Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Whatever Happened to Officer Friendly?

An argument could be made that Officer Friendly was always a myth we told children, like the Easter Bunny. What with the third degree, Bull Connor, John Burge, the Rampart scandal, and the blue code of silence, history is replete with police committing and getting away with every conceivable crime up to and including cold blooded murder.

It is also true that many police officers are fine, brave, upstanding individuals honestly trying to make their communities better places to live and work. The true story of Frank Serpico is a perfect example of both sides of that coin.

Police Are an Isolated Community
When was the last time you passed a police officer on the street and he smiled at you and said hello? My guess is never. Police usually wear those extra dark sunglasses designed to make any kind of eye contact impossible. They maintain a stern, emotionless expression designed to be both intimidating and off putting. Police have an us versus them philosophy where the us is other cops and the them is every other living person. They are taught that everyone they meet, everyone, is a potential enemy. That soon evolves into the belief that everyone IS an enemy.

SWAT Spells Bad
There was a time when Special Weapon and Tactics squad made sense. And, in very limited cases, they still do. In the '60's there were a handful of cases where police were completely outgunned. The two incidents that convinced police of the need for SWAT were the Watts Riots and the Hub pawnshop shootout in San Diego, both in 1965. While these elite squads were initially designed for crowd control and heavily armed opponents, over time uses of SWAT began to blur. It was like, why have an expensive Maserati if your not driving it to the Starbucks. SWAT was designed as a squad that might be need once every few years. Today, SWAT is being used when it is not needed and is, literally, overkill. There are 4.5 SWAT raids every day. SWAT is even being called out for no-knock raids to serve misdemeanor warrants. I'd also like to compare the SWAT officer above to this ISIS terrorist.
Both carry military grade automatic weapons. Both wear thick, probably armored, clothing. Both wear stocking masks to obscure their faces even at the risk of blocking their vision. Really, how can the cop even see with that balaklava covering his eyes. That can't be safe for either the officer or citizens. The point of the masks, in both cases, is to instill terror.

US Police Are Death Magnets
The 2012 Empire State Building shooting saw Jeffrey Johnson shoot one person. Two NYPD cops wildly fired 16 bullets killing Johnson and injuring nine innocent citizens.
It is no surprise that no agency from the Justice Department to any local jurisdiction keeps stats on citizens shot by police officers. No one, no politician and no MSM outlet, want to know the numbers because the truth is absolutely staggering. Jim Fisher's True Crime blog did the research for the year 2011. By his count, in that year alone 1,146 citizens were shot by police and 607 killed. For comparison, in the span of 15 years (1995-2009) United Kingdom police have killed exactly 33 people. UK police kill as many people in 15 years as US police do in three weeks. Estimates are that since 9/11 American police officers have killed over 5,000 innocent citizens.

That doesn't count deaths in custody, which is a stat the Feds do keep. In 2011, 4,238 American prisoners died in custody. In the UK the number is 223, 33 died in police custody and 190 in prison custody.  For reference, the US has 5.5 times the population of the England and Wales.

A lot of this has to do with the American gun culture. There are over 300 million guns in the US; there are less than 4 million guns in England and Wales. Since 1995, 34 British police officers died in the line of duty, six were shot. In the US for the same period, approximately 1,500 police officers died in the line of duty with 628 shot to death.

In 2011, there were 640 murders in the Britain, only 44 killers used guns. In the same period in the US there were 12,664 murders; 8,583 used firearms.

  • While the United States is a violent country its murder rate (4.7 per 100,000) is less than the global average (6.3) and half the murder rate in Russia (9.2). It is the highest murder rate of any industrialized nation, second place is Taiwan (3.0). The United Kingdom has a murder rate of only 1.0 per 100,000.
  • American police die in the line of duty at a rate eight times more frequent than UK police. They are shot at a rate twenty times more frequently.
  • However, American police kill citizens at a rate fifty times more frequently than in the UK.
That last number the most important. Every year American police officers kill more American citizens than the Mafia, than Mexican drug cartels, than terrorists. In the United States, especially in minority neighborhoods, police departments are an ever present, deadly threat.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What to Expect from the Ferguson Grand Jury

The pathetically vague incident report on the Michael Brown shooting indicates how the St. Louis County grand jury investigation will proceed. It will be slow, incomplete, and obviously rigged.

The Grand Jury investigation will take months. As police shootings go, this should be easy. It was broad daylight, witness could see clearly. The whole incident from first contact to fatal shots took less than three minutes. Prosecutors expect to take at least two months, to mid-October, to present evidence, then the grand jury "can meet as long as they want" to reach a conclusion. They probably won't announce a decision until a particularly cold and blizzardly day in mid-December chosen more for suppressing protests than justice.

The result will be "No True Bill." Officer Darren Wilson has not been charged with anything. This means the grand jury will not be deciding whether to indict but simply reviewing evidence. The St. Louis County grand jury requires a 12-vote unanimous decision to indict, unlike other jurisdictions where a majority of a 23-member jury indicts. St. Louis County DA, Robert McCulloch, is a renown "friend of police" who has never seen anything wrong when police shoot a black man. His actions are a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the grand jury to not indict.

The law is not on the side of justice.  At its loosest interpretation, certainly the one Robert McCulloch will describe to the grand jury, Missouri law says that a police officer can always shoot to kill as long as the officer expresses the lamest justification for the killing. All Wilson need do is claim he "felt" threatened by an unarmed man surrendering 30 feet away and it becomes a righteous shooting.

In case of trial, it will be held in a conservative, lily-white community. Let's say the grand jury goes rogue and files an indictment. The first act of the defense will be to demand a change of venue. As in the Rodney King case, the new venue will be chosen specifically to be sympathetic to the white officer. My early guess is Benton County where there are fewer than 30 African-Americans in the whole county.

There will be no sign of justice in the Michael Brown shooting case. As proof, I offer the fact that St. Louis police gunned down an unarmed man in broad daylight a few days after the Michael Brown shooting. They had absolutely no justification and no fear of any sort of discipline.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ferguson Debacle In One Quote

Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all– the policeman isn't there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder. ~ Richard J. Daley

There are a few questions regarding the death of Michael Brown.
  • Was Officer Darren Wilson an ill-trained incompetent who panicked and shot, repeatedly, an unarmed man?
  • Did Officer Wilson believe misdemeanor theft deserved summary execution? (There really is no third option here.)
  • Why the fuck would police ever need camo fatigues? (There is no tactical need, it is just playing dress up, playing pretend soldier.)
Ferguson cop training an M4 carbine with sniper scope on civilians.
  • What, exactly, is that police officer atop an armored personnel carrier pointing his 45 round per minute weapon at? 
  • More importantly, what is he thinking? Where does he think he is?
Ferguson police released a police report accusing the victim of a petty crime in a transparent attempt justify the shooting. In that the report the case status is listed as "Exceptionally Cleared."
  • What the fuck does that mean? ("Exceptionally Cleared" is police jargon. In this case it means, "we've got some defenseless, dead nigger we can blame it on so there is no need to actual prove anything.")

Friday, August 08, 2014

War or Genocide

I'm, generally, a pacifist. I've opposed US military adventures consistently since the Vietnam War of my youth.  I've seen very few wars during my life that I thought had to be fought. Two exceptions that come to mind are Israel in 1967 and 1973. In both wars, Israel had to fight and had to win or face annihilation.

The current war between the Kurds and ISIS in Iraq is another one. The closest parallel to ISIS in recent history is not the Taliban in Afghanistan but Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. ISIS has proven a willingness, even eagerness, to exterminate anybody who is not an ethnic Arab and not a Sunni Muslim and not an enthusiastic supporter of their brutality.

Left alone, ISIS will slaughter the Yazidi, every man, woman, and child. If they overrun the Kurds, the genocidal death toll will rival that of Adolph Hitler. ISIS will never be an existential threat to the United States but that is no excuse for idleness.
  • I support bombing ISIS. Not just a few A-18s dropping a couple bombs to send a message but eliminating any ISIS concentration of troops or artillery.
  • I support giving the Kurds whatever weapons they need to turn back this threat even at the risk of angering the Iraqi or Turkish governments.
  • I even support committing American ground forces to assist the Peshmerga.
Call it the "Pottery Barn Rule" if you want but the US created ISIS when it invaded Iraq in 2003 and armed al-Qaeda (before it was even called that) in Afghanistan in the 1980's.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hospital Bombed

After Israel bombed a Gaza hospital I did a little research into other instances of this and found that, in the 20th and 21st centuries, bombing hospitals is incredibly common. So common, in fact, it is impossible to calculate a total.

The why is really rather simple. Bomb a military barracks and you may kill a few men. Bomb a hospital and you will kill many times more as those wounded in future attacks have no place to be treated. Bombing hospitals is a great casualty multiplier. Attacking hospitals is second only to torture as the most commonly committed war crime.

World War I
The earliest instance of the aerial bombing of a hospital was on May 31, 1918 when the Germans bombed the rear echelon hospital complex at Etables in the Pas-de-Calais, France.   

World War II
All sides bombed hospitals although that was usually part of carpet bombing campaigns where everything from hospitals to dry cleaners were bombed indiscriminately. For example, the Hiroshima Shima Hospital was, not deliberately, ground zero for the first nuclear detonation in war. Germany bombed hospitals as part of the blitzkrieg attack on Poland in 1939. During the Anzio battle of the Italian campaign German bombers attacked and sunk the hospital ship St. David (pictured) on January 24, 1944.

Korean and Vietnam Wars
The US Air Force engaged in extensive strategic bombing of urban targets in both wars. Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War was famously intended to bomb North Vietnam "back to the Stone Age." During that war, America bombed the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi. It was later rebuilt with money largely donated from the United States.

Yugoslav Civil War
NATO got bomber happy in their efforts to protect civilians from ethnic cleansing. NATO bombed over 20 hospitals, as well as over 200 schools, in less than three months of extensive bombing. Some hospitals appear to have been accidentally hit but, given NATO's pride at the "precision bombing" and their targeting of "dual use" facilities, most of the hospitals were deliberately bombed.

Iraq Wars
During the second Gulf War, American forces bombed a maternity hospital in Baghdad in April, 2003. Many other hospitals and clinics had been bombed in the years between the Gulf Wars. In May, 2012, the Iraq government dropped barrel bombs on an hospital in Fallujah as part of the ongoing civil war in Iraq.This month, the Iraq government has bombed hospitals in several towns including Tikrit and Shirqat.

Israel-Palestine Wars
Israel has attacked hospitals in Gaza several times over the years.  In 2009, they bombed three hospitals including fire bombing the Al Quds Hospital (pictured) with white phosphorus. The use the same excuse that NATO gave in Yugoslavia, dual use facilities. Most recently, Israel bombed the Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

Syria Civil War
The Kindi Hospital in Aleppo was destroyed by two suicide bombers in December, 2013.
This civil war could rightly be call the War of Hospitals. The Syrian government has attacked hospitals in rebel areas while the rebels have attacked hospitals in government controlled areas.

It doesn't take an air force to bomb a hospital. Many have been bombed by terrorists and insurgents. The Taliban has bombed hospitals in Afghanistan. Somali rebels bombed a hospital in Mogadishu. In 1991, the IRA planted a bomb in the military wing of the Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast, killing two and wounding 11 including a four month-old baby.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Final Solution to Gaza

I typed that deliberately provocative phrase into Google, not knowing what I would find. What I found was this shocking manifesto.
Warsaw Ghetto, April 1943
The author is Moshe Feiglin, member of the ruling Likud Party and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. His proposal, published in Israel July 15, 2014, reads like a memo Martin Bormann might have sent to Heinrich Himmler.
Gaza, July 2014
Ethnic Cleansing
Feiglin would issue an ultimatum ordering Palestinians to leave Gaza. Anyone staying behind would be subject to attack by the full might of the Israel Defense Force. The Israeli government has implemented this step.
Warsaw, April 1943
He believes the passage from Gaza into Egypt would be easy.
Egypt (left) and Gaza border
The truth is that Egypt has closed its border with Gaza and has no intention of opening it to a flood of refugees. Civilians in Gaza are trapped.

Feiglin wants Israel to attack Gaza with the full might if the Israeli military with no concern for the lives of children or other non-combatants.
Warsaw, 1943
On July 24, Israel attacked a UN school, killing 15 and wounding over 200.
Gaza, 2014
Step three in Feiglin's master plan is a total siege of Gaza. There has been an ongoing blockade of all but food and medicine into Gaza for the past seven years. Feiglin wants to stop the food, too, and starve the occupants.
Warsaw, 1943 - Child died of starvation
In the past, Israel has used food as a weapon against Gaza. They have not yet tried full on starvation as a weapon.

Feiglin uses the word "defense" but he is really talking about retaliation. He wants any attack on Israel or Israeli soldiers to be repaid with a devastating retaliation with no concern for civilian casualties.
Execution of Polish hostages in retaliation for an attack on a Nazi police station.
When Germany invaded Poland, civilian deaths exceeded military deaths by a ratio of 10 to 1. Israel claims half the Gaza casualties are combatants while the UN sets the ratio at about 3 civilians for each combatant.

Feiglin's next step is the invasion and conquest of Gaza. Again, civilian casualties be damned.

This is Feiglin's own terrifying word. He tries to soften things a little but he describes the removal of the entire Palestinian population of Gaza either through death or deportation.
Deportation of Jews from the Lodz Ghetto, 1941.
Feiglin's final step in his final solution of the Gaza problem is the absorb the now depopulated Gaza into Israel. He calls this "Sovereignty."
Warsaw Ghetto wall.

Wall between Gaza and Israel.

I am not saying that Israel's treatment of Gaza is as bad as the Nazi's. It is not. But I have to add, not yet. If the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset gets his way the only difference would be the ovens and death camps.

The current leadership of Israel has learned the wrong lesson from World War II. They somehow learned that walling off an ethnic group they fear and hate to be followed by the forced deportation of that group is, somehow, a viable policy option.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Health Care Haves and Have Nots

Right now, I'm thrilled to live in California. We have a well functioning state health care exchange. As as result, I and millions of others fortunate enough to live in a state where their politicians care about their citizens, will retain our stable health care premiums.

Conversely, people in those states mostly run by Republicans that see their citizens as worthless pawns to sacrifice in bizarre political games face massive, and mostly unaffordable, increases in their premiums. Republicans, of course, are jubilant and plan to blame the premium increases that they have caused on Democrats.

The end result, which is entirely the goal of Republicans, is to divide the nation in half. The half with Democratic leadership will be healthier, more prosperous, and happier. The Republican half will be sicker, poorer, more miserable, and angrier. As Ted Cruz can tell you, poor and angry people are the most fertile ground for growing Tea Party fanatics.

Reality Check: The ruling by a three judge panel will be stayed and referred to the entire D.C. Circuit Court which will over turn the ruling by the two partisan Republican judges. Republicans, in turn, will appeal that judgement to the Supreme Court where the odds are, by the same 5-4 vote, they will reaffirm their judgement on the ACA. At the same time, Democrats will introduce simple legislation in the Senate to correct the problem, block Republican efforts to amend the hell out of it, and pass it onto the House which will bury it deeper than Argonaut Mine (in California, over a mile deep).