The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 8, 2015

March is Wrongo’s favorite month, because it has March Madness™ and Daylight Savings Time.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Selma march. On Jan. 14, 1965, newly elected Alabama Gov. George Wallace said in his inaugural address in front of the Alabama State Capitol:

Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people… I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny…and I say…segregation today, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.

On March 7, 1965, the first Selma to Montgomery march began and ended with the events of “Bloody Sunday,” when 600 civil rights marchers, asking for the right of black Alabama residents to register to vote, were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

On March 9, 1965, another march by 2,500 this time, including many who had come from other parts of the country, was led by Dr. King and others to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where a court order prevented them from going all the way to Montgomery.

Finally, on March 21, 1965, Federal District Court Judge Frank Johnson ruled that the march could proceed and, the 4-night march began in Selma. 8,000 started the march, but only 300 were allowed to make the entire 54-mile trek to Montgomery. Let us return to March 25, 1965, and read some of Dr. King’s words to the nation that day:

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take”?…I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

On to a busy week in the laughable. The ACA was on trial in the Supreme Court:

COW Supreme Question


The DOJ cites Ferguson, MO police for institutional racism:

COW Ferguson Swerve


Netanyahu and the Republicans see things the same way:

COW Bibi And R's


Hillary’s email flap may or may not be a big problem, but it reminds America of Bill:

COW Didn't Email


Some folks seem to be changing their minds about Hillary after the email flap:

COW Hillarys Appeal











Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 14, 2014

Tough week trying to pick the worst from among the many, many wrongs this week:

• Congress passes a budget that defangs Dodd-Frank: Citibank got Congress to let the big banks place their risky derivatives business back under the protection of taxpayer-paid insurance. So we get to shoulder the losses when the next big bank failure comes. The Congress attached it to the CRomnibus spending bill that the president won’t veto. We can dig through the couch cushions for spare change to bail out the banks next time. Simon Johnson said it best:

Give enough clever people the wrong incentives and they will destroy anything.

• Congress also lowered funding for the EPA, and stuck in a provision that allows private funding of national conventions. They were previously publicly funded.
• Some detail on “we tortured some folks” became public with the publishing of the CIA Lite torture report. If that wasn’t wrong enough, many pols and pundits just gave up, and said torture was useful and necessary. One right thing was John McCain’s speech on the floor of the Senate debunking torture as a means of getting information.
• There was more wrong-headed messaging about the Ferguson/Garner cases. But there was also many “die-in” demonstrations around the country along with the usual finger-pointing about the demonstrators’ reactions, both peaceful and not-so-peaceful.

Dick Cheney continued his spirited defense of the indefensible:

COW Torture III


CIA Director Brennan insisted on calling torture “Enhanced Interrogation”:
COW Enhancements


Passing of the torch brings irony to the Senate:
Cow Filibuster1

Some see the “shoot first” mentality as a feature, not a bug in the system:

Tom Tomorrow

Some see Xmas as their favorite time of the year:

COW Indoor Plumbing
Some see Xmas as a giant pain:

Happy Xmas


Ferguson, Week Two

What we know: Two weeks ago, a police officer shot a man for jaywalking.

But, without any additional official information, we’ve learned a lot from Ferguson:

• The police can pretty much do whatever they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want. And it’s gonna be your fault.
• Police shoot African-American men with impunity.
• Most police forces in America have been militarized by the federal government.
• Militarized tactics and behavior by police has become accepted and normalized by local and state politicians, particularly since the Boston Marathon Bomber Manhunt.
• We’re way past “free-speech zones” now. Remember them? The Occupy Movement taught us that if you’re protesting, (peacefully or not) the police now bust you up without consequence.
Reporters and journalists can and will be arbitrarily detained and/or tossed in jail. This began during the BP oil spill, increased with Occupy New York, and now is blatant in Ferguson. The police will shoot journalists with bean-bags and rubber bullets even if the journalists have complied with police demands.
• The airspace above an area where a dispute takes place can be completely closed to the media, even if there is no risk.

What you smell is the Constitution burning. All of the above should cause us to examine what is going on with police-involved killings in the US. Addicting Info reports:

According to data compiled by the FBI, in a seven year period ending in 2012 an average of nearly two black people were killed by police every week. Even more troublesome: Almost 20% of those killed were under the age of 21, more than double the rate of whites of the same age group. If you are black, being young doesn’t seem to protect you.

Deadspin reports that the US has no comprehensive database of police shootings. And there is no standardized process by which officers log when they’ve discharged their weapons, and why. There is no central infrastructure for compiling that information and making it public. There are over 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country, yet fewer than 900 report their shootings to the FBI. No one is keeping track of how many American citizens are shot by their police.

USA TODAY quotes University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert:

I’ve looked at records in hundreds of departments…and it is very rare that you find someone saying, ‘Oh, gosh, we used excessive force.’ In 98.9% of the cases, they are stamped as justified and sent along.

The Wrongologist reported that in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household. This means Ferguson is very reliant on revenue sourced from policing: From the Ferguson 2014 budget, here is a breakdown of The City of Ferguson’s revenues: in 2013, revenues from sales taxes were $5.8 million, while revenues from fines and public safety were $2.6 million (18% of total). In 2014, fines are expected to increase by $100k:

The increase in Fines and Public Safety revenues comes from both manned and un-manned traffic enforcement. Due to a more concentrated focus on traffic enforcement, municipal court revenues have risen about 44% or $623,000 from those in FY 2010-2011. Total court revenues are expected to reach $2,029,000 in FY 2013-2014. In the fall of 2011, the City implemented camera enforcement in three high traffic accident incidence intersections. Fines resulting from this implementation represent a portion of the increased revenues over the period, however, it should be noted that additional manned traffic enforcement also contributed to the increase.

We also learned from Ferguson that police officer safety is the number one issue on our streets today, even though officer fatalities are down. The Economist reports that in 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed—just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. And the primary cause for officer fatalities this year was traffic-related incidents, which claimed 46 lives. Firearms-related incidents are at the lowest level since 1887, when 27 officers were shot to death.

Sadly, the number one priority for the police used to be public safety, not police safety, and we are a coarser society because of the change.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Time on what Ferguson has not yet delivered:

…a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.