animals but for its chastening rod of correction. The law stepped to a podium yesterday, under cover of night,  to tell us that it reserves the right to slaughter black men with impunity, that it seeks to coerce through threat of force, our permission to do so.

One can only hope Cooper's overheated response to the decision by the grand jury in Clayton, Missouri not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for anything in the killing of Michael Brown was meant to be hyperbole. It may have been, for it was not the "law," but rather St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch. who stepped to a podium on Monday. Good writing, though.

Contrary to Cooper's imagination, the rule of law does not presuppose black people are "animals" who must be subject to a "chastening rod." Nor does the law apply to blacks alone. It is at times unequally applied- but if it is unequally applied by race, it also is unequally applied by geography, a reality Cooper evidently is completely unfamiliar with.  St. Louis County is not Cook County or L.A. County. Nor is it rural Alabama.

Were those Ms. Cooper's only mistakes, she could be forgiven.   But to claim the law "reserves the right to slaughter black men with impunity" is, truth, to tell, disgusting, more so even than her apparent displeasure that there has been no retaliation against the officer's family.  If the law reserved such a right, Darren Wilson's case would not even have been brought before the grand jury for possible indictment.  Further, there would be black men littering America's streets- for committing crimes, for walking, merely for breathing. I haven't seen that. My guess is Cooper hasn't, either.

Cooper would have had a point, had her anger subsided sufficiently to think this thing through. Bringing a matter to a grand jury in such a way that a "no bill" was not unexpected is highly irregular as Cenk Uygur summarizes below. Given that it's barely an exaggeration that a prosecutor "can indict a ham sandwich," on Monday night Five Thirty Eight's Ben Casselman explained

Cases involving police shootings, however, appear to be an exception. As my colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaperaccounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

There are at least three possible explanations as to why grand juries are so much less likely to indict police officers. The first is juror bias: Perhaps jurors tend to trust police officer and believe their decisions to use violence are justified, even when the evidence says otherwise. The second is prosecutorial bias: Perhaps prosecutors, who depend on police as they work on criminal cases, tend to present a less compelling case against officers, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The third possible explanation is more benign. Ordinarily, prosecutors only bring a case if they think they can get an indictment. But in high-profile cases such as police shootings, they may feel public pressure to bring charges even if they think they have a weak case.

Prosecutorial bias may have been at work in St. Louis County, given that, as described by two Vox reporters

Instead of telling the grand jury what charges Wilson should face and letting the jurors hear from a detective or a couple of main witnesses, McCulloch chose to present them with every single piece of available evidence and hear every single witness — "every scrap of evidence," as he put it — and let them decide for themselves.... And the sheer volume of evidence they heard made it more likely that they'd be left to grapple with the type of conflicting statements that could lead them to conclude that there was not probable cause that a crime had occurred.

McCulloch, then, set aside the prosecutor's standard role as advocate for the state in favor of what may be termed a "fair and balanced" approach.

Balanced, certainly; fair, arguably. Yet, criticism of the prosecution's approach in the Wilson killing is paradoxical because of the role of the grand jury system in American jurisprudence.

Many individuals on the left such as Cooper legitimately fret about the great number of blacks in custody in the USA, especially compared to non-blacks.   A dirty little secret (and a secret it is, for you will not hear it uttered): much of the reason so many individuals, especially poor individuals, are in jail or prison is the grand jury system and its defacto presumption of guilt.

Individuals, like ham sandwiches, have little chance in the grand jury system.Nevertheless, a defendant theoretically is innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.Presumably, he or she will not be found guilty by a jury of his/her peers unless there is overwhelming evidence.

Theoretically.  Presumably. The reality, however, is far different. Most defendants cannot afford a private attorney. Relying on a court-assigned attorney, public defender, or whatever it's called in a particular jurisdiction means a guilty plea because most attorneys (including quite a few of the private sort) will subtly (or otherwise) encourage their client to plead guilty. In almost every part of this country, indictment is virtually tantamount to a guilty plea.  The cost of a trial, in expense and time, is far too high for most people.  And in some parts of this country, a guilty plea to an indictable charge usually leads to prison.

If Cory Booker, Rand Paul, and other members of Congress waxing indignant over the nation's penal system want to end what they see as prolific incarceration of young black men, they will turn their attention to reforming fundamentally the grand jury system.  The manner in which it was applied- whether appropriate or otherwise- toward Officer Wilson bears a greater similarity to justice than the way it typically is applied.  If it were done this way everywhere, far fewer innocent people would be found guilty and even fewer incarcerated.  Some of  those people would be black. That should please us, and certainly would please Britney Cooper.

                                             HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Moral Equivalence Rearing Its Ugly Head

Salon's Michael Schulson has conducted an interview of Karen Armstrong, whom he says has "studied English at Oxford, spent seven years as a Catholic nun and then, after leaving the convent, took a brief detour toward hard-line atheism."    Having written histories of Buddhism, of Islam, and of God, she has "emerged as one of the most popular- and prolific- writers on religion."

Armstrong also, Schulson notes, has written a history of myth, evidently something which she is intimately familiar with. She was asked "When you hear, for example, Sam Harris and Bill Maher recently arguing that there’s something inherently violent about Islam — Sam Harris said something like 'Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas' — when you hear something like that, how do you respond?" Armstrong replied

It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and ’40s in Europe.

This is how I got into this, not because I’m dying to apologize, as you say, for religion, or because I’m filled with love and sympathy and kindness for all beings including Muslims — no. I’m filled with a sense of dread. We pride ourselves so much on our fairness and our toleration, and yet we’ve been guilty of great wrongs. Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university.

Well,  that's something of a leap, going from "Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas" to the Holocaust and suggesting Auschwitz and Treblinka are in our future. In merely six sentences, Armstrong implies a) that Harris and Maher are pseudo-Nazis, for they've engaged in "the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe;" and b) that "being "guilty of great wrongs" while proud of "our fairness and our toleration" is similar to a concentration camp existing near a university.

More significantly, however, Armstrong commits what is gradually becoming a common analogy, attributing what the speaker believes are bigoted remarks or actions (whatever they may be) to racism. While she knows not to use the "r" word, she argues that the sentiments of Bill Maher and Sam Harris  are akin to  those  which "led to the  concentration camps in Europe" and are "the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and '40s in Europe."

This would be less loathsome were it accurate. But it is not.  Someone needs to remind Armstrong that Adolph Hitler's views were grounded in what he assumed was race; not nurture, but nature. Researchers at the Simon Wiesenthal Center once explained

It is evident from Mein Kampf and Hitler's speeches that he viewed racial conflict as the determining factor in all of human history. "The racial question gives the key not only to world history, but to all human culture." Race was not simply a political issue to be used to curry the favor of the masses, but the "granite foundation" of Hitler's ideology.

Hitler's racial ideology stemmed from what he called "the basic principle of the blood." This meant that the blood of every person and every race contained the soul of a person and likewise the soul of his race, the Volk. Hitler believed that the Aryan race, to which all "true" Germans belonged, was the race whose blood (soul) was of the highest degree. God Himself had, in fact, created the Aryans as the most perfect men, both physically and spiritually.

Since the blood (soul) of the Aryans contained specific spiritual energies, the "cultural energies" or "racial primal elements," as Hitler often called them, the Aryans supplied the culture that creates the beauty and dignity of higher humanity. In other words, all that man calls higher culture was ultimately the product of the spiritual and creative energies that exist in the blood of the Aryans.

To be sure, the problem lies not only with Armstrong but instead pops up with increasing regularity. During his famous argument with Maher and Harris several weeks ago on HBO's Real Time, actor Ben Affleck termed his combatants' remarks "gross and racist. It’s like saying, Oh you shifty Jew." Neither Maher nor Harris, as the video below will remind us, said anything about race, referring only to differences in religion and culture. Armstrong's mistake, however, is more alarming and arguably less justified, inasmuch as she is not a thespian but someone who has written extensively on the religion.

Karen Armstrong is, nonetheless, accurate about one important, related, matter.  She contends "We've recoiled, quite rightly, from our anti-Semitism, but we still have not recoiled from our Islamophobia. That has remained." That's true.  After all,  fear of terrorist who, partly motivated by religious hatred and bigotry, have attacked the World Trade Center (twice) and the USS Cole once, and made a tinderbox out of the Middle East is exactly the same as the Holocaust.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Not To Be Fooled

Since Democrats across the country, identified with the deeply unpopular Barack Obama, went down to defeat on November 4, there has been a lot of hand wringing among the party's pols, activists, and pundits.   It has included a fair amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Some of it is constructive, as from Slate's Jamelle Bouie, who ten days after the election wrote 

Democrats can adopt populist rhetoric, but there’s no guarantee working-class whites will buy it. Indeed, in parts of the country—like the Deep South—it’s a lost cause. The Democratic Party is too associated with blacks and too associated with welfare to win over enough whites to make a difference.

But Bouie does not suggest those white people are irretrievably racist. Instead

Put another way, for a new rhetoric of populism to work—or at least, attract the winnable whites identified by Teixeira and Halpin—it needs to come with a commitment to universal policies that working-class whites like and support. (It’s no coincidence that the most liberal working-class whites belong to private and public sector unions.)

This, he understands, is easier said than done. With no hint of condescension, Bouie notes

But the United States doesn’t have a political party to support that kind of social democracy. Instead, it has the Democratic Party, a collection of disparate interests which—at its best—is nervous about economic liberalism and hesitant to push anything outside the mainstream. And worse, it has a presidential frontrunner who—more than anyone else—is connected to the kinds of elites and the kinds of policies that would push the party away from the muscular liberalism it needs. 

It is a huge mid-range problem that both the establishment and many of the activists of the party are gearing up to nominate the Senator from Goldman Sachs, who is primed to "push the party away from the muscular liberalism it needs."  Assuming she is nominated, a few crumbs, such as the selection of a running mate more sympathetic to the interests of the working- and middle classes, will be thrown to voters who sense that the country is shifting to a servant society in which they are to be the servants (photo below from Rebecca Cook/Reuters).

But there is little hope for reversal of this trend.  The centrists of the party are committed to privatization of some sectors (such as education), the euphemistically-named free trade,deregulation of business, and normalization of illegal immigration- excluding citizenship, without which equal opportunity is a chimera.   In the wake of  the President's decision to protect from deportation 4-5 million illegal immigrants, there has been little heard from Democrats about maintaining and growing the middle class.

That has been a positive development, for any such talk at this time would be disingenuous. But it also highlights the reality that the party, as Bouie understands, has thrown in its lot with expanding the electorate rather than reassuring its traditional voters.  Bouie, as he later explained, believes the political impact of the President's Executive Order will be limited because "the status quo will hold, and both sides will be on the same ground as before.'

Still, most voters aren't suckers and it was once said "if you sit in on a poker game and don't see a sucker, get up. You're the sucker." Those working-class voters eventually will realize they don't see a sucker; unless the Party changes, they will get up.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

You Can't Miss With A Bill Cosby Reference

At the beginning of his closing argument in his immigration speech on Thursday, President Obama rhetorically asked "Or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in? Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too."
Mike Huckabee on his Facebook page was not amused and commented

It is interesting that Obama cites Scripture as the justification for him taking unilateral action on illegal immigrants.

Funny how, for the first six years of his Administration, even the two years when he had unstoppable majorities in both houses, Scripture did not compel immediate action. But two weeks after the final election he'll have to deal with, suddenly, Scripture requires us to do this.

It's similar to the way that his Biblical beliefs led him to oppose same-sex marriage as a candidate for election. Then when he needed big campaign donations from gay liberals for his reelection, the Bible suddenly got rewritten.

I always thought that Scripture was eternal and unchanging, but apparently, now that Obama is President, Scripture gets rewritten more often than Bill Cosby's Wikipedia entry.

This, in turn, did not amuse the blogger I most often quote, who responded

Eternal and unchanging? How about this:

Exodus 22:21
"Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

Exodus 23:9
"Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 24:17
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.

Deuteronomy 24:18
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

Deuteronomy 27:19
"Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

When quoting Scripture in defense of a political perspective, one needs to be very, very careful. Here, for amusement sake, are a few passages Digby never would cite, all from the English Standard Version:

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers,[a] liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound[b] doctrine (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another,men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

It would not be sensible to put to death a man who has sex with another man.  Nor, for that matter, is it wise to put a great deal of stock in a biblical verse to support a political position.

And it's not only immigration or homosexuality on which we can quote Scripture, both misleadingly. We go to Genesis 15: 18-21 in which Moses (inspired by God, it is contended) wrote

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, theKadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.  

That's it; problem solved. As the map below indicates, that would be the end of a Palestinian state, at least the Arab Palestinian state to which "Palestinian state" refers, because Israel would include everything within the circled area.  The Israel-Palestine issue is resolved, all with no more thought than is necessary to read Exodus.

That would not be very helpful, fair,or productive.  But it is as much- no, more- relevant to the middle eastern conflict than "do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were a foreigner in Egypt," is to immigration policy.  That, and the related verses, say nothing about jobs, visas, immigration quotas, or sovereign boundaries.

If God gave us the Bible, surely he gave us the capacity to think on our own.  Scripture may inform our values, but it should not bear heavily on the policy decisions of a great republic or its constituent parts. Someone notify Barack Obama.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Another President, Another Plan

Last night, President Obama gave his long-awaited- or awaited for 16 days- speech about illegal immigrants.

Of course, the President did not speak of "illegal immigrants," not even once, but four times of "undocumented immigrants" and once each of "undocumented immigrant," "undocumented worker," and "undocumented" (student). Under the U.S. Code, immigrants unfortunately are referred to as "aliens,"  as if they've arrived from Mars on a spaceship.

But the term "undocumented" also is ludicrous, given that either possession or lack of documents results from the means of entry, and no doubt some individuals have immigrated legally to the USA and have lost their documents.  Rather, given that those people are legal immigrants, the other individuals are illegal immigrants.

Turnabout is fair play, however, and given the dishonest propensity of the right to term any immigration reform "amnesty," conservatives may end up being stuck with the word "undocumented," a rather benign way of saying "came here contrary to law."

In his brilliantly crafted statement, President Obama stated also "As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it, they are a part of American life."  That was a mere ten sentences before he would point out "It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you."

A sense of shame would have prevented a president from warmly presenting human beings as "a part of American life," then almost immediately bragging they won't be given a chance to become citizens or have the benefits other people have. They are part of American life; on second thought, they are not. Truthfully, though, most successful politicians have little sense of shame, or they would not be successful; a fact of electoral life.

Notably (though few if any will note it) President Obama chose to mention only one previous president, George W. Bush. Gregory Korte of USA Today maintains "speechwriters dusted off President George W. Bush's 2006 speech on immigration, and built Obama's remarks around it."

Perhaps that was only fair to Obama's immediate predecessor, given that the Spanish-speaking Bush garnered far more Hispanic votes in his election and re-election to the presidency than did the English-speaking John McCain, who at one time actually supported comprehensive immigration reform.   Or perhaps it was an appeal to conservative voters, who recognize (or should recognize) GWB as extremely conservative while at the same time not unsympathetic to illegal immigrants- uh, er, undocumented workers.

Presumably, President Obama would have referred to George W. Bush's father, were the latter not considered a RINO by many Republicans., because the actions of the 44th President on immigration policy bear a stark resemblance to those of the 41st.

In an analysis upon which Politifact relied heavily in finding the two Presidents' actions similar, Dara Lind of Vox (its graph of "rise in unauthorized immigrant population," below) explained 

After the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) passed in 1986, about 2.7 million previously-unauthorized immigrants were able to apply for legal status, which they could ultimately turn into green cards and eventual citizenship. But there were strict requirements about who could get legalized: most importantly, immigrants had to have been in the US since 1982. And that meant some members of families were eligible while others weren't. If an immigrant who was eligible for legalization under IRCA had a spouse or a child who wasn't eligible, the spouse or child was out of luck.

After President Reagan took limited executive action to respond to the problem

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush expanded the program, to allow any child or spouse of someone who was getting legalized through IRCA to apply for extended voluntary departure. That expansion made it much broader than the original program.

Bush gave the program a new name: Family Fairness. That's the action that is most comparable to Obama's actions now.

Not only were the policy and the strategy similar, so too was the scope, insofar as "Bush's executive action protected about 40 percent of America's unauthorized immigrants at the time. That's roughly comparable to the action Obama is expected to take, covering 4 million of the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants...."

President Obama did not refer to the immigration policy of his favorite president, Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), who proudly signed in 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which did little controlling and reformed policy by allowing illegal immigrants to apply for legal status.

While Reagan, unlike Obama, acted (primarily) legislatively and granted actual amnesty, the approach of the 40th President bore was a little similar to that of the 44th. President Reagan did not convey citizenship and President Obama's executive order does not convey citizenship either, with the President assuring us "it does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive." He added, "millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don't like the notion anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship."

And no, they won't get a free pass.  Under the terms even of the reform bill the Senate approved, the House ignored, and Obama supports, citizenship for most illegal immigrants would be unavailable for thirteen years.

Ronald Reagan had an idea to fix an immigration system. Yet 28 years later, it is "broken," a term of art cleverly used three times by Obama, who realizes no one would disagree it is broken while people vigorously disagree on the reason and the remedy.

Five presidents (Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama with his DACA initiative) over the course of 28 years have tried to fix the mess by easing up on enforcement. The system  now is even more "broken." This may be a pattern.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Football Problem

Salon's Katie McDonough makes a few excellent points. And then misses the point.

McDonough observes "The allegations that Cosby drugged and raped more than a dozen women are not new, but the network’s apparent unease about working with a reported sexual predator is very much a recent development."  NBC has cancelled an otherwise upcoming serial with the octogenarian comedian/actor because

The public, it seems, is turning against Cosby. Risk alienating viewers, and advertisers get nervous. Watch enough television and you can probably predict the commercials that would run with a show like what’s in the works for Cosby. Kids eating cereal, moms using cleaning supplies, dads smiling in sport utility vehicles. But I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a company that wants to attach its brand to an alleged serial rapist at the precise moment the public is catching wise to the allegations against him.

McDonough recognizes "public awareness has shifted (only) as a result of all of this media attention" and that the network has gotten religion only because of the threat to its bottom line.  She finds an analogy to

how the NFL, and particularly its clown/villain hybrid of a commissioner Roger Goodell, has opted to handle the issue of domestic violence within its ranks. After a dizzying process of penalizing and not penalizing Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, a man who stuffed leaves in his 4-year-old son’s mouth while he beat him with a switch, Goodell suspended Peterson without pay for the remainder of the season.

Goodell’s stated reason? To prioritize the safety of Peterson’s son and send a message that the player’s lack of remorse around his physical abuse is unacceptable, out of line with the league’s values. But anyone who has been paying attention to Goodell, even one second of attention, knows this penalty is more about Goodell’s self-image and the league’s reputation with advertisers than any gesture at safety or accountability for victims of abuse.

Now here’s the part that feels tricky, at least for me. I want NBC to drop Cosby’s sitcom. I want NBC to have never even considered the sitcom in the first place, since these allegations have been a damning part of the public record for a decade now. I want to exist in a culture that sends a message about not working with serial predators. Likewise, I want the NFL to take action to sanction Peterson for brutalizing his child, just as I want the league to take action against any player who assaults another person.

But I am also so weary of empty gestures that don’t address the root problems and allow massive corporations to escape the kind of accountability that might stop them from, say, working with a serial predator in the future or, say, pressuring victims of domestic violence to stay quiet and arbitrarily wielding its power to protect its bottom line. I am tired of obscenely wealthy corporations thinking the public is stupid, beyond easy to placate.

But then we find out how easy it would be to placate Katie McDonough.     In addition to wanting "a transparent agreement to be negotiated between the NFL Players Association and league executives that will lay out how it will handle these issues moving forward," McDonough urges "the NFL to give millions and millions of dollars of its absurd wealth — on a reoccurring basis — to prevention and assistance programs that, unlike Roger Goodell, know how to do this work."

That would be a swell idea and ultimately one the NFL probably will adopt because a) tax-empt, it does have absurd wealth and b) it may believe it would shut people like McDonough up.   But if the latter "wants," as she maintains, "for people to matter more than money (and) for humanity to prevail, even when advertisers aren’t circling," she should turn at least some of her attention elsewhere.

Yesterday, lawyers for some retired players appealed to US District Court Judge Anita Brody to alter terms of a preliminary settlement between 5,000 retired players who filed suit because the NFL hid the danger of concussions. Two months ago, following up on its Frontline special of last year, PBS reported

new data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined.

The findings represent a more than twofold increase in the number of cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, that have been reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Bedford, Mass.

Researchers there have now examined the brain tissue of 128 football players who, before their deaths, played the game professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school. Of that sample, 101 players, or just under 80 percent, tested positive for CTE.

To be sure, players represented in the data represent a skewed population. CTE can only be definitively identified posthumously, and many of the players who have donated their brains for research suspected that they may have had the disease while still alive. For example, former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson committed suicide in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest, reportedly to preserve his brain for examination.

Nonetheless, Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the brain bank, believes the findings suggest a clear link between football and traumatic brain injury.

“Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE,” said McKee, a neuropathologist who directs the brain bank as part of a collaboration between the VA and Boston University’s CTE Center. But “playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk.”

An NFL spokesman did not respond to several requests for comment.

CTE occurs when repetitive head trauma begins to produce abnormal proteins in the brain known as “tau.” The tau proteins work to essentially form tangles around the brain’s blood vessels, interrupting normal functioning and eventually killing nerve cells themselves. Patients with less advanced forms of the disease can suffer from mood disorders, such as depression and bouts of rage, while those with more severe cases can experience confusion, memory loss and advanced dementia.

This is not a problem isolated to a few players with unusually long careers (nor only to CTE) because "actuarial data filed in federal court this month showed the NFL expects nearly a third of all retired players to develop a long-term cognitive problem, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as a result of football." In the video below posted shortly before Wednesday's hearing, PBS' Jason Breslow explains the background and status of the case, and the issues involved.

In its attention to football's contribution to brain disease, PBS is an outlier in both general media and in sports media, though it's easy to understand why the latter has largely ignored the problem.

Katie McDonough herself has an excuse to ignore the issue, inasmuch as she is on the feminist beat rather than the brain injury, or sports, beat, and her analogy of Cosby to Goodell is apt.  However, child abuse- and domestic abuse, such as that apparently committed by Baltimore Ravens' running back Ray Rice- are not peculiarly NFL, or even football, problems.

The National Football League for too long ignored the domestic abuse and child abuse committed by players in its own ranks and McDonough's characterization of Goodell as a clown/villain hybrid is justified, though at $43 million a year he is more villain than clown. But brain injury is a football problem, one of which the league has been aware and which it has tried to ignore.

"There's nothing to see here, move along" says Roger Goodell while the NFL offers to buy out some of the players, at pennies on the dollar, for injuries which have indirectly, but clearly, killed people. Unfortunately, he stands a fair chance at doing that, in part because our attention has been focused elsewhere.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

So What?

Immigration, the Affordable Care Act, impeachment, government shutdown, hearings over trumped up controversies- it looks like a turbulent winter ahead in Washington.   Gazing at the landscape, CNN contributor Stephen Collinson writes
Republican anger is however masking a serious problem the party has yet to resolve: how to hit back at what it sees a presidential power grab.
Other than warning that Obama would "poison the well" for future cooperation, GOP leaders won't say whether they will use pending federal funding bills as leverage.
That route led to a damaging government shutdown for which the GOP paid a heavy political price last year.
Picking up three new governor seats, 350+ state legislative seats, 10+ seats in the House of Representatives and 9 (once Mary Landrieu is defeated in her runoff) in the US Senate- that's a heavy political price Republicans paid.  Booman comments
Tell me, please, exactly how the GOP paid "a heavy political price" for shutting down the government and hurting our credit rating. They just had a huge victory in the Senate elections, the exact kind of statewide elections where politicians are supposed to be punished for pandering to the worst extremists in their party. They paid no political price and were, in fact, richly rewarded for their irresponsible behavior.
And if there is one single dominant reason for why the GOP got away with acting like five year-old bullies, it is because the media never mentioned their behavior in the 60 days leading up to the elections. If a tree falls in the forest and the only sound heard is about the Ebola virus and ISIS, then no one knows that a tree fell in the forest.
If the media had actually had a discussion about how a Republican-led Congress was likely to behave, then what's coming wouldn't be such a surprise to people.
Republicans got away with acting like spoiled brats also because arguably their most egregious act, shutting down the federal government, occurred a little over a year ago, which for the media is nearly an eternity and therefore of little interest to it.
In a moment of rare clarity, RedStates' Erick Erickson recognized "the GOP did not rebuild their image over the past ten months from a government shutdown. The GOP did absolutely nothing but run on 'we are not Obama.'"  But then he argues
If that is the image they rebuilt, then they need to not be Obama and need to not fund Obama’s agenda.
So set the course. Defund Obamacare and block amnesty. Obama can defy the will of the people and refuse to work with Congress. Sure, the GOP may get blamed. But so what?
And that is key here — so what. They got blamed last time and the public rewarded them with the biggest election wave in modern American political history from the local level to the federal level.
Block Obama. Let him show himself again to be the petulant man-child Americans have started recognizing. And this time, when he shuts down the government, keep it shut till you have your way and then hold public hearings to show how Obama selectively shut things down to hurt the voters intentionally.
Erickson (has he ever realized the elder Mr. and Mrs. Erickson named him "Erick" as a goof?), observes Salon's Simon Maloy, "is explicitly advocating that the Republican Party deliberately cause people real pain, and then lie about it for political benefit."  An influential conservative Republican blogger,he  let slip a strategy which Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also noted on Meet the Press:
CHUCK TODD: Very quickly on immigration. If the president goes through with his executive action, do you think Republicans and Capitol Hill ought to use even the power of shutting down the government to stop him from doing it?
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL: Two things. I don't think the president should shut down the government to try to break the Constitution. The reality is this. I do think the--
CHUCK TODD: You think the president would be shutting down the government?
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL: Oh, absolutely.
CHUCK TODD: So you do want Republicans to fight him on this to the point that it could shut down the government?
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL: Absolute-- I don't think the president should shut down the government.
CHUCK TODD: But you're twisting my question.
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL: But wait, wait. 
CHUCK TODD: That means you want that kind of showdown?
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL: Let's step back and understand what we're talking about. So the president said, "I want to break the law." He purposely said I’m going to wait till after the election, because I know it's not going to be popular to grant amnesty to millions of folks here that are here illegally. We had an election. He said his policies were on the ballot.
He lost in red states, purple states, blue states. The American people overwhelmingly rejected and rejected his policies. Now he's saying, "I'm still going to break the law." Talk about arrogance. This president used to say, "Elections have consequences." We're talking about how can the Congress force the president to follow the law?
I would expect even Democrats who may agree with him on substance, to say the right way to do this is to follow the Constitution, follow the law. No, we shouldn't shut down the government, but absolutely Republicans should do everything they can to force the president to follow the law. Let's secure the border. No, the president shouldn't shut down the government so that he can break the law.

"Many Republicans," Steve M. notes, "still insist that Democrats were to blame for the last government shutdown" and they "never seem to pay a price at the poll for this sort of thing -- but I guess they can't get out of the habit of trying to create their own facts."
Create their own facts they will.  Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the fellow in charge of the House Select Committee to Conduct the Benghazi Witch-Hunt, told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly (relevant portion of video approximately 2:00 to 3:10) "nobody's discussing impeachment (and) the only people who want to talk about impeachment are the president's allies." He must have missed Charles Krauthammer (who would put out a contract on the life of anyone who accused him of being an Obama ally), maintaining an executive order on immigration "is an impeachable offense," or Arizona Representative Matt Salmon, who explicitly agreed with Krauthammer. Then there are Representatives Joe Barton of Texas, Ted Yoho of Florida, and Walter Jones of North Carolina, each of whom has raised the specter of impeachment if Obama acts unilaterally.
Gowdy takes dishonesty further.  When O'Reilly asked Gowdy if Repubs would "go down that road in the House," Gowdy (having memorized his line well) replied "Have you met Joe Biden? is my response to that." (We all laughed.)

Now we know: Republicans think Joe Biden is a greater threat to civilization than is Barack Obama. And we thought it was because the GOP would not want in 2016 to face Biden as an incumbent president with a base energized because Barack Obama, popular with his party and the first black President, had been thrown out of office. And if Obama were impeached and (as likely) acquitted in the Senate, he probably would face a similar fate as that other recently impeached President, Bill Clinton, the most popular politician in the nation.
The GOP merely will toy with impeachment- doing the bare minimum necessary to convince the base it wants to get rid of him- and no more so as to appear as the voice of reason holding back the mob. Defunding the President's initiatives, even closing down the government, would be easier than convicting in the Senate a President impeached in the House.  And it would have one other advantage, as Erickson clearly implied: it would be far more satisfying because it would hurt the country more than it would Obama.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

For Nancy Pelosi, Some Women Need Not Apply

Sometimes something bothers you for a long time, as did the incident (video below) which occurred almost two years ago to this day, when Politico reported 

Nancy Pelosi was peppered with questions about her decision to stay on as Democratic leader on Wednesday, but one particular inquiry set her off: on her age.

It came from NBC's Luke Russert, who asked whether Pelosi's move blocks a new generation of Democratic leaders. Pelosi is 72 years old, and her next two deputies — House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Assistant Leader James Clyburn — are 73 and 72.
"Some of your colleagues privately say that your decision to stay on prohibits the party from having a younger leadership and hurts the party in the long run," Russert said. "What's your response?"
Even before he could finish his question, the dozens of female House Democrats standing behind Pelosi — both veteran lawmakers and newly-elected freshmen — began booing the reporter. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is 66, shouted: "Discrimination! Discrimination! Discrimination!"
"Oh, you always ask that question, except to Mitch McConnell," Pelosi replied.
When Russert pressed further, Pelosi responded: "So you're suggesting that everybody step aside? ... Let's for a moment honor it as a legitimate question, although it's quite offensive. But you don't realize that, I guess."

The Minority Leader was overly defensive and rude. She also was wrong because Russert likely had heard doubts from Pelosi's colleagues about her decision to remain the Party's leader in the House. Further, there is no indication he "always" asks "that question" nor that he wouldn't ask it of Mitch McConnell, were similar doubts expressed of him by his caucus.
The remark "but you don't realize that, I guess" seems to be a rather snide reference to Russert's age or the nature of his (legacy) appointment as a correspondent with a major network.  If Pelosi did have a problem with that, she should have made that explicit. 
No matter. Neither the Minority Leader's remarks nor the muted- or perhaps nonexistent- response to them was important at the time. But they ought to be now. The Washington Post's Nia-Malika Henderson finds
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who is eight months pregnant and cannot travel to Washington, will not be allowed to vote by proxy in the upcoming leadership battles, as Democrats refused to make an exception to their hard-and-fast rules about proxy voting.
National Journal reports that Duckworth, a Iraq War veteran and double amputee, wrote a letter to her colleagues, asking that she be allowed to participate in the votes:
I write to request your assistance regarding upcoming votes four our Caucus. As you are aware, I am in the final weeks of my pregnancy, and have been instructed by my physician not to travel. As a result, I will not be attending the upcoming Caucus meetings in person. I would like to request a proxy vote on the upcoming leadership and ranking member elections that will come before the Caucus in the coming weeks
The denial comes amidst a leadership fight that will offer little drama at the top, but plenty for the top seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, where retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) is vacating his post. According to the National Journal, Duckworth's request also got jumbled up with a request by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who also requested a proxy vote because she has to attend a funeral.
Though some backed Duckworth, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) both wanted to hold firm on the no-proxy-vote rule:
"Congresswoman DeLauro does not want to set a precedent. There are many meritorious situations where the argument could be made for a waiver, including Congresswoman Duckworth's. The question is, how do you choose?" said DeLauro spokeswoman Sara Lonardo, in a statement to the National Journal.
Pelosi is known to favor one of her biggest supporters, Anna Eshoo of California, over Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey. Still, here is a couple of ways to choose. A person does not attend a funeral in order to have a jolly good time, but to offer her respect. (Something like a wedding, even a christening/baptism, would stand be different.)  Moreover, a political party which is dedicated to women's rights- or at least, in contrast to the other party, not dedicated to their obstruction- should have little issue with making an exception for pregnancy.
It gets worse, for Malika Henderson continues   
For Democrats, who have framed themselves as the party of working women, this does put them in an awkward position. It comes, for instance, as the Supreme Court is set to decide a case about pregnant workers' rights involving United Parcel Service and a pregnant woman who sued them for discrimination. UPS recently reversed its decision and, starting Jan. 1, will offer light duty to pregnant workers.
At issue is whether pregnant workers should be afforded the same type of legal protections as disabled workers who would be allowed special accommodations that would allow them to do their job.
The PWFA has 34 sponsors, all Democrats (including Independent Bernie Sanders, more of a Democrat than most of them) and reads 
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act -- Declares it an unlawful employment practice for employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and other specified entities to: (1) fail to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions of job applicants or employees, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on such an entity's business operation; (2) deny employment opportunities based on the need of the entity to make such reasonable accommodations; (3) require such job applicants or employees to accept an accommodation that they choose not to accept; or (4) require such employees to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided to their known limitations.
But it gets worse. Duckworth, whose doctor recommends she not travel because of her pregnancy, lost both her legs while serving as a US Army helicopter pilot in Iraq.  (She graciously did not mention that in her request.) 
In an ironic twist, a Politico reporter writes
Pelosi noted that she tapped Duckworth to fill one of the Democrat’s five positions on the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi after learning of Duckworth’s pregnancy.
“She is a heroine to our country. Knowing about the baby, I appointed Congresswoman Duckworth to the Benghazi committee,” she said. “I wanted our strongest members there. I said just take it as it comes.”
The California Democrat added that she spoke with Duckworth and the two had a “lovely” conservation.
So the Minority Leader who believed she was calling out sexism when she told a male reporter "Oh, you always ask that question, except to Mitch McConnell,' now rationalizes deciding against her female colleague because she threw her a crumb, appointing her to a select committee. And oh by the way, the two had a "lovely" conversation.

One of Our Own, Or So He Says

So do your thing ,Charles! Stephen A. Smith on Fox News on Wednesday night commented I got to tell you something. As much as people may ha...