October 1, 2014

MIT study predicts grim climate decay

Environmental News Network - Global temperature is likely to rise 3.3-5.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, unless international climate negotiations in Paris next year are more effective than expected, according to a report released Monday by the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. The predicted temperature increase surpasses the threshold identified by the United Nations as necessary to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change, altering precipitation patterns and heightening the pressures of population and economic growth.

"Our world is rapidly changing," says John Reilly, co-director of the MIT Joint Program and a coauthor of the report. "We need to understand the nature of the risks we're facing so we can prepare for them."

"Population and economic growth are key drivers of change," Reilly says. "Developing countries like China and India are growing fast, and will play a big role in future emissions. They're also facing the unique challenge of trying to plan for this growth under a changing climate."

Race to the Bottom: Democrats

The worst, weakest and/or least effective
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Barack Obama
  • Arne Duncan
  • John Kerry
  • Eric Holder
  • Bill Clinton
  • Chuck Schumer
  • Diane Feinstein

Pocket paradigm

Empires and cultures are not permanent and while thinking about the possibility that ours is collapsing may seem a dismal exercise it is far less so than enduring the dangerous frustrations and failures involved in having one's contrary myth constantly butt up against reality like a boozer who insists he is not drunk attempting to drive home. Instead of defending the non-existent we could turn our energies instead towards devising a new and saner existence. - Sam Smith


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result -- Albert Einstein

The Post Office pays a visit

 From 50 years of our obverstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2000- Government censorship was never much of a problem for us. Other publications, however, did not fare as well. In B.W. (Before Web) the Post Office was the most powerful prude around. As a young radio reporter in 1959, I interviewed the Assistant Postmaster General on the subject of obscenity in his office, a space grandly baroque enough to have pleased a top official of the Mussolini regime. He guided me from his enormous desk to some comfortable chairs in a windowed corner for the interview. On the floor, randomly tossed in a large scattered pile, was the most magnificent collection of sex magazines I had ever seen. I wondered but did not ask why, given the hazard he told me they presented, he got to read them and I did not.

Thirteen years later, in 1972, I was visited by one Howard Roberts, a postal inspector, carrying the current copy of another local paper, The Daily Rag. As I later explained in a letter to an official of the ACLU:

"Roberts informed me that he was delivering my copy of the Rag, but that the Postal Service considered the cover obscene and that he was asking that I refuse the publication and return it to him. Naturally I was titillated by this strange proposal, but upon viewing the cover found it to contain only a dowdy cartoon lady with mammary glands bulbous but properly covered. She was wearing a button that read 'Fuck the Food Tax.'"

"I told Roberts no at some length, reminding him of existing legislation that adequately provided for those who wished to refuse mail . . . I'm afraid I was angry and did most of the talking, cowing Roberts sufficiently that he refused to answer any of my subsequent questions. He said that since I wouldn't refuse the publication he wasn't going to tell me anything more . . . He departed, leaving me with my copy of the Rag. He still, as I recall, had two or three other copies with him. Incidentally, Jean Lewton, associate editor of the Gazette, was in the room during the discussion. Roberts carefully shielded the offending publication from her view."

In short, the Postal Service was seriously proposing criminal prosecution not only of the Rag, but of those who read it. It was a classic example of the First Amendment problem Lenny Bruce had raised: "If I can't say 'fuck' then I can't say, 'fuck the government.' I called the Rag and other media and after a story or two ran and the ACLU got involved, the Post Office backed off and ever since the capital has been saying "fuck" without fear of criminal sanction.

September 30, 2014

What's happening

The Smithsonian's African American History Museum will help you determine if your junk is culturally significant

Low-income drivers face higher auto insurance, even when they have clean driving records

John Cleese  analyzes Fox News

California ends higher penalties for crack vs. cocaine 

 A good reason not to live in Louisiana: - Police in Louisiana are urging residents to add surveillance camera security systems to their homes and then to hand over control of those systems to law enforcement

A good metaphor for our times: The most techy, nerdy administration of all time didn't have an automatic lock on the front door of the White House.

A different way to look at addiction and its cure

Number of world's wild animals halved in part 40 years

The Guardian - The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.

“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF. He said more of the Earth must be protected from development and deforestation, while food and energy had to be produced sustainably.

White House abuses free press again

CBS DC  - First lady Michelle Obama appeared with Burke in Milwaukee...Meg Kissinger, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, posted on Facebook that she was told by a White House aide that she was not allowed to talk to people in the crowd.

“Assigned to cover Michelle Obama’s speech today and was told by a Mary Burke aide and one for the White House that I could not speak to the people in the crowd. To say that I was creeped out is an understatement. This is what reporters do in America: we speak to people,” Kissinger posted. “At least that’s how I’ve been doing things — at all kinds of political events — since 1979.”

Kissinger wrote that reporters and photographers were cordoned off during the event.

Bill Gates compares America's students to electric plugs and railroad tracks

Robby Soave, Hit & Run -  Bill Gates was atypically direct about what peddlers of standardization are trying to accomplish during a Politico event. Rather than defend Common Core from accusations of creeping nationalization, he finally confirmed that yes, this is exactly what Core proponents are trying to accomplish—less local autonomy is a good thing, as he says in the video:

    "Common Core I would have thought of as more of a technocratic issue. The basic idea of, 'should we share an electrical plug across the country?' Well, you can get partisan about that I suppose. Should Georgia have a different railroad width than everybody else? Should they teach multiplication in a different way? Oh that's brilliant [sarcasm], who came up with that idea? Common Core, the idea that what you should know at various grades, that that should be well-structured and you should really insist on kids knowing something so you can build on it, I did not really expect that to become a big political issue."

There you have it. Gates views the education system—the many myriad ways Americans could pass on knowledge to their children—as akin to choosing the correct railroad track size. The implication is obvious: after all, there is only one right railroad track size! Similarly, there is only one correct way to teach children, and all children must be taught that way, according to Gates.

This way of thinking goes against everything the reform movement has come to understand over the last few decades about what works in schools: greater standardization is not the answer; schools languish under stifling centralization; every kid is unique and has different educational needs; and local authorities—especially parents—are best suited to the task of plotting their children's educational paths.

Nurturing the mind of a child is an infinitely more complex task than choosing an electrical plug. It's not as simple as plugging the right cord into a child's brain and flipping a switch.

Yale Episcoplian chaplain forced to resign for not being a Zionist


How one cop chatted with another before killing a homeless man

KOB, NM - Two hours before Albuquerque Police Officer Keith Sandy shot and killed homeless camper James Boyd, he was recorded telling another officer that he would shoot Boyd in the penis with a shotgun.

Sandy responded to the scene on March 16th where Boyd refused to come down from a makeshift campsite in the foothills near Tramway and Copper.  At the scene, Sandy saw former colleague State Police Officer Chris Ware.  Sandy didn’t realize it, but Ware’s dash cam was rolling and picked up their conversation.

Sandy: What do they have you guys doing here?

Ware: I don't know. The guy asked for state police.

Sandy: Who asked?

Ware: I don't know.

Sandy: For this f***ing lunatic? I'm going to shoot him in the penis with a shotgun here in a second.

Ware: You got uh less-lethal?

Sandy: I got...

Ware: The Taser shotgun?

Sandy: Yeah.

Ware: Oh, I thought you guys got rid of those?

Sandy: ROP's got one...here's what we're thinking, because I don't know what's going on, nobody has briefed me...

Civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy represents Boyd’s family in a wrongful death suit against APD. Kennedy believes Sandy spelled out his intentions, then carried them out.

“Two hours later he's escalating the situation so he can do just that,” Kennedy said in an exclusive interview with 4 Investigates.  “It's chilling evidence and stunning that he has not been criminally indicted.  He says to a state police officer ‘that f'ing lunatic, I'm going to shoot him in the penis.  It's crystal clear and he says it with contempt in his voice.’”

In April, APD internal investigators asked Sandy about what he meant by the “shooting in the penis” comment.  In an internal investigation transcript, sandy is quoted saying,

"Jokingly, just kind of locker room banter, just told him, you know, ‘Don’t worry.  I’ll shoot him in the pecker with this and call it good.’”

But a few minutes later, the transcript shows that Sandy recanted his statement.  The investigator asked, “Did you say anything to Chris Ware about shooting him in the pecker?”

Sandy responded, “I don’t…no, I don’t think I did.”

In the transcript, Sandy gave the internal investigators a lengthy explanation how the officers working in the Albuquerque Police Repeat Offenders Program often make cruel and crude jokes.  In fact, Sandy described the hostility among his peers getting so bad that the officers adopted a “safe word.” When officer use the safe word, CHINA, all jokes must stop.  Sandy told investigators he was merely making a crude joke when he said he wanted to shoot Boyd in the penis.

“Of course it’s not a joke because he went forward and actually shot him,” Kennedy said.  “Clearly he has complete disregard for people suffering from mental disabilities.  He calls him an expletive lunatic and then in the next breath says I'm going to shoot him in the penis.  What is so mortifying about this shooting, and thank goodness we have a tape to show exactly what he did-- which is instead of shooting him in the penis, he shoots him in the lower back.  So had James Boyd not turned around at that moment to set down his bags, he would have been shot in the penis.”

Sandy, according to an APD spokeswoman, is on administrative leave, but may still carry his gun and badge. 

The nameless war

Paul Shinkman, US News - When asked most recently whether the military operations in Iraq and Syria had a code name, the Pentagon spokesman continued what has become a string of blunt answers.

“No. It has not,” Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. He added, “I know of no plans at this time to name it.”

And so, what could be one of the defining battles of the early 21st century remains anonymous.

“I just don’t know the explanation,” says Eric Edelman, who served as the under secretary of Defense for Policy until 2009, following tours as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Finland.

Edelman’s predecessor during the Clinton administration, Walter Slocombe, also cannot remember a military operation that passed unnamed. He went on to serve as a senior adviser to the coalition in Iraq in 2003. They are among a string of former top Defense officials and military science scholars who spoke with U.S. News and could not think of another military operation on this scale in U.S. military history that never got christened somehow.

The practice of offering up snappy names the general public could recognize began during the Korean War, and paved the way for operations such as “Just Cause” in Panama or “Urgent Fury” in Grenada -- among the most extreme examples of titles clearly designed to shape public opinion.

Highly-publicized, catchy titles have become a way for military commanders and Defense officials to petition Congress for money or authority.

As for Operation No Name, perhaps these powers already have enough authority and funding. Either way, there’s plenty of speculation.

Why Moral Mondays is important

Amos Brown, Indianapolis Recorder -  “Moral Mondays” is a movement born out of a struggle of people dealing with an inflexible, ultra-conservative, overwhelmingly Republican Legislature and Governor in North Carolina.

In the Tar Heel State, the organization combined activism, peaceful civil disobedience and intense grassroots communications and lobbying to start turning attitudes of people in that state away from a highly conservative agenda.

Now, with the support of over 50 Indiana grassroots organizations, including organized labor, Concerned Clergy, and Indiana’s State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Moral Mondays movement has come to Indiana.

... In town to help teach, organize and fire up Hoosiers for the Moral Mondays effort, the Recorder sat down in an Attucks High School classroom with the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, head of North Carolina’s NAACP, as he talked about his movement and what people in Indiana and other states face today from energized ultra conservatives.

How did Moral Mondays start? “We in the NAACP (in North Carolina) asked why are all the advocacy groups fighting separately on the issues?” Barber asked. “Why don’t we find a way to come together?”

Barber continued, “We all looked at which power group had the most influence for or against issues we were concerned about. We found it was the General Assembly and the Governor. Then we went down the voting list and found the same people that were voting against environmentalists, were voting against public education, voting against labor rights. And the question was if they were mean enough to be together, why weren’t we smart enough to be together?”

Barber answered, “Enough pain will make people protest. And your Governor Pence and this extremist legislature have created a lot of pain.”

... Barber equated what happened in North Carolina to a moral imperative and said people are starting to get the message, “All over the country people are starting to understand we need a movement that’s not about left or right, liberal versus conservative, but a deeper moral movement.”

... Rev. Barber was blunt and explicit in imploring the community not to ignore state and local elections, “We cannot simply say we elect a president. You know what the Tea Party folks have learned? We’ll give you the president. We’ll take over the states, we’ll control the voting rules, determine who goes into Congress. All the president will be able to do is pass executive orders.”

Why Netanyahu is full of it about Hamas and ISIS/ISIL

Juan Cole:

1. Hamas has foresworn attacks on the United States and other Western countries, presenting itself as a national liberation movement against Israeli military occupation (an occupation that has lasted since 1967 in Gaza). ISIL on the other hand has called on radicals to attack the US and Europe.

2. Hamas has joined a national unity government with the PLO. Some Hamas legislators hold that this step automatically results in an implicit Hamas recognition of Israel, insofar as Hamas delegates will be bound by PLO rules of discourse, and the latter recognize Israel. In contrast, no high-profile member of ISIL has done anything but attempt to foment more violence and to break all political deals.

3. Hamas has not concertedly attacked non-Muslims, and, in fact there has sometimes been good cooperation between it and the Eastern Orthodox church. In contrast, ISIL attempted to ethnically cleanse the Yazidis and has threatened Christians and other minorities.

4. Hamas has concluded ceasefires with Israel, however imperfect on both sides. ISIL was kicked out of al-Qaeda for declining ever to make a truce even with its own allies.

5. Hamas has a civilian wing that ran for elective office in 2006 and won the Palestine elections. That civilian wing represented itself as liberal and more secular. ISIL has no civil wing and is profoundly opposed to holding elections by party.

Race to the bottom

The top of the worst, based on actions, stats & statements
over the past year
  • Ted Cruz
  • John Boehner
  • Rand Paul 
  • John McCain
  • Paul Ryan
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Darrell Issa
  • Marco Rubio
  • Chris Christie
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Scott Walker

Maine healthcare cooperative proving a success

Portland Press Herald, ME -    Maine Community Health Options will offer insurance through the federal marketplace to people throughout New Hampshire next year, a move made possible by a major federal loan and local success that has surprised industry experts and allowed the company to dominate the Maine market.

... Cooperatives are an often-overlooked component of the Affordable Care Act and were designed as an alternative to traditional insurance companies, especially in states where there might be limited choices. In the co-op model, the governing board is ruled by its members, and any profits are plowed back into operations. In a traditional insurance company, profits can be distributed to shareholders.

Co-ops exist in 26 states, according to the National Alliance of State Health Co-Ops. Through the health insurance marketplaces created by the federal law, where people can apply for subsidized benefits on healthcare.gov, the cooperatives offer plans against big players in the industry, such as Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and State Farm.

Nationwide, the co-ops have had varying levels of success, but health experts rated the co-op in Maine an overwhelming success.

Despite being a start up competing against longtime insurer Anthem, Maine Community Health Options captured 83 percent of the 44,000 Mainers who signed up for insurance on the marketplace in 2014, surprising state health care experts. The co-op and Anthem offered similarly priced plans, and yet most chose the new nonprofit over the established company.

“Maine was hungry for an alternative,” said Mitchell Stein, a Cumberland-based independent health policy analyst

The health effects of climate change

take Part - The Journal of the American Medical Association, the voice of the nation’s powerful medical establishment, has issued a call to arms to doctors, urging those in health-related fields to throw their weight behind climate change prevention efforts.

... The editorial accompanied a new JAMA study that found that climate change is already making us sick and will make us even sicker as global warming accelerates.

What the research shows:

    By the year 2050, not only will average daily temperatures rise in many American cities, but there will also be many more days of extreme heat each year, leading to a spike in heat-related illnesses.

    More smoggy days will make us increasingly susceptible to asthma, allergies, and lung disease.

    Longer periods of heat will bring more infectious diseases, such as mosquito- and tick-borne viruses.

    A hotter climate will reduce agricultural yields and boost the prevalence of pests and plant diseases. The likely result will be food shortages, including less availability of healthy veggies, fruit, and grains.

    The extreme droughts predicted for much of the southwestern United States create dust clouds, which add to particulates in the air.

    Smoke from the wildfires already rampant in the West is toxic to the lungs.

    Heavy rainfall and flooding can overtax sewage systems, allowing disease-causing bacteria to contaminate drinking water.

    The stress of living through extreme heat tends to increase rates of depression and anxiety. Studies show that people who live through tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters have a higher incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The fastest disappearing terrorist threat in modern history


Once it served its purpose of justifying the start of the bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated as quickly as it materialized. How it happened


Innovation is hard to schedule. -- Dan Fylstra

Pocket paradigm

When you can't trust your presidents of either major party, your beloved Constitution is in tatters, you have to submit to investigative fondling before flying to Des Moines, your Catholic cardinals say it's okay to bugger little boys as long as you don't do it too often and it doesn't become "notorious," a corporation thrice declared by Fortune Magazine to be the most innovative in the country turns out to be a den of thieves, the accountants who are meant to protect us from such scoundrels turn out to be co-conspirators, our lawmakers spend most of their time finding new things to prohibit, we feel we have to give kids drug tests to make sure they're safe to sing in the choir, our teachers have forgotten how to teach our children how to read, and our journalists have forgotten how to write or to tell a lie from a fact, you've got a problem and one that's not really Al-Queda's fault. - Sam Smith

Dave Barry comes to town

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

 [In 1980 your editor got a letter from Peter Menkin of the Features Associates syndicate saying that their columnist - a guy named Schwimmer - was no longer writing but that they had a new offering he thought I would like. I wrote back wondering if there were a backlog of Schwimmer columns we could draw upon and the following leisurely correspondence ensued.- Sam Smith]

MARCH 20, 1980
- Dear Mr. Smith: My records show that you have more than enough Schwimmer to last a year. Schwimmer, code named "The Mad Bomber," has disappeared. Not that we don't know where he is, for that we do. Schwimmer vacated Manhattan for the Bronx. Next thing we heard, he'd gone legitimate. . . Phone calls won't prod him to write his column, and for some reason we've decided it's to no avail. We grant that we have some columns of his that you haven't seen. But phoning New York to get Schwimmer to write isn't worth the trouble. Not that he isn't worth the trouble, just that it isn't worth all the trouble when we now have David Barry.

Who might this be? You ask. Barry is living in Pennsylvania. What effect it has on his mind, we don't know. The choice is yours: keep using Schwimmer, and ask for some columns you haven't seen, or take someone alive, like the Pennsylvania fellow Barry. We haven't code named him yet, but Mad Bomber doesn't fit. We leave that honor to Schwimmer. - Regards, Peter

UNDATED - Dear Peter: What makes you think I saved the old Schwimmer columns? I thought he would go on forever and was careless enough to shitcan the unused ones. How about sending me the Schwimmer back file?. . . And how about some samples of David Barry? Frankly, I think you're Schwimmer and decided to change your name. - Peace, Sam

APRIL 28, 1980 - Dear Sam: There is a real Schwimmer, hard as it may be to believe. . . We've dropped him, sad to say, but happy to report Dave Barry is the new man and he may not be a mad bomber but as a humorist he is. . . As for back copies of Schwimmer, if you want me to send those, we have. But I prefer not to, since Barry is the new man. - Best, Pete

[Menkin enclosed a Barry column in which it was alleged that "astrologers believe our lives are influenced by bodies far removed from us, such as the Federal Reserve Board. . . I think astrologers are too chicken to tell us what they really mean. . . When they say: 'Attend to financial matters' they mean: 'Your son has stolen the police chief's band-new Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and run down a pregnant neurosurgeon.'". . . There followed a lengthy silence, during which I was apparently still mourning Schwimmer, broken many months later by Menkin]

OCTOBER 15, 1981 - Dear Sam: Here's a backlog of Barry's 'Life and Related Subjects' which we syndicate each week. As before, let's go with $3.00 a week plus 50 cents postage and handling. That's a grand total of $3.50 per week. . . That should fit your tiny budget. . . Do what you can to give him top display. He's tops with us. . . With good regards, Peter

- Dear Peter; The price is right, the column funny, so away we go. Keep the faith, Sam

[Which is how readers in Washington DC were finally introduced to Dave Barry. Barry would go on to be  widely syndicated columnist, win a Pulitzer Prize and write a number of books. Schwimmer is still missing.]

September 29, 2014

What's happening

- 88% of McConnell’s money is from out of state

Thirty-seven percent of Americans think the news media should be required to get government approval before reporting on national security issues. Let's let that sink in for a minute. The First Amendment... reads in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."

At least twenty-three people were killed by officers from various United States police departments in the past week.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said  that proposed rules to charge for photographing and filming on National Forest System lands do not apply to the news media, Rob Davis reports for The Oregonian. Tidwell did not address why Forest Service officials told the media that the rules did apply to them.

The Contra cocaine cover up

California crop harvest plunges

Sacramento Bee

Although harvest of many crops isn’t complete, production is sure to fall.

Rice: Growers planted 140,000 fewer acres than last year, a drop of 25 percent.

Almonds: Crop estimated at 1.9 billion pounds, down from 2 billion last year.

Corn: Production down by an estimated 45 percent.

Cotton: Acres planted shrank by 23 percent.

Oranges: Crop expected to decline 4 percent.

Grapes: Production expected to fall as much as 9 percent.

Wheat: Expected to fall 40 percent.

Jazz break

Pentagon launches advisement force

Duffle Blog - A force of approximately 25,000 advisers from the U.S. Army’s 3rd Adviser Division is heading to Iraq to not participate in direct ground combat of any kind, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

... Sources confirmed the new unit was formed after Pentagon leaders realized direct ground combat and trying to impose U.S. will on the enemy had negative effects, and it was better to advise them into submission.

“Geneva conventions do not specifically limit any type of advice, allowing the new 3rd Adviser Division to utilize the Vietnam-era M2 Advice-throwers,” Kirby said, also noting the deployment of the M1A1 Armored Humanitarian Relief Vehicle and the F-16 Fighting Advisory Falcon.

Although the Pentagon officially declined to give much detail as to what types of advice would be used, sources told Duffel Blog the troops will be authorized to engage with 5.56mm and 7.62mm advice whenever necessary. In some instances and with higher authority, the division could use 105mm and 155mm advice, along with 500lb Joint Direct Advice Munitions.

Race to the Bottom: Boycotts

The top of the worst, based on actions, stats & statements
over the past year
Koch Brothers

I'm confused

Sam Smith - If beheadings are what have us so upset, why aren't we bombing Saudi Arabia?

If the killing of innocent Americans is what has us so upset, why aren't we bombing Ferguson, Missouri?

If the largest military force in the world is so afraid of ten to thirty thousand rebels, why are we so aggressive towards the Russians?

Why we have we done virtually nothing in over a decade to make Mid Eastern moderates feel better about us?

Why will our current strategy work better than it did previously in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Vietnam?

Does it bother anyone in Washington that our strategy is serving as a recruitment tool for ISIS?

Why were we so opposed to South African apartheid but don't mind it a bit in Israel?

What non-military strategies were examined by the Obama administration and why were they rejected?

Might supporting Palestinian nationhood and opposing Israeli invasion of same not be a good one?

If we had public campaign financing, how would our policy towards Israel change?

Pocket paradigm

We live in a nation hated abroad and frightened at home. A place in which we can reasonably refer to the American Republic in the past tense. A country that has moved into a post-constitutional era, no longer a nation of laws but an autocracy run by law breakers, law evaders and law ignorers. A nation governed by a culture of impunity ... a culture in which corruption is no longer a form of deviance but the norm. We all live in a Mafia neighborhood now. - Sam Smith


Experience, which destroys innocence, also leads one back to it - James Baldwin

The cop car problem

Sam Smith - Back in the 1960s, the DC police department began moving its officers off the streets and into patrol cars. At the time I was editing a newspaper in a community behind the US Capitol that was two thirds black and included some of the poorest and most powerful people in the city. A few years later two of the city’s four 1968 riot strips would be in our circulation area.

It early seemed clear that isolating cops in cars didn’t help matters. While on a panel that included a local police official and a representative of a national police organization, I made this argument. A columnist for the Washington Post turned to a friend of mine sitting next to him and asked, “Who is that nut?”

The incident floated back recently as I read a detective novel by the sainted Michael Connelly in which the following appeared:

Through political opportunism and ineptitude, the city had allowed the department to languish for years as an understaffed and underequipped paramilitary organization. Infected with political bacteria itself, the department was top-heavy with managers while the ranks below were so thin that the dog soldiers on the street rarely had the time or inclination to step out of their protective machines, their cars, to meet the people they served. They only ventured out to deal with the dirt bags and, consequently, [detective Hieronymus] Bosch knew, it had created a police culture in which everybody not in blue was seen as a dirt bag and was treated as such. Everybody. You ended up with your André Galtons and your Rodney Kings. You ended up with a riot the dog soldiers couldn't control.

In the wake of Ferguson, it’s worth asking: why do we ask so few questions about how police officers do their work? Why is it so hard to suggest alternatives such as getting cops out of their cars and back into the ‘hood?

For example, in DC, as the cops were taking to squad cars, the Recreation Department was sending “roving leaders” out on the street to work with kids and their gangs. Several decades later, Jim Myers in the Hill Rag described how they did it:

Dennis Homesley, principal of Payne Elementary School, often talks about Roving Leaders. He got his start working with kids as a Roving Leader from 1972 to 1981, and he still believes in the concept.

The program, run by the District's Department of Parks and Recreation, was bigger in Homesley's day. But the idea remains the same: You don't wait for kids to cause trouble. You go out and find the kids who are heading in the wrong direction and help them.

The program seemed to founder in the late 1980s. By the 1990s, it was too easy to spot kids in the neighborhood that the system wasn't reaching - the ones most susceptible to negative influences. Thereafter, you could watch them "progress" on corners and local playgrounds from alienation to car thefts and stick ups or drug selling.

Now, we have Darby Clark and Bridget Miller, the two Roving Leaders who are assigned to work the schools, recreation centers and playgrounds of eastern Capitol Hill. Clark, 37, has been a Roving Leader for seven years. Miller, 41, a gang worker for 20 years, joined Roving Leaders only last year. . .

I saw Clark take a dozen squirming, noisy kids with their attention flying all over the place and turn them into a cooperative, engaged group of youngsters who raised their hands to participate in discussions about having positive attitude.

Magic it wasn't, but a serious change took place before my very eyes. "They want attention and structure - and consistency," says Clark. "Like if I say I'm going to be there for them at a certain time, I've got to be there." It sounds so basic, but these are missing elements in many kids' lives. . .

At Eastern High, Clark picks up names of kids who are not showing up for school - eight or nine kids in some weeks, he says - and visits their homes.

And even wise cops understand the problem, as the following illustrates.

Steve Dye, AssistantChief of Police, Garland, TX, Police Chief Magazine 2009 - Police technology must serve the community and advance the mission of community policing, not merely make internal processes more efficient. Community policing is most effective and most sustainable when meaningful partnerships develop between police departments and the community. The development of partnerships and collaborative efforts are largely dependent on officers and administrators who connect with residents through personal interaction. By stopping the car and getting out and speaking with people, officers can connect with the public, identify problems more quickly, and forge stronger partnerships. In spite of the growing list of duties of patrol officers, the surge of technological advancements in law enforcement, and the arrival of a new generation of technologically proficient officers, it is imperative that personal connections between officers and the people they serve remain at the forefront of departmental expectations, training efforts, and policies.

… New police technology, much of it installed in patrol cars and much of it useful, has added to the complexity of a patrol officer’s job and created a new challenge for administrators who embrace the community policing mission.

Whereas the inside of a police car previously contained a radio and maybe a high-tech office, many patrol officers receive their calls through in-car computers and enter their reports electronically while monitoring cell phones, speed enforcement technology, and automated license plate readers. No longer is the task of a patrol officer as simple as responding to calls over the radio, completing simple handwritten reports, and looking out the window for suspicious activity or circumstances. Technological proficiency is now an expectation in law enforcement just as much as physical fitness and sound decision-making skills.

Technology overall has given officers new tools for accomplishing community policing objectives, but it has not come without a certain degree of consternation for some veteran officers. Many of these officers did not grow up around an immense amount of technology and worked in law enforcement before law enforcement embraced computers. This lack of familiarity means that they sometime spend too much time focused on the technology while performing police operations. Many officers still working the streets today were trained at a time when most of their daily activity was generated through personal observations and contacts and knowing every detail of their assigned areas of the community.

By contrast, many younger officers grew up making technology a part of their education and their hobbies. They are proficient computer users, but they are vulnerable to becoming driven by the receipt of electronic information instead of generating activity through observations and community interaction. And a reliance on technology has, at times, lessened the development of people skills for some younger officers.

Regardless of an officer’s familiarity with technology or his or her level of expertise, it is clear that technology consumes a great deal of officers’ attention as they work the streets each day. This technological time consumption is important to monitor as it may have a tendency to take away from proactive community policing activities in the form of personal contacts and observations.

… Technology should not move officers away from the interpersonal contact with the community that is vital to developing collaborative partnerships and solving neighborhood problems. Departments need to train officers to use technology as a tool and not to rely on it to the point that they lose focus on getting out of their patrol cars and interacting with the community.

… The input of useful information starts with human interactions, and a balance must exist between the use of technology and the retention of people skills. Training programs must continue to emphasize the importance of proactive field work and the delivery of effective community policing. An emphasis must be placed on preventing officers from becoming accustomed to “watching the box” and being driven primarily by information received on their mobile data computers.

.. Police administrators should take note as they pass a squad car on the street and see how often an officer is able to make eye contact with them as opposed to being focused on some piece of technology or talking on the cell phone. Police leaders should carefully review technology to ensure that only the technology that facilitates a patrol officer’s core tasks of community policing are installed in squad cars—as opposed to technology that results only in benefiting administrative processes.

Officers must be continually encouraged to interact with the community, and their tasks and processes must be structured to achieve this objective. Performance evaluations and departmental expectations must align with the principles of community policing and effectiveness measured through outcomes of innovative problem solving and collaboration rather than quantitative outputs. As Sir Robert said years ago, “The police are the public and the public are the police,” and it will always be so.