Tuesday, January 31, 2023
The following is from the editorial board of The Washington Post:
No decent citizen could fail to be appalled by the video, released Friday, showing Memphis police officers beating a 29-year-old Black man, Tyre Nichols, so badly on Jan. 7 that he died three days later. No feeling citizen could fail to be moved by the anguish of his mother, RowVaughn Wells, as she eloquently described her grief at losing a young man, himself the father of a 4-year-old, who cried out for “mom” as he absorbed the assault. And no concerned citizen can fail to be impressed by, and appreciative of, the way in which those who justifiably protested Mr. Nichols’s death heeded — with sporadic exceptions — Ms. Wells’s call for nonviolence.
Yet no thinking citizen can fail to be frustrated that something like this could have happened less than three years after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, triggering a national movement for police reform and social justice — or, for that matter, nearly 32 years after Los Angeles police officers delivered an eerily similar, though nonfatal, beating to Rodney King. How many more times will Americans, and their leaders in government and law enforcement, vow “never again” about such an incident, only to find ourselves ruefully saying, “Once again.”
Horrible as it was, there are encouraging aspects to this episode. The Memphis Police Department did not maintain the proverbial “blue wall” of silence, despite what appear to be initial efforts at a coverup by the five officers involved. Rather, chief Cerelyn Davis took her own skeptical look at the initial reports and fired the men 13 days later. She forthrightly denounced their conduct as “acts that defy humanity.” The Shelby County district attorney filed second-degree murder charges. And authorities added transparency by releasing video of the incident from police body cameras and other sources. Attorneys for Mr. Nichols’s family have declared that the city and county’s official response “gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre.”
Legal accountability for alleged police perpetrators is indeed necessary, to punish, to deter and to reinforce the principle that those who wear the badge are not above the law. The sobering reality, though, is that such retrospective justice is no panacea. If it were, guilty verdicts in Floyd’s case would have prevented what happened in Memphis. So would the convictions, in 1993, on federal civil rights charges, of two officers who beat Rodney King — albeit after a jury acquitted them the previous year, sparking six days of violent protest in L.A.
Further reforms are needed to reduce police impunity, including federal legislation to modify the “qualified immunity” doctrine, largely created by the Supreme Court, that often blocks lawsuits for unconstitutional abuses. Still, even many oft-proposed reforms — including some included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — would not have prevented what happened to Mr. Nichols. The measure bans potentially deadly chokeholds, for example, but that appears to be one of the few forms of physical force the officers in Memphis did not visit upon Mr. Nichols’s body.
Indeed, Memphis, similar to other cities, had instituted reforms. Onewas the use of police body cameras to record encounters with citizens, which seemingly did not give the officers who beat Mr. Nichols much pause. Another was the recruitment of a force that reflects the city’s large Black majority. All five officers who assaulted Mr. Nichols were Black — as is the chief, Ms. Davis. Memphis hired her in 2021 after a career in Durham, N.C., during which she had embraced the protests over Floyd’s murder and decried “systemic racism” in U.S. policing.
The change Memphis and many other departments need is the kind that cannot come from laws and policies alone: cultural. Police officers — regardless of their race — too often regard young Black men as inherently suspect or dangerous. The savagery with which the police beat Mr. Nichols was unfathomable. But so was the f-bomb-laced disrespect with which they immediately approached him, based on what appears to have been at most a traffic violation, and then suddenly snatched him out of his car.
It bears repeating, even at a moment such as this: Most police officers do a difficult and necessary job with decency and professionalism; the country needs more like them. This is especially true in Memphis, where the level of violent crime is unacceptable: the city of 630,000 saw 302 homicides in 2022, or about 48 per 100,000 — about seven times the 2021 national homicide rate. The vast majority of victims in Memphis were Black.
As it happens, the city’s high 2022 rate reflected a 13 percent improvement over 2021, which the police department had attributed in part to work by the special unit to which the five officers who beat Mr. Nichols belonged — and which Memphis has now disbanded. But as the Editorial Board argued in the wake of Floyd’s death, an overreliance on police has prevented communities from imagining and investing in other public safety tools, starting with revitalizing neighborhoods that experience the most crime.
In the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death, the Memphis police have nothing to celebrate and much to improve. The same goes for the United States as a whole.
Monday, January 30, 2023
The Republicans in the House of Representatives say they want to make abortion illegal across the nation, and want to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare. But the public overwhelmingly opposes both of those ideas.
The charts above reflect the results of the Economist / YouGov Poll -- done between January 21st and 24th of a nationwide sample of 1,500 adults (including 1,330 registered voters). The margin of error is 3.2 points for adults and 3 points for registered voters.
During a war, countries use a propaganda that defines their enemy as them -- as people that are different than themselves. This makes it easier to kill those people (and sadly, many times leads to war crimes being done and defended).
We can debate whether that propaganda is good or not, but it also exists in our own society. Too often these days, people are quick to label their political opponents as enemies. This has led some to actually perpetrating violence against those seen as others.
We have seen a continuing violence by police. And with the advent of videos (especially on cell phones, which nearly everyone has), much of this violence is being documented. And rightly, this has resulted in calls for reforming the regulations and training in police departments.
There is no doubt that better regulations and training are needed. But they are not enough. Police culture must also be reformed, or the better training and regulations will mean nothing.
For far too long, many police have had an "us vs. them" view of their job. They consider themselves to be in a war against criminality, with the "us" (police) fighting against the "them" (criminals). This is the same kind of thinking that is used in a war, and it allows police to justify bending, or even breaking, the rules and regulations to win that "war".
Unfortunately, it also leads to innocent citizens being branded as the "them", and persecuted or even killed. The most recent example is the beatting death of Tyre Nichols by police. Some will try to say this is an isolated incident. It is not.
There is far too much police violence in many departments across the country, especially toward minority citizens. And its due as much or more to the "us vs. them" police culture as it is to a lack of proper training and regulations.
Don't get me wrong. I believe there is a need for better training and regulations -- and it should be on a nationwide basis (with laws passed on a federal level). But the best training and regulations will not work until the "us vs. them" culture among police is changed.
The truth is that there is no "them" -- only "us". Even the most heinous criminal is a human, and deserves the constitutional rights afforded to everyone. Sometimes a physical alteration cannot be avoided, but it must always be initiated by the person being stopped by police -- not from the police themselves.
Police are to protect and serve the people, but they cannot do that if they consider a portion of the population as enemies.
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Like the rest of America, I was horrified by the videos of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols to death. And it was all unnecessary.
Nichols was stopped for a traffic violation (supposedly reckless driving). It should have just resulted in a traffic ticket.
But the officers that stopped him approached him in a very aggressive manner, demanding he get out of the car. When he asked politely why he was stopped. They physically removed him from the car and roughly shoved him to the ground. There was no reason for that, and I'm not surprised that Nichols was scared and ran away.
When he was apprehended, the officers decided to get revenge for his escape. They beat him with their fists, with a metal nightstick, and kicked him in the head. None of that was necessary either. There were enough officers to safely put the 140 pound man on the ground and handcuff him. There was no reason for anyone to be injured -- not the victim or the officers.
The five officers who beat Nichols have been charge with the crimes they committed, and that's a good thing. They were nothing more than criminals wearing badges.
But they were not the only officers who failed to do their duty that night.
A police officers job is not over once a person is apprehended. The job is not over until the person is safely in jail -- or in the hospital, if medical attention is necessary.
After Nichols was subdued and handcuffed, he was leaned against a car. He fell over several times. It should have been obvious to all of the dozen or so officers standing around that he was in medical distress. But they ignored it. Nichols laid on the ground for over 20 minutes before receiving any medical help.
That may or may not have contributed to Nichols' death. But one thing is sure -- every officer at the scene failed to do their duty! They all need to be punished.
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Many voters in Rural America think they are being short-changed and disrespected. Neither is true. Here is the truth from Paul Krugman in The New York Times:
Rural resentment has become a central fact of American politics — in particular, a pillar of support for the rise of right-wing extremism. As the Republican Party has moved ever further into MAGAland, it has lost votes among educated suburban voters; but this has been offset by a drastic rightward shift in rural areas, which in some places has gone so far that the Democrats who remain face intimidation and are afraid to reveal their party affiliation.
But is this shift permanent? Can anything be done to assuage rural rage?
The answer will depend on two things: whether it’s possible to improve rural lives and restore rural communities, and whether the voters in these communities will give politicians credit for any improvements that do take place.
This week my colleague Thomas B. Edsall surveyed research on the rural Republican shift. I was struck by his summary of work by Katherine J. Cramer, who attributes rural resentment to perceptions that rural areas are ignored by policymakers, don’t get their fair share of resources and are disrespected by “city folks.”
As it happens, all three perceptions are largely wrong. I’m sure that my saying this will generate a tidal wave of hate mail, and lecturing rural Americans about policy reality isn’t going to move their votes. Nonetheless, it’s important to get our facts straight.
The truth is that ever since the New Deal rural America has received special treatment from policymakers. It’s not just farm subsidies, which ballooned under Donald Trump to the point where they accounted for around 40 percent of total farm income. Rural America also benefits from special programs that support housing, utilities and business in general.
In terms of resources, major federal programs disproportionately benefit rural areas, in part because such areas have a disproportionate number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare. But even means-tested programs — programs that Republicans often disparage as “welfare” — tilt rural. Notably, at this point rural Americans are more likely than urban Americans to be on Medicaid and receive food stamps.
And because rural America is poorer than urban America, it pays much less per person in federal taxes, so in practice major metropolitan areas hugely subsidize the countryside. These subsidies don’t just support incomes, they support economies: Government and the so-called health care and social assistance sector each employ more people in rural America than agriculture, and what do you think pays for those jobs?
What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature. There is, however, an unwritten rule in American politics that it’s OK for politicians to seek rural votes by insulting big cities and their residents, but it would be unforgivable for urban politicians to return the favor. “I have to go to New York City soon,” tweeted J.D. Vance during his senatorial campaign. “I have heard it’s disgusting and violent there.” Can you imagine, say, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about rural Ohio, even as a joke?
So the ostensible justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny — but that doesn’t mean things are fine. A changing economy has increasingly favored metropolitan areas with large college-educated work forces over small towns. The rural working-age population has been declining, leaving seniors behind. Rural men in their prime working years are much more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to not be working. Rural woes are real.
Ironically, however, the policy agenda of the party most rural voters support would make things even worse, slashing the safety-net programs these voters depend on. And Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to point this out.
But can they also have a positive agenda for rural renewal? As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently pointed out, the infrastructure spending bills enacted under President Biden, while primarily intended to address climate change, will also create large numbers of blue-collar jobs in rural areas and small cities. They are, in practice, a form of the “place-based industrial policy” some economists have urged to fight America’s growing geographic disparities.
Will they work? The economic forces that have been hollowing out rural America are deep and not easily countered. But it’s certainly worth trying.
But even if these policies improve rural fortunes, will Democrats get any credit? It’s easy to be cynical. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new governor of Arkansas, has pledged to get the “bureaucratic tyrants” of Washington “out of your wallets”; in 2019 the federal government spent almost twice as much in Arkansas as it collected in taxes, de facto providing the average Arkansas resident with $5,500 in aid. So even if Democratic policies greatly improve rural lives, will rural voters notice?
Still, anything that helps reverse rural America’s decline would be a good thing in itself. And maybe, just maybe, reducing the heartland’s economic desperation will also help reverse its political radicalization.
Friday, January 27, 2023
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that about 186,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on January 21st. Here is the official Labor Department statement:
In the week ending January 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 186,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 190,000 to 192,000. The 4-week moving average was 197,500, a decrease of 9,250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 750 from 206,000 to 206,750.
The following article on the debt ceiling is by Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute: