Monday, August 18, 2014

Short Takes

The Justice Department will conduct a second autopsy in Ferguson case.

Kurdish forces retake part of Iraq’s biggest dam.

Palestinian divisions emerge in Gaza peace talks.

New U.S. strikes in Iraq include land-based bombers.

Rick Perry defends veto that led to indictment.

The Tigers lost to Seattle 8-1.  They’re in second place and lost the lead in the wildcard race.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Roots of Ferguson — William Powell in The Atlantic says that the history of racial profiling in the Missouri town is the problem.

The civic infrastructure of Ferguson has not kept pace with its shifting demographics. In 1990, the town was three-quarters white. Twenty years later, white people made up only 30 percent of the population.

Now, Ferguson’s population is two-thirds black. Its more-than-50-person police force includes just three black officers. In 2013, black people accounted for 86 percent of all traffic stops and 92 percent of searches and arrests.

Ferguson’s figures are not much different than many municipalities in the St. Louis area—and they’re actually better than the statewide average. But residents say profiling in the city is severe.

Anthony Johnson lives in the Canfield Green Apartments, where Mike Brown lived and where he was gunned down in the street. Tattooed below Johnson’s right eye is a pair of tear drops, a tribute to his parents. His father was shot and killed when he was 10. His mom died in a car accident on Mother’s Day. Standing on the lawn of the apartment complex, he said police harassment is a regular part of life here. Cops often stop him on the street and ask where he’s going. Sometimes, they’ll pick him up by mistake, looking for a different black man. He knows not to walk around the neighborhood after a certain time at night, to avoid being stopped, interrogated, and asked for identification. “Why should I have to show ID if I’m just walking down the street?” he asked. “It just don’t make no sense. It’s sad that it took an incident like this to shed some light on the Ferguson police.”

One particularly appalling incident came in 2009, when Ferguson police picked up a 52-year-old named Henry Davis, as recently reported by The Daily Beast. He was arrested by mistake. The warrant had been for another man with the same last name. But rather than police setting him free, Davis was charged with “property damage” because he had bled on an officer’s uniform.

[...]

At a recent community forum, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson acknowledged that problem, saying his department is working on the issue. It’s a vicious cycle, he said: People get a few traffic tickets and can’t afford to pay the fines; eventually a warrant is issued and an arrest is made; a court date is missed, and on and on…

Grazida King came to Thursday’s march with his two sons, ages 9 and 11. He wanted to prove that protests can be peaceful and show his boys that it’s important to stand up for your beliefs. “I’ve been profiled before,” he says. “We call it driving while black, just pulled over for no apparent reason.” He worries about his sons having the same problem. He tries to raise them the right way, but feels like he shouldn’t have to train his children on how to avoid being harassed by police.

In addressing the crowd, even Johnson, the highway patrol captain, said he knows how it feels to be profiled. “When I was 18, I knew there were times when I was driving in my car and had to turn around,” he says. “It needs to change. It’s gotta change today.”

Trust-Busting — Thomas Frank has some suggestions for President Obama on how to wreck the GOP.  One of them is going after big monopolies.

Once upon a time, monopoly and oligopoly were illegal in America. Our ancestors believed, correctly, that concentrated economic power was incompatible with democracy in all sorts of ways. (Antitrust expert Barry Lynn and I talked this over for Salon readers a few weeks ago.) Since the days of Ronald Reagan, however, every succeeding administration has chosen to enforce the antitrust laws only if the monopoly or oligopoly in question threatened to cause big price increases for consumers — and sometimes not even then. This has come to mean that nearly all mergers and takeovers are permitted, and that achieving monopoly has once again become the obvious strategic objective of every would-be business leader.

The consequences of this policy shift have been huge, both in our everyday economic lives—where we face off against unchallengeable power everywhere from beer to bookselling—and the gradual fraying of society. Unrestrained corporate power naturally yields unrestrained wealth for corporate leaders and their Wall Street backers. In a recent essay in Harper’s Magazine about inequality (once Obama’s favorite subject), the economist Joseph Stiglitz declared monopoly to be one of the main culprits:

“The most successful ‘entrepreneurs’ have figured out how to create barriers to competition, behind which they can earn huge profits. It is not a surprise that the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, earned his fortune through a company that has engaged in anticompetitive practices in Europe, America, and Asia. Nor that the world’s second richest, Carlos Slim, made his fortune by taking advantage of a poorly designed privatization process, creating a virtual monopoly in Mexico’s telecom industry. . . .”

Barack Obama could change the entire thing—could bend the inequality curve itself—merely by deciding to enforce the nation’s antitrust laws in the same way that administrations before Reagan did. The laws themselves were written a century ago, so our current, useless Congress would have no say in the matter.

I asked Barry Lynn what this would look like. “The administration can begin tomorrow to attempt to enforce antitrust law exactly as the Johnson Administration enforced it in 1967,” he wrote me. Obama and Co. would encounter obstacles here and there, of course—the companies singled out by the Justice Department would fight like hell, for example. But there would be little the House of Representatives could do to stop the administration, Lynn says, short of “cutting off funds for enforcement or declaring monopoly legal.” Either of which would, of course, be fatal to the right.

“There’s nothing here,” Lynn concluded, “that a bit of courage, combined with a bit of smarts, wouldn’t fix.”

For Obama to launch a FDR-style crusade against economic feudalism would push just about everything short of war off the front pages and would also put the GOP in the uncomfortable position of defending monopoly power. It would also remind voters of the original, more hopeful Obama crusade of 2008, when the Senator from Illinois traveled the country promising to restore competition to agricultural markets—back before he decided to just drop the whole thing.

Lastly, a fight against our modern-day octopi might put small-business people, the right’s most motivated constituency these days, back onto the political fence. Antitrust is their issue, after all: let’s see them get out and work their butts off for Boehner when he’s standing tall for the multinational that just drove them out of business.

Ridiculous — Jonathan Chait says the indictment of Rick Perry will go nowhere.

I do not have a fancy law degree from Harvard or Yale or, for that matter, anywhere. I am but a humble country blogger. And yet, having read the indictment, legal training of any kind seems unnecessary to grasp its flimsiness.

Perry stands accused of violating two laws. One is a statute defining as an offense “misus[ing] government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.” The veto threat, according to the prosecutor, amounted to a “misuse.” Why? That is hard to say.

The other statute prohibits anybody in government from “influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty.”

But that statute also specifically exempts “an official action taken by the member of the governing body.” The prosecutors claim that, while vetoing the bill may be an official action, threatening a veto is not. Of course the threat of the veto is an integral part of its function. The legislature can hardly negotiate with the governor if he won’t tell them in advance what he plans to veto. This is why, when you say the word “veto,” the next word that springs to mind is “threat.” That’s how vetoes work.

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves. Perry may not be much smarter than a ham sandwich, but he is exactly as guilty as one.

Doonesbury — Rough life.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

And Things Were Going So Well

Skeptic that I am, I had hopes that things would get better in Ferguson once the infantry was called off.  Alas.

Just when we thought the news out of Ferguson, MO was getting more hopeful, the Ferguson PD, apparently trying to confirm their reputation as America’s worst police department, has now endeavored to make this situation even more rancid than it already was. As expected, they finally released the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown on Saturday. They did not, however, release any information on the shooting. No description of the officer’s story, no synopsis of accounts of the multiple witnesses, nothing about the shooting at all.

But there was something else they released: a report on a robbery that occurred at a convenience store some time before. They now claim that Michael Brown was a suspect in that robbery. That they are saying this for the first time is more than a little strange. But it threatens to pull this case back into a familiar pattern, just when it looked like liberals and conservatives could agree on some things.

[...]

But today, after the geniuses at the Ferguson PD put out their new information, plenty of conservatives on Twitter are saying, essentially, “See? Michael Brown was no innocent kid!” (If you want to read some, Jamelle Bouie has been retweeting them.) The same message is no doubt going to show up on talk radio this afternoon. The implication is clear: he had it coming.

We don’t yet know whether the person who took the cigars from that convenience store was Michael Brown. The police officer didn’t know either — if indeed the reason he confronted Brown was because Brown matched a description he had been given of the suspect. But the point is, that’s utterly irrelevant. Being suspected of shoplifting isn’t grounds for a roadside execution.

Last night we got a little more of the old style of law enforcement.

Tension between the police and demonstrators infuriated by the shooting death of Michael Brown a week ago was renewed early Saturday, as protesters barricaded a major thoroughfare and police officers in riot gear quickly responded, prompting a standoff.

The police, using megaphones, were ordering the demonstrators to abandon their protest. Some demonstrators threw glass bottles toward the authorities, who repeatedly warned that they could make arrests.

“We don’t want anyone to get hurt,” an unidentified police officer told the protesters as a law enforcement helicopter, its spotlight on, circled the scene in this St. Louis suburb of about 21,000.

The developments, coming after a night of calm that provoked optimistic comments from public officials, amounted to the first confrontation since the Missouri State Highway Patrol assumed responsibility for security here earlier in the week.

[...]

On Thursday, roiling tensions over the police shooting of a black teenager had begun to subside, but emotions flared anew on Friday as the police identified the officer who shot Mr. Brown but also released evidence that the young man had been a suspect in a convenience store robbery moments before being shot.

The manner in which the police here released the information, which included a 19-page police report on the robbery but no new details about the shooting, led to the spectacle of dueling police news conferences, one led by the police chief in Ferguson, Thomas Jackson, who is white and and who seemed ill at ease and defensive, and the other dominated by a charismatic black officer, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who expressed solidarity with the crowd even as he pleaded for peace.

Chief Jackson gave a series of incomplete accounts that sowed confusion about whether the officer who shot the teenager knew he was a suspect in the robbery. Captain Johnson expressed his displeasure with how the information had been released.

The upside of being a skeptic is that you’re never disappointed.  More’s the pity.

GOP Badge of Honor

Gov. Rick Perry gets his.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, was indicted Friday in an investigation into an effort to force a local official out of office. A grand jury in Austin handed up the indictment in a long-running investigation of Perry’s threat to veto state funding to the Travis County Public Integrity Unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.

The threat came after Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving and served a 45-day sentence last year, NBC station KXAN of Austin reported. Perry called on her to step down, but she refused; Perry then vetoed the funding. The grand jury issued indictments (PDF) Friday on charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of public servant, both of them felonies.

Attorneys for Perry vowed to “aggressively defend” the governor. David Botsford, an attorney whom Perry had hired to represent him in the investigation, said he was “outraged and appalled” by the indictment.

A lot of Democrats are crowing that this is the end of Mr. Perry’s second attempt to run for president in 2016.  But the Republicans will see these indictments from a grand jury in the liberal bastion of Austin as a badge of honor and make him even more of a star for them.  After all, this is the party that has three other governors under investigation — Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Nathan Deal of Georgia, and … I forgot the other one (Rick Perry humor there) … oh yeah, Chris Christie of New Jersey — and they’re not worried at all.

That’s one difference between the Democrats and the Republicans.  A whiff of scandal will doom a Democrat such as the recently aborted campaign of Sen. John Walsh in Montana when he was accused of plagiarism on a paper from his college days.  But if you’re a Republican, you can pay off hookers like Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and not only win re-election, you can run for governor.

When you’re the party of good governing, personal responsibility, and Jesus, you can pull off shit like that.  Those righteous folks love a good martyr.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Orchid Blogging

Despite my reputation as the Grim Reaper of Gardening — I can kill a geranium — I am able to keep orchids alive.  You might remember that back in May I won an orchid at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden car show.  It did okay in the kitchen window, but it became obvious that it needed to be liberated from its plastic container.  I had an empty orchid hanging basket left over from a long-departed philodendron, so I cleaned it out, put some orchid bark in it, and moved the dendrobium out to a branch on the north side of a hibiscus where it will get some shaded sun and plenty of air and rain.

Let’s see how it does.

004

What A Difference A Day Makes

Things have cooled off in Ferguson, Missouri, now that the state police have taken over law enforcement.

Before:

Ferguson Police 08-13-14

And after:

Ron Johnson

The dramatic shift came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol, stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the weekend death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas,” said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. “This is totally different. Now we’re being treated with respect.”

[...]

Nixon’s promise to ease the deep racial tensions was swiftly put to the test as demonstrators gathered again Thursday evening in the neighborhood where looters had smashed and burned businesses on Sunday and where police had repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs.

But the latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party. The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell —the point at which previous protests have grown tense — no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.

All it took was a little respect.  Oh, and getting rid of the 82nd Airborne-style weaponry.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stop The Presses

Police in Ferguson, Missouri, detained reporters who were trying to cover the unrest in the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black man was killed by police last weekend.

One of those reporters was Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post:

For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald’s a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown’s shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby. But inside there’s WiFi and outlets, so it’s common for reporters to gather there.

That was the case Wednesday. My phone was just about to die, so as I charged it, I used the time to respond to people on Twitter and do a little bit of a Q&A since I wasn’t out there covering the protests.

As I sat there, many armed officers came in — some who were dressed as normal officers, others who were dressed with more gear.

Initially, both Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and I were asked for identification. I was wearing my lanyard, but Ryan asked why he had to show his ID. They didn’t press the point, but one added that if we called 911, no one would answer.

Then they walked away. Moments later, the police reemerged, telling us that we had to leave. I pulled my phone out and began recording video.

An officer with a large weapon came up to me and said, “Stop recording.”

I said, “Officer, do I not have the right to record you?”

He backed off but told me to hurry up. So I gathered my notebook and pens with one hand while recording him with the other hand.

As I exited, I saw Ryan to my left, having a similar argument with two officers. I recorded him, too, and that angered the officer. As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.

One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.

“Go another way,” he said.

As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, “Officers, let me just gather my bag.” As I did, one of them said, “Okay, let’s take him.”

Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.

“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”

That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets.

After being taken to the police station, placed in a holding cell, they were released without charges or an explanation as to why they were detained in the first place.

For whatever reason, the police did not want to have their actions recorded and reported.  When that happens, there’s a much deeper problem than keeping order and enforcing the law.

The reporters and their arrest are not the story.  The tension between the police and the civilian population goes a lot deeper than on-edge police in riot gear sweeping out a fast-food restaurant.  As others have pointed out, including myself, the double standard for provoking a response from law enforcement — Cliven Bundy vs. the people of Ferguson, Missouri — is glaring and troubling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Little Night Music

From the 1944 Howard Hawks film To Have and Have Not, based loosely on the Ernest Hemingway novel, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Hoagy Carmichael.

The urban legend is that Andy Williams dubbed Ms. Bacall’s singing voice for this song.  He did a recording for it, but they ended up using her own voice for the final cut.

Photo of the Day

Via:

Ferguson Police 08-13-14

Josh Marshall:

We can only infer so much from photographs. There’s clearly been looting and an element of crowd violence in Ferguson, Missouri. But there are quite a few photos and videos of heavily armed and armored police facing clearly unarmed civilians who often have their hands in the air to show they are not armed.

I don’t know which agency’s police are depicted in the photo embedded above. I know that there was at least a brief deployment of State Police and the much larger St Louis Police Department is nearby. But even from the images that are clearly of the Ferguson Police, a fairly small suburban police department, the amount of body armor and quasi-military equipment is quite striking.

We take it as a given that most police departments will have a SWAT team, a relatively small group and amount of armament for an active shooter or hostage situation. But the Ferguson PD seems tricked out with a number of armored vehicles and quasi-military type gear. The militarization of local police forces is a story probably most of us are familiar with at some level. There’s also been a lot of counter-terror pork distributed to local police departments around the country, either buying bizarre arsenals to face terrorists they’ll almost certainly never encounter or surplus military supplies being cast off by US deployments abroad. But with all that, WTF?

And yet when the right-wing wackos like the all-white Minutemen or Cliven Bundy and his band of “sovereign citizens” gather with guns, ammo, flack jackets, and enough artillery to prove their tiny manhoods, the law enforcement hang back like frightened deer, afraid to “provoke an incident.”  Tell me that has nothing to do with race.

Lauren Bacall

A lady who defined class and knew how to whistle.

Lauren Bacall, the actress whose provocative glamour elevated her to stardom in Hollywood’s golden age and whose lasting mystique put her on a plateau in American culture that few stars reach, died on Tuesday in New York. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by her son Stephen Bogart. “Her life speaks for itself,” Mr. Bogart said. “She lived a wonderful life, a magical life.”

With an insinuating pose and a seductive, throaty voice — her simplest remark sounded like a jungle mating call, one critic said — Ms. Bacall shot to fame in 1944 with her first movie, Howard Hawks’s adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel “To Have and Have Not,” playing opposite Humphrey Bogart, who became her lover on the set and later her husband.

It was a smashing debut sealed with a handful of lines now engraved in Hollywood history.

“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve,” her character says to Bogart’s in the movie’s most memorable scene. “You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

[...]

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in Brooklyn on Sept. 16, 1924, the daughter of William and Natalie Perske, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Romania. Her parents were divorced when she was 6 years old, and her mother moved to Manhattan and adopted the second half of her maiden name, Weinstein-Bacal.

“I didn’t really have any love in my growing-up life, except for my mother and grandmother,” Ms. Bacall said in the Vanity Fair interview. Her father, she said, “did not treat my mother well.”

From then until her move to Hollywood, Ms. Bacall was known as Betty Bacal; she added an “l” to her name because, she said, the single “l” caused “too much irregularity of pronunciation.” The name Lauren was given her by Howard Hawks before the release of her first film, but family and old friends called her Betty throughout her life, and to Bogart she was always Baby.

I never met her, but I sat behind her at a performance of “Richard III” at the Stratford Festival in 1980 when Brian Bedford was playing the lead.  Later we saw her at the next table at The Church restaurant.  She and I were both born on September 16.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There Had To Be One

Finally the anti-marriage equality folks get a favorable ruling.

For the first time in nearly fourteen months, a state’s ban on same-sex marriage has withstood a constitutional challenge in court.  A state judge in Tennessee ruled last week that “neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility.”  The decision, issued last Tuesday, has just become available in electronic format.

Roane County Circuit Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr., of Kingston ruled in a case of two gay men who were married four years ago in Iowa and are now seeking a divorce in their home state of Tennessee.  Unlike every other court ruling — federal or state — since the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor in June 2013, the judge rejected the idea that the Windsor decision undercut state authority to ban same-sex marriages.

More than two dozen courts, from trial courts to state supreme courts and federal appeals courts, have faced that constitutional issue, and the string of decisions nullifying the bans was unbroken until the Tennessee decision.

Not being a lawyer — or an oddsmaker — I can’t really say if this means much for the overall status of marriage equality, but it sounds to me as if the judge is hanging his ruling on a weak limb: states’ rights vs. the federal constitution.  But we’ll see.

The Genie

The brilliance of Robin Williams will always be with us.

There are literally thousands of moments that demonstrate the wit and spontaneity.  His voice work on Aladdin was just a small part of it, but they’re some of my favorites.

“Made you look.”