Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


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Priorities

Barack Obama’s are screwed.

Bradley Manning was sentenced today; she got 35 years for the release of classified documents.  In way that’s cheering.  The Prosecution charged her with offenses which could have ended up with her in prison* for the rest of his life.  That charge was not sustained by the judge (though I think it ought never have been entertained by her; that it was is disturbing), and they asked for 60 years on the charges for which convictions were handed down.

In one regard, she’s lucky. If she moves to someplace like Michigan when the sentence expires she will get most of his civil rights restored, Florida, not so much  The Penal Barracks have pretty good policies regarding parole/time off for good behavior.  With the (inadequate**) amount of credit for time served, she is eligible for parole in about 10 years.  The gov’t is likely to oppose her release.  Hard call what the board will decide.  I don’t think she will be there for the entire 31 years, and change, remaining in her sentence.

On the one hand this is a minor loss to the gov’t/Obama adminstration.  they wanted to put her away for life, “pour encourager les autres“.  Certainly the people baying for other people involved with leaks in the public interest to be killed outright are working to make it more dangerous to try and reveal secret gov’t policies.  And the harassment of people who are near to them is right up there with other totalitarian ideas of guilt by association, and collective punishment.§

So that’s one priority.  Someone who released information to inform the public of what the gov’t was doing in their name, is being locked up.  Charged with “aiding the enemy” because (after the press refused to look at the documents) she went to Wikileaks, which put it on the Web where “bad guys” could see it.  That’s a pretty fucked up interpretation of the law.  Speak out in a public forum = aiding the enemy.

Flip side: We have torturers among us. Some have been sanctioned.  Graner and Englund went to jail.  Gen. Karpinski was relieved of command.  Graner, was sentenced to 10 years.  He’s already out on parole.  On Christmas, 2014, his sentence ends. He was the last of those convicted to be released, which is fitting because his 10 year sentence was the harshest punishment handed down.   For all the abuses, and torture, which took place at Abu Ghraib, only 10 people were charged, and only nine convicted of anything.  No one was charged with torture, nor any form of homicide; though some of the prisoners in their custody died.

The people who wrote, and approved the Bybee Memos suffered not a single harm (one of them, John Yoo, is teaching law at Berkeley).  The president who asked for those memos… no one really cares.  The vice president who defends them still, no one really cares. The general who was brought in to “Gitmo-ize Abu Ghraib, no one really cares.  War Crimes, committed for years, and we “are looking forward”.  Which is bullshit.  One can’t look forward to find justice.  Justice means looking back and examining what was done in the past.

No, this is a case of priorities.  Obama, Pelosi, Reid, none of them give a shit about torture.  It’s a shame that it happened.  It will be a shame if we find out it’s still happening; but the bigger problem is the people who tell us what’s going on; the sort of person who would reveal to the world that our government is committing crimes; even when those crimes are likely to undermine the system which is committing them.  Torture is bad.  It’s arguable that spying on the citizenry is worse; not least because it makes it easier to cover up things like torture.  Edward Snowden fled the US to China, and then to Russia.  There may have been (probably was) a cynical attempt to exploit some realpolitik, and he was counting on one of them to want more to find out what he had than to give him up (and/or that what he had was going to make them upset enough with the US to think sticking a finger in our eye was a useful thing).

Think about that; he decided the safest course of action was to defect to China, because he knew (from watching Bradley Manning’s treatment; and perhaps the people saying Tsarnaev ought to be tried as, “an enemy combatant”, never mind that he’s a US citizen, and the crime he committed took place in the US), that being a whistleblower means becoming a high-value target for the government: moreso than it was under Bush fils.

It’s a scary thing that torturing people to death can get you a sentence of two monthsø Ψ but leaking documents will be pursued to the full extent the law may allow.

Obama’s priorities are fucked up.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*I am not going into the question of Manning’s gender; so far he has not asked for the use of other pronouns, so I am using those which seem to be comfortable for him (not that I think he will ever see this).  If that changes, I will edit this post to reflect it. (Edit:  As of now Manning has said she is a woman, and so wishes to be referred to with female pronouns/referents.  I made some changes to reflect that).

Being at Ft. Leavenworth is almost certainly a large step up from being in a non-military prison.  There is, so I have heard, a certain sense of not-quite camaraderie which comes of having shared a common ethos; and the regimentation is, while tedious (the amount of outside access is quite limited; no internet, no email, and books/magazines have to be deemed acceptable; mail is read, etc.  But the level of interpersonal violence is a lot less. (Edit:  I don’t know what policies/procedures are in place at Ft. Leavenworth to cope with Manning’s status as a transgendered female; so some of these speculations are now less clear to me.

**In that the DoD tortured her, and kept her in cruel and unusual conditions.

§It’s not that I think the US Gov’t wouldn’t do some of that; just that they’d use the FBI, and an NSA, so that the press in question would be (in theory) unable to talk about it.  If they thought they could be that high-handed, they would.

ø Confession time:  I know many of the people involved in the DIlawar Case.  Including all the Intel People who were convicted.  I served with them in Iraq, before some of them went on to Abu Ghraib.

ΨThe punishment options were open-ended.  I don’t know what the prosecution asked for but this is the text of the most serious of the three charges she faced.

 928. Art. 128. Assault

(a) Any person subject to this chapter who attempts or offers with unlawful force or violence to do bodily harm to another person, whether or not the attempt or offer is consummated, is guilty of assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct. (b) Any person subject to this chapter who-

(1) commits an assault with a dangerous weapon or other means or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm; or (2) commits an assault and intentionally inflicts grievous bodily harm with or without a weapon; is guilty of aggravated assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.


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Food, and society

In my more cynical moments I think the the New Deal wasn’t really about making a more equitable society, but rather a reaction to the times, and an attempt to stave off revolution.  That the best way to stave off such a revolution was to make a more equitable society was a nice side effect (for those who weren’t at the top).  The world has changed since then.  The big scary revolution the people at the top were scared of didn’t happen (remember, at the start of the Depression the Soviet Union was brand new, and like France before it was preaching revolution far and wide; as with the gov’ts which were near France, the reaction was enough to make that exportation seem more needful lest they be destroyed from without: don’t forget the US sent troops to try and defeat the Communists.).

But those days are long gone, right?  The idea of popular revolt against Capitalist Lackeys is so far gone as to be laughable.  The more we forget.  The French Revolution is lost to us now, so much happened, in so short a span, that we keep odd snapshots: The Terror, Napoleon, the Fall of the Bastille.  All the rest gets glosssed.  It took a while,  (and some provocations) to get to the Terror, and then the Directory.  In the beginning there was much less in the way of violence, Louis was supposed to become a constitutional monarch.  What caused the change? Among other things, lack of bread.  Poor harvests, and greedy people, added to the strains of remaking something so large as France.

Food, it’s essential.  It’s lack leads to violence.  Not enough leads to people who can’t focus (I’m hungry right now, and it’s making my typing even worse than my usual). It’s part of the reason students in poverty are more likely to be poor students.  It’s not lack of ability, it’s lack of energy to spend on diagramming sentences and learning about Crispus Attucks (much less John Adams defending the soldiers who shot him), because the hollow in their bellies is consuming their attentions.

It’s presence can save lives: It’s continued presence can remake them: A friend of mine has some eloquent thoughts on The Farm Bill (really, go read it, it’s the spark to this bit of rambling).

Those cynical moments I had up at the top of this post…. they have companions.  There was a time, about five years ago, when I was stone broke.  Out of the Army, no job to be had.  I was living on the kindness of friends.  I was thinking about food, a lot.  I was waiting for the GI Bill to kick in (which would be just enough to keep body and soul together).  I applied for food stamps.  I was in California, a supposed “Welfare Mecca” (regularly we are told the benefits Calif. gives out are so generous and free flowing that people flock to her cities to live the life of a Deadbeat In Paradise).  I filled out the forms, went to the counselling session.  Was told I qualified, but for one little thing.  I was enrolled in college.  That changed the rules.  To be on Food Stamps requires that one be willing to work.  I was willing to work.  I’d been looking for work; no one was biting at my résumés.  But, as a student it was assumed a 40 hour week wasn’t practiable (which is true).

So, Calif. (the Farm Bill allocates the money, the states distribute it, and they get to make their own rules: Calif. is said to be possessed of rules which aren’t too onerous) decided the “compromise” is that a student has to have a job; which pays said student 20 hours worth of the federal minimum wage, before said student can get food stamps.

So that education we are told, sententiously, is the key to a better life; is off limits if you aren’t comfortable enough to afford it.  School isn’t the tool with which to break the cycle of poverty; not if you are really poor.

Which brings us full circle.  Lack of food leads to revolution.  Revolution terrifies me. People will say, “It can’t happen here”.  They are wrong.  It can happen anywhere.  The prime cause is usually social inequality; and we are piling that up like it was going out of business.  The Capitalist Lackeys need to keep in mind that the New Deal, and “The Welfare State” (esp. as practiced in the US) has not made them poor, just kept them from being a little more rich.  If they want to keep the gains they’ve gotten, they need to think about what will happen if (when) the people who are at the other end of that scale lose what’s left of their patience.  Case in point, there is a nationwide call for a strike at fast-food restaurants: and the “Recovery” hasn’t been a recovery at all, if you weren’t already rich enough to not really suffer from this “Great Recession”, then the “recovery” has been an alchemical trick, turning gold into lead, as companies convert full-time jobs into several part time jobs.

A cynic might think the ACA was a tool, designed by Conservatives, to make that happen; a bit of a band-aid to make revolution less likely.  Feh.

We had a system, one that worked well (not great, but well).  Social Security, Food Stamps.  Unemployment.  Progressive income taxes. A decent GI Bill (this one is good, but it could be better; it screws reservists who get deployed, while giving 100 percent to Regulars who never leave the states; don’t get me started on the way the pension system is fucked up for those who were in the reserves).  If we went back to that, and got a Single Payer healthcare system; we’d have better than the New Deal, we’d have something like a fair deal.


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It’s raining

I like rain.  Some of that is because I’m a California boy.  Some of it is from a year in Seattle (where it doesn’t “RAIN” as much as one thinks, but a tangible humidity is evident most of the year).  Some of it, though it may seem odd, from time in the Army.

The last is why I don’t care, quite so much, about being wet (a friend was visiting a couple of weeks ago.  I got moderately soaked; zie was a bit too short to make sharing hir umbrella practical, and I’ve always hated umbrellas; which is largely because rain in California is almost always cold, and too windy for brollys to be truly useful.  A hat and a a spare shirt is what I travel with with when I expect to be rained on at length).

So I am back from voting, and walking my beloved to the train, and getting coffee.  My kilt is laid out to dry, my hat is reblocking itself (horsehair felt, crushable, wettable, warm when wet, and it keeps my front dry).  I’m looking at the lake across the street (it’s normally a parking lot) and thinking I’d like be in this weather, in a decent tent; high in the Sierra’s, or in Joshua Tree.  Lazy and cozy, the sound of the rain through the trees (or on the desert) and pinging on the tent.  Wood under a tarp, and fuel for a stove; hot cocoa and rum; woodsmoke and fresh tortillas.  Homely and lazy; secure.

Because rain is a comfort.


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Stopped, and Fisked

I’m reading the decision in the lawsuit over “stop and frisk”. It’s long (198 pages) , but pretty good reading. The immediate takeaway is she ruled the policy, as practised is racially motivated, and violates the 4th and 5th amendment protections citizens possess, as well as being a violation of the Equal Protection clause.

She didn’t invalidate it on its face, but the findings of fact are damning.

  • 52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was
    found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million
    frisks, no weapon was found.
  • Weapons were seized in 1.0% of the stops of blacks, 1.1% of the stops of
    Hispanics, and 1.4% of the stops of whites.
  • Contraband other than weapons was seized in 1.8% of the stops of blacks, 1.7%
    of the stops of Hispanics, and 2.3% of the stops of whites.
  • Between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of stops where the officer failed to state a
    specific suspected crime rose from 1% to 36%.

The piece about weapons doesn’t look too bad, right? Whites were only about half again as likely to be found in possession of weapon than blacks or hispanics (all terms for race are based on the incredibly crude language of the form the NYPD uses to record these stops: which the court, the plaintiffs, and the City, admit are far from inclusive of all stops. I am going to be generous, and stipulate the relative rate of stop is the same in non-recorded stops as those an officer deigned to write up).

Not so fast. Whites represent only only 10 percent of those stopped. So whites are more than 10 times as likely as all others to be found with a weapon (and most of those weapons weren’t firearms: so my first takeaway is the NYPD has no good idea how to spot someone carrying a weapon, but I digress).

The Mayor did his cause no favors a month, or so, ago when he said blacks needed to be stopped more than whites. Based on the evidence of the records the NYPD kept, whites are more likely to be found with weapons, ergo they ought to be the ones singled out for special attentions.

Most of the stops (esp, in more recent years; as the number of stops has dramatically increased) were for, “furtive movements” or, ”high crime area”. How the NYPD understands, “furtive” is terrifying.

Two officers testified to their understanding of the term “furtive movements.” One explained that “furtive movement is a very broad concept,” and could include a person “changing direction,” “walking in a certain way,” “[a]cting a little suspicious,” “making a movement that is not regular,” being “very fidgety,” “going in and out of his pocket,” “going in and out of a location,” “looking back and forth constantly,” “looking over their shoulder,” “adjusting their hip or their belt,” “moving in and out of a car too quickly,” “[t]urning a part of their body away from you,” “[g]rabbing at a certain pocket or something at their waist,” “getting a little nervous, maybe shaking,” and “stutter[ing].”24 Another officer explained that “usually” a furtive movement is someone“ hanging out in front of [a] building, sitting on the benches or something like that” and then making a “quick movement,” such as “bending down and quickly standing back up,” “going inside the lobby . . . and then quickly coming back out,” or “all of a sudden becom[ing] very nervous, very aware.”25 If officers believe that the behavior described above constitutes furtive movement that justifies a stop, then it is no surprise that stops so rarely produce evidence of criminal activity

The NYPD seems to be teaching cops that, “I wanna” = probably cause§.  Which is why 14 of the nineteen stops at issue in the trial being found unconstitutional is no real surprise (nine on their face, and five for the subsequent frisking).

How did the NYPD get there? Societal racism.

One NYPD official has even suggested that it is permissible to stop racially defined groups just to instill fear in them that they are subject to being stopped at any time for any reason — in the hope that this fear will deter them from carrying guns in the streets. The goal of deterring crime is laudable, but this method of doing so is unconstitutional.

I was recently at a get together in Brooklyn, with Lindsay Beyerstein (In these Times) and had to bite my tongue because one of the other people there was making the same arguments the Court just rejected, among them that the city makes:  “lots of those stop prevented crimes, by force of deterrence.”  It strains credulity to think that anywhere near 3.5 million crimes (the number of non-summons/non-arrest stops made by the NYPD during the 9 years under consideration) were stopped because of these arrests.†

Why? Because crime has been falling everywhere; and NYC isn’t that much less criminal than Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Paris, or Copenhagen.

Which is one of the failures in the City/NYPD way of looking at things. The NYPD would be in the clear if they could prove something like 50 percent of black and 40 percent of hispanics were criminals.

The City defends the fact that blacks and Hispanics represent 87% of the persons stopped in 2011 and 2012 by noting that “approximately 83% of all known crime suspects and approximately 90% of all violent crime suspects were Black and Hispanic.”178 This might be a valid comparison if the people stopped were criminals, or if they were stopped based on fitting a specific suspect description. But there was insufficient evidence to support either conclusion. To the contrary, nearly 90% of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest…. There is no reason to believe that the nearly 90% of people who are stopped and then subject to no further enforcement action are criminals. As a result, there is no reason to believe that their racial distribution should resemble that of the local criminal population, as opposed to that of the local population in general.

The city’s expert chose to beg the question:

By contrast, Dr. Smith rejected the assumption that 88% of those stopped were innocent. “[H]ow do we know . . . [i]f they were utterly innocent[?]” Dr. Smith asked at trial.
He then proposed a “hypothetical” in which “the stop prevents a crime.”181 If one assumes that those stopped with no further enforcement action are nevertheless criminals, then it is natural to conclude, as Dr. Smith did, that a valid benchmark for measuring racial disparities in stops must “enable us to know who is committing the crime in [an] area.”182 Thus, he concludes that the best benchmark for the population of people who will be stopped in the absence of racial discrimination is the local criminal population.

The good doctor won’t like this, but that’s a racist point of view. He might be able to defend it save for one little (well HUGE) thing… the arrests. 6 percent of stops led to arrests. Another 6 percent to summons: AND, in predominately black neighborhoods certain types of justification (Furtive Movements/High Crime Area) led to LOWER rates of arrest/summons for blacks who were stopped.

Why did I accuse him of begging the question?:

Q: So is it your testimony that law-abiding black people in New York City are more likely to engage in suspicious behavior than law-abiding white people?

A: I’m only saying that that’s the evidence from the stop patterns, which we have said, according to Professor Fagan, are ninety percent apparently justified.

He’s saying that because Fagan (on a model quite favorable to cops) said the objective criteria to justify a Terry Stop were legally defensible it therefore follows that black people are fundamentally inclined to look like criminals.

Which is, at core, what “stop and frisk” is all about. The City Gov’t chose to profile the non-white community, and subject them to an oppressive, even terroristic, system of “random” searches. Why? Because they wanted to look pro-active. Because the “broken window” theory was blown all out of proportion. Because the apparent correlation of a decrease in crime (which was paralleled in other places, where such a draconian practice wasn’t put into place) didn’t keep them from being afraid that they’d be yelled at if crime went up again.

Because Giuliani, and Bloomberg (and almost certainly the person who succeeds Bloomberg) are cowards.

This isn’t, of course, just on them (nor the NYPD), this ties into a much larger (national) problem. It ties into the ideas about Trayvon Martin, and “cholos”, and any outgroup the ingroup perceives to be a threat to the social order. The opinion is amazingly readable (even trying to correct for my fondness for reading legal opinions). I commend it. It’s clear, concise, has some viciously on topic snark, and well integrated footnotes (which explain, quite clearly, the legal issues at play; and the relevance to our everyday lives).

It’s a primer on what’s being argued about when the NSA/PRISM/DEA’s SOD are being talked about . Because the root issue in this case is, “what right does the State have to presume the citizenry are guilty?”. How free ought we be from police intrusion in our everyday lives?

§ My father was a deputy sheriff, He agrees with Judge Posner* (cited in this opinion) Whether you stand still or move, drive above, below, or at the speed limit, you will be described by the police as acting suspiciously should they wish to stop or arrest you. Any such declaration by an agent of a police agency should be judged with extreme suspicion.

† It’s worth noting that of the stops recorded, the court implies the number which weren’t legitimate is probably higher than the plaintiffs asssert; because, “Third, Dr. Fagan was extremely conservative in characterizing stops as lacking reasonable suspicion…. However, in light of Dr. Fagan’s very generous assumptions in categorizing the stops, his analysis can best be understood as providing a very rough minimum number of unjustified stops. The actual number of unjustified stops was likely far higher.”

*On very little, when all is said and done


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Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post

That’s the thing I noticed.  It wasn’t Amazon, it was Jeff Bezos.  He owns it, as his own property.  It’s not an arm of Amazon, it’s not a branch of the octopus.  It’s better, and worse.  As the owner/publisher he is the Rupert Murdoch of the Post.  What he says goes.   It’s not that he doesn’t have a huge sway over Amazon.  But if Amazon bought the Post, then there would be layers between him and the editorial page.  Layers between him and the Editor in Chief, or the News Editor, etc.

So that’s what (as someone who was once managing editor of a newspaper) I see.  Bezos now has the, not quite facetious “freedom of the press” we joke about, he owns a press.  He owns a pressu with a bully pulpit.  He’s got his hands on the “hometown” paper of Washington DC, and the people who run the gov’t.

It’s better, and worse, than it look at first blush.