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“The Ideology Of Policing”: After Ferguson, Can We Change How American Police React To Potential Threats?

The story of Michael Brown and Ferguson, Mo., is not over, even if the city is calmer today than it was just after the decision not to try officer Darren Wilson was announced. As we look for lessons about race, power and justice, we also have to ask some fundamental questions about the ideology of policing in the United States.

One of the defenses people have offered of Wilson’s decision-making on that day is that if a police officer fears for his safety, he is allowed to use deadly force. And that is indeed a standard, in one form or another, used by police departments around the country. But that standard is near the heart of the problem that Brown’s death has highlighted.

American police kill many, many more citizens than officers in similar countries around the world. The number of people killed by police in many countries in a year is in the single digits. For instance, in Britain (where most officers don’t even carry guns), police fatally shot zero people in 2013 and one person in 2012. Germany has one-quarter the population of the United States, and police there killed only six people in all of 2011. Although official figures put the number killed by American police each year around 400, the true number may be closer to 1,000.

The most common explanation is that since we have so many guns in America, police are under greater threat than other police. Which is true, but American police also kill unarmed people all the time — people who have a knife or a stick, or who are just acting erratically. There are mentally disturbed people in other countries, too, so why is it that police in Germany or France or Britain or Japan manage to deal with these threats without killing the suspect?

This is where we get to the particular American police ideology, which says that any threat to an officer’s safety, even an unlikely one, can and often should be met with deadly force. We see it again and again: Someone is brandishing a knife; the cops arrive; he takes a step toward them, and they fire. Since Brown’s death, at least 14 teenagers have been shot and killed by police; the weapons they were wielding included knives, cars and a power drill, all of which can be obtained by European citizens, at least as far as I know.

If you’ve read parts of Wilson’s account of his confrontation with Brown, you know that the justification so commonly made in cases like this — I was afraid for my safety, and therefore I killed him — is the basis of his defense. You don’t have to be convinced that Wilson should be tried for murder to find his version of events absurd at every level, starting with the assertion that he politely inquired if Brown and his friend might consider walking on the sidewalk, only to be met with a stream of invective and an unprovoked assault from this “demon” with superhuman strength.

Maybe that really is what happened. But it seems much more likely that, as the account of Brown’s friend goes, Wilson began the encounter by shouting at them to “Get the [expletive] on the sidewalk” — in other words, seeking to establish his authority and dominance. This, too is part of police ideology: that one way to keep safe is to make clear to those you interact with that you are the one in control and that they should fear you.

Two months ago I interviewed an expert in police training procedures around the world, and she pointed out that in many other countries, particularly in Europe, future police officers go through much more extensive training than American police do, a large part of which is learning how to calm down agitated people and defuse potentially dangerous situations. American cops, she said, average only 15 weeks of training before getting their badges. Even after they’re on the job, they continue to be inculcated with the idea that in a situation with a potentially dangerous individual, they need to be ready to kill to protect themselves.

Much of the focus of discussions about Ferguson has been, quite properly, on race. And race matters to this question as well; we know that cops are more likely to see black people as potential dangers to their safety. But the question is whether, even beyond the differences in how different groups are treated, we can change the way so many American police approach confrontations, both actual and potential.

Of course, this is easy for me to say. Nobody’s going to wave a knife at me while I sit in front of my computer every day. Being a cop is hard and dangerous work, particularly in places where crime is common. Most officers are never going to fire their guns in the line of duty. Even in Ferguson itself, there are officers trying to approach people as people and not as potential threats. But the fact that police all over the world manage to do the same job while killing barely anyone, while American cops kill hundreds of people every year, means that something is wrong with American policing.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014

December 1, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Gun Violence, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Heart Of American Exceptionalism”: When The U.N. Committee Against Torture Says You Have A Police Brutality Problem…

As everyone waits to see if the actual torture report will ever be released, the uptick in American police shootings hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international community, either:

The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly.

The panel’s first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The committee decried “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.

Its findings cited deep concern about “numerous reports” of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling. The panel referred to the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”

Conservatives will accuse the U.N. of hypocrisy in tut-tutting America while doing little about major human rights abusers like Iran or China. But that’s hardly the point. America shouldn’t be in the position of saying, “Oh yeah? Well that dictatorship is worse!” The United States holds itself up as a beacon of justice and freedom. And when it comes to police shootings, America stands out from other industrialized countries as nearly barbaric.

A cursory and incomplete tally shows United States police officers kill at least 400 people a year in shootings, and the real figure is probably much higher. About a quarter of those involve white officers killing black people.

By contrast, police killings in European countries tend to fall into the single or low double digits.

Something is seriously wrong there, and either way you look at it, it cuts to the heart of American exceptionalism. Either our police forces are far too ready to use violence, or the American people are somehow far more dangerous and violent than those in other countries, or some combination of both. Or there are simply far too many guns and too many people who are too eager to use them.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 29, 2014

December 1, 2014 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Ferguson Missouri, Torture | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Millionaire’s Club Expands”: The Wealthiest 10 Percent Of Americans Own 75 Percent Of The Personal Wealth

The millionaire’s club isn’t what it used to be.

Time was that “being a millionaire” was a mark of unimaginable success. You’d joined the financial elite. People didn’t much discuss whether you arrived by wealth or income, because it didn’t matter much. The millionaire’s club was so small that the path to membership wasn’t worth discussing.

No more.

Millionaires aren’t as common as water, but there are plenty of them. A new study puts the worldwide total at 35 million in 2014, with about 40 percent (14 million) of them American. That’s about 5 percent of the U.S. adult population (241 million in 2014), or one in 20. Rarefied, yes; exclusive, no. After the United States, Japan has the largest concentration of millionaires with 8 percent of the world total, followed by France (7 percent), Germany (6 percent) and the United Kingdom (6 percent). At 3 percent, China ranks eighth.

The figures come from a study by Credit Suisse Research, which has been estimating worldwide personal wealth since 2010. The numbers reflect net worth, not annual income. The wealth totals add the value of people’s homes, businesses and financial assets (stocks, bonds) and subtract their loans. Doubtlessly, the number of millionaires would be much smaller if the calculations were based on income. In the study, an American with a $300,000 mortgage-free home and $700,000 in retirement accounts and financial investments qualifies as a millionaire.

On this basis, the study put global personal wealth in mid-2014 at $263 trillion, up from $117 trillion in 2000. Wealth in the United States reached $84 trillion, almost a third of the total. All of Europe, with a larger population, was virtually the same. Median wealth in the United States — meaning half of Americans were above the cutoff and half below — was $53,000, dominated by homes for many middle-class families. Japan’s total wealth was $23 trillion, but with a more equal distribution and a smaller population, its median was more than twice the American at $113,000. China’s wealth was $21 trillion and its median $7,000.

Credit Suisse did a special analysis of wealth inequality and, not surprisingly, found plenty of it. For starters, the analysis reminded readers that wealth inequality (basically, the ownership of stocks and bonds) is typically much greater than income inequality (basically, wages, salaries, dividends and interest).

In the United States, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own about 75 percent of the personal wealth, a share that’s unchanged since 2000; the income share of the top 10 percent is slightly less than 50 percent. But the study also found that wealth inequality is high in virtually all societies. Although the United States is at the upper end of the range, the low end is still stratospheric.

Consider.

In 2014, the wealthiest 10 percent owned 62 percent of the personal wealth in Germany; 69 percent in Sweden; 49 percent in Japan; 64 percent in China; 51 percent in Australia; 54 percent in the United Kingdom; 53 percent in France; 72 percent in Switzerland; and 68 percent in Denmark. These steep levels, the report noted, defied large cross-country differences in tax and inheritance policies.

There is, however, one country where wealth inequality is “so far above the others that it deserves to be placed in a separate category.” This is Russia. In 2014, the wealthiest 10 percent owned 85 percent of personal wealth. They aren’t oligarchs for nothing.

 

By: Robert Samuelson, The Washington Post, October 22, 2014

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Plutocrats, Wealthy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The New Politics Of Foreign Policy”: Steadier, More Sober, More Realistic—The Balance We Have Been Seeking

Over the last decade, Americans’ views on foreign policy have swung sharply from support for intervention to a profound mistrust of any military engagement overseas. Over the same period, political debates on foreign affairs have been bitter and polarized, defined by the question of whether the invasion of Iraq was a proper use of the nation’s power or a catastrophic mistake.

This contest for public opinion has taken place in the shadow of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For understandable reasons, the United States was thrown off balance by the horrific events of 13 years ago, and we have never fully recovered.

The emergence of the Islamic State and its barbaric beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff have shaken public opinion again. It is, of course, possible that the public’s guardedly increased hawkishness is another short-term reaction to an enraging news event. But there is a strong case that, after all the gyrations in policy and popular attitudes, we are on the verge of a new politics of foreign policy based on a steadier, more sober and more realistic view of our country’s role in the world and of what it takes to keep the nation safe.

And it fell to President Obama on Wednesday night to take the first steps toward building a durable consensus that can outlast his presidency. The paradox is that, while polls show Americans more critical than ever of the president’s handling of foreign affairs, the strategy he outlined toward the Islamic State has the potential of forging a unity of purpose across a wide swath of American opinion. In many ways, it is an approach that goes back to the pre-9/11 presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Two things are clear about where the public stands now: It is more ready to use U.S. power than it was even a few months ago. But it remains deeply wary of again committing U.S. combat troops to the Middle East. Thus the wide popularity of using air attacks to push back the Islamic State.

Obama’s strategy seeks to thread this needle. As the president explained Wednesday night, the bombing campaign the United States has undertaken is aimed at supporting those — including the Iraqi army, the Kurdish pesh merga and, perhaps eventually, Syrian opposition forces — who are bearing the burden of the fighting. Although the circumstances are quite different, Obama’s reliance on air power is reminiscent of Clinton’s actions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Obama said he was sending an additional 475 U.S. troops to Iraq “to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.” But he was again at pains to insist that they would “not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”

More generally, Obama is pushing a tough-minded multilateralism. His stress on building “a broad coalition of partners” and the administration’s aggressive courting of allies in both the Middle East and Europe recalls the intense rounds of diplomacy that former secretary of state James A. Baker III led on behalf of the first President Bush before the successful war to drive Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991.

Obama’s diplomatic exertions have extended to pressuring Shiite politicians in Iraq to create what he called “an inclusive government” that Sunni Muslims could regard as their own. It was the creation of such a government, he said Wednesday, that now made the rest of his strategy possible. Above all, Obama went out of his way to describe his new effort as a “counterterrorism strategy,” tying it back to the cause that large majorities of Americans embraced after the 9/11 attacks and have never stopped supporting. His new effort, he insisted, “will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Some who championed the Iraq war will, no doubt, object to this implicit criticism of a venture they still defend. Others will point to the risks of relying on Iraqis and others to take the lead on the battlefield. In the meantime, anti-interventionists — who still loom large in the president’s party and in Republican libertarian quarters — will continue to be wary of any re-escalation of U.S. military engagement. And a bitter election season is hardly an ideal moment for building bipartisanship.

Nonetheless, circumstances have presented Obama with both an opportunity and an obligation to steer U.S. policy toward a middle course that acknowledges a need for American leadership and the careful use of American power while avoiding commitments that are beyond the country’s capacity to sustain. It is the balance we have been seeking since an awful day in September shook us to our core.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 10, 2014

 

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, ISIS, Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Forever Slump”: The Debate Between The ‘Too-Muchers’ And The ‘Not-Enoughers’

It’s hard to believe, but almost six years have passed since the fall of Lehman Brothers ushered in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Many people, myself included, would like to move on to other subjects. But we can’t, because the crisis is by no means over. Recovery is far from complete, and the wrong policies could still turn economic weakness into a more or less permanent depression.

In fact, that’s what seems to be happening in Europe as we speak. And the rest of us should learn from Europe’s experience.

Before I get to the latest bad news, let’s talk about the great policy argument that has raged for more than five years. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, but basically it has been a debate between the too-muchers and the not-enoughers.

The too-muchers have warned incessantly that the things governments and central banks are doing to limit the depth of the slump are setting the stage for something even worse. Deficit spending, they suggested, could provoke a Greek-style crisis any day now — within two years, declared Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles some three and a half years ago. Asset purchases by the Federal Reserve would “risk currency debasement and inflation,” declared a who’s who of Republican economists, investors, and pundits in a 2010 open letter to Ben Bernanke.

The not-enoughers — a group that includes yours truly — have argued all along that the clear and present danger is Japanification rather than Hellenization. That is, they have warned that inadequate fiscal stimulus and a premature turn to austerity could lead to a lost decade or more of economic depression, that the Fed should be doing even more to boost the economy, that deflation, not inflation, was the great risk facing the Western world.

To say the obvious, none of the predictions and warnings of the too-muchers have come to pass. America never experienced a Greek-type crisis of soaring borrowing costs. In fact, even within Europe the debt crisis largely faded away once the European Central Bank began doing its job as lender of last resort. Meanwhile, inflation has stayed low.

However, while the not-enoughers were right to dismiss warnings about interest rates and inflation, our concerns about actual deflation haven’t yet come to pass. This has provoked a fair bit of rethinking about the inflation process (if there has been any rethinking on the other side of this argument, I haven’t seen it), but not-enoughers continue to worry about the risks of a Japan-type quasi-permanent slump.

Which brings me to Europe’s woes.

On the whole, the too-muchers have had much more influence in Europe than in the United States, while the not-enoughers have had no influence at all. European officials eagerly embraced now-discredited doctrines that allegedly justified fiscal austerity even in depressed economies (although America has de facto done a lot of austerity, too, thanks to the sequester and cuts at the state and local level). And the European Central Bank, or E.C.B., not only failed to match the Fed’s asset purchases, it actually raised interest rates back in 2011 to head off the imaginary risk of inflation.

The E.C.B. reversed course when Europe slid back into recession, and, as I’ve already mentioned, under Mario Draghi’s leadership, it did a lot to alleviate the European debt crisis. But this wasn’t enough. The European economy did start growing again last year, but not enough to make more than a small dent in the unemployment rate.

And now growth has stalled, while inflation has fallen far below the E.C.B.’s target of 2 percent, and prices are actually falling in debtor nations. It’s really a dismal picture. Mr. Draghi & Co. need to do whatever they can to try to turn things around, but given the political and institutional constraints they face, Europe will arguably be lucky if all it experiences is one lost decade.

The good news is that things don’t look that dire in America, where job creation seems finally to have picked up and the threat of deflation has receded, at least for now. But all it would take is a few bad shocks and/or policy missteps to send us down the same path.

The good news is that Janet Yellen, the Fed chairwoman, understands the danger; she has made it clear that she would rather take the chance of a temporary rise in the inflation rate than risk hitting the brakes too soon, the way the E.C.B. did in 2011. The bad news is that she and her colleagues are under a lot of pressure to do the wrong thing from the too-muchers, who seem to have learned nothing from being wrong year after year, and are still agitating for higher rates.

There’s an old joke about the man who decides to cheer up, because things could be worse — and sure enough, things get worse. That’s more or less what happened to Europe, and we shouldn’t let it happen here.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 14, 2014

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Financial Crisis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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