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“The Only Officers Who Would Have A Problem Are Bad Officers”: Do Police Have A Right To Withhold Video When They Kill Someone?

In Gardena, California, south of Los Angeles, three police officers killed an unarmed man, shooting him eight times, and shooting a second, seriously wounding him. They said the men were suspected of stealing a bicycle, but in fact they were friends of the man whose bike had been stolen, the Los Angeles Times reported, and “were searching for the missing bicycle.” The City agreed to pay a $4.7 million settlement to the survivor. The whole incident was recorded on a video camera mounted inside a police car. The officers involved were allowed to view the video, but the Gardena police refused to release it to the public, claiming that making the video public would violate the privacy rights of the officers involved.

Do the police have a privacy right to withhold video shot by in-car cameras or body cams? Do public officials, acting in their public capacity, have a right to prevent the public from reviewing video evidence of their conduct? You’d think the answer was obviously “no.” When the police kill somebody, it’s not “private.”

But 15 states are considering legislation to exempt video recordings of police encounters from release under state public records laws, according to the Associated Press, or to limit what can be made public. In Kansas the state Senate voted 40-0 in April to exempt police body-cam videos from the state’s open-records act. Police would have to release them only to people who are the subject of the recordings. Kansas police, on the other hand, would be able to release videos “at their own discretion.” In Minnesota, a state Senate committee has approved a bill making most police body-cam videos off-limits to the general public, “except when an officer uses a dangerous weapon or causes bodily harm.”

The ACLU recently estimated that a thousand people a year may have been killed by the police in the United States. The whole idea of videotaping the police is to deter excessive force and other forms of misconduct, and to provide a way of resolving disputes between victims of police violence and officers claiming they had just cause. “People behave better on film, whether it’s the police or the suspect,” said Michelle Richardson, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, “because they realize others are going to see them.” That’s the main reason President Obama has proposed spending $75 million to help police departments buy body cams.

There’s good evidence body-cams can stop bad cops. In Rialto, California, east of LA, police officers wore cameras for a year in 2012, and as The Guardian reported, “public complaints against officers plunged 88 per cent compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60 per cent.”

But if the police get to decide what the public will see, the entire rationale for the cameras is undermined. The police will release videos when they support the police version of violent encounters, and withhold the videos documenting misconduct.

The case for a police right to privacy is weak. Advocates say releasing videos could lead to retaliation against the officers involved and endanger their families. It’s the same rationale for refusing to release the names of police officers who injure or kill innocent people. But in those cases, the video (and the names) should be released, and protection provided if necessary for the officers and their families.

Of course most video from police body cams should not be made public. The ACLU has proposed guidelines that protect the privacy rights of the people encountering the police. For example, body-cam video shot inside people’s homes, when police respond to a domestic violence call, needs special restrictions on release, the ACLU argues. The ACLU also notes the need for restrictions on the release and posting on the internet of dash cam video of embarrassing incidents such as DUI stops of celebrities or “ordinary individuals whose troubled and/or intoxicated behavior has been widely circulated and now immortalized online.”

Police officers could withhold body cam video under the proposed ACLU guidelines if it does not document encounters with the public—for example conversations between officers in squad cars or the locker room. One other key issue in the proposed ACLU guidelines: police officers should not be allowed to turn off their body cams and should be disciplined if they do.

Progressive police officials know the body cams will help them get rid of bad cops. Denver police chief Robert White is one of those officials. Good cops should welcome body cams, he said recently, because they will “protect police from false allegations of excessive force.” And “citizens should know officers are being held accountable. The only officers who would have a problem with body cameras are bad officers.” The same goes for releasing police video.

 

By: Joe Wiener, The Nation, May 21, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Police Brutality, Police Shootings, Police Video Cameras, Police Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stigmatizing The Poor”: New GOP Lie: Food Stamps on Cruise Ships

The headlines are sensational:

Kansas bans welfare recipients for spending food stamps on cruise ships.

Kansas will make sure welfare queens can’t get their palms read on the Caribbean.

The new law awaiting Governor Sam Brownback’s signature also prohibits a long list of activities including shopping at jewelry stores, lingerie shops, video arcades, theme parks and even swimming pools.

Republican lawmakers in the Sunflower State want to make sure none of this waste would happen again.

If it even happened.

(It hasn’t.)

Think of it as the 21st century’s answer to Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, who existed mainly in the minds of conservative critics.

Nobody has offered a current and/or concrete example of a person receiving TANF funds (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) using their EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transaction) aboard a cruise ship, but that hasn’t stopped the Kansas legislature from passing a law to prevent it.

A provision included in their restrictive legislation will prevent TANF recipients from withdrawing any more than $25 a day from an ATM machine.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, says since most ATM machines don’t deal in $5 increments, the $25 is effectively $20, plus an 85 cents fee that TANF attaches, plus another couple dollars for the ATM fee, and the result is, “We’ve just made it harder to be poor, as if it weren’t hard enough,” she says.

The list of prohibited items reads like something out of the Legion of Decency, a now defunct Catholic organization that rated films according to their moral content.

And while no one is arguing these racier activities—like patronizing adult entertainment or casino gambling—should be permissible with government funds, banning them is more about stigmatizing the poor than creating any real hardship. The real problem is the $25 limit.

“This is not about a real problem, this is not a public policy decision,” says Liz Schott, of the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities. “This is all about politics and creating a wrong impression that public welfare recipients can’t spend their money wisely.”

The Kansas bill passed the House last week by voice vote and the Senate 30 to 10. Among the 10 opponents were the chamber’s eight Democrats plus two moderate Republicans.

Minority Leader Anthony Hensley told The Daily Beast the bill is “very mean-spirited, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, Holy Week, leading into Easter. This is not something Jesus would have approved of in my opinion.”

Kansas is not alone in modifying its TANF program, and under the welfare reform law signed by President Clinton in 1996, states have the legal right to make adjustments.

States like Kansas with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature are in the forefront of the crackdown. In Missouri, a Republican state legislator has introduced legislation that would ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.”

What’s behind this wave of legislation, says Brookings scholar William Galston, is a familiar grievance felt by the middle class and the working class that programs of assistance are “either not going to the right people, or they’re not spending the money in a responsible way.”

These are voters who think the Democratic Party caters to the poor, and that politicians are buying their votes with programs like TANF (overlooking fact that the poor mostly don’t vote).

The misimpressions are on all sides, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Cotsoradis, with Kansas Action for Children, calls the cruise ship ban “my personal favorite” because it is so ludicrous when you consider a family of three in a high-paying, more urban county in Kansas receives $429 a month; a rural family gets $386 a month.

The way TANF works, recipients take their dollars out of an ATM, and with the $25 limit, “a cruise ship is probably out of the question,” she says.

They can use their card like a debit card in a supermarket, but there’s no way to track where they spend the dollars they withdraw from an ATM. “So we have legislated something that by and large we can’t enforce,” says Cotsoradis.

Some of the provisions are just mean, says Schott, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It’s not even clear you can take your child on a hot day to a municipal pool,” Schott says.

How infractions like that are policed would be prone to arbitrary enforcement. Would somebody report their neighbor?

“There could be a lot of biases,” says Schott. What’s clear is the gulf between the law and the people whose behavior it is meant to regulate. “I don’t think it’s coming from a lot of fact,” says Schott.

Many if not most TANF recipients are “unbanked,” and without a checking account, how will they take out enough money to pay their rent?

“This is not based on any understanding of the daily reality of making ends meet on these inadequate benefits,” she says.

The only evidence anybody can cite of a remotely recent abuse is a widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance.

But apparently that was enough to resurrect and perpetuate that long-ago myth first spun by Reagan.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Poor and Low Income, Sam Brownback, SNAP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Massively Failed Experiment”: Why Conservatives Learned Nothing From Sam Brownback’s Failure

Kansas governor Sam Brownback had a plan when he got elected in 2010, and it was a plan that could only be enacted in a place like Kansas: Pass huge tax cuts, then watch the state transform into a kind of economic heaven on earth. Brownback surely could never have doubted it would work, since he and those in his party have been saying for decades that tax cuts deliver economic growth, rising tax revenues, general happiness, and shinier, more manageable hair.

You’ve probably heard the story: growth in Kansas did not, in fact, explode, but what did happen is that revenues plummeted, leading to severe cutbacks in education and other state services. Brownback nevertheless managed to get re-elected, because it was a non-presidential year and because it’s Kansas. So now he’s had a chance to reflect, and here’s how he’s looking at things, according to a Topeka newspaper:

As Gov. Sam Brownback’s first term comes to a close, the Republican governor has one regret — no, scratch that — one thing he would do differently.

“I probably would have chosen words better at different times, because you go through a campaign where you’ve got to eat the words you inartfully said,” Brownback said during a recent interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.

The former U.S. senator — with the help of a Republican-controlled Legislature — slashed taxes, privatized portions of state government and pursued a staunchly conservative policy agenda during the past four years. And then Brownback fought off a competitive challenge from Democratic Rep. Paul Davis.

Atop the list of words and phrases that have proven controversial and given his opponents the greatest opportunity for mockery: predicting the Kansas tax cuts would act as a “shot of adrenaline” to the state’s economy and referring to the plan as an “experiment.”

In other words…

It’s obvious that he regrets calling it an “experiment” for no reason other than that word showed up in a bunch of Democratic attack ads. But as for the idea that tax cuts would give the Kansas economy a “shot of adrenaline”? Of course that’s what he said, because that’s what he believed. If you don’t believe that, you can’t call yourself a Republican.

It isn’t that there’s no truth to it—all else being equal, tax cuts put more money in people’s hands, so they can spend more, which will have some positive impact on the overall economy. The problem is that 1) the effect is never as large as Republicans expect it to be; 2) not only did Brownback’s tax cuts go mostly to the wealthy, who are less likely to spend the money, he actually raised taxes on poor people (there’s an explanation here), and 3) the benefits were swamped by the harm created by the inevitable cratering of state revenue.

But if you’re Sam Brownback, how do you account for such an outcome? It can’t possibly be that the theory on which the entirety of contemporary Republican economic policy rests is false. What’s he going to say—”It turns out that tax cuts don’t do much good”? Not in this universe.

It’s not just him. The failure of Brownback’s experiment may provide an effective rhetorical tool liberals can use against conservatives in economic debates, but it won’t actually change any conservatives’ thinking. The reason is that their belief in tax cuts doesn’t rest on the practical effects. That’s an argument that’s meant to appeal to everyone, since it concerns something (growth) that just about everyone thinks is good. But the real source of the conservative support for tax cuts is moral, not practical. They believe that taxes are inherently immoral — the government stealing from you the fruits of your labor (or inheritance or wise investments, as the case may be) to enact its nefarious schemes. Taxes should therefore be as low as possible. Conservatives also tend to believe that progressive taxation is doubly immoral, since it takes more from the most virtuous among us.

So my guess is that Brownback sees his experiment as a practical failure but a moral success, and other conservatives would agree. Not that he’d say so in quite those terms, because he knows how it would sound. But the only lesson he’s learned from his failure is to change the words he uses.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 23, 2014

December 27, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Sam Brownback, Tax Cuts | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Limits”: Yes, A Backlash To Conservative Extremism Is Possible

I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.

But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:

A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.

It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.

Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.

Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Not To Get Your Country Back”: Americans Who Want Their Country Back Should Follow Their Elders’ Example

The Tea Party mantra, “I want my country back,” resonates with many. The racial undertones can be ugly (as well as pointless). But the longing for an economically secure America centered on a strong middle class is on point and widely shared.

Older and mostly white members of the far right tend to see themselves as model Americans who worked hard, saved up and played by the rules. They may have done all the above, but many also have no idea of how easy they had it.

After World War II, Americans with no college could walk into a factory and obtain a job paying middle-class wages. Global competition was a future threat. Today’s retirees are among the last Americans to enjoy the most golden of benefits, including a defined pension check, guaranteed for the rest of their lives.

More troubling than the tunnel vision, though, is the right’s program for restoring the country it purports to miss. The ideological obsession with slashing taxes, shrinking government and keeping labor as cheap as possible is downright destructive.

The America of yore did not build its middle class that way.

When President Dwight Eisenhower backed the construction of the interstate highway system in 1956, the top marginal rate for individual income taxes was 91 percent. Older taxpayers bore their burdens more or less stoically (and there wasn’t Medicare to pay their parents’ doctor bills). Building America was the public-spirited thing to do.

Fast-forward to the economic crash of 2008. The infrastructure was in shambles and unemployment high. Robust stimulus spending was the ticket out of both dilemmas. But even though the top marginal rate was only 35 percent, fringe conservatives controlling the Republican Party fought against government intervention every inch of the way — lest Congress raise taxes one dime.

Kansas has become the patient on which to conduct this experiment at its most extreme, and the results are disastrous. Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through wild tax cuts, mainly benefiting the well-to-do, while placing Kansas classrooms, libraries and other public services on a starvation diet.

And what do Kansans have to show for it? The tax cuts drained their state of $300 million in expected revenues for the recent fiscal year. (Where’s that explosion of economic activity that the theorists said would make up the difference?) Meanwhile, earnings are falling faster and jobs growing more slowly than the national average.

The bond rating agencies remain unimpressed. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have lowered Kansas’ credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow.

Study after economic study shows the 21st-century spoils going to the educated. And here we have Kansas cannibalizing its schools just as competing states are restoring their education spending.

One wishes older conservatives opposed to raising the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, took an honest look at the wages government guaranteed them back when. The minimum wage in 1968 was the equivalent of $10.90 in today’s dollars.

A new study of the 20 major economies finds the U.S. minimum wage among the lowest relative to the country’s average wage. China, Brazil and Turkey did better.

The minimum wage helps less skilled workers but also influences the pay levels higher up the scale. Putting more money in the pockets of those likeliest to spend it fuels economic demand.

Tax policy does matter, and there is such a thing as government waste. But in the end, a middle class is nurtured on good schools, roads and other public services. They cost money.

Americans who want their middle-class country back should follow their elders’ example. A little gratitude would be nice, too.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, September 16, 2014

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Economy, Middle Class, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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