Michael Brown Murder Uncovers Deeply Flawed Local Policing

Michael Brown Protesters - Hands in the Air - Don't Shoot

I have worked very hard to avoid dealing with the Michael Brown murder in Missouri. I feel helpless. This kind of thing happens all the time. Last year, in my hometown, Andy Lopez was killed by a police officer who mistook his toy gun for real. The officer shot Lopez seven times in six seconds. The authorities looked into it and decided that the office acted appropriately. And if you check the internet about the killing, most of what you will see is that Lopez was high on cannabis, as though that has anything to do with the situation.

At this point, it seems that the police can kill anyone who isn’t white, and somehow it will be decided that the murder was proper. There is apparently an unwritten law against living in the United States with a dark skin color. And the maximum penalty is death. So when I heard about the murder of Michael Brown, I just turned away. Yet another example of what probably happens all the time. It is just that most of the cases get no coverage.

In the case of Brown’s murder, I suspect that the officer will get at least some punishment. He might even go to jail. But this won’t work as any kind of deterrent. Police officers will just see that whether their bad behavior is punished or not is just a question of bad luck; most of the time nothing at all happens. So what does it matter? Will anything change? I don’t really think so. As a nation we have decided that the police have a job that is so dangerous (it isn’t) that they can do anything they want. It’s actually funny in a way, because all their violence and body armor and tanks just show that they are a bunch of wimps. Does a real man panic and put seven bullets in a boy because he doesn’t immediate respond to the officer’s command? Of course not.

I’ve been very pleased to hear how people are protesting by putting their hands in the air and saying, “Don’t shoot!” Of course, the reaction of the local police to the protests have shown that the entire force is made up of a bunch of fearful white people who are afraid of the scary blacks. Is that too much? Of Ferguson’s 53 police officers, 48 are white, and only three are black. According to The Los Angeles Times:

Blacks make up 65% of Ferguson’s population, yet they accounted for 86% of traffic stops, 93% of arrests after stops and 92% of searches after stops in the city last year, according to a racial profiling report by the Missouri attorney general.

When stopped by police, blacks in Ferguson were twice as likely as whites to be arrested—even though police found contraband for 34% of whites they stopped and searched, versus 22% of blacks—said Scott Decker, a criminologist on a team contracted by the attorney general’s office to compile the data.

So Ferguson’s police department has major problems and the murder of Michael Brown is just the event that made it widely known. But as the protests go on and the police continue to act as scared bullies, I am reminded of the Bruce Cockburn song “Nicaragua.” In that, he sings, “In the flash of this moment, you’re the best of what we are. Don’t let them stop you now…” Here’s hoping things get worked out soon:

Las personas vive en la lucha por la paz!

How to Lie With Polls

Populist LibertarianLike all of us, Jonathan Chait has written a couple of times on Robert Draper’s “libertarian moment” article in The New York Times Magazine where he claimed that young people were libertarian: socially liberal and economically conservative. The whole thing has come as a shock to those of us who know the polling data and are thus aware of the fact that young people are especially big supporters of government intervention in the economy. Chait’s article today is, How Libertarians Snookered The New York Times Magazine. I just want to write about a small bit of the article.

Much of Chait’s article is about Draper’s dependence upon a poll by the libertarian Reason Magazine. In the past, Chait has rightly referred to it as “advocacy polling.” The pollster, Emily Ekins, took exception to this. According to Chait, “Young voters, the poll found, favor a living wage, higher taxes on the rich, more spending on infrastructure and job training, and so on.” And Ekins ask if that sounded like a “libertarian advocacy poll.” It doesn’t, of course. And no one is claiming that people who do advocacy polling are bad pollsters.

But the whole thing shows how one can lie with polls. Imagine you were doing a poll of Democrats about government spending. You ask three questions. Do you think it is better to have a much bigger military or to have a smaller government? Do you think it is better to cut spending or provide more corporate welfare to millionaires and billionaires? Do you think the government should be involved in women’s reproductive health or that there should be a limit placed on the size and power of the government? The Democrats would obviously go overwhelmingly for the “small government” answers in each of those. But it would be totally deceptive to publish your poll results as, “Democrats Overwhelmingly Prefer Smaller Government.”

This is what Ekins did. The poll asked if people “prefer a smaller government with fewer services or a bigger government with more services.” The under-30 set preferred the bigger government choice by a large margin. But the poll also asked if people “want bigger government with high taxes or smaller government with low taxes.” Not surprisingly, this pretty much reversed the answers. I’m not fond of either of these questions. The size of government doesn’t really mean anything to people. But the first question does get to the heart of libertarian thinking: small government is good as an end in itself. There is no indication that the millennials actually have a problem with big government.

An even bigger problem that Chait points out is that the Ekins poll was only of the under-30 crowd. So it was impossible to compare the results to other age groups. When Pew did such a poll, they also did Gen-X, Baby Boom, and Greatest generations. And what they found is that the millennials were shockingly more liberal than the other generations, across the board.

It all reminds me of those stupid partisan fund raising drives where they ask for your opinion and a contribution. They contain questions like, “Obama should be impeached because: (a) Obamacare; (b) Benghazi!; (c) Fast and Furious; (d) all of the above.” That’s not an exaggeration. And they are obvious. But these kind of advocacy polls are much more professional and they look a whole lot more reasonable. But there results are predetermined by who is paying for them.

Why We Homeschool

HomeschoolingLast week, I wrote, Republicans Don’t Want Better Schools. It was based upon an insight from Digby that Republicans don’t really care about having better public school teachers because these are the same people who most pushed homeschooling, where the parent-teachers are totally unaccountable. I made one of my standard arguments that the problem was that most people homeschool for the purpose of keeping their children away from dangerous ideas from science that would conflict with their religious dogma.

In the article, I specifically mentioned my sister Kim as an exception, writing that she was “well educated and provides the kind of learning and social environment that all but the richest of parents would envy.” In this regard, I offer the following slightly edited article, Why We Homeschool, which she originally published on her blog Adventures With ADD. —FM

There are lots of things we think we would never do, until…

Before having a child, and even when my son was young, I believed I would never homeschool. In fact, I used to be critical about parents who did. But then my son went to school, and the dread of sending him to school every day greatly overpowered any fear I had of homeschooling.

Looking back on it now, it makes me sad about how wrong it went, because my son was so excited to start school. I have a couple of photos of my adorable, bespectacled, and smiling son, standing outside the school where he’d be attending kindergarten. On that first day, we had orientation to learn about the school and the teacher to which my son was assigned. It turned out this teacher used a discipline technique that included a poster that looked like a big traffic light and clothespins with each child’s name on one of the clothespins.

In the beginning of the day, the clothespin would be in the green portion of the traffic light. If a child behaved perfectly, his or her clothespin stayed in the green zone all day, a full school day, by the way. If not, it moved into the yellow zone. After a couple of warnings, it moved to the red zone where it stayed the rest of the day without any hope of returning to the green zone.

About 70% of the time, my son would come out of the classroom at the end of the day, hunched over, with a very sad face and his knuckles practically scraping the ground, and he would say to me, “I got another red today!” He also told me the teacher said his behavior was “ridiculous.” This was because he wanted to explore the room during the first couple of days in class and wasn’t able to sit in circle time. Also, he used to be very social and wanted to chat and play with the kids in his math group instead of actually doing the developmentally-inappropriate math they were requiring him to do. My son wanted to have fun in kindergarten. Go figure!

In addition to the traffic light discipline technique, my son was forced to sit on a bench during the short recess because of his difficulty paying attention in class. Obviously this was counterproductive. After finding out about this, I went into research mode. I found information about learning styles. You know, the idea that different kids learn in different ways, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. Keep in mind my son didn’t have a diagnosis, yet. Though I knew my son was different from most kids, I denied that my son had ADHD, despite my husband’s having taken stimulants as a child.

I tried discussing what I’d discovered with my son’s teacher. Instead of her being open-minded, she became kind of defensive. Granted, the packet of information I presented her with might have been a bit overwhelming. In any case, her response was extreme, in my opinion. She said in an unnecessarily stern voice, “I’ve been teaching for a long time. I know what I’m doing. Your son just needs to learn to sit still, be quiet, pay attention, and follow directions.”

Because I had no luck improving the situation by way of the teacher, I decided to meet with the principal and vice-principle. I told them what our experiences had been so far. Rather than trying to support my son in his education, they defended the teacher’s draconian methods. They told me that other parents would “love” for their child to have my son’s teacher. Okay, so that wasn’t helpful.

The next stop was the school psychologist. Though she was kind and sympathetic, there was no support from the teacher or the administration. In the short, two-and-a-half weeks my son was at the school, he became extremely defiant. Admittedly, he already had a stubborn personality, but it became several times worse. Not only this, he was beginning to have violent outbursts, both at home and at school. Clearly, things were getting out of control.

One day my son awoke with a mild fever and was ill for a few days. Though my son was not feeling well, physically, he actually seemed happier. As for me, I didn’t have that feeling of dread that came with taking him to school every day, wondering what would happen there. It started to occur to me that maybe the people who homeschool weren’t wrong. I knew I could look for an alternative, but we couldn’t afford a private school, and what if the next public school was just as bad, or worse? I couldn’t take that chance.

Since my son was already a good reader, and since school is not a requirement until a child turns six in our state, I figured I could homeschool him through kindergarten, at least. We also found a local charter school that had an independent study program. My son began participating in that, and we also began attending a couple of park days with different homeschool groups. It’s really amazing all the resources that are actually available to homeschoolers, now. Mostly, the academics for that year consisted of reading lots of story books, playing age-appropriate math games, and going on field trips and visits to the library.

It is surprising how quickly so much damage can happen to child in such a short period of time, but it did. After leaving school, it took many months before the violent outbursts stopped. Then it took much longer for the extreme defiance to diminish. We’re still working on the little bit of defiance here and there, but it’s pretty close to that of a typical kid. I’m good with that, for now. I find he tends to show me more respect when I show him respect and speak with him like the person he is.


Odds and Ends Vol 12

Odds and EndsThis installment of Odds and Ends is going to be a bit strange I’m afraid, as you will see shortly. The first two items have been sitting around forever. And it reminds me that I need to create a special category for these, because the first two have nothing to do with politics. But we will get to politics shortly. Be prepared though, there is a big chunk of movie review in the second item. So buckle up, grab a cup of coffee, and read on!

  1. The French phrase “Les gens heureux n’ont pas d’histoire” literally means “Happy people have no history.” But there are a number of ways this can be interpreted. What it seems to actually mean is, “Happy people don’t make history.” There are two sides to this as far as I’m concerned. First, it is only the discontented who invent things or make great art. Pretty much all creativity is the result of someone who is not happy with what they find in life. And then there are all those “great” historical figures who don’t seem to be happy based upon the fact that they spend so much time killing people. Anyway, I thought it was interesting.
  2. Recently, I watched Dark Shadows again and so I had a better idea just what was going on in it. You may remember that I wrote about it over two years ago, Tim Burton’s Big Mess. Like most things, I had forgotten I had written it and largely had forgotten the film. So as I watched it, I went through the same process again—but with more insight. There are two problems with the film. First, it really is weak as pure entertainment. Second, and much more importantly, the politics of the film are some of the most vile stuff I’ve ever seen on the screen. So here are some additions to the previous article:

    As Entertainment

    A big problem with the film is that it is a mess structurally with far too many loose ends, plot holes, and things that make no sense whatsoever. But let’s leave that aside. That seems to be the consensus of other film reviews and I don’t think I have a lot to add to it.

    All the humor in the film is based upon two things. First, there is the fish out of water; Barnabas Collins is 200 years out of time. Second, there is the “proper gentleman” humor. I don’t think the film has a single joke that doesn’t date back at least a half century and probably more. An example of this is where Barnabas sees Karen Carpenter singing on the television and yells, “Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!” It works well enough because it’s Johnny Depp and we like him. But what kind of a writer puts such things in a script? The second kind of humor we see when Barnabas goes to his niece for romantic advice. I’m getting bored just writing about it.

    As Propaganda

    The propaganda aspects of the film are so much worse. When I first saw the film, I speculated that Barnabas was not in love with Angelique because of the class difference. I don’t know why I even questioned this. It is quite explicit. And it is clear that the filmmakers understood that they had a problem with it because at the end of the film, Barnabas gives a short speech about how he couldn’t love her because she only wanted to possess him. Blah, blah, blah. This creates a very big problem. Barnabas likes Angelique well enough to have sex with her, but not enough to take seriously as a mate.

    Then, after he spurns her, we are introduced to Josette—a woman we have no reason to think is deserving of being Barnabas’ love other than that she is blond and seems to be of the same social class as he is. Angelique has cause to be upset. I don’t think it is a misreading of the film to see misogyny. Angelique becomes more evil as she becomes more independent. And Barnabas’ choice for a mate was exactly the kind of woman that a late 18th century man would want. But she becomes the 20th century heroine?

    What’s more, Angelique’s behavior is understandable given what we know of human psychology. People who have nothing have more of a tendency to latch on. It isn’t surprising that a poor girl would want to possess him. But the entire film goes out of its way to see the world only from the perspective of the landed gentry. It’s just terrible. This is a story that Americans, of all people, want to watch? I guess so, because the film was modestly successful. And there has been talk of a sequel. If that happens, I’m afraid someone is going to have to put a stake through Tim Burton’s heart.

  3. You are probably aware that there has been a lot of right wing freak out about a change in immigration law enforcement that Obama has not yet done. I wrote about it last week, Reform Republicans Only Sound Reasonable—It’s in the Job Description. Well, Jonathan Chait chimed in the other day to say that Obama shouldn’t do what many think he will do, because norms matter. His argument is that if Obama breaks this norm, Republican presidents will later use this norm to, for example, “stop enforcing the payment of estate taxes.”

    I was glad to see that Brian Beutler at New Republic pushed back in a big way, The Liberal Fear of Obama’s Executive Action Is Irrational. It’s rather a long article, and well worth a full read. But basically his argument is the same as my argument was for filibuster reform: future Republican presidents will break norms regardless of what Obama does. Beutler even points out that Bush 43 didn’t enforce environmental laws. So what’s with all the worrying?

    Let me just add, that regardless of what Obama does, future Republican presidents will use him as an excuse for whatever they want to do. It is what they always do. As I’ve argued for a long time now: given that the moderates Clinton and Obama were both called socialists, they might as well have supported actual liberal policies. Democratic moderation and even conservatism is always met by the right with shouts of, “Socialism!”

  4. In truly terrifying news, RT reported, Water Reserves in Western US Being Drained Underground—NASA Study. Basically, as bad as things are with surface water here in the west, it is looking far worse in terms of our ground water supplies:
    The study by NASA and the University of California, Irvine found that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. It is the first time researchers have quantified the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states, NASA said…

    In the nine-year study, the basin—which covers Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California—lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total—about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers)—was from groundwater, according to a statement by NASA on the project.

    My main global warming concern other than biodiversity is rainfall. The whole thing does seem so hopeless. I’m sure that conservatives will continue denying the problem until well past the point of avoiding enormous damage—which is where we may already be. But here in the Home of the Free and the Land of Unaccountable, I’m sure these same conservatives will never have to admit that they had been wrong. I know that it’s kind of petty, but as our world is collapsing, will it be so much for all the deniers to admit being aggressively wrong? All I want is an opportunity to forgive them before the roving gangs kill us.

  5. Mark Ames has been doing some great reporting on the past of the libertarian Reason Magazine. Last month, he wrote, As Reason’s Editor Defends Its Racist History, Here’s a Copy of Its Holocaust Denial “Special Issue.” It’s amazing. It starts with this quote from the 1976 issue, “The German concentration camps weren’t health centers, but they appear to have been far smaller and much less lethal than the Russian ones.” If you don’t feel like reading it, here is an excellent interview with him on The Majority Report:

As Mr Moose Puppethead says, “Ha cha cha cha!”

Overrated but Fun Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred HitchcockOn this day in 1899, the great film director Alfred Hitchcock was born. And I do mean that: he was a great filmmaker. He made excellent filmed entertainments. But to consider him some kind of artistic genius requires that you not watch his films. And the fact that he is now held in such high esteem is thanks to the French New Wave critics, especially Francois Truffaut. Hitchcock was effectively a genre filmmaker. And he made a lot of fun and even great films. But there is not much more there than that.

I often think about Hitchcock in relation to directors who almost no one makes a big deal about like Michael Curtiz and Edward Dmytryk. These are men who were shockingly consistent in their output. They both made films that I think outclass anything that Hitchcock ever did. Just take each directors’ most famous film: Casablanca and The Caine Mutiny. But consider also: The Adventures of Robin Hood and Murder, My Sweet. Or: Yankee Doodle Dandy and Mirage. Yet there is supposedly something special about Hitchcock? Rubbish.

Hitchcock did make some excellent films: Rebecca, Suspicion, Dial M for Murder. And he made other films that are kind of like candy: highly enjoyable but not good for you. To Catch a Thief is lots of fun. The Birds terrified me when I was a kid, and parts of it work really well. The same thing is true of Psycho. In fact, you can say that of most of Hitchcock’s work: there are brilliant parts, but the films rarely satisfy completely.

Consider North by Northwest. The following clip is the most famous scene from the film. The person who put the clip up, added music to the scene. It shouldn’t be there. (Hitchcock had this thing about not adding music to dramatic segments; he wanted to do the same thing with the shower scene from Psycho.) But I want to focus on the very end of the scene where the plane crashes into the tanker. This is incredibly sloppy filmmaking — even for its time:

As usual, I’m focusing on the bad for an artist who I mostly like. My problem is not with Hitchcock; it is with the adulation shown him and the reverence with which many people think of his work. The truth is that “The Master of Suspense” is a good way to refer to him. But he’s not more than that. Film scholars shouldn’t be studying his work any more than they study Joseph Mankiewicz. And he has quite a bit less to teach about film technique than Elia Kazan. It’s also offensive, because I think Hitchcock’s reputation causes people to miss what is most important about him: he made a lot of entertaining films that are still worth watching today.

Happy birthday Alfred Hitchcock!