August 25, 2014
The Long Term Efects of a Police ShootingMy voluntary editing of an online newsletter devoted to America’s “Drug War,” for the four years between 1997 and 2001 provided me with an intense education in the injustice that had become so intrinsic to American policy shortly after passage of Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970. While the policy had never been an intelligent response to the problems posed by addiction, Nixon’s contribution literally turned what had been disaster into a global catastrophe so progressive that it ranks high on the list of imminent dangers now threatening our feckless species; many of which may have seemed like good ideas at the time.
My antipathy toward police had its beginning with the shooting of a 22 year old African immigrant named Amodou Diallo in the Bronx by four NYC policemen on February 4, 1999, when they riddled him with 19 shots– simply because he ran from them to seek refuge in the vestibule of his apartment. Diallo had reason to run; he was black; an illegal immigrant from Guinea who was making a precarious living as a street vendor. He was also unarmed. The cops were all white and in civilian clothes. They were members of an elite Street Crime Unit that had been created by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani (and was subsequently disbanded because of multiple charges of excessive force). At the time, the story of Diallo’s slaying enraged so many citizens that all four shooters were arrested and charged with murder. After a motion for change of venue was granted, the trial was moved to Albany and all four were acquitted. Only one– Kenneth Boss– remained on the force but was forbidden to carry a gun. That restriction proved so intolerable that he sued the City three times to have it rescinded.
Finally, in 2012 his persistence was rewarded and his right to carry a gun was restored by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Of considerable interest to me was the reference to Ms Diallou's friend, Ms Bah, whose mentally disturbed 28 year-old son had been shot by NYC police in a setting that was eerily similar to their killing of Amadu Diallo in 1999.
Is there a pattern to these fatal shootings? What a stupid question. The only ones who doubt it are red state Republicans, police officials, and overbearing meat heads like Sean Hannity.
August 22, 2014
A Suspicious New ClaimThis morning, a new claim was made on behalf of Officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed an unarmed black teen named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, an event that has provoked a degree of unrest and interest that is almost unprecedented. In brief, it's the unsubstantiated claim that Officer Darren Wilson, the policeman named as Brown's killer, sustained an orbital blow-out fracture just before he shot Brown. If so, it would be powerful mitigation of the claim that the shooting was either unprovoked or motivated merely by the theft of a box of cigars.
Blow out fractures are well known; they are produced by direct trauma to the eyeball and its surrounding bony orbit. They are often complicated by troublesome double vision (diplopia) from the herniation of a small fat pad that supports the eyeball and which usually requires surgical correction. Such an injury would constitute such a powerful rebuttal of the claim that Wilson's killing of Brown was either unprovoked or motivated merely by the theft of a box of cigars that its delayed release is- at the very least– highly suspicious.
A blowout fracture would also be expected to produce a black eye, noticeable misalignment of the eyeballs and x-ay evidence of a fracture, all of which are objective and, by themselves, would have at least mitigated the growing unrest.
Given the abundant evidence that similar shootings of young males by US police have become remarkably common, further developments in this case should continue to be of great interest. To see a list of this month's shootings, simply clicking on "August" in the drop-down menu for 2014 will reveal the known details on the 46 such events (including Michael Brown's) that have been listed so far this month. Most of the HTML links to media sources are live.
August 20, 2014
Nixon's Impact on the Modern World 1It may come as a surprise to many, but the modern American President who has had the biggest impact on the contemporary world is almost certainly Richard M. Nixon, the least respected and the only one ever forced by his own dishonesty to resign.
Nixon did accomplish a lot in his six years in the White House, most of it was through ad-hoc measures that were not carefully thought out, but are still affecting us adversely. A good example was his unilateral decision to take the US off the gold standard, thus changing a multinational policy that had been adopted at the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire in the immediate aftermath of World War Two and had been working reasonably well.
The consensus is that Nixon's move encouraged OPEC to raise oil prices and brought about the first "oil shock" in 1973. A second "oil shock" followed in 1978.
In 1971, Nixon tried to force North Vietnam to make concessions in Geneva by ordering the secret bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a campaign that not only failed to discourage its use to transport supplies and reinforcements to South Vietnam, but left behind a plethora of unexploded anti-personnel weapons that continued to kill and maim children decades after America was forced to withdraw its forces in an ill-advised war.
Neverteless, Nixon's greatest crime against humanity should eventually be seen as the "War on Drugs" he committed us to with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, a transparently dishonest piece of legislation that– unaccountably– continues to be enforced as both US and UN policy despite its universal record of failure and generally disastrous consequences.
For anyone who doesn't understand the futility and evil consequences of establishing illegal markets under police control, I can only recommend that they study the failure of the 18th Amendment and explain how its emulation has been either a success or good policy.
Progressive American EmbarrassmentAmerica is being progressively embarrassed in the eyes of the world; does our establishment even get it? Probably not. As I’ve been trying to point out for the past several days there’s a site on Wikipedia documenting that the callousness and stupidity now being exhibited by police in Ferguson MO is nothing new. To a shocking degree, it’s been standard police operating procedure for years when the “bad guys” are people of color, especially young males.
The demonstrations in Ferguson now seem to be taking on a mind of their own. I don't think they will stop until a majority of America's black citizens feel that they are being taken seriously and respected as citizens by their oppressors in America's police establishment. In my view, that will also require serious modification of our inane and destructive drug policy and the grossly unfair way it is enforced. I will soon have some suggestions in that regard with respect to realizing the marvelous potential of cannabis and turning it into an asset.
These are areas where Obama cannot remain the passive defender of the status quo he has been for five years. It's his moment to rise above the painful mediocrity with which he has governed thus far. He has the brains and the rhetorical skills; it's time he found some better advisers and used the "Bully Pulpit" of the Presidency with insight and conviction.
Posted by tjeffo at 01:10 AM
August 16, 2014
A Long-Overdue Protest in FergusonOn July 19th, I referred to a phenomenon that has long been a consequence of our destructive drug war: the militarization of American police agencies. In the last sentence, I included a link to a database that lists the shooting victims of American law enforcement. I'm still not sure how, or by whom that database was started, but it seems to have been well maintained since 2009, at least. It contains both the identities of the victims and the circumstances under which they were shot; usually with links to press or TV accounts. Just browsing it is a revelation: the great majority of victims were young males of color who were shot early during an encounter with their local police. There are often links to media accounts of the shootings that include protests from friends or family disagreeing with the "official" interpretation– often stridently. A substantial number of the incidents were formally investigated and the police use of deadly force was almost always found to be justified.
In fact, the current ruckus over the killing of Michael Brown by police in the Saint Louis suburb of Ferguson is rather typical of the group; except that it's generating far more media coverage than any similar event within recent memory.
One has to go back the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police which was caught on amateur video and became an oversight sensation when released to the media.
In the aftermath of the King verdict, in which the cops were all acquitted, prompting three days of rioting that produced over fifty deaths, and in which the LAPD did not distinguish itself by either its intelligence or its courage. There were additional costs: Rodney King was a chronic alcoholic who eventually died suspiciously after being enriched by a large settlement for the beating administered by the LAPD.
Some accurate and careful analyses have been written since Michael Brown's death, such as the one by Jewelle Taylor Gibbs that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. My only disagreement with her is relatively minor: I hold Richard Nixon far more culpable than Ronald Reagan; it was Nixon who (literally) dreamed up the Controlled Substances Act. All Ronnie did was to follow Tricky Dick's script (with appropriate coaching from Nancy). Given the totality of our problems on planet Earth; from Ferguson to the Ukraine, not to mention the denial being exhibited by both our fellow humans and our "leaders," I'm tempted to ask a rhetorical question: can this species (possibly) be saved?
One can sympathize with Robin Williams, whose depression would have responded far better to cannabis than to the toxic Big Pharma products I suspect his shrinks were prescribing.
August 07, 2014
A Brand New ConcernFor some time, I've been frustrated by the fact that my country is the source of a failing global policy of drug prohibition; also that the species I'm a member of had been endorsing that policy for decades, despite its obvious record of failure.
Today I'd planned to post more analysis of the nuclear threat we humans had somehow avoided during the 50 year Cold War we'd been engaged in with the now-defunct Soviet Union. However, a more pressing existential threat has just come up: an outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa that has already claimed about 2000 lives and been disseminated to both Europe and the US in the form of sick patents being transported for treatment.
Whatever risk was implicit in breaking the quarantine of Ebola within Africa had thus been taken by the humanitarian decision to fly two Americans to Atlanta and a Spanish priest to Spain for treatment. It's unlikely that any quarantine would have held, in any event
That's not to say that "Marijuana" prohibition is any less ridiculous today than it was yesterday; only that the threat of globalized Ebola is much more immediate and deserves precedence.
As it happened, I'd read Richard Preston's gripping description of Ebola about ten years ago. It convinced me we'd be hearing about the Ebola virus again. The strain Preston wrote about was eventually found to infect only monkeys; not humans– but the collateral information he supplied in his detailed analysis left little doubt that Ebola, like Anthrax and Smallpox, would not disappear spontaneously.
The timing for the emergence of human Ebola couldn't be worse. Not only is our overheated, overpopulated home planet trying to cope with the mystery of two missing airliners; we have an existential viral threat as well.
Beyond that, the decision to treat three known human cases outside Africa violated the most basic rules of quarantine for a disease we know relatively little about. However, that risk had already been taken; not just in the US, but in Europe and is believed by experts to have been minor.
The good news is that we should begin to have some answers in the next 8-31 days, which seems to be the incubation period for Ebola in humans.
The bad news is that West Africa was the same place where another unknown virus HIV/Aids emerged less than 40 years ago.
Annals of Creeping SanityLast week, the New York Times published a surprising editorial recommending that "Marijuana" be legalized. When I attempted to simply read what the "Paper of Record" had written on a subject of great interest to me, I was greeted with a notice that I'd already exceeded my quota of free NYT articles for the month accompanied by a none-too-subtle ad for subscriptions, which I effectively trumped by visiting the old news Website I'd once edited.
While there, I noticed a few items that re-kindled a spark of optimism that our species may not be as close to auto-extinction as I'd feared: the first was an item about the popularity of "pot shops" in Colorado, but the (inevitable) downer was an item in a travel letter explaining how the Colorado rules, all of which are left over from Nixon's reefer madness, are interfering with the growth of its booming Marijuana industry.
That led me to understand that any one expecting the feds (or our species, for that matter) to get over their Nixon-imposed reefer madness in a hurry just because Colorado and Washington State had voted to "legalize" recreational use may be in for a long wait. On the other hand, progress is progress and it's always better to be going forward than backward.
August 05, 2014
The Bomb and the Boom: Part OneWe are now in the midst of an important anniversary, the first-ever use of atomic energy as a weapon of war in August 1945. So much has happened in the intervening 69 years that relatively little attention has been focused on the critical events that transpired between August 6th and 9th 1945 to bring about the sudden end of the Second World War– but at the cost of releasing the nuclear genie from its bottle. That nuclear energy would have been discovered sooner or later is almost certain but the important point is that the decisions to develop and use it were motivated by World War Two and were among the more critical ever made by our species.
Thus it may be worthwhile to review them in some detail. It's clear that the humans who made them were acting under duress, a situation that hasn't changed significantly despite the rapid technological progress and population growth of the past seven decades.
Aside from the 2nd World War itself, perhaps no demographic phenomenon did so much to shape our modern world as the Baby Boom that began abruptly in 1946. If one takes live births as a critical measure of national fertility and realizes that children have not only to be conceived, but also desired by their parents, one can readily understand that for families suddenly thrown on hard times by the Great Depression, the prospect of another mouth to feed would have been most unwelcome. Although abortion was then illegal, it was also reasonably safe and much less expensive, over time, than another child in a stagnant economy where living space was already being squeezed to the max and families were making do on fewer calories and a minimum number of low-paying jobs.
We will probably never have reliable statistics on how many abortions were performed in the US during the Thirties but the number of live births in America hit its lowest point in January 1932, the month I was born. They remained depressed until 1946, when there was a sudden sharp jump; 30% over 1945. Births then hit a sustained rise that lasted through 1964, thus producing the "Boom" that is still having consequences that require analysis and understanding.
Clearly, the monetary woes of the Great Depression were banished by World War Two, there was employment for millions in the war effort and the government was printing money as never before, but the war hadn't relieved the ambient anxiety. Quite the opposite: we were suddenly locked into a global, existential struggle for survival with multiple enemies in a war of unprecedented scope and magnitude. The opponents were similar to World War One, except that a Communist Soviet Union had replaced Tsarist Russia and become a difficult ally, while Italy had joined the the Axis under Mussolini. France had fallen, requiring a massive invasion of Western Europe and an extended campaign in North Africa. The US had become the most important of the "Allies" and the only one capable of bearing the burden of a two ocean war. The Nazis had remained formidable opponents until Hitler's suicide on April 30, 1945 led to a sudden German collapse.
The remaining Axis combatant was Japan, the nation that had shocked and enraged America with its brilliantly conceived and executed "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Not only were they still fighting, the invasion of their home islands was a foregone conclusion and expected to be even more daunting than the invasion of Europe and North Africa. The geography alone was formidable: Japan is a 1000 mile archipelago featuring four mountainous volcanic islands, then populated by upwards of 73 million people, all purportedly committed to a quasi– religious Bushido Code that preferred death by suicide to the dishonor of surrender.
Fortunately, the Western allies– and the Japanese people– were spared the uncertainty and trauma of invasion by Harry Truman's decision to use two secretly developed "Atomic" bombs on Japanese cities: a uranium device on Hiroshima on August 6th and a plutonium version on Nagasaki three days later. Truman's decision– and its aftermath– have since been the subject of intense debate- much of it woefully uniformed– for the past sixty–odd years. I say "uninformed" because any realistic analysis based of what Truman knew, along with what he learned after the responsibility for leading the Allies had been thrust upon him by Roosevelt's sudden death in April 1945 would lead any reasonable person to do almost exactly what Truman did.
First of all, it was by then an American War on the "Allied Side"; we were heavily engaged in both the Atlantic and Pacific and had dominated since North Africa. We'd also been primary everywhere but Russia, (yet still supplied Stalin with critical assistance). Truman was a relatively unknown political figure, thrust by fate into the very center of responsibility at a critical time in US history. The man who had been leading the nation for thirteen years through the Depression and the war had just died suddenly, leaving him in charge. He'd also just been informed that FDR, that same leader, had– in 1942– taken a huge gamble by diverting over two billion dollars to develop a secret weapon no one could be sure would even work.
The success of Roosevelt's gamble was then confirmed on July 15th when when the Trinity test in the New Mexico Desert proved the Plutonium bomb would explode and assuaged the fears of some insiders (Enrico Fermi among them) that it would produce an uncontrolled chain reaction.
Thus how could Truman opt for a costly and bloody invasion of Japan when he'd just learned that we now possessed a new bomb that could end the war in a day or two?
As it would turn out, that's what actually happened– although not through a set of circumstances anyone on the US/Allied side could have predicted: Emperor Hirohito, who at that time, had greater personal power over Japan than anyone in history was the only leader who could have forced their surrender– became persuaded by the Nagasaki bomb to overrule his military advisers for the first time since Japan had embarked on a war of conquest against China following the Marco Polo Bridge incident.
In other words, Hirohito, Japan's supreme ruler, who was (properly) considered by many to have been a war criminal, was Truman's opposite number: the only man in the world with the power to end Japan's participation in the war, and– as a bonus– secure its cooperation during the critical post war occupation. That his views had been radically changed by the Nagasaki bomb is demonstrated by the fact that he overruled his military advisers for the first time since Japan had embarked on its course of conquest and also recorded his famous surrender broadcast.
Finally, to those who claim that Truman had a realistic alternative to use of the bomb, I would offer the carefully reasoned assessment of Karl Compton, a thoughtful contemporary observer who took the trouble to question influential Japanese leaders soon after the event.
Given all that has happened since August 1945, especially the Cold War between the US and Russia and the arms race it engendered, the fact that the Nagasaki bomb was the 2nd and last time a nuclear weapon was used in time of war is almost miraculous.
Unfortunately, posturing in the Ukraine and elsewhere tells us that "Nuclear Chicken" is still very much on the menu for would-be world "leaders."
Will we ever learn that the the most reasonable goal in human life is not "winning," but survival in the hope of improving the lot of our species?
Posted by tjeffo at 01:40 AM