Saturday, May 30, 2015

Police brutality

In "The real truth about race and policing," (Vox, 05/28/15), Redditt Hudson, writes from his five years' experience as "a black man serving in the St. Louis Police Department."

Based both on his own experience and that of K. L. Williams, a long-term trainer of police officers, Hudson says that:   "on any given day, 15% of police officers will do the right thing, no matter what is happening; 15% will abuse their authority at every opportunity;  and the remaining 70% could go either way depending on whom they are working with." 

The importance I take from that is that 2 out of 3 officers are influenced more by their peers and the culture of the particular department they are working in -- than by any internal sense of right and wrong or by any training.   "If their command ranks are racist or allow institutional racism to persist, or if a number of officers in their department are racist, they may end up doing terrible things."

Hudson continues:  "It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown.  

"That is what is allowed."

"And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty. . . .

"[T]his myth about the general goodness of cops obscures the truth of what needs to be done to fix the system. It makes it look like all we need to do is hire good people, rather than fix the entire system. Institutional racism runs throughout our criminal justice system. Its presence in police culture, though often flatly denied by the many police apologists that appear in the media now, has been central to the breakdown in police-community relationships for decades in spite of good people doing police work. . . ."

Hudson's extensive article then gives examples of police brutality and excessive use of force that he has witnessed, as well as his take on highly publicized cases nationwide.   He concludes with these paragraphs.

Police abuse in black and brown communities is generations old. It is nothing new. Racism is woven into the fabric of our nation.  At no time in our history has there been a national consensus that everyone should be equally valued in all areas of life. We are rooted in racism in spite of the better efforts of Americans of all races to change that.

"Because of this legacy of racism, police abuse in black and brown communities is generations old. It is nothing new. It has become more visible to mainstream America largely because of the proliferation of personal recording devices, cellphone cameras, video recorders — they're everywhere. We need police officers.  We also need them to be held accountable to the communities they serve."

Everyone needs to read this entire article, which is titled, "I'm a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing."  It can be found at


Friday, May 29, 2015

It's too early for 2016 polls -- but let's peek anyway

Yes, it is too early for presidential polling to mean anything much.  In the Republican primary, where everyone wants the winnowing to begin, the field just keeps expanding.    With John Kasich, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum all jumping in this week, it's getting more crowded rather than less.

Kyle Wingfield, a political columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, settled for grouping them into tiers:
   Top Tier:   Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker.
   Do Not Underestimate:   Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich.
   Do Not Overestimate:   Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum.
   Bottom Tier:  Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Donald Trump.

The respected polling from Quinnipiac University shows "undecided" polling about double what any other candidate rates, which is pretty good indication that not much should be made of polling at this stage.

Nevertheless, polling is going to decide which 10 participate in the first debate, sponsored by Fox News in August.

There are some trends in the Quinnipiac poll that are of interest.   In match-ups with Hillary Clinton, Rubio and Paul are the strongest, lagging Clinton by 4 points each.  She bests Scott Walker by 8, Christie by 9, Jeb Bush by 10.   That is, four others come closer to Clinton than Bush does.   The numbers are too small to mean much, but it adds to the meme that Bush is not fulfilling his supposed "front-runner" status.

By 59% to 32%, American voters say going to war with Iraq was the wrong thing to do.  But among Republicans, that flips to 62% for going to war and 28% against.   The important message here is that this factor will play one way in the GOP primary and the other way in the general election.   That's a tough dance to do.

In races for the House of Representatives, 39% would vote for a Democrat and 36% for a Republican, while in Senate races the Democratic advantage increases to 42% to 35%.  It's probably safe to say, then, that at this point Democrats have a slight advantage in general.  And, given that senate Republicans have to defend 24 seats and Democrats only 10, so there's a fair chance of Democrats re-taking the senate

This may change as campaigns and specific candidates move to front center.   But as a rough measure of who should be worried, and realizing the race is going to get tighter, I would say nothing is surebut a win for Republicans seems less sure than a win for the Democrats -- especially if SCOTUS throws them a curve by gutting the Affordable Care Act of subsidies for millions of voters.

If that happens, Republicans will have to explain to the American voters why they refused a simple, one-line fix in the law that kicked a million or so people off their newly acquired health insurance.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Catching up with the snails


Suzy Strutner reports on Huffington Post that a Slovakian architectural firm, Nice Architects, has designed the "Ecocapsule," a tiny, 86 square-foot capsule that you can live in anywhere.    

The mobile pod has sleeping room for two, toilet and shower, a working toilet, a mini kitchen, a desk and two windows -- it even has some storage space. 

The "eco" part comes from being powered by renewable sun and wind energy, and it is designed to remove bacteria from the rainwater it harvests for the dwellers' use.   On top of all that, it has a battery for charging electric cars.   Its self-sufficiency makes it adaptable for use anywhere -- from beaches to jungles to prairies.

In other words, it's sort of like having your own shell to live in -- something snails and turtles discovered about a million years ago.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paul Krugman on TPP -- and why my trust in the president has been shaken

Paul Krugman (New York Times, 5-21-15) writes that:

"One of the Obama administration’s underrated virtues is its intellectual honesty. . . .  The truth is that, in the policy areas I follow, this White House has been remarkably clear and straightforward about what it’s doing and why.

"Every area, that is, except one: international trade and investment.

"I don’t know why the president has chosen to make the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership such a policy priority.  Still, there is an argument to be made for such a deal, and some reasonable, well-intentioned people are supporting the initiative. 

"But other reasonable, well-intentioned people have serious questions about what’s going on. And I would have expected a good-faith effort to answer those questions. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what has been happening. Instead, the selling of the 12-nation Pacific Rim pact has the feel of a snow job. Officials have evaded the main concerns about the content of a potential deal; they’ve belittled and dismissed the critics; and they’ve made blithe assurances that turn out not to be true. . . .

"First of all, whatever you may say about the benefits of free trade, most of those benefits have already been realized. A series of past trade agreements, going back almost 70 years, has brought tariffs and other barriers to trade very low to the point where any effect they may have on U.S. trade is swamped by other factors, like changes in currency values.

"In any case, the Pacific trade deal isn’t really about trade. Some already low tariffs would come down, but the main thrust of the proposed deal involves strengthening intellectual property rights — things like drug patents and movie copyrights — and changing the way companies and countries settle disputes. And it’s by no means clear that either of those changes is good for America. . . .  

[There then follows some details about patents and copyrights, which benefit Big Pharma and Hollywood, but which worry world health organizations that it would make medicines unaffordable in developing countries.   Other concerns of critics have to do with changes in how disputes between countries can be settled.]

"Critics like Senator Elizabeth Warren warn that this could compromise the independence of U.S. domestic policy — that these tribunals could, for example, be used to attack and undermine financial reform.

"Not so, says the Obama administration, with the president declaring that Senator Warren is 'absolutely wrong.'  But she isn't.   

"As I see it, the big problem here is one of trust.

"International economic agreements are, inevitably, complex, and you don’t want to find out at the last minute — just before an up-or-down, all-or-nothing vote — that a lot of bad stuff has been incorporated into the text. So you want reassurance that the people negotiating the deal are listening to valid concerns, that they are serving the national interest rather than the interests of well-connected corporations.

[Krugman doesn't mention this, but others have.   At the same time that senators are allowed to read the bill but forbidden to discuss it with advisers or the media, lobbyists for interested corporations have actually participated in writing the bill.]

"Instead of addressing real concerns, however, the Obama administration has been dismissive, trying to portray skeptics as uninformed hacks who don’t understand the virtues of trade. But they’re not: the skeptics have on balance been more right than wrong . . . .

"It’s really disappointing and disheartening to see this kind of thing from a White House that has, as I said, been quite forthright on other issues. And the fact that the administration evidently doesn’t feel that it can make an honest case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership suggests that this isn’t a deal we should support."

*   *   *
I have to agree with Paul Krugman on this -- at least until we find out more about what the trade agreement would actually do.   President Obama's behavior on this has been more than disappointing.   I have had my trust in him shaken.   Knowing not only how complex a multi-national agreement like this can be, but also that it may involve other issues of national security that must remain secret, I am reluctant to denounce a president I had trusted.   But that trust has been shaken, to say the least.

If I were in the Senate, I would be standing with Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown on this.   At least don't be so ready to approve the fast-track procedure that will allow the administration to submit the final agreement for quick yes/no vote until it has had more open debate and public input.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Social revolution in Ireland

It wasn't just the majority of voters (62.1%)  who overturned the ban on gay marriage in Ireland.   It was the support -- even more, it was the pride in their country, expressed by  political leaders, that sets Ireland ahead of the others.   

Prime Minister Enda Kenny:  "With today's vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people."   Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton called it "a magical moving moment, when the world's beating heart is in Ireland."

Both sides recognize the results as signalling a social revolution in their country, which only legalized divorce by a very narrow margin 20 years ago.   Even the Catholic Church is taking a different approach from its usual denunciation.   Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the "overwhelming vote" indicates "a social revolution . . . .  The church needs to do a reality check right across the board. . . .Have we drifted completely away from young people?"

Note the change from the usual "young people drifting away from the church" to "Have we drifted completely away from young people?"

Michael Martin, a politician whose opposition party is traditionally closest to the Catholic Church, said he couldn't in good conscience back the anti-gay marriage side:  "It's simply wrong in the 21st century to oppress people because of their sexuality."

Leo Varadker, a cabinet minister who is openly gay said:   "People from the LGBT community in Ireland are a minority. But with our parents, our families, or friends and co-workers and colleagues, we're a majority. . . .  For me it wasn't just a referendum. It was more like a social revolution." 

Senator David Norris, the founding father of the gay rights movement in Ireland, now a senator, said:  "The people in this small island off the western coast of Europe have said to the rest of the world:
This is what it is to be decent, to be civilized, and to be tolerant!   And let the rest of the world catch up!"
Norris is right.   This is bigger than gay rights and marriage equality.   This is the triumph of decency over intolerance, the triumph of the people -- not in revolt against the religion but showing the Church a new way to embody the teachings of Jesus about kindness and compassion and acceptance of all.    

Somehow, at least in his heart, I believe Pope Francis will approve. 


Monday, May 25, 2015

Elizabeth Warren -- a necessary force

Here's why Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) excites so many people.   Who else is as effective at framing the debate in easy to understand terms?   Who else conveys such passion for what she believes in?  Who else could mount a credible challenge to Hillary Clinton -- but instead opted to try make Hillary Clinton a better candidate by nudging her toward a more progressive agenda?

That's not to say that I think she's ready to take on the foreign policy, commander-in-chief role of being president.    She is a necessary force in progressive government who can best help that cause by doing just what she's doing as a senator.


Marriage equality: the incredible 20 year shift in the U.S.

The question and results from a Gallop poll in the U.S.

The shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage has undergone a remarkable shift in the past 20 years, as shown on this graph, culminating in the latest Gallop poll showing 60% approval of legalized same-sex marriage.

The Gallop results are confirmed by similar results from an ABC/Washington Post poll that showed 61% approval and a Quinnipiac University poll showing 58% approval.   Compare these attitude numbers with the 62% of Irish voters who just voted "yes" on their marriage equality referendum.

Supreme Court justices are expected to announce their decision on the marriage equality cases within the next few weeks.   I'm predicting a 6 to 3 decision, favoring equality -- which, by the way, would be 67% yes, pretty closely mirroring what both the American and Irish people say.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ireland voters approve marriage equality

In a voter referendum on Thursday, Irish voters became the first nation in the world to put marriage equality in their constitution by popular vote.   Others have done it through legislative or judicial decisions.

"That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. So it's a very proud day to be Irish," Cabinet minister Leo Varadkar said.   The vote was called a landslide, with 62% voting "yes."  Only one if 43 voting districts voted "no," meaning that even in some conservative districts a majority voted "yes."    All political parties had supported marriage equality.

This is even more remarkable, given the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, although that has declined since the child abuse scandals.   

It's one more bit of evidence for the U. S. Supreme Court to consider in its pending decision on the same-sex marriage cases before them.   Those already in favor will look on Ireland's vote as an expression of the people's will and reinforce their decision to overturn state laws that ban same-sex marriage.   Those already opposed will see it as an argument for letting the people, not the courts, decide.   So it's unlikely to change any minds on the court;  and my prediction remains a 6 to 3 decision to overturn state laws, with Kennedy and Roberts joining the four liberal justices.


Rep. Louie Gohmert's latest anti-Obama remark

Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) questions U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on

We should never have worried about missing Rep. Michele Bachmann for stirring up crazy conspiracy theories and idiotic anti-Obama-isms.    Not when we have Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) to keep us entertained with his lunacy, thank you very much.

The latest from the foaming mouth of Louie-the-Clown claims that all this talk about what we knew then and what we know now about Iraq is beside the point.   The real problem, the congressman told Virginia talk radio host John Fredericks, is this:
“If President Bush had known that he would have a total incompetent follow him that would not even be able to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Iraq and start helping our enemies and just totally put the Middle East in chaos, then he would have to think twice about doing anything if he had known he would have such a total incompetent leader take over after him.  That should be the question.”
That is just stunning -- even for Louie Gohmert -- in its level of idiocy.