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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 04:48 PM
Number of posts: 5,824

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About that "context" (re: Charlie Hebdo)

In response to a couple of OP's of mine which have apparently been insufficiently uncritical of the "Je suis Charlie" campaign, I have been accused of being ignorant of, failing to "educate" myself about, or too lazy to investigate links to articles the provide the "context" for the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (along with being accused of purporting to be an expert on France and of being part of the same kind of thinking that underlay the absurd "freedom fries" nonsense of some years back). For the record, yes, I have read those links, and have considered what is in them. But the question of whether that context stands as justification for the nature of the cartoons is, in the end, a subjective determination, about which reasonable people can and will disagree. I have no problem with anyone who wishes to express disagreement. But I call foul on the repeated rude, snide insults and other attempts to bully those of us on DU who hold a different view of the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks into acquiescence to a single read of the events in France.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 16, 2015, 11:27 PM (17 replies)

So I finally got around to looking at the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons . . .

So, I finally got around to looking at the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I am pretty absolute in my support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, including, and especially, when what is said or published is offensive. So yes, I support Charlie Hebdo's right, as a matter of law, to publish what it published, and it goes without saying that no one deserves to be murdered for it.

But having said that, I gotta say that much of the Charlie Hebdo material is really vile, racist, bigoted stuff. Calling it 'satire' is a bit of a stretch, for me at least. When I think of satire, I think of something that may indeed offend some who see it, but at least makes a point while doing so. Many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons have no larger point to make. They seem to have been calculated to offend for the sake of offending -- truly lowest common denominator stuff. So the spectacle of a million people marching through the streets of Paris under the banner of "Je suis Charlie" strikes me as being akin to a million people marching on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in support of a company that produces minstrel shows.

It just seems a shame to me that a country like France, which has long taken such pride in the high level of intellect and sophistication of its public discourse, could not find a more constructive way to respond to the attacks. And it seems sad that in a conversation has been all about the belligerent assertion of rights, there seems to be no room for any discussion of the responsible exercise of those rights.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jan 16, 2015, 09:42 PM (136 replies)

The Glaring Hypocrisy of France Posing as a Beacon for Free Speech

I was as horrified by the attacks in Paris as anyone else. And I have long been a firm believer in our own Constitution's protection for freedom of speech. But please count me not among those who were deeply stirred or moved by images of the Unity March in Paris. Oh, some of those images gave me goosebumps alright, but not the good kind. It was rather the frisson one experiences when he suddenly realizes he is witnessing something very dark and sinister passing under the guise of something noble and pure.

Before I go any further, let me state unequivocally that nothing in this post is intended, nor should be construed, as justifying or excusing in any way the terrorist attacks in Paris. I'll state it another way: I am not in any way suggesting that the killings in Paris by terrorists were in any way justified or that those killings are in any way excusable. But for the people of France to refuse any nuance in their understanding of the attacks, to permit themselves to indulge the temptation of simplistic, self-righteous, Manichean narratives that reduce the events in Paris as being explainable in terms of a barbarians-at-the-gate myth, while disingenuously (and somewhat dishonestly) holding their own country out as some kind of bulwark of free speech against assaults by those who hate France because of its freedoms (sound familiar?), is for the people of France to fall into the same delusion that overtook many Americans in the wake of 9-11, when a criminal President, relied on an identical narrative in order to lead this country down the rabbit hole that was (and is once again) the war in Iraq.

France, it should be remembered, actually regulates speech in very significant ways -- ways that would be unthinkable to most Americans. Among other restrictions, there are laws in France against:

  • insulting the national anthem or the French flag, under penalty of a 9,000 euro fine or six months in prison;

  • the wearing of burkas or niqab's in public, and even the wearing of hijabs in government buildings (including schools), which is certainly an infringement on the freedom of expression by Muslims;

  • offending the dignity of the public, which includes prohibitions against insulting public officials or employees; and

  • presenting illicit drugs in any kind of positive light (which has been used to prosecute and levy repeated, heavy fins against organizations that have published articles critical of France's drug laws, including, ironically enough, Charlie Hebdo itself). Just think about how laws such as those would have impacted the legalization debate if they had been in effect in this country.

Je suis Charlie, mon derrière!

Coming, as all of this does, at a time when there has been a significant rise in xenophobic and right-wing nationalist movements, as will as in anti-Muslim acts of violence, in France and across Europe, this kind of nationalist self-righteousness should be a cause of grave concern for anyone who doesn't want to see the West go off the rails once again in the way that the U.S. went off the rails after 9-11. And I applaud President Obama for not getting sucked into it.

I'll close this with this brief clip of Noam Chomsky from 2013, in which he calls out the "fakery and fraud" of France's self-congratulatory promotion of itself as a beacon of free speech:

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jan 14, 2015, 03:11 AM (119 replies)

A comment I just posted to a NY Times article about de Blasio's "missteps"

The three reporters who wrote this article (In Police Rift, Mayor de Blasio’s Missteps Included Thinking It Would Pass) seem to be carrying water for the NYPD. Here is a comment I just posted to it:

Mark Kessinger

“You can’t just say, ‘Look, I’m saying I support you, so change the way you feel,’ “ one police officer said. Invoking a failed marriage, he added: “Even if you go through the motions of trying to reconcile, the feeling isn’t there.”

Oh, good grief! To this statement, I can only quote Bill Maher, from his show on Friday, Jan. 9:

"Seriously, if our deal with the police is that we have to constantly reassure them how much we love them, or else they throw a tantrum, we aren't supporting them, we're dating them!"

The notion that there must be some special "feeling" between the NYPD and the mayor, absent which there can be no healing or reconciliation, demonstrates just how absurd and delusional the mindset of many in the NYPD has become. Police officers are employees of the city, and the Mayor is the elected chief executive of their employer. Cops need not love their chief executive, nor agree with him. But they should still be expected to do their jobs and to do them professionally, and to respect the chief executive's office, even if they may not be fond of the current holder of that office -- in the same way that employees of any corporation need not love their CEO personally, but are still expected to do their jobs and to be respectful towards the CEO, or else find alternative employment!

As for the Mayor's "missteps" and "gaffes," while we may quibble about one or more of these issues, they are not "missteps" or "gaffes" merely because the NYPD doesn't like them.
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Jan 12, 2015, 11:15 AM (57 replies)

Nearly 2,000 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Nigeria this week . . .

. . . and Western media have barely noticed, having chosen instead to focus almost exclusively on the Paris attacks, in which a handful of Westerners were killed. I don't, for one moment, wish to detract from the horror of the attacks in Paris, but we shouldn't view a terrorist attack as being uniquely horrific merely because its targets were primarily Western Europeans or Americans. Our news media, in their very selective coverage of incidents such as this, feed a sense of unique victimization whenever it is Americans or Western Europeans who are the victims of terrorist attacks. They certainly did this in the wake of 9-11, and it contributed, I believe, to the apparently widespread belief among Americans that the U.S. is somehow uniquely exempt from moral constraint in its response to terrorist attacks.

Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Jan 10, 2015, 09:15 PM (28 replies)

NYT Op-Ed: "Why We’re So Mad at de Blasio"

NOTE: I am sharing this Op-Ed, by a retired NYPD officer, less for the content of the Op-Ed itself -- which, frankly, brings nothing new or noteworthy to the discussion -- than for the reader comments, the thoughtfulness and eloquence of which far surpass the Op-Ed. The NYPD, with it's continued petulant, self-pitying and childish behavior is losing the public, as indeed it deserves to.

Why We’re So Mad at de Blasio

< . . . . >

The murders of Officer Liu and his partner, Officer Rafael Ramos, have hit me and my fellow officers especially hard, in ways that may be difficult for civilians, and certain politicians, to fully comprehend. During my 20 years on the job (I retired in 2003), I attended far too many funerals for cops killed in the line of duty. They were all sad and wrenching affairs. But this is different. Getting killed while, say, investigating an armed robbery — as almost happened on Monday to two New York City police officers in the Bronx — is something all cops know can occur, and we accept it. But the killing of Officers Liu and Ramos was a coldblooded assassination.

These brave men were shot without warning, sitting in their patrol car while looking for crime, something every cop on the street does every day. They were like two shepherds guarding their flock, and they were brutally murdered for it.

This act has unleashed a torrent of anger and grief among the members of the Police Department, who take these vile murders personally, and a heartening outpouring of sympathy from ordinary New Yorkers, who instinctively grasp what it has meant at a moment when the police feel demonized, demoralized and, at times, literally under assault. But not everyone is so understanding. The gestures of protest by many officers toward Mayor Bill de Blasio — including turning their backs to him when he appeared at both officers’ funerals — have been characterized in some quarters as squandering the credibility of the department and reeking of self-pity.

When I hear this sort of thing, my blood pressure goes through the roof. Mr. de Blasio is more than any other public figure in this city responsible for feelings of demoralization among the police. It did not help to tell the world about instructing his son, Dante, who is biracial, to be wary of the police, or to publicly signal support of anti-police protesters (for instance, by standing alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton, a staunch backer of the protests). If there is any self-pity involved, which I doubt, it is only because we lack respect from our elected officials and parts of the media. It has taken two dead cops for some people to take a step back and realize what a difficult job cops have.

< . . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Jan 8, 2015, 06:05 PM (41 replies)

My holiday reading: Balko, The Rise of the Warrior Cop

I was traveling over the holidays, and found myself with a good bit of time to kill while waiting in airports. So I picked up Radley Balko's, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. I haven't gotten all that far into it yet, but I was struck by the question Balko poses right at the outset, in the book's introduction:

Are cops constitutional?

To be honest, I had never even considered the question (nor, I'm guessing, have most folks). Here's an excerpt:

Are cops constitutional?

That may seem like an odd question—perhaps even a little nutty. Police forces have been part of the American criminal justice system since an eight man department was established in Boston 175 years ago and the first large department was created seven years later in New York City. There has never been a serious constitutional challenge to the general authority of police or to the establishment of police forces, sheriffs’ departments, or other law enforcement agencies, and it’s unlikely there ever would be. Any federal court would undoubtedly have little patience for such a challenge. And any hypothetical world where police were ruled unconstitutional would descend into chaos, probably rather quickly.

But in a 2001 article for the Seton Hall Constitutional Law Journal, the legal scholar and civil liberties activist Roger Roots posed just that question. Roots, a fairly radical libertarian, believes that the US Constitution doesn’t allow for police as they exist today. At the very least, he argues, police departments, powers, and practices today violate the document’s spirit and intent. “Under the criminal justice model known to the Framers, professional police officers were unknown,” Roots writes:

The general public had broad law enforcement powers, and only the executive functions of the law (e.g. the execution of writs, warrants, and orders) were performed by constables or sheriff (who might call upon the community for assistance). Initiation and investigation of criminal cases was nearly the exclusive province of private persons. . . . The advent of modem policing has greatly altered the balance of power between the citizen and the state in a way that would have been seen as constitutionally invalid by the Founders.

< . . . . >

This isn’t to say that the colonial era’s more individualized, private methods of law enforcement would work today. As American towns grew from close-knit communities of people of similar ethnicities, with shared traditions, values, and religion, to cities whose di verse populations of immigrants had none of that in common, centralized police forces emerged to preserve order and enforce a common set of laws. Once neighbors stopped speaking the same language and worshiping in the same buildings, shunning and social stigmatization lost their effectiveness.

Even so, Roots’s question is a useful starting point for this book because it shows just how far we have come. The Founders and their contemporaries would probably have seen even the early-nineteenth-century police forces as a standing army, and a particularly odious one at that. Just before the American Revolution, it wasn’t the stationing of British troops in the colonies that irked patriots in Boston and Virginia; it was England’s decision to use the troops for everyday law enforcement. This wariness of standing armies was born of experience and a study of history—early American statesmen like Madison, Washington, and Adams were well versed in the history of such armies in Europe, especially in ancient Rome.

< . . . >

Certainly it is an interesting concept to contemplate, even if one recognizes the need for modern police forces and is fully cognizant of the fact that federal courts are not exactly likely to begin ordering the disbanding of police forces on constitutional grounds!
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Dec 31, 2014, 05:19 PM (1 replies)

A friend's perfectly brilliant discussion of the "problem" of Black-on-Black crime

My friend Frank Dana posted this on Facebook. Had to share it here:

Whites on Blacks on Blacks
December 28, 2014 at 11:11am
Quoted below is the text of a comment someone else made on a friend's post, followed by my extremely lengthy response. Further context unnecessary, though when I mention "this article" I'm referring to the original share. The comment's author is a FoaF with whom I have no personal relationship, so I'll omit his name for the sake of privacy...

The national conversation should address why there is always a typical need to patrol by white and black and gay and women police officers in African American communities above all, and why it is the most dangerous areas to patrol. Let's be blatantly honest about using racism as an excuse that steers away from the significant problem - black on black crime.

The national conversation definitely should address the point you're raising. Mostly, to call it out as a false narrative that needs to be dispelled and discarded. If we're going to have any hope of tackling the really important issues — the tough ones that don't have simple narratives or clear, painless solutions — then we have to start by looking past the pevasive cultural demonization of (young) black (males) that's at the heart of this article, and plays a contributing role in many of the problems we need to address.

Calling out "black on black crime" as "the significant problem" affecting black communities is an appealing argument to make, especially for an outsider. It's not exactly a difficult claim to prove — the racial disparities in crime-rate statistics are vast enough that you could probably make them out from the surface of the moon! There's no way to dispute the fact that a vastly disproportionate number of crimes are committed by blacks, particularly crimes in which the victim is also black. Clearly, the black community has a serious crime problem that it's failing to address. That's just the obvious truth, if we're being blatantly honest.

Unfortunately, it's pretty much a load of bullshit. If we're being honest.

Fun Fact: When you take crime statistics and control for other factors, racial disparities pretty much vanish. (Some references...)

Turns out, statistically, poor people commit more crimes. The crime rate is higher among the unemployed. The educationally disadvantaged; those who lack a supportive and stable home environment; people who reside in communities with a high degree of racial segregation; those who get the short end of income inequality; being a family member or friend of someone who's involved in criminal activity, or has a criminal past — ALL of those factors increase the likelihood that someone will commit a crime, REGARDLESS OF RACE. The crime rate is higher among the black community primarily because blacks are overwhelmingly impacted by these issues.

(One more contributing factor: Being an unwanted child, raised by someone who wasn't prepared to be a parent. Which is why the crime rate PLUMMETTED nationwide a couple of decades after Roe v. Wade. A huge pool of potential future criminals suddenly dried up once safe, legal abortion became an option.)

You mentioned "black-on-black" crime, specifically, which statistically occurs at least twice as much as black-on-white crime. (That's comparing the overall averages, in many communities there's a much greater disparity.) But there again, most of the apparent racial disparity can be attributed to other factors. It's statistically far more common for blacks, especially those with other risk factors for criminal activity, to live in communities with lower levels of racial diversity. The people around them are overwhelmingly black, so of course it's highly likely that their crimes will have black victims. (Hell, white criminals show a FAR greater disparity: statistically white-on-white crime occurs FIFTEEN TIMES as often as white-on-black crime, overall. Yet you NEVER hear anyone talking about the "white-on-white crime problem" or denouncing what they claim is a culture of violence within the white community, even though white criminals commit crimes against white victims at roughly the same rate as black criminals.)

However, the third study URL I provided above noted one statistical predictor of crime rate that I found particularly interesting, especially since it applied ONLY to the black-on-black crime rate, specifically:

This analysis demonstrated that the White-to-Black income inequality variable was consequential in determining the Black-on-Black crime rate. In cities where White-to-Black economic inequality was pronounced, Blacks were much more likely to be victimized by other Blacks, holding constant other factors. This model also investigated the possibility of whether intraracial economic inequality impacted the Black-on-Black crime rate. Results showed that the linear effect for the Black-to-Black economic inequality variable was not substantive. The Black-on-Black crime rate was not higher in cities with high levels of Black-to-Black economic inequality.

So, it seems that in cities where whites get more of the higher-paying jobs, control more of the wealth, and generally have a higher standard of living than the city's black community, where blacks are systematically denied the opportunities that white people enjoy, and where the inequality they suffer is more blatant or they have to face more frequent reminders of their situation... those cities have more black-on-black crime. And what's the cause? White oppression.

A high crime rate is a thing that happens TO a (black) community, another societal burden they've had to shoulder more than their share of, and one which primarily victimizes them as well. It is not a failing OF the black community, or something they can be blamed for creating all by themselves. Nor can we expect them to just magically reduce crime by sheer force of will, unless something is done to also address the real reasons their crime rate is higher in the first place.

There is one important thing that happens when the problem is framed as "black-on-black crime" (despite race having nothing to do with the real issue), instead of "poor crime" or "jobless crime" or "opportunity-starved crime" or any of the other things that it actually is. If the problem is that black people commit more crimes, then there's nothing *WHITE* people can do about that! After all, it's not like we made them black, or like we could tell them to stop being black. As long as the higher crime rate in certain communities is a function of skin color, then it's totally up to the black community to solve the problem. They just need to quit being so damn crimey. Like us white folks.

But if the crime rate is attributable to things like economic disparity, lack of educational opportunities, pervasive income inequality relative to the white community, recidivism, ghettoization, or just a lifetime of being slowly beat down by society... well, then, there's PLENTY that the rest of society (white people in particular) could do to address those issues! Hell, we have to take at least partial responsibility for some of them! Suddenly, the high crime rate within and among certain populations isn't a significant problem that the black community has to address. It's a significant problem that we ALL have to accept responsibility for dealing with.
Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Dec 28, 2014, 10:32 PM (10 replies)

A first-rate -- and much needed -- NY Times Editorial: Mr. de Blasio’s Call for Harmony

Mr. de Blasio’s Call for Harmony

< . . . . >

Two families in Brooklyn — and the larger family of New Yorkers and the New York Police Department — are mourning the deaths of two officers who were shot in ambush by a criminal on Saturday. His deranged act has inflamed rifts between the police and Mayor Bill de Blasio and between the police and the public, and it posed a grave test of Mr. de Blasio’s leadership.

So the mayor’s plea on Monday for everyone to stand down, to put aside protests and bitter words, at least until the funerals are done, was an understandable bid for civic calm. Fair enough. Anything that even briefly silences the police union leader Patrick Lynch, whose response to the killings has been to slander Mr. de Blasio as a bloody-handed accomplice to murder, is worth supporting.

But the moment for discussion and argument will soon return. And that moment will demand forceful truth-telling, to counter the lies and distrust that have clouded this tragedy.

< . . . . >

The protests for police reform should not be stifled — they should be allowed to continue, and be listened to. The protesters and their defenders, including Mayor de Blasio, need offer no apologies for denouncing misguided and brutal police tactics and deploring the evident injustice of the deaths of unarmed black men like Eric Garner. As Mr. de Blasio noted on Monday, a vast majority of demonstrators are “people who are trying to work for a more just society,” a mission that has nothing to do with hating or killing cops. Those who urge violence are on the fringe, Mr. de Blasio said, rightly denouncing them and urging New Yorkers to report them.

< . . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Dec 23, 2014, 07:29 PM (7 replies)

NY Times: Killer had a history of mental illness

This supports my contention that the man was mentally ill. And in that case, one cannot have an intelligible discussion about cause and effect with regard to his motivation.

Officers’ Killer, Adrift and Ill, Had a Plan

< . . . . >

What exactly pushed Mr. Brinsley to fatally shoot two police officers before shooting himself is not clear. But by Sunday evening, several things had become obvious. He had an extensive history with the police, having been arrested 20 times — mainly for petty crimes like stealing condoms from a Rite Aid drugstore in Ohio. He spent two years in prison after firing a stolen gun near a public street in Georgia.

Mr. Brinsley had also suffered from mental problems. Relatives told the police he had taken medication at one point, and when he was asked during an August 2011 court hearing if he had ever been a patient in a mental institution or under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist, he said yes. He had also tried to hang himself a year ago, the police said.

By this year, Mr. Brinsley had become isolated. He was estranged from his family. His on-again, off-again relationship with Shaneka Thompson, 29, who works for the Maryland Department of Welfare and serves in the Air Force Reserve, was off again. By Saturday, he had seized on the deaths at the hands of police officers of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., focusing his rage against the authorities. In his short life, during which Mr. Brinsley failed to finish high school, to hold a steady job or, seemingly, to commit even the smallest crime without being caught, thoughts of revenge seemed to be the one thing giving him purpose.

“Most of his postings and rants are on the Instagram account, and what we’re seeing from this right now is anger against the government,” Robert K. Boyce, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, said at a news conference on Sunday. Chief Boyce added that one of those posts showed a burning flag, and in others Mr. Brinsley talked of the anger he felt toward the police. There were, Chief Boyce said, “other postings as well, of self-despair, of anger at himself and where his life is right now.”

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Dec 22, 2014, 02:30 AM (21 replies)
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