Our Crime Problem: We Make Everything a Crime

Ta-Nehisi CoatesLast week, Francis Pusok was badly beaten by ten sheriff’s deputies in San Bernardino. I’m sure the deputies will claim that they were very, very afraid. It seems that police officers spend their entire lives in great fear. There is apparently no more cowardly group of people than police officers. Now it seems that just about every group that can investigate this beating is. Of course, that’s only because there was video of it. If there hadn’t been, it would be ten sheriff’s deputies’ word against a known horse thief. We’ve seen this play out before — in fact, we see it every day.

This incident is an interesting companion to Michael Slager’s killing of Walter Scott. What most struck me in that video was how calm Slager was. There was no emotion. Even putting down a rabid dog would elicit more emotion in most people. I’m sure that it never occurred to Slager that anyone would question what he was doing. And I doubt that Slager saw what he was doing as outside his job description. Scott ran from Slager. How dare he?! What disrespect! And if Scott had gotten away, he might have gone on to miss another child support payment! Slager was just doing his job.

But in an important sense, that’s true. Slager was just doing his job. He was doing what we Americans seem to think is right and fitting. Sure, we don’t like to be reminded of it so graphically. But this is what we want. I am still haunted by a segment I saw on The Last Word. (If anyone has the link to it, please let me know.) It was after one of the many highly publicized police shootings. But this was video of a couple of police officers trying to deal with a clearly mentally disturbed man who had a knife. Eventually, the officers killed the man. And Lawrence O’Donnell presented it as the police doing a good job.

You see, the officers did try to reason with the man. And they spent a fair amount of time before killing the man. But the whole thing shocked me. That was good police work? That is what we owe to the mentally disabled? I don’t think so. There are actually a lot of ways that a crazy man with a knife could be dealt with. Of course, that isn’t the job the police. They are trained to deal with normal criminals. It’s not surprising that they saw that their only choice was to kill this man.

The question is why it is that the police were called to deal with this situation. Everyone else in the area was gone. The only potential victims were the police officers. Why police officers? Why not, I don’t know, mental health professionals? I am not a mental health professional myself, but I imagine two guys dressed in white with a big net like something out of cartoon. That would have been a more effective response to that situation. I’m sure there are much better still.

Ta-Nehisi Coates dealt with this issue in an article yesterday, The Myth of Police Reform. He noted that we spend too much time talking about what exactly a police officer did and was thinking rather than asking the more profound question, “Why was the officer even there?” Walter Scott is dead because we have the criminal justice system deal with child support issues instead of the more reasonable choice of social workers.

Police officers fight crime. Police officers are neither case-workers, nor teachers, nor mental-health professionals, nor drug counselors. One of the great hallmarks of the past forty years of American domestic policy is a broad disinterest in that difference. The problem of restoring police authority is not really a problem of police authority, but a problem of democratic authority. It is what happens when you decide to solve all your problems with a hammer. To ask, at this late date, why the police seem to have lost their minds is to ask why our hammers are so bad at installing air-conditioners. More it is to ignore the state of the house all around us. A reform that begins with the officer on the beat is not reform at all. It’s avoidance. It’s a continuance of the American preference for considering the actions of bad individuals, as opposed to the function and intention of systems.

So we have three layers. We have the officers themselves — the focus of our concern, but actually the least important aspect of our problems. We have the police agencies themselves, which really are a major problem all by themselves. But the overriding problem is our wish to make all problems about criminal justice. I doubt we will do anything about it, however. We Americans are a very fearful and simplistic people.

The Return of Chris Christie

Chris ChristieYou may have forgotten that Big Chicken was considering a campaign for president of the United States. (Certainly, the United States had.) You may be thinking to yourself, how can anyone run for president when his stance on every public issue has to begin with the phrase, “To the best of my recollection…”? You may ask yourself, hey, isn’t this the guy whose former aides are currently singing the Alleluia chorus to various grand juries? But he’s back now with some bold thoughts about the country’s “entitlement crisis,” and it is clear that Big Chicken has signed onto granny-starving in a big way. Oh, dear Lord, Joe Scarborough and David Brooks are going to be fighting over who will be first to touch the hem of his garments.

—Charlie Pierce
The Passion of Big Chicken: Bad Ideas Come in Big Packages

Marco Rubio Will Follow Republican Line

Marco RubioI have never understood Marco Rubio’s appeal. To me, he’s a typical white as paste Republican. But given that he is a Cuban American, the Republicans can claim that he is a Latino and so he shows that the party has diversity. As it is, he got into the Senate because of a three-way race during a very pro-Republican year. He embarrassed himself when he gave the response to the State of the Union address. And his efforts at being a “reform” Republican were a total failure, despite being tepid. Above all, I see him as a man-boy: he seems like he ought to be the president of the college Young Republicans club.

It is possible that Rubio could catch on with the public. But at this point, I think he is mostly a big deal because he’s a Republican who the mainstream media can paint as a moderate. Of course, he is anything but. He’s a global warming denier. He’s against same sex marriage. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act — but of course he claimed that he wanted to vote for it but there was just this one thing that he couldn’t abide. He’s against relations with Cuba. And of course he’s virulently anti-choice and very much pro-gun. If the mainstream media reported on his policies accurately, he would never have a chance. But what are the odds that the mainstream media is going to be interested in his policy positions?

On Monday, Brian Beutler wrote, Marco Rubio Is the Most Disingenuous Republican Running for President. You see, the Republicans understand that all else being equal, they will lose any presidential election. The truth is that the Democrats are just more popular than the Republicans. So various candidates are looking for ways to seem more friendly to the middle class. They don’t want to be seen as candidates of the rich — the way that Mitt Romney was.

Back a year ago, Jonathan Chait wrote, I Have Seen the Future of the Republican Party, and It Is George W Bush. He argued that the Republicans were going to abandon their obsession with deficits and start spending like it was 2001. There was never any question of that. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans never care about the budget when they are in power. And so Rubio is following this plan. Last year, he put together a tax plan that, unlike previous Republican plans, would actually help the middle class. Of course, that’s what Bush said. When the plan came out, it added $2.4 trillion to the federal debt over ten years. And it consisted mostly of tax cuts for the rich with some “modest middle class benefits” thrown in. But apparently, even this was too little for the plutocrats.

So Rubio came out with another plan. The new plan includes even more benefits for the rich. This includes the elimination of capital gains taxes and the inheritance tax. Rubio may be young, but his ideas are just a recycling of what Republicans always want to do. It’s interesting that Michael Gerson was praising Rubio’s “new ideas” and complaining that all Democrats want to do is push old ideas like raising the minimum wage to the level it was in 1969. Meanwhile, one of the big “new ideas” of the Republicans is to get rid of the minimum wage altogether. I’m looking forward to other “new ideas” like the 78 hour work week.

What we can depend on from Marco Rubio is that he will go right along with the conservative movement. Unlike liberals, conservatives aren’t expected to have “Sister Souljah moments.” Because the media will pretend that extremists like Rubio are actually moderates. There is really nothing ideologically that separates Rubio from Ted Cruz. But I’d actually rather have Cruz as a president. At least he is able to think for himself. Rubio is just another Republican automaton. He’s a Young Republican, all grown up.

Dems Stand Up to Obama — for the Wrong Thing

Obama CopeLast week I reported, Congressional Democrats Plot to Kill Iran Deal. It included a picture of the ever slappable Chuck Schumer. Well, now it has come to pass, although it isn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. According to Reuters, In Setback, Obama Concedes Congress Role on Iran Deal. Before I get to the deal, let me just note how annoying this is. There are all kinds of things that the Congressional Democrats could have decided to stand up to Obama on: drones, NSA, Libya. But this is what they care about: a deal that is shaping up to be great for the west — far better than could have been expected. And this is what they stand up for. Let’s hope they show similar steel when it comes to fast tracking the TPP.

So this little law will give Congress 30 days to look over the deal. During that time, Obama will not be able to stop some portion of the sanctions against Iran. And the administration will be mandated to send regular “detailed” reports about “Iran’s support for terrorism, ballistic missiles, and nuclear program.” So really, all this law is doing is messing around with the administration. It is a symbolic vote for these idiots to say, “We’re strong! We only believe in bombing campaigns! Heil Netanyahu!”

A lot of people are talking about the fact that if a Republican wins the presidential election in 2016, all this will come to an end on 20 January 2017. But there is just one thing. The rest of the world isn’t as crazy and spiteful as the Republican Party specifically and the American people more broadly. Germany, France, and the rest are still going to lift sanctions. All the United States is doing by acting so stupidly is isolating itself. I’ve long maintained that the day is coming — perhaps even in my lifetime when the rest of the world is going to have to go to war against a fascist United States. And make no mistake: that is what this is about. For the Republicans and many of the Democrats, this is about thinking that America can have anything it wants by sending troops and dropping bombs.

But this latest bit of “legislating” just hammers home the point that Congress can’t do anything. This is just another symbolic measure. It also shows that the only time that the Republicans and the Democrats can get along with each other is when they acting stupidly and making things worse. I still expect the Iran deal to go through. But according to Reuters, “European officials have said that worries about a possible spoiler role for Congress have undermined the US delegation’s credibility in the talks and raised questions about the Obama administration’s ability to deliver on commitments.” So there is no doubt that this is making things harder.

Where are the Democrats and the Republicans demanding to know what is in the TPP? Where is the outrage about even considering allowing it to be rammed through Congress? Could it be that Chuck Schumer has a whole bunch of Wall Street funders who really want this deal? Could it be that Schumer is not alone? Could it be that our government is bought and paid for by corporate interests? Does voting even matter? We will find out very soon. And I’m not hopeful.

Morning Music: Percy Sledge

Take Time to Know HerAs I’m sure you’ve heard, Percy Sledge has died. He had liver cancer and was 74 years old. Not a bad run, but sad just the same. I’ve always liked him for two reasons. First: he has a really distinctive voice. Second: he was a really ugly man. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Actually, I mean it just the opposite. Being a short and ugly man, I have a great admiration for other short and ugly men. I can’t really be objective, but I think I’m slightly more attractive than Sledge, but he was slightly taller than I am. So that’s a wash. And he was, of course, ridiculously talented.

He is best known for the song, “When a Man Loves a Woman.” But I think it isn’t that great a song. What makes it work is his performance. I think this is why the song hasn’t been covered that much. It’s hard to make it work and no one is ever going to make it work the way he did. But ever since The Big Chill, no one needs to listen to the song.

Back in 1968, Percy Sledge released an album, Take Time to Know Her. The title song was one of the first by the legendary songwriter Stephen Allen Davis. And it is a great song. So let’s listen to Sledge perform it live back in 2006:

Anniversary Post: Charlie Chaplin

Charlie ChaplinOn this day in 1889, Charlie Chaplin was born. I remember reading a quote from Woody Allen talking about how he preferred Chaplin’s films to Buster Keaton’s. And he admitted that Keaton made the better films. This is true. Chaplin’s films really do suck in terms of cinematic art. Basically, he just set up a camera and shot the whole scene in a medium shot. In other words: he was filming plays.

But I’m with Allen. I admire Keaton. But I almost never watch his films anymore. But I own both The Gold Rush and Modern Times. And just recently, I watched The Kid. And City Lights is an outstanding film. It’s not even that they are funny — even though they still make me laugh from time to time. They are just so sweet at the same time that they are subversive. The Little Tramp is not exactly a believer in the American Dream. He’s just trying to get by. America would do better if it stopped believing in the “American Dream,” because it’s pretty tattered at this point — more the American Myth.

Anyway, I don’t have much to say about Chaplin the man; the films are enough. And here is the whole 1971 re-released cut of The Kid, which is 15 minutes shorter than the original cut. I don’t know the film well enough to say what’s different. But I got twenty minutes into watching the video before I managed to pry myself away to finish this article.

Happy birthday Charlie Chaplin!