Echoes of Oslo

The fjords are rather fine, but Oslo isn’t Paris. Norway isn’t what they call a destination, probably because the weather is dismal, when the place isn’t locked in with ice and snow the other nine months of the year, and everyone is so Scandinavian – private people who keep to themselves, avoiding public displays of emotions of all sorts, careful and precise and often subtlety ironic, and often massively depressed. They’re not much fun. Maybe that’s the weather, but out here in sunny Los Angeles, down in San Pedro at the Port of Los Angeles, the Norwegian Seamen’s Church is just down the street from Croatian Hall, and the Croatian social gatherings are a lot more fun, and the food is better too. Boiled salt-cod just doesn’t cut it. Those years spent in San Pedro, before the move to Hollywood, were instructive – but once a year the world does turn its eyes to Oslo. Each year the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards the Nobel Peace Prize – which is ironic in itself. Alfred Nobel – the Swedish heavy-arms manufacturer who made a fortune by inventing dynamite – tasked the Parliament of Norway with selecting each year’s winner. Maybe he felt guilty for a career dealing in death and destruction, or maybe these dour Scandinavian people have a sense of humor after all – but this is a big deal. This is the big prize. You can’t top that.

That’s why the Norwegian Nobel Committee is careful and precise. Lots of people suggest nominees to them – some folks here have suggested Rush Limbaugh to them over and over again, perhaps as a joke, or perhaps not – but the committee makes up its own mind, and on October 9, 2009, after looking around and thinking about things, they announced they were awarding that year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, who had been in office all of nine months. We were still in Iraq, and still in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo was still chock full of folks we now knew were innocent dupes or just unlucky – and Obama had done next to nothing about any of that yet.

This was odd, but the committee did cite Obama’s work on nuclear nonproliferation in his short Senate career, where he teamed up on that with Richard Lugar, the long-serving Republican senator that the Tea Party sent packing the following year. That wasn’t much, but the committee only mentioned that in passing. What had impressed them was a “new climate” in international relations created by Obama, by his brand new way of thinking. That also might have been a way of saying that they were glad Obama wasn’t George Bush, but they were particularly impressed by Obama reaching out to the Muslim world. Obama’s famous Cairo speech that June must have impressed them.

No one else was impressed. Obama said he was humbled by winning the big one, but he seemed more embarrassed than humbled, and the public agreed that this made no sense – over sixty percent of American adults polled thought Obama did not deserve anything of the sort, and less than half of them were glad he won. Everyone on the right, and many on the left and in the middle, saw this as merely a slap at George Bush – this had more to do with the befuddled sneering cowboy than with Barack Obama. The best Noam Chomsky could come up with was this – “In defense of the committee, we might say that the achievement of doing nothing to advance peace places Obama on a considerably higher moral plane than some of the earlier recipients.”

Chomsky might have been onto something there. In 1973, Henry Kissinger had won the thing, for that year’s Paris peace agreement that he had hammered out with the diplomats from Hanoi, after our massive Christmas carpet-bombing of most of North Vietnam, and the agreement didn’t exactly end the Vietnam War anyway. Maybe it really is better to not “do” anything. Blessed are the peacemakers, because they don’t go around doing stuff? That’s a thought. Or maybe Norwegians are simply strange folks. One never knows when they’re being ironic – but in December, Obama flew off to Oslo to accept the prize, and to give the requisite thoughtful acceptance speech.

That had to be subtle. We were still waging war everywhere, so he cited Reinhold Niebuhr a lot and talked about “just war” theory, but basically said we are forced to face the world as it is – not as we would like it to be. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, reluctantly, which is tragic, but necessary – and that took the stink off the whole thing. Obama spoke of limited necessary war – not much of it, not often – but war nonetheless. Maybe that’s the human tragedy, as he said, but Obama knocked this one out of the park – even Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin loved the speech, as did Andrew Sullivan. John Bolton called it “pedestrian, turgid, and uninspired” and Dennis Kucinich said “Once we are committed to wars instrumentality in pursuit of peace, we begin the Orwellian journey to the semantic netherworld where war is peace” – but they were in the minority. Hawks thought they would get their wars. Doves thought they would get their peace.

Both sides were wrong. We’d get neither, because Obama wasn’t just blowing smoke to save face, as it were. He actually seems to believe in severely limited absolutely necessary war, which is not something with which Americans are comfortable. We go in with overwhelming force, fix the problem, and then quickly leave, just like in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq. No, wait – that can’t be right. Yeah, Obama knew that wasn’t right, and all he had to do was convince the nation of that. We should “do” less. After eight years of the sneering cowboy, it should have been easy to get Americans to realize that.

That should have been easy, but it wasn’t. Americans “do” things. That’s who we are, and that’s why Obama is in political trouble now. Oslo, 2009, was one of those rare instances when a politician explains how he’s really thinking and lets everyone know what he’s actually going to do, or not do. This was not just another speech. This was policy, and now, five years later, America is beginning to realize what he was saying, and are seeing it in operation, and they don’t like it much. In the Washington Post, Zachary Goldfarb explains the discomfort:

The week began with the breaking of the siege of Mount Sinjar in Iraq, thanks to U.S. bombing runs, and ended with the public beheading of American journalist James Foley in Syria and renewed Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The juxtaposition of military success and public human failure has caused a sense of whiplash around President Obama’s foreign policy and further stoked the debate about his worldview.

Obama’s detractors revived criticism that his foreign policy is based on retreat from the world, typified by the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq three years ago, a lack of direct action in Syria and an economics-first approach to driving Russia’s military back from Ukraine.

His supporters argue that his approach has been consistent with his strategy of returning the United States – after post-Sept. 11 wars – to a foreign policy built around economic engagement rather than military intervention.

His supporters are saying he’s just doing his Oslo thing. Weren’t you listening? His detractors are saying he’s not doing that Oslo thing at all. Weren’t you listening? No one is happy:

“He thought he could change the tenor more easily than he could, and I think he thought the world would be more responsive to his desires than the world has proven to be,” said Jon B. Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Now he faces the criticism that, whereas the Bush administration embarked on a war of choice in Iraq, he embarks on a series of skirmishes that are reactive and not of his choosing.”

In Oslo, however, Obama may have implicitly promised a series of skirmishes that are reactive and not of his choosing – the human tragedy – but that satisfies no one and leads to its own problems:

In place of the large military deployments, Obama has relied on smaller operations to manage, rather than resolve, many of the conflicts that have arisen during his time in office. The attempted rescue of Foley earlier this year from a camp deep inside Syria stands as the most recent example of that approach.

But smaller has not translated into peace or greater American influence.

After pulling troops from Iraq on the eve of his reelection year, Obama is now overseeing a military operation to protect Iraqi civilians threatened by the Islamic State, secure U.S. personnel in Kurdish Iraq, and advise the country’s U.S.-trained army.

Leaving behind an Iraq dominated by an organization al-Qaeda once disavowed as too extreme would cloud his legacy as the president who ended that war – and would bequeath his successor a difficult national security.

Overwhelming force, applied ruthlessly, fixed nothing, or made things worse, but severely limited absolutely necessary military actions don’t fix things either – that just creates other problems, like ISIS in Syria and now in Iraq:

Obama called for the end of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government years ago, yet his primary goal has been to eliminate a chemical weapons cache that could be used against U.S. targets or allies if extremist groups take control of them.

The question of how best to roll back the Islamic State’s territorial gains – short of a boots-on-the-ground deployment Obama has ruled out – is one that he and the Pentagon must deal with. …

Senior administration officials say that as they confront the challenges in Syria and Iraq, however, they are unwilling to sacrifice either of Obama’s guiding principles.

“Iraq and Syria are very much within the goal preventing the threat of terrorism from emanating from outside the United States,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said last week. “That’s a core interest.”

At the same time, he said, Obama is not reconsidering his view that Iraq – and Afghanistan – must be primarily responsible for their own security.

“The basic premise still holds that we’re transitioning from wars in which the United States was on the ground in big numbers fighting to secure Afghanistan and Iraq to Afghans and Iraqis fighting on the ground to secure their own countries,” Rhodes said.

That sounds good, but to some it still seems both reactive and disorganized:

“This president has ignored the threat for a long period of time, and now we’re paying the price,” Sen. John McCain (R) told his home-town newspaper, the Arizona Republic. “The more [Obama] delays and the more he acts incrementally, the more [the Islamic State] adjusts and the more difficult they will become.”

Obama has contributed to the confusion, occasionally turning to vague phrasing and metaphors to explain his foreign policy.

Even former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said recently that “Don’t do stupid stuff” – the president’s latest foreign policy credo – is not an “organizing principle.”

Intervene in Libya but not Syria. Why the one and not the other? And there’s this:

Adding to Obama’s challenges has been the crisis in Ukraine, which has deeply wounded U.S. relations with Russia, and the conflict in Gaza, which has dashed the administration’s hopes of securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Administration officials say Obama has put a lot on the line in both places, sanctioning Russian leaders and sending his secretary of state, John F. Kerry, to invest tremendous amounts of time trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

But current and former administration officials see a big difference between what’s happening in Iraq and Syria and what’s happening in Ukraine and Gaza. Iraq and Syria fit into a framework of potentially threatening Americans. Solving the crises in Ukraine and Gaza appeals to U.S. principles of democracy and diplomacy, but they do not pose direct threats.

What is the organizing principle here? In the Oslo speech it was to do only what’s necessary, and to keep it as limited as possible – and that was explained philosophically and quite elegantly. That was a deep and thoughtful and moving speech. The short form is less moving and quite blunt. Don’t do stupid stuff. Folks liked the Oslo version, but it’s the same thing. They just weren’t paying attention. It’s the beat of ambiguous war drums.

At least someone is with Obama here:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a “war hawk” and added that if she decides to run for president in 2016 voters will question whether she wants to bring the U.S. into another war in the Middle East.

Paul, himself a potential 2016 candidate, made the comments during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“I think that’s what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there’s going to be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, ‘You know what? We are tired of war,” Paul said, according to The Associated Press. “We’re worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she’s so gung-ho.”

This may be political positioning, a bit of pure opportunism on Paul’s part, but Heather Parton adds this:

A legitimate concern, I’d say. I know I’m concerned about it. But why exactly is Rand Paul running in the Party who’s membership is currently peeing its pants and running around hysterically exhorting the current president to start bombing/invading/killing something immediately because the boogeyman is coming to kill-all-our-babies-oh-my-God!

She’s not kidding:

House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said Sunday that he believes the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has put the U.S. in more danger than it was in the lead up to the Sept. 11 attacks more than a decade ago.

“Before 9/11, there were single-level threat streams coming to the United States. So, pretty serious. Obviously they got in and conducted the attacks on 9/11. Now you have multiple organizations, all al Qaeda-minded, trying to accomplish the same thing,” Rogers said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Now you have two competing terrorist organizations, both of them want to get their credentials to the point where they can say, ‘We are the premier terrorist organization.’ Both want to conduct attacks in the West for that reason. And guess what? That means we lose at the end. If either one of those organizations is successful, we lose.”

“The threat matrix is so wide and it’s so deep. We just didn’t have that before 9/11,” Rogers said.

And there’s this:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday called for President Obama to target leaders of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria after the beheading of an American journalist last week.

“It’s about time to assume the worst about these guys,” Graham during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They’re not the JV team anymore; they’re the most prominent terrorist organization in the world.”

ISIS leaders released a video last week of a man who appeared to have a British accent beheading journalist James Foley.

Graham said it would be easy for ISIS to target locations in the U.S. if they are not confronted directly by the Obama administration because members hold western passports.

“I would argue that the intel that we’ve been provided in Congress is that there are hundreds of Americans citizens holding U.S. passports, there are European citizens going to the fight,” he said. “They’ve expressed a will to hit the homeland. That’s part of their agenda to drive us out of the Mideast.

“There’s no way you can solve the problem in Iraq without hitting them in Syria,” the South Carolina Republican said.

“The goal is to hit ISIL in Syria to deal with their command and control,” he added.

“I think the purpose of going into Syria is deal with the threat to the homeland,” Graham said.

She also points to Bill Kristol on This Week with this – “I would like a little overreaction now!”

When the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards Kristol the Nobel Peace Prize, after Kristol is elected president, that bit of enthusiasm can be his acceptance speech. Until then, there are Democrats doing the Oslo thing, like Senator Jack Reed:

“We have to begin with the assumption that they could be such a threat, then we have to evaluate what their capabilities are, what their intentions,” he said. “I don’t think we can simply dismiss ISIS, but to jump from what they’ve done with this horrific incident with Mr. Foley to the idea that they would be an immediate threat to the homeland, I don’t think you jump to that.”

And there’s Senator Mark Pryor:

“I don’t think most Arkansans believe that we should be the world’s policeman,” Pryor said this week, according to the Baxter Bulletin.

“We need to work with our allies. We need to try to help and provide a stable situation, and certainly look out for the humanitarian concerns, but at the end of the day, a lot of these countries, they just have to take responsibility for their own countries,” he said.

Parton:

Yes, Democrats are warmongers too and perhaps Hillary Clinton is as hawkish as Rand Paul says she is. But unless Rand Paul is willing to govern with a Democratic majority and face impeachment from his own, he’s not going to have any room to be a dove. Even Obama is getting hit hard and he’s hardly an isolationist. How in the world could Paul hope to fight that martial impulse as a GOP president? It makes no sense. If there is one thing you can count on in the modern Republican Party it’s the bloodlust for war.

She suspects that Rand Paul just doesn’t get it:

Again, the question is, if Paul wants to run on the peace platform, why in the world is he a Republican? They have about four people in the whole party who don’t believe we should be bombing the hell out of the entire Middle East right now. At least on the Democratic side leaders are taking a short breath before they run around in circles, rending their garments and wailing about the threat to “the Homeland.” I’m sure it won’t be long before they join in the hysteria, but it does show at least a couple of degrees of difference between the two parties.

It does, for now, but soon Obama may be very lonely. What he said in Oslo in 2009 will be dredged up and ridiculed. Severely limited absolutely necessary war is not something with which Americans are comfortable, and more horror stories, magnified in the media, because people love to be scared and can’t tear their eyes away, and advertisers know that, will seal the deal. But in Oslo, Obama did say we must accept the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, and that means one must know what’s possible, and what’s not possible:

A U.S. offensive in Syria against the radical Islamist group that beheaded an American journalist would likely be constrained by persistent intelligence gaps and an inability to rely on fleets of armed drones that have served as the Obama administration’s signature weapon against terrorist networks elsewhere, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon has conducted daily surveillance flights along Iraq’s border with Syria in recent weeks as part of a push to bolster U.S. intelligence on the Islamic State without crossing into Syrian airspace and risking the loss of aircraft to that nation’s air defenses, officials said.

The CIA has also expanded its network of informants inside Syria, largely by recruiting and vetting rebel fighters who have been trained and equipped at clandestine agency bases in Jordan over the past two years, U.S. officials said.

Still, senior U.S. intelligence and military officials – speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations – said American spy agencies have not yet assembled the capabilities that would be needed to target Islamic State leaders and provide reliable-enough intelligence to sustain a campaign of strikes.

There you have it. There’s doing what is absolutely necessary, because the world is a fallen place with any number of very nasty people, and they must be confronted, and there’s limiting your actions to doing only what’s really necessary, and no more, because “doing stuff” is addictive and can lead to slow-rolling decades of disaster, and then there’s what is even possible. Obama tried to explain that in Oslo. Everyone nodded. Yes, that is so – great speech – and now they finally see what that means, and they don’t like it at all. They wish it weren’t so, but it is so. The Norwegian Nobel Committee might have done the right thing after all. Oslo might not be a place anyone wants to visit, but the folks there can be surprising. Try the boiled salt-cod.

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The Purest Politics

Call it identity politics, or tribal politics, but it’s clear that when it comes time to choose someone to run things, that someone should be one of “us” – because few have the time or energy or patience to consider the issues at hand, which can be complicated, with no neat and clean and satisfying way to fix the problems at hand. Sure, we should wipe out ISIS, and get Russia out of the east end of the Ukraine and make Putin eat humble pie, and stop Iran from even thinking of developing nuclear weapons, and get rid of that Assad fellow in Syria and that short strange man who runs North Korea – just do it. We do have the most awesome military the world has ever seen, and everyone else has nothing much at all. What’s the problem? Using diplomacy to find political solutions to any of this is Neville Chamberlain stuff, appeasement. Chamberlain gave the Sudetenland to Hitler and Hitler wasn’t appeased. Everyone knows what happened next. It’s the same with Putin – the West shrugged and let him take Crimea, as if that would satisfy him. It didn’t, and it’s the same with Iran and Syria and North Korea and maybe ISIS too. There’s no point in talking to any of these people. Stand up to them. Offer them nothing, and they don’t fold and slink off into the shadows in shame, bring on the pain – but no boots on the ground. All those years in Vietnam, the eight years in Iraq, the more than ten years in Afghanistan, and counting, were really stupid. Don’t do that again.

Those who think Obama is a weak fool, like all Democrats, will listen to John McCain and Lindsey Graham telling Obama to grow a pair and do something massive and violent, and listen to Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney, when that odd fellow resurfaces again, coming up for air like a giant killer whale. What they say feels right. It makes no sense, if you’d rather not commit America to multiple simultaneous massive foreign wars, each of which will likely last a decade or more, but it feels right – and Obama doesn’t “feel” right, even if many on the right often concede he’s doing the only possible thing that can been done with any of this. They kind of mumble as they say that, and hate it when they’re asked what they would do, specifically, right now.

Five years ago they would have done this. Ten years ago they would have done that. Ask them what they would do now. Five years ago they would have done this… Ten years ago they would have done that… They have no answer, but they will tell you Obama is weak. That man, if he even is a man, won’t stand up for America. Americans must know by now he’s not one of “us” – not that he was born in Kenya or anything. It’s the weakness. He may be doing the right thing quite often, damn it, but he’s a wimp. Anyone who voted for him is a fool, and thus also not one of us, the Real Americans.

That’s how identity politics is played, and in the 2008 campaign, Sarah Palin was a master at that, probably because she had no alternative. With each passing day it became clearer and clearer that she had no idea what the issues were, much less who the key players were, domestic or foreign, but she let America know that she was one of us, the Real Americans, and Obama certainly wasn’t one of those. Think of Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers too – and don’t ask her any of those damned Katie Couric questions. This was about Obama, not about whether Sarah Palin really could see Russia from her house, or if she even knew what the Federal Reserve and Supreme Court actually did. People knew her. That was enough.

Palin almost pulled it off. Her supporters out there in the heartland, whatever that is, might again and again be forced to concede she was dangerously empty and uninformed, but they voted for her anyway. She felt right – and the world is a complicated place. Who really understands it? John McCain tried this too, dropping his policy talk, but it scared him. He’d give it a good try, at a few rallies asking who Obama really was, and the crowd shouted back – He’s a terrorist! – Kill him!

McCain dropped it. It was too dangerous, but identity politics isn’t always that dramatic. Everyone knows that the Republican Party is the party of businessmen, or at least those who know how the economy really works. That’s what the smirking and stiff Mitt Romney ran on – he may have been an awkward jerk, but he knew that you don’t spend what you don’t have, and when you’re in financial trouble, you slash spending. You cut out the dead wood – a businessman trying to save his business fires everyone in sight, and a father cuts the kid’s allowance to next to nothing, or eliminates it. Businessmen know this, and every family knows this.

Obama didn’t know this. He kept trying to stimulate the economy by borrowing money to pay people to work, so more people would be able to buy things, getting the economy moving again, when he should have been shutting down as much of the government as possible, to save money. People were also getting food stamps and unemployment benefits when there was no money for that, and that was exactly like continuing the kid’s allowance when the bank account was empty and the bills were piling up. No sensible parent would do such a thing. We all know that. Obama isn’t one of us. Shut it all down.

That would shut down the economy of course, collapsing demand for goods and services and thus driving a lot of folks out of business, creating more unemployed folks, who in turn would get no government help, further collapsing demand, driving even more folks out of business, creating even more unemployed folks, and so on, finally putting the economy in a death spiral – but the idea felt right, because government should be run like a business, and all this is just like your family finances. That’s nonsense, as the government isn’t a business out to make massive profits by getting lean and mean – everyone chips in for things that must be done for the common good, activities that aren’t designed to turn a profit – nor is it a family. A family cannot print money that everyone accepts to cover the bills. Still, it feels like that to many. It’s a matter of what you identify with, or who you identify with. Sensible people shut everything down in hard times, and unlike Obama and the Democrats, we’re all sensible people here, so when it comes time to choose someone to run things, that someone should be one of “us” – the sensible people.

That’s human nature. We’re all tribal in a way, but as Simon Maloy reports, odd things happen when the terms are reversed:

At this point, it would be safe to assume that the black community in Ferguson, Missouri, is probably feeling poorly represented by its elected officials. Over a week’s worth of unrestrained police crackdowns, curfews and bad-faith machinations by the local law enforcement – all with the blessing or tacit approval of political leaders – will tend to erode whatever trust one has left in the people in charge.

One of the upsides to living in a democracy, though, is that there are regular opportunities to boot out the people in charge. And so, with the situation spiraling out of control in the streets, activists and community leaders have set up voter registration drives in Ferguson. This act of civic engagement is drawing howls of outrage from conservatives and Republicans.

There is, however, justification, and also that outrage:

Low black voter turnout (combined with an unusual election calendar) has resulted in a local government that looks nothing like the population of Ferguson. The community is majority black, but the mayor is white, and five of the six City Council members are white. For members of the community who feel their interests aren’t being represented, the first step toward changing that is registering to vote.

For conservatives and the local GOP, this is apparently unconscionable. “If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” the Missouri Republican Party executive director Matt Wills told Breitbart News. “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.” Again, this is in response to a voter registration drive in a majority black community.

Wills wasn’t quite through, though. Wills explained that the shooting death of Michael Brown was a tragedy for everyone.

“This is not just a tragedy for the African American community this is a tragedy for the Missouri community as well as the community of what we call America,” he said. “Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace.”

Maloy:

I don’t want to question the obvious expertise of a local Republican official, but I’m pretty sure that voter registration drives are not what’s responsible for “injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy.”

He also cites Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller with the inevitable conspiracy theory:

Jesse Jackson and other liberal activists are rolling out voter registration efforts as part of a coordinated left-wing push to sign up voters during the wave of violent protests engulfing Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting.

Racial activist and former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson met with St. Louis clergy Monday to plan a formal Ferguson voter registration drive.

“Five thousand new voters will transform the city from top to bottom” Jackson explained during a stop at a Ferguson McDonald’s, where he discussed voter registration with local denizens.

Liberal activists – including from the George Soros-funded Center for Constitutional Rights – have promoted voter registration booths at multiple locations in Ferguson, including at the roadside memorial marking the spot where Brown was shot.

Maloy:

Jesse Jackson, George Soros, “coordinated left-wing push” – so many scary things!

Yes indeed, but folks want to be represented by someone like them:

Much of this whining is couched in terms of “politicizing” the death of Michael Brown, but that’s a hollow, lazy complaint made by people who don’t quite feel comfortable saying that they’re fine with the status quo. And it’s also baffling to see people complain, in the midst of a near total civic breakdown, that there are activists encouraging people to get involved to fix the root causes of the chaos. They’re evangelizing faith in the political system and encouraging people to act within established political norms. I’m not sure how one can view that as “disgusting” and “completely inappropriate.”

The black folks, seeing what’s happened in Ferguson, and keeps happening there, think the folks who run things should, from now on, be one, or more, of them. The white folks fear someone who is not one of “us” – the usual. It’s not exactly racism, being more of a tribal thing, but Josh Marshall came across this:

It’s incredibly unfair that it worked out this way but I think the historical take on the biggest success of the Obama presidency will be this.

As a white, suburban, middle (++) aged liberal, I saw the run up to his first election as proof of what I believed for a long time – we were in a post-racial world where the only thing that was holding individuals of color back was a willingness to do the hard work that the rest of us were doing to get ahead.

The re-surfacing of the hidden racism that had become invisible to me was (and is) worldview shattering. The breadth and depth and virulence of both institutional and individual racism are so enormous that I have a hard time coming to grips with it. I’m entirely embarrassed by my pre-Obama beliefs and am still trying to figure out what I can do to move from being part of the problem and becoming part of the solution.

While discussing Ferguson with folks who fall in to the “don’t think there’s any racism” category, I’m seeing a shift. Events like this, and the pro-protester media coverage seems to be chipping away at the middle. More people are starting to see the world like it really is.

Looping back to my hypothesis, I suspect that without an Obama presidency, the lens through which we view the current events would have been much less sympathetic to the protesters.

Oh, and healthcare.

This fellow is onto something. Our sense of who “us” is really did get scrambled this time. Those folks in Ferguson who aren’t “us” may be “us” after all, and Obama may have something to do with that. The days of Republicans reminding everyone, with some success, that they are the Real Americans, may be numbered. There’s the mess that was Ferguson, so badly handled by the powers that be out there, and then there’s Obama himself. Look, an angry black man! Where? Look, a radical socialist! Where? Look, a militant Malcolm X angry Muslim! Where? Look, a lazy shiftless try-not-to-use-that-word who sticks to nothing! Where? Look, an ignorant affirmative-action charity case who knows nothing! Where? Look, one of those ghetto folks, one who sneers and walks out on the wife and kids and dicks around with the local sluts! Where? Hey, that was sort of Bill Clinton’s thing, wasn’t it? He was the one who couldn’t keep it in his pants and he was white. This black guy is boring and normal, and smart as hell. He might actually be one of us. He might even be a Real American. Who knew?

It’s possible to lose at tribal politics, where identity is everything, when the concept of “us” shifts like this, and this leaves the Republican Party, and its Tea Party core, on the outside looking in. They’re in trouble. They need some advice, and although the party expelled Dave Frum, Bush’s former speechwriter, for warning them about this sort of thing one too many times, he hasn’t given up one them, and he offers this assessment of the party’s current problems:

Three big trends have decisively changed the Republican Party over the past decade, weakening its ability to win presidential elections and gravely inhibiting its ability to govern effectively if it nevertheless somehow were to win. First, Republicans have come to rely more and more on the votes of the elderly, the most government-dependent segment of the population – a serious complication for a party committed to reducing government. Second, the Republican donor class has grown more ideologically extreme, encouraging congressional Republicans to embrace ever more radical tactics. Third, the party’s internal processes have rigidified, in ways that dangerously inhibit its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The GOP can overcome the negative consequences of these changes and, in time, surely will. The ominous question for Republicans is, how much time will the overcoming take?

Who knows? But he is sure that conservatism will be reborn:

For every action – whether in physics or in politics – there is an equal and opposite reaction. The liberal surge of the Obama years invites a conservative response, and a multiethnic, socially tolerant conservatism is waiting to take form. As the poet T. S. Eliot, a political conservative, once gloomily consoled his readers, “There is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.” The message reads better when translated into American vernacular: “It ain’t over till it’s over. And it’s never over.”

Jonathan Chait isn’t buying it:

The Republican Party constructed a geriatric trap for itself. Just how it will escape is hard to see. It is a small-government party whose base is wedded to the programs that constitute a large and growing share of government. The inability to touch the benefits of any old person, in combination with its still-extant support for defense and fanatical opposition to tax hikes in any form, have driven Republicans to propose massive cuts to the small share of government that benefits struggling workers. This priority has, in turn, saddled the GOP with the (correct) image of hostility toward the unfortunate.

And of course the unfortunate do vote, and turn out in greater numbers when told they’re useless moral failures. People are funny that way.

So, what will the Former Real Americans do now? Ah, they win the Senate and do this:

Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration’s policies or veto them and risk a government shutdown.

In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to healthcare, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.

In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.

Will that make them Real Americans again? Brian Beutler doubts that:

What McConnell’s promising makes very little sense. Even if you assume he and the House Speaker can unite their fractious conferences tightly enough to round up majorities for legislation, McConnell would still have a filibuster to contend with. And even if you ignore that obstacle, the political play is a known loser. Republicans controlled both the House and Senate when they shut down the government in 1995, and they lost the fight. Bill Clinton was a bit more popular at the time than Obama is now, but that’s not really what drove the dynamic. It’s just a losing ask to condition basic government services on weakening pollution restrictions or cutting healthcare spending or whatever. McConnell might be able to extract modest concessions in an appropriations tussle, but nothing big, and nothing along the lines of what conservative members will expect.

They’d still be on the outside looking in, with their base angry that this didn’t work very well, and Ezra Klein adds this:

McConnell intends to unleash a tactic that will almost inevitably end with shutdowns – whether he wants them or not. This might make sense if Barack Obama were running for reelection in 2016: the shutdown hurt his popularity, too, and perhaps it would make sense for congressional Republicans to mount a kamikaze mission against his third term.

But Obama isn’t up for reelection in 2016. These shutdowns will be a disaster for the Republican Party that will help elect Hillary Clinton – and help Harry Reid retake the Senate. Republicans will end up backing controversial positions with wildly unpopular tactics and the Democrats will take full advantage when they face the friendlier presidential electorate.

Let’s see – backing controversial positions with wildly unpopular tactics. What could go wrong? But there you have it. When it comes time to choose someone to run things, people who are too busy to attend to details decide that someone should be one of them, of what they see is “us” at the moment. Republicans have relied on that bit of human nature forever, but things shifted on them. There are those voter registration booths in Ferguson now, which infuriate them. Two can play at the game, their special game. It’s the purest form of politics, stripping away all discussion of policy and issues. There’s only that one basic question. Are you one of us? Answer correctly – and by the way, people know when you’re bullshitting them. So, who are the Real Americans? Wait! You said WHAT?

Posted in End of the Republican Party, Ferguson Missouri, Identity Politics, Tribalism in American Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Policing the Masses

Things are settling down in Ferguson, Missouri. The governor, Jay Nixon, is slowly withdrawing the National Guard:

“I greatly appreciate the men and women of the Missouri National Guard for successfully carrying out the specific, limited mission of protecting the Unified Command Center so that law enforcement officers could focus on the important work of increasing communication within the community, restoring trust, and protecting the people and property of Ferguson,” Gov. Nixon said. “As we continue to see improvement, I have ordered the Missouri National Guard to begin a systematic process of withdrawing from the City of Ferguson.” …

Meanwhile, the unified command, which includes officers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County, St. Louis City and other jurisdictions, will continue its mission to respond appropriately to incidents of lawlessness while protecting the rights of all peaceful citizens.

That’s nice, but over at the reliably left-side-of-things Daily Kos, there’s this reaction:

Did he really, seriously say “restoring trust”?

What does he have in mind for accomplishing that in a community where cops looked as if they had just parachuted into Taliban territory, pointed sniper rifles at protesters, tear-gassed them, shot them with rubber bullets, arrested them as well as reporters covering the story and, three times in a week, raided a church providing safe haven for protesters to get food, water and first aid?

All that did happen and no one seemed to be concerned about trust as this unfolded. The armored vehicles and lines of angry police in full battle-rattle, pointing amazingly powerful combat weapons at protesting unarmed women and children and clergy, did look like a bad day in Fallujah, or a series of bad days over there, way back when. This is, however, how an occupying power deals with a situation where more than a few folks in any large crowd are the enemy, out to kill you right then and there, and it’s a safe bet that the rest of the crowd, while looking innocent enough, wouldn’t mind if they did just that. It’s war, and it’s scary. The thing to do is send in overwhelming force and scare the shit out of all of them. Intimidate them. Subdue them. Make them understand how powerless they are, at least in this circumstance – and make sure no one gathers in groups of even two or three ever again – and keep the press away from it all. They don’t get to tell their stories to the world. The so-called free press is the enemy too. They give the enemy a platform. Deny the enemy that platform.

This is a matter of survival, one we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is what you do when the job is to impose a new form of order in a place where no one wants you there, when their seething resentment has turned to hatred and they’re likely to act on that. Even the infants in the strollers might kill you. One of them might be a suicide bomber – mothers are different over there. Don’t try to understand it. Everything is different over there, and it doesn’t matter if any of these folks trust you. That’s irrelevant. Submissiveness will do just fine. Break their will.

That’s what we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in more than a few other places – winning the hearts and minds of the locals is a long and difficult job, and there’s never time for that, and it seldom works anyway. You’re occupying their country, telling them how you think they ought to live, no matter how they think they ought to live. Endless discussion of why you’re right and they’re absolutely wrong never goes well. They’re not going to embrace country and western music and become NASCAR fans and do the Jesus thing. They’d rather you’d just go away. Sooner or later they’ll force the issue. That’s what happened in Iraq.

That would never happen here, but that’s kind of what happened in Ferguson. One more unarmed black kid was shot dead by the police and the community exploded, being mostly black. The police were almost entirely white, and they rolled in like an occupying army in an active war zone, there to intimate the local populace, the enemy, into total and abject submission. The idea was to be scary, so scary no one would mess with them, but that didn’t work out. America isn’t supposed to be enemy territory. We’re all Americans here, damn it. We only created police forces to take care of the few bad actors, the criminals, to keep us all safe – to protect and serve, as it says on the door of almost every police cruiser everywhere – not to treat us like the enemy. They serve us, but this time something went wrong:

A police officer who was part of the effort to keep peace during protests in Ferguson has been suspended for pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle at demonstrators, then cursing and threatening to kill one of them, police said Wednesday.

A protester captured the exchange on video that has been posted to YouTube and several websites. It happened Tuesday night during the latest of several protests that have followed the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

On the video, a man is heard saying, “Oh my God! Gun raised!” as the officer approaches. The identity of the man who shot the video is not known.

“My hands are up, bro! My hands are up!” the man said.

The officer walks near the man with his gun pointed and appears to say, “I will (expletive) kill you.”

Yeah, the guy was told to go home and sit the rest of this out. You don’t stand there in full body armor and point your super-duper military assault rifle at an unarmed fellow American and scream you’ll fucking kill him for not moving along peacefully. Ferguson really isn’t Fallujah – but the mistake is understandable. The federal government has transferred over four billion dollars’ worth of surplus combat gear to civilian police departments over the last decade – some have tanks now – along with sending them such gear in case 9/11 ever happens again, maybe some suburb of Boise – you never know. One thing leads to another. Dress the part, become the part. This guy just got into character a little too much. It happens to Hollywood actors all the time. Ronald Reagan came to believe he actually fought in World War II. He made movies about it for the Army and then for Warner Brothers. He got a little confused. So did this police officer.

Perhaps these folks shouldn’t play dress-up, but they say they must:

Law enforcement lobbying groups appear unsettled by a growing call to reform the federal programs that funnel military-grade equipment to state and local police, sparked by images of decked-out police officers confronting protesters in Ferguson, Mo., over the last two weeks.

The Daily Beast interviewed the leaders of several law enforcement groups and they were adamant in their belief that the programs, which help agencies obtain things like the mine-resistant MRAP vehicles, should not be cut off.

“The presence of an MRAP for defensive positioning should not unnerve a law-abiding citizen,” Jon Adler, the national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told the Beast. “Police officers are human and bleed like everyone else. They deserve the best protection from violent assaults, and providing them with MRAPs or advanced body armor minimizes their exposure to serious injury or death.”

Yep, you never know when you’ll encounter landmines and the occasional IED out there in the suburbs of Boise, or a crazed suicide bomber. It’s a war zone out there, but law-abiding citizens shouldn’t get all twitchy about the tanks rolling by. If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about. You’ve done nothing wrong, ever, have you? Relax. But keep your nose clean. We’re watching.

That seems absurd to Americans – it’s a free country and you can do what you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone else, or gay – but everyone was talking about Sunil Dutta, a professor of homeland security at Colorado Tech who had been an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department for seventeen years, who laid it all out in a guest column in the Washington Post:

If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you.

In short, do what you’re told – shut up, submit – or bad things will happen. You may even die. I’m a cop. I have that power. They might even give me a medal. That’s just the way it is.

That may be how it is, but Heather Parton is confused when Dutta tries to soften that up a bit:

Later he suggested that one needn’t submit to illegal searches or stops and said that citizens are allowed to refuse to consent to a search of your car or home if there’s no warrant. He also says that an officer must let you go if there’s no legal basis to stop and search you. How that’s supposed to work is a little bit obscure. After all, that would easily be seen as arguing and telling him that he can’t stop you – and then he will feel free to tase you, pepper spray you, shoot you or beat you.

That is a puzzle, but that’s very American, and Michael Bond explains that:

One of the most worrying aspects of this drama is what it reveals about US crowd-control methods. In Europe, many police forces have started to accept that the traditional model of public-order policing, which treats all crowds as potentially dangerous, often makes things worse. This model dates back to the French Revolution, which seeded the idea that crowds turn people into primitive, dysfunctional automata, and that the only way to deal with protestors is to attack, disperse or “kettle” them – a draconian form of containment.

Such tactics are slowly being abandoned in Europe because social psychologists have demonstrated time and again that they can have a dramatic and often catastrophic effect on how people in crowds behave. They have found that the way a protest is marshalled has a greater influence on whether it ends peacefully or violently than the actions of any hooligan minority within the crowd. This puts the police in a powerful position, even before they take aim with rubber bullets or tear gas.

Europe seems to have this figured out, and Matt Steinglass says that’s why what is going on here amazes folks over there:

The confrontation in Ferguson, as many observers have noticed, looks uncannily like the ones in Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq. There is clearly some kind of a global blowback going on, in which military techniques of forcible population control developed for use at the periphery of states’ areas of sovereignty are now being applied at the centre. Leonid Bershidsky, a brilliant Russian journalist and editor, laid out the similarities in a fascinating column yesterday in Bloomberg View. “Police officers around the world are becoming convinced they are fighting a war on something or other, whether that’s drugs, terrorism, anarchists or political subversion,” Mr Bershidsky writes. “This mindset contrasts with the public’s unchanged perception of what the police should be doing, which is to keep the streets safe, a conceptual clash that can lead to unexpected results.”

The difference between these two kinds of policing, Mr Bershidsky writes, can be modeled as the division between the London Metropolitan Police Force established in 1829, which conceived itself as fighting crime in concert with the populace, and the repressive colonial police forces the British Empire employed in “colonies of rule” such as Ireland and India, who conceived of themselves as keeping potentially hostile local populations in line.

On June 19, 1829, Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Service in London, which would not use the military techniques of forcible population control that were being used in India and elsewhere. The “bobbies” – without guns – would consult with ordinary blokes to stop the few bad people from doing bad things. It was a cooperative effort – Arthur Conan Doyle later invented Sherlock Holmes, the private-citizen Consulting Detective, to show this at its best – and it has been a cooperative effort ever since. The Brits might suggest we do the same – better late than never.

That’s not going to work. Our guys like their new gear, and Amanda Taub points out how dangerous that can be:

When the ACLU asked officials in the town of Farmington, Missouri (less than a 90 minute drive from Ferguson) to provide a copy of training materials for its Special Response Team, which is roughly like a SWAT team, the town sent only a copy of a single article. The article warned that “preparations for attacks on American schools that will bring rivers of blood and staggering body counts are well underway in Islamic training camps,” and went on to say that “because of our laws we can’t depend on the military to help us … By law, you the police officer are our Delta Force.”

In contrast, SWAT programs in larger cities tend to train extensively, and constantly. The Los Angeles police department’s SWAT teams go through months of intensive training before being brought on, and once there spend at least fifty percent of their on-duty time training, former LAPD Deputy Police Chief Stephen Downing told me. It is effectively impossible, Downing suggested, for small police departments to appropriately train their officers in the use of SWAT-style equipment, because they simply do not have sufficient resources or personnel. Small departments simply do not have the resources to support that type of program, but they do have the guns and trucks and armor, which they use.

It’s cool gear, and Taub also explains the Ferguson gear:

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, or MRAPs, are heavily armored trucks designed to withstand the detonation of land mines or IEDs. They were first deployed by the US military in 2007, designed specifically for use in Iraq, where al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shia militias were using highly developed IEDs. Now the vehicles are being passed down to police departments.

Asked why MRAPS were being used in Ferguson, a place with neither land mines nor IEDs, Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson replied that “people are using bombs now.” However, there have been no reports of bombs being used in Ferguson – he may have been making an existential point about bombs being items that exist in the world.

They do, and Gene Healy sees the future:

A Homeland Security report obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2013 revealed that the agency has considered outfitting its expanding inventory of drones with “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets of interest. Meanwhile, both Homeland Security and the Pentagon maintain a keen interest in developing crowd-control weapons for occupations at home and abroad. In 2007, the department’s science and technology arm “contracted for the development of the LED Incapacitator, a nauseating strobe” weapon meant to overwhelm and disorient targets with rapid, random pulses of light.

Some have called it the “puke saber,” but the final product won’t necessarily be handheld. As the department noted in a cutesy blogpost entitled Enough to Make You Sick, “output and size can easily be scaled up to fit the need; immobilizing a mob, for instance, might call for a wide-angle ‘bazooka’ version.”

Who wouldn’t want a Puke Saber? That would be so cool, but militarized forcible population control has its downside. The American population isn’t the enemy. We have, however, made one segment of it understand that it is the enemy. Lanre Akinsiku explains:

To be black and interact with the police is a scary thing. The fear doesn’t have to come from any kind of historical antagonism, which, trust me, would be enough; it can also come from many data points of personal experience, collected over time. Almost all black men have these close-call-style stories, and we collect and mostly keep them to ourselves until one of us is killed. You know how the stories go: I was pulled over one day and the cop drew his gun as he approached my window; I was stopped on the street, handcuffed and made to sit on the sidewalk because the cop said I looked like a suspect; I had four squad cars pull up on me for jaywalking.

We trade them like currency. And it almost goes without saying that these stops are de facto violent, because even when the officer doesn’t physically harm you, you can feel that you’ve been robbed of something. The thing to remember is that each of these experiences compounds the last, like interest, so that at a certain point just seeing a police officer becomes nauseating. That feeling is fear.

That is intentional. Fear keeps people in line. Ta-Nehisi Coates got a worried text message from his wife recently, about a bunch young guys fighting outside their apartment building, and knew what to do, or not to do:

My wife wanted to know what she should do. She was not worried about her own safety – boys like this are primarily a threat to each other. What my wife wanted was someone who could save them young men from themselves, some power which would disperse the boys in a fashion that would not escalate things, some power. No such power exists. I told my wife to stay inside and do nothing. I did not tell her to call the police. If you have watched the events of this past week, you may have some idea why.

Experience is the best teacher:

Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends – destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.

Even white guys like Matt Zoller Seitz, who got into a fight with some Hispanic guy in front of a local deli, will get the message:

I said, “Oh, no, he didn’t hit me first. He poked me in the chest.”

“That’s assault,” my cop said. “He hit you first.”

“I don’t think he actually meant to touch me, though,” I said, while a voice deep inside me said, Stupid white boy, he’s making it plain and you’re not getting it!

“It doesn’t matter if he meant to touch you, he hit you first,” he said. He was talking to me warmly and patiently, as you might explain things to a child. Wisdom was being imparted.

“You were in fear of your life,” he added.

By now the adrenaline fog seemed to be lifting. I was seeing things in a more clinical way. The violence I had inflicted on this man was disproportionate to the “assault,” and the tone of this exchange with the cop felt conspiratorial.

And then it dawned on me, Mr. Slow-on-the-Uptake, what was really happening: this officer was helping me Get My Story Straight.

Seitz gets it now:

I’ve never been profiled. I’ve never been stopped and frisked. I’ve never experienced anything of the sort because of the gift that my parents gave me, and that my son’s parents gave him: white skin. I’ve had encounters with police, mostly during my youth, in which I’d done something wrong and thought I was about to get a ticket or go to jail but somehow didn’t, because I managed to take back or apologize for whatever I’d said to a cop in petulance or frustration; these encounters, too, would have likely gone differently, perhaps ended differently, if I hadn’t been white.

Again, I already knew this stuff. But after that night in front of the deli, I understood it.

Good for him. Everyone should understand it. Our police have become an occupying army in full combat gear, in what they see as enemy territory where there are only a few good folks. All others will be intimidated into utterly passive submission, and won’t be pretty. Some will die, but many Americans, who aren’t them, seem to be fine with that. Those are those “other” people. They should be policed, if that’s the term. We don’t even know what that means any longer. Does policing involve a puke saber? It’s time to talk.

Posted in Militarization of Police, Race and America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Summer Things Fell Apart

Some prefer to visit Paris in August, because all those pesky French people leave town. They head for the mountains or the beach or the woods, because they not only know nothing much happens in the last month of summer, by law they get six weeks of paid vacation each year, and it’s just easier for everyone to take vacation at the same time. Half the restaurants in Paris are closed – actually half of everything is closed, by general agreement. The tourists can talk to each other. The first week in September, which they call “the reentry” of course, is when it’s back to the old grind. Americans don’t get this – we’re morally opposed to the whole concept of vacation, or afraid our job will be gone when we return – but we do get the idea that not much happens in late summer. Congress does its French thing, taking a six-week recess even if August has only four weeks. They’ve left town. Immigration reform can wait. Any permanent fix for the Highway Trust Fund, finding a way to pay to keep the nation’s roads from disintegrating and the nation’s bridges from falling down, can wait. They passed a bit of stopgap funding and will get to that highway stuff later, maybe. The symbolic House votes to repeal every word in the Affordable Care Act, meant to fire up the Republican base, have been put on hold too. There’s not even any talk about getting rid of Obamacare, to save the nation from socialism and the scourge of birth control that has turned American women into sluts. Let it rest. These are the hazy-lazy days of summer, and that may be a losing battle anyway. Obamacare is in place, and working well enough. There’ll be something else to be outraged about in September, maybe Benghazi again – and this is an election year, the midterms when the Republicans could take back the Senate and really shut down the government, again and again and again, unless Obama does exactly what they want – that’s the plan they’ve just announced – and if not that, they’ll make sure nothing gets passed on anything. But that’s for the fall. Summer is for kicking back. Nothing much happens in summer.

Not this summer – one more unarmed black kid shot dead by the police made sure of that. Black communities have had enough of that, and even white guys like Rand Paul are appalled by the militarization of the police everywhere. The armored vehicles and lines of angry police in full battle-rattle, pointing amazingly powerful combat weapons at protesting unarmed women and children and clergy, looks too much like a bad day in Fallujah. Ted Cruz is upset with the police arresting reporters trying to cover this all – and Paul and Cruz are Republicans. That whole Republican law-and-order thing seems to have run its course, and things in previously obscure Ferguson, in entirely forgettable Missouri, get worse and worse by the day. Yeah, we elected our first black president six years ago, but anyone who thought all racial issues in America had been resolved was a fool. Obama’s election only made things worse. America’s fear and resentment of its black citizens, and their full-well knowing about that fear and resentment and how it marginalized their lives, was something that was only sleeping for six years. This was the summer that all exploded. Everyone woke up at the same time, and they didn’t like what finally saw – but this had to happen sooner or later. This was the summer it did.

This is also the summer Israel rolled into Gaza, gun blazing, to end all the rocket fire from Hamas, and that soon descended into Israel screaming to a horrified world, Look what they’re doing to us! Hamas screamed back – Look what the Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians since they grabbed our land, Gaza and the West Bank, in that 1967 war! They have a point. The UN and everyone else says that’s not Israel’s land, and all the settlements they’ve built in those “disputed territories” over the years are illegal, at least under international law. Israel, however, under that same international law, has a right to self-defense, but then using one of the most advanced militaries in the world to wipe out the nearly powerless defenders of a dirt-poor people, that you’ve cut off from the world for decades, seems a bit much, and the civilian casualties, nearing a thousand now, many of them children, does seem exactly proportional – but that was this summer too. Israel is our ally, but the Obama administration has been catching heat. The Netanyahu government has done everything it can to let the world know that Obama is a fool, and maybe anti-Semitic – which pleases our Republicans no end. They can hammer Obama with that. It’s been that kind of summer.

It’s also been the Summer of Ebola, and the less said about the Ukraine the better. There are still a few bodies out there in the fields, rotting in the late summer sun, from the commercial airliner Putin’s rebels shot down, and he’s still sending them tanks and missiles and whatnot, and massing his troops at the border, ready to roll in there and take back what he can for Mother Russia, just as he did in the Crimea – and he laughs at our puny sanctions, even if they may ruin Russia. What should we do about this? No one knows, but it’s been that sort of summer.

This is also the summer that ISIS (or ISIL if you prefer) took over most of northern Iraq after they’d taken over a lot of Syria, to establish a Sunni caliphate in the region – killing anyone who didn’t agree with their flavor of Islam, with mass executions and the heads of heretics stuck on pikes everywhere, even the heads of children. They scare the crap out of everyone, and the Shiite government in what’s left of Iraq, now with a somewhat less absurd prime minister, has been hopeless. The Iraqi Army, sent to deal with them, ran away, leaving behind all the tanks and artillery and other gear we provided them. ISIS has that stuff now, and they’re using it. Do we go fight them because the Iraqi Army we set up and trained wouldn’t? No one here wants another ground war in Iraq, a third one for us, so we’ve been carefully bombing selective ISIS targets, blowing up what we gave the Iraqis that ISIS now has. At least the Kurds are fighting the good fight, but they want to set up their own country, so the more we support them the more we hasten then breakup of Iraq, which was the whole point of the Iraq War exercise in the first place. There should be an Iraq. There has to be such a country – but there may not be one soon. There probably won’t be one soon. Oh well – it’s been that kind of summer. September can’t come soon enough.

Ah, but things can get worse, and they just did:

A clearly furious President Obama condemned the Islamic militants who claimed responsibility for beheading an American journalist, vowing Wednesday to beat back “this cancer” and showing no sign of constraining the U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

As 14 new U.S. airstrikes pounded Islamic State positions, the grisly video and photos of a masked militant killing James Foley ricocheted around the Internet and focused global outrage on the Al Qaeda-inspired army that has swept across much of eastern Syria and western Iraq this year.

The summer just got worse, with a new worry:

In the video, the executioner speaks English with a British accent, and U.S. and British authorities scrambled to identify him. British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC that it was “extremely likely” the killer was a British citizen.

The tape thus raised fresh fears about the hundreds of recruits with Western passports, including dozens of Americans, who have rallied to the Sunni insurgents’ side in Syria and Iraq and may return home to wreak havoc, U.S. and European officials say.

The Pentagon had sent in a Special Forces team, with actual air and ground forces, into Syria this summer, to try to rescue Foley and other American hostages there, but that didn’t work out:

The government had “what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens,” Lisa Monaco, the White House counter-terrorism advisor, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”

Obama doesn’t want us going in, so to speak, but we went in. That was a surprise, but enough is enough:

Denouncing “an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world,” Obama accused the extremists of also “killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery.”

The extremists “speak for no religion,” Obama said. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.”

As Twitter and other social media tried to block the spread of the video, Obama said the United States would “continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless.”

Perhaps this is the summer everyone should be ruthless, but careful. Obama didn’t mention ISIS’ threat to kill Steven Joel Sotloff, another American journalist they grabbed long ago – but he was in the video too. No need to dare them to do that. Obama just ramped up the airstrikes. We won’t let up. What were these ISIS guys thinking? We immediately blew up six more of their Humvees, which used to be ours.

Does this mean war? Maybe it does:

“America and our allies and partners will only be secure when ISIS is defeated,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), two GOP hawks, said in a joint statement. “That means we must get beyond half-measures, tactical responses and defensive actions. We need to develop a comprehensive strategy – political, economic and military – to go on the offensive.”

They didn’t spell out what going on the offensive means. They’ll let Obama take the heat for getting into another ground war in Iraq, which is just what he should do, and not ever do. They’re sitting pretty.

Time’s Michael Crowley sees where this is heading:

The worry is that Obama’s rationale of “protecting Americans in Iraq” can be stretched to justify almost any kind of military action – especially now that he has more than doubled the U.S. presence in Iraq to nearly 2000 personnel since June. (A key stage of mission creep in Vietnam involved sending troops to protect U.S. air bases in that country.) But Obama has given himself even broader license than that. When he announced the dispatch of 300 military advisors to Iraq back on June 19, Obama wrote himself something like a blank check.

“We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action,” Obama said, “if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.” That language covers even more action that Obama’s protect-Americans vow. ISIS is little too close to Baghdad? Boom. Intel about suicide bombers eyeing Erbil? Boom. Imminent slaughter somewhere? Boom, boom, boom.

And now it is this beheading, and the Cato Institute’s Benjamin Friedman thinks this is madness:

Only the speed of this slide down a slippery slope is surprising. As I recently noted, the humanitarian case for protecting the Yazidi easily becomes a case for continual bombing of ISIL and resumed counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Their danger to civilians was never limited to Sinjar. And as in Syria, the major humanitarian threat in Iraq is civil war. Americans, the president included, need to admit being out of Iraq potentially means letting it burn. The collapse of the fiction that U.S. forces stabilized Iraq before exiting forces us to confront the unpleasant contradictions in U.S. goals there. We want to avoid the tragic costs of U.S. forces trying to suppress Iraq’s violence. We want a stable Iraqi federal government and we want Iraqis to live peacefully. Each of those goals conflicts with the others.

We cannot have it all:

Even if the new Prime Minister is amenable to Sunni demands, U.S. bombing is unlikely to allow Iraqis to destroy ISIL and its allies. Large-scale violence will likely continue. Suppressing insurgency will likely require resumption of U.S. ground operations. And even that, we know, may not help much.

As they say, been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Massive ground operations got us where we are nowd, and the American public is conflicted:

Thirty-one percent said they disapproved of the airstrikes, while 15 percent of the 1,000 randomly selected respondents who took part in the survey, which was carried out between Thursday and Sunday, declined to give an opinion. The poll found major partisan differences, with self-described Republicans markedly more hawkish than Democrats or independents, although a majority of Democratic respondents said they also supported the airstrikes.

However, a majority (57 percent) of Republicans said they were concerned that Obama was not prepared to go “far enough to stop” the Islamic State, while majorities of Democrats (62 percent) and independents (56 percent) said they worried that he may go too far in re-inserting the military into Iraq three years after the last US combat troops were withdrawn. Overall, 51 percent of respondents expressed the latter fear.

Slate’s William Saletan sees that fear might be justified:

In his weekly address on Aug. 9, Obama added a third mission to the military agenda: “We will protect our citizens. We will work with the international community to address this humanitarian crisis. We’ll help prevent these terrorists from having a permanent safe haven from which to attack America.” He repeated that point in a press conference: “We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.” That’s a huge undertaking. Any land controlled by ISIS can be construed as a safe haven. Does Obama plan to drive ISIS out of places such as Fallujah, which it held for months while the United States looked on? Does he plan to push ISIS all the way back to Syria?

Obama hasn’t forgotten all the principles that limited his commitment. He continues to insist that the solution to Iraq’s crisis is political, that Iraqis must achieve that solution themselves, and that putting U.S. troops on the ground creates a dangerous rationale for additional deployments to protect them. But 12 days into the military campaign, he’s showing signs of slippage. He’d better watch himself.

That may be easier said than done. In the American Conservative, Daniel Larison argues that these things take on a life of their own:

Once a president has committed to using force in a foreign conflict, all of the effective political pressure is on the side of escalation.

Having conceded that the U.S. should be involved militarily in a conflict, the president is bombarded with demands for deeper involvement in order to pursue the illusion of victory. If he doesn’t agree to these demands, he will be steadily pilloried in the media until he does, and any adverse development in the affected country will usually be attributed to insufficient American involvement. Since the initial decision to intervene was driven in part by the same sort of pressure, it is more than likely that the president will keep yielding to calls to “do more.”

That’s not just Obama. That’s any president. That’s what happened with Lyndon Johnson long ago. It’s structural, but Slate’s Joshua Keating argues here that what “mission accomplished” will mean in Iraq this time around is as unclear now as it was the first time around:

The cynical answer is that the goal seems to be for Iraq to become just stable enough that we can go back to not paying attention to it. And I suspect that in the end, that may have more to do with how long the U.S. media continues to treat Iraq as a major story than with what’s actually happening there.

Maybe we should let it burn, and then Freddie deBoer considers how we consider such things:

Though the left is often seen as home to only pacifists and those who see the hand of imperialism in all proposed military action, there is also a healthy strain of messianic militarism on our side. I regularly engage with lefties who believe we should be “doing something” for the people of Syria, although what that something entails is not consistent or clear. In this telling, the Syrian uprising is a legitimate revolutionary force, the Islamists among them a small corruption that doesn’t jeopardize a post-Assad future, and the situation such that the United States could deploy military power in a way that increases stability and humanitarian outcomes rather than degrades them. These lefties believe in revolution, and they want the United States to be a revolutionary power.

Freddie deBoer doesn’t want that:

I would simply start by asking: is the United States military in the habit of supporting revolutionaries? What about the history of this country compels you to think that it has the capacity to support revolution, or any interest in doing so? If the United States goes to war, it doesn’t go with some hypothetical benevolent military machine. It goes to war with its actual existing military machine, under the auspices of the same-old warmongering politicians and officials, and with the same old military leadership. We don’t have some spare revolutionary force lying around. So: do you want to break bread with those people? Do you want to give your support to them? Do you want them to do what they do? Because that is a necessary precondition of getting involved. The neocons who want us to get into every war are not suddenly going to throw up their hands and say “we’re sitting this one out, the lefties have got it.” You are free to say that you don’t want to get involved with Bill Kristol and his cronies, but they will most certainly get involved in your war.

And they all said we should have helped out the good guys in Syria long ago, because if we had none of this would have happened, which deBoer thinks is nonsense:

There are more arguments against intervening in Syria than I can count. The first and most salient is the only argument we need against calls for more righteous bloodletting: should implies can. The United States went to war under ostensibly humanitarian pretenses in Iraq. We had over 100,000 troops stationed there, and the result was a humanitarian calamity, limitless slaughter. We sent cruise missiles to liberate the people of Libya, and the country has descended into civil war and chaos. Saying that we should free the Syrian people implies that we can. But for now, I want left-wing advocates of military intervention in Syria to recognize: anything that the United States does, will be done in the way that the United States always does it. This will not suddenly become the country you want it to be. And no matter how much you wish it were different, you will be lying down with the Tony Blairs and the Dick Cheneys and the Weekly Standards… They will be getting involved, and they will exercise more control than you ever can. That’s reality.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do:

Back in a rare moment of clarity, before quickly rediscovering his cruise missile liberalism, Peter Beinart wrote an apology for his previous support for the war. He explained that he had come to learn “a painful realization about the United States: We can’t be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be. We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war.”

That was true then, and it’s true now. Because the United States is not that country, because everything about our history, recent and distant, teaches you that this country does not rescue. It doesn’t liberate. It supports dictatorships, destroys enemies, secures resources, destabilizes countries, drops ordnance, and generally imposes its will. But it does not liberate, and no amount of wishing will make it the kind of power you want it to be.

In the Guardian, James Foley (not the one who was beheaded) is a bit more blunt about it:

One thing is clear from this latest evil act: the connected nature of a planet in which a possibly British man beheads an American journalist to advance religious insurgency in the Middle East, and the video is posted online. The idiocy of those who claim they have all the answers is equal only to the stupidity of those who think we can ignore global problems.

We can do what we can do:

Western nations should offer sanctuary to many of those devastated refugees and collectively ban for life the return of any young fools joining the jihad. But we cannot solve this explosion of complex economic, social and political issues – let alone heal religious fissures dating back centuries. This is not to advocate isolationism, merely to suggest any fresh interventions are laced with realism.

That’s not very satisfying, given this outrageous act, but that’s the kind of summer it’s been, one outrageous act after another for which there is no good response. Some summers are like that, one damned thing after another. It’s enough to make you wish you were French, heading for a campground north of Aix or something, but this is our August, here, this summer when everything fell apart – but that’s okay. We’re Americans. We don’t do vacations. It seems we can’t.

Posted in ISIS, Obama Escalates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Unavailable Boldness Option

Any ten-year-old will tell you they wish they were a grown-up. They could say what they want and do what they want, without picky parents and impossible teachers telling them they can’t say this and can’t do that. Adults don’t have to put up with that – they’re free – but ask any adult and they’ll tell you they sometimes wish they were a ten-year-old again, back when they could do any goofy thing, or say something really stupid, and those same teachers and parents would cut them some slack, for being just a kid and not knowing better. If there was punishment it wouldn’t amount to much. Have you learned your lesson, Johnny? Yes, sir, and I’ll never do anything like that again – but the kid will do something like that again, and learn his or her lesson again, and make the same promise, and do something else stupid, and none of it will amount to much. That’s the freedom kids have, even if they can’t see it on any given bad day. That’s even harder for teenagers to see as they slowly morph into adults, angry that they aren’t granted full adult autonomy yet, even if their bodies are getting there quickly. They’ll scream that it’s just not fair that they can’t decide for themselves about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and all that. They want their freedom, adult freedom.

They’ll get that soon enough, and then they’ll be sorry. Adults can’t do any old thing they want, any old time, or blurt out, loudly and in public, any angry or enthusiastic thing that suddenly occurs to them. That’s a good way to lose your job, or your marriage. Those who are uncompromisingly bold and direct end up sleeping alone under a freeway overpass, or in jail, or on a psychiatric ward – although they might end up the next Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, fabulously rich, and endlessly mocked. But those two do provide a service. They say rash and imprudent nonsense so that those who know better, but do wish they could say such things, don’t have to get in trouble. They’re surrogates. It would be that free, wouldn’t it? Ah well – back to work. There’s that deadline that idiot of a boss invented out of thin air, so what are you going to do? It sure would be nice to be the boss though – bosses get to do what they want and say what they want. Sigh. But there’s always Limbaugh and Beck. One can dream of freedom.

One can always dream of freedom – kids dreaming of how it would be if they were all grown up – adults dreaming of what it would be like to be the boss, firing fools and deciding what should be done and what shouldn’t, and when – but that’s a hopeless fantasy. The least free people are bosses. They got to be boss by being prudent, by saying the right things to the right people, doing the right thing even if it seemed stupid at the time, and mixing in a little boldness here and there, but circumspect boldness. They proposed nothing that might drive the company into bankruptcy, only something new that might actually work – a new process, a new product, or maybe some sort of restructuring. They showed, in detail, how whatever it was could work, and also laid out a contingency plan for everything that might go wrong, showing how to recover if something went south in a hurry. That’s how they moved into management, how they became the boss – they offered careful and prudent boldness. Letting it all hang out, as they used to say in the sixties, had nothing to do with their success. The sixties are over. No one’s that free. There are no hippies left, other than the toothless old guys down in Venice Beach, panhandling.

Everyone dreams of boldness anyway. The country’s nominal boss, the president, our chief executive, should be bold – everyone knows that. Those who run for president tell us how bold they will be because that brings in the votes. Americans don’t want someone careful. They want someone who will do something bold about whatever it is the nation faces. Democrats and Republicans always disagree about just what big problem the country faces, but both sides want boldness. That’s why there are sometimes third-party candidates too – George Wallace, Ralph Nader again and again, Ross Perot. They always say they’ll be bolder than any Democrat or Republican, given the mess the country is in, as it always seems to be. People are unhappy, they always are, and boldness is everything to them. So-and-so won’t take crap from anyone and just do whatever needs to be done. Things will be wonderful again.

We learned better. We gave that a try with George W. Bush, who actually did whatever he felt like doing and said whatever he felt like saying. We went to war in Iraq in spite of most of the world saying that was a really bad idea, something that would only end in tears, or something worse. It was, however, bold, as was finding a Justice Department lawyer who would certify that the Geneva Conventions regarding torture were now merely quaint, so we needn’t comply with them, or comply with most international law. We’d be bold, even if many were alarmed, and said so. Yeah, well, so what? Bush generally didn’t give a shit about what anyone said about him. He mangled the language, often saying stuff that made no sense at all – but he was president and those who cringed weren’t. He was a goofball in college with only the minimal grades to even graduate, but now he was president and all the smart people who actually knew things weren’t. It also might have been a bad idea to decide not to enforce what little regulation of the financial system was left after Clinton got through with taking most of it down in the nineties, but there, too, Bush would be bold. The SEC became a place for those who like to prop their feet up on their desks and take long afternoon naps. After all, totally free markets regulate themselves and generate amazing prosperity for everyone. Bush went for it. The economy collapsed, but at least he was bold. The two rounds of massive tax cuts for the very rich were bold too. Why not see what would happen when the rich had more money than they ever even imagined and no one else could catch a break? That could lead to good jobs for everyone, and general prosperity, all around. It didn’t. The idea that pure boldness was what we needed did turn out to be a hopeless fantasy.

America figured that out. In the 2008 election cycle George Bush hid, and his party was fine with that. Their new candidate, John McCain, didn’t stand a chance, and what was worse, he ran on his boldness. He’d stay in Iraq, he’d go to war with Russia over their brief invasion of Georgia (their Georgia, not ours), and he would bomb Iran, right now. His choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate was equally bold. She knew nothing about much of anything, and complexity confused her – even Dick Cheney, of all people, called McCain’s choice irresponsible, but she fired up the crowds. She was bold. He was bold. They lost. Obama offered an alternative to pure boldness.

Actually, Obama kind of cornered the market on moderate and sensible and pragmatic – he turned out to be careful and thoughtful and not radical at all, just as he promised. He’d think things though. Hope was fine, but doing things right takes time – it really is hard work – and one shouldn’t do stupid stuff, as he recently reiterated. In fact, from all the screaming on the right, Obamacare wasn’t socialized medicine, or even a single-payer system like Medicare – it turned out to be a series of exchanges, a matchmaking service setting up the uninsured with private insurance companies, and offering to help the uninsured pay whatever premiums they charged. It did set new standards for what health insurance should include, but we have standards for food safety too – nothing radical there – and forcing everyone to buy health insurance or pay a small fine was an idea that came from the Republicans long ago, to make sure there were no freeloaders. Obamacare was rather boring, actually – a middle-of-the-road system that disappointed the left and left little room on the right for outrage. They’re still trying to figure out what is wrong with it, other than it was too bold, which it wasn’t. It’s what Mitt Romney had done in Massachusetts, which had worked just fine. If Obamacare was bold, this was severely attenuated boldness. It was what could be done, given the Republican Party at the time. Obama understood, early on, he was not free to do more. No one was that happy with the result – Obama never considered a single-payer system – but no boss is as “free” as people imagine.

It may be that we never understood that, because now that there has been a week of racial upheaval in Missouri, with things only getting worse, there’s this from Ezra Klein:

President Obama’s statement today on Ferguson began with the words “I also want to address the situation in Ferguson. Earlier this afternoon I spoke with Governor Nixon…” It didn’t get much more passionate from there. The president’s tone was clinical. His delivery was understated. He seemed to be trying to avoid headlines. Even the setting was banal: Obama spoke from the White House Press Briefing Room; not from, say, St. Louis.

The main news in Obama’s remarks was that Attorney General Eric Holder will be traveling to Ferguson – which mostly highlights that Obama has not traveled to Ferguson, and has no plans to do so.

This situation may call for boldness, and the left is up in arms about Obama’s apparent detachment, but Klein reports that there will be no boldness now:

Obama’s supporters aren’t asking for anything Obama can’t do – or even anything he hasn’t done before. Obama was elected president because he seemed, alone among American politicians, to be able to bridge the deep divides in American politics. The speech that rocketed him into national life was about bridging the red-blue divide. The speech that sealed his nomination was about bridging the racial divide. That speech, born of a crisis that could have ended Obama’s presidential campaign, is remembered by both his supporters and even many of his detractors as his finest moment. That was the speech where Obama seemed capable of something different, something more, than other politicians. In the White House, it’s simply called “the Race Speech.” And there are no plans to repeat it.

Obama learned his lesson:

The problem is the White House no longer believes Obama can bridge divides. They believe – with good reason – that he widens them. They learned this early in his presidency, when Obama said that the police had “acted stupidly” when they arrested Harvard University professor Skip Gates on the porch of his own home. The backlash was fierce. To defuse it, Obama ended up inviting both Gates and his arresting officer for a “beer summit” at the White House.

Nor is Obama able to bridge the red-blue divide anymore. Presidents are polarizing figures, and Obama is more of a polarizing president than most.

Klein then dives into the data that shows that polarization, something one might expect to happen with our first black president:

This all speaks to a point that the White House never forgets: President Obama’s speeches polarize in a way candidate Obama’s didn’t. Obama’s supporters often want to see their president “leading,” but the White House knows that when Obama leads, his critics become even less likely to follow. …

If Obama’s speeches aren’t as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.

President Obama might still decide to give a speech about events in Ferguson. But it probably won’t be the speech many of his supporters want. When Obama gave the first Race Speech he was a unifying figure trying to win the Democratic nomination. Today he’s a divisive figure who needs to govern the whole country. The White House never forgets that.

The big boss is really not free at all:

There probably won’t be another Race Speech because the White House doesn’t believe there can be another Race Speech. For Obama, the cost of becoming president was sacrificing the unique gift that made him president.

The blogger BooMan isn’t pleased:

I’m glad the president isn’t narcissistic and recognizes the limits of his powers. “First, do no harm” is a wise maxim for a physician or a president. I think there are real limits to how much benefit the country can get from the insights of the president on issues of race. But I still believe there is a way for him to talk about Ferguson that wouldn’t prejudice the case or exacerbate the divide. He used to be the guy who knew how to do that when no one else could. I’m sad that he can no longer do it, or, at least, that he no longer believes he can do it.

I don’t like to see the assholes win.

Adam Serwer simply sees Obama’s discomfort:

Obama is renowned for speaking eloquently about America’s lingering racial divides and how to bridge them – but he has also come under attack from critics on the right, particularly when it comes to racial profiling. During the press conference Monday Obama seemed to prefer discussing the ongoing U.S. mission in Iraq, where large swaths of territory have been taken over by the Muslim extremist he referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. ISIL has rampaged through the country, displacing and killing Iraqis in their pursuit of a fundamentalist state. There was perhaps better news about Iraq, where U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish fighters appear to have at least temporarily turned back ISIL, than Ferguson, where the conflict between protesters and police appears to be escalating.

On the right, however, Jazz Shaw argues here that the Obama administration is over-reaching in ordering another autopsy of Michael Brown:

We try not to leap to conclusions, but it seems there is a rather obvious case to be made that the Obama Administration (unless Holder took this upon himself without approval, which seems unlikely in the extreme) has decided to latch on to this incident and it has political fingerprints all over it. How else would you explain it? Yes, the Brown family attorney supposedly made the request, but I’d be willing to wager that most every family in the country – of any race, religion or otherwise – who lost a family member in violent, questionable circumstances would love to have big guns like this brought to bear. But they don’t get it. And that, again, is assuming that it’s even appropriate for the feds to be injecting themselves into an ongoing investigation to begin with. There haven’t even been any charges filed, to say nothing of a trial being held which some might dispute after the outcome. I don’t care for the looks of this at all.

Also on the right, Allahpundit is skeptical:

Holder and Obama are going to do what they can to make black voters believe that someone they trust is conducting a serious inquiry, even if they think St. Louis County isn’t. Maybe Holder will end up prosecuting Darren Wilson for civil-rights violations if he’s acquitted in state court, a la the LAPD officers after the Rodney King beating 20+ years ago. Or maybe not: Holder tried to placate lefties last year by promising to look into civil-rights violations possibly committed by George Zimmerman against Trayvon Martin and then quietly let that slide down the memory hole as people moved on. They can worry about Wilson later.

Joshua Green, however, argues here that Obama simply has to get more involved:

There’s a good reason presidents usually don’t swoop in to the scene of a local catastrophe like the one that has emerged in Ferguson, Mo., since a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, a little over a week ago. It’s because the presence of the commander in chief would greatly complicate the logistical and security difficulties police are already struggling to confront.

But in Ferguson, it’s now become clear that those security problems are being exacerbated by the police. They have been firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters for days. They further inflamed the situation by releasing, against the wishes of federal investigators, a videotape allegedly showing Brown robbing a convenience store (the tape provided no basis for killing Brown). The menacing defensiveness with which the police have conducted themselves – arresting reporters and refusing to release basic information – has badly undermined the public’s faith. In general, they’ve done such a poor job of deescalating the tension and bringing about a return to order that Missouri’s governor, after inexplicably keeping his distance from the shooting for days, has now concluded local law enforcement can’t do the job itself and has called in the National Guard.

In Ferguson, the logic of why a president should keep his distance has now flipped.

This is a special situation:

It’s no accident that Brown’s family felt the need to hire its own pathologist to conduct an autopsy. It’s also no accident that the FBI and Justice Department are running their own investigations of what happened. Clearly, they lack confidence that local law enforcement officials will do a capable and honest job. But things are so far gone in Ferguson that only Obama himself can reassure the broader public and instill confidence that Brown’s case will be handled as it should be. All the more so, given his impressive track record of speaking to the country about race. Obama did the right thing by cutting short his summer vacation. But he should go to Ferguson before returning to Washington.

He may, he may not, but there’s always Rush:

Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday inevitably found a way to tie the protests in Ferguson, Mo. to the Benghazi scandal.

A caller on his radio show told Limbaugh he was tired of reading about Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in media coverage of the Ferguson protests and said he felt they have been “using this event to gain political bank.”

“That’s the point. You gotta understand something. This is far bigger than the Reverend Jackson and Al Sharpton,” Limbaugh responded.

And this may be why Obama has decided to say little:

“But this is the Democrat Party, folks. The president of the United States is in charge of what’s happened here,” he said. “I think it is time for everybody to come to grips with a simple reality. I don’t care what scandal you name – Benghazi, Fast and Furious, take your pick, IRS – has anybody involved in any of these scandals been fired? Not a single person.”

The pundit argued that Ferguson is actually about quashing Republicans.

“This is about wiping out the Republican Party. This is about wiping out the Libertarians. This is about wiping out anybody who opposes Obama. Every bit of this,” Limbaugh said. “This isn’t Al Sharpton. This isn’t Jesse Jackson. They’re just tag-alongs now. This is Obama and Holder. But all of this is Barack Obama. Every event, every detail, every occurrence is Obama. And the end result is the end and absence of any opposition. So that’s what Ferguson’s all about, like all the rest of this has been about.”

Limbaugh has a vast national audience. With views like that out there, Obama saying much of anything at all would only outrage that vast audience even further, and he’s their president too, even if they don’t like it much. So the ten-year-old wants to be a grown-up, because grown-ups can do and say just what they want, anytime, all the time. And the frustrated worker, addicted to Limbaugh, wants to be the boss, because the boss can do and say just what he wants and no one can do a damned thing about it. That would be so cool. Rush does that. And the grown-up actual boss has to be very careful about what he says and does, because no adult gets to do and say just what he or she wants. Obama could be bold, not prudent, and speak from the heart, eloquently, and that might really tear the country apart, so he won’t, not now. Ah well. At least there’s a grown-up in the room.

Posted in Ferguson Missouri, Obama the Pragmatist, Obama Too Cool | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sensing There’s Something Wrong

There are those of us who are connoisseurs of irony, mostly former English teachers, who note that the current Democratic governor in Missouri, now torn apart by racial upheaval, is named Nixon – and his first name is awesomely biblical, Jeremiah. That would be Jay Nixon – but he’s not related to the rather nasty former President Nixon, who had to resign when everyone found out how nasty he actually was, the guy who despised Jews and blacks and the Kennedys and the press and all sorts of folks. The new HBO documentary – just Richard Nixon talking on those White House tapes that are now finally available, saying he doesn’t give a shit about the law (yes, really) – is the other Nixon. The Missouri Nixon isn’t perpetually paranoid and out to “get” his imagined enemies. This one is actually kind of boring, although he does have whiff of the other Nixon about him.

Jay Nixon is what they call a Clinton Democrat, one who practices what Bill Clinton called triangulation – do everything a right-wing Republican would do and there’s no reason anyone would ever vote for a Republican ever again. Bill Clinton gleefully deregulated everything he could, signing the bill that eliminated the Glass-Steagall Act, freeing the big banks to make money in any tricky way they could, and signed the bill that exempted all futures trading from any oversight at all, that led to the Enron mess and then the credit default swap mess that tanked the economy at the end of Bush’s second term, but he did say from the start that the era of big government was over. He was serious. He left the Republicans with no room to maneuver, and he reformed welfare too. To get your unemployment benefits, that you had paid for, now you had to work, doing something, anything, or provide documentary evidence each week that you had applied for some sort of job that week – no proof, no check. That didn’t help a whole lot of people – when there are no jobs there are no jobs – but it shamed them. That’s all that the Republicans wanted anyway, but Bill Clinton laid on the public shame for them, so the Republicans had nowhere to go with that. It was all very clever.

Jay Nixon is no slouch at that sort of thing – he oversaw Missouri’s involvement in the court settlements that ended mandatory busing in St. Louis and Kansas City’s public schools. He was the one kept the black kids out of white schools, not any Republican. Missouri Republicans criticized him for his campaign managers’ soliciting campaign contributions from utility companies, from the big money people, but then Hillary Clinton sat on the board of Wal-Mart for years as Wal-Mart made sure their employees were paid crap wages and would have no chance in hell of ever unionizing, and she’s tight with Wall Street – they love her and she loves them. It’s the same sort of thing, a Republican thing and no big deal, and when the Missouri Information Analysis Center issued a report on “The Modern Militia Movement” in, 2009, letting the Missouri State Highway Patrol know that these groups seemed to be linked to other domestic militia groups, white-power terrorists, many on the right complained. Nixon made the report disappear. No one will outflank him on the right. It’s no wonder Bill and Hillary love the guy. They’ve both campaigned hard for him in the past. Obama’s a little wary of him, but then he’s always been a little wary of Hillary Clinton. Obama likes Democrats to be Democrats, and then there’s that name – Nixon.

Obama may not see that name as an ironic coincidence – and think of Kent State. After the mess that was the summer of 1968, Richard Nixon won on a law and order platform – he would put an end to riots in the streets, even to rowdy protests, and he made good on his promise. Maybe the Ohio National Guard guys, a few years later, shooting a few protesters dead at Kent State, was going a bit far, but these things happen. There will be order, damn it. Democrats may tolerate a bit of rowdiness. Republicans won’t, and the question is whether Jay Nixon is a bit of a Richard Nixon. Will he try to outflank any law and order Republican with a bit of the old Clinton triangulation, and call up the National Guard?

That’s why the Clintons love this guy. He did just that:

As angry, sometimes violent protests stretched into a ninth day in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon played his highest-value executive card – activating the state’s National Guard.

Authorities have tried unsuccessfully to quell the nighttime violence that erupted Aug. 9 in Ferguson after Officer Darren Wilson, 28, who is white, fatally shot unarmed black pedestrian Michael Brown, 18. They beefed up the police presence and imposed a curfew. They tear-gassed unruly protesters and fired rubber bullets. On Saturday, Nixon declared a state of emergency, laying the foundation for his executive order Monday that called up the National Guard.

That’s usually done for fires and floods and earthquakes and whatnot, but Jay Nixon would outflank any Republican appalled by these uppity folks, and make history:

The last time the Guard was federalized for a civil disturbance was in 1992 during the riots in Los Angeles that followed acquittal of the police officers charged with beating Rodney King, National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt said.

Nixon said he issued the order Monday after peaceful protests and prayer meetings on Sunday turned violent. He said protesters shot at police officers, looted businesses, threw Molotov cocktails, blocked roads and attempted to overrun the city’s command center. He said the National Guard’s mission will be limited to protecting the command center that was attacked Sunday night.

“As long as there are vandals and looters and threats to the people and property of Ferguson, we must take action to protect our citizens,” Nixon said in a written statement.

It’s unclear that anyone shot at police officers or threw Molotov cocktails or attempted to overrun the city’s command center – the reporting on the ground is ambiguous at best and this was Obama federalizing the National Guard – but that didn’t matter to this Nixon. On his own he sent in the troops. It might have happened.

Obama has had enough trouble with Hillary Clinton calling his foreign policy utterly foolish, and now he has this, another loose cannon, and he tried to limit the damage:

President Obama appeared wary today about the National Guard being sent to Ferguson, Missouri, saying he urged the governor to ensure the troops were involved in a “limited” way. …

Obama addressed the volatile situation in Ferguson for a second time in recent days and said he called Nixon about his decision to send in the Missouri National Guard.

“I spoke to Jay Nixon about this and expressed interest that if it was used, it would be in a limited and appropriate way,” Obama said this afternoon. “He described the support role they’d be performing and I’ll be watching to see that it’s helping, not hindering, progress.”

Obama didn’t have long to wait. It wasn’t helping:

Several hundred protesters, some of them throwing bottles, surged toward a wall of police Monday night in Ferguson, Missouri, before members of the crowd began pushing them back in a tense confrontation over the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

The crowd surged forward and back as police officers standing 60 wide and five deep held their ground. An armored vehicle began moving toward the crowd, and as clergymen and community leaders locked arms to hold the protesters back, the crowd appeared to be retreating about 10 p.m. (11 p.m. ET), potentially averting what could have been the worst unrest since officers fired tear gas and arrested at least six people Sunday night.

As authorities ordered media crews to retreat – saying they were provoking the crowd – police with shields and weapons drawn briefly began advancing while retreating protesters shouted at them. All through the showdown, clergymen and other community leaders waved their arms and screamed for the crowd to stand down.

The scene remained very tense late Monday night, but by 10:20 p.m., most of the demonstrators had dispersed. A lone protester who continued struggling was grabbed by officers, briefly setting off another round of object-throwing and shouts of “Mike Brown can’t relax! Mike Brown can’t move back!” but by 10:30 p.m., order had largely been restored.

Maybe the National Guard wasn’t the answer. Maybe there is no answer, but Jay Nixon has positioned himself well. No one can accuse him of being soft on crime – maybe an opportunistic fool and maybe an enemy of the black community – but not soft on crime. The Clintons would understand, and approve. They know a winner when they see one, and they’re probably still trying to figure out how Obama got elected, twice. Obama didn’t triangulate. That’s a puzzle.

That’s only a puzzle if every issue is a political puzzle to be solved by clever positioning that leaves you vulnerable to no one. Heck, the Republicans were left with nothing bad to say about Bill Clinton and had to resort to impeaching him over lying about his hot and heavy affair with Monica the Eager Intern, so there’s something to seeing every issue that way. Here, however, a young unarmed black man was gunned down by a white policeman and the people of the community, and many across the nation, said enough is enough and took to the streets. This isn’t a political puzzle, and Matthew Sitman addresses that:

In what I’ve read about the killing of Michael Brown and its aftermath, certain issues have been front-and-center, with the widespread evils of entrenched racism and the militarization of the police being the most prominent. But I’ve also noticed something else going on, which is that more and more people seem to believe that Ferguson reveals something quite damning about America itself, that it points to deeper, systemic issues that go far beyond one killing in one town – that the disregard for black lives in America is a sin that undermines so much about what we like to believe about our country, and our hopes for its future.

Something may be terribly wrong here, and Sitman cites James Poulos with this:

Americans—in and out of my Twitter feed—have begun to grasp that hideous possibility: that America has manufactured a violent and predominantly black permanent underclass, subjected to our malignant paranoia about crime, living slow-motion death sentences in ghettos from which no amount of presidential hope, change, or lecturing can release them.

Even more important, Americans have begun to understand that the scourge-ification of this underclass is inseparable from the realization of our worst collective nightmare – the scourging of America itself, the ruin of the promise of America that still strikes us in our gut as providential. The widespread belief, still largely subconscious or at least unspoken, that America is breaking, and that we deserve the suffering ahead.

Poulos then invokes Abraham Lincoln:

“Fondly do we hope,” Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural, “fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

We do not want this to be true. This is what we fear: that America, despite its brilliance and its progress, is inescapably complicit in the sin of slavery and racism, bearing a moral debt that cannot be repaid but in suffering and blood – as such debts are paid so routinely around the world which we pride ourselves, however rationally, on standing so far above.

We may not stand above all others, and sitting pretty when the next election cycle rolls around may not matter much when the country is tearing itself apart and most folks would rather just move to Canada or Portugal or New Zealand and be done with it all. Of course most people can’t do that, so they’ll take to the streets. Sitman just sees one thing as obvious:

I think it has to be clear by now that we do bear that moral debt and are complicit in the ongoing sin of racism and white supremacy, even if too few of us are willing to admit it, and what I found compelling about Poulos’ essay is that he points beyond policy questions to the deeper moral issues involved. I certainly hope the killing in Ferguson leads to policy changes, especially when it comes to the militarization of our police forces. I also hope that the protests in Ferguson are the first stirrings of dragging the police back under community control. But these reforms won’t really be enough, even if they do help. Ferguson is about more than a few police officers with big guns behaving badly.

Sitman then cites Ta-Nehisi Coates with this argument for reparations:

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices – more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.

Sitman:

Beyond policy fixes is the necessity of a “national reckoning” with the reality of racial injustice in this country. More white people like me should care about the criminalization of black men apart from when it’s trendy to mention it on Twitter. What I am concerned about is what happens after the situation in Ferguson is “resolved.” And I don’t see how we can really have that national reckoning apart from the ways Coates lays out in his essay, addressing the full breadth of the way blacks have been marginalized, punished, and plundered throughout our history. We can take away the police’s military equipment, but we also need “a revolution of the American consciousness.” The question we face is not just “Why do the police in Ferguson have that equipment?” but “Why did they turn those arms against black people?” Beneath policy debates lurks the problems of the human heart, and the hate and indifference residing there.

The Clintons, and Jay Nixon, would understand none of this. There’s no political advantage to be gained with thinking like this, but in Politico of all places, Michael Bell tells a different story:

After police in Kenosha, Wis., shot my 21-year-old son to death outside his house ten years ago – and then immediately cleared themselves of all wrongdoing – an African-American man approached me and said: “If they can shoot a white boy like a dog, imagine what we’ve been going through.”

I could imagine it all too easily, just as the rest of the country has been seeing it all too clearly in the terrible images coming from Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.

That’s the whole point:

I have known the name of the policeman who killed my son, Michael, for ten years. And he is still working on the force in Kenosha.

Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us – regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy – that was my son, Michael – can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country – that’s me – and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.

What have we become? We’ve become this:

The police claimed that one officer screamed that Michael grabbed his gun after they stopped him, for reasons that remain unclear though he was slightly intoxicated, and then Gonzalez shot him, sticking the gun so close against his temple that he left a muzzle imprint. Michael wasn’t even driving his own car. He’d been out with a designated driver, but the designated driver drank and was younger, and so my son made the decision to drive.

Wanting to uncover the truth, our family hired a private investigator who ended up teaming up with a retired police detective to launch their own investigation. They discovered that the officer who thought his gun was being grabbed in fact had caught it on a broken car mirror. The emergency medical technicians who arrived later found the officers fighting with each other over what happened. We filed a 1,100-page report detailing Michael’s killing with the FBI and US Attorney.

It took six years to get our wrongful death lawsuit settled, and my family received $1.75 million. But I wasn’t satisfied by a long shot. I used my entire portion of that money and much more of my own to continue a campaign for more police accountability. I wanted to change things for everyone else, so no one else would ever have to go through what I did. We did our research: In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified. There was one shooting we found, in 2005, that was ruled justified by the department and an inquest, but additional evidence provided by citizens caused the DA to charge the officer. The city of Milwaukee settled with a confidentiality agreement and the facts of that sealed. The officer involved committed suicide.

That’s instructive:

The problem over many decades, in other words, was a near-total lack of accountability for wrongdoing; and if police on duty believe they can get away with almost anything, they will act accordingly.

Anyone who lives in a black community knows this, and now white guys like Michael Bell know this. Soon everyone will know this, and know that Jay Nixon may be Richard Nixon come back to haunt us with seductive promises of law and order he cannot keep, but which make him look good. Perhaps enough overwhelming force will restore order in Ferguson, and make Jay Nixon a hero no hard-ass Republican can assail, and then Hillary Clinton will make him her 2016 running mate, outflanking the Republicans once again, but so far this hasn’t been going well, and the sense that there’s something wrong here grows daily. Clever political positioning won’t help with that. We do not want this to be true, but this may be what we fear.

Posted in Ferguson Missouri, Jay Nixon, Political Positioning, Race and America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Longer Even a Thin Excuse

Over on the west side of town, on the north side of Pico Boulevard, at the top end of Motor Avenue, the massive Twentieth Century Fox studios form a long and imposing blank wall – no one can see what’s going on back in there. That’s just as well. Fox has had its share of disasters. The back lot, with its western streets (with the requisite saloon) and city streets and quaint European villages, is long gone. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton ended that with that absurdly expensive 1963 Cleopatra movie that brought Fox to the edge of bankruptcy. Fox took a bath on that epic and had to sell off the back lot to stay in business. The old back lot is now Century City – shiny skyscrapers and a still trendy mall and clumps of expensive townhouses in small gated communities. The real estate consortium led by Alcoa made that old back lot solidly profitable, and now that Rupert Murdoch owns Fox that sort of thing will never happen again. The movie business is, however, a bit of a crap-shoot – the sure-thing blockbuster bombs and the throw-away small quirky movie, starring no one anyone ever heard of, makes a mint. Go figure.

No one is sure why this happens, but sometimes it’s just bad timing. On August 13, 2014, Fox released Let’s Be Cops – a buddy-comedy about two young losers who, on a lark, decide to wear cop uniforms that they had worn to a costume party, all the time. Suddenly people respect them, and people ask them for help and advice, and for protection, and the girls swoon. Then they buy a used police cruiser and really get into it and do actual good – and screw up a lot, which is where the comedy is supposed to be. The reviews were scathing – this was stupid stuff – and the movie-going public, if there is such a thing, went elsewhere.

They were in no mood for this. On August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, an eighteen-year-old black man died after being shot multiple times by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, and that was followed by a week of massive protests. The Ferguson police chief called in the county police force, and the police forces from other nearby towns, and they assembled all the surplus military equipment the federal government has been transferring to local police departments everywhere and rolled in with the armored personnel carriers and giant assault vehicles, and the troops in full combat gear carrying assault rifles. The snipers on top of some of these tank-things, in full body armor with advanced special rifles with laser scopes – aimed directly at this protester and that – was a nice touch too – and then the flash grenades and tear gas flew everywhere. It looked like a war zone in Afghanistan for four full nights, and the local police also arrested and roughed up two reporters, sitting quietly in a local McDonalds using the free internet access there to file their stories. Someone also captured, on camera, the local police scaring off a television crew with tear gas and then tearing down their equipment. The national media, except for Joe Scarborough, was outraged. Even Ted Cruz was outraged.

It really was a war zone, and this sort of undermined the premise of the cute comedy that Fox was just then putting in general release, the same day the governor of Missouri sent in the state troopers to take over for the local cops. That bought a day of calm. Let’s be cops? It’ll be fun? The chicks will dig us? It doesn’t work that way. That movie didn’t stand a chance. Anyone who wants to play cop, just for the fun of it, or to get the girl, must be a jerk.

There is an alternative explanation, however, as Annie Lowrey explains:

The story of Michael Brown’s death has in no small part been a story of police overreaction. The local force evidently killed an unarmed teenager, and then suited up as if going to war to police the generally peaceful protests that followed. And it’s revealed an irony: Over the past generation or so, we’ve militarized our police to protect a public that has broadly become less and less violent.

She explains the complex history of how that happened, but conveniently Kevin Drum gives the condensed version:

Two decades ago violent crime really was out of control, and it seemed reasonable to a lot of people that police needed to respond in a much more forceful way. We can argue forever about whether militarizing our police forces was an appropriate response to higher crime rates, but at least it was an understandable motivation. Later, police militarization got a further boost from 9/11, and again, that was at least an understandable response.

But at the same time the trend toward militarization started in the early 90s, the crime wave of the 70s and 80s finally crested and then began to ebb. Likewise, Al Qaeda terrorism never evolved into a serious local problem. We’ve spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we’re stuck with them. We don’t need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that’s how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.

There’s only one possible conclusion:

Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn’t know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There’s no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.

There is no longer even a thin excuse for any of this. Five days after the shooting, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson was saying that Michael Brown was a robbery suspect at the time – he released some fuzzy videotapes that showed the robbery in progress and the kid might have been Brown – and Brown somehow ended up dead, as these things happen with brutal robbery suspects, but a few hours later he then said that their guy, who shot Brown dead, was not aware of any robbery at all. He was actually just telling Brown and his friend to stop jaywalking, and they refused, so this had nothing to do with the robbery, which the officer knew nothing about. Later in the day, Jackson then said he understood his guy, who fired all the rounds into Brown’s body when Brown had his hands up and said he was unarmed, had seen the small box of stolen cigars somewhere on Brown, maybe, so maybe that explains everything – except this officer, Darren Wilson, hadn’t known that any cigars had been stolen anywhere. This was puzzling. Potential suspects in a minor robbery aren’t usually shot on sight, by a police officer who didn’t even know they were suspects, which is what the chief had previously said. This guy was worse than the two bumblers in that stupid movie Fox was pushing. Needless to say, the kid’s family wasn’t happy.

No one was happy, and that led to what happened eight days after the shooting:

A midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew will remain in effect early Monday in Ferguson, Mo., amid unrest surrounding the police shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, officials in the St. Louis suburb announced Sunday afternoon. Also Sunday, at a rally in Ferguson, speakers including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III sounded calls for the nation to respond constructively to the situation by addressing what Sharpton called the militarization of police. …

Community members need to take positive action too, Sharpton said. “Don’t loot in Michael’s name,” he implored, and told residents to wield influence by participating in elections. “You all got to start voting and showing up – a 12% turnout is an insult to your children.”

Sharpton also announced a class-action lawsuit for people hurt in the demonstrations, perhaps not that plausible, but something to make the folks who get a kick out of playing cop to worry a bit. Others actually know what they’re doing, which is not playing at all:

Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson, who took over the police response last week at the direction of the governor, said at the rally that he met Saturday with some of Brown’s relatives.

“They brought tears to my eyes and shame to my heart,” Johnson said. “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say I’m sorry.”

Christine Ewings, a cousin of Brown’s, erupted in cheers, as did the rest of the crowd.

“When this is over,” Johnson said, “I’m going to go in my son’s room, my black son, who wears his pants sagging, wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms, because that’s my baby.”

Ewings and the crowd of more than 1,300 applauded.

“Thank you!” she shouted.

“Michael’s going to make it better for our sons,” Johnson said before sitting down.

A cop who knows it is life and death out there and says he’s sorry? He acknowledged that there’s no longer even a thin excuse for any of this. That’s not the stuff of Hollywood buddy comedies, and there was more:

Earlier Sunday, citing “extraordinary circumstances” in Brown’s death, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. instructed Justice Department officials to have an additional autopsy performed by a federal medical examiner after unrest in Ferguson escalated again overnight… Holder’s decision is the latest development showing that federal investigators are conducting a far different inquiry than that underway by local officials.

Those who like to play cop, because it’s cool, are going to find it’s not that cool at all:

On Saturday, Justice Department officials revealed that they had repeatedly urged local officials not to release a video purporting to show Brown robbing a local convenience store shortly before the shooting. They said they warned local authorities that the video might further inflame tensions in the city, and were unhappy when the video was released nonetheless.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon echoed the Justice Department’s unhappiness that Ferguson police released the video.

“We were unaware they were going to release it, and we were certainly not happy that it was released, especially the way that it was,” Nixon said. “It appeared to cast aspersions on a young man who was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw.”

Character assassination is not policing. Who knew? And these things have a way of backfiring:

The Rev. Al Sharpton on Saturday said the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager in Missouri would be featured in a large New York City rally next week originally intended to protest a Staten Island man’s police-custody death. Sharpton compared the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., with the July 17 death of Eric Garner, who was put in an apparent police chokehold after being arrested on Staten Island for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Mr. Garner’s death has led to calls for the New York Police Department to rethink its policing strategies…

This isn’t some Hollywood movie, and Sharpton was on a roll:

He began a short, powerful, applause-line-filled speech by declaring that the shooting of Brown represents a pivotal moment in what he views as a much larger fight for the rights of people around the world against the repressive forces of government.

“We… have… had… enough!” Sharpton pronounced, adding that people who agree with him could make a difference at the ballot box.

“Nobody can go to the White House until they stop by our house!”

The famous activist demanded to know why police had released a videotape of Brown shoplifting from a now-looted and burned-out convenience store. Sharpton said that he does not condone shoplifting, but he also doesn’t believe the tape has anything to do with the subsequent shooting of Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

Sharpton demanded a federal investigation of the shooting, called for federal jobs programs in the area and urged community members to protest peacefully.

“We are not looters. We are liberators,” he said, to a massive amount of applause.

Folks cheered. The rally went well, and then it didn’t matter:

Hours ahead of a second night of a mandatory curfew, the most chaotic violence in a week of unrest broke out here Sunday evening, with law enforcement officers facing off against angry protesters and responding to reports of gunfire and fire bombs.

The violence began about 9 p.m. along West Florissant Avenue, one of the city’s main streets, within two blocks of where Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot. Hundreds of police officers turned out in riot gear, shooting rubber bullets and firing canisters of tear gas in an effort to disperse protesters. Some in the crowd retrieved the smoking canisters and threw them back toward the officers.

It was not immediately clear what set off the violence, but there were reports that the police feared that some of the protesters were trying to encroach on their command post in a shopping center parking lot. Protesters said the police fired without provocation.

That is what CNN reports:

Officers fired tear gas into a crowd of hundreds of protesters marching toward a police command post Sunday night. Authorities also struck one defiant protester with rubber bullets.

St. Louis County police said several protesters had thrown Molotov cocktails toward the officers before authorities shot tear gas toward them.

“That is a lie. It was no fight, it was no shots fired,” a very upset protester, Lisha Williams, told CNN. “The only ones who fired were police. All we did was march to the command center to fall to our knees and say, ‘Don’t shoot.’ And they started shooting.”

Officers tried to push back and contain a crowd of protesters, which included children. The crowd didn’t let up despite an impending midnight curfew.

Let’s be cops? No thank you. And the late Malcolm X was wary of church rallies anyway:

The greatest miracle Christianity has achieved in America is that the black man in white Christian hands has not grown violent. It is a miracle that 22 million black people have not risen up against their oppressors – in which they would have been justified by all moral criteria, and even by the democratic tradition! It is a miracle that a nation of black people has so fervently continued to believe in a turn-the-other-cheek and heaven-for-you-after-you-die philosophy! It is a miracle that the American black people have remained a peaceful people, while catching all the centuries of hell that they have caught, here in white man’s heaven! The miracle is that the white man’s puppet Negro “leaders” – his preachers and the educated Negroes laden with degrees, and others who have been allowed to wax fat off their black poor brothers – have been able to hold the black masses quiet until now.

That miracle may be over, but there was other news:

One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury, according to Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri on Sunday at the family’s request to conduct the separate autopsy. It was likely the last of bullets to hit him, he said.

Mr. Brown, 18, was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired into his front.

The bullets did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no gunpowder was present on his body.

Now things get interesting. Brown might have been charging the officer like a mad bull or something, so he had to shoot him dead, even if Brown was unarmed. Brown was a big fellow. Everyone on Fox News will run with that. The cop was entirely justified in firing again and again, into the kid’s head and chest. He had no choice. Alternatively, Brown could have been standing there, at a distance, with his hands up, mouthing off, being uppity, or just having a bad attitude. It’s the George Zimmerman shoots Trayvon Martin thing all over again. The cop will probably walk.

And it just keeps going – Man Describes How Police in Ferguson Arrested Him for Smoking Cigarette in His Parked Car After Curfew and Supporters Of Police Officer Who Shot Unarmed Teen Dead Stage Rally, Raise Thousands and Rupert Murdoch Blames Ferguson Protests on High Unemployment in US and on and on and on. And some things said at that church rally didn’t help:

The civil rights attorney who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old shot to death in Sanford, Fla., in 2012, told a rally here Sunday that police are trying to assassinate the character of Michael Brown, the young man shot dead by police more than a week ago.

“They tried it with Trayvon, and now they are trying it with Michael,” Benjamin Crump said.

“We know that this was an execution,” he said, noting that at the time of his death, witnesses say Brown had his hands raised above his head. “This means ‘Surrender! Don’t shoot!’ And the most hardened criminals in history, when they put their hands up, we didn’t execute them.”

And there was this:

Martin Luther King III said the local prosecutor looking into the shooting should recuse himself from case. “Justice perhaps won’t come without an independent prosecutor,” he said.

Yeah, that is an issue:

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley on Friday said he is leading an effort to remove the county prosecutor from investigating the Michael Brown case because he thinks the prosecutor’s personal experiences and recent statements have tainted his ability to act objectively. …

Dooley’s spokeswoman, Pat Washington, said there have been long-standing concerns among many black leaders in the community regarding County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s ability to handle such cases because his father was killed in the line of duty when McCulloch was 12 years old. The man who shot his father was black.

Most recently, she said, Dooley feels McCulloch crossed a line when he publicly criticized a decision this week by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to bring in the State Highway Patrol to lead efforts to quell the violent street protests that erupted after the shooting of Brown.

“He injected himself in a matter in a way that further exacerbates the community distrust of him,” Washington said. “Rather than stay focused on the investigation, the prosecuting attorney decided to wade over into a whole other area and challenge the governor. He inflamed the community, which already distrusts him.”

That’s why Eric Holder and the Feds are involved. Robert McCulloch will probably decline to proceed with anything in this matter, because that Brown kid got what he deserved. McCulloch’s father is still dead after all. Robert McCulloch knows who deserves what. And on the other side there’s Al Sharpton:

“We are not going to shut up,” he said. “We are going to come together and have a real peace.” He told protesters not to loot in Michael’s name. “There’s a difference between an activist and a thug,” Sharpton said.

The cops might not see that difference. Except for Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson, every other cop in this debacle is just playing cop, because it’s cool, like those two bumblers in that misconceived new movie from the folks over on Pico Boulevard, and there’s no longer even a thin excuse for that. There’s no way to make a comedy out of tragedy.

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