Police Selective Leaks After Shooting Very Familiar

Michael BrownI’ve avoided talking too much about the murder of Michael Brown, because there really isn’t much to say. It is very much like school shootings: these are avoidable tragedies, but the power elite aren’t interested in doing anything about them. I did write an article about it last week, Michael Brown Murder Uncovers Deeply Flawed Local Policing. In that article, I compared Michael Brown to Andy Lopez, a young man in my home town who was killed by an officer who mistook his toy gun for a real one.

In the article, I noted that the officer shot Lopez seven times in six seconds. When the shooting was investigated, the authorities found that the officer acted appropriately. But here’s the key, “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.”

So I was not surprised when I read in the Washington Post, County Investigation: Michael Brown Was Shot From the Front, Had Marijuana in His System. This has no obvious relevance to the shooting. Just like the release of video from a convenience store robbery, it is being used to tarnish Brown’s reputation—to throw doubt into the public discussion.

Note how callous this is. The unstated message is that Michael Brown was a bad kid (or might have been) and therefore it was justified to kill him. And for a large swath of America, their only real experience with cannabis is government propaganda that is one step up from Reefer Madness. For them, someone under the influence of the drug could have done anything. It’s like all those old scare stories about PCP. So suddenly Michael Brown was some wild man who could have broken out of handcuffs.

To make matters worse, the man who did the autopsy for Brown’s parents, Michael Baden was on Fox News speculating about the toxicology report that he hadn’t seen. The whole thing is very much the way that Fox News wants to push this. Greta Van Susteren asked, “Does the fact that they found marijuana, does that exclude the fact that there might be other drugs in his system or even that the marijuana was laced with anything?” We don’t even know that the cannabis levels indicate that he was high. It is possible that the drugs are from days or even weeks before.

This is all so predictable. It’s like they teach this in police training, “After you needlessly kill a young man, do everything you can to vilify him, even if you have to make stuff up. Then wait a few months, release a report that exonerates the officer. And hold a press conference about starting a dialog and the need for healing.” It is sickening in its premeditation. It is boring in its familiarity.

Why Republicans Will Nominate Rand Paul in 2016

Martin LongmanOver the weekend, Martin Longman (AKA: the handcuffed frog blogger) made an interesting observation, Why Presidential Horserace Pieces are Boring. I think what he really meant is that horse race pieces are stupid. And his reasoning is interesting: regardless of who the Republicans nominate, they will lose. I don’t agree with that logic. I’m a fundamentals kind of guy, and I think that as bad a candidate as Newt Gingrich could be elected president in 2016 if the economy crumbles in the months leading up to the election.

But I’m in agreement with Longman: I’m not very interested in presidential horse race articles. And that’s why I’m going to write one. Because I think I know who the Republicans are going to nominate for president in 2016: Rand Paul. But don’t worry, I haven’t lost all sense. I certainly don’t think that he will get the nomination because the Republicans have turned libertarian. Instead, he will get the nomination because he claims to be a libertarian without actually acting like it.

Rand PaulA big part of this is the fascination that Republicans have for the libertarian brand. And everyone knows that Rand Paul is a libertarian—whatever that might mean. When I was a libertarian, I hated what I saw as pretenders like Rand Paul. As it was, I didn’t vote for his father when he ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, and his father is a hell of a lot closer to an actual libertarian than Rand is. His reputation is based on his isolationist foreign policy ideas, lukewarm support of LGBT rights, and his kinda sorta support of cannabis legalization.

The problem for Rand Paul is that the things that make him the new poster boy of libertarianism are things that the base of the Republican Party hates. But this is a minor problem for Paul. As each day goes by, we find him pushing himself further and further away from any libertarian positions into a nice comfortable conservative place. So by this time next year, he will have massaged every position so that it still sounds libertarian, while still being full of conservative red meat for the base.

For the Republican voter, Rand Paul will be the ultimate candidate. He will have the official George Washington seal of approval without having to take on any of the actual ideas of the first president or any of the other founders of the nation. This is what the Tea Party is all about and they will vote for Rand Paul as long as he doesn’t keep saying things that upset their sense of American exceptionalism. It will be perfect: conservative elitism in the clothes of libertarian idealism.

A lot of people seem to think that Paul will have problems with things he’s said in the past. But as we’ve seen over and over, Paul has no problem just ignoring the past or claiming that he misspoke in the past. All politicians try to do that, of course. But the Republican base seems awfully forgiving about this. Just look at the transformation that Mitt Romney went through. The problem with Rand Paul’s father was always that he was too wedded to his ideology. The son learned not to do that from his father’s failure to inspire the Republican Party. So Rand Paul very clearly doesn’t believe in anything other than that he ought to be president. And I think that will see him through to the nomination.

Let us hope to God that he doesn’t win the general election.


Politics in Historical Context

Tea PartyJonathan Chait wrote an article today with a really interesting title, No, the Founders Were Not Tea Partiers. And then he went on to write a totally different article. What he’s actually writing about is how the anti-democratic structure of the Senate was not something that the framers wanted; it was something that they had to accept to pacify the smaller states who thought that the big states would walk all over them. As Alexander Hamilton said in the debate over the new Constitution, “But as States are a collection of individual men which ought we to respect most, the rights of the people composing them, or of the artificial beings resulting from the composition.”

In a general sense, Chait is pushing against the conservative idea that the country was meant to held in check by a small percentage of the population is little states who effectively have a veto on any legislation that they don’t like. He also makes the point that the fact that people like Hamilton and Madison were willing to compromise to get the Constitution ratified show how they aren’t like the all-or-nothing Republican base. This is all very true, but I think there is a more fundamental issue here.

People have a tendency to see people from the past in a modern context. But that makes no sense at all. The Magna Carta is bizarre to the modern reader. Pointing out that the king is not above the law when it come to feudal lords seems self-evident. But in 1215, it was the most liberal of documents. Similarly, in the minds of modern conservatives, the founding fathers are sealed in Amber. It is only in this way that they can claim Hamilton and Madison as their own.

But the historical context of our country’s founding was the effort to expand equality. These men where thus liberals. And by that I don’t mean “classical liberals” in the sense that libertarians like to use it. Most of them were that, but it gives the wrong impression. The important point is that “classical liberalism” was a reaction against hereditary rule. And that makes it liberal as we think of it today.

In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin argues that what makes a conservative—regardless of time—is their opposition to the expansion of equality. So conservatives were at best apologists for slavery. Conservatives were at best for stealing native lands, if not for full scale genocide. Conservatives were at best hostile to allowing women the right to vote. And the most notable things about modern conservatism are: easing the taxation of the rich, limiting reproductive freedom of women, and not allowing the LGBT community rights to marriage or even to jobs in some extreme cases.

So it is always galling to me to hear conservatives grab onto the founding fathers as though they are part of the same historical movement. When it latches onto the mantle of the country’s founding, modern conservatism is just trying to brush away over two centuries of progress. But the Constitution itself shows the lie of this. The preamble says “in order to form a more perfect union,” not “in order to form a perfect union.” Those men did not expect the country to ossify. It was conservatives then and now who want to stop the powerless from gaining more power: from George III to Ted Cruz. The founding fathers were liberals, and the state of the art in modern conservatism is 227 year old liberalism.

Style and Substance in The Limey

The LimeyFor the first time since it came out 15 years ago, I watched The Limey. It is a very simple story: a father comes to Los Angeles to get revenge for his daughter’s death, which he suspects was not an accident. But what is most interesting about the film is the way that Steven Soderbergh chose to structure it. And I still don’t know what I think about it, even though I do like the film.

The father is Wilson, played by Terence Stamp. And most of the scenes featuring him are exhilarating. Soderbergh and editor Sarah Flack really monkey with continuity. For example, a single conversation will seem to take place in two or even three places. This is combined with hand-held camera work as well as the occasional ostentatious single shot to amazingly good effect.

What is strange is that the scenes that involve the daughter’s boyfriend, Terry Valentine (played by Peter Fonda), are shot in an extremely classical way. If Soderbergh had not chosen to place them in gorgeous locations, I would call them boring. In fact, you see exactly that in The Fast and the Furious, where despite good acting, the police scenes just die on the screen compared to the rest of the film. But in The Limey, these scenes are just beautiful enough not to kill the film.

Ultimately, the film works because Wilson is such an interesting character. He’s an ex-con—a three time loser—who has been estranged from his daughter for a long time before her death. But he seems to be a nice a guy and he clearly does care about his daughter. And the relationships he develops with Eduardo (Luis Guzman) and Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren) are refreshingly adult—especially for a revenge picture.

It is good that the characters do work so well, because the script itself is kind of a muddle. Wilson’s motivation is to talk to and most likely kill Valentine. But after finding his address, he mostly just hangs out. He does manage to attend a party at Valentine’s house, but he doesn’t kill the man because he claims that it would have been too easy. That doesn’t make any sense except in that it allows the film to go on for another 45 minutes.

Another problem is that the denouement is nothing short of trite—far too tidy for a film as intelligent and subtle as this one. But as I said, it still works. What’s more, it is a film that affects the viewer: it stays with you. I’m going to have to revisit the film in another 15 years. The truth is that I still don’t know quite what to make of it. The Limey definitely shows what can be done with great cinematography, editing, and acting. But is it all style and no substance? I not only don’t know, I don’t know if it matters.

Mozart’s Jealousy of Salieri

Antonio SalieriOn this day in 1750, the great Classical composer Antonio Salieri was born. Although he was born in Italy, he spent almost his entire life in Vienna. He was a protege of Gluck and is generally considered Germanic in his compositional style. Historically, he is important for two things. First, he was a primary figure in turning opera into a major classical music form. Second, he was one of the most important teachers of the time, whose pupils included Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt.

Sadly, his work still isn’t performed very much (but this is slowly changing). It is all Mozart’s fault. When he was young, Mozart wrote a number of things in letters claiming that Salieri was sabotaging his career. Many academics have taken this at face value. But I think they are confused about how Mozart thought of himself. He wasn’t the great composer from history, but a young man trying to establish his career. And he was struggling. After being a child prodigy, most people weren’t that interested in the 20-something composer.

Not long afer Salieri’s death, Alexander Pushkin wrote the short play Mozart and Salieri. It was meant to be, as Wikipedia says “a dramatic study of the sin of envy.” And others followed along with that narrative, leading eventually to Peter Shaffer’s play and movie, Amadeus. I love the film, as I discussed in, A Tale of Two Constanzes. But there is no relation between Salieri the dramatic character and Salieri the man.

In fact, these representations have the history flipped. There was jealousy early on, but it was Mozart’s jealousy of the Salieri’s success. And after Mozart became successful, he and Salieri were at worst amiable colleagues. The last reference that Mozart made to Salieri was in a letter to his wife about taking the older composer to see The Magic Flute, “He heard and saw with all his attention, and from the overture to the last choir there was not a piece that didn’t elicit a ‘Bravo!’ or ‘Bello!’ out of him.”

Because Salieri is still not widely performed, there isn’t a lot of his work available online. But here is the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra performing Piano Concerto C Major. Heeguin Kim is on piano and she is relishing the performance:

Happy birthday Antonio Salieri!