Saturday, August 23, 2014

Message From Ferguson

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

I’ve been hearing it all week: “You’re going to write about Ferguson, aren’t you?” … “What are you going to write about Ferguson?”
To be honest, I’ve hesitated. The unrest following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., raises a lot of highly charged issues, issues guaranteed to provoke an outpouring of vitriol, whatever you say.
It’s also one in which new “information” comes out every day from a variety of outlets, only to be contradicted the next day. There are a few things, however, that come loud and clear through the noise:
Dear Ferguson Police: Using a loudspeaker to order reporters to “turn off your cameras” just looks bad, especially when you do it on camera. It looks even worse when one of your officers tells reporters, again on camera, that “I’ll bust your head” and that he’ll get away with it because he’ll “confiscate the tape as evidence.”
When a police officer doesn’t want a record of what goes on in a public place, that officer is not to be trusted. And when an entire department, armed to the teeth, doesn’t want a record of what its members do in a public place with unarmed protestors, then that is exactly the kind of department you’ve got to watch. ‬‬‬
If you want to talk about racial disparity in this country, look at the difference in the way the authorities handled the unarmed Ferguson protesters and the way the nut cases at the Cliven Bundy ranch were treated.
Bundy and his militia supporters got off scot-free after pointing rifles at federal agents and claiming they would kill any federal agent who tried to arrest Bundy for flouting multiple court orders and grazing his cattle on public land without paying for it. 

Those people didn’t so much as smell a whiff of tear gas.
If the Bundy ranch crazies pointing their guns at the feds had been African-American, they’d have been tear-gassed at least, and the right would be calling Obama racist because the feds weren’t using napalm.
But wait! Isn’t this disparity the perfect argument for those “Second Amendment remedies”? After all, aren’t our guns our last line of defense against overbearing and tyrannical authority? Well, maybe, but only for white people. Don’t believe me? Every right-wing nightmare of oppression is coming true right now in Ferguson, and we don’t hear a word from the NRA.
While we’re at it, how many African-American faces do you see in the Open Carry movement? A white man walking into Chipotle with an assault rifle can claim he’s exercising his Second Amendment rights. Let a black man do it, and he’ll be lucky not to get his head blown off by a SWAT sniper before he gets to the hostess stand.
Heck, black people don’t even have to be armed. Apparently, the justification Officer Darren Wilson used for shooting Michael Brown (who, let us not forget, was completely unarmed) is that Brown attacked Wilson.
It should be noted that: This version of events is denied by every eyewitness to the event; no ambulance was called for Officer Wilson; no first aid was administered; and video taken immediately after the shooting shows Wilson walking around calmly with no apparent injury.
Even if true, this “defense” raises the question of how the Ferguson Police Department can afford all those fancy military-style vehicles and sniper rifles we saw pointed at protesters on TV, but can’t seem to provide them with Tasers, which is the usual police weapon deployed against a rowdy subject.
Even though Michael Brown supposedly stole some cigars from a store not long before being killed, the Ferguson PD has admitted that Officer Wilson had no knowledge of the alleged robbery. No witness (and there were several) supports the story that Brown was struggling with the officer for his gun.
Which means the revelation of an alleged robbery is offered more as a smear of the deceased than a justification for the shooting. Officer Darren Wilson wasn’t scared of a strong-arm bandit; he was just scared.
Which brings us to our last point. The latest report from the Ferguson PD is that Wilson isn’t really a bad guy. He’s not a “cold-blooded killer,” as some have described him. And you know what? He may not be. The evidence we’ve heard could also support a theory that he’s a young, frightened, poorly trained officer in a police department ruled by arrogance, mistrust, and outright fear of a large part of the community they’re supposed to be protecting.

It’s the same fear that’s corroding American society from the inside. Ferguson is just the latest symptom.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Twitrage Strikes Again

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The online reaction to couple of recent news items illustrates once again the dangers of what I’ve come to call “Twitrage.”
Twitrage happens when someone sees an item in print or on the Internet, gets offended, then immediately takes to Twitter or other sites on the Web to trumpet their outrage, all before taking a closer look to see if there’s really anything to be offended about.
For our first example, we turn to Amanda Carpenter, whose Twitter feed describes her as a “Speechwriter/senior communications adviser to Ted Cruz.” Sen. Cruz’s designated mouthpiece was mightily incensed over the idea that in these troubled times, President Obama would be frivolous enough to host a concert by teen idol Katy Perry at the White House.
“Do they even care about optics anymore?” she tweeted, before comparing all the important things her boss had been allegedly working on: “Israel, border crisis, Internet taxes, NSA, FAA. Iran. Not Katy Perry concerts.”
Only problem was, Ms. Carpenter had missed the fact that, not only was the president certainly working on all those things as well, but that the concert was a benefit for the Special Olympics. As one of Cruz’s fellow Republicans once famously said, “Oops.”
After this was pointed out to her, with a few questions as to what, exactly, Cruz’s office had against benefit shows for disabled children, she deleted the tweets in question and apologized — not to the president, the person she’d actually insulted, but to her Twitter followers. Obama Derangement Syndrome means never have to say you’re sorry --to the president.
Then there’s the liberal outrage directed against State Sen. Richard Ross of Massachusetts, after The Boston Globe’s website reported the Republican senator was sponsoring a bill to require divorcing couples to get court permission before dating.
It’s pretty much standard language in a custody order that neither party can have “unrelated overnight guests of the opposite sex while the children are in their custody.” The theory, and it’s not an unreasonable one, is that it would be upsetting to children to have someone who’s not Mom or Dad stumble out of the former parental bedroom yawning while the kids are eating their morning Froot Loops.
This bill, however, went even farther than that. It says that in a divorce proceeding “the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts.”
Got that? For divorcing couples in Massachusetts, the bill as written would require judicial permission to even date until the case is settled.
We should all be pretty outraged about this, right? Sen. Ross is pushing a major invasion of personal privacy and liberty, right? Certainly there’s been much headshaking and finger-wagging on Twitter, as well as on liberal blogs such as and ThinkProgress.
“Hard to believe a small-government Republican would want to make you check with the government before having sex,” tut-tutted Alan Colmes’ blog Liberaland.
But, as so often happens with Twitrage, there’s less to this story than meets the eye. As reported by Boston Magazine, “the bill has no legislative sponsors, no support, and is in no way under consideration by anybody.”
It seems there’s an old tradition in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts called “the right of free petition,” which allows private citizens to submit just about any bill they want to the legislature for consideration. You want to propose legislation to make putting pineapple on pizza a capital felony in the Commonwealth, you could do it. The only requirement is you’ve got to find an actual member to file the paperwork.
According to Boston Daily reporter David S. Bernstein, “many legislators aren’t even aware that they are allowed to deny a citizen petition request.” Just because a proposed bill gets filed doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, or even that the person who signed off on the petition cares enough about it to bring it to the floor.
As it turns out, this same bill has been proposed by the same guy, an 83-year-old codger named Robert LeClair, for years, and it never gets anywhere. LeClair clearly has an ax to grind, but nobody in the legislature is turning the grindstone for him. So everybody just calm the heck down.
In these times of instantaneous worldwide communication, false or incomplete information can, in the words of the old saying, “be halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” So can the indignation from the kind of stories that cause both liberals and conservatives to say “isn’t that just like those [insert your favorite bogeyman here]” before they have all the facts.
So let’s be careful out there.