Archive for National

Jun
01

Lying is company policy

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The tech reference is a bit dated now, but I used to say that if you wanted to know what Sean Hannity thinks before he thinks it, beat him to his fax machine in the morning.

On Monday it might be “Oceania is at war with Eurasia; Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.” If on Tuesday the message in the tray is “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia,” he’ll switch to saying that without blinking an eye, and maybe without even noticing.

It is something we have all noticed of eager authoritarian followers. He is a loyalist. Whatever Big Brother says he repeats to prove his fealty.

That, Matthew Yglesias suggests, is a defining characteristic of the Trump White House:

When Trump says something like he’s just learned that Barack Obama ordered his phones wiretapped, he’s not really trying to persuade people that this is true. It’s a test to see who around him will debase themselves to repeat it blindly. There’s no greater demonstration of devotion.

He is a man more interested in loyalty (to himself) than in personal integrity. Or the truth. “On Bullshit,” by Harry Frankfurt of Princeton’s Department of Philosophy (1990-2002), describes the break between the truth-teller trying to paint a picture of reality, the liar who knows the truth but hides it to deceive, and someone like the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Truthful hyperbole” was how in “The Art of the Deal” Trump explained what in real estate is known as “puffing.” Property descriptions like “diamond in the rough” (read: falling down), “charming” (overly decorated), or “cozy” (cramped) might be more bluntly described as deceptive marketing. Yet Trump’s endless self-promotion regarding the size of his inauguration crowd and electoral college win, etc., are not simply puffing but transparently false. Something else is going on here besides pathological narcissism, and George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen seems to have hit on it:

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

But Yglesias adds that repeating the Master’s lies serves a similar function for rank-and-file authoritarian followers. Lieutenants repeat the bullshit to demonstrate loyalty. Followers use it as a shibboleth to display their membership in the tribe:

… Trumpian bullshit serves not only as a test of elite loyalty, but as a signifier of belonging to a mass audience. One chants, “Lock her up,” at a rally not to express a desire or expectation that Hillary Clinton will serve jail time for violating an obscure State Department guideline, but simply because to be a certain kind of member of a certain kind of community these days requires the chant.

The big, beautiful wall that Mexico will allegedly pay for, the war on the “fake news” media, Barack Obama’s forged birth certificate, and now the secret tape recording that will destroy James Comey are not genuine articles of faith meant to be believed in. Their invocation is a formalism or a symbol; a sign of compliance and belonging. The content is bullshit.

Yglesias writes something Sean Hannity knows in his gut without thinking: “The loyalist is just supposed to go along with whatever the line of the day is.” The danger is that constant repetition of bullshit — sold as “alternative facts” — will break down the public’s cognitive ability for discerning truth from fiction. That ability is a prerequisite for the maintenance of democracy and liberty, which is why it has been supported from the founding of the republic. But for authoritarians, critical thinking skills are a threat to control. Thus, courses in public schools that develop them among the masses must be suppressed. Is it any wonder that access to public colleges is shrinking particularly in states controlled by Republican lawmakers?

Also disturbing is the number of supposed political leaders willing to debase themselves in service to their liege lord by repeating his bullshit. There is a seemingly endless rogue’s gallery of cable news interviews by official spokespersons and surrogates eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the leader and/or their tribe through public betrayal of the truth. Is repeating bullshit bullshit?

Frankfurt distinguishes liars from the bullshitter in lines prior to “For the bullshitter…” above. He writes:

A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Trumpian bullshit is how many are so short on integrity as to be willing to repeat it, whether as proof of loyalty or just to “catapult the propaganda.” As Frankfurt observes, the bullshitter has no care for the truth. Trump is an “I say what’s on my mind” kind of guy, Yglesias observes. The truth values of any of it is irrelevant. But many of those willing to repeat it (Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer are two examples) may yet know what they are saying is untrue. Trump is bullshitting. His surrogates are lying because lying is company policy.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Apr
06

Why cops shoot

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Photo by Kate Sheets via Creative Commons.

We’re the only country in the world that polices like this.
— Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Volusia County, FL

Ben Montgomery and a team from the Tampa Bay Times asked 400 law enforcement agencies across Florida for records of when an officer fired a gun and injured or killed someone between Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri prompted questions about how often such shootings happen. The result of the inquiry is an extensive report titled “Why Cops Shoot.”

“It was very difficult to get agencies to cough up records,” Montgomery says in a video accompanying the story. Collecting the information took two years. Their mission was to answer a basic question: “Are there ways to do this where people don’t have to die?”

The Tampa Bay Times report arrives even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a March 31 memo that his office would call a 90-day pause in its consideration of police reform efforts begun under the Obama administration. In Baltimore last night, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar issued an order rejecting the attempt by Sessions and the Trump administration to delay public consideration today of the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the Baltimore police department. Bednar’s writes in the order, “To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public.” The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT.

The Sessions memo recommends that the “misdeeds of individual bad actors” not “impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work” of law enforcement. Yet the Tampa Bay Times report uncovers yet again patterns of policing that result in unnecessary deaths of citizens — many unarmed
— and community mistrust of police services. Too many police shootings are “lawful, but awful” according to Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Resarce Forum (PERF).

This is one such example from “Why Cops Shoot”:

In January 2010, Orange County sheriff’s deputies moved in on Torey Breedlove, a suspected car thief in an SUV. Breedlove tried to drive away but was surrounded by deputies with guns drawn. A witness said Breedlove raised his hands, but deputies said they heard an engine revving, so they fired 137 rounds, killing Breedlove. A grand jury cleared the deputies, but Breedlove’s sister sued on behalf of the man’s four children. Evidence presented in the civil case showed the revving engine was a deputy’s SUV, not Breedlove’s. His sister got $450,000.

“The conduct at issue here,” wrote U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell, “is more akin to an execution than an attempt to arrest an unarmed suspect.”

Montgomery is circumspect. “There are not any incidents that we looked at in these 770 cases, in which 830 people were shot,” Montgomery says, “which clearly spell out that this officer intended to murder someone. That’s not the case at all as far as we could find. What is the case are, in some cases, lack of training, just the rush to judgment.”

And simply bad practice.

In 2014, for the first time ever, police took more from American citizens than burglars did, according to economist Martin Armstrong, who used statistics from the FBI and Institute for Justice. Police departments use the money, cars and homes seized through civil asset forfeiture to support their budgets.

[…]

“The answer to the riddle of why officers who are assigned to drug and gun and other contraband-oriented assignments, who are armed to the teeth, often in military fashion, take the time and trouble to make traffic stops for mundane offenses like ‘tag light out’ or ‘no seat-belt’ can be answered by the multi-million dollar forfeiture trade that supplements police incomes,” Cook said.

Mike Chitwood, now sheriff of Volusia County, was police chief in Daytona when Montgomery interviewed him. Chitwood believes the key to the use of force is proportionality. He has been engaged for years in Wexler’s group and brought training in deescalation and active listening to Daytona:

“We’re proficient in (shooting), but we’re not proficient in the No. 1 thing: dealing with people,” he said. “I think the No. 1 complaint in America against police officers is rudeness.”

He also began to try to keep crooked cops out of his department by hiring people with solid, deep background investigations. He established an alert system to try to identify rogue cops. He started randomly drug testing officers.

[…]

What’s particularly interesting about Chitwood is the stricture of his policies, especially when it comes to police chases and use of force. He’s blunt. Don’t shoot into a vehicle. If you do shoot, he said, you’d better have tire tracks on your chest.

“I think most shootings that we see are because we the police put ourselves in a position that we don’t need to be in,” he said. “Today, for some reason, we’ve switched out of the guardian mentality and we’ve become warriors. And that’s not what American policing was founded on.”

We’ve looked at the “warrior cop” here before.

One might not blame an incoming administration for stopping to review the policies of its predecessor. Then again, people are dying. “Why Cops Shoot” gives an indication of why and what might be done about it in addition to creating a national police violence database for studying it. Montgomery concludes we need one. The question this morning is whether Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are more interested in American policing being tough or just. Wait, don’t answer that.

“We’re the only country in the world that polices like this,” Chitwood says.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Justice
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Jul
20

Reality show trial

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Soon after Republicans nominated reality TV star Donald J. Trump for president last night, New Jersey governor and failed Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie conducted a reality show trial for Hillary Clinton in prime time. It might have been less creepy if some faux cardinals burst onto the stage armed with soft cushions. But no, there was only one, soft Chris Christie repeating debunked allegations against Cinton and asking the mob(?) in the coliseum, “Guilty or not guilty?”

The theme for last night was Make America Work Again. Nobody seemed to speak to it. They were too busy attacking Hillary Clinton.

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Jul
12

Damned if you whatever

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r9vlzWLs_400x400Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about it: the systemic discrimination faced by black people in this country. Even white people like me know about “the talk” black parents have with their sons:

Every black male I’ve ever met has had this talk, and it’s likely that I’ll have to give it one day too. There are so many things I need to tell my future son, already, before I’ve birthed him; so many innocuous, trite thoughts that may not make a single difference. Don’t wear a hoodie. Don’t try to break up a fight. Don’t talk back to cops. Don’t ask for help. But they’re all variations of a single theme: Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.

For all the good it will do.

In the wake of the recent shootings of black males Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (as well as the shootings of policemen in Dallas) on top of all the others — Brown, Garner, Scott, Gray, Rice, McDonald, etc. — it seems there is no instruction one could give or follow to ensure a black male will survive an encounter with police.

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Categories : Justice, Race
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Jul
11

Baton Rouge … the year is 2016

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Remember when In the year 2016… would have introduced filmgoers to a dystopian future? Welcome to it.

Following the Alton Sterling shooting last week, some truly iconic images are coming out of the Baton Rouge protests you need to see.

The image below by photographer Jonathan Bachman is already being hailed as “legendary.” A protester blocking the highway in front of Baton Rouge Police Headquarters is arrested by State Police.


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Categories : Justice, National, Race
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Jul
08

Another bad day in Dallas

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Publication1Police are still trying to sort out what happened when snipers opened fire on police during a peaceful protest in Dallas last night. Hundreds of people were in the street protesting the police shootings this week of Alton Sterling (in Baton Rouge, LA) and Philando Castile (in St. Paul, MN) when the shooting began. Police were the targets. Twelve officers were shot and 5 of them died. Two civilians are reported injured. Police say there is no known connection to international terrorist groups. The New York Times reports:

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said that four people armed with rifles were believed to have carried out the attacks. They positioned themselves in triangulated locations near the end of the route the protesters planned to take.

The police had three people in custody and were negotiating in the early-morning hours with a fourth, who was in a garage in downtown Dallas at the El Centro community college.

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Jul
07

Another day, another police killing

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In bleeding color:

A St. Paul man died Wednesday night after being shot by police in Falcon Heights, the aftermath of which was recorded in a video widely shared on Facebook in which the man’s girlfriend says the “police shot him for no apparent reason, no reason at all.”

Friends at the scene identified the man as Philando Castile, 32, cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul.

Castile had cooked “for 12 to 15 years” at a Montessori School. Let that sink in. Philando Castile is black.

The girlfriend started the live-stream video with the man in the driver’s seat slumped next to her, his white T-shirt soaked with blood on the left side. In the video, taken with her phone, she says they were pulled over at Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street for a broken taillight.

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Categories : Justice, National, News, Race
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Jul
06

Not there yet on education

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Photo by Josconklin [CC BY 3.0], via Creative Commons.

Democrats’ platform draft contains a plank on education that leaves Diane Ravitch with doubts. It reads in part:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools and we will help them to disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. At the same time, we oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. Democrats also support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Days ago, Ravitch wrote at her blog:
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Jul
05

Fear and loathing in Trumpmerica

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George Saunders has a lengthy piece in the New Yorker based on months of up-close observation of the Trump phenomenon. Rally after rally of interviewing Trump supporters and Trump protesters. It’s a fascinating series of vignettes telling a tale of the simmering anger gripping much of America:

Where is all this anger coming from? It’s viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach a castle. One of us has watched only “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the other only “Game of Thrones.” What is the meaning, to the collective “we,” of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it. You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a “dove” and a “hawk,” say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional. (As a proud knight of LeftLand, I was interested to find that, in RightLand, Vince Foster has still been murdered, Dick Morris is a reliable source, kids are brainwashed “way to the left” by going to college, and Obama may yet be Muslim. I expect that my interviewees found some of my core beliefs equally jaw-dropping.)

Saunders documents the rallies he attended so we didn’t have to. Out of this, a fuller picture emerges of Trump supporters:
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Jul
01

Can you hear us now?

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“Out of touch” is a perennial criticism of candidates from both major parties. The Brexit vote in the UK was an exercise in politicians misreading their voters. This year, however, the presence of Donald Trump and His Amazing War Chest leaves Democrats at risk of developing a false sense of security. It doesn’t help that FiveThirtyEight predictions favoring Democrats just get rosier. But as I said last September, so long as the T-party controls state legislatures and the Congress, who Democrats elect as president won’t much matter.

From where many of us sit, the presidential race is a distraction unless the Democratic candidate sends sends us lawyers, guns and money, and provides coattails for our state-level candidates. Talk of landslides just worries me that Democrats will stay home and our local candidates will suffer. If voters are going to come out in November for a contest between two candidates with high disapproval ratings, they will need a reason, something to vote for.

That’s why op-eds like Sarah Eberspacher’s in the Guardian give me pause. She cautions against the tendency on the left to write off white, male, blue collar voters like those from her rural Illinois hometown (or here on the edge of Appalachia) as racist, sexist, and uneducated:

The Democratic party – and by that, I mean the party gatekeepers with power to wield media influence, which worked out great for the Brexit vote – are writing off those hardcore racists as an overblown minority that is making more noise than they can translate into votes. But overlooking “regular Joe” moderate voters like the ones who filled my childhood could be our undoing.

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