The normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, announced Wednesday by President Obama, is a highly welcome step. Our hostile posture against Cuba stopped making sense in 1989, if not before then, and it’s long since time we allowed the country back into the full community of nations. If the U.S. can get along with China and Vietnam, there’s no reason it can’t do the same with Cuba.
The president can’t lift the embargo against Cuba, since that was imposed by Congress. Though dead-end reactionaries like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham will likely fight for the embargo tooth and nail, within a few years it will be gone as well. In addition to the fact that the policy has failed for more than 50 years, popular opinion — and most crucially, the opinion of Cuban-Americans — is changing.
But while economic liberalization presents Cuba with opportunities, it comes attached with huge potential pitfalls. To be blunt, Cuba in all likelihood faces a bleak future. The track record of post-Communist nations is not good. Indeed, the upside of the embargo remaining in place for a few years is that it will give Cuba time to prepare. Here are a few things both Cuba and America might keep in mind.
First, don’t try to do everything all at once. Abolishing wage and price controls, privatizing state industries, and liberalizing trade may be good ideas. But it’s unquestionable that doing them all very fast is bad. Jeff Sachs tried that in Russia with his signature “Big Push,” and it was a world-historical disaster. Russian GDP fell 62 percent, and didn’t bottom out until the year 2000. Life expectancy fell by five full years. And a handful of well-placed oligarchs absconded with most of the state’s assets.
A market economy that works well for most people (think Sweden and Norway) requires some deep-rooted social structures — structures that are seriously eroded by long periods of totalitarian dictatorship. Simply quaffing laissez-faire policy in one gulp will lead almost certainly to plutocracy.
Above all, Cuba should prioritize maintaining its fairly high-quality health-care system. A slower, more measured transition would make that easier.
Communist insiders ought to be careful themselves. They might be able to make out like bandits in a post-Communist resource grab, but they also might be overthrown, exiled, or killed. For 50 years, the Cuban regime has been able to blame its atrocious economic performance on the American embargo. Without that excuse, the government will likely be faced with rising demands for better performance.
Vietnam and China show it’s possible to thread this needle, but it’s definitely not a given. We can only hope that President Raúl Castro and others in the Cuban regime will recognize that the onset of democracy is probably inevitable, and ease that transition rather than clamping down and risking civil war.
America, for its part, should consider not using its stupendous advantage in military and economic strength to stuff neoliberal policy down Cuba’s throat the second its markets open. I frankly doubt we can manage this. Congress has rarely been quite so overtly owned by the rich, who are undoubtedly slavering over a fresh nation to plunder.
So yes, amid the excitement, there’s no denying the situation is grim. It’s not likely that either a rattletrap Congress or the brutally repressive Cuban government will be able to manage decent, wise policy. But now that we’re here, it’s worth thinking about how both countries can manage as best as possible.
By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent, The Week, December 19, 2014
As they prepare to take control of Congress, Republicans are looking to change the rules of the game. To lend budget-busting tax cuts the illusion of fiscal responsibility, conservatives would codify the notion that these cuts pay for themselves into congressional accounting rules.
Democrats should not allow this to happen. But if conservatives insist on fudging the numbers, liberals shouldn’t shy away from making creative budgetary arguments of their own.
The accounting device promoted by the right is known as “dynamic scoring,” and it’s politically significant because of the basic policy positions of the two parties. Conservatives tend to favor tax cuts, which come at the expense of social services. Liberals tend to support increasing social services, which come at the cost of higher taxation.
But conservatives have an end-run around this dynamic. They point to the Laffer curve, an economic theory proposing that we can cut tax rates without sacrificing tax revenue, thus avoiding cuts to social services. This is because tax policy has dynamic effects on the macro-economy — that is, cutting tax rates incentivizes people (and particularly high-earners, who gain the most from tax cuts) to work harder, invest more, and generate more economic growth. As the economic pie grows larger, tax revenue can remain constant even as tax rates fall.
Though logical in theory, this idea hasn’t really been borne out in practice. The Bush administration repeatedly predicted that tax cuts would boost overall revenue, but they assuredly did not. And they still don’t, as Kansans have learned during Gov. Sam Brownback’s “real live experiment” in conservative economics, which has only blown a hole in the state budget.
This is because any potential dynamic effects of tax cuts take a long time to materialize, which makes these future benefits extremely difficult to quantify today. And as Congress’ authoritative accountant, the CBO is in the business of attaching hard numbers to would-be laws.
Understandably, the CBO has resisted the uncertain and speculative math of dynamic scoring. But the underlying argument still infuses and skews our political debate. Republicans feel less constrained when proposing tax cuts, while Democrats struggle to shore up revenue sources for government service proposals.
Ostensible fiscal conservatives like Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and John Kyl (Ariz.) argue that tax cuts need not be paid for at all because they are inherently good for the economy. “[T]here’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue,” McConnell contends, in spite of overwhelming evidence that these cuts diminished revenue at historic rates.
Yet these same Republican leaders still insist that spending on unemployment benefits be accounted for by cuts or tax increases elsewhere, even though there’s little compelling economic reason to treat tax cuts and social insurance transfers like unemployment benefits differently. Both policies promote economic growth by increasing disposable income and thereby boosting consumption.
Liberals have largely failed to point this out and haven’t effectively countered conservative attacks on these transfer programs. Contrary to what Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) says, there’s no evidence that unemployment benefits reduce work ethic. And other transfer programs can be carefully structured to minimize any potential work disincentives.
Liberals can do more than play defense in these debates. They, too, can conjure creative arguments for how targeted spending programs can “pay for themselves.”
Take liberal proposals for new or expanded transfer programs like refundable tax credits, child allowances, and other income subsidies. These relieve some of the strain on the budgets of low-income and middle-class Americans. More disposable income means more consumption, which generates higher economic growth and higher overall income, producing more tax revenue. By this logic, transfer programs could pay for themselves, too.
In fact, targeted transfers to the poor and middle class would likely give a stronger immediate jolt to the economy than would tax cuts for the wealthy. Compared with the wealthy, the poor spend a much higher share of each additional dollar of disposable income that they receive, providing greater stimulus to the economy. Policy measures that alleviate inequality are thus a boon for economic growth.
This isn’t to say that liberals should sit back and let dynamic effects fund their policy priorities. Any responsible party must provide revenue sources for new tax or spending programs. But drawing on this rhetoric would level the playing field of our skewed politics. The parameters of our current debate — where liberal proposals must be paid for while conservative ones don’t — are stacked against the interests of average Americans in favor of the wealthy.
Conservatives want to muddy the numbers for our lawmaking process. For the sake of a fair debate, liberals can and must show that two can play at that game.
By: Joel Dodge, The Week, December 19, 2014
It’s obvious that the big story of the day is the murder of two NYC police officers yesterday. I’m always hesitant to comment on a story like this as its unfolding. Its better to wait for all the information, process it, and see what we can draw from it.
But as people are weighing in, there are those that are fanning the flames and those that are trying to tamp them down. For example, in the category of flame throwers.
“We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence, a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion. The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.”
Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio.
“There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated,” Lynch said, according to CBS New York. “That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.”
And here is what a few of the fire fighters had to say.
I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day—and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day. Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal—prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.
I condemn this afternoon’s senseless shooting of two New York City police officers in the strongest possible terms.
This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty.
On behalf of all those who serve in the United States Department of Justice, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the officers’ loved ones and colleagues. I will make available all of the resources of the Department to aid the NYPD in investigating this tragedy.
This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens. As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past. These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety. We are forever in their debt.
Our nation must always honor the valor — and the sacrifices — of all law enforcement officers with a steadfast commitment to keeping them safe. This means forging closer bonds between officers and the communities they serve, so that public safety is not a cause that is served by a courageous few, but a promise that’s fulfilled by police officials and citizens working side by side.
I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of this afternoon’s brutal and senseless attack on two NYPD Officers, and I join Attorney General Holder in expressing my deepest condolences to the families of these fallen heroes…
Today’s assailant struck at the heart of our city — the dedicated officers who pledge their lives to safeguard us all. Today, two have fallen, in a stark reminder of the challenges and risks that our law enforcement officers face every day, both in New York City and throughout our nation.
Let us take this time to grieve with their families, and join the NYPD and all New Yorkers in honoring them for their sacrifice.
Frankly, some of the rhetoric of the flame throwers scares me. I’m sure hoping the fire fighters prevail.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 21, 2014
So what do you think the gun proliferation activists would say to a bunch of American Muslims exercising their constitutional right to bear arms on Main Street, USA? That’s the question writer and gun owner Jon Stokes asked in this piece at Alloutdoor.com. He wrote:
I’ve been thinking recently about the way that the Satanists are having a field day with so many laws that Christians are passing under the “freedom of religion” banner: stunts like putting a statue of Satan next to the Ten Commandments, or Satanist plans to hand out literature to school kids in Orange County. What if, I wonder, certain groups were to exercise their open carry rights in the same manner.
What if there were a group of Muslim open carry advocates who called themselves “Sword of the Prophet” and whose avowed mission was to bring Sharia law to the U.S., and they took to showing up armed and in large numbers outside of churches on Sunday, the way the OC guys do at the state house. Or what if there were a group of hispanic activist OCers, maybe an offshoot of La Raza who liked to organize armed protests at police stations and court houses, and who openly advocate the “reconquista” of the Southern U.S.?
The question was sincere and he’s got good reason to wonder. As he points out, gun rights were pretty well assumed in America until a certain clarifying event took place: the Black Panther Movement. (I wrote about this earlier here.) Then Gov. Ronald Reagan and the boys in Sacramento were none too pleased at the idea of African-American revolutionaries availing themselves of their Second Amendment remedies in the California State House:
[T]he story goes that in 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan agreed to sign a California gun control law that made it against the law to walk around in public with a loaded gun after he saw a Black Panther rally… Black Panther Bobby Seale was interviewed about it later and verified that Reagan was there that day…
It’s certainly possible that Reagan was motivated by that rally. But there was a lot of unrest in America in those days and gun control was not a right-left issue then — even the NRA was for it.
(If you’d like to see an impassioned defense of the right to bear arms, watch this video. Wayne LaPierre sounds like a 5-year-old by comparison.)
Anyway, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of armed Black Panthers roaming the streets with revolutionary zeal was enough to scare the heck out of people who otherwise would be pumping their fists in solidarity with the anti-government revolutionaries and cause them to withdraw their support for unfettered gun rights. But that was then and this is now. The world has changed and the gun rights activism has matured into a full-fledged movement. It’s more philosophically and ideologically based than it was before, largely as a result of some very conscious moves by gun enthusiasts to make it that way. But just how far does the principle of a right to bear arms go these days?
Well, here’s one fairly typical response to Stokes’ question:
First: Open Carry advocates are trying to get back to common sense and common law. They don’t want the government to have sole control of Force. And the reason for their open carry is purely for legitimate law abiding purposes. Namely self defense.
Now contrast that with: Muslims whose GOAL is to implement Sharia Law in the US. Okay…that right there is basically a declaration of war. Or how about: La Raza: Let’s reconquer the Southwest region of the US. Again, fightin’ words.
As far as the Black Panthers? Didn’t need to be a race issue about “black people carrying guns”. The issue was that they were carrying them in a threatening manner, not in a rational, law abiding, for self defense civil manner. And once again, the route chosen was to restrict or ban the open carrying of guns rather than just tool up and fight fire with fire. If I see threatening people carrying weapons in my neighborhood I’m not going to go cry to the government to take their guns away, I’m going to pack heat myself and encourage my neighbors to also do the same. Then we’ll see if the armed thugs are serious or not.
Evidently, individuals are allowed the unfettered right to bear arms as long as other individuals who believe in an unfettered right to bear arms agree with that individual’s motives for wanting to bear arms. It all depends, you see, on whether you are bearing your arms in a “rational, law abiding” manner. It is up to each individual to determine what that behavior looks like and if they aren’t happy about it, they will evidently start bearing arms in a threatening manner to “see if the armed thugs are serious or not.”
In fairness, there were a number of comments that said “it doesn’t matter, Muslims have the same right to bear arms as anyone else.” Under their principle, this should be the obvious answer. But there were quite a few who made the point that what determines a person’s right to bear arms is intent and if your intention is to challenge the U.S. Government you shouldn’t be allowed to bear arms. Unless, of course, you are a fine upstanding gun rights activist who believes that the Second Amendment exists so that citizens can …. challenge the U.S. Government.
In other words, the Bill of Rights only applies to those whose intentions are “good.” And whether those intentions are good is to be determined by the people with guns. This is called “freedom.”
By: Heather Digby Parton, Contributing Writer, Salon, December 19, 2014
“15 Reasons America’s Police Are So Brutal”: An Embedded Culture, Tamir Rice And Eric Garner Aren’t Anomalies
Handcuffed teenagers beaten bloody with guns. Unarmed people shot and killed in their cars. Cops firing guns carelessly into busy streets. Mentally ill people tasered in ambulances. Supervisors refusing to challenge a brutal status quo.
These examples didn’t come from the New York City Police Department or Ferguson, Missouri, where the killing of unarmed black men by white cops has created a national outcry over institutional racism and excessive force. They were from Ohio, where the U.S. Department of Justice just finished an investigation and report on abusive and often unconstitutional policing by Cleveland Division of Police between 2010 and 2013. They were compiled before November 22, when a rookie officer shot and killed a 12-year-old African-American boy, Tamir Rice, for waving a toy gun around on a playground.
The DOJ’s findings raise big questions. It’s not just how widespread is the problem of excessive force and a corresponding lack of accountability. The harder questions include what can be done to change police culture, reverse many out-of-control tactics, and instill a belief across entire forces that restraint and accountability protect cops and civilians.
“We found that field supervisors are failing in some of the most fundamental aspects of their responsibilities—reviewing and investigating the uses of force of the officers under their command, and correcting dangerous tactical choices that place the officer and others at risk,” Mayor Frank Jackson said of the report, underscoring systemic problems.
When releasing the report, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the DOJ would work with Cleveland under a consent decree and a federal court will oversee reforms. But a decade ago, the DOJ also investigated police abuses in Cleveland and found similar patterns surrounding excessive force. The city’s police pledged reforms would come—yet the department’s nasty status quo obviously has resurfaced.
“The voluntary reforms undertaken at that time did not create the systems of accountability necessary to ensure a long-term remedy to these issues,” the DOJ’s new report said. “More work is necessary to ensure that officers have the proper guidance, training, support, supervision, and oversight to carry out their law enforcement responsibilities safely and in accordance with individuals’ constitutional rights.”
That summation describing needed reforms typifies today’s political rhetoric surrounding the crisis in militarized American policing. The DOJ report didn’t say what explicit steps needed to be taken. But it did describe how deeply embedded excessive force was among Cleveland’s police, what was wrong and broken in their culture and police procedures, and what was missing and needed to change.
That unvarnished look reveals how hard it will be to reform out-of-control departments, whether in Cleveland, Staten Island, Ferguson, or elsewhere. Here are 15 excerpts from the DOJ’s Cleveland report showing how deeply embedded police brutality is, and why recent political rhetoric promising solutions barely scratches the surface.
1. The Street Cops Are On Their Own: “We found that CDP officers too often use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution. Supervisors tolerate this behavior and, in some cases, endorse it. Officers report that they receive little supervision, guidance, and support from the Division, essentially leaving them to determine for themselves how to perform their difficult and dangerous jobs.”
2. Excessive Force Is Expected And Covered Up: “These incidents of excessive force are rooted in common structural deficiencies. CDP’s pattern or practice of excessive force is both reflected by and stems from its failure to adequately review and investigate officers’ uses of force; fully and objectively investigate all allegations of misconduct; identify and respond to patterns of at-risk behavior; provide its officers with the support, training, supervision, and equipment needed to allow them to do their jobs safely and effectively; adopt and enforce appropriate policies; and implement effective community policing strategies at all levels of CDP.”
3. Using Maximum Force Has Become Routine: “For example, we found incidents of CDP officers firing their guns at people who do not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or others and using guns in a careless and dangerous manner, including hitting people on the head with their guns, in circumstances where deadly force is not justified. Officers also use less lethal force that is significantly out of proportion to the resistance encountered and officers too often escalate incidents with citizens instead of using effective and accepted tactics to de-escalate tension.
“We reviewed incidents where officers used Tasers, oleoresin capsicum spray (“OC Spray”), or punched people who were already subdued, including people in handcuffs. Many of these people could have been controlled with a lesser application of force. At times, this force appears to have been applied as punishment for the person’s earlier verbal or physical resistance to an officer’s command, and is not based on a current threat posed by the person. This retaliatory use of force is not legally justified. Our review also revealed that officers use excessive force against individuals who are in mental health crisis or who may be unable to understand or comply with officers’ commands, including when the individual is not suspected of having committed any crime at all.”
4. Police Don’t Know How To De-escalate: Officers “too often fire their weapons in a manner and in circumstances that place innocent bystanders in danger; and accidentally fire them, sometimes fortuitously hitting nothing and other times shooting people and seriously injuring them. CDP officers too often use dangerous and poor tactics to try to gain control of suspects, which results in the application of additional force or places others in danger. Critically, officers do not make effective use of de-escalation techniques, too often instead escalating encounters and employing force when it may not be needed and could be avoided.”
5. Top Cops Don’t Want To Hear About It: “Force incidents often are not properly reported, documented, investigated, or addressed with corrective measures. Supervisors throughout the chain of command endorse questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers. We reviewed supervisory investigations of officers’ use of force that appear to be designed from the outset to justify the officers’ actions. Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially-trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers’ use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light.”
6. Top Cops Will Ignore Worst Abuses: “Many of the investigators in CDP’s Internal Affairs Unit advised us that they will only find that an officer violated Division policy if the evidence against the officer proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an officer engaged in misconduct—an unreasonably high standard reserved for criminal prosecutions and inappropriate in this context. This standard apparently has been applied, formally or informally, for years.”
7. Most Cops Face No Disciplinary Threats: “Discipline is so rare that no more than 51 officers out of a sworn force of 1,500 were disciplined in any fashion in connection with a use of force incident over a three-and-a half-year period. However, when we examined CDP’s discipline numbers further, it was apparent that in most of those 51 cases the actual discipline imposed was for procedural violations such as failing to file a report, charges were dismissed or deemed unfounded, or the disciplinary process was suspended due to pending civil claims. A finding of excessive force by CDP’s internal disciplinary system is exceedingly rare.”
8. The DOJ Found These Problems Before. “CDP’s systemic failures are such that the Division is not able to timely, properly, and effectively determine how much force its officers are using, and under what circumstances, whether the force was reasonable and if not, what discipline, change in policy or training or other action is appropriate. The current pattern or practice of constitutional violations is even more troubling because we identified many of these structural deficiencies more than ten years ago during our previous investigation of CDP’s use of force.”
9. Police View Their Beats As War Zones:“Instead of working with Cleveland’s communities to understand their needs and concerns and to set crime-fighting priorities and strategies consistent with those needs, CDP too often polices in a way that contributes to community distrust and a lack of respect for officers – even the many officers who are doing their jobs effectively. For example, we observed a large sign hanging in the vehicle bay of a district station identifying it as a “forward operating base,” a military term for a small, secured outpost used to support tactical operations in a war zone. This characterization reinforces the view held by some—both inside and outside the Division—that CDP is an occupying force.”
10. Harassment, Unprovoked Searches Routine: “Some CDP officers violate individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting them to stops, frisks, and full searches without the requisite level of suspicion. Individuals were detained on suspicion of having committed a crime, with no articulation or an inadequate articulation in CDP’s own records of the basis for the officer’s suspicion. Individuals were searched “for officer safety” without any articulation of a reason to fear for officer safety. Where bases for detentions and searches were articulated, officers used canned or boilerplate language. Supervisors routinely approved these inadequate reports.”
11. Using Tasers Routine And Never Questioned: “The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer [newspaper] also reported that, between October 2005 and March 2011, CDP officers used Tasers 969 times, all but five of which the Division deemed justified and appropriate (a 99.5% clearance rate which one police expert said “strains credibility”). The Plain Dealer analyzed similar CDP force data in 2007 and found that supervisors reviewed 4,427 uses of force over four years and justified the force in every single case.”
12. The CDP Stonewalled DOJ Investigators: “We note that CDP’s inability to produce key documents raises serious concerns regarding deficiencies in the Division’s systems for tracking and reviewing use of force and accountability-related documents… CDP did not, for example, produce deadly force investigations that occurred after April of 2013 despite multiple requests. CDP was not able to produce some 2012 use of less lethal force reports until more than a year after our initial request for documents and failed to provide a justification for this delay.”
13. CDP Didn’t Want To Be Accountable: “CDP’s inability to track the location of critical force-related documents is itself evidence of fundamental breakdowns in its systems and suggests that any internal analysis or calculation of CDP’s use of force is likely incomplete and inaccurate. It also suggests that CDP does not accept that they are accountable for documenting and explaining their decisions in such matters to civilian leadership, the City, and the community as a whole.”
14. Arrest Reports Cover Up Use Of Force: “Our review of a sample of 2012 arrest records for persons charged with resisting arrest suggests that some uses of force are not being reported. For the months of February, June and August 2012, there were 111 resisting arrest incidents, and for seven of these – over six percent – CDP acknowledges that no use of force report can be located… The inability to produce Taser firing histories compounds our concerns about the reliability of the data and undermines the assertion that Taser uses have declined.”
15. There Are No Clear Policies On Using Force. “Police departments must ensure appropriate training in how and when to use force, and provide the supervision necessary for sufficient oversight of officers’ use of force. Departments must also provide their officers clear, consistent policies on when and how to use and report force. Departments must implement systems to ensure that force is consistently reported and investigated thoroughly and fairly, using consistent standards…
“CDP fails in all of these areas, and this has created an environment that permits constitutional violations. It has also created an atmosphere within CDP in which there is little confidence in the fairness of the disciplinary process—a lack of confidence which extends from the rank and file all the way to the highest levels of the Division and City leadership.”
No Quick Or Easy Solutions
The DOJ report on excessive force by Cleveland’s police is very revealing. It shows how deeply embedded the culture of abusive policing is, how resistant police departments are to changing, and how the problem is not just what weapons are used by police, but how many officers want to operate with impunity and a military mindset.
These aren’t the conclusions of community activists protesting about police brutality and the institutional racism of white officers shooting unarmed black men. These conclusions come from the highest-ranking federal law enforcement officials, who had to use their political power to force the Cleveland Department to open up its records and files.
The DOJ’s observation that many of the same problems of excessive force are back more than 10 years after a similar federal investigation and settlement suggests that reforming America’s runaway police departments is going to be incredibly difficult. Despite public protests, there’s little evidence that police themselves want to change from within.
By: Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet; Published at Salon, December 20, 2014