Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spray & Pray - Law Enforcement Tactical Doctrine


HO lee Crap.  This is your Empire State Building "Mass Shooting" from Friday morning.  It's a surveillance camera shot from in front of the building.  In it you see Jefferey Johnson, walking on the curb behind the planters as two uniformed police approach him from the sidewalk.  He turns and draws down on them and they open fire.  The range is between 2 and five meters.  The cops fire a total of 16 rounds, while the evidence indicates that Johnson did not fire his gun.  Johnson was killed and NINE bystanders were wounded - all by police gunfire.

How much is wrong about this?  In a rational world, the police would be primarily responsible for protecting the innocent, and only secondarily for apprehending the criminal.  They have weapons, communications, body armor and training, and most importantly they VOLUNTEERED for the job.  They needed to accept the risk, close with the killer and, if they fired their weapons, place their shots in center mass, control their triggers and limit the amount of fire they put downrange on a busy big-city sidewalk.  It's hard to do - but if one of the reasons you join the force is for the rush of gunfights and car chases, you better understand the implications of that choice.  It means you just might find yourself five feet from an armed murderer on a rush-hour sidewalk and you need to stand and fight.  You cannot be more concerned about your own safety than that of the citizens around you.  If you are, you need to work in insurance or wait tables.

Sixteen rounds.  9 civilian casualties.  One dead shooter.  This, unfortunately tells us much of what we need to know about today's militarized law enforcement.  At best we're in their way.  "No shoot" targets that bleed when hit.  How far is it from that scene above to us becoming human shields for the cops?  One thing these guys certainly aren't is 'heroes'.  No courage, no discipline, no concern for anything but avoiding being hurt themselves.  Watch as the officer on the right abandons all form and discipline and scrambles backward, firing one-handed without any focus.  His partner does a much better job, moving to partial cover and placing his shots from a combat stance.  But one of them fired nine rounds and the other seven, so neither showed the kind of restraint and discipline we should be able to expect in an event like this.  

It's worth noting, also, that this mass shooting was entirely done by the police.  Jefferey Johnson fired five rounds into one victim, making him just another of America's handgun murderers, sadly very far from being anything special, or particularly newsworthy.  The ten people that went down in a hail of gunfire minutes later were all shot by those sworn to 'serve and protect'.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cold on Ice, It's a Dead Man's Touch

Watch where you're pointing that thing, willya?
Afghanistan has been at war for generations, under foreign occupation for almost twenty of the last thirty two years.  It is populated by a poorly educated, rural and tribal people with a highly fundamentalist religious worldview and deep animosity for other tribal groups.  It is, in short, an artificial construct, an arbitrary "nation" in name only, held together by armed intimidation, international charity and mass slaughter.

There is an often-ignored truism that wars are easier to get into than they are to get out of, and Afghanistan is emblematic of that truth.  While a persuasive argument could be made post 9/11 that there was a case for an American military response against the Taliban regime (bearing in mind that an equally persuasive case could be made against such a response), it has been many years since there was a coherent and rational argument for the occupation of that poor, blighted place.  Hence the vague, circular justifications provided by the Obama administration for the massive death and suffering brought about by a huge, pointless foreign military presence.  But wait, you say - Obama's a smart fellow, surely he must have a reason why he doesn't just withdraw the troops and end the madness.  And you'd be right, he does: Politics.  The cost and casualty rate is low enough that the political risk of maintaining the American presence, however futile and delusive it might be, is much lower than the risk of withdrawing the troops.  Like the arbitrary excesses of the TSA, the American occupation of Afghanistan serves to significantly inoculate the administration against responsibility for any further attacks on US soil.  And of course, it is a rare case where Obama's political opposition, with their historical love for foreign military action, has no real basis to challenge his position on Afghanistan.

From the slowly rusting and eternally distracted "Homeland", the American and NATO presence in Afghanistan appears endless, ponderous and unchanging - a brutal exercise in military futility obfuscated by layers of disingenuous political doublespeak.  But this is a false perception.  Military occupations, like all huge undertakings, evolve through a series of stages and processes, and the NATO presence in Afghanistan seems to be entering a new and important phase.  From pitched battles to guerrilla war to IEDs, the opposing forces - much more than just the oft-cited "Taliban", these are in many cases tribal fighters resisting foreign occupation, just as their fathers and uncles did twenty five years ago - have sought to maximize their asymmetric capabilities against the Americans massive advantages in firepower and mobility.  And now, with a poor and desperate population fed up with a seemingly endless foreign occupation of their home, we are seeing a sharp increase in the most destructive of all possible attacks - the so-called "Green on Blue" attack.

The stated American exit strategy is to build up a powerful and effective Afghan security force from an ethnically disparate and illiterate pre-industrial population.  They get training in small unit tactics, weapons and explosives, overland navigation and battlefield first aid.  The officer corps gets even more extensive training in areas like leadership, intelligence, communication and logistics.  The plan requires that millions of Afghans receive this sort of training, so no matter how low your estimate of enemy infiltration is, there is no doubt that we are providing significant expertise to the very people we are fighting.  And when you take into account the millions of others who have a non-combat support role either at the NATO bases and installations in country or within the Afghan force structure itself, you realize that our entire presence is at risk of attack from within.  Indeed, just yesterday, all NATO troops were ordered to keep a loaded weapon with them at all times, even in bases and rear areas.

It's hard to imagine the toxic and destructive effect of these attacks.  When you consider that the primary remaining mission for American and NATO forces is the training and development of an effective Afghan security force, you have to wonder how that mission can possibly be carried out in such a poisoned atmosphere of fear and distrust.  Will Americans require the Afghan recruits to train with unloaded weapons?  Will even more Afghan trainees, exasperated and aggrieved by the cautious suspicion and even outright hatred of their counterparts, desert to the insurgency?  How can the Americans succeed in building an effective indigenous security force while an active insurgency is encouraging its fighters to infiltrate and cripple it from within?

These attacks seem to signal that the end game has arrived.  With a deeply corrupt national government that has no power outside of Kabul, an insurgency that has broad and unfettered support from neighboring Pakistan and a population that knows nothing but war and occupation, the NATO occupation was not a promising endeavor in the first place.  But now, with even our Afghan "allies" regularly turning their weapons on the foreign troops, any semblance of partnership and coordinated effort is well and truly gone.  In a war zone where your allies are your greatest threat and something so innocuous as a loaded magazine or a live grenade can be in the hands of a lethal enemy, nothing of any value can be accomplished.  For the Obama administration, the political imperatives remain unchanged, but for the Americans, their NATO allies and the Afghan people, it's just more years of brutal, grinding futility.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Half a Million Votes...

Behold the map of pointless futility, where the
votes that matter amount to a rounding error
Neither campaign gives a rats ass what I think.  To Obama, California is solidly in the win column, and there's nothing to be won or lost here except money.  To Romney, California is a lost cause, and there's no value to be accrued investing resources here.  In fact, it turns out that the overwhelming majority of American voters are not "in play", and are therefore not considered targets for persuasion by the campaigns.  The campaigns are interested in the so-called swing voters, those who have not made up their minds yet, or those whose minds might be changed by the right message.  But even that is too broadly simplistic.  Swing voters in states like California, New York and Texas - states where the electoral outcome is a foregone conclusion - have no value to a campaign - it is only those who might be drawn across the center in key battleground states like Ohio, Florida and North Carolina that are the targets of the frenetic campaign messaging.  So really, when you think about it, two billion dollars will be spent in an attempt to win over less than a million American voters.  When you find yourself wondering how our magnificent democracy became so undemocratic, you might find that to be a very good place to start.

Certainly, efforts will be made and resources expended to mobilize the base to actually vote on November sixth, but these efforts are to a large extent self-canceling and perfunctory.  The real fight is for a few mostly white rural and suburban voters who hold the future of this country in their hands.  If they had the capacity to self-identify and organize, they would be the single most powerful organization in the world, able to affect the future of international economics, war and peace and human sustainability.  But when you think about it, these as yet undecided or persuadable voters can only be in this position due to a very limited grasp of the key issues coupled with a virtually non-existent ideology.  In other words, these are, for the most part, poorly educated, low information, politically apathetic people who will most often latch onto one issue, whether it's driven by their own bigotry or fear or a deep misunderstanding of economics or foreign relations and make an impulsive and arbitrary decision based on slogans and sound bites.

That's it.  The next four years.  War and peace.  Thousands, perhaps millions of lives.  The security and future of millions of families.  Even the very sustainability of life on earth, decided in a few minutes in a voting booth in Springboro or Lynn Haven or High Point by a house painter or mechanic or nurse who doesn't read.  You don't matter.  I don't matter.  A few hundred thousand people, maybe even less, are the ones that provide the signal on top of all our background noise.  This is ultimately why all the coverage doesn't matter, the debates don't matter, informed voters make no difference and electoral outcomes can be so horrifically counterintuitive.  In an unnecessarily clumsy and utterly bizarre electoral system where the votes of the people determine the outcome only indirectly at best, the vast majority of the voters have no say in the outcome, and are of literally no interest to the campaigns.  After 99% of the American votes cancel each other out, it comes down to Joe Soptic against "you didn't build that...".  And all the rest of us will have to live with the outcome.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The United States of Butthurt

Julian Assange (Above)
It's a small world after all...
And so the Julian Assange saga gets better and better.  This is a near-perfect story for our time, with Internet technology, war, politics, sex crimes and espionage.  And now as it approaches its climax, played out in the international legal and diplomatic playgrounds of London, Washington and Quito, we have the opportunity to consider some of the larger implications.  There are nearly endless questions we need to ask about this, from why President Corea decided to offer diplomatic protection (there is some question about the legal status of so-called 'diplomatic asylum' in the UK) to someone who, for all intents and purposes is a journalist, to why Sweden has a law on the books regarding condom use, but the most interesting question at this point is how Assange might attempt to get out of Britain, or if that is something that is simply impossible.  You would think that the staff of the Ecuadorean Embassy could simply conceal him in the trunk of a car with diplomatic license plates and drive him to the airport, but the Cameron government has been making some substantially belligerent noises about extraditing Assange, and their willingness to accede to the accepted norms of diplomatic protection is questionable at best.

In many ways, this is a classic tempest in a teapot, much ado about nothing.  Assange, after all, through his web-based organization Wikileaks merely facilitated the publication of various pieces of government classified content - he was not personally responsible for appropriating any of the things he published.  In reality, he is not any more culpable than the New York Times was when they published the so-called 'Pentagon Papers' in 1971.  Julian Assange should be a minor, if interesting, footnote in history.

But there are dark manipulations just under the surface, and a foul aura of authoritarian suppression and inter-governmental conspiracy to silence him, and that makes the whole thing so much more important than just another argument over extradition.  Hanging above the whole affair is the real possibility, however remote, that the United States might imprison him for life, or even kill him, for essentially embarrassing them.  The Swedish case against him has a bad smell.  Governments have long used sex charges to not only silence, but to demonize and discredit political opponents, and the history of Sweden's prosecution of Assange makes the entire case suspect.  The arrest warrant was issued, then canceled by the Prosecutor, only to be re-issued a week later by the Director of Prosecutions.  It's hard not to suspect that there has been significant diplomatic pressure brought to bear by the United States government.

How does it all play out?  Despite the unhinged threats of the British government to violate Ecuadorean sovereignty and forcibly extradite Assange, it is unlikely that this will end in any such dramatic fashion.  Assuming the overarching goal is to stay out of American custody, the best outcome is a negotiated agreement with Sweden to return and face prosecution without the threat of extradition to the US.  There would still be a small risk of rendition, but the nature of the charges and Assange's high profile make that eventuality unlikely.

In the meantime it's a chess game, with Julian Assange sitting in the small Ecuadorean embassy in London, as moves and countermoves are made in legal and diplomatic circles.  While there is no doubt that the UK will do Washington's bidding, it remains to be seen how willing Sweden is to play the role of American lap dog over the longer term.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's the Wrong Way

Joe Soptic.  Mitt Romney did not actually kill his wife.
The Obama campaign's attack ad on Romney that features the man who's wife died of cancer after Bain Capital eliminated his job and she lost her insurance employs a reasonable line of attack - it just aims it at the wrong target.  You can demonize Bain and the Private Equity industry for a lot of things, but they neither invented nor specialized in layoffs.  Companies have been adjusting the size of their workforce in both directions since time immemorial, and even in the best Union shops layoffs occur.  The thing is, in most civilized nations your access to health care isn't directly tied to your employment, and even if you can't immediately find another position you can still go to the doctor as necessary.  That's just not the case in the capital of heartless capitalism, the USA.

So targeting Bain and private equity for the woman's death is just too great a stretch, a couple bridges too far if you will.  But that doesn't make Mitt Romney roadkill here, just an innocent bystander who's done nothing wrong.  Obama and the Democratic legislature passed a comprehensive health care bill that would prevent this sort of unnecessary death and suffering due to lack of employment or income.  The ACA, known as Obamacare, provides a facility for (near) universal coverage, either under subsidized private insurance or expanded Medicaid services.  Romney has repeatedly vowed to repeal that legislation.

This makes Andrea Saul's rebuttal of that particular political ad even more galling.  By acknowledging that Mrs. Soptic would not have died if she had only had the good fortune to live in Massachusetts, where none other than Mitt Romney passed a health care reform law that protects the unemployed and uninsured, she reveals the brutal cruelty of the Republican position on the ACA.

So the fair and reasonable attack on Romney's policy agenda is not that his rapacious business killed Mrs. Soptic, but that his policies as President would kill thousands that would otherwise live long, productive lives.  The fact that quantitatively, if not qualitatively, this is much, much worse is not lost on Obama's campaign advisers.  It's just a claim they would hesitate to make, for one because they are very cautious about the way they defend the ACA and because, in a sense, it's got a Godwin/genocide quality to it that they believe makes it off limits.

But ultimately, this is going to have to become part of the campaign narrative.  There is a kind of heartless cruelty, a lack of concern for the vast majority of the American population represented by the Romney policy agenda that voters will have to take into account.  They frame it as "reform" and "sacrifice", and even fiscal discipline, but what it is, as always, is nothing but upward redistribution of wealth.  That's what they do, it is their overriding single policy goal, they just try, with varying degrees of success, to hide it from the voters who would not approve.  Certainly there are Americans who want to see the poor and non-white people suffer and even die, and for them these policies are a feature, not a bug, and they will enthusiastically vote to see them implemented.  And part of what this election is about is that very question:  In these dark times, in a referendum on the cruelty and inequality of the system vs. the compassion of the people, what will a plurality of Americans choose?

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Most Dangerous Man In the World

(Above) History's Greatest Monster
People often ask me why I am so desperately fearful of a Mitt Romney Presidency.  What is it about this particular Republican that has me so deeply concerned?  After all, it is generally accepted that he is actually fairly moderate, and that his "severe conservative" persona is an act, nothing but a political pander to the extreme views of the far-right segment of his constituency.  Once in the White House, the argument goes, he will certainly implement conservative policies, but he will not be willing to take actions he knows with certainty will make him a failure as President.  If he knows nothing else, he would be deadset against leaving himself open to the kind of relentless economic argument he has used relentlessly against President Obama.

That is the conventional wisdom, and it is not just a myth, it is a dangerous myth.  Oh, I'm fairly certain that there was some truth to it much earlier in the campaign, before the Republican primaries, when Romney could envision himself as winning over the far right and then, later, in the general election campaign, tacking to the center and establishing his moderate technocratic bona fides to win over the independents in the center.  The biggest obstacle he faced in accomplishing this common electoral strategy would be finding a way to differentiate his moderate technocratic agenda from the moderate technocratic agenda of Barack Obama.  But something happened on the way to the White House.  Romney discovered that the extreme right wing of the Republican party now owned him outright, and he would not be permitted to shift a single inch to the left.

Now, at this point in the narrative, it's important to acknowledge the intellectual and personality characteristics that establish Mitt Romney's ability to transform himself from the politically moderate, pro-life governor of a very liberal Northeast state to a borderline fascist "severe conservative" in a matter of a few months.  To put it simply, Romney is nothing but an empty suit, a man whose only principles are shaped by his craven ambition, a candidate, it is widely and often said, who will say anything to become President.  And certainly, throughout his campaign we have seen this dynamic play out again and again, from nonsensical distortions to blatant contradictions to outright lies.

Historically, it has been a party's Presidential nominee that is considered the leader of the party, and is the one who defines and shapes the party's policy agenda.  But in this entirely unprecedented case, it is the extremists in the party who are imposing their agenda on the nominee, and enforcing his unwavering ideological purity.  And should Mitt Romney be elected, we can expect nothing less.  There are those who say that once elected, he would finally have the freedom to back away from the darkest right-wing vision, but that is nothing but wishful thinking.  More than ever, he would need the political infrastructure of the Republican base, from policy advisers to legislators.  And those legislators who would provide him with his operative ideological agenda will be led by Paul Ryan.  It is Paul Ryan who has the fully formed legislative vision that finally kills Medicare, eliminates Social Security, and eliminates funding for US government programs except the military and law enforcement.  And after destroying the Federal government, crippling the States and turning the US into a third world nation with an exploding deficit and a flatlined economy, the ultimate Republican vision of a small class of wealthy landowners presiding over a destitute population will be fulfilled.  America will be a land of disease and death, collapsing infrastructure and vacant cities, maintaining its wealth with giant factory farms and unfettered resource extraction.

And it's important to realize that if we look around after Mitt Romney's second term and discover that it has all slipped away, that what was once the United States of America is now a huge toxic open pit mine supporting a marauding army that steals and intimidates, it won't really be Mitt Romney who is at fault.  It will be Paul Ryan.  He's the most dangerous man in the world.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What Are Words For, When No One Listens Anymore

Nope.  Not a terrorist.  Just a bank robber.
In this weekend's example of American senseless slaughter, a white supremacist named Wade Page walked into a Sikh temple with a gun and killed a bunch of unarmed people, apparently because he thought they were Muslims.  He then engaged the law enforcement personnel when they arrived, and in what is very likely a case of "suicide by cop" he was killed in that exchange.  The FBI has taken over the investigation because they have tentatively classified the attack as an act of domestic terrorism.

There's that word again.  Terrorism.  What exactly is terrorism?  Or perhaps we should ask what isn't?  Shouldn't an act of terror at least have some component of a political or sectarian agenda?  When a brutal mass murder is the result of nothing more than years of festering, mindless racial hate, can we really say the intent was to terrorize?  We use the word to describe any attack of sufficient brutality or one that cannot be described as a simple criminal act, but at some point, if everything is terrorism then nothing is.  Everything that terrifies us cannot be terrorism.  Terrorism cannot be a catchall to describe everything we think is dangerous or evil.  Bashir al-Assad describes the Syrian Free Army as terrorists.  The Russians said the residents of Grozny were terrorists, and on that basis they slaughtered them and leveled the city.  America kills people in Pakistan without even knowing their names, people who have never been to America or even met an American, on the premise that they are somehow "terrorists".

There are more reasons to kill than tribal politics and religion.  People have been killing each other for as long as there have been people, and often it's simply because there is some toxic combination of hatred and mental instability.  It's hard for people to murder unarmed, innocent people without indoctrination of some kind, but that indoctrination needn't include anything beyond the hatred itself and that doesn't always rise to the level of terrorism.  We never said Charles Whitman was a terrorist, nor James Huberty or even Ted Bundy.  At a minimum, today we would say the first two were terrorists, just as it was said of James Holmes in Colorado.

There are very practical reasons for desiring a firm, generally accepted, significantly narrowed definition of terrorism.  And it is for those very reasons that we should not expect to see one anytime soon.  Authoritarian governments use terrorism to control their populations, and to get their people to mindlessly accept increasing restrictions on their civil liberties.  Just look what Israel has done to the Palestinians in the name of terrorism, or what the Americans have been not just willing, but desperate to embrace since 9/11.  The loathsome GW Bush administration played on Americans fears of terrorism after 9/11 to commit a long series of destructive and unspeakable act in the name of protecting the US, including the aggressive invasion of a nation with whom we were at peace, something we declared the ultimate war crime at Nuremberg just half a century before.

Interestingly, under US law, the definition is surprisingly narrow:

(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents

Very few, if any, of these oddly American outbursts of mass murder meet that criteria.  But it is not to the benefit of the government, law enforcement or the media to use the term with considered care.  Rather, in order to create the most fearful response, anything that can hearken back to that morning in September 2001 when America collectively decided that their fear was greater than their founding values, any act of violence can be used to justify even greater restrictions on our civil liberties and yet another expansion of the surveillance state.  Of course, the same fears of terrorism can be used to justify horrific acts and massive corporate greed, all under the rubric of counter-terrorism.

It is a toxic construct that, along with it's handmaiden in murder "WMD", represents the most powerful threat to democratic governance in the world.  To the extent their are people of wealth and power who fervently wish to limit freedom and civil liberties, it is under the guise of a terrible threat that they will be successful.  And sadly, like sheep being led to the slaughter, we continually accept the messaging they choose to utilize...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Right to Remain Silent

Make no mistake, ladies and  gentlemen:
I'm for freedom.  And liberty.  Liberty's good too
The general theory is that a politician wins an election by convincing the largest number of voters that he or she will enact policies that they believe will make their lives better.  Traditionally, this has resulted in campaigns taking two broadly parallel approaches.  They make promises that they will implement certain specific policies - with the intent that more people will approve of these policies than will dislike them - and they attempt to demonstrate that their political opponent will implement certain specific policies that will make their lives worse.  There is a great deal of flexibility in how a campaign might handle these two overlapping goals, up to and including outright lies, but in the end the conventional wisdom has always been that you described in some detail what you would actually do if elected.

In fact, this sometimes leads to some rather laughable promises.  Particularly in cases like the American Presidential election, the entire conversation often utterly ignores the constitutional limitations on the president's powers.  When you hear a candidate promise to "reform the tax code" or "defund Planned Parenthood" it's important to realize that these are not his or her decision to make, and in fact are entirely dependent upon the political makeup of the Legislature.  If the Presidential candidate was honest in these matters, he could promise what he would veto, and what he would advocate, but he could not say what he would pass.  For that matter, if the people truly understood the way the separation of powers works in Washington they would place significantly less importance on the Presidential election and more on electing legislative majorities.

But this is 2012, and, as you might have heard, everything has changed.  Due to some profound divisions in the rank and file of the Republican party, the GOP found itself unable to nominate a candidate who was at once competent, qualified and viable.  The demands for extreme right-wing purity - primarily characterized by a steadfast refusal to compromise at any time on any issue - eliminated or scared off most of the seasoned, mainstream Republican politicians, and many of those favored by the extreme tea-partying wing of the party were political lightweights, bumblers who had no hope of funding and running a real national campaign.  But from the ruins of the Republican primary season their arose one man, handsome, rich, well dressed, with all the charisma of an old sneaker and a highly suspicious history of liberal policies.  But Mitt Romney had one thing to offer that no other candidate had the audacity to match - he was willing to say anything, literally ANYTHING to be elected President.  So as unlikely as it seemed, he relentlessly transformed himself into a "severe conservative", repudiating everything he ever did and believed, and promising fealty to whatever was demanded of him by the extreme right.  And it appears to have worked.  Barring some utter collapse, the party will nominate Romney at their convention in Tampa later this month.

But in spite of his promised commitment to all things conservative, from the Ryan budget plan to war with Iran, he still has much baggage.  His religion and his earlier positions on abortion, immigration and gay rights are a problem, and his signature Massachusetts health care program, dubbed RomneyCare, is pure socialist anathema to movement conservatives.  While he is being cautiously accepted to lead the party, there is significant distrust amongst the rank and file.  And this leaves Mitt in a difficult position going into the final months of the campaign.

While he absolutely needs these most extreme right-wing supporters, they do not, by themselves, constitute an electoral majority.  Most Presidential candidates have pandered to their base voters during the Primaries, then, after securing the nomination, have historically "tacked to the center" in the general election campaign.  But Romney can't count on the unconditional support of the base, and if he tries to back away from their most fondly held positions on matters from immigration to tax policy to gay rights in order to secure the votes of more moderate Republicans that he would need to be elected, he risks antagonizing the base and possibly losing more votes than he gains.  Ultimately, he needs to appeal to two different constituencies, each of which supports a substantially different policy agenda.  And he has to end up with large voting majorities from each constituency in order to win the election.

So how can his campaign possibly thread that needle?  The strategy they have decided on is to simply refuse to commit to any specific policy positions.  He says he'll pursue a massive multi-trillion dollar tax cut, but that it will not increase the deficit because of his tax reform plan.  But he won't tell us what his tax reform plan actually is.  He says he'll add 12 million private sector jobs in his first term, but he won't say how.  He says his economic agenda is different from GW Bush's, and his foreign policy would be different from Obama's but what little we know or can intuit about them indicates they would actually be functionally identical.  He won't release his taxes, he won't take a position on immigration (beyond some generic Mexican - bashing) and he won't say what he'd do in Afghanistan.

All of which leaves us with two questions.  Can Romney possibly try to continue this complete unwillingness to offer specific information about his policies, and if he does, can it possibly be a successful campaign strategy?  He clearly would like to be able to get through to November 6th without having to risk alienating any voters.  He's made a similar strategic calculation around releasing his tax returns - whatever political costs he incurs by not releasing them, the information contained in them would have even worse consequences if he did release them.  But it seems like a terribly rich vein to be mined by the Obama campaign.  After all, what could be more frightening than a potential political leader who refused to say what he'd do if elected?  In the end, I cannot believe that a Presidential candidate can be elected without at least offering some clarity as to his preferred policies.  To merely promise outcomes - 12 million jobs, balanced budget - without some willingness to explain how they would be created seems certain to generate deep doubts in all but the most ardent of supporters.  Throughout the campaign, Romney would be exposed to all sorts of accusations about his favored policies, accusations he would find difficult to refute without offering specifics.  And ultimately, there will be televised debates.  I can't see any way for a candidate to get through a debate while remaining vague on all the important issues.  After a couple hours of refusing to take any political positions, he's going to look weak and foolish, and Americans don't like weak and foolish leaders.  And if I'm wrong and a campaign of vague and ambiguous platitudes and disingenuous generalities does lead to a victory in November, it would be the final nail in the coffin of American electoral politics.  Because it would mean we had reached the point where substance doesn't matter - it's no longer anything more than a popularity contest that allows lying.

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's My Story and I'm Sticking To It...

Chavis Carter, victim of miraculous suicide
In a routine traffic stop (probable cause: Driving While Brown), two officers from the Jonesboro, Arkansas police pulled over a pickup truck on Saturday night.  The passenger in the truck was one Chavis Carter, a local 21 year old African American.  As is their wont, the two white officers searched the driver and the passenger, and found, predictably enough, "some marijuana and some unused baggies".  Perhaps even more predictably, when they ran young Mr. Carter's information through the system, they found he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Mississippi.  Deciding to take him into custody on the warrant, they searched him again and handcuffed his hands behind his back, as is routine procedure.  They placed him in the back of the police car and returned to search the pickup truck more thoroughly.

Now here's where it gets somewhat fantastical.  According to the officers, neither one of them was anywhere near the police car when they heard a loud noise they described as "...a loud thump with a metallic sound".  When they investigated, they explained, they found Chavis Carter with a gunshot wound to his right temple, hands still securely cuffed behind his back.  Official explanation?  The officers, in the course of two searches of his physical person, missed a concealed handgun which he was then able to use to kill himself, presumably in order to avoid a routine arrest on the Mississippi warrant.

As unlikely as it is that experienced street cops would miss a gun in two searches, I would grant that it is at least possible.  But that someone might, with their hands tightly cuffed behind them, access this deeply hidden weapon and then somehow use it to shoot themselves in the head is pretty much impossible.  There is also the additional twist that he was shot in the right temple, while his mother says he was left handed - something the cops would not likely know that night.

It's no surprise that I think one of those Jonesboro cops murdered Chavis Carter that night.  It's no surprise because American law enforcement personnel have become far to quick on the trigger, far to willing to shoot people for increasingly vague and uncertain reasons.  And one of the reasons they have become so willing to kill and maim is that there is seldom any accountability for these actions - they are seldom even brought to trial, and when they are they are almost always acquitted by judges and juries willing to believe any tale, no matter how bizarre, because they are the "good guys" and often because the only other witnesses to these crimes who are not also police are dead.

So there's not much to add here, and nothing new to be learned.  The FBI is investigating, and when they concocted this ridiculous just-so story of immaculate suicide they probably didn't expect the bright light of national attention.  But the story will be told over and over again by the only people left alive that know what happened that night, and their co-workers and supervisors and neighbors will describe their christian goodness in glowing detail, and unless they really screwed up and left fingerprints on their 'drop gun', they will walk away free men.  Chavis Carter will be dead forever, and his memory will be forever fouled by the knowing smirks of his killers.