Obama Acts To Limit Use Of Military Equipment By Police

Police Missouri

The events in Ferguson are primarily remembered for raising national awareness as to the frequency of unarmed black men being killed by police, and how we have two systems of justice. Ferguson also led to people on both the left and right joining together to oppose the militarization of police. President Obama has responded to this concern:

President Obama on Monday banned the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police departments and sharply restricted the availability of others.

The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.

He took the action after a task force he created in January decided that police departments should be barred from using federal funds to acquire items that include tracked armored vehicles, the highest-caliber firearms and ammunition, and camouflage uniforms. The ban is part of a series of steps the president has made to try to build trust between law enforcement organizations and the citizens they are charged with protecting…

The report from the task force on military equipment cited the police response to the Ferguson unrest as an example of how the “militarization” of police departments can lead to fear and mistrust. In addition to prohibiting some equipment outright, officials said, Mr. Obama accepted the group’s recommendation to impose new restrictions on other military-style items, such as wheeled armored vehicles, pyrotechnics, battering rams and riot gear, and more stringent requirements for training and information collection for departments that acquire them.

“The idea is to make sure that we strike a balance in providing the equipment, which is appropriate and useful and important for local law enforcement agencies to keep the community safe, while at the same time putting standards in place,” said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of Mr. Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

The report represents a two-pronged response to a problem that has emerged as a central predicament for Mr. Obama in recent months. He has struggled to acknowledge the sense of fear, grievance and victimization by the police that dominates many minority communities without seeming to forgive violence or condemn law enforcement with a broad brush.

In doing so, he is grappling with the limits of his power to force changes in police departments around the country, where practices and procedures are varied and the federal government’s ability to influence change can be minimal. The equipment task force stems from an executive order, and its conclusions affect only the material supplied by the federal government, while the policing recommendations are merely a blueprint for what Mr. Obama would like to see happen in jurisdictions throughout the country.

Mr. Obama announced $163 million in grants to encourage police departments to adopt the suggestions. The administration also will launch a “tool kit” for the use of body-worn cameras; the Justice Department created a grant program for law enforcement agencies to purchase them.

The American Civil Liberties Union released this comment:

President Barack Obama announced a ban, effective immediately, on the federal government’s transfer of certain military vehicles and weaponry to local and state police departments in the U.S.

Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, had this comment:

“Through this ban, the president has taken a critical step towards rebuilding trust between police and the people they have pledged to serve. Now, the federal government will no longer be permitted to supply police departments with military weapons and vehicles designed for the battlefield. Grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons, armored vehicles – this equipment never belonged in our neighborhoods. In our report War Comes Home, we detailed the devastating impact of militarized policing, with communities of color hit especially hard by the weapons and tactics of war.

“We hope that Congress will protect today’s reforms by making them law.”

While a good start, more work is needed to resolve this problem. Radley Balko has some positive comments on Obama’s announcement (emphasis mine):

This announcement is significant. There are types of objections to how the 1033 Program affects police militarization in America. The first is a practical objection — this equipment was designed for use on the battlefield. There’s just no appropriate domestic application for a tracked tank or for guns that shoot .50-caliber ammunition.

The second objection is more about mindset, symbolism and the kind of society in which we want to live. There are plenty of scenarios under which a police department would legitimately need a bulletproof truck. But there’s really no reason why that truck needs to be an MRAP, or painted camouflage or military green, or designed to look as imposing and intimidating as possible. Imagery is important. It’s an indication of how the police see themselves, how they see the community they serve and how the perceive their relationship with that community. And all of that in turn affects how the community views the police. It isn’t difficult to understand how a cop who is dressed in camouflage who rides around the neighborhood in an MRAP is likely to approach to his job with a different mindset than a cop in traditional police blues who conducts daily foot patrols in the same neighborhood.

From what has been reported, this new initiative addresses these concerns as well and seems to indicate that the Obama administration understands and appreciates that the symbolic component of police militarization is just as important as the practical component. I’m uncomfortable with any military vehicles going to local police. Free societies tend to draw a clear line between cops and soldiers. Blurring that line indicates a failure to appreciate its importance. But this initiative is moving toward reestablishing that line, not moving it or further blurring it. Federal programs are pretty difficult to disband, so a blanket ban was probably never in the cards. Conditioning the acceptance of this gear on increased transparency, accountability and a move toward community policing seems like a good compromise. We’ll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we’ll get more and better information about how it’s used. Either outcome is progress.

He also continues to see problems:

There’s no understating the role the 1033 Program played in militarizing U.S. police forces. Though it was codified in the 1990s, the transfer policy existed informally dating back to the early 1980s. So reining it in is important. It sends a clear message that the administration really gets this issue.

That said, most of the militarization today happens outside the 1033 Program. As the Heritage Foundation reported last year, few of the weapons we saw in those iconic images coming out of Ferguson were obtained through 1033. That program created the thirst for militarization, but police agencies can now quench that thirst elsewhere. Since 2003, for example, the Department of Homeland Security has been giving grants to police departments around the country to purchase new military-grade gear. That program now dwarfs the 1033 Program. It has also given rise to a cottage industry of companies that build gear in exchange for those DHS checks. Those companies now have a significant lobbying presence in Washington. I suspect that presence will now only grow stronger. So if the Obama administration really wants to roll back police militarization, this program needs reform, too.

Police agencies also sometimes buy the gear directly from manufacturers. Some purchase gear through donations. In some cases, even individual officers buy their own stuff. There really isn’t much the Obama administration can do about these sources of militarized weapons.

Ultimately, I think going after the symbolism component to militarization is more important than attacking the the practical component. Most police departments are always going to have a SWAT team. Larger departments will have several. So the option to use militarized force will always be available. The key is to get them to opt for it only when it’s appropriate. (A good start would be to remove the incentives to use such force when it isn’t.) Or better yet, to instill a healthy reluctance to use such force at all — to make deescalating conflicts the priority instead of overwhelming them.

The good news is that this new policy suggests that the Obama administration understands this. But the push will have to come from the bottom up, too. The federal government can stop contributing to the problem, but it will be up to local activists, voters and elected officials to actually change it. There will be resistance, from unions, from police advocates and probably from politicians. But police agencies are ultimately answerable to the communities they serve. If a city’s police leadership has adopted use of force policies that don’t conform with a community’s values, the community should demand new leadership. If the city’s politicians don’t comply, then the community should demand new politicians.

Common Dreams has additional opinions here.

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Russ Feingold Needed Back In The Senate

Russ Feingold has announced plans to attempt to win back the Senate seat he lost six years ago in the video above.

“People tell me all the time that our politics and Washington are broken. And that multi-millionaires, billionaires and big corporations are calling the shots,” Feingold says in the video. “They especially say this about the U.S. Senate, and it’s hard not to agree. But what are we going to do? Get rid of the Senate?

“Actually, no one I’ve listened to says we should throw in the towel and give up — and I don’t think that either,” he adds. “Instead, let’s fight together for change. That means helping to bring back to the U.S. Senate strong independence, bipartisanship and honesty.”

Feingold lost his seat in the Republican sweep of 2010, and is considered to have a better than even chance of winning it back in a presidential election year. It would be unusual in recent years for this to occur:

While Feingold is seen as a very strong candidate with perhaps better than even odds to pick up the seat he lost to Ron Johnson during the 2010 Republican tsunami, his return to the chamber would certainly be a rarity in the modern political era.

Smart Politics first reported in February that only two U.S. Senators have returned to the chamber after losing their seat at the ballot box since 1956.

The last U.S. Senator to be defeated at the ballot box and then later win an election back to the chamber was Washington Republican Slade Gorton

From the beginning of direct elections in 1913 until the mid-1950s, such comebacks were much more common, with 14 defeated ex-U.S. Senators winning back a seat in the chamber…

Feingold’s return to the Senate is very important for those of us who vote Democratic based upon issues such as civil liberties, opposition to unnecessary wars, campaign finance reform, and transparency in government. If Hillary Clinton should win the Democratic nomination as most expect, this would leave us with a choice of both a Democrat and most likely also a Republican who is very conservative on all of these issues. (The lone exception on these issues might be Ron Paul, but he has been flip-flopping to sound like a more conventional Republican).

Russ Feingold has battled with Clinton in the past, and he will hopefully be a strong voice in the Senate for liberalism as opposed to Clintonian conservatism. Feingold would also make a far better presidential candidate than Clinton, but it is understandable he would concentrate on winning back his Senate seat as opposed to an uphill battle for the presidential nomination.

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Clinton Scandals vs Deflategate, And Other Thoughts Of The Day

If we as a country were as concerned with political leaders following the rules as much as football teams, Hillary Clinton would be suspended for one-fourth of the primaries and the Clinton Foundation would face a hefty fine. To complete the analogy I’d throw in Clinton losing two Supreme Court picks, but the Supreme Court is the main reason I’d hold my nose and vote for Clinton over a Republican in the general election and hope that she doesn’t choose someone as conservative on civil liberties and social issues as she is.

Jeb Bush has previously been known as George’s younger, smarter brother. In light of his defense of the Iraq War with all we’ve learned, from now on the two will be known as Dumb and Dumber.

Verizon is buying AOL, which will make them a major force in the internet in 1987.

Rand Paul is threatening to filibuster the Patriot Act. Why is this coming from a Republican (even if one the rest of his party disagrees with) as opposed from Democrats? Ron Wyden is also talking about filibustering. I wish he would also challenge Clinton for the nomination.

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Bernie Sanders Presents Welcome Alternative To Hillary Clinton’s Conservative Record On Civil Liberties

LANHAM, MD - MAY 5:  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a town hall meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 26 office May 5, 2015 in Lanham, Maryland. Sanders, who announced announced his candidacy for president on April 30, discussed a range of issues and took questions from the audience. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While economic differences between Hillary Clinton and her more liberal challengers for the Democratic nomination have received the most attention, Clinton’s poor record on civil liberties issues is another reason why many liberals find her to be an unacceptable candidate. While Clinton has supported the Patriot Act, Bernie Sanders has voted against it. He has also opposed the abuses in NSA surveillance, and written the following forTime in response to the appeals court ruling that the surveillance is not legal:

I welcome a federal appeals court ruling that the National Security Agency does not have the legal authority to collect and store data on all U.S. telephone calls. Now Congress should rewrite the expiring eavesdropping provision in the so-called USA Patriot Act and include strong new limits to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

Let me be clear: We must do everything we can to protect our country from the serious potential of another terrorist attack. We can and must do so, however, in a way that also protects the constitutional rights of the American people and maintains our free society.

Do we really want to live in a country where the NSA gathers data on virtually every single phone call in the United States—including as many as 5 billion cellphone records per day? I don’t. Do we really want our government to collect our emails, see our text messages, know everyone’s Internet browsing history, monitor bank and credit card transactions, keep tabs on people’s social networks? I don’t.

Unfortunately, this sort of Orwellian surveillance, conducted under provisions of the Patriot Act, invades the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans…

Hillary Clinton has supported the Patriot Act and, in contrast to Sanders, has been evasive when asked about abuses by the NSA–most likley waiting to see which position polls the best. Clinton has had a terrible record on First Amendment and civil liberties issues even beyond her support for the Patriot Act. As I’ve discussed previously, Clinton’s poor record regarding civil liberties and separation of church and state includes her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act , a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, leading a campaign to censor video games and introducing a bill making flag burning a felony.

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Marijuana, Needle Exchange Programs, And Clinton’s Cultural Conservatism

Clinton Marijuana

Following recent posts about Lincoln Chafee talking about running for the Democratic nomination I began looking to see if there are any other issues where the two have major differences besides Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. I was pleased to see that back in 2011 Chaffee called for a reclassification of medical marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substances, which puts states which have legalized medical marijuana at odds with federal laws.

Three years later, Martin O’Malley took this a step even further, signing a bill decriminalizing marijuana, while opposing outright legalization. Hillary Clinton, as would be expected from her overall cultural conservatism, has lagged behind the country, and the Democratic Party, on both legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana.

On a related issue, Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, while certainly not a major issue, was also an early issue in the 2008 nomination battle which differentiated the political philosophies of Clinton from the more liberal Barack Obama. Martin O’Malley, who is also moving well to the left on economic issues, signed a bill allowing needle exchange in Maryland. Clinton and Obama also differed in 2008 on reforming sentencing for violation of drug laws. While Obama’s record on the drug war has certainly been mixed, I would hate to see a move further to the right under Clinton.

Clinton’s cultural conservatism and promotion of conservative causes has often been traced to her membership in The Fellowship while in the Senate. From Mother Jones in 2007:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection…

That’s how it works: The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward…These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right…

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

As noted in the above excerpt, Clinton’s affiliation with the religious right was seen in her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act , a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, along with her promotion of restrictions on video games and her introduction of a bill making flag burning a felony. Her social conservatism is also seen in her weak record on abortion rights, such as supporting parental notification laws and stigmatizing women who have abortions with the manner in which she calls for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

(Links to additional material added on April 19)

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Rand Paul Flip Flopping Away From Libertarianism As He Enters Republican Race

Rand Paul Conservative

Rand Paul has a problem much like Mitt Romney did, even though the details are different. Mitt Romney took many liberal positions when a politician in Massachusetts, and then had to flip flop on them to claim to be have been severely conservative to win the Republican nomination in 2012. Rand Paul has developed his base as sort of being a libertarian, and now is trying to fit more into the Republican mold to campaign for the 2016 presidential nomination.

Much of Rand Paul’s support has come from his opposition to foreign intervention, but he has been sounding more and more like a traditional Republican over the past  several months. and wrote:

…Paul is a candidate who has turned fuzzy, having trimmed his positions and rhetoric so much that it’s unclear what kind of Republican he will present himself as when he takes the stage….

There are at least two areas where Paul has moved more in line with the conservative Republican base, somewhat to the consternation of the purists in the libertarian movement: adopting a more muscular posture on defense and foreign policy, and courting the religious right.

Where he once pledged to sharply cut the Pentagon’s budget, for instance, Paul late last month proposed a $190 billion increase over the next two years — albeit one that would be paid for by cutting foreign aid and other government programs. His tour following the announcement of his candidacy will include an event at Patriots Point in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, with the World War II-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as a backdrop.

BuzzFeed News describes this as Rand Paul’s Bid To Be Everything To Every Republican Voter Politico reported on Paul being confronted on his changing views in a Today Show interview. Time recently described Paul’s new views on defense spending:

Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending…

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

The boost would be offset by a two-year combined $212 billion cut to funding for aid to foreign governments, climate change research and crippling reductions in to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Education.

Paul’s endorsement of increased defense spending represents a change in direction for the first-term lawmaker, who rose to prominence with his critiques of the size of the defense budget and foreign aid, drawing charges of advocating isolationism. Under pressure from fellow lawmakers and well-heeled donors, Paul in recent months has appeared to embrace the hawkish rhetoric that has defined the GOP in recent decades. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February Paul warned of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said. Asked about federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

While Paul is sounding more like a Republican on defense spending and foreign policy, like many Republican “libertarians,” Paul has never been all that libertarian on social issues. While Rand Paul might not share all the faults of Ron Paul, I have discussed at length in the past how this brand of “libertarianism” does not promote individual liberty. The New York Times found that libertarian Republicans are 1) rare, and 2) not all that libertarian:

In one sense, you could argue that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party barely exists at all. According to a large Pew Research survey in 2014 of 10,000 respondents, 11 percent of Americans and 12 percent of self-identified Republicans considered themselves libertarian. They met a basic threshold for knowing what the term meant. But there wasn’t much “libertarian” about these voters; over all, their views were startlingly similar to those of the public as a whole.

The likeliest explanation is that “libertarianism” has become a catchall phrase for iconoclasts of all political stripes. “Libertarian” seems to have become an adjective for the liberal millennials who are more skeptical of regulations and assistance for the poor than their Democratic contemporaries. The same holds for the deeply conservative college students who may want to, for example, signal socially acceptable views about homosexuality. These “libertarians” have little resemblance to the true believers who might scare everyone else out of the room with their views on a flat tax, the Civil Rights Act and a return to the gold standard.

If we take a different tack and use issue positions, rather than self-identification, to identify libertarian voters, we still find only a small number of Republicans who consistently agree with Mr. Paul’s libertarian views. Only 8 percent of self-identified Republican-leaners in the Pew data take the libertarian position on four issues that he emphasizes: disapproval of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program; support for a more restrained American role in the world; skepticism of the efficacy of military intervention; and a relaxation on drug sentencing.

Paul has been especially conservative as opposed to libertarian on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He has been repeating a common line of right wing revisionist historians who deny the establishment of separation of church and state:

Paul also has been trying to find common cause with evangelical Christian voters, who have been skeptical of and even hostile toward the energized libertarian element of the GOP.

“The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government,” he told a group of pastors at a private breakfast on Capitol Hill on March 26.

Many contemporary writers, such as here and here, have already taken Paul to task for botching the meaning of the First Amendment. For further explanation, I’ll turn to someone who not only was around at the time the First Amendment was written, but is also a hero to many libertarians–Thomas Jefferson:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” —Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802

Paul has recently been having difficulty answering questions as to whether he would permit any exceptions in laws he supports prohibiting abortion rights. He tried to throw back the question to the Democratic National Committee, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz quickly responded:

“Here’s an answer,” said Schultz. “I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul. We know you want to allow government officials like yourself to make this decision for women — but do you stand by your opposition to any exceptions, even when it comes to rape, incest, or life of the mother? Or do we just have different definitions of ‘personal liberty’? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond without ’shushing’ me.”

That is a far better response than what we have been accustomed to from Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly undermined liberal proponents of  abortion rights with calls for abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, stigmatizing women who do seek abortions. Still, while many liberals are unhappy with the prospect that the Democrats will nominate someone as conservative as Hillary Clinton, her views (and the likely views of any Supreme Court justices she would appoint) are far preferable to Paul’s views on social issues, while Paul’s views on national security issues are rapidly moving to be as far right as the views of both Clinton and the other Republican candidates. On the other hand, I do welcome seeing Paul challenge Clinton on other civil liberties issues, such as NSA surveillance–assuming he doesn’t also flip flop on this.

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Landmark FCC Decision Is A Victory For Freedom Of Expression And Free Enterprise

In what PoltiFact calls ” a significant accomplishment for Obama” and a “Promise Kept,” the FCC has voted for major changes to help guarantee a free and open Internet. Net neutrality is important for freedom of expression, including helping small blogs such as this to continue, important for small business, and important to maintain the lifestyle we are becoming accustomed to, such as streaming video as an alternative to often exorbitant cable rates.

Net neutrality is a tremendous victory for freedom of expression and free enterprise. Not surprisingly, conservatives have been spreading the untrue talking points of the large telecommunications companies which fear seeing their power diminished. Whenever the goals of the powerful conflict with the best interests of the nation, we know which side conservatives will invariably side with.

There are all sorts of false claims being spread by conservatives about net neutrality, such as that it will lead to $15 billion in new taxes and will lead to either Barack Obama or the United Nations (depending upon the source) controlling the Internet. In other words, this sounds like lots of right wing conspiracy theories we have already heard.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler disputed conservative claims that the new regulations are intended to regulate communication on the Internet:

This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept: openness, expression and an absence of gatekeepers telling them what they can do, where they can go and what they can think.

The Fact Checker at The Washington Post called the claims of higher taxes false. Ron Wyden, who wrote the Internet Tax Freedom Act, debunked conservative claims that the FCC’s action would invalidate the law and result in higher taxes. This ban on taxes in will expire in October, but there is nothing stopping Congress from renewing it.

AP’s fact checking included the following:

THE CLAIM: “President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet.” — Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

THE FACTS: It’s a shift for sure, but the FCC hasn’t proposed regulating Internet content or controlling access to websites. The question is how to regulate Internet service so providers don’t block or slow web traffic for financial gain.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the only way to do that is to subject retail Internet service to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. That would expand FCC power significantly by allowing regulators to step in if there were allegations of harm to consumers. But it’s a reach to suggest that these new powers equate to a government takeover.

Also worth noting is that the FCC is independent from the administration. While Obama has put pressure on the FCC to enact tougher regulations, and he appointed Wheeler to head the agency, this is not the president’s call.

After debunking additional claims, the article explained why this change is now needed, and not necessarily a break from previous administrations:

THE CLAIM: The FCC plan “represents a stunning reversal of the policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations.” It will backtrack on “decades of bipartisan agreement to limit Internet regulation.” — Former FCC commissioner Robert McDowell in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal.

THE FACTS: The question of Internet “fast lanes” is far more pressing for Obama than it ever was for Clinton or Bush. In 2000, only 3 percent of American households had broadband access, compared with 70 percent by 2013, according to the Pew Research Center.

It wasn’t until President George W. Bush’s second term, in 2005, that YouTube became available and video services like Netflix became more popular. By the time the FCC voted in 2008 against Comcast for throttling Web traffic, Bush was nearing the end of his presidency.

For those who might find this all boring, here is a more entertaining explanation of net neutrality from John Oliver:

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Report Accuses Chicago Police Of Operating Domestic Equivalent Of A CIA Black Site

Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian has a report accusing the Chicago police of violating civil liberties, using a site comparable to CIA black sites used for terrorism suspects:

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
Shackling for prolonged periods.
Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead…

The secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. While those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown.

Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.

“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.

Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the fifth and sixth amendments of the constitution.

“This Homan Square revelation seems to me to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years,” Taylor said, “of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement.”

Much remains hidden about Homan Square. The Chicago police department did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about the facility. But after the Guardian published this story, the department provided a statement insisting, without specifics, that there is nothing untoward taking place at what it called the “sensitive” location, home to undercover units.

“CPD [Chicago police department] abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them. It also houses CPD’s Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property,” the statement said, something numerous attorneys and one Homan Square arrestee have denied.

“There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square,” it continued.

The Chicago police statement did not address how long into an arrest or detention those records are generated or their availability to the public. A department spokesperson did not respond to a detailed request for clarification.

Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project and a criminologist was interviewed by Tanya Basu of The Atlantic

Basu: Why wasn’t the press covering it?

Siska: I think that many crime reporters in Chicago have political views that are right in line with the police. They tend to agree about the tactics needed by the police. They tend to have by one extent or the other the same racist views of the police—a lot of urban police (not all of them by any stretch, but a lot of them) embody racism.

Later in the interview:

Basu: Going back to the Guantanamo interrogation techniques associated with Homan Square, and just to be clear: These warehouses aren’t interrogating suspected terrorists, correct?

Siska: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. 99 percent of the people from this site are involved in some form of street crime: gang activities, drugs—urban violent crime. That’s what makes the site even worse. It takes Guantanamo-style tactics on urban street criminals and shreds the Bill of Rights.

Basu: To clarify: What do “Guantanamo-style” tactics entail?

Siska: Isolation, deprivation of food, other outside contact. It’s meant to be a lot of touchless torture. So they’re not touching you, which in the human-rights field is more powerful and scary because it doesn’t leave marks but leaves huge internal wounds. Most of the time, people aren’t physically abused. They’re cut off from society, not allowed phone calls, not fed as much. These are just tactics that are more sophisticated in urban-policing tactics.

Basu: What does it mean when Ackerman says records would disappear?

Siska: We changed that rule. What used to happen at Homan Square is that prior to a year ago, if you get arrested and you get brought down anywhere in any district, you would not pop up in the city computer as being arrested until they processed the police report, which could take anywhere from an hour to 15 hours. If they “arrested” you, then they have to report it. But if they don’t “arrest you,” nefarious things could happen and they could interrogate you without a lawyer. And they would move you around from district to district. So [for example] if the family shows up or the lawyer shows up and they say you aren’t here but you are, they’ve denied you access. But if they say you’re at [district] 17, then move you to 15, and then 12, they can question you without counsel. At Homan Square they don’t process paperwork about your arrest. You’re just gone. No one knows.

At some point they have to do the paperwork and prosecute you. After they get your confession, you wind up back in the paperwork.

MSNBC has posted a statement from the Chicago police denying the accusations, however most of the issues are not specifically addressed in the statement:

The allegations in this instance are not supported by facts. The vast majority of our officers serve the public with honor and integrity, and alleged actions of one individual decades ago are in no way indicative of the hard working men and women who put their lives on the line each day to protect residents.

The Chicago Police Department has zero tolerance for misconduct, and has instituted a series of internal initiatives and reforms, to ensure past incidents of police misconduct are not repeated.

Over the past three years, CPD created and implemented procedural justice training, which is mandatory for all police officers, built around understanding, fairness and respect.  CPD strengthened Internal Affairs, adding accountability measures to their work, adding more investigators, bringing Sergeants into investigations and giving the Bureau of Internal Affairs priority in selecting staff. Additionally, CPD has worked to ensure we have the right supervisors in place, and provided new training that reflects the values we hold, not just as a department but as a community. At the same time, we have made community policing the foundation of our policing philosophy and we have fostered stronger partnership with community leaders, faith leaders and residents.

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NAACP Legal Defense Fund Files Complaint Against Prosecutors For Misconduct In Darren Wilson Case

Following the ACLU taking the case of a member of the Ferguson grand jury who is suing to be able to speak publically about how prosecutor Robert McCulloch misrepresented the proceedings, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund  has written a letter to Missouri Judge Maura McShane asking her to investigate Ferguson prosecutor Bob McCulloch and two assistant prosecutors for misconduct. St. Louis Public Radio reports:

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch and two of his assistants are facing a misconduct complaint for the way they handled the grand jury that investigated former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

The complaint was filed Monday with the Missouri Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel which handles attorney discipline in the state. It accuses McCulloch and assistants Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley of “gross failure to vigorously represent their client – the citizens of St. Louis, Missouri, in their capacity as prosecutors.” Alizadeh and Whirley were in charge of presenting the Wilson case to the grand jury.

“We would like to send the message that prosecuting attorneys can no longer abuse their power and expect it to be swept under the rug,” said Christi Griffin, a former attorney who is the founder and president of the Ethics Project, and one of seven citizens to sign the complaint.

Specifically, McCulloch, Alizadeh and Whirley are accused of violating the following rules of conduct:

  • Rule 4-3.3: Candor toward the tribunal. The complaint says, among other things, that  Alizadeh and Whirley cited an outdated, unconstitutional use-of-force statute, and failed to properly correct their mistake. The two are also accused of knowingly allowing witnesses to lie to the grand jury.
  • Rule 4-1.1: Competence. Historically, the plaintiff — or the person bringing the case — is supposed to receive the benefit of the doubt. In the Wilson case, the state is the plaintiff. The complaint alleges that Alizadeh and Whirley, presumably with McCulloch’s knowledge, did not do all they could to present the strongest case for the state.
  • Rule 4-1.6: Confidentiality of information. The complaint says McCulloch needed permission to release the transcripts of grand jury testimony and witness statements and that he dumped all the evidence in an effort to taint a second grand jury.
  • Rule 4-1.8: Conflict of interest: prohibited transactions. The complaint alleges that Alizadeh and Whirley acted more like Darren Wilson’s defense attorneys. They cite the continual references to the marijuana in Michael Brown’s system, and the fact that he was suspected of robbing a convenience store moments before the shooting.
  • Rule 4-3.8: Special responsibilities of a prosecutor. The complaint alleges that McCulloch made several public statements that went beyond what’s permitted to “inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor’s actions.”
  • Rule 4-3.4: Fairness to opposing party and counsel. McCulloch made several public statements that seemed to bolster Wilson’s statements, while commenting negatively about Michael Brown.
  • Rule 4-3.5: Impartiality and decorum of the tribunal. Alizadeh is accused of making comments about protesters, the NAACP and Ferguson unrest that could prejudice the grand jurors.
  • Rule 4.4-1: Truthfulness in statements to others. This complaint also deals with the outdated use-of-force statute originally presented to the grand jury. It specifically references the day Alizadeh handed the copy of the unconstitutional statute to the grand jury, and also comments she made about messing up the exhibit numbers.
  • Rule 4-5.2: Responsibilities of a subordinate lawyer. Alizadeh and Whirley were required to abide by the rules of professional conduct regardless of what McCulloch told them to do.

Griffin said the availability of the transcripts and evidence, even though it was released in violation of the codes of conduct, brought to light problems with the entire judicial system.

“It’s made possible by the prosecutors, because as long as the police can expect not to be prosecuted for their misconduct, they will continue to over-police, they will continue to abuse citizens, they will continue to use excessive force,” she said.

There is speculation that this could result in the reopening of the case with a special prosecutor forming a new grand jury to reconsider indicting Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown when considerable evidence shows he was attempting to surrender.

I am not very optimistic that there will be action on this letter. St. Louis Public Radio also reports that an attorney serving as a legal consultant “said he was unaware of any Missouri prosecutors who were ever publicly disciplined, even for what he said were pretty egregious violations.” On the other hand, the unprecedented level of publicity surrounding this case, and the considerable evidence of misconduct on Wilson’s part, including using witnesses who he knew were lying and giving incorrect instructions to the grand jury, could make it more difficult for Missouri officials to continue to sweep this killing by a police officer under the rug.

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Benefits From Decreased Arrests By New York Police

Police have come under increased criticism lately, from increased concerns over killings of minorities, sometimes in response to petty offenses, to abuse of police powers to raise money. This creates difficult problems to solve. Virtually nobody questions the need to have police, but there is no simple solution to stopping the excessive use of police power. In some cases the solution would be the repeal of laws along with reforms of practices. There has been an unexpected improvement in some areas in New York as a consequence of the dispute between Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police following the police killing of Eric Garner and the subsequent murder of two police officers. The New York Post has reported a 66 percent drop in arrests:

Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame.

Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300.

Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241.

Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau — which are part of the overall number — dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.

The Atlantic discussed the benefits of this reduction in police activity:

Policing quality doesn’t necessarily increase with policing quantity, as New York’s experience with stop-and-frisk demonstrated. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg asserted that the controversial tactic of warrantless street searches “keeps New York City safe.” De Blasio ended the program soon after succeeding him, citing its discriminatory impact on black and Hispanic residents. Stop-and-frisk incidents plunged from 685,724 stops in 2011 to just 38,456 in the first three-quarters of 2014 as a result. If stop-and-frisk had caused the ongoing decline in New York’s crime rate, its near-absence would logically halt or even reverse that trend. But the city seems to be doing just fine without it: Crime rates are currently at two-decade lows, with homicide down 7 percent and robberies down 14 percent since 2013.

The slowdown also challenges the fundamental tenets of broken-windows policing, a controversial strategy championed by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. According to the theory, which first came to prominence in a 1982 article in The Atlantic, “quality-of-life” crimes like vandalism and vagrancy help normalize criminal behavior in neighborhoods and precede more violent offenses. Tackling these low-level offenses therefore helps prevent future ones. The theory’s critics dispute its effectiveness and contend that broken-windows policing simply criminalizes the young, the poor, and the homeless.

Public drinking and urination may be unseemly, but they’re hardly threats to life, liberty, or public order. (The Post also noted a decline in drug arrests, but their comparison of 2013 and 2014 rates is misleading. The mayor’s office announced in November that police would stop making arrests for low-level marijuana possession and issue tickets instead. Even before the slowdown began, marijuana-related arrests had declined by 61 percent.) If the NYPD can safely cut arrests by two-thirds, why haven’t they done it before?

The human implications of this question are immense. Fewer arrests for minor crimes logically means fewer people behind bars for minor crimes. Poorer would-be defendants benefit the most; three-quarters of those sitting in New York jails are only there because they can’t afford bail. Fewer New Yorkers will also be sent to Rikers Island, where endemic brutality against inmates has led to resignations, arrests, and an imminent federal civil-rights intervention over the past six months. A brush with the American criminal-justice system can be toxic for someone’s socioeconomic and physical health.

Addicting Info looked at this from a more civil liberties persecutive:

Our prison population is now larger than those of the Soviet Union’s infamous Gulags, and the largest prison system in history.

The statistics speak for themselves, revealing that the New York Police Department has been needlessly arresting people who were not criminals at all. Rather than bolstering their case, the NYPD has instead given Mayor Bill de Blasio proof that the department is indeed out of control, and not accountable to the people they are there to protect. Instead of the anticipated surge in criminal activity, the results of the work stoppage have shown that the police have been arresting needlessly, the result of strict EPA regulations causing a decades-long drop of crime across the city as well as elsewhere nationwide.

The transition of the justice system from law enforcement to profit center was a slow one, but now it is near absolute. There have been whole towns which had police citations as their primary revenue source. Private prisons generate record revenue and have turned into a new form of slavery. This is made worse when you realize that most prisoners have never even been before a jury for trial.

The NYPD is the largest police force in the United States. As a result, it is a good study for understanding what is wrong with American justice. By their work stoppage, the NYPD hoped to show how indispensable they are. Instead, ironically, it demonstrated that the department itself has been the problem the whole time. If we want to see crime drop in the largest city in the big apple, it is time for real reforms.

Think Progress concentrated on how this change benefits the poor, who suffered disproportionately from excessive police action, along with affecting New Yorkers of all income levels:

Although it’s not the intended goal of the work stoppage, the decline in arrests could save New Yorkers money. The city residents who are normally hit with tickets for minor violations tend to be low income individuals who are forced to pay up a hefty portion of their paychecks.

The city began following the broken-windows style of policing in the early 1980s, a strategy championed by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton which focuses on eliminating low-level crime to prevent more violent offenses in the city’s neighborhoods. But a report earlier this year by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan found that the NYPD’s practice of arresting more people for minor offenses since 1980 has disproportionately affected young black and Latino men.

While de Blasio and Bratton have followed through on their promise to reform the city’s stop and frisk practices and the mayor announced in November that police would stop making arrests for low-level marijuana possessions, there are still racial biases in police practices throughout the city that result in a tougher financial burden on those already struggling to make ends meet.

And New Yorkers of all income levels are also saving money on one of the most consistent ways the city can slam people with tickets— parking violations are down by 92 percent, from 14,699 to just 1,241 this year.

NYPD officers have long spoken about quotas which require them to issue a certain number of summons per month to maintain statistics showing a reduction of crime in the city’s neighborhoods. Although Bratton promised an end to arrest quotas when he took office in January, the city’s police are still operating under a quota system which is illegal under state law, according to a recent report by the Police Reform Organizing Project. The group called on Bratton and de Blasio to end the quota system in its October report, which described how police are still using the quota system, as evidenced by the number of misdemeanor arrests and the poor quality of those arrests under Bratton.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone noted how under other circumstances this could be a change in policy which both progressives and libertarians might have backed, but unfortunately such principles are not the reason for this work stoppage:

I don’t know any police officer anywhere who would refuse to arrest a truly dangerous criminal as part of a PBA-led political gambit. So the essence of this protest seems now to be about trying to hit de Blasio where it hurts, i.e. in the budget, without actually endangering the public.

So this police protest, unwittingly, is leading to the exposure of the very policies that anger so many different constituencies about modern law-enforcement tactics.

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”

It’s incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it’s precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods.

In an alternate universe where this pseudo-strike wasn’t the latest sortie in a standard-issue right-versus left political showdown, one could imagine this protest as a progressive or even a libertarian strike, in which police refused to work as backdoor tax-collectors and/or implement Minority Report-style pre-emptive policing policies, which is what a lot of these Broken Windows-type arrests amount to.

But that’s not what’s going on here. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing enlightened about this slowdown, although I’m sure there are thousands of cops who are more than happy to get a break from Broken Windows policing…

I’ve met more than a few police in the last few years who’ve complained vigorously about things like the “empty the pad” policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.

It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people “when they have to.”

Because it’s wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it’s even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.

Both policies make people pissed off at police for the most basic and understandable of reasons: if you’re running into one, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to end up opening your wallet.

Your average summons for a QOL offense costs more than an ordinary working person makes in a day driving a bus, waiting tables, or sweeping floors. So every time you nail somebody, you’re literally ruining their whole day.

If I were a police officer, I’d hate to be taking money from people all day long, too. Christ, that’s worse than being a dentist. So under normal circumstances, this slowdown wouldn’t just make sense, it would be heroic.

Unfortunately, this protest is not about police refusing to shake people down for money on principle.

For one thing, it’s simply another public union using its essential services leverage to hold the executive (and by extension, the taxpayer) hostage in a negotiation. In this case the public union doesn’t want higher pay or better benefits (in which case it wouldn’t have the support from the political right it has now – just the opposite), it merely wants “support” from the Mayor.

On another level, however, this is just the latest salvo in an ongoing and increasingly vicious culture-war mess that is showing no signs of abating.

Even if we are inadvertently seeing some good outcomes for the wrong reasons, perhaps city governments will learn something here.

Update: Steve M. has a different view from Matt Taibbi.

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