Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Absolved Again: Betty Shelby's Acquittal

Tulsa PD officer Betty Shelby acquitted in the
shooting death of Terrence Crutcher
If not for the intense mainstream media focus on the latest of the seemingly endless stream of ethical bombshells coming from the White House last week, the acquittal of Tulsa PD officer Betty Shelby probably would have garnered far more attention than it did.

With racial polarization in America already enflamed by the enraged delusional rhetoric of the Trump campaign, 40-year-old Terrence Crutcher's violent death caught on video on Friday September 16, 2016 horrified the nation.

If you recall it dominated the news cycle heading into that weekend eight months ago.

Compounded by nervous media rumblings about racial unrest.

That's an interesting term when you think about it, isn't it? "Racial unrest."

As if the default state of racial tensions in a nation founded on an agrarian economy based on enslaved African labor, is somehow at "rest".

The dash-cam and helicopter videos, as well as recordings of police dispatch radio transmissions, that were quickly released by the Tulsa PD three days after the incident on Tuesday September 19th arguably made many restless - regardless of their ethnicity, socio-economic background or religion.

The facts of Terrence Crutcher's shooting were at once disturbing and familiar to people around the globe - an unarmed man of color being shot and killed by an American law enforcement professional for reasons that didn't seem to warrant the use of deadly force.

Tulsa PD officers Betty Shelby and Tyler Turnbough were only doing their duty when they responded to multiple 9-1-1 calls from motorists at 7:36pm reporting an SUV stopped in the middle of a two-lane road with the driver's side door wide open and a driver, Crutcher, who was walking around outside the vehicle acting oddly.

Terrence Crutcher with his hands raised seconds
before being shot by Betty Shelby
One driver stopped to ask if he needed help and claims that Crutcher replied that he thought his SUV was about to explode.

When Shelby arrived she quickly recognized that Crutcher was under the influence of some kind of substance.

He didn't seem coherent, he ignored her commands and casually walked away from her and Turnbough with his hands raised.

He never threatened them or charged them.

He just didn't listen to them.

But as toxicology reports would later show, it's possible he wasn't able to actually understand them as he had both PCP and TCP (a hallucinogen and psycho-stimulant even more powerful then PCP) in his bloodstream at the time of his death - a Tulsa PD homicide investigator claims to have found a vial of PCP inside Crutcher's SUV.

But was Crutcher "wacked out" on PCP to the degree that he represented a physical threat to the officers at the scene as Tulsa PD and Shelby's attorney seemed to suggest?

Or did his skin color and physical size magnify the sense of danger that Betty Shelby said she felt that prompted her to shoot him while he was standing next to his SUV with his hands in the air?

Take a minute to look at the helicopter footage taken just moments before Crutcher was shot, he's walking slowly away from the officers with his hands in the air - if you're queasy about that kind of thing you can't actually see him being shot though when the helicopter comes around you can see him laying on the ground with blood on his shirt.

Betty Shelby (right) with her gun on Crutcher
as he walks away from her toward his SUV 
As you can see from the dash cam video image at left taken from Tyler Turnbough's police cruiser just after he pulled up to the scene to assist Betty Shelby, she had her gun drawn on Crutcher and he was walking away from her with his hands up.

He wasn't running, he was walking.

Officer Turnbough quickly pulls up to offer assistance and as the two approach Crutcher near the back his SUV, Turnbough tasered him and Shelby shot him in the chest.

The bullet she fired broke four of his ribs and pierced two of his lungs.

He died in the hospital several hours later.

As the autopsy report states, "The cause of death is penetrating gunshot wound of chest with musculoskeletal and visceral injuries. The manner of death is classified as homicide."

Two days after the video was released showing Crutcher with his hands in the air, even Donald Trump (while polling at historical lows with African-Americans) weighed in on the Crutcher shooting saying he was "very troubled" by the shooting and speculated that Betty Shelby had "choked" because she was scared.

From the time that she was charged with first-degree manslaughter, Shelby's attorney did everything possible to characterize Terrence Crutcher as some kind of dangerous raving lunatic on PCP with a prison record for selling crack - they even talked about Crutcher being obese, (as if the fatal gunshot wound to his chest wouldn't have killed him if he'd been thin.)

But the problem is Officer Shelby didn't know any of that when she drew her handgun and later fired the shot that killed Crutcher, she only knew that he was an African-American who was acting strangely after parking his SUV in the middle of a road.

If she was so scared, why didn't she just wait for backup?

If you watch the video, there are two other officers responding to assist her and Turnbough as she fires that shot - and Crutcher isn't in an elementary school parking lot or in a mall, he's wandering around his SUV parked in the middle of a rural stretch of road surrounded by woods.

Terrence Crutcher with his son
Had Crutcher turned suddenly towards Shelby, or rushed the officers her shooting him in the chest would at least make some kind of sense.

But he had his hands in the air and he was walking, not running, away from her.

From my point of view, her decision to shoot him was a totally unjustified use of deadly force in a situation where it wasn't warranted.

Therefore she should have faced at least some kind of legal responsibility for taking his life.

But the court ruled there will be no legal repercussions for her pulling the trigger.

She will soon return to duty.

The outcome of this trial represents yet another example in a disturbingly long line of American law enforcement professionals who've shot and killed unarmed African-American boys or men, only to be absolved of legal responsibility for their actions in a court of law based on a specious legal argument that the officer's fears of a situation or threat that did not actually exist - was justification for taking someone's life.

At the core lies an unresolved examination of the complexity of how racial bias influences the thinking and decision making of members of law enforcement under stress.

This case, and many like it, seem to elevate the presence of that stress or fear above the life of innocent citizens - many, like Terrence Crutcher, who were unarmed when they were killed.

Officer Betty Shelby
Step back for a moment and consider this case in the context of the Tulsa Race Riot.

In which an enraged mob of white citizens aided by local police intentionally set fire to the prosperous African-American section of Tulsa known as Greenwood and systematically beat, stab, lynched and shot at least 300 innocent black Americans over the course of May 31 - June 1, 1921.

Seen through that historical lens the acquittal of Betty Shelby is particularly troubling on a number of levels.

It suggests the deep-seated racial prejudices that sparked one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history almost 96 years ago, still resonate in the minds of some - in Oklahoma and beyond.

Even some who are sworn to protect in serve.

Was Officer Betty Shelby was conscious of her own internal racial bias back on September 16, 2016?

We may never know that answer, she herself may not even know or understand that.

But we do know that last week, a court of law in Oklahoma absolved her of any legal responsibility for taking a human life.

Based in large part on the internal fears that she herself testified prompted her to fire the fatal shot that took the life of Terrence Crutcher.

A son, brother, cousin and father - another name on the long list of The Counted.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Emptiness Inside

Coast Guard Academy grads celebrate graduation 
Those fortunate enough to have had the privilege of graduating from high school or college recognize the commencement speech as a time-honored tradition.

Particularly for college grads, the ceremony marks a major educational achievement, a pivotal moment of transition from youth to adulthood - from student to (hopefully) professional.  

A dose of pomp and circumstance before the sobering reality of college debt and monthly bills settles in.

Commencement speakers are often selected for their professional achievements and stature in the hopes that their words will illuminate and inspire graduates in ways that will have a meaningful impact upon their outlook as they set out upon the journey of life.

So one can only wonder what the young graduates of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut must have been thinking Wednesday as Donald Trump took the podium to speak at their commencement ceremony marking their final day as cadets.

Amusement? Horror? Befuddlement? Terror?

It would be impossible to try and gauge the political leanings of each of the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy who watched the embattled POTUS try and deliver a commencement address.

But having willingly embraced the rigors of a military academy and committed no small portion of their lives to the security of the nation, one would assume they have a basic respect for the office of commander-in-chief.

Like all U.S. service members they work for the American people, but the president is in effect, their "boss."

Which, for some of the those Coast Guard grads, has to be uncomfortable.

CG Academy grad Robert Popiel looking pumped
to be photographed with Trump 
There were a number of female cadets on hand to receive their degrees on Wednesday.

What was going through the minds of those young women as they were forced to listen to a man who'd openly bragged about using his celebrity status to put his hands on women's privates like some kind of creepy lecherous perv?

His remarks once again appealed to the lowest common denominator.

Instead of using the opportunity to offer specifics about his long-term defense strategy or foreign policy objectives, or inspire the young graduates, Trump dwelled on his favorite subject - himself.

It was the first time the High-Chair President had spoken publicly since reports surfaced that recently-fired FBI Director James Comey's notes reveal Trump asked him to halt an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
45 embarrassed himself by trying to characterize the media's demands for clarification of his recent chaotic and confusing actions as some kind of "witch hunt".

As if journalists exercising their 1st Amendment rights to demand answers as to why Trump fired the man leading an investigation into his administration's ties with Russia is some kind of persecution or personal vendetta.

"Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media." he whined to 20-something college graduates. 

Artist depiction of the assassination of
President William McKinley on Sept. 6 1901
"No politician has been treated worse." Trump insisted.

Apparently forgetting that presidents Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley and JFK were all assassinated while in office.

As if the slew of monumentally stupid decisions Trump has made, and the lies and ignorance he constantly spews on Twitter are somehow the fault of the media.

His inability to tell the truth, or to take responsibility for the fallout resulting from his own screw-ups is simply staggering.

Sadly for those Coast Guard cadets who had to sit there on graduation day and listen to his demented rambling, it wasn't even a proper commencement address - it was yet another example of the disturbing depths of Trump's delusion and rampant narcissism.

In the April 5th issue of Rolling Stone, Journalist Alex Morris deftly explored the very real psychological basis for accusations by a number of mental health professionals that Trump displays multiple signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

As Morris notes, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines NPD as:

"A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts."

Click the link above and read the common traits of NPD - it reads like a virtual checklist of Trump's behavior, statements and actions.

In a modern industrialized nation with the largest economy in the world it's simply mind-boggling to consider just how much of this presidential administration's narrative and focus revolves not around the needs and challenges faced by the American people, but on Trump himself.

Former Congressman Barney Frank
Not matter the issue, somehow it's always about him.

In Morris' RS article she cites an example of the 1999 funeral of Donald Trump Sr. in New York.

While other speakers noted his father's accomplishments as a builder of middle class housing, when Trump got up to speak he not only began listing his own personal achievements, he told the gathered mourners that his father's greatest accomplishment was giving birth to Donald.

As former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank was quoted as saying in Morris' article:

"I have never seen anybody in public life so focused on the trivial aspects of his own persona. Certainly not  a person with a lot of responsibility."

To wrap up, I can totally understand that members of America's military academies harbor respect for the commander-in-chief.

But I'm still a bit baffled at the reception that Trump received from the Coast Guard cadets on Wednesday.

Especially considering the national outcry from people (including members of the Coast Guard) earlier this year when the widely-ridiculed White House budget for fiscal 2018 included a whopping $1.3 billion cut in the Coast Guard's budget.

For all of Trump's pontificating about keeping Americans safe, and the role the Coast Guard plays in both national security and public safety, the idea that he wanted to cut $1.3 billion from their budget in order to find money for the construction of his wall along the Mexican border was absurd.

The delusional thinking of a man who, in the words of Alex Morris, "would expect Americans to go along with his rhetoric and ignore that behind the self-aggrandizing, the unyielding drive for more and more confirmation of the myth of his own greatness, he may have only his own emptiness to offer."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lost In the Bushes

Paranoid? Or just delusional?
In a Washington Post article on Saturday, reporter Phillip Rucker quoted an unnamed high level Republican source close to the White House as worrying that Trump is "in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion." 

Arguably, millions of people had already reached that conclusion the moment Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign by accusing Mexicans of being rapists and drug dealers.

Particularly given the widely-respected Constitutional scholar and Harvard law professor law professor Laurence Tribe's op-ed in the Washington Post on Saturday explaining why Trump needs to be impeached.

Let's be clear, even though I'm admittedly somewhat biased in the political sense, I'm not simply saying Trump needs to be impeached because I don't agree with his political views.

This guy has obstructed justice and continues to violate Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution due to the astonishing range of ways in which he continues to use the power and influence of his office to directly channel financial profit to himself and his family.

Late this afternoon WaPo reported that Trump revealed highly classified intel on a possible ISIS attack with (of all people) the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister during a meeting at the White House last week - the day AFTER he fired the FBI director leading the investigation into links between Russia and members of the Trump administration.

Part of the title of my previous blog, in which I used the term "car-wreck presidency" to describe the unmitigated chaos of the current presidential administration, it's a phrase borrowed from journalist Matt Taibbi's words from his April 6th Rolling Stone article, "Trump the Destroyer".

It's not my habit to assign homework or anything on this blog, but if you do have the time and haven't already done so, I would highly recommend you take some time to read it.

I've found it helpful to put Trump's publicly warning former-FBI Director James Comey about "leaking to the press" on Friday just days after firing him, into some kind of context.
Republican Senator Dean Heller
Trump's (latest) actions are so far outside the boundaries of normalcy and ethics that even some Republicans, including Nevada Senator Dean Heller, are now saying that an independent investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections and links between Russia and members of the Trump administration "should be on the table".  

The erratic POTUS is loosing popular support, even among his own base.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in the wake of Comey's firing puts Trump's approval rating at an anemic 29%.

According to Newsweek article by Tim Marcin last Thursday, Trump is actually loosing significant support among the segment of white voters who elected him in November.      

Any newly-elected presidential administration is going to have it's fair share of missteps as a new commander-in-chief and the staff responsible for handling the herculean complexity of running the executive branch of the federal government learn how to operate the levers of power.

But the baffling jumble of policy announcements and executive orders, which are often contradicted by Trump's own nonsensical Tweets or statements, sew disorder and confusion.

The daily White House press briefings conducted by Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (the daughter of former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee) are so rife with false statements and bogus facts that they're now being openly ridiculed by many in mainstream media

Spicey answering questions in near darkness Tuesday
For Pete's sake, on Tuesday night poor Spicey spent several minutes hiding in the bushes outside the White House in an attempt to avoid talking with reporters demanding answers about Trump firing the FBI Director.

Take a couple minutes to watch CNN's Don Lemon laugh at Spicer's attempts to justify the fact that Congress will not authorize billions for Trump to build the "beautiful wall" along the southern border with Mexico that he made a central theme of his campaign.

Each day it seems like this presidency gets more and more surreal.

At this point it's more of a horror show-circus than a presidential administration.

As Politico reported earlier today, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus scolded members of the senior staff for putting clips of fake news on Trump's desk.

Including the embattled former Fox News commentator Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, who slipped POTUS a copy of a phony Time Magazine cover about climate change.

Seriously, what kind of White House is this when a Fox News opinionator can slip into the Oval Office and put a fake magazine cover that's been known as an Internet hoax for years on the desk of the president?

The Trump administration conducts itself like some kind of vindictive, punch-drunk boxer who ignores the rules of the ring, issuing right-hand hooks, sweeping jabs, sneaky upper cuts and body blows even after the bell rings - not just to win, but to try and pummel the opponent into submission.

That's just how Trump, who famously fawns over authoritarian leaders who trample human rights and jail or kill their political opponents, and considers Roy Cohn a mentor, operates.

Trump with Machiavellian mentor Roy Cohn
Cohn is the combative, Machiavellian attorney who served as the chief counsel to anti-Communist crusader Senator Joseph McCarthy during the controversial Senate hearings into wide-ranging Communist infiltration of the U.S. government in the 1950's.

He later represented notorious Mafia figures like "Fat Tony" Salerno and John Gotti and is widely considered the man who shaped Trump's propensity to respond to any disagreement with all out war.

To regard any critique as an insult and keep a lengthy enemies list.

Trump first hired Cohn to represent him in the early 1970's when the government accused the Trump organization of widespread discrimination against African-American applicants in Trump-managed apartment complexes in New York and Virginia.

Cohn died 31 years ago but his influence on the chaotic and combative 45's White House is very much alive today.

Given everything else going on in the world today, it's not easy for the average American citizen to keep up with everything White House Inc. is doing and what Trump's strategy for governing actually is.

The glimpses we do get are genuinely horrifying.

On Friday Jessica Huseman of ProPublica reported that Trump is expecting to tap the conservative talk radio host from Iowa Sam Clovis as the undersecretary of the US Department of Agriculture; a position normally held by scientists with years of experience in research and economics.

Sam Clovis: Science? Who needs science?
So a guy with zero scientific knowledge or degree who's loyal to Trump and denies the existence of climate change, will likely head up the department that manages research for the USDA - a federal department with over 100,000 employees and a yearly budget of almost $140 billion.

That's the department responsible for creating the federal laws that govern forestry, farming, and food.

It also oversees the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) that provides poor and working class Americans with food stamp assistance.

What's going to happen to American kids and families who depend on SNAP with Sam Clovis at USDA is too scary to ponder.

To sit down and look at the totality of how this White House operates and what it's priorities are is to face the horror of this presidency; and the damage it's doing to America's reputation, political institutions and the people those institutions are supposed to serve.

Sean Spicer huddling in the bushes while trying to avoid answering questions from the press about why the president fired the director of the FBI is an apt metaphor for Donald Trump's presidency.

An administration huddling in the bushes of lies in a forest of secrecy to avoid the scrutiny of a free and open press - and the American people they're supposed to serve.

Is Trump truly "in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion" as Phillip Rucker says a Republican insider suggests?

Based on his decisions, actions and words in the past few weeks, sadly for America, it seems likely.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tuesday Night Massacre: The Car-Wreck Presidency

Trump greets James Comey at a White House
reception back on January 22nd
Think back to the unseasonably warm evening of February 28th when Donald Trump stood inside a packed House chamber before a joint session of Congress and a nationally-televised audience and boldly declared:

"We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption..."

Did anyone actually believe that?

How many people watching the speech rolled their eyes when they heard that line?

As the Hill.com reported, some of the Democratic members of the House and Senate assembled on the floor of the chamber actually laughed out loud when he said it.

Just over 73 days later it doesn't seem quite so funny.

While Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey late Tuesday afternoon has left many (including your's truly) in a state of utter disbelief, there's little doubt it had nothing whatsoever to do with the handling of Hillary Clinton's emails.

Both Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions smugly applauded Comey for altering the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections by publicly re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails just days before election day.

Two days after his inauguration at a reception at the White House, Trump swept into the room, saw Comey and swooned "Oh here's Jim." before puckering his lips and appeared to blow the former FBI director a kiss from across the room - but as Comey remained adamant about investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Trump suddenly did a 180 yesterday and sacked Comey for his handling of the same email scandal Trump himself milked like a fat overworked cow for months during the campaign.

Of course the loyal minions of White House Inc. did their best to offer up that laughable excuse to try and validate one of the most shocking examples of presidential overreach in modern history.

The sheer scope of the gall of Trump trying to use his own patently fake outrage over Comey's handling of Clinton's emails as some kind of flimsy shield to cover up his efforts to torpedo the FBI investigation into his administration's ties with Russia is almost incalculable by modern political standards.

Anderson Cooper rolls his eyes as Kellyanne
Conway tries to justify Trump firing Comey
It was a whopper of such immense dimensions that Trump actually trotted out the perpetually-lying Mistress of Obfuscation Kellyanne Conway to weave her confusing mix of "alternative facts" and incomprehensible BS.

Comey must have been getting close for Trump to pull Conway out of the media cellar where she's been stashed for weeks.

That's like the derelict sadomasochist biker Zed telling his sidekick Maynard to "Bring out the Gimp." in that horrifying scene from Pulp Fiction. 

Conway's lies last night were so overt that CNN's Anderson Cooper actually rolled his eyes in disbelief in the middle of the interview in which, among other things, she admonished him for "looking at the wrong set of facts."

Yup. In addition to "alternative facts", Conway now believes facts are divided into "sets".

Nonsensical claptrap like that has earned her such contempt and universal disdain that she's now referred to as Sewer Rat Barbie on social media.

The political and ethical ramifications of Trump firing the man leading a major investigation into ties between senior White House officials and the Russian government are profound, and as both Republican and Democratic political leaders shake off their stupor and decide how to respond (the Senate Intelligence Committee has already issued a subpoena to Comey to testify), for the moment at least, Trump has achieved what he wanted.

A distraction from the nationwide outrage over the contents of the draconian healthcare bill passed by the House last week which will strip at least 24 million Americans of their healthcare, raise premiums, allow insurance companies to refuse coverage for a laundry list of pre-existing medical conditions and transfer hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars from Medicaid and other insurance subsidies into a massive tax cut for the country's wealthiest earners.

Instead of banging my head against a wall, over the past day or so I've been trying to make sense of this horror by re-reading Matt Taibbi's lengthy analysis of Trump's first 100 chaotic days in office titled "Trump the Destroyer" from the April 6th issue of Rolling Stone.

As Taibbi prophetically wrote, "A president like Trump can have an impact even if he never manages to get a single law passed, simply by unleashing stupidity as a revolutionary force."

Just think of the chaos Trump and his administration have thrown the government into; and the Republican-controlled House and Senate have yet to pass a single law.

Trump, Taibbi observed in his RS article, "swings wildly between buffoon and strongman acts, creating confusion and disorder."

That's what firing the director of the FBI was about.

A slide of Trump at a Kushner family event in
Beijing promoting a joint real estate venture   
When Trump stood at podiums inside halls and venues in various Red State enclaves before adoring crowds of disenfranchised and riled-up American voters during the 2016 presidential campaign and repeatedly bragged about his lofty plans to "drain the swamp", who knew he was planning to refill it with something far more toxic of his own making?

It's been nothing short of remarkable watching his administration further sink into an ethical morass the likes of which makes the rampant cronyism of Boss Tweed seem like an amateurish penny-ante scheme.

The past five days have been a startling example of ethical and moral decay on the part of the Trump administration and his advisers.

Just last Saturday the Washington Post broke the story of the Kushner family holding a public event in Beijing where they openly touted their connection with Trump to woo wealthy Chinese investors to cough up $500,000 to invest in a joint Kushner-Trump property in New Jersey to earn a pathway to American citizenship.

Yesterday the news broke about Trump preparing to sell a multi-million dollar luxury property in the Caribbean - and now he fires the director of the FBI to try and derail an investigation into his possible collusion with the Russian government to interfere with an election?

Where does it end? What does he have to do to make Congress take action and do their jobs to ensure that the checks and balances at the heart of the Constitution are functioning components of a vibrant and healthy Democracy?

As Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone, "But while we keep looking for his hidden agenda, it's our growing addiction to the spectacle of his car-wreck presidency that is the real threat. He is already making idiots and accomplices of us all, bringing out the worst in each of us, making us dumber just by watching."

Sunday, May 07, 2017

From Russia With Love: French Voters Reject Le Pen

New French president Emmanuel Macron
Like millions of other people around the globe today, I spent much of this morning anxiously awaiting the results of the presidential elections in France.

Back in March there was a collective sigh of relief after the Dutch elections for prime minister when the more moderate conservative Mark Rutte held off the far right candidate Geert Wilders.

Today that political trend echoed across France.

Based on early poll results, it appears the people of France have soundly rejected the divisive political ideology of extremist rightwing nationalism, and embraced a strong European Union.

According to poll projections published by the BBC, the moderate centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron appears to have soundly beaten the far right extremist candidate Marine Le Pen, garnering (at the time I'm writing this) 63.3% of the vote to her 36.7% based on results from polling stations that have already closed.

By French political standards this campaign was a pretty brutal slugfest evidenced by a lengthy and combative nationally televised presidential debate last Wednesday evening in which accusations and political insults were lobbed by both candidates.

French voters watched the conservative National Front candidate Le Pen appear to take a page from the Donald Trump campaign playbook and resort to peddling "alternative facts" to enflame and exaggerate fears and anxieties over the immigration issue that has divided so many in Europe.

It's a strategy that appears to have backfired for a number of reasons, and from a strategic perspective, I think Le Pen and her campaign advisors wildly underestimated the depth of Trump's unpopularity both here in America and around the globe - particularly after his chaotic first 100 days in office.

Far right candidate Marine Le Pen   [AFP-Getty Images] 
There's no question this campaign bore similarities to America's divisive 2016 presidential campaign.

Particularly with regards to the rise of a far right extremist ideology born of a populace frustrated with an unpopular president, and a political status quo that appeared disconnected from, and unable to solve, the difficult economic challenges faced by average people.

The French campaign also revolved around issues similar to the 2016 U.S. campaign.

The French presidential race was waged against a backdrop of a Democratic nation coping with fears over terrorism and the impact of immigration still trying to find it's economic footing in the wake of a global recession which has left the country with high unemployment lingering at around 10% nationally.

But where Le Pen, in many ways, patterned her campaign on Donald Trump, Macron took his cue from the pages of President Obama's playbook from his brilliant 2008 campaign.

Macron, a former investment banker, served as economic minister under the unpopular current Socialist president Francois Hollande.

But he shrewdly launched his own grassroots political movement called En Marche! (which translates to On the Move) in April of 2016, carefully distancing himself politically and ideologically from Hollande by stepping down from his ministerial position.

Macron's campaign also used a political research firm that had done work for Obama's 2008 campaign to conduct an intense outreach effort, sending out people to knock on the doors of thousands of doors to personally engage with voters and understand their concerns and collect data.

Macron visits a school during the campaign  [Getty]
He also used focus groups to help craft his campaign message and target the issues most important to mainstream French voters in order to carve out a centrist space to the left of Le Pen's far right National Front, and to the right of Hollande's Socialist party.

He ran a much more upbeat and inclusive campaign than Le Pen.

Macron also got a huge boost on Thursday with a videotaped endorsement from Obama, who remains hugely popular in France and in much of Western Europe.

The result was the first victory by a French presidential candidate outside of the two main political parties since the 1950's.

But undoubtedly the most disturbing comparison between the 2017 French presidential campaign and the 2016 American campaign was the effort by the Russian intelligence apparatus to use a combination of illegally obtained hacked personal emails and fake documents to sew doubt about Macron in order to help Le Pen - whose nationalism and authoritarian views are widely seen as more aligned with those of Russian president Vladimir Putin.  

Just like in the American presidential race, Russia timed the dump of a huge volume of information to take place at a critical point in the elections - in the case of France on Friday evening just before a period when candidates are not permitted to campaign or comment publicly.

As Reuters reported on Saturday, representatives from Macron's campaign reported that a "massive" mix of documents containing campaign finance information and email correspondence were dumped into Pastebin - a site where documents can be uploaded anonymously.

According to Reuters, the cyber-intelligence firm Flashpoint reports that APT 28, a group with ties to the Russian military intelligence branch known as the GRU, was responsible for dumping the documents intended to harm Macron's chances.

But fortunately the French government and media moved quickly to ensure that none of the documents obtained in the Russian hack would be released prior to voters going to the polls.

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" banner unfurled under
the Eiffel Tower by Greenpeace on Friday
As Jason Easley observed in an article posted on Politicususa.com on Saturday afternoon, the French media collectively agreed not to publish any of the information hacked by the Russians.

Not just because there was not enough time to carefully evaluate the information and source it properly.

But because doing so would allow a foreign entity to undermine the legitimacy of free and fair elections in a Democratic nation.

Which in the case of America, allowed a petulant, incompetent narcissist with no political experience solely motivated by financial greed to be elected president.

Personally I'm wondering when the world's leading Western Democracies are going to have the balls to collectively stand up and deal with Russia's overt attempts to manipulate the outcomes of elections in foreign nations.

Here in America, the legitimacy of free and fair elections are already under threat from within by the Republican Party's policy of disenfranchising voters and putting up barriers for people of color, the elderly, legal immigrants and students to participate in the right to vote.

Now we have a Republican majority in Congress, to say nothing of a president whose administration
is rife with advisors and officials with proven links to Russia, that seems to be dragging its feet on conducting investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

But despite all that I am optimistic, because I think the outcome of today's election in France shows that mainstream voters overwhelmingly reject the kind of divisive rightwing nationalism that defines the Trump administration.

I think the outcome of the French election bodes well for the upcoming Congressional mid-term elections in 2018 here in America.

As Jean-Francois Julliard of Greenpeace, the group responsible for unfurling a huge banner beneath the Eiffel Tower on Friday emblazoned with the motto of the French Republic, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", told public radio Francinfo:

"We wanted to say that we are against the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism in France and in other countries. This is our way of reminding everybody they all need to mobilize to defend these values of liberty, equality and fraternity."

Macron's election is a powerful reminder for us here in America as well.

Vive le France!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Justice For Alton Sterling & The Social Cancer of Hate In America

Uncharged: officers Blaine Salamoni & Howie Lake
From a purely legal standpoint, the likelihood that the Department of Justice was going to file federal charges against Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake, the two Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers who shot and killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling back in 2016, was slim to start with.

But from a human perspective, it's a rather poor reflection of the DOJ that Sterling's family had to learn that federal charges wouldn't be filed in the news.

According to a family spokesman, no one from the DOJ had bothered to contact the Sterling family by the time the Washington Post broke the story on Tuesday afternoon.

Given the high profile and delicate nature of the case, and its broader implications on the racial fabric of America, and the increased focus on the conduct of law enforcement, that's inexcusable.

Let's take a quick look back at what happened last summer.

At around 12:35am back on the night of July 5, 2016, officers Salamoni and Lake responded to an anonymous phone call reporting that a man selling CD's was waving a gun and threatening a homeless man at in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge.

Despite the fact that the owner of the store Abdullah Muflahi later said that Sterling was "not the one causing trouble", Salamoni and Lake confronted Sterling, tasered him multiple times and slammed him on the hood of a car before wrestling him to the ground.

Sterling seconds before being shot
While both officers were on top of Sterling, pinning him to the ground, one of the two officers yelled that Sterling had a gun after seeing the butt of a .38 caliber handgun in his pocket during the struggle.

If you look at the photo on the left taken seconds before Sterling was shot, you can clearly see one of the officers' left knee pinning Sterling's left arm to the ground while pointing his handgun directly in Sterling's face with his right hand.

The other is pinning Sterling's thigh and Sterling is clearly on his back; does it look like Sterling is overpowering them?

Moments later Salamoni was heard yelling, "Lake, he's going for the gun!" and six shots were fired into Sterling's chest and back at point blank range, killing him.

Multiple witnesses said Sterling never made an attempt to go for his gun, and in an NBC News interview, the store owner Abdullah Muflahi said that  "Sterling never wielded the gun or threatened the officers."

Take a couple minutes and watch Muflahi's interview on MSNBC, he's the one who videotaped the incident from the angle seen in the photo above - he said he never saw Sterling go for a gun, and the handgun he had on him didn't even appear until after the cops had shot him and went into his pocket and took it out.

Muflahi said he knew Alton Sterling for six years and that he allowed him to sell CD's outside the store because he never caused problems of any kind.

According to evidence gathered during the course of the DOJ investigation, Chris Stewart, one of the attorneys representing the Sterling family, says that when Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake first arrived at the scene of the incident last year, one of them walked up to Sterling, pointed a hand gun in his face and said, "Bitch, I'm gonna kill you."

That's the very first thing they said to Sterling, before ascertaining any evidence that he'd even done anything wrong.

Alton Sterling
They didn't ask to speak with him.

They didn't ask him if he'd threatened anyone, they didn't introduce themselves and say that had a few questions for him.

As Muflahi the store owner told MSNBC, they didn't even tell Sterling why they were there - they just pointed a gun at his face and threatened to kill him.

The subsequent protests that took place in Baton Rouge and elsewhere as thousands of people expressed outrage over the shooting were seen around the globe.

And tragically, Salamoni and Lake's actions led to the loss of more innocent lives, as two weeks later on Sunday July 17th an enraged 29-year-old former U.S. Marine named Gavin Long drove to Baton Rouge from his home in Kanas City and shot and killed three Louisiana police officers and wounded three others in a disturbing act of retribution.

Despite all that, and public pleas from the Sterling family to the DOJ, no one from the Department of Justice even bothered to contact them and explain why no charges would be filed in Alton Sterling's violent death.

Considering that the DOJ's budget for fiscal year 2016 was $28.7 billion and they have at least 117,298 federal employees, you'd think they'd have the resources and presence of mind to make sure that the someone in the department visited, or at the very least picked up a phone and called the Sterling family to let them know.

It was only after news of no federal charges being filed went public on Tuesday that officials from the DOJ contacted the Sterling family to inform them on Wednesday according to Chris Stewart, one of the Sterling family attorneys.

Urban League CEO Marc Morial
All of this begs the very real question: is this an indicator of the Trump administration's plans for public policy in terms of federal oversight of state and local law enforcement in cases of clear excessive use of force by police, or racially-biased policing?

Is this the kind of interaction with the Department of Justice that people of color and Hispanics in America who've had their rights violated can expect under Jeff Sessions?

It would seem so according to "Protect Our Progress: The State of Black America 2017", the annual report issued by the Urban League on Tuesday that examines economic well-being, healthcare, education and criminal justice to gauge the outlook on quality of life for African-Americans for the next four years under the Trump administration.

From my perspective, the DOJ's bungled handling of delivering the news of the decision not to file federal charges against police officers Salamoni and Lake in the death of Alton Sterling is a reflection of the chaotic flip-flop hypocrisy of Trump's presidency.

Back on August 17, 2016 as he was polling at 1% with African-Americans, he gave a speech near Milwaukee after two nights of protests in the city after police shot and killed a black man - Trump said, "There's no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct for anyone."

In the same speech he said, "I'm asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different and much better future."

But once he was in office his Department of Justice tried to undo agreements on policing reforms that had been carefully negotiated with police departments with histories of rampant racially-biased policing in cities like Chicago and Baltimore.

And Justice For All?
During the 2016 campaign he lambasted political opponents for being involved in military conflicts in the middle east, even though he himself said he supported military action in Iraq on the Howard Stern Show in '02.

Once in office he ordered the U.S. Navy to fire 59 missiles into Syria and dropped a massive bomb on Afghanistan.

Now he's sword-rattling with North Korea.

When Trump was trying to bash China to enflame disenfranchised American workers who've watched their jobs disappear overseas to vote for him during the election, he promised he would label China a currency manipulator within the first 100 days of being in office.

But on April 6th the Chinese government approved three trademarks for his daughter-wife Ivanka's clothing line - six days later on April 12th, just days after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump famously reversed months of anti-Chinese campaign rhetoric and announced that China was "not a currency manipulator."

The only consistent thing about Trump and his presidency is that he lies and changes his policy positions almost daily to suit his own needs.

And so while he tried to woo African-Americans with fake assurances that he would bring "law and order" to communities around the nation last year during the campaign, last week his Department of Justice decided not to use its vast resources to ensure law and order for Alton Sterling.

As Urban League CEO Marc Morial was quoted as saying about the prospects for quality of life for African-Americans under Trump according to Washington Post article by Tracy Jan on Tuesday:

Alton Sterling's son calls for peaceful protests in
the wake of his father's shooting
"The social cancer of hate continues to metastasize, thriving in a climate conducive to hostility towards religious and racial minorities, permeating even at the highest levels of national discourse and threatening to further crack our fractured nation."

When Trump delivered his inauguration speech on January 20th, he said he wanted to unify the country.

So what's his goal with refusing to even comment on the Sterling case? Or the case of Jordan Edwards in Texas?

By willfully turning a blind eye to the epidemic of racially-biased policing in this nation, evidenced by innocent unarmed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards being shot in the head with a rifle six days ago by recently-fired Texas police officer Roy Oliver, he's allowing the social cancer of hate to spread.

Trump's the guy who finds time to Tweet about Arnold Schwarzenegger's crappy ratings on NBC's The Apprentice, but on cases of overt violence against ethnic and religious minorities? Silence.

By refusing to show even a shred of leadership on this issue, or use the power of the DOJ to ensure justice for all, Jeff Sessions and Trump are, as the dissident Soviet writer, teacher and activist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote, "ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations."

And so the task of holding Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake legally responsible for killing Alton Sterling falls upon the state of Louisiana - that's an aspect of law and order that the Trump administration clearly wants nothing to do with.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Jordan Edwards & Cops Using Cars As License to Kill

Jordan Edwards, shot & killed by Balch Springs PD
Given the high profile announcements of bold policy changes from America's revamped Department of Justice over the past few weeks, the DOJ's silence in recent days has been deafening.

Particularly in the wake of the shocking death of 15-year-old Mesquite High School freshman Jordan Davis late Saturday evening in Texas at the hands of police officer Roy Oliver.

As multiple media outlets, including the Dallas News, are reporting, Jordan was one of what witnesses said were about a hundred teenagers who were attending a party at the home of a woman named Lisa Roberson on Saturday night in Balch Springs, Texas about 15 miles from Dallas.

Roberson was out of town, and like millions of other American teens (including your's truly) have done on occasion, her son threw a party.

But problems arose when large numbers of teens began milling about in neighbor's driveways on Baron Drive, and a resident named Dora Daniels called police because she was concerned about underage drinking.

When members of the Balch Springs PD arrived, teens naturally began scattering and at some point multiple witnesses heard what sounded like gun shots - which, given the conservative Republican-majority Texas state legislature's efforts to allow people to openly carry firearms virtually anywhere in public, isn't all that surprising.

Hearing the shots, Jordan Edwards, his two brothers Vidal and Kevon and two other friends jumped in a car and tried to drive away, but according to witnesses, a Balch Springs PD officer Roy Oliver approached the vehicle and was heard cursing loudly before he fired three shots from a rifle into the passenger side window - striking Davis in the head and killing him.

Edwards two brothers and their two other friends were roughly handcuffed and arrested as their brother and friend lay bleeding in the front seat of the vehicle.

Heartbroken parents Charmaine and Odell Edwards
at a press conference on Monday 
The specifics of this latest example of excessive use of force by police against a young unarmed man are painfully familiar to most Americans.

Jordan Edwards wasn't committing a crime.

He was unarmed and he'd done absolutely nothing to threaten or harm anyone, including the police officer who shot him in the head with a rifle.

The officer who shot him initially tried a tactic familiar to Americans too:

He lied to investigators to try and make it seem like he "feared for his personal safety" in order to try and justify taking the life of an unarmed American child.

The unnamed officer's initial claims that the car in which Edwards and his friends were driving had reversed and was somehow moving towards him in an "aggressive manner" were publicly, and to the Balch Springs PD's credit, quickly dismissed as bogus.

As Liam Stack and Christine Hauser reported in the New York Times yesterday, Balch Springs PD police chief Jonathan Haber announced that a review of video evidence showed that the car in which Edwards and his friends were driving was moving away from officer Oliver when he fired the fatal shots - not towards him.

Sound familiar? It should.

Remember back in July of 2015 when Seneca (South Carolina) PD lieutenant Mark Tiller shot and killed 19-year-old Zachary Hammond in the parking lot of a local Hardee's after the kid tried to drive away in the wake of a buy and bust operation?

19-year-old Zachary Hammond 
Hammond's 23-year-old date had unknowingly sold a small bag of weed to an undercover cop, when Lt. Tiller ran up to the vehicle with his pistol drawn, the poor kid panicked and tried to drive away.

Tiller fatally shot Hammond in the back and in the side, claiming he'd been forced to kill Hammond in self-defense because he feared the scared 19-year-old was going to run him over.

But a 42-second clip of police dashboard video of the incident showed that Hammond's vehicle was not only slowly trying to drive away, Tiller actually made multiple efforts to put himself in front of the vehicle.

Watch it for yourself, does that look like Hammond is purposefully trying to run Tiller over?

I'm not saying it was right for Hammond to try and flee, but neither was Tiller's decision to shoot and kill a scared kid who obviously terrified of being busted with weed in the car - he didn't deserve to be shot for that.

Investigators eventually ruled that Tiller had acted in self defense and he faced no charges.

The very same week that Hammond was shot in South Carolina back in July of 2015, the world was reacting in horror to the video footage of former University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing shooting unarmed motorist Samuel Dubose in the head at point blank range while the motorist had his hands in the air.

Tensing, who was famously wearing a black t-shirt with a Confederate battle flag on it under his uniform when he pulled Dubose over for a missing license plate, initially told investigators that he'd been forced to shoot Dubose because the driver was dragging him along with his car.

But body-cam footage showed that the only reason that Dubose's car was moving was because Tensing had inexplicably shot the man in the head, forcing Dubose to slump forward and hit the accelerator.
Balch Springs PD officer Roy Oliver
While nothing can be done to bring back the victims of these flagrant and totally unjustified uses of deadly force, the rapidly expanding use of video technology on police vehicle dashboards and on the officers themselves is slowly starting to shed light on the propensity of some members of law enforcement to try and shield wrongdoing behind false allegations that a driver was trying to use a car to hurt or kill them.

The speed with which Balch Springs PD chief Jonathan Haber has moved to expose Roy Oliver's lies and fire him from the force is a clear indicator that, to a degree, technology is helping to pierce the Blue Wall of Silence that has shielded some members of law enforcement from facing responsibility for their actions.

But it's not just technology in this case.

After the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and so many other young unarmed Americans, there's also a growing recognition taking place.

Not just amongst the families of the victims, but also amongst law enforcement professionals, judges, local and city officials and the public at large that something is dangerously wrong with the way that some cops interact with young men.

But in the case of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, it's also the character of the young man himself that's led to the swift removal of Roy Oliver from the force for his actions last Saturday night.

The Mesquite High School body and the Texas community in which he and his family lived has been devastated by his death.

This is a kid who was a straight A student with an excellent GPA, and a great personality who was also a gifted student-athlete who was just getting ready to start a new football season and an exciting new chapter in his life.

This was a kid who'd left an impact on people he knew, including the Mesquite HS football coach who said of Edwards:

"You create a checklist of everything you would want in a player, a son, a teammate, a friend and Jordan had all that. He was that kid." 

There must be consequences for taking that away without just cause or reason, but as the Edwards' family attorney Lee Merritt said in response to the news of Oliver being fired, that's not enough.

The road to justice for Jordan Edwards, his family, his friends and his community is going to be a long one, and there won't be any help from Jeff Sessions' Department of Justice - so it's going to be up to the local and state courts to hold Oliver accountable for his actions.

In the meantime, instead of a high school freshman roster, Jordan Edwards joins the tragic list of the The Counted in America.