What I’m Reading, September 21, 2015

Police Officer Fired For Racial Bias After Falsely Claiming Black Man Attacked Her With Golf Club, Andy Campbell, Huffington Post, September 17, 2015

Seattle Police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch was fired Tuesday for showing racial bias and a lack of remorse when she improperly arrested a 69-year-old black man who was using a golf club as a cane.

“I was disappointed by your failure during your Loudermill hearing to take any responsibility, or show any understanding that your conduct at issue here was inappropriate,” Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole wrote in her decision to fire Whitlatch. “In particular, when I asked you what if anything you would do differently in retrospect, you stated that you would do nothing differently.”

‘The narrowing of opportunity in modern America’ (And the rise of the “mandarin” class), Nick Sorrentino, Against Crony Capitalism, February 15, 2015 Continue reading

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From the Mouths of Babes (UPDATED)

Fox News has a story about a 13-year-old kid who posted a YouTube video criticizing President Obama’s decision to invite Ahmed Mohamed to the White House (h/t Tim). It pretty much covers all the usual points: why is the president taking an active stand on this issue and not on [other, possibly-unrelated issue]??? Even at its best, it’s not a very good argument. In this case, the kid mentioned the president’s purported silence about Kate Steinle and “cops…being gunned down,” even though the second point is decidedly not true, and neither point is relevant to Ahmed Mohamed’s story.

I’m not going to get too worked up about this, though, because this kid is 13 years old. The real question is why Fox News seems to be giving him so much of a platform.

See, this is not the first time conservatives have rallied around a teenager who said things they wanted to hear. Wonkette reported on young conservative darling Jonathan Krohn a few years ago: Continue reading

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In Defense of -Ismlessness

“Isms” in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an “ism”, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon: “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off of people.  – Ferris Bueller

I have struggled for some time with how to describe myself. I have finally concluded that no single “-Ism” defines me. If you want to know what I believe or what my stance is on a given issue, you are going to have to ask me.

Joe Flintham [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)], via Flickr

I’m not interested in any ideology that doesn’t think lambs are cute.


Photo credit: Joe Flintham [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.

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Of Towels and Special Treatment

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was booked into the Collin County Jail last Monday, August 3, 2015, on charges of securities fraud, his mugshot shows him in a suit and tie, giving a rather inscrutable smile/sneer (I suppose your interpretation of the photo will depend largely on your opinion of the man.) Missing from the photo is a towel, which is apparently a standard practice for booking photos in Collin County, according to Mike Drago of the Dallas Morning News:

When my colleague Jennifer Emily reported on the practice in 2006 (it was eight years old at the time), Collin County officials explained that the intent was to help avoid wrongful identifications in photo lineups. If one guy is clearly wearing a suit and the other guy a dirty, old t-shirt, it could lead witnesses to finger the wrong guy. Or so the thinking goes.

Lt. Larry Smart said at the time: “We decided to make everyone the same.”

I couldn’t resist.

If it is the county’s policy to take mugshots with a towel, then taking Paxton’s photo without the towel seems like special treatment. Drago certainly thinks so:

Maybe it’s tempting to brush off the fact that there was no white towel under Ken Paxton’s crooked smile when he posed for his Collin County booking mug. Every other person booked there gets the ridiculous white towel, but not Paxton. So what?

***

But I don’t think it’s a trifle at all. I think it matters, if only as a tiny reflection of a dual justice system that treats nearly all of us one way and a very few of us another. It’s a system that willfully buries human beings in miscarriages of justice simply because they lack the means and access to power and money that Ken Paxton enjoys in spades.

Why should Paxton have been allowed to evade the humiliating white towel treatment when you or I wouldn’t?

As it turns out, it wasn’t anyone with the Collin County Sheriff’s Office who made the call to leave out the towel. It was Judge George Gallagher in the 416th District Court, who issued a written order on August 3 which states, in full:

The Court has been made aware of the policy of the Collin County Sheriff’s Office to photograph inmates in the Collin County jail while the inmate is wearing a towel around the neck of the inmate. Due to the high profile nature of this case and the Defendant’s right to a fair trial, the Court hereby ORDERS the Sheriff of Collin County, Texas to refrain from making the Defendant wear a towel while being photographed in the custody of the Collin County Sheriff’s Department.

It is possible that the judge issued this order on his own, but it seems more likely that Paxton’s legal team made some sort of expedited motion on the morning of August 3. My first thought was also that it seems highly unlikely that this would be the first time that a sitting Collin County district judge had heard of the towel thing, but Judge Gallagher is actually a judge in the 396th District Court in Tarrant County. He will be presiding over Paxton’s case because, according to an anonymous source cited by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (huge grains of salt!), multiple Collin County judges recused themselves.

The point seems to be that the judge does not think Paxton will get a fair trial if his mugshot makes him look like every other individual booked into the Collin County jail—well, that’s one way of looking at it, anyway. A policy that was, at least according to Collin County officials, intended to make everyone appear equal has now been found, by one visiting judge presiding over the case of one sitting Attorney General, to make the defendant look guilty.

Look, I am all for removing elements from our criminal justice system that unfairly burden defendants in favor of prosecutors for no apparently valid reason. But here’s the thing—before now, one could plausibly argue that the towel thing, while humiliating, did not significantly impact the interests of justice because everybody had to wear one in their mugshot. The stated intent was to remove extraneous details that might, consciously or subconsciously, sway people’s opinions. Judge Gallagher’s order destroyed that rationale. Now it’s just a thing that most people arrested in Collin County have to do.

That brings me to my second point: Would anyone else going before the courts of Collin County get this sort of consideration? True, most people are not as high-profile as Ken Paxton, but by making an exception to the usual rule, the court has effectively stated that Ken Paxton is exceptional. Obviously he is entitled to a fair trial, but is he more entitled to a fair trial than others? Does going the extra mile to ensure that his trial is fair, by giving him accommodations others probably would not receive, make other people’s trials less fair? It might. I hope a slew of motions in upcoming Collin County criminal cases test that point. The county’s justice system has only Judge Gallagher and Ken Paxton’s legal team to blame.

(h/t Texas Standard)

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Factually Challenged

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Ronald Reagan awakened discontented Americans to a new version of reality, which offered as its test question not “Is it true?” but “Does it make you feel better?” And he also encouraged scapegoating, suggesting to people that if factual reality makes you feel bad, there’s no reason on earth not to blame it on somebody, and the people he was preaching to needed only a wink from St. Ronnie to know who some of those somebodies might be.

All these years later these impulses have become so deeply embedded in the right-wing psyche that the victims seem to have truly no idea how complete their break from reality is. Which is why I pose the question of whether that break from reality makes it not just undesirable but impossible to deal with factual reality.

– KenInNY, “This is a serious question: Are right-wingers CAPABLE of telling the truth about anything?” DownWithTyranny!, July 9, 2015

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“What ought to be”

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It’s easy to confuse ‘what is’ with ‘what ought to be,’ especially when ‘what is’ has worked out in your favor.

– Tyrion Lannister, “The Dance of Dragons,” Games of Thrones season 5, episode 9

© HBO / via examiner.co.uk

© HBO / via examiner.co.uk (click image for source)

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“It’s not supposed to happen here”

Republicans are having to face a reality in which HIV is no longer just affecting gay people and drug users in big cities, and it’s exposing some uncomfortable realities that were already glaringly obvious, but which people still like to pretend don’t exist.

It wasn’t supposed to happen here. Not in Austin, a one-doctor-and-an-ice-cream-shop town of 4,200 in southeastern Indiana, nestled off Interstate 65 on the road from Indianapolis to Louisville, where dusty storefronts sit vacant and many residents, lacking cars, walk to the local market. Not in rural, impoverished Scott County, which had reported fewer than five new cases of HIV infection each year, and just three cases in the past six years. Not in a state where, of the 500 new cases reported annually, only 3 percent are linked to injection drug use.

But it did. And it could happen in many more backwoods towns just as unprepared as Austin.

As the largest HIV/AIDS outbreak in Indiana’s history roils this Hoosier hamlet, it reflects the changing face of the epidemic in the U.S., as a disease that once primarily afflicted gays and minorities in deep-blue cities rises in rural red states. This new evolution of HIV is also forcing a new generation of Republican policymakers to confront its orthodox opposition to remedies such as government-funded needle-exchange programs.

I’m hung up on that first sentence, “It wasn’t supposed to happen here.”

I can’t tell if the author of this article is using this sentence with any sense of irony at all. Continue reading

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Who Watches the Watchmen Watching the Watched?

Think about it.

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If They Could Turn Back Time…

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If the Civil War had not taken place, we might not have the Fourteenth Amendment. But it did, and we do. Laws that once might have applied only to the federal government now apply to the states as well.

By the same token, if the Articles of Confederation had worked, we would not have the Constitution. But they didn’t, and we do. We cannot go back and undo the Civil War, and we can’t go back to the Articles of Confederation. Time only flows one direction.

– Hrafnkell Haraldsson, “It’s Getting Hard to Tell Where Sovereign Citizens End and Republicans Begin“, PoliticusUSA, April 24, 2015

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APOCCON

So, here’s a thing that actually happened (h/t Jason):

Former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) predicted in a recent interview that President Barack Obama’s handling of the Middle East was a sign of the End Times and that Jesus Christ would soon return to Earth.

“If we actually turn our back on Israel as we have seen Barack Obama do today, if that happens then I think we will see a scale and a level of push back in the United States, negative consequences,” Bachmann told Understanding the Times radio host Jan Markell on Sunday. “I don’t know what they are, but I believe that the Bible is true. And believe what the Bible says is that our nation and the people of our nation will reap a whirlwind, and we could see economic disasters, natural disasters.”

Sometime I wonder if these folks think that heaven has a sign that’s like the “DEFCON” sign in WarGames. Every time conservative Christians enact one of the signs from Revelation, God has to lower the APOCCON (that’s “apocalypse condition,” obvs.) When it hits APOCCON 1, well, things will get interesting.

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