The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Our Thin-Skinned Blue Line

When we see each other as enemies, we are the Middle East, and we can no longer work together for the common good. Consider what happened last week at a Minnesota WNBA basketball game:

Four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working the Minnesota Lynx game at Target Center on Saturday night walked off the job after the players held a news conference denouncing racial profiling, then wore Black Lives Matter pregame warm-up jerseys.

Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, praised the officers walk out:

I commend them for it… If [the WNBA players] are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.

What is lost in the police union grandstanding was that the Lynx jerseys in question read “Change starts with us, justice and accountability” and on the back had Philando Castile’s and Alton Sterling’s names along with “Black Lives Matter” and the Dallas Police Department shield. How is that seen as anti-cop? This highlights how thin-skinned police forces around the US are whenever criticism emerges about bad policing.

But what can be done?

The most recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics quadrennial “Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008” shows that there are 17,985 state and local law enforcement agencies with at least one full-time officer or the part-time equivalent in the US. All of them are managed by local, county or state governments, and the majority of police are members of a local union. Wrongo is not anti-union, but the social identity of being in law enforcement cultivates a code of unduly protecting members, hiding evidence, and blindly supporting the position of other officers simply because of their collective identity. The “Blue Wall of Silence” around cops is the excuse to cover up bad behavior in the face of investigation.

Creating an equivalency between #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter is wrong. Consider this thought from Jonathan Russell, Professor and Chaplain at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture:  (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

A black life is a life under the threat of social death, a social life constituted by precarity and the potential of imminent death…Blue lives have no analogous history, no precarious location from which their collective lives need recovery…Blue lives are not…living under conditions similar to black life. It is the history of black lives not mattering that gives meaning to the hashtag. Blue lives have no such analogous history.

Russell goes on to say:

Blue lives have always mattered, present and past. Their experience of social space is (for the most part) one of…deferential treatment… It is profoundly misrepresentative and disrespectful to develop an analogous hashtag, as if blue lives have an analogous experience of social life in America as black lives have. This hashtag is wrong in so much as it connotes that the lives of law enforcement officers have failed to matter sufficiently in the broader public consciousness.

For the umbrage-takers out there, relax. Wrongo isn’t saying that cops don’t deserve respect, they do. He thinks that cops have a tough job, and that we must mourn any cop killed on the job. But, we can’t be blind to the power of this confrontation between #Blue and #Black to tear us apart.

Here is ginandtacos: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I keep holding out hope that we will learn something from this, that police can say to themselves “All those Dallas officers wanted was to do their job and go home alive at the end of the day” and have some moment of inspired transference wherein they realize that every black person they pull over in a traffic stop wants the same...

More from ginandtacos:

If most cops are good cops as we are repeatedly told – and statistically that’s true, as most departments have a few officers who account for the majority of complaints – then it is time for the Good Cops to stop participating silently in a broken system. It’s time for Good Cops to do something about Bad Cops.

Is this realistic, given the Blue Wall of Silence and the power of the police unions, who go ballistic at the merest hint of criticism? Politicians who criticize their PDs are seen as “weak on crime.” However, when police unions are part of any decision to fire a cop, what is the alternative? Two additional considerations:

  • An armed society makes for nervous and trigger-happy law enforcement officers.
  • Police have an expectation of immediate and absolute compliance with every command. Anything less is deemed justification for using force.

Fixing all of this will take action on multiple fronts. We have to soften the Blue Code. We need to see fewer guns on the street. We need to reform police protocols.

We need to talk to each other.


Our National Trauma Wake Up Call – July 11, 2016

It didn’t take long after five dead officers in Dallas, victims of a racially motivated killer, for some on the right to say “Its Obama’s fault”, or “Its Black Lives Matter’s fault”.

Here is a sentiment that you would hope that all Americans can agree on:

FireShot Screen Capture #100 - EM Simpson-page-001

From Evan Osnos:

It is a vision at the heart of the modern gun movement: the more that society makes the threat of violence available to us, the safer we will be. In forty-eight hours this week, the poisonous flaw in that fantasy has been exposed from multiple angles…

Wrongo hasn’t seen the videos, and hasn’t checked deeply into the circumstances, but he can’t seem to keep these incidents at arm’s length:

  • The Baton Rouge incident seems to have been the result of panic among the police who shot the victim repeatedly, even though the victim was pinned down on the ground.
  • The Minnesota shooting of a man halted for a traffic violation, who informed the policeman that he was armed and had a permit for concealed carry of a firearm, again may have been the result of fear and/or panic by the cop. The victim was shot several times while trying to pull his identification from a pants pocket.
  • The attack on Dallas police, in which five policemen died, and seven were wounded, seems to be a racially motivated revenge killing by a black shooter.

Needless to say, we need people on both sides of the Black/Blue Lives Matter argument to stand down. Cooler heads need to prevail. There are probably many cops who are not in possession of the nerves of steel needed for their jobs in 2016. Policing America today is no cakewalk. Everybody has a gun, most people are angry, and many have very low points of frustration.

FWIW, these violent episodes are partly a reflection of the larger struggle reflected in our national politics. There is a palpable dissatisfaction with how our country operates. The accumulation of money and power by people controlling our institutions has brought us an elite that no longer operates in the best interests of the population at large.

Some of this frustration and anger is played out with gunfire, and guns are everywhere.

The past week shows clearly that America’s police and America’s black citizens are at odds. During the day or so after Baton Rouge and Minnesota, there was an opportunity to step back and perhaps discuss what we might have learned from these killings. But the shooter in Dallas muddied the bigger picture, making revenge the story in our national news.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald quotes former NYC Mayor John Lindsay at another time of racial division:

This is a drifting, angry America that needs to find its way again.

This week feels like a sea change. Until now, neither killings by police, nor killings of police have been happening at unusual rates. This feels completely different, but we won’t be sure for a while.

More from Leonard Pitts:

There is a sickness afoot in our country, my friends, a putrefaction of the soul, a rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another — and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops…Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.

Let’s meditate on this from Dr. MLK, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

We always have a wake-up tune on Monday. Here is Ben Harper with “Call It What It Is”:

Sample Lyrics:

Government ain’t easy

Policing ain’t easy

Hard times ain’t easy

Oppression ain’t easy

Racism ain’t easy

Fear ain’t easy

Suffering ain’t easy

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 2016

Dr. King is one of Wrongo’s few heroes. He set an example for activism and success in the political arena that few other activists have matched, except for the founders of our Republic. Maybe that is why he is one of only two individuals (George Washington is the other) who have their names attached to a federal holiday.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, MLK transformed America. In the ‘50’s , America was a place where you didn’t question why we did things the way we did, you just followed your parents. By the end of the ‘60’s we were questioning everything. We changed a few things, and by the 1970s, many of us were living under a very different set of social mores than those of our parents.

MLK, along with others in our churches and a courageous few politicians created a real “moral majority” (not the phony ideal espoused by Jerry Falwell 25 years later), comprised of people of all races, educational and economic strata who came together to support the Big Idea that Separate was not Equal. MLK gave voice to that Big Idea.

His presence, power and persuasiveness drove our political process to a place and to an outcome in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These ideas were completely unthinkable 10 years earlier in 1954, when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court.

Wrongo participated in the Civil Rights movement from 1958 to 1962. That participation changed my viewpoint on race, religion and politics. Sadly, and wrongly, Wrongo left active participation in the movement, thinking that Dr. King’s Big Idea had taken hold, and that it permanently altered our political landscape.

Yet here we are in 2016, with all of the New Deal and Great Society reforms under attack.

Here is something Wrongo guarantees you have never heard. It is a 1986 recording by Eartha Kitt detailing Dr. King’s activism, his many, many arrests, and the few attempts on his life before he was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Kitt made an album called “My Way: Musical Tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” with The Black Academy of Arts & Letters (TBAAL), the nation’s largest African-American cultural arts institution. Here is Ms. Kitt, not singing, but speaking about MLK:

Those of you who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

It is clear from that recitation that MLK paid a high price for his beliefs. Ms. Kitt also paid a price for hers. In 1968, during LBJ’s administration, Kitt made anti-war statements at a White House luncheon. When Lady Bird Johnson asked her about Vietnam, Eartha replied:

You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.

She had trouble finding work after that. Whatever you may think of her talents, it is contemptible that she was branded “a sadistic nymphomaniac” by the CIA. This was in the late 1960s, not the 1940s.

Today, the mass movement type of activism is dead. In our current political climate, holding large rallies rarely results in political change. Most people just send a tweet, and think they’ve accomplished something. The failure of demonstrations today is a symptom of a failure in our democracy. And the way the Occupy Movement was forcibly removed from American cities makes it difficult for anyone to want to engage in civil disobedience.

Consider how quick the police are to shoot unarmed black men today. How long would MLK be able to demonstrate, or drive his car, or march to Montgomery before being shot, not by an assassin, but by the police on the streets of America today?

Our founders wrote the Constitution in a way that explicitly provides for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. Despite that protection, legislation in cities across America has chipped away at those rights in the name of public safety. Along with this erosion of rights, comes the military-style weapons and tactics, the pepper spray and temporary suspension of civil rights that we saw in NYC, Ferguson. MO, and Oakland CA.

Today America urgently needs a political movement with a forceful, charismatic leader.

Someone who can tie together the various threads of what is wrong in our society. Someone who can show us how these things are interrelated, and who can point us in a direction that could restore our now-fading civil rights and our middle class.

MLK remains the hero of a generation of Americans for whom activism was a building block of their personal journey to adulthood.

In most ways, our nation has never recovered that sense of can-do, or that all things are possible for your Big Idea. Today there is no one like MLK who can rally us to drive Big Ideas to reality.


What’s the Matter with Kansas? Part Infinity

From the WaPo:

In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home.

Read more:

The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

It started when Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper in the store parking lot had the job of collecting license plate numbers of customers, compiling them into a spreadsheet, and sending the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation.

They were looking for folks who grow marijuana.

Yes, buying gardening supplies could make you the target of a drug investigation in Kansas. Naturally, the family was cleared of any wrongdoing. The Hartes wanted to know why they were targeted. What probable cause did the police have for sending a SWAT team into their home? But that information was difficult to obtain.

Under Kansas law, the sheriff’s department wasn’t obligated to turn over any information related to the raid. They spent more than $25,000 in legal fees to learn why the sheriff had sent a SWAT team into their home. Once they finally had that information, the Hartes filed a lawsuit.

And they lost the case. Last week, US District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed all of the Hartes’s claims. Lungstrum found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive reading by an unreliable field test and spotting someone at a gardening store was not a violation of the Hartes’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Think about this:

The Hartes are a white, financially sound couple who both used to work for the CIA. Most people on the receiving end of these raids aren’t white, aren’t middle-class, didn’t once work for a federal intelligence agency and don’t have $25,000 to fund a fight in court…you can imagine the long odds faced by the typical victim of a botched raid.

Another brick is removed from the wall of Constitutional rights that protects you from your government. By the way, the people who support this kind of thing also like to talk a lot about freedom and liberty.

News you can’t use, Trump edition:

Trump says US wages are too high. (Business Insider)

Trump says US Wages are too low. (CNN)

Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke says that Donald Trump speaks “a lot more radically” than he does. (Reader Supported News) David Duke is now a GOP “squish”, since Trump has gone even further right than the KKK.

Personal Note:

Today is the Wrongologist’s birthday. He remembers a time when to be a liberal was to be heroic. It seems that time has returned. Wrongo’s wish for 2016 is an election that provides Americans with the opportunity to debate US policies. However, our politics also provides entertainment to voters along the way to the election.

My prediction is we will see/hear far more ludicrous posturing than serious policy conversations in 2016.

Yet, think about the rest of the world’s politics compared to ours: We peacefully change presidents, elect new congresses, and 50 new state governments.

We do it via the ballot box, not with guns and tanks. This is the strength of our society.


And remember that your vote in a primary election has huge value. That is where the candidate choices are made.

Best wishes for a healthy New Year.


Monday Wake Up Call – October 26, 2015

From the NYT:

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said on Friday that the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.

Comey is lending his support to a meme called the “Ferguson Effect”. As the “Ferguson Effect” theory goes, police have slowed down enforcement due to public scrutiny, which has led to more crime, including homicides. In the absence of tough policing, chaos reigns.

Ever since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO last year, people across the country have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and the mistreatment of black men and women. At the same time, police officers and pundits began arguing that demonstrators are jeopardizing community safety, pointing to rising violent crime rates.

This theory for the uptick in violence in some cities is partly based on a cherry-picking of violent crime data, since some increases actually occurred BEFORE the Ferguson demonstrations, and in general, the data are unclear. We know that far more people are being killed in America’s cities this year than in many years. And to be clear, the increases are largely among people of color, and it’s not cops that are doing the killing.

Most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase. These are cities with little in common except being in America—places like Chicago, Tampa, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland, and Dallas.

So something big is happening, but what? Comey thinks he knows, and in Chicago, he floated the same idea as Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently floated, that cops are not doing their job because people have started taking videos of police interactions with their smart phones.

Here is snippet of what Comey said:

I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, ‘we feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.’…I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.

If Comey’s impression both of the Ferguson Effect, and the role of cameras is correct, cops have stopped doing the job we pay them to do because they’re under amateur surveillance.

If Comey’s right, what he’s describing is the chilling effect of surveillance, the way in which people change their behavior because they know they will be seen on camera. That the Director of the FBI is making this claim is more striking, since the surveillance cops are undergoing is targeted, and by the public. It is not the total government surveillance (such as the use of small planes and stingrays to surveil the Baltimore and Ferguson protests), which both the FBI and NSA use in inner cities.

Comey can’t have it both ways. Since he said in Chicago that surveillance has a “chilling effect”, that it makes cops feel under siege, maybe he should consider the implications of what he is saying about surveillance by his own agency and the NSA of all Americans.

If the targeted surveillance of cops is a problem, isn’t the far less targeted surveillance conducted on Americans a much larger problem?

And why can’t Americans hold two diametrically opposed ideas in their minds at the same time? We love the police, and want them safe. But, the real problems in US law enforcement have to be addressed.

And why does Comey imply that we need to accept a trade-off between a brutal police state and weakened policing? Why can’t we have civilized police who focus on getting the real bad guys, instead of choking a man to death for selling loose cigarettes?

So, wake up Mr. Comey! Show us data that support your feelings, or get in line with the data we have. To help you wake up, here is Humble Pie doing “30 days in the Hole”, from their 1972 album, “Smokin’”. The song was featured in “Grand Theft Auto V”:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.


Somewhere, Bull Connor is Smiling

You don’t remember Bull Connor? He was Commissioner of Public Safety (chief cop) in Birmingham, Alabama when, in 1963 he used fire hoses and attack dogs against civil rights activists. The films of the confrontation and Connor’s disproportionate response, became an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He became an international symbol of Southern racism.

Now, science has come up with a better, more efficient crowd control product. From the Daily Dot:

Imagine being soaked, head to toe, in a frothy mix of pureed compost, gangrenous human flesh, and road kill, and you might get some idea of what it’s like to be sprayed with Skunk, according to those who’ve had the misfortune of being doused.

A few police departments in the US, including the St Louis Metropolitan Police, have reportedly purchased the spray, a non-lethal riot-control weapon originally developed by the Israeli firm Odortec, and used first in the occupied West Bank in 2008 against demonstrators. The sticky fluid, which Palestinians say smells like a “mixture of excrement, noxious gas and a decomposing donkey,” is usually fired from armored vehicles using high-pressure water cannons.

Decomposing donkey? Where and when do you learn what THAT smells like?

It was used in Hebron on February 26, 2012 to disperse a crowd of an estimated 1,000 people which clashed with Israeli soldiers during a protest described as commemorating the anniversary of the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre.

Mistral Security, based in Bethesda MD, offers Skunk products to US police and the military. According to the company’s website, they sell it using a number of delivery systems, including 60 ounce canisters with a range of 40 feet; a “skid sprayer” equipped with a 50 gallon tank and a 5 HP motor that can shoot over 60 feet at up to 7 gallons per minute; and a 40mm grenade that can be fired by a 12-gauge shotgun.

The company reports that Skunk is made from 100% food-grade ingredients and is 100% eco-friendly – harmless to both nature and people. From their website:

Applications include, but are not limited to, border crossings, correctional facilities, demonstrations and sit-ins. Decontamination soap is available to mitigate the odor.

So what we have here is another way that our police spend money to create citizen compliance. Police have an ethical problem: How do they control (or disperse) a crowd that gets unruly without causing injury?

In the past year, we have seen several examples of “comply or die” in cities around the US. Now, we see that the technology is evolving from Bull Connor’s days of attack dogs and fire hoses, to tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags, and now, Skunk. Policing seems to be headed in a strange direction. You better do what you’re told, and not participate in any, you know, civil disobedience, like sit-ins, protests, demonstrations and such, or we will Skunk you, (or worse).

A fundamental Constitutional issue has emerged in police response to civil disobedience in the past few years. City property has been “privatized”, with the municipal corporation as the owner. Public space is not owned, it is supposed to be available to the public with only limited conditions. But, we now see a growing number of examples where police, mayors and municipalities are limiting access for the press, for demonstrators as well as for ordinary citizens to public spaces.

When our laws are manipulated in order to suppress a free press, or personal speech, it shows contempt for the entire idea of a free people or a government of laws. When our police continually purchase new weapons to insure compliance with police orders, peaceful protest is at risk.

Consider this: At Donald Trump’s Dallas rally on Monday night, Politico reports that as the mostly white attendees filed out, they clashed with 200 or so protesters, mostly black and Hispanic.

Dozens of police officers, including several on horseback, pushed protesters off arena property. After being pushed to the other side of the street, one protest leader encouraged the rest to arm their families and teach them to protect themselves:

You’re only going to get Martin Luther King so long before you get Malcolm X.

Our police should be careful what they wish for.

See you on Sunday.


29% of Americans Support a Military Coup

A law professor at West Point was forced to resign after it emerged that he had authored a number of controversial articles. In one, he suggested that the US military may have a duty to seize control of the federal government if the federal government acted against the interest of the country.

Link that thought to a YouGov poll taken this month that found that 29% of US citizens would support a military coup d’état. Moreover, a plurality of Republicans, (43%) would support a coup by the military. They were the only group with a plurality in favor in the poll:

YouGov poll

They polled 1,000 people on September 2nd & 3rd. The poll has a margin of error of ±4%. Another theme of the poll was that Americans think the military want what’s best for the country, followed by police officers:

YouGov poll 2

The other categories, which included Congress, local politicians, and civil servants, went in the other direction. The vast majority of those polled thought that local and DC politicians were self-serving.

In other words, most Americans have a lot of confidence in the police and the army, the armed enforcers of government’s rules, but very little confidence in the politicians and bureaucrats who actually write and enact them. This is a rather dangerous disconnect when you think about it. A fascinating poll question was: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

5. Should active duty members of the US military always follow orders from their civilian superiors, even if they feel that those orders are unconstitutional?
Should . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18%
Should not . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33%

The answer shows that many Americans think:

1. The military are all Constitutional scholars, and

2. Americans want soldiers to think for themselves, even though the civilian superior who matters is the Commander-In-Chief, or Mr. President to the rest of us.

All of this, despite the fact that the US military has long embraced the idea of civilian control of national affairs, and apart from certain rare moments, the American officer corps has faithfully followed the orders of their civilian superiors.

The weakening of support for many of our institutions is clear: Every year Gallup asks Americans about their confidence with 15 major segments of American society. The police and the military routinely top the list with overwhelming support, while no other government institution inspires confidence among the majority of voters. That includes the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, the justice system, and Congress. Also near the bottom, are the media, big business, and banks.

Essentially, the YouGov poll shows that most Americans have completely lost faith in the system, and the powers that run it. The only people they still trust are cops and soldiers. And a society that trusts its armed enforcers more than everyone else is a society that could be ripe for a coup. In today’s age of blanket surveillance, the military coup option may be especially appealing to quite a few US citizens who are afraid to risk their own lives opposing their government. It is a version of “let you and him fight”.

Those military officers who would make good political leaders are smart and too principled to launch a coup against the civilian government. We would likely see mass resignations of the officer corps before any attempted coup. So, a few questions:

• Why conduct this poll now?
• Who commissioned the poll, and why?

It’s clear that people are seriously disgusted with the political class. The first reasonably persuasive demagogue who comes along may give America’s political class exactly what it deserves.

Sadly, the rest of we Americans deserve better.



Where Are The Activists?

And why aren’t they out in the streets? Why isn’t every bank office, and every legislature, “occupied?”

The NYT reported on their NYT/CBS News poll on income inequality. It found that Americans are broadly concerned about inequality of wealth and income despite the improving economy. Among the findings:

Nearly six in 10 Americans said government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

Inequality is no longer a partisan issue. The poll found that inequality is important to almost half of Republicans and two-thirds of independents, suggesting that it is likely to be a central theme in next year’s general election. We are already seeing populist appeals by politicians of both parties who are trying to capitalize on the sense among Americans that the economic recovery benefited only a handful at the very top.

Sadly, the surveillance society has changed the costs and benefits of protests. The Occupy movement was crushed with a coordinated 17 city paramilitary crackdown. In this day of background checks as a condition to get a job, a misdemeanor arrest for protesting can make you unemployable. You can find yourself on any one of a variety of official lists that cannot be challenged because of secrecy laws; there are sham arrests like those conducted at Occupy Wall Street or, at the NYC Republican convention in 2004 by then-Mayor Bloomberg.

And the financial services industry seems to be able to get cops to come in and round up people on their behalf.

It is not enough to gather in the street. Once you are there and gathered, it must lead somewhere, there must be a goal. Admittedly, the problem with activism is that the fight is to change perceptions and narratives, and progress toward those goals is slow, and rarely concrete and visible.

It’s astonishing today to see how Americans have been conditioned to think that political action and engagement is futile. The Wrongologist was a demonstrator when the reverse occurred, when activism in the 1960s produced significant advances in civil rights for blacks and women, and eventually led the US to exit the Vietnam War. But today, when activism is an option, quite a few argue that there is no point in making the effort, that we as individuals are powerless. Yet, what Richard Kline wrote about protest in 2010 still applies:

The nut of the matter is this: you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, and [then] they give up. As someone who has protested, and studied the process, it’s plain that one spends most of one’s time being defeated. That’s painful, humiliating, and intimidating. One can’t expect typically, as in a battle, to get a clean shot at a clear win.

What activism does is change the context, and that change moves the goalposts on your opponent. It also raises the political price for governments that make bad decisions. Demonstrations helped stop LBJ and Nixon from making a few bad decisions. The same principle could apply to the Conservative’s desire to kneecap Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare while they hand out more baubles to their rich friends. This kind of class inequality is deeply un-American, but it has big political benefactors in both parties.

We can’t use the protests of the 1960s as a model in today’s political environment. Back then, power feared the people. Power feared the people because there was a free press to publicize and record events. The White House press confronted presidents; they didn’t pander, or act as stenographers as they do now.

That no longer exists. The press has been destroyed by corporate consolidation and foreign ownership. Investigative reporting and the institutions that nurtured and supported it were alive and well.

In the 1960s, few local politicians would refuse a permit for a peaceful demonstration, if in fact, a permit was even required. That is no longer true. No permit, no demo. The arrogance of power is demonstrated repeatedly right in front of cameras and reporters; the police harass and provoke, restrain and intimidate at peaceful demonstrations. They also create incidents to blame on demonstrators, which are dutifully captured by the cameras.

If one unit of protest worked in 1965, we need 10 units today to achieve similar results. In the meantime, reflect on this quote from a noted demonstrator:

When the idea is a sound one, the cause a just one, and the demonstration a righteous one, change will be forthcoming”–Martin Luther King, Jr.

See you on Sunday.


Nothing to Hide?

Here are two interrelated ideas about privacy and personal freedom. We know that most Americans value privacy and oppose mass surveillance. Of the large minority who think spying is okay, they justify it by saying it is because they have “nothing to hide”. 49% % said keeping the details of the government’s programs secret is more important than justifying their legality. Edward Snowden spoke last week about “nothing to hide in a Q&A on Reddit: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I think the central issue is to point out that regardless of the results, the ends (preventing a crime) do not justify the means (violating the rights of the millions whose private records are unconstitutionally seized and analyzed).
Some might say “I don’t care if they violate my privacy; I’ve got nothing to hide.” Help them understand that they are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of human rights. Nobody needs to justify why they “need” a right: the burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right. But even if they did, you can’t give away the rights of others because they’re not useful to you. More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.
But even if they could, help them think for a moment about what they’re saying. Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
A free press benefits more than just those who read the paper.

On the other hand, YouGov’s latest poll shows that many Americans support making it a criminal offense to make public statements which would stir up hatred against particular groups of people.

• Americans narrowly support (41%) criminalizing hate speech
• Most Democrats (51%) support criminalizing hate speech
• Independents (41% to 35%) and Republicans (47% to 37%) tend to oppose making it illegal to stir up hatred against particular groups

Support for banning hate speech is particularly strong among racial minorities. 62% of black Americans, and 50% of Hispanics support criminalizing comments which would stir up hatred. White Americans oppose a ban on hate speech 43% to 36%.

In both of these cases, loss of privacy, and the suppression of hate speech, the practical question is, what does more harm?

With mass surveillance, we give up a constitutional right to prevent the very tiny chance of being killed by a terrorist. Contrast that with the certain chance of being spied upon, and the certainty of losing your 4th Amendment rights in the name of protecting you from terrorists.

In the case of hate speech, think about it: It’s always easier to defend someone’s right to say something with which you agree. But in America, we defend free speech, even if you strongly object, because that is a right contained in the 1st Amendment.

Liberals are divided by these two ideas. They are against the Patriot Act’s attack on unreasonable search and seizure, as contained in the 4th Amendment. On the other hand they have a real problem with unfettered hate speech, which according to the YouGov survey, makes them want to limit free speech, putting them on the wrong side of the 1st Amendment.

There is no moral calculus that addresses either of these issues with certainty.

How Cleveland shoots. Links:

49 Shots And The Cop Goes Free. On May 23, Michael Brelo, one of the Cleveland police officers involved in the 2012 shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, was acquitted of manslaughter by an Ohio judge, who found that while Officer Brelo did fire lethal shots at the two people, testimony did not prove that his shots caused either death. 49 shots by Brelo, through the car’s windshield. While standing on the hood of the car. And reloading. You have to wonder what it takes to get a conviction. Black robes, white justice. NOTE: all cops involved fired 137 shots. However, only one cop, who fired 49 times, was charged.

It’s been 6 months since Tamir Rice died, and the cop who killed him still hasn’t been questioned. Tamir was killed because he was waving a toy gun. There is explicit surveillance video of the shooting, and the officer who shot him has a troubling record. So why is the investigation taking so long? And adult white men can carry weapons openly, in large groups, in public restaurants and stores, and have no fear of being shot.

Continuing our exploration of springtime at the House of Wrong, here is an Indigo Bunting. They are occasionally at our bird feeders:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.


Drones: A Big Bad Nightmare

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), better known as the drone, is revolutionizing military power around the world. Despite the Pentagon’s Sequester, certain programs, like drone procurement have emerged unscathed, in part because the last two US administrations have embraced use of drones in combat theaters overseas. Meanwhile, a “drone caucus” has emerged in Congress that fiercely protects UAV funding and touts them as a way to help save money on defense, protect the lives of US soldiers, better patrol America’s borders, and assist domestic law enforcement agencies in surveillance.

In 2013, President Obama made a high-profile speech announcing plans to curb US use of drones. But events in the Middle East and North Africa, especially the rise of ISIS, have forced the US to shelve those plans. Yesterday, the Wrongologist reported that China was selling drones to Saudi Arabia. Consider this:

• More than 70 countries have acquired UAVs of different types. Of these countries, the US holds the largest share of UAVs
• 23 countries are reportedly developing armed UAVs
• The Teal Group forecasts an increase in global spending on UAVs from $6.6 billion in 2013 to $11.4 billion in 2022
The Diplomat reports that China will be the largest UAV manufacturer over the next decade

Many countries want drones, and many will turn to China with its lower manufacturing costs, and similar drone technology. A report last year by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated:

Chinese companies appear to be positioning themselves to become key suppliers of UAVs in the global market.

Chinese UAVs are especially attractive to countries in Africa and the Middle East given their low cost and China’s the lack of export restrictions compared with their Western competitors.

Even the new US drone export policy is not competitive with China, since it requires countries buying our armed drones to assure the US that they won’t use them to carry out illegal surveillance, that they will abide by international humanitarian laws, and that they use them for legal purposes. Just how will we enforce that? Will the US assign personnel to the control vans and centers to monitor each flight, or depend on self-reporting by foreign governments?

In the past year, drones have crashed onto the White House lawn, placed radioactive cesium on the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office in Tokyo, and worked the battlefields in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq.

It is a formidable weapon that we are only beginning to understand. The concern is that they can be used against a nation’s homeland, since they are hard to detect and difficult to bring down. With drone proliferation, what will the impact be if large public gatherings become indefensible targets? Will sporting events like the Super Bowl be “protectable” by the city and state that hosts the event? Probably not. So, will they have to be protected by the US military? Images of US military patrolling the streets around the Super Bowl would provide an Orwellian cast to the big game.

The small quad-copter commercial drones that anyone can purchase (for between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars) signal the biggest problem for the future. They are equipped with GPS technology and high-resolution cameras. They could carry (small) loads of plastic explosive, or even chemical weapons to a precise location and cause havoc. Jamming GPS signals could be an effective solution, provided we had some idea about a targeted area. Universal GPS jamming probably would be impractical, since GPS is so important to our everyday lives.

We don’t seem to have much of a clue as to what to do about this emerging threat.

How will we adapt when drones (commercial or military) become ubiquitous? What would be the societal impact? Fear is already a great driver of our domestic politics. It is difficult to imagine how much more of our 4th Amendment rights could be sacrificed to protecting us from terrorist drones. Armed drones deployed against a densely-populated Western country is a terrorist dream!

Drone design of the future is receiving huge amounts of venture capital. The current new idea is swarming drones. The US Navy is currently testing a weapon that can fire 30+ small armed drones at once. The Navy calls the program “Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology”, or LOCUST. The Navy is also concerned about defending drone swarm attacks on its ships, since the vessels are relatively large targets.

Imagine if a terrorist could fire a “drone swarm” at Manhattan.

We won’t be putting this genie back in the bottle. Think of all the things that could possibly go (horribly) wrong by the US making drones the AK-47 of the future.