Category Archives: politics

The American experiment at risk

Published by:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men [and women] are created equal, that they endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
 
Those immortal words, penned by Thomas Jefferson in the summer of 1776 provide the foundation of the American experiment. Jefferson continued, writing “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. “
 
Today is a turning point in American history. It is once again a day where there is a peaceful transition of power, yet in many ways it is unlike any other. Today we witness the first time in our history where the transition of power shifts to an individual who lost the popular vote by almost three million votes in an election in which it is almost certainly a fact that foreign interference by Russia and ethical wrong-doing by the Director of the American FBI impacted the results. Today we see the rise of a man who is an acknowledged sexual predator, with authoritarian tendencies, and who displays evidence of narcissistic personality disorder. 
 

This is not a day to celebrate. It is not like any other inauguration. Sure, I’ve been disappointed before, but never once before in my life have I had feared for the future of the American republic. Our democracy is at stake. Our liberties are at stake.  This is not being over-dramatic and partisan.  It is not sour grapes that Hilary lost.  There are simply too many examples of reckless behavior, too many indicators of an individual whose personal business interests are clearly more important to him than the public good.  He has threatened the civil rights and liberties of entire classes of people, he has such a thin skin that any public criticism results in a temper-tantrum on twitter.  These are not jokes. And his behavior has given the signal to others that such behavior is acceptable.  In the last two weeks alone, there have been bomb threats at more than 60 Jewish Community Centers across the country.  There were hundreds of hate incidents reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the two weeks after the election.   This is no joking matter.

I will not celebrate.

I will not normalize this troglodyte.  

I will not stand quietly while our rights and liberties are trampled.

Know your rights.  Carry a copy of the Constitution.

Resistance is not futile.  It is democratic.  I pray that the second paragraph of Jefferson’s Declaration do not come to bear.  Eleven years later, the American democratic experiment evolved into a new constitution in which “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish domestic tranquility provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”   That Constitution is worth fighting for.

A brief primer on the electoral college

Published by:

I do not really expect there will be fireworks in the 50 state capitols next Monday, but if there are, here is what you need to know.

First, the electoral college is mandated by both Article II, and by the 12th and 20th amendments to the Constitution.  The Twelfth Amendment is what matters, as it in effect, replaced the rules from Article II.   So read it.

What is the process?

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.

The electors vote for President and Vice-President, on distinct ballots.  AND they make separate lists of all persons who were voted for as President, and all people voted for for vice-president.  Once they vote, the ballots (and the lists) are sent to the Senate, where the president of the senate (a.k.a. the Vice-President of the United States) will tabulate the votes.  If there is no majority (270 of 538 electoral votes), the election then goes to the House of Representatives.

Is there anything in the Constitution that prevents an elector from voting for ANYONE?  No.  State laws might prescribe who an elector can vote for, but if we assume that the Constitution is the highest law of the land, and if a state law and the Constitution are in conflict, the Supremacy Clause of Article VI provides us with clear guidance:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

So, I would argue that the electors can vote for whomever they want as long as those individuals are qualified (thus President Obama is not, he has served two full terms). Indeed, the Constitution does not even anticipate a popular election for electors. Of course, if electors “go rogue”, there might be litigation, but they have the Constitution on their side, a constitution that was written with the assumption that electors, not voters in popular elections, would select the president.  Or at least select the list that the House of Representatives would use to elect the president.

How will the House of Representatives vote if there is no electoral college majority.

The House of Representatives votes, one per state, to elect the president, from any of the top three candidates voted by electors in the states.

… and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.

This means that there are 50 votes in the House, one per state delegation, and they vote “from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President.”   Poorly worded, but simply translated, the slate the House gets to choose from is the top three vote getters in the electoral college for PRESIDENT.

This also means that the only way a vice-presidential candidate (say Pence) becomes president, is if he was one of the top three names voted FOR PRESIDENT.  It also means that if electors want a Republican like Kasich to be president, they would have to vote for him, to get him on the list.  If you are not on the list, and not the top 3 vote-getters, you are not going to be president.

The 20th Amendment, in section 3 provides the final piece of the picture, dealing with the succession of a president, and what happens if no president is “qualified” by the beginning of the term.

If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified

It is messy.  It is complex, and due to amendments, it is confusing.  But the electoral college really isn’t that hard to break down.  Will it come into play after next Monday?  Frankly,I doubt it, but I also doubted that a sexual predator and reality tv star would win an election in which both the Director of the FBI and the president of the Russian Federation had intervened to influence the outcome.  So what do I know?  My hope is that they go rogue.  It would be the perfect end to this year.

“He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that! And nothing will happen. Poor Donald– it won’t be a bit like The Apprentice. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

Published by:

When I read the Washington Post story about how the Energy Department is refusing to turn over the list of staffers who worked on climate change issues to the Trump transition team, it immediately brought me back to the single most influential book I have read on the American presidency,  Richard Neustadt’s Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. First published in 1960, and revised through the Reagan years, Neustadt’s classic study of presidential power and leadership provided an almost machiavellian study of what the president has to do to lead, and accomplish his goals.  His primary thesis was that presidential power is not the power to command, but instead the power to persuade.

Early in the book, Neustadt provided a classic example that new president will face when he tries to issue commands.

In the early summer of 1952, before the heat of the campaign, President Truman used to contemplate the problems of the general-become-president should Eisenhower win the forthcoming election.  “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

In many ways, when I think of this quote, I can’t help imagining the next president being in a very similar situation.

“He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this!  Do that!  And nothing will happen.  Poor Donald– it won’t be a bit like The Apprentice.  He’ll find it very frustrating.”

Indeed.

Intelligence briefings? I don’t need no stinking intelligence briefings

Published by:

Who really needs daily intelligence briefings?  Apparently not the next (gulp) president of the United States.  I’ll admit, when I first saw this reported, I assumed that it was fake news.  But nope, it was word for word from his own mouth, from this morning’s interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, as reported in the NY Daily News:

“I don’t have to be told — you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years — but eight years. I don’t need that,” he continued.

“But I do say, ‘If something should change, let us know,'” he said.  Trump went on to suggest that it’s not necessary for him to receive the briefings with the daily frequency that past President-elects have had because other key advisers are getting the info.

“In the meantime, my generals are great — are being briefed. And Mike Pence is being briefed, who is, by the way, one of my very good decisions,” Trump said. “And they’re being briefed. And I’m being briefed also. But if they’re going to come in and tell me the exact same thing that they tell me — you know, it doesn’t change, necessarily.”

Wow.   There is so much here, it isn’t even funny.  “My generals are great, and being briefed.”  Is this the workings of a president, or a demagogue, surrounded by “generals,” who are “great”?   Forget the fact that we are supposed to have civilian control of the military, this guy is doing the exact opposite.  He has named  a general as secretary of defense who is colloquially known as “Mad Dog.”  His national security advisor is another retired general, Michael Flynn.  And now General John Kelly is going to be the Director of Homeland Security.  Look, it is not as if former generals haven’t served in cabinet level positions before (witness Gen. Colin Powell), but Trump is surrounding himself with generals, and is satisfied that if they are briefed on issues, he is good.

What is missing here is that there is an incredible value in a president being surrounded by a variety of different people, with different agendas and perspectives.  Trump isn’t doing that.  Not at all.  And by not receiving daily intelligence briefings, by not taking time to personally absorb the myriad of issues that a president faces, he will be unable to critically evaluate the issues, ad the advice he is being given from “his generals.” But don’t worry, “they are great.”

God save us when the first real international crisis occurs after January 20th.

Russia, fake news, and undue election influence, probably not the constitutional crisis you are hoping for

Published by:

The news this morning is filled with reports of high confidence from US intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the presidential election, hacking into the servers of both the DNC and RNC, but only releasing information from the DNC to harm Hillary Clinton.  The New York Times is suggesting that Russia didn’t actually think Trump would win (lets be honest, who did?), but was trying to find ways to further damage Clinton as president.  Trump is still denying the whole thing, but the evidence is growing increasingly strong that there were unprecedented efforts by a foreign nation to influence our election.  What there isn’t evidence of, however, is actual vote tampering, or fraud in the vote count.  That is an important distinction.  If the latter was true, then the entire legitimacy of the election would be called into question, and we would have a true constitutional crisis.

What did happen was that Russia tried to influence the election by enabling the spreading of anti-Clinton propaganda.  This is in the same vein as Macedonian teenagers creating fake news sites.  It is deeply disturbing, but not unprecedented. How many times has the CIA tried to intervene in foreign elections? (That is a blog in itself, just google the CIA and Guatemala 1954, for one example).   The end result should be an increase in international tensions with Russia, and even a potential international crisis.  Yet, given the chumminess of Trump with Putin, that crisis might only last until January 20.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think foreign interference in our elections is nothing to scoff at.  Indeed, it is just a small step from hacking emails to hacking electronic voting machines.  But there is no evidence that the latter happened.

In many ways, Russian influence was just one more stream of anti-Clinton rhetoric. The mainstream media basically gave Trump free airtime for months on end, with few media outlets challenging him.  The alt-right put out a steady stream of misinformation.  And people chose to vote for Trump. They voted for Trump in large enough numbers in places where it mattered, that he gained the required 270 electoral votes.  It will probably be impossible to actually measure the influence that Russia had in swaying the election.  What we do know is that there were a lot of people who voted for for Trump because they felt that they had been left behind in the economic recovery, and they did not think that they would be any better off under Clinton then they were under Obama.   Whether or not it is rational to believe that they will be better off under Trump is another question.  Nor do we know if they would have voted for him absent Russian interference.

The latest revelations only adds fuel to the frustration of liberals and Democrats that Trump won the election even though Hillary Rodham Clinton won the national popular vote by about 2.5 million.  Nation-wide, about 2 percent more Americans voted for her than voted for Trump.  This is not the first time an individual has won the electoral college, while losing the popular vote. Just look at Al Gore.  The difference is that Gore won by an extremely small margin, and were it not for “hanging chads” in south Florida, he would have been president.  Hillary Clinton, by contrast, had a resounding popular vote margin.  Yet, we do not elect the president with a popular vote, we select electors in each state, who cast a vote for president.  Since the mid-1800s, that process has been based on state wide elections.

So is this a constitutional crisis?  I don’t think so. Nor do I think that the electoral college will act to “fix” it.  There might be some “faithless” electors, but it is’t going to change the result.  What Russian tampering, fake news, and a “lost” popular vote will do is weaken the credibility of the next president. But he will so busy tweeting, and running Celebrity Apprentice, that it will probably have little impact.

Afterword
The more I think about this, the more I think the bigger story may be that the Obama administration went to the Congressional leadership in September, seeking for a bi-partisan agreement to go public with the knowledge of what the Russians were accused of doing, but the Senate Majority Leader refused, claiming it would an effort by Obama to help Clinton win the election.   That might be the biggest part of this story — the leadership knew about it, and allowed it to go on.

Not the reflection you expected one month after the election

Published by:

I had been planning to write my reflections on the election today, as it is one month out.  I was going to summarize all the bad things that have happened, the failure to drain the swamp, the threats to civil liberties, environmental justice, international relations, the tweet-storms, and on and on. But I’m not going to do that.  Instead, I am writing about the political left.

Quite honestly, I am fed up with the left.  I am sick and tired of what I have come to see as sanctimonious bullshit, wrapped in self-righteousness. And it did not start on November 9th.  It has been going on for quite some time. The left has taken an approach in which every “progressive” issue is the same. It is one-size-fits-all, from LGBT to Black Lives Matter to Boycotting Israel to a wide range of other “progressive” causes.  And the left  has demonstrated an incredible amount of intolerance for any political view points that run counter to its own moral code.  I can hardly believe I am writing this, but it is political correctness run amuck. And quite frankly, I am sick of it.

A few weeks ago Mark Lilla wrote an essay in the New York Times called “The End of Identity Liberalism.” It was an op-ed which resulted in a massive amount of attention, and numerous criticisms by those who felt slighted by it. Lilla placed a good deal of the blame for Clinton’s loss on identity liberalism.  He placed blame on Clinton towing the left line, and completely ignoring the working class.

Lilla writes: “But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”

When I first read his essay, the first half of it resonated with me, primarily due to how I have experienced the indifference of self-defined “progressives” in the context of the Presbyterian Church USA; the rapidly declining mainline protestant church that is symbolically far more important to the left and progressive politics, than it is in terms of actual people in the pews.

For me, what resonated was exactly what I felt at the PCUSA General Assembly, the Church’s legislative body that meets every two years. GA is dominated by people so passionately committed to progressivism and causes that they are blinded and completely unsympathetic to ANY competing views, even going so far as to mocking them (ironically enough) on twitter.

This year I sat on the committee dealing with fossil fuel divestment. While PCUSA has a piddling amount of money to invest, the big ticket issue was whether the church should divest all pension funds from fossil fuel energy companies, and thus have zero leverage whatsoever on climate change through those companies, but they would feel better about themselves by making a political statement and ensuring that the Church’s moral conscience was clear. I sat on that committee for 2 days, and listened to pastors from places in Texas and Oklahoma practically begging for the committee – and the Church itself – to not throw their entire congregations and communities – who live and work in the energy industry – under the bus. Desperate pleas from pastors saying, look yes, climate change is an issue, and we need to pressure companies, but don’t do it in a way that literally tears our congregations apart. AND then witnessing other pastors who just basically said, I’m sorry, but I don’t care, we have to divest. It was a truly disturbing thing to witness. There was no place at the table for anyone other than the far left. In the end, the assembly voted to take a middle position, and not immediately divest, and you would have thought the world had come to an end.

I compare that to the Church’s historic vote for marriage equality in 2014. That decision, which I voted for, resulted in a a lot of congregations leaving the denomination. And many more conservative rural congregations were staying, but struggling. BUT rather than just being happy with the historic decision, the church’s progressives decided that they wanted more. They wanted the church issue to issue an apology to LGBTQ folk. It was mind boggling. A lot of moderate and conservative churches trying to grapple with marriage equality, and trying to stay in the denomination, but these folks weren’t happy with what they had gained; they had to pour salt into an open wound. It was equally disturbing to watch. It was all or nothing. There is no room at the table for diverse viewpoints.

Now I’m not saying I don’t agree with the vast majority of what identity liberals want, but having come down on the side of an issue where they are opposed (Israel/Palestine) and watching what in many ways is a biased, one-sided, take-no-prisoners, facts be damned approach, it made me much more cognizant of HOW the left is viewed by those who don’t “fit” into the mold.  PCUSA is a case-study in the identity politics Lilla was writing about. And I certainly can understand why many people might feel left behind.

A conservative friend from college commented when the Lilla essay was shared on my wall. When I replied with a much shorter version of what I wrote above, he responded “Odd how insulting people turns out not to be such a great strategy for gaining their support.”  He is correct. I can visualize the stump speeches, the focus was almost entirely on the core liberal issues. And I come back to what I shared above: “.. a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”

The irony of diversity politics

But it isn’t limited to the churches.  Campus politics today are knee-deep in it.  In the immediate aftermath of the election there have been some seriously disturbing acts of intimidation and bigotry reported.  I am NOT in any way justifying them.  I remain vigilant against bigotry, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, and any other acts of hatred.  I have even changed my “Amazon smile” donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

BUT freedom of speech and assembly goes both ways.  Conservatives have just as much right to engage in political activism as liberals do. Yet, I am hearing reports on my own campus of conservative student groups being harassed by faculty members while doing a recruitment table in a classroom building.  I am grappling with faculty who are proposing statements seeking to be approved by the university senate which are blatantly partisan, and which profess to lecture to the community about proper behavior and standards.  Gotta be honest here, and I recognize the irony of me saying it, in an essay I am writing, but no one wants to be lectured by academics from their ivory tower about this.  As a former student said to me, “when you write messages like that, it emboldens the very people you are trying to persuade.”  It doesn’t convince anyone.  It makes people dig in their heels.  It serves no purpose but to make you feel better about yourself, and to pat yourself on the back for having “done something.”

The left needs to re-think its approach.  The time to have protested was not on November 9th.  It was on November 8th.  It was to get out the vote.  But it is hard to get out the vote of millions of working class people, when you have been ignoring them, primarily because they are the very “ignoramuses” that aren’t smart enough to share your enlightened beliefs, and when after 8 years of a Democratic president they are little better off then they were before.   And when you assume they will always be there.  Well, guess what? They weren’t.

Look, I despise Trump. I can’t even bring myself to using his name and the honorific president together.   I think political resistance and protest is important, and will remain essential.  I will protest what I believe needs being protested.  I will contribute funds to the ACLU, to Americans United to Separation of Church and State, and to the SPLC. We need to remain vigilant against threats to democracy.

BUT if we are truly committed to democracy we have to respect DIVERSE political discourse, while insisting on civility. Showing respect for others of different beliefs, and tolerance of a range of political viewpoints that are absolutely essential elements of a democratic society.  Don’t get me wrong.  Such political discourse cannot co-exist with acts of bigotry, intimidation, or hate-filled rhetoric. Every single one of us have to call that out. And I’ll be the first in line. But if a conservative student group can’t do a tabling event without being harassed by “liberal” faculty, then I think we are missing the point entirely.  Civil liberties are for all Americans.  Even those we disagree with.

This doesn’t mean I won’t call out bullshit when I see it from the right; it is there all the time. But it goes both ways.

An important first step — demand the immediate end of pre-textual investigatory stops

Published by:

This past week has renewed concerns about excessive use of force by police against Black Americans and minorities. Why is it that police seem so quick to escalate encounters with African American males?  Why is it that minorities distrust the police in ways that Caucasians don’t?  Are these problems just a reflection of a few “bad cops,” and not that of the vast majority who are dedicated to “protecting and serving” the communities they work in, or is there a deeper problem in policing?  Are all cops racist?  Is there institutional racism in within policing? All are important questions, but they all boil down to the fact that when police use strategies and tactics that disproportionately target minorities, and when they act differently in two identical scenarios with the sole exception of the race of the individual involved, it is discriminatory behavior. And it is a primary part of the lack of trust that exists between minority communities and the police today.

If there is a true desire to find solutions to the problems of lack of trust in policing, there is one action that each and every police department can take right now.  Immediately. And it is fairly simple. End the use of pre-textual traffic stops. Cease using the traffic code to conduct investigatory stops immediately. The benefits would be substantial.

What are investigatory pre-textual stops?  A pre-textual stop is a traffic stop used as a pretense or excuse to conduct a criminal investigation.  It is a tool that was developed by law enforcement in the 1980s as a way to prosecute the war on drugs. The setup is simple.  Identify a car that you, the officer, thinks looks suspicious, maybe there are young males in it, maybe it is the make and model of the vehicle, but regardless, you have a hunch that you want to investigate this vehicle.  So you look for the most minor of traffic offenses to create the pretext for a traffic stop.  I’m not talking about someone flying down the road 15 miles over the speed limit—that is a legitimate traffic safety issue.  I’m talking about driving with mud on a license plate, a broken license plate light, failure to use a turn signal properly.  Not failing to use a turn signal, but not using it 100 feet before a turn.

Other examples include weaving in the same lane of traffic, and driving down the left lane of the interstate for more than a half-mile, or driving with a parking permit hanging from the rearview window, among many others.  These are extremely minor violations of the traffic code that officers use as a pretext to establish probable cause to stop the vehicle. Once stopped, the officer has “seized” the driver and passengers of the vehicle.  He can question the driver, and all passengers.  Ask for identification, driver’s license, proof of insurance, registration, run the person’s names through the computer for active warrants.   If there is  reasonable suspicion that the driver is armed and dangerous, ask him or her to get out of the vehicle, and do a frisk, or pat-down of the outer clothing for weapons.  Scan the interior of the vehicle—doing a plain view search for weapons, open bottles, and contraband.

But there is more.  The officer is trained to ask provocative questions designed to put the driver on edge as a way to manipulate the him or her to consent to a search.

“Do you have anything on you that would cause me or my partner to blow up?”  Throwing him off guard, the driver quickly says no.  So, they the officer follows up with,

“No? Then you won’t mind if I do a quick search?”  This is psychological manipulation intended to get the citizen to waive his constitutional rights.

All of this is done independently of the “official” purpose for the stop, the issuance of a warning or citation for a traffic offense.  But the traffic violation isn’t really the goal. It is a means to conduct a criminal investigation, something he otherwise lacks reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do.  The officer does not possess the necessary reasonable articulable facts would that lead him to believe that the person is engaged in or about to engage in criminal behavior, so he probes, ask questions, and manipulates the citizen in the hope that he or she will consent to a search.  But in a traffic stop, there is NO reasonable suspicion of criminal wrong-doing, there is only a hunch, and a minor traffic violation, and often, the most trivial of violations.

I began by stating that these investigatory stops were originally designed to conduct the war on drugs.  In the past 20 years they have expanded, as police have institutionalized them into standard practice. The investigatory stop, police training manual author Charles Rensberg tells us, is a type of police traffic stop that “seeks to maximize the number of citizen contacts in vehicle stops during each shift and, through specific investigative techniques, to explore the full arrest potential of each.”  In the town where I live, the police department has an enforcement contact policy.  Each officer is expected to make three citizen contacts a shift, resulting in a citation, written warning, or ordinance violation. They uses investigatory stops all the time.

The use of the pre-textual stop by itself is disturbing. It is a violation of an individual’s constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizures.  But there is more to the problem.  The investigatory pretextual stop is NOT used systematically against all drivers.  Officers disproportionately use the tactics in contacts with minorities and young people.  My 18 year old son has endured two of these stops in the past 9 months.  One for a license plate light violation (the license plate light had blown out), and the other for failure to use a turn signal properly.  These stops are not just an annoyance, they are a humiliation.  Look at the text message I received from him during the most recent one.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 2.21.45 PM
He knew to say no to a consent search, but also believed that it would end up bad if he didn’t comply.   “I didn’t do shit.”

This is not an extreme example.  It happens over and over again.  While my son is Caucasian, he is young.  The reality is that most adult Caucasian drivers rarely experience these stops. If they get stopped by the police it is for a legitimate traffic safety stop.  They were speeding 15 miles over the limit. They were driving at night with the headlights off.  Those are legitimate traffic offenses, in which we NEED police on patrol to keep the streets safe.  And if someone get a speeding ticket, they might not be happy about it, but they know they deserve it. They own it.  “Yeah, I got caught.”  But would they have the same perception if they were stopped again and again for turn signal violations, asked obnoxious questions, and searched?

Yet, this is exactly the reality that exists for minorities.  And minorities experience the humiliations that come from them, over and over again. It was because of racial profiling that several states developed state-wide legislatively mandated traffic stop data collection, in which officers are required by law to record information about every single traffic stop. The data is very clear that when we look at the stated reasons for traffic stops, that minorities, particularly African Americans, are subjected to these tactics far more frequently than Caucasians.

Now, police will make plenty of excuses, claiming that they don’t target minorities. They will insist that they aren’t racist. And to be fair they have been trained, over and over again, that this is good police work, and isn’t racist. They target vehicles that meet profiles, and it just happens that minorities fit many of these profiles.  There are plenty of excuses, and I’ll save them for another essay, but what is important is that Blacks experience pre-textual investigatory stops far more often than Caucasians do, and the end result is that has been a significant drop in trust of the police.  Blacks expect to be stopped.  They expect to be harassed by police. They expect to be treated as second-class citizens. They expect to be subjected to these humiliations.  White people don’t normally have these expectations, because with the exception of very young drivers, and even then only in some communities, they simply do not experience these types of stops.  The end result is that many Blacks don’t trust the police, and when there is a lack of trust, when there is a conflict, there is a much greater likelihood of that conflict escalating.  If I don’t trust you, I’m far more likely to be belligerent. And if the police officer detects “attitude,” he is far more likely to give it back. Over time, it creates a pre-disposition in the officer’s mind that when he stops a Black person, there is a great likelihood of conflict, and perhaps danger.

If we want to make immediate changes to begin the process of diffusing a small part of the tension on our streets, it is in the power of each and every police chief.   Instruct their officers to end the use of investigatory stops immediately.  Demand that pretextual stops be ended.  Make it crystal clear that this is not good policing, nor is it protecting and serving the community when you treat an entire class of drivers differently, often entirely because of their race.  Nor does it matter that the Supreme Court has said this behavior is permissible.  Just because it is legal does not mean it is right.

Define a list of legitimate traffic safety issues, and limit traffic stops to those purposes.  Stop the practice of using traffic stops to do what you couldn’t do if the person was on the street.  And while we are at it, stop the practice of making law enforcement a revenue generation process. Will this potentially diminish drug arrests?  Sure.    But if there is anything the last forty years should have taught us, it is that the war on drugs has been a monumental failure, and needs to end.

Will it solve the problem of excessive use of force? No, this is just one important step.  There is a fundamental need for more training in conflict management, and more training that focuses on the de-escalation of violence.  But ending pre textual investigatory stops will take the first essential step, to restore confidence.  Call your local police chief and sheriff and demand that they end the use of pre-textual investigatory stops now.  And if the police chief or sheriff won’t do it, then the legislatures of every state need to demand they do it.

When history and facts don’t seem to matter: The Presbyterian Church, BDS, and the ‘largely non-violent First Intifada’

Published by:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a mainline protestant denomination that has been tied up in the politics of the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel for more than a decade, culminating in a narrow four-vote majority in its 2014 General Assembly (GA) to divest church funds from HP, Motorola, and Caterpillar because of those company’s products being used to violent ends by Israel in the Palestinian territories. The GA tried to claim that its vote to divest was not about joining the BDS movement, but was a statement on socially responsible investment. This was wishful thinking as within 30 minutes of the GA’s vote, the New York Times immediately reported that the Church had been tied to the BDS Movement.

Two years later, the Presbyterian Church nears another General Assembly. This time, the BDS agenda is a bit more nuanced. A task force was commissioned in 2014 to examine the continued viability of the Church’s commitment to a Two State solution. Responsibility for this study fell on the Church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which recently issued a report titled Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Justice Peace, that it is seeking to have endorsed by the GA this summer in Portland, Oregon, when it meets in mid-June. It should surprise no one that the report that was written mimics many of the BDS arguments that have been used again and again.

It does not take even the casual reader long to realize that this report is fundamentally flawed and dishonest at its core. On the very first page, the report provides a brief history of the conflict, in which the First Intifada is described as a “largely non-violent movement that led to the Oslo Accords.” Let that sit in for a minute. The First Intifada was a non-violent movement?  What the authors of the report apparently are trying to do is to equate the Palestinian resistance, then led by Yasser Arafat and the PLO as being on the same moral level as the American civil rights movement, in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference used the strategy of non-violent civil disobedience to effect change.   King led bus boycotts, sit-ins and marches to over-come legal segregation and accomplish voting rights for Black Americans in the American south.

Yet, the First Intifada included far more than boycotts of Israelis by Palestinians. Arafat’s uprising consisted of widespread throwing of stones, Molotov Cocktails, and assaults on Israeli citizens. It is estimated that over 1100 Palestinians and 200 Israelis were killed between 1987 and 1991. Yes, the First Intifada was far less violent than the Second, which began in September 2000, and was characterized by suicide bombings, and on going acts of terrorism, but in no way was the First Intifada a non-violent movement.   For a report by the Presbyterian Church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to even use such language not only questions the intellectual integrity and honesty of the committee itself, but also calls into question the entire report that follows.   The Report treats the conflict between Israel and Palestine as entirely one sided, with Palestinians always the victim, seeking justice, and Israel as always the aggressor.

The ACSWP Report’s duplicity goes beyond this however. The report’s authors make blatant historical errors and distortions of facts that serves to push the Church to pursue an extremely narrow BDS agenda. The Church’s BDS supporters realize that their affiliation with BDS is one that most Presbyterians have little desire to be associated with, so it is not surprising that the report itself never uses the words BDS. Indeed, it seems to go out of its way to avoid mention of the movement to delegitimize the Jewish state. While the words BDS never appear, the message is clear. The historic commitment to a Two State Solution is called into question, and the Report seeks to open the door to consideration of a One State Solution; a solution in which all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would gain Israeli citizenship. What they never say, of course, is that simple math would mean that Israel’s Jewish citizens would immediately become a minority in a Palestinian state. In some ways it is a confidence game, in which ACSWP and its allies seek to push the Church into opening the door for a One State Solution by approving a report that delegitimizes the State of Israel, without ever acknowledging it.

The reality is the conflict is far more complex, and both sides have acted in ways that have perpetuated it over time.   The description of the First Intifada is just one of many problems with the Report, but it illustrates the intellectual dishonesty that the Church’s BDS proponents are willing to engage in. Such a blatant effort to tie violent resistance to the American  civil rights movement is an insult to the faithful members of the Church who are truly interested in pursuing the difficult job of peacemaking.   Hopefully Presbyterian commissioners in Portland will see beyond the smoke and mirrors offered by the Church’s BDS advocates.

Hot off the Presses: The Fourth Amendment in Flux

Published by:

Very excited to have received an advance copy of my new book, The Fourth Amendment in Flux: The Roberts Court, Crime Control, and Digital Privacy just published by the University Press of Kansas.   UPK is one of the top publishers in political science, and seeing the book in print is very cool.      The book was the culmination of ten years of study of the Fourth Amendment, and two years of research trips to the Library of Congress.   The book should be available on Amazon on May 24th.

IMG_4541
Here is a basic description:

When the Founders penned the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, it was not difficult to identify the “persons, houses, papers, and effects” they meant to protect; nor was it hard to understand what “unreasonable searches and seizures” were. The Fourth Amendment was intended to stop the use of general warrants and writs of assistance and applied primarily to protect the home. Flash forward to a time of digital devices, automobiles, the war on drugs, and a Supreme Court dominated by several decades of the jurisprudence of crime control, and the legal meaning of everything from “effects” to “seizures” has dramatically changed. Michael C. Gizzi and R. Craig Curtis make sense of these changes in The Fourth Amendment in Flux. The book traces the development and application of search and seizure law and jurisprudence over time, with particular emphasis on decisions of the Roberts Court. IMG_4537

Cell phones, GPS tracking devices, drones, wiretaps, the Patriot Act, constantly changing technology, and a political culture that emphasizes crime control create new challenges for Fourth Amendment interpretation and jurisprudence. This work exposes the tensions caused by attempts to apply pretechnological legal doctrine to modern problems of digital privacy. In their analysis of the Roberts Court’s relevant decisions, Gizzi and Curtis document the different approaches to the law that have been applied by the justices since the Obama nominees took their seats on the court. Their account, combining law, political science, and history, provides insight into the courts small group dynamics, and traces changes regarding search and seizure law in the opinions of one of its longest serving members, Justice Antonin Scalia.

“A significant contribution to the literature on Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that is written clearly and concisely. It should be read by legal scholars and students, and anyone with an interest in how law enforcement interests collide with the privacy rights of citizens.”

—Craig Hemmens, Chair and Professor, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University

The Fourth Amendment in Fluxis an excellent book for political science, pre-law and criminal justice students.”

—Michael Palmiotto, Professor of Criminal Justice, Wichita State University

At a time when issues of privacy are increasingly complicated by technological advances, this overview and analysis of Fourth Amendment law is especially welcome—an invaluable resource as we address the enduring question of how to balance freedom against security in the context of the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Tracking the GOP Debate

Published by:

My friend Bill Wilkerson is an expert on tracking google trends and wikipedia data to gain knowledge about salience of issues and events via social media.

His blog provides an interesting perspective on last week’s GOP debate.

http://www.wrwilkerson.com/blog/2015/8/9/wikipedia-debate

 

Public interest in the 8/6 Republican debate on Wikipedia & Google Trends 

The Thursday, 8/6 prime time Republican debate was the most watched non-sports cable program ever. How did the public respond while watching?

After the debate , Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com posted Google Trends datafor the 10 candidates in the prime time debate. I have been researching Wikipedia as a way to measure public interest and was curious how the page views compared. The table below shows the Google Trends for the 4 hours during and after the debate along with the Wikipedia page views for 8/7 both in raw numbers and in an index based on the most searched candidate, Donald Trump.

Candidate Google Trends Index Total Wikipedia Searches Wikipedia Index
Trump 100 104,303 100
Carson 59 75,495 72
Rubio 38 40,854 39
Cruz 37 37,718 34
Bush 34 34,670 33
Kasich 29 54,306 52
Paul 26 27,267 26
Christie 20 17,957 17
Walker 17 12,881 12
Huckabee 14 11,542 11
%d bloggers like this: