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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mitch McConnell Campaign Manager Outed For Bribery, Steps Down

130809_jesse_benton_mitch_mcconnell_ap_605 (2)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Kent Sorenson is just bad news for the Republican Party, and the fallout of the recent news about him has spread all the way to Mitch McConnell's current re-election campaign.

On August 27th, 2014, former Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson pled guilty in Federal Court admitting to two charges of taking bribes during the Iowa Caucuses for his endorsement of Ron Paul. Sorenson is now facing between 5 years and 25 years in prison, and a $500,000 fine. He also pleaded guilty to working with the Ron Paul campaign to lie about the $73,000 bribe that was given to him by Ron Paul's campaign manager. When the campaign presented their expenditures, disclosing them in a federal document, Sorenson lied about the money from the campaign, saying they were payments for some film company work. 

How did we get here? Let's go back to the presidential race for the GOP ticket in 2012.

Bachmann in Iowa
(G. Skidmore/wiki images, 2011)

It was 6 days before the Iowa Caucuses in the winter of 2011, and there was a dramatic development that really shook up the poll takers. Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson had been serving as an Iowa State Co-Chair for Michelle Bachmann. Ron Paul was in first place or second place, depending on which poll you read. Michelle Bachmann was catching up. And 6 days before the Iowa Caucus, Kent Sorenson, Bachmann's Co-Chair for Iowa, switched teams. He showed up during the day at a Michelle Bachmann event, but that evening he was introduced at a Ron Paul event as 'the incredible Senator who switched sides at the last moment', and, just like that, Sorenson was now part of the "Ron Paul Revolution."

There were rumors of a big sum of money switching hands in order for this defection to take place. And there were emails too. There are emails from Kent Sorenson to the Ron Paul campaign saying how much he wanted to be bribed to switch sides. There are recorded phone calls confirming the bribe.

Of course, when someone gets bribed, there is always a briber. Who was it that did the bribing? Who gave him the check? After all, you can't bribe yourself can you? Who was in charge of the Ron Paul campaign finances when this was happening?

In fact, the courting of Sorenson by the Paul campaign began in October 2011, a few months before his Bachmann defection and subsequent public endorsement of Congressman Paul. On October 29, 2011, a memo was drafted outlining the benefits the Paul campaign would receive by meeting Sorenson’s financial demands. One of those benefits was the acquisition of a list of identified voters who were planning on voting for Michele Bachmann. Sorenson also offered up the e-mail list for the “main home-school group” in Iowa. Of course, State Senator Sorenson denied it at the time. Ron Paul said "that did not happen'. Jessie Benton, Ron Paul's campaign manager, didn't comment.

Who was that email with Sorenson's demand sent to? Who was it again that was in charge of Ron Paul's financial matters during the 2012 campaign? Who signed the $73,000 check? That would be none other than Ron Paul's actual campaign manager, of course, Jessie Benton, and in a dingy local restaurant, in an afternoon in December (2011), 8 days before the Iowa Caucus, a Ron Paul staffer apparently slipped Sorenson an envelope with a big check in it. With Jessie Benton's John Hancock, Sorenson's support was insured, and two days later Sorenson announced his endorsement for Ron Paul.

A week later, Michelle Bachmann finished sixth in the Iowa Caucuses, and then left the presidential race.

Cut to Feb. 2013, when a former Bachmann staffer complained to state officials that State Senator Kent Sorenson had taken a bribe from Bachmann to work for the Bachmann campaign back in 2011. This guy was apparently an equal opportunity bribee. There was an investigation, and the state ethics commission found the claim of bribery to be substantiated. The guy in the Bachmann camp who wrote the check stepped down from his Senatorial office, mumbling something about gay marriage in an email to supporters explaining the exit. Seriously. And elected official Sorenson remained at large and uncharged.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, and the Federal Election Commission, and the Office of Congressional Ethics continued to look into the matter.

With the Bachmann briber taken care of, in March of 2014, the commission investigating these bribery charges turned their spotlight back to the 2012 Ron Paul campaign. There was an investigation and a grand jury. Former State Senator cum Campaign Manager Kent Sorenson's records were studied, producing a 500-page report, eventually finding that $73,000 had been paid to Sorenson in wire transfers. Deeply suspicious wire transfers. Was this the smoking gun? Was Sorenson finally going to be caught for taking bribes? Yes.
jesse-benton630x354
Former Mitch McConnell campaign manager, Jessie Benton

Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson admitted in Federal Court to taking bribes during the Iowa Caucuses for his endorsement of Ron Paul and to working with the Ron Paul campaign to lie about the $73,000 bribe. We won't be seeing Sorenson at any campaign rallies for a bit now.

Early this year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quite proud to announce he had brought Jessie Benton (Ron Paul's old campaign manager) on board as his re-election campaign manager. Woohoo. Great catch Mitch. (A recording went public last year of Benton saying, I'm "holding my nose" going to work for the Senate minority leader’s campaign.)

The morning of August 29th, 2014, a McConnell spokesperson said in a statement that “Sen. McConnell obviously has nothing to do with the Iowa presidential caucus, or this investigation, so it would be inappropriate for his campaign to comment on this situation.” After all, McConnell is locked in a tight re-election battle against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, and if Republicans can take back the Senate, McConnell may take the majority leader's seat.

Benton, who many refer to as a tea party insider, claims that he has been the target of "inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors" about his role in past campaigns that are "politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue." Fun Fact: Turns out Jessie Benton is actually Ron Paul’s grandson-in-law, and was expected to run Rand Paul’s campaign in 2016. On news dump Friday before the Labor Day 3-day weekend, as quietly as possible, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, announced his resignation, citing "potential distractions over renewed attention to a scandal from the Iowa 2012 caucuses."


The Policy Geek

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Conservatives Are Awful Liberal With Their Bias



Happy Labor Day
A lovely three-day weekend is soon upon us. It’s Labor Day, end of summer, yay! and it leads right into midterm election season. It’s that time of year where small and big neighborhoods nationwide kind of ignore whatever could be going on in favor of back-to-school errands, fishing out winter clothes, and looking for Halloween costumes. It’s only a midterm election, after all; how important could it be? So set up them chairs and eat up that BBQ, and then take a nap in the hammock.

You’ve listened to your news. And whichever side you listen to, they’ve told you they will probably come out as victors come election day. Have another sip of beer, and ahhhhh, the kids are in the pool, and, of course, there’s always the uncle, or the neighbor, or the friend who’s chattin’ about Obamacare and Big Gubment while hanging out in the kitchen.

If you have been listening to the news cycle, any old TV will do, you would think Halloween started months ago, dead unarmed kids, planes falling out of the sky and Russia invading people. Maybe you’ve been hoping it was all a dream you had after some bad food, hoping against hope that it’s been April Fool’s or War of The Worlds all along. But no. The scary talk just keeps coming. Syria, ISIS, Iraq, Hamas, Israel, Malaysian Airlines, Benghazi, drones, the IRS, and the NSA, are being name dropped more often than Kanye mentions Kim.

The creepiest manifestation of neoconservative ‘wisdom’ is the glee with which Fox and Friends spews their balanced fare. Each Rovian sculpted phrase is ripped off the word-of-the-day faked white papers popping out of Crossroads or Heritage and broadcast with extra drooly zeal. While there are liberal talk shows and blogs aplenty, the conservative claim that the entire media has a bias favoring liberals is just another piece of misinformation from their exclusive line of facts.

Today
Just in one day, here’s what you heard from FOX:

A top House Republican is charging that the Environmental Protection Agency
secretly drafted highly detailed maps of U.S. waterways to set the stage for a
controversial plan to expand regulatory power over streams and wetlands, a claim the EPA strongly denies.


Message: EPA IS EVIL.

Obama is reportedly plotting end-run around Congress on global climate change deal.

Message: OBAMA PLOTS.

Blame Obama’s anti-business, big tax agenda for Burger King’s Canada move.

Message: OBAMA IS BAD FOR BUSINESS AND NOW WE ARE GOING TO STARVE.

Misinformation is their trade, and they really don’t bother trying to hide their bias. It would be funny, if there weren’t officials just as eager to use the art of misinformation in order to rule over their districts.

Last October, Rand Paul said, “I never, ever cheated. I don’t condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.” He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. “We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver,” he said. “We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver” and not studying much else. Lovely. These are our elected officials. And these are the guys who want to home school their children.

Only voting will really tell us how we will fare after November. Getting out and voting. No matter what side you are on, grab someone who wasn’t planning on showing up to vote, or someone who doesn’t have a ride, and get them to vote. It’s the only way the outcome can reflect the will of the people. With as many people voting as possible. Every One Bring One. Seriously. Plan for it now, and bring a buddy to the polls.



From Now On
Here’s what we say. If you are listening to the red meat stations to hear what they are up to, great. Fight The Power. But, if you find yourself there accidentally, for God Sake’s change the channel. Be afraid of these news sources. Be very afraid. ‘Cause this is the stuff of urban myth. These are the lies, once repeated, that are taken as fact. These are the bad guys.

66 of the worst places you could go to get your news & information.

1. Fox News

2. The Rush Limbaugh Show

3. Glenn Beck

4. Savage Nation w/ Michael Savage

5. Alex Jones’ Info Wars

6. The Heritage Foundation

7. The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

8. The Neal Boortz Radio Show

9. Sean Hannity

10. Bill O’Reilly

11. Rightwingnews.com

12. National Review

13. The Mark Levin Show

14. The Weekly Standard

15. Washington Times

16. The American Conservative

17. The Drudge Report

18. The Cato Institute

19. Media Research Center

20. Townhall.com

21. Red State

22. Andew Breitbart’s Big Government

23. The American Cause

24. Christian Coalition

25. The John Birch Society

26. Citizens United

27. Freedom Works

28. Tea Party Express

29. Tea Party Patriots

30. The Herman Cain Show

31. News Busters

32. News Max

33. The New York Post

34. Conservative HQ

35. Sirius radio “Patriot”

36. Conservative American News

37. Conservative Daily News

38. Judicial Watch

39. The Source Daily

40. Republican National Committee

41. American Spectator

42. Reason Magazine

43. Freedom Rings Radio hosted by Kenneth John

44. Conservapedia

45. The Right Side of the Web

46. CNS News

47. Michael Reagan

48. Family Research Council

49. Conservative Underground

50. The Hugh Hewitt Show

51. The Heartland Institute

52. The Blaze

53. The Gateway Pundit

54. The Free Republic

55. Anything from Sarah Palin

56. Conservative Post

57. Headline Politics

58. The Capitalism Institute

59. The Political Insider

60. The Daily Caller

61. National Report

62. AmericanNews.com

63. Hot Air

64. American Thinker

65. Tomato Bubble

66. The US Patriot


So if you didn’t know, now you know. You can’t tell the players without a program, and you can’t fight misinformation, if you can’t track down its source. What are your favorite, or least favorite, news sources?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Angry White Men


One of the enduring legacies of the 2012 presidential campaign, and some may argue the 2008 campaign as well, was the demise of the white American male voter as a dominant force in the political landscape. On election night, after Obama was announced the winner, a distressed Bill O’Reilly lamented that he didn’t live in “a traditional America anymore.” He was joined by others who growled their grief on talk radio, the preferred bellow ground of angry white men. The racist-like din that had previously been stored in back rooms, and spoken of quietly and with a slight look around, has bubbled over and become a ranty ragey roar.


FOX barely hides their disdain. Even those running for office freely throw red meat out at every event, stirring that pot of fear, spreading the seeds of racism and misogyny like a virus, using the power of hate to motivate an uneducated and unevolved sector of the electorate. Changing demographics, however, are shrinking white voters as a segment of the voting population. These developments would, from a realist’s point of view, signify good health in the electorate. But more and more GOP candidates are hoping that their Tea Party followers will come out in force and line up at the polls this November. It’s possible. They did it in 2010. The GOP candidates are making their final pitches in their states, and with today being election day, the field is becoming clearer.


Hate is being used as a weapon of the obstructionists. They hate Obamacare, they hated cash for clunkers, they opposed any kind of New Deal possibility and they have obstructed even the debate of any kind of infrastructure investment. Why are they so angry? Sociologist Michael Kimmel, one of the leading writers on men and masculinity in the world today, spent hundreds of hours in the company of America’s angry white men–from men’s rights activists to young students to white supremacists–in pursuit of an answer. So we recommend his book Angry White Men as a part of our continuing study into the mind of the obstructionist.

Perhaps here is the answer as to why there has been unpresidented push back against this seated President. By any measurement, this President has had it harder than most when it comes to filibusters and blocked nominations. More often than not the calculated lack of productivity on the part of this Congress and the one before that, and the one before that, can simply be chalked up to racism in the guise of partisanship. These angry white congressmen see through brown-colored glasses when viewing the troubling issues at the forefront of America today and, when asked for solutions, they just lay down in the road and nap.


Kimmel’s Angry White Men provides useful insight we so sorely search for: What are these Congressional Republican obstructionists made of, and how have their damaging selective perceptions not dissipated when confronted with our current reality? The economy is doing better despite them. Obamacare is doing well despite them. Imagine what could have been done if Congress woke up one day and remembered they were all on the same team all along.

Kimmel locates this increase in anger in the seismic economic, social, and political shifts that have so transformed the American landscape. Downward mobility, increased racial and gender equality, and a tenacious clinging to an anachronistic ideology of masculinity, has left many men feeling betrayed and bewildered. Raised to expect unparalleled social and economic privilege, white men are suffering today from what Kimmel calls “aggrieved entitlement”: a sense that those benefits that white men believed were their due have been snatched away from them. Snatched, I tell you! And it’s all big goverment’s fault.

Packs of angry white men also like to say that things that are done by Democrats are being jammed down their throats. That brings up a visual that most would agree is horrible, but we are kind of unsure what is being crammed down who’s throat here. Veteran funding, not there, unemployment extensions, not there, jobs program, not there, desperately urgent and potentially fatal infrastructure upgrade requests ignored. Why? Because an oath was taken back in 2009 to block the black man from getting to work.


Angry White Men discusses, among others, the sons of small town America, scarred by underunemployment and wage stagnation. When America’s white men feel they’ve lived their lives the “right” way–worked hard and stayed out of trouble–and still do not get economic rewards, then they have to blame somebody else. Even more terrifying is the phenomenon of angry young boys. School shootings in the United States are not just the work of “misguided youth” or “troubled teens”–they’re all committed by boys. These alienated young men are transformed into mass murderers by a sense that using violence against others was their right.

The future of America is more inclusive and diverse than that. The choice for angry white men is not whether or not they can stem the tide of history: they cannot. We will outlive them. Their choice is whether or not they will be dragged kicking and screaming into that inevitable future, or whether they will walk honorably alongside those they’ve spent so long trying to exclude. By explaining their rage, Kimmel is able to point to a possible future that is healthier, happier, and much less angry.

Can we all evolve? Yes We Can.

Recommend: Angry White Men

The Policy Geek

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Putting Cameras On Cops

We have to start watching the watchers.
(On Glass, 2014)

If Darren Wilson, the officer who shot at, and killed, Michael Brown, had been wearing a camera, the nation might already know who’s telling the truth about what happened the afternoon of August 9th in the middle of the street in Ferguson, MO. Instead, too many of these types of events between police, and well, everyone else who isn’t armed, result in wildly conflicting accounts. Sure the aftermath could be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to resolve. But let’s face it, in most cases, nothing is done at all to further an investigation. The quick work that is completed is for a couple of officers to hold up a rug, and a couple more to sweep the victim under it. So imagine, what if Michael Brown’s last moments had been recorded?

As Morning Joe suggested, let’s just put cameras on cops. The only people that would oppose that would be bad cops, and criminals. So let’s just do it. “This is a technology that has a very real potential to serve as a check and balance on police power,” says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The politicized fatal police shootings of late have prompted calls for more officers to wear body cameras (Some worn like Google Glass, and some as simple, lapel-mounted gadgets) to capture video footage of law enforcement’s interactions with the public. Let’s face it, these stories aren’t new. They just usually don’t make it on the news, and proponents of police officer video surveillance contend the devices add a new level of accountability, all the way around.

The Miami Herald reports Mayor Carlos Gimenez vowed body cameras would become mandatory for all patrol officers in the county, making the announcement at a budget town hall meeting in Little Haiti last Thursday. Gimenez’s proposed budget would include 500 mini cameras meant to outfit only half of the county’s patrol force. The cameras are made by Taser and are small enough to be placed on glasses or a hat. CBS Miami reports Gimenez told the group, “I think if there had been a camera, a lot of what happened (in Ferguson) could have been avoided….Police officers, everyone once in a while may step out of line. But there are also are a lot of frivolous allegations against them.”

The case supporters make is simple: Cops and criminal suspects alike are less likely to cross the line if they know they’re being recorded. And there’s some evidence supporting it. In a recent Cambridge University study, the police department in Rialto, California — a city of about 100,000— saw an 89 percent decline in the number of complaints against officers in a yearlong trial using the cameras. That’s huge. The number of times the police used force against suspects also declined. In fact, after the study was completed, the cameras became mandatory for the Rialto Police Department’s roughly 100 officers.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles Police Department is testing out the use of cameras and the New York City Police Department said that the department is exploring the feasibility of using the devices. Manhattan’s public advocate, Letitia James, has called for the cameras as a check on police misconduct following the death of Eric Garner who was placed in a choke hold by a police officer last month in Staten Island.  The city medical examiner ruled the death a homicide and the Staten Island District Attorney said last week that the case is going to a grand jury. Luckily, there was cell phone footage available, or it is much more likely that the indictment would not have gotten to this point.

Across the U.S., a growing number of departments are implementing the cameras. Apparently, one in six U.S. police departments now use body cameras in some form, according to ACLU attorney Scott Greenwood. ACLU’s Jay Stanley cautions that the gadgets “must also come with well-thought-out policies, including guidelines that spell out how long recordings are kept, and what to do in situations where footage goes missing.” Good thinking, Jay.

Lots of styles of body cameras are available.

A recent petition submitted to the White House.gov We The People petition page calls on the Obama Administration to generate a bill that would require all police officers at the state, county and local levels to wear cameras. As of the writing of this article, the plea has more than 147,702 signatures. It only needed 100,000 for the White House to take up the issue, so it looks like we are well on our way to positive legislation. Check it out for yourself, and see if this is policy you could get behind, call your representatives about, writing them letters in support of future legislation as well. Who knows, the administration could use the petition to weigh in on the broader issue of police accountability and transparency.

There are, of course, legal and procedural questions like, who gets access to the recordings? And what happens when an officer’s device mysteriously malfunctions or gets turned off at an inopportune moment? ‘Cause that happens. Taser’s cameras, for instance, are constantly recording, but the footage is deleted every 30 seconds unless an officer presses record. Then, and only then, are the 30 seconds before the officer hit record kept, in addition to everything else that’s subsequently captured. That might not do. It sounds like there’d be too great a possibility for wardrobe malfunctions. In the case of of Taser’s technology, the recordings are stored on Taser’s Evidence.com online service. Taser’s CEO Rick Smith claims the site is to police cameras as iTunes is to iPods. Again, “It’s not the hardware that’s difficult, it’s how you manage the data coming out of all these devices,” Smith says.

There is some opposition, mostly from police unions; however, the same sort of decision to embed dashboard cameras in police cars not so long ago had its own skeptics when they were first introduced. Nowadays most precincts consider it standard issue. Again,  the only people that would oppose cameras would be bad cops, and criminals. Smith adds, “Most officers started to come around to the dashboard cams after seeing that the recordings could help prove false claims against them wrong.”

In Ferguson, MO, the town with the tanks and the rubber bullets, body armor and camo uniforms,  the local police department apparently had these cameras; it just hadn’t gotten around to using them.

In South Carolina, WTLX in Columbia reports that their police department just bought 12 cameras and is already being used in the field. “The public gets to see what I see which is a benefit for everyone,” said Lt. Joseph Rowson. Rowson says their new body cameras will help make sure that the truest facts are given. Rowson adds, “When you get a video of it, a camera shot with video and audio of exactly what is going on, then it is less likely someone can dispute the facts.” Well, duh.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, police from eight Montcalm County police agencies have been outfitted with 24 high-definition “Scorpion” personal video cameras. The $125 thumb-sized cameras attach to officers’ uniforms and help them document witness statements and crime scene details. In fact, the police there use all sorts of CSI type of gadgets. From heat-sensing cameras used to track suspects lurking in the shadows to instant messaging that alerts motorists to fiery crashes in their area, technology has become a staple for many law enforcement agencies. Cameras are just a logical link in the chain of neighborhood policing efforts.

In Branford, CT, the Shoreline Times reports the Branford Police Department plans to purchase 10 additional video cameras, after the ones they had were clearly working out. Capt. Geoffrey Morgan said the department has had two of the $900 “VieVu” brand cameras for about a year. The department is adding the additional cameras with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund, specifically from funds seized from drug dealers. “These cameras are predominantly for capturing the interaction between an officer and a driver,” Morgan said. “They are for when the officer is out on the street, asking someone for a consent to search, for example. It is to substantiate or review officers’ conduct, which will hopefully lead to less civilian complaints and lawsuits.” With the additional cameras, all Branford officers on patrol on any given shift will have one, and, according to Morgan, officers in the department have been supportive of the program. The cameras, however, will have to be shared among officers on different shifts, police said. How that could possibly interfere with chain of evidence, we can’t possibly imagine.

The front chest option, by VieVu. Very fashionable.

Unfortunately, corruption is a sticky thing, hard to unglue. Simply mandating that the cameras be used isn’t enough, as City Lab reports from San Diego. “Here in San Diego, our scandal-plagued police department has begun outfitting some officers with body cameras, and the City Council has approved a plan to roll-out hundreds more. Officers wearing the cameras were present during at least two shootings earlier this year, and we’re still not any closer to knowing what happened in those chaotic moments — whether the perpetrators can be easily identified, what kind of interactions the officers had with those present, nothing.” That’s because the department claims the footage, which is captured by devices financed by city taxpayers and worn by officers on the public payroll, aren’t public records. Media’s requests for footage from the shootings under the California Public Records Act were denied.

This is absurd, of course. The police work for the public. The cameras were purchased with public funds. Government employees are answerable to the public, especially those who have the power to detain, arrest and kill. A police department that refuses to release dash-camera or lapel-camera footage to the public after a controversial incident is basically saying just trust us. Well, that’s not gonna happen. There have been too many instances in which an officer ‘forgot’ to turn on a camera, a camera has coincidentally malfunctioned at a critical time, or video has gone missing.

In the beating of Jack McKenna, III at the University of Maryland college, a campus police surveillance camera was pointed at the area where Mr. McKenna was beaten. But there’s no security video of the incident. Campus police say the camera coincidentally malfunctioned at the time of the beating. A local news station reported that the officer in charge of the campus surveillance video system is married to one of the officers later disciplined for McKenna’s beating.

That was not the first time a police camera malfunctioned at a critical time. In 2007 Andrea McCarren, an investigative reporter for the D.C. TV station WJLA, was pulled over by seven Prince George’s County police cars. McCarren claimed police roughed her up during the stop, causing a dislocated shoulder and torn rotator cuff. McCarren was following a county official in pursuit of a story about misuse of public funds at the time. The Prince George Police Dept. reached a settlement with McCarren, but she was never able to obtain video of the incident. Prince George’s County officials say all seven dashboard cameras in the police cruisers coincidentally malfunctioned.

Last March, Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot of the Second Court of Appeals in Texas complained in a dissent that when defendants accused of driving while intoxicated in Fort Worth challenge the charges in court, dash-camera video of their arrests is often missing or damaged. “At some point,” Dauphinot wrote, “courts must address the repeated failure of officers to use the recording equipment and their repeated inability to remember whether the car they were driving on patrol contained the video equipment the City of Fort Worth has been paying for.”

It has previously happened in Ferguson, Mo. Michael Daly reported in the Daily Beast that, when Ferguson cops beat Henry Davis after mistakenly arresting him in 2009, a jailhouse camera was supposed to be recording the area where he was beaten. Somehow, the footage of the incident was destroyed.

More recently, on Aug. 11, New Orleans police officer Lisa Lewis claims she was engaged in a struggle with motorist Armond Bennett just before she shot him in the head. New Orleans officers are outfitted with cameras, but there’s no video to verify Lewis’s version of events, because she says turned her camera off just before the incident. NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas called this a “snafu.” One could understand if a critic were to opt for another word, like coverup.

So in addition to making these videos public record, accessible through public records requests, police agencies need to make sure officers implement rules requiring them to actually use the cameras. If we can resolve the disappearing footage issue, then we need to ensure that these rules are enforced by disciplining officers when they don’t comply. Officers, the agencies that employ them, and prosecutors all take care to preserve footage, even if the footage reflects poorly on officers. There just has to be some accountability there.

One policy that would go a long way toward achieving those three objectives is what defense attorney Scott Greenfield calls the missing video presumption. Currently, the courts generally treat important video that goes missing as a harmless mistake. They assume no ill will on the part of police. If you discover that the police were, or should have been, recording an encounter that would vindicate you of criminal charges or prove that the police violated your rights, and that video goes missing, you’re simply out of luck. Under the missing video presumption, if there should have been officer generated video and there isn’t, then the courts would assume that the video corroborates the party opposing the police, be it a criminal defendant or the plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit. The state could still get over the presumption by presenting other evidence, such as witnesses, medical reports, and so on. This would result in penalizing officers for loosing footage. Otherwise, there’s just too strong an incentive for vindicating video to be leaked and for incriminating video to disappear.

We have issues to resolve, but the good clearly outweighs the bad. We just need to have those cameras turned on the minute an officer leaves his car, or gets called to a conflict. In an age when we have surveillance literally everywhere, not having a record of an officer’s attempt to thwart crime, in an era where some evil officers ruin it for everyone, is unacceptable. Don’t you agree. Let’s wonk this one out.

The Policy Geek

Monday, August 25, 2014

Democratizing Power

The process of turning potential into power

Power. We rail against it. We write about it. We complain about it. We are abused by it. We feel helpless against it.

Why can't ordinary citizens wield that power just as easily? How can just one person, in one town, make a difference?

Let's start with the basics of policy. You know people. You have more influence than you recognize. And influence is all you need. How does a friendship become a subsidiary? When you build on your common ground, and agree to a strategic partnership, anything can happen. The power of the people, once organized, is boundless.

It has to be ok for each of us to be each other's teachers and each other's students.

How does a symbol inspire a people? The Tea Party was able to take a symbol, the Don't Tread On Me flag, to rally and activate a portion of the citizenry. A fear based, anti-government section of the population, but engaged now under a single banner. They think together, and they vote together.  This strung together quilt of crazies, of fringe militias, and martial law expecters, created a power block that has worked to shape policy.

How does a bias become a policy? Incideously. Like stop and frisk. Or racial profiling.

There are some millenials who want to opt out of voting all together, and simply engage in volunterism. There are techies who think all we need is more data and transparency. There are liberals who think voting is for the blind, the sheeple, the lost followers. They've disengaged completely, and tend to advocate no political party over any political party.

Each side is blinded by their selective outrage. The fortunate and the unfortunate alike who think they get what they deserve, that's the status quo we need to shake up. All generations of citizenry in the United States need to wake up and realize that civic engagement, civic awareness has fallen into the hands of so called "professionals." Professional message makers like Karl Rove, and his predecessor Lee Atwater. It's Crossroads, FOX, the Kochs, and The Heritage Foundation who have accessed the public dialogue, and run with it. Their poster boys Sen. Ted Cruz, and Rep. Eric Cantor, and let's not forget the ladies like Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former Gov. Sarah Palin, raise tons of money just appearing and talking smack. They belittle, demonize, and name call with abandon. There is very little push back, and that's why they have so many followers repeating their words, exactly, word for word. Obamacare is horrible. Big government is the problem. Never compromise. That's against God's will. Never negotiate. The founders wanted us to be obstructionists. And it goes on and on and on, with the benefactors being mostly carpet baggers selling gold, safe rooms, and disaster shelters, trying to rewrite a country's history by spewing out a constant barrage of misinformation.

It's all too much, all the uninformed voters showing up to vote. It's overwhelming. The general public, the young millenials who need to participate, and those unregistered, are now unmotivated to even figure out how things work. We begin to opt out. Willful ignorance is a cause and a consequence of the power grab of the greedy. We have to wake up before we get left out. Heck, we've already been left out. They control Congress by simply sitting in the middle of the road, blocking traffic.

To start with, there's a need to put an end to all this rage against the machine. What works best, tested by the people in power for thousands of years, is to rage within the machine. We need a real arena where we can plausibly practice the power of decision making. Congress obviously isn't cutting it. It turns out, there is no better arena in our time for the practicing of power than at the city level. Think about a common problem in most cities. Like ...where a streetlamp should go or which library should have its hours extended or cut. Should every business in your town be required to pay a living wage? Should water conservation be part of the planning of your city? Are your bridges safe? Do you need another school? Do your schools require more funding, a better arts program or an after school program? Do you want your local police force to wear cameras while on duty?

Think about the change you want in your city, and then think about how you would get it, how you could make that happen. Here's a list of the possible tools you will need to control or confront:

  • money
  • people
  • ideas
  • information
  • misinformation 
  • threat of force (including boycotting and protests)

How would you activate the tools that you need, and/or neutralize those tools used by your opponents? Power brokers do this everywhere on the planet, and more and more recently, there have been stories of power changing hands. Their is skill and engineering involved that needs to recognized, and some basics you need to know before stepping up to the line of battle. All you need is power literacy. These are the elemental factors of power.

What is your objective?

What strategy are you going to use?

What tactics work most often in your area?

What is the terrain? Will your neighborhood or community support the change required to better the quality of life in your town? With these answers, you can tip the scales in your favor, every time.

Who are your enemies, and who are your allies? Most importantly, who can you recruit as an ally, what groups, what religious organizations, what unions? Are there existing systems of government you can engage? Can you use the marketplace, the media, faith institutions, and social institutions to accomplish your goal? Do you need to resort to sit-ins and marches? It just might be something as basic and simple as getting people to register to vote, and luring them to the polls.

Take Power From Power

As national politics has become more and more partisan, as we deal with obstructionism at every turn, civic imaginations are being activated, emerging from local ecosystems and radiating outward. Finally trickling out instead of trickling down. Things are changing, like where people are moving, what people are buying, what travel sources people use. Things are changing, like people petitioning the White House, turning ideas into laws.

Decide where you want your tax dollars to go. Now isn't that novel. But when you, and those around you, start caring, you can invent systems that allow the local constituents to decide that for themselves. We vote on bonds. We vote on judges. We can decide to vote on whatever we want.

Power To The People.
This is the challenge and the opportunity. Generating a web of power that can take away the strangle hold of those who have had the monopoly until now. We can create something that is powerfully collective. We can become We.

We can proactively seek out those with the same values, we can learn about systems, work within them, and change them. They are just skills that need to be mastered, like riding a bicycle, or doing a handstand. Practice makes perfect. When something is done that works, share that info with the world. When something is done that doesn't work, share that too. We can all learn from our mistakes. We can also learn from someone else's mistakes.

Eventually, you local leaders will tip the balance of power, take the reins. We need to actively negotiate, motivate, frame issues, while navigating diversity and conflict, before we can legislate. That's the slog, But if they can do it with money, we can do it with people, time, and effort.

How does change succeed? Well, we very successfully voted for change. We were told that we had to participate. Well, now is the time.

Figure it out. What are the values of those who can be activated to join you? What could be the sense of moral purpose you are able to stir in those you need to engage? Actually make it your business, your hobby, or your raison d'ĂȘtre, as an American, as a policy geek, as a wonk, to make the change you want to see.

All power to the people and the policy they create.

The Policy Geek

Saturday, August 23, 2014

GOP Being Careful About Obamacare

Surprisingly, Republicans Are Liking It Now.

About a year ago, Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans: “Let me tell you what we’re doing [about ObamaCare]: Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”

Now as a rule Republican policymakers at least pretend to care about working constructively, blaming the President for not being willing to compromise on their proposals. Yet here was a state official boasting about his deliberate embrace of obstructionism. Not that we didn’t know, but this one said it on camera

Karma’s a bitch, and this week, Hudgens said he didn’t really mean it. Really.

Hudgens said, “I spoke to a Republican group in Rome, Ga., and I said I was going to be an obstructionist, but I can’t be. I mean, I was talking to a Republican group and I was throwing them some red meat.” Oh, really? What a surprise. Another honest statement. Could this obstructionist really be the only honest official in Georgia? Hudgens added yesterday that the number of private insurers competing for Georgia consumers’ business has nearly doubled – these companies “took a wait and see attitude and now they’ve come in” – which may expand the public’s choices and possibly lower prices.

In other news, The Oklahoman reported yesterday that Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a far-right Republican and fierce ACA critic, “applied to participate in an Affordable Care Act program designed to help states develop innovative models for delivering care and reducing costs for participants in Medicaid, Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

It would seem over this last week we’ve seen a sea change in the politics of health care. As anyone following beltway politics knows, the narrative established earlier this year was that the Affordable Care Act is a political disaster for Democrats, and that will help create a GOP “wave” in 2014 – but this two-step is nevertheless hard to miss for those who care to look.

Rachel Maddow reports, “Republican campaigns are even moving away from anti-ACA advertising; Republican candidates are increasingly reluctant to say whether they intend to take ACA benefits away from constituents; other Republican candidates are grudgingly conceding that there’s “no doubt” the ACA has helped people; and we now see Republican officials embracing key elements of the ACA they used to reject.”

Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo senior congressional reporter, reports, the fact that “Obamacare is working largely as intended” has created a new political framework.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) has been tripped up by the fact that Obamacare has cut his state’s uninsured rate by more than 40 percent. In Connecticut, early warnings of a 12.5 percent premium hike by one insurer turned out to be wrong; the insurer actually revealed it will lower its average premiums in 2015, albeit very slightly.

In short, Obamacare is working largely as intended. Tee hee. More than 10 million Americans have gained coverage and the national uninsured rate is falling, with better results obviously in states that embraced it. Not surprisingly, many of the horror stories touted by opponents have turned out to be exaggerated or false.

As a result, Republicans have tamed their attacks on Obamacare, and national Democratic strategists are less worried about it hurting their candidates. It looks like the GOP is going to have to pick a different fight leading into November.

Maddow adds, since its inception, “Republicans and much of the conservative political establishment was convinced that the Affordable Care Act was Katrina and Watergate combined. This was a catastrophic disaster, we were told, that would destroy Obama’s presidency and quite possibly ruin the very idea of progressive governance.”

Now that the ACA is succeeding and the political winds have changed direction, it seems health care isn’t going to be a driving factor leading to the polls. Of course, the man on the street may have already been programmed with Limbaugh, Ted Cruz, and FOX’s 24/7 abuse of even the term “Obamacare,” so only time will tell how the balance of Congress will work itself out this fall.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rick Perry: Oops

(Chatanooga Free Press, 2014)

AUSTIN, Texas — A little over a year ago, in Travis County, Texas, Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. Lehmberg ended up serving 20 days behind bars. With her debt to the state paid, she returned to her duties. In addition to other cases, DA Lemberg oversaw the Texas Public Integrity Unit responsible for investigating public corruption, insurance fraud, and motor fuels tax fraud in the great state of Texas. Why is the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) important?  Well, as we mentioned, the tax payer funded PIU division is part of the Travis County District Attorney's Office, and as Travis County DA, Ms. Lehmberg also holds the chief responsibility for enforcing the government and election code statewide.

Despite the fact that this was Lehmberg’s first offense, and that the district attorney’s apologized to the public, Gov. Perry called for her resignation claiming she had simply lost the public’s confidence. Lehmberg chose not to resign. Gov. Rick Perry lost no time, announcing publicly that if she did not resign, he would use his veto power to strip her office of its state funding. He was serious. When Lehmberg didn’t step down, the governor followed through, vetoed her funding, thereby scrapping resources for the Texas PIU. Gov. Perry's veto didn’t completely shut the unit down, but it did force Lehmberg’s office to lose about a third of its staff. Anyone who has had to interact with a DA's office knows that they are usually a year backlogged as it is. The Texas PIU reportedly scrambled to cover the work with the people they had left, but the cut in funding effectively cut the legs out from under the office.

As a bit of prologue, the unit was created under the leadership of Ronnie Earle, who served as the Travis County DA for three decades until his retirement in 2008. Earle captured national attention with his investigations into U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) and former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R), and became the poster child for what Republicans view as the unit’s politically motivated prosecutions. He told the Texas Tribune that he started the stand alone unit in the early ‘80s because “it made no sense to me to see an aggravated robbery case next to a case about a state employee cheating on travel vouchers.” At the time, Earle says the investigation of government crimes was “mostly left to the newspapers” because the Travis County DA spent most of its time fighting street crime.

According to Earle, between 1978 and when he retired, in 2008, he prosecuted 19 elected officials, and only five of whom were Republicans.  Despite that, ‘Ol Ronnie Earle managed to piss off a whole bunch of republicans so much that dismantling the unit became a perennial platform plank of the Texas Republican Party who claim the unit's prosecutions were mostly politically motivated.

According to the Dallas Morning News, although Rick Perry was outraged at the video and arrest of a drunken Lehmberg last year, he didn’t feel that strongly when two other district attorneys faced the same charges under similar circumstances. In fact, in those cases, he said and did nothing. This is no small detail. If Perry was convinced a DUI was a disqualifier for a district attorney, why did the governor apply this standard so selectively?

In 2009, a Kaufman County D.A. was convicted of drunk driving, his second offense. Perry’s office said nothing, dismissing it as a local issue.

Going farther back, in 2002, a Swisher County district attorney was found guilty of aggravated DWI, which came against the backdrop of a scandal involving the prosecutor and a sting operation gone wrong. Again, Perry said nothing.

Democratic strategist Jason Stanford put it this way: “The key difference was that one of the DAs was investigating his administration for corruption, and the other two DAs weren’t.”

Sometimes silence speaks louder than words. Perry certainly set precedence by turning a blind eye in the past when the drunk was a Republican. Democratic strategist Jason Stanford, added that Perry treated Lehmberg differently “in a way that makes you question what his motives were".

Apparently, Perry had a real clear motive. Lehmberg has been investigating him for corruption in connection with a cancer-fund scandal.

What cancer fund scandal you ask? As it turns out, Perry’s veto came as the ethics unit was investigating a state cancer center. Specifically, Lehmberg’s staff was investigating alleged corruption of the $3 billion taxpayer-supported effort to find a cure for cancer. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, known as CPRIT, revealed that some lucrative contracts were awarded without proper scrutiny and oversight. The biggest was an $11 million award to Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics, which is backed by Perry donors. The cancer center was one of Gov. Perry's pet projects, and it would appear that the fund may have awarded research grants too freely to some of his political allies. Since then, Perry got himself in hotter water when he attempted to financially coerce Lehmberg into leaving office. If Perry is convicted, these charges could hold a maximum sentence of 109 years.

The governor said this week, “The actions I took were not only lawful and legal, but right.”  Texas Democrats claim it’s more complicated than that, while Perry and his supporters have insisted the charges are politically motivated. Perry was indicted for abuse of power and public coercion. The governor pleaded not guilty.

Luckily for Perry, his indictment actually seems to have brought a wave of positive attention. Perry's New Hampshire adviser, Mike Dennehy, said that since the indictment was handed down, the number of people who have signed up to attend Perry’s speaking events has "gone through the roof." That’s probably why Rick Perry looked a little too cheerful in his mug shot. For a politician facing two felony counts, the Texas governor looked kind of silly tweeting a selfie while eating ice cream at a local burger joint directly after being booked and fingerprinted.

Today, Perry said, "I refer to Travis County as the blueberry in the tomato soup. If you know what that means." Perry added, "I guess I've been charged with bribery. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't understand the details here..." New York Times Editorial Board said yesterday, “Perry is one of the least thoughtful and most damaging state leaders in America.”

Perry has rebuked the indictment as grandstanding politics, saying “we don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country.” He said his detractors are trying to do in court what they could never do at the ballot box in his record 14 years as Texas governor.

Interestingly enough, the case against Perry wouldn’t have reached a grand jury had it not been for a republican, Judge Bert Richardson, who assigned a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, to investigate the original complaint. It’s McCrum — and not Lehmberg or anyone in Travis County — who is pursuing the case against Perry. McCrum has refused to discuss specifics of the case, but insists that it’s stronger than might outwardly appear.

What evidence investigators have against Perry remains the big question. McCrum interviewed more than 40 witnesses and called several top Perry aides to testify before the grand jury on the cancer center scandal, resulting in the decision to indict the Governor. Neither McCrum nor grand jurors have disclosed what was presented behind closed doors, but four grand jurors, in interviews with The Houston Chronicle this week, defended their decision to indict and denied politics played any role.

Yesterday, Rachel Maddow said, "Don’t be so quick to dismiss Rick Perry indictment." Wayne Slater, senior political writer for Perry's local Dallas Morning News adds, the "indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry is a bigger deal than many realize. It is not a partisan attack. It's about coercion, not vetoes." Maddow concludes, "It would seem locally, from multiple papers, multiple different outlets, and from multiple different perspectives, seems like Texas is taking this more seriously than any one else is."

Watch this space.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Obama's 2014 Executive Orders


August 1st of this year, something historic happened. A young tech head from San Francisco named Sina Khanifar, a self proclaimed "entrepreneur taking a break from startups to work on political advocacy," petitioned the White House on an issue he cared about. He petitioned the White House by using the .gov's We The People feature on the President's website www.whitehouse.gov, which has generated more than 15 million users and 22 million signatures on over 350,000 petitions since it started in 2011.

This very interesting and very useful page gives American citizens the option of posting a petition on any subject they chose. When a petition reaches its signature threshold (100,000 signatures within 30 days), the White House promises to take the subject up. That simple. This tool is unprecedented, and welcome to activists everywhere who have longed for a way to get the ear of a President’s administration, and this month, for the very first time, a We the People petition led to a legislative fix, signed and sealed by POTUS himself. It was a win for consumers, and has become an important milestone for We The People.


According to whitehouse.gov, here's how it happened:

Back “in January of 2013, internet activist Sina Khanifar started a We the People petition that asked the government to make cell phone unlocking legal. The petition came in the wake of a decision by the Library of Congress that made it illegal for consumers to unlock their cell phones. Unlocking a cell phone would allow a phone to be used on any compatible network. By making it illegal for consumers to unlock their phones, it also makes it impossible to end mobile service with one company and start service with another, while still keeping your same mobile device. Within 30 days, 114,000 people from across the country signed Sina’s petition -- crossing the signature threshold needed for an official White House response.”

The White House policy team took up the request as promised and asked ‘How can we move this issue forward?’ They worked with the FCC and wireless carriers over the course of two years to reach voluntary agreements to provide consumers with additional flexibility. That helped motivate Congress to actually take action. The final legislation passed both Chambers unanimously this past month in the form of the UnlockingConsumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. President Obama made it official when signing it August 1, 2014.

Obama signs bill "unlocking" cell phones August 1, 2014
(Whitehouse.gov, 2014)

So what's next for Wethe People? This petition was a great case of the amazingonline organizing tools for petition creators to have their voices heard, and acted upon. The plan is to expand the usefulness of the petition page by removing the need to create an account just to sign a petition, eventually allowing people to sign petitions using new technologies, and on sites other than WhiteHouse.gov. Nice.

Change has happened over the course of the last 5 and a half years. Most often, Congress has not participated in making that change happen. In fact, they have made something of a habit of blocking change, any change. But some issues have moved forward. A wonky citizen might avail themselves of the petition site, and the chance to grab the President’s ear, as well as move his pen.

Here are the 19 Executive Orders Obama has written this year so far.

Executive Order 13656  Signed January 17, 2014
Establishment of Afghanistan and Pakistan Strategic Partnership 
Office and Amendment to Executive Order 12163 

Executive Order 13657 Signed February 10, 2014
Changing the Name of the National Security Staff 
to the National Security Council Staff 

Executive Order 13658 Signed February 12, 2014 
Establishing a Minimum Wage for Contractors

Executive Order 13659 Signed February 19, 2014
Streamlining the Export/Import Process for America's Businesses

Executive Order 13660 Signed March 6, 2014
Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine 

Executive Order 13661 Signed March 16, 2014
Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine

Executive Order 13662 Signed March 20, 2014
Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine

Executive Order 13663 Signed March 25, 2014
Establishing an Emergency Board to Investigate Disputes Between the Long Island Rail Road Company and Certain of Its Employees Represented by Certain Labor Organizations

Executive Order 13664 Signed April 3, 2014
Blocking Property of Certain Persons With Respect to South Sudan

Executive Order 13665 Signed April 8, 2014
Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information

Executive Order 13666 Signed April 18, 2014
Expanding Eligibility for the Defense Meritorious Service Medal

Executive Order 13667 Signed May 12, 2014
Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing
to the Conflict in the Central African Republic

Executive Order 13668 Signed May 27, 2014
Ending Immunities Granted to the Development Fund for
Iraq and Certain Other Iraqi Property and Interests in Property
Pursuant to GW Bush's Executive Order 13303, as Amended

Executive Order 13669 Signed June 13, 2014
2014 Amendments to the Manual for Courts-Martial, United States

Executive Order 13670 Signed June 14, 2014
Establishing an Emergency Board To Investigate Disputes Between
the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Certain
of Its Employees Represented by Certain Labor Organizations

Executive Order 13671 Signed July 8, 2014
Taking Additional Steps to Address the National Emergency
With Respect to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Order 13672 Signed July 21, 2014
Further Amendments to Federal Equal Employment
Executive Orders 11478 and 11246

Executive Order Signed August 5, 2014
Establishing the President's Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa

Executive Order Signed July 31, 2014
Revised List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases

Executive Order Signed July 31, 2014
Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces

Here are the total number of 186 Executive Orders written by Obama listed by year. They also link to a complete list of the Executive Orders for the previous years –

In 2009 he signed 39 Executive orders
In 2010 he signed 35 Executive orders
In 2011 he signed 34 Executive order
In 2012 he signed 39 Executive order
In 2013 he signed 20 Executive order
In 2014 he has signed 19 Executive orders

Policy Geeks have more access, worldwide, to this information than ever before. All that’s needed is an interface, and the desire to learn. SO blanket statements by the GOP saying that President Obama has inked more Orders than any other President, or that his policies are too far reaching, sort of hit a deaf ear once you’ve read them for yourself. Do you see anything you would protest about? Something worth suing the President for? Anything worth crying out for Impeachment, Impeachment, Impeachment?! We don’t. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Incredible Importance of Hopey Changey

Planning for the unplanned, August 18, 2014
(Yahoo News, 2014)

FERGUSON, MO -- August 20, 2014 – This last week in Ferguson has become worldwide sensation. The Michael Brown Phenomenon is the rapid and strong international reaction (yes, it’s gone global) to the death of an 18 year old unarmed teenager named Michael Brown, Jr. That was the touchstone.

A neighborhood grieving from the shocking incident was further marred when the young dead man was left in the street for hours, laying in his own blood just where he had been shot. Not for forensics. Just because.

In point of fact, complaints began during those very hours when Michael Brown’s lifeless body lay bare, face first, in the middle of the street. Not even a sheet. The unrest began right then. Scared and fed up citizens of Ferguson poured into the streets with energized support for the family. Was this yet another clear sign of rampant racism alive and well in Missouri? Was this local enforcement overreachEyewitnesses seem to think so, and the fine folks of Ferguson have taken to protest.

(David Carson, 2014)

In the end, this shooting may have actually had nothing to do with disenfranchised youth, racism, poverty, employment opportunities, or any of the proposed reasons coming from the talking heads. This could have just been a bully kid who bullied a shopkeeper, then bullied policemen and lost. We don’t really know, but that's no longer the point.

Human Rights observers around the globe are watching now. Phones have been confiscated, press have been arrested. Gas canisters, smoke bombs, rubber bullets, flash grenades, tanks, and anti-riot gear against civilians, night after night, in the name of "crowd dispersal" have been marching down Main Street, USA and the images are making headlines from Mexico to Moscow. In light of the absence of an arrest of the officer in question, Darren Wilson, what was an incident is now a flash point for a national discussion on police brutality, and cover ups.

Singing and praying protesters chanting slogans, all a Kum-Ba-Ya, turn into fleeing humans at the sound of Boom-Bah-Yee-Hah in less than a second. It’s a cycle of provocation and reaction. Small verbal altercations between protesters and police turn into full out chaos, ending in a stand-off at the QuikTrip. Every time the local police over react, coming at the protesters with unnecessary force, for seemingly no reason at all, it just further traumatizes the local residents, and rallies the few tenacious anarchists in the area.

New Yorkers Rally In Time Square
(ABC News, 2014)

To complicate things, there seems to be a turf war, an ego bruising knock-down drag-out turf war, between the local police and, well, everyone else. The only night that worked well, not without incident, but went rather well, was when State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson attended the protests. The next night there were standoffs between protesters and looters with locals trying to save their neighborhood stores. Thankfully, although fires have been set, there have been no additional deaths at this point

This is not about Missouri. Not just Missouri. Of course it’s not just about Missouri. We feel for the parents, we scream for justice for the child, we fear for the town, but this is not just about Ferguson, Missouri. It’s touched a nerve with protesters worldwide who remember that, not so long ago, Time Magazine named the person of the year, The Protester. From all accounts, people around the world feel they need to protest in solidarity with Ferguson and the Johnson family now.

Time Magazine, 2011
When Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department hit that teenager with six bullets, was that response appropriately limited to the perceived threat? Is that what American citizens should expect from the men in blue who should serve at the pleasure of the public?

Gov. Jay Nixon today said, "We charge our police forces, in times of unrest, to help restore peace and order.” Well, how’s that going to happen when the peace and order was disturbed by the local police force to begin with? It’s about a disproportional response from a disproportionately diverse police department in a disproportionately impoverished neighborhood with no representation in sight.

Systemically, the local police delayed announcing even the name of the officer who fired the shots, Darren Wilson, for a week. When they did, we got a blurry video of what seems to be a shoplifter in action at the very same time. Surprisingly, most people forgot the name Darren Wilson in the aftermath. That delay, and the handling of the announcement, further enraged the neighborhood.

Unbelievably, this is the only photo released officially of Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department, and stunningly, he was getting a student-of-the-month award when the image was shot.

His mother must be so proud.
(Yahoo Photos, 2014)
The setting off of fireworks, molotov cocktails, broken windows, scattered shootings, 2 people shot, about 46 people arrested (31 of them last night) represent the other element on display in Ferguson, Missouri. Chris Hayes of All In With Chris Hayes, who has been covering the stand offs locally, confirms that “there are people in Ferguson only there to set it off. Estimates are between 17 and 100 people like that.” Some sources say it’s around 20 – 30.

We need to see the competing realities. One, could the officer have been acting defensively? Were Officer Darren Wilson’s reactions proportional to the actual chain of events that led to Michael Brown’s murder? When is the leveling of a gun justified? Is this what we want from those who are entrusted with the very real public need to be protected and to be served.

When we assign blame, let’s not ignore the way the world really is. It is the policeman’s job to keep a tight lid on a world stalked with injustice. Each eight hour shift is spent searching for trouble. When you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. At the same time, there is the very real problem of power-seeking bellicose, racists and haters with anger issues finding their way tangled up in blue onto a street near you. There are similarities here between racist police pockets, and news stories about priests and teachers who have pedophiles hidden in their ranks. If you are a pedophile, you of course look for a job where you could be left alone with children. After all, you do deserve a pension. If you are one of the bad apples turned boy in uniform, you found a job that helps you use your socially irresponsible personality traits unhindered.

Sunday Night, the brave and empathetic Captain Ron Johnson, beaming the best in all of us, reports that the National Guard deployed by Governor Nixon is “now under his command.” He remains determined to “ensure everyone has their rights to peaceful protest.” Beware those who arrive in Ferguson looking for trouble. “We will resolve those conflicts.”

"I'm humbled by how this community has come together"
(CNN, 2014)

At the very least, Captain Johnson can report, “We are seeing a separation between those peaceful protesters, the good people of Ferguson, the good people of Missouri, the good people from all across this country that traveled to Missouri, and those who are bent on having conflict, vandalism, and causing injury to our community, and I use the word injury.”

There are people looking to set if off, and there are police officers looking for an excuse. The powerful are twitchy, and the residents are really and truly scared to death of being shot down just like that 18 year old boy.

Captain Johnson clarified, “Our peaceful protesters are marching in peace, and I use the words ‘marching in peace’, because they do just that.” He added, “These other protesters bent on causing conflict join into those crowds. Their actions are planned and calculated, and the things they are doing may not be immediately visible to the protesters, but we can see them. They are spoiling for a fight, throwing fireworks and bottles at the police and into the crowds.”

At the very least, Captain Johnson can report, “We are seeing a separation between those peaceful protesters, the good people of Ferguson, the good people of Missouri, the good people from all across this country that traveled to Missouri, and those who are bent on having conflict, vandalism, and causing injury to our community, and I use the word injury.”

There are people looking to set if off, and there are police officers looking for an excuse. The powerful are twitchy, and the residents are really and truly scared to death of being shot down just like that 18 year old boy.

Captain Johnson clarified, “Our peaceful protesters are marching in peace, and I use the words ‘marching in peace’, because they do just that.” He added, “These other protesters bent on causing conflict join into those crowds. Their actions are planned and calculated, and the things they are doing may not be immediately visible to the protesters, but we can see them. They are spoiling for a fight, throwing fireworks and bottles at the police and into the crowds.”

(Twitter @eyeFLOODpanties, 2014)

Calls and texts are reportedly flooding in thanking Johnson for his support of the town’s right to peaceful protest, while also charging that 'these vandals who are committing violent acts are disrespecting the death of Michael Brown.' Apparently, some of those arrested for vandalism came from as far as New York and California.

They just want to voice their opinions,” says Captain Johnson. “I feel their pain; I feel their sorrow. This is all about making things better. Whether it is in this community or any other community, this issue will be addressed. There will be some who are bent on conflict. We will stand against that. We will all stand against that. This situation has brought us to where we need to be today, and where we need to be herein after, throughout this nation.”

Sharpton weighs in on Ferguson.
(Yahoo News, 2014)

The certainty of disenfranchisement attacks a child’s soul early in their youth. That is the tunnel vision through which the unarmed view their local police departments. Unless a teacher, or hopeful parents or grandparents intervene, society tells these kids, “You are going to live here, and you ARE going to die here.” Is there a better word for that than injustice? Is there? These are the questions that MUST be asked at the very least in the wake of this 18 year old's death--long overdue.

The community of racist bullies allowed to fester openly, and behind closed doors, in these incubators, er, police departments, must end. The innate problem with the staffing of our local constabularies with haters is that they have a lot to hide. There are really good cops, but every head turned is flipping a blind eye to justice. The entrenched know this. Some don’t like change, but most, let’s face it, have racism interwoven into their skin. They can’t see outside of their myopic, fearful view of a group of humans, many of whom are descended from slaves, all of whom are descended from Apes, as is every human currently on earth.

Our differences are at the root of these simple fears. Our differences should be celebrated. But that fear of change, repeatedly taken out on the hides of young men, has established a culture of incredible distrust between people and police across the US. By cracking open that fear, we hope we do not have to wait another couple of generations for it to die out.

We really hope these things can start to change now.
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