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President Obama Wants More Cops To Wear Body Cams

| Mon Dec. 1, 2014 2:24 PM EST

The White House wants Congress to spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement. The funding, which could pay for as many as 50,000 devices, comes as part of a larger proposal to provide $263 million in new funding to train and equip local police departments.

Calls for more body cams have increased in the wake of Michael Brown's killing in Ferguson. As we reported in August:

"I think body cameras are definitely a net good," says David Harris, a law professor and police behavior expert at the University of Pittsburgh. "They are one of the most prominent technologies to come along in a long time in terms of accountability, evidence gathering, [and] in terms of, frankly, changing behavior on either side of the camera. Nothing is a silver bullet, but this has the potential to be a substantial advance."

Harris, who consults for law enforcement agencies on the side, points to a study by police in Rialto, California. After introducing body-worn video cameras in February 2012, that department reported an 88 percent reduction over the previous year in complaints against officers—and the use of force by its officers fell by nearly 60 percent. A separate British study of one small police department looked at data collected in 2005 and 2006 and found a 14 percent drop in citizen complaints in the six months after cameras were introduced compared to same six-month period of the previous year.

Obama's proposal could pay for as many as 50,000 body cams but, as the Verge points out, there are 750,000 police officers in the US—and even if each of them had a body cam on it still probably wouldn't be a panacea for police abuse. A bad cop with a body cam is still a bad cop.

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Video: Two Sisters Fight Off Attackers on a Public Bus in India

| Mon Dec. 1, 2014 11:37 AM EST

Two sisters were filmed fighting a group of men who allegedly sexually harassed them while traveling on a public bus in northern India. The video was filmed by a fellow passenger and shows the sisters, identified as Arati and Pooja, beating and kicking the men.

"One of the boys started touching my sister and making kissing gestures," Arati told the media. "I told him to go away or I would teach him a lesson. Then he called another boy saying that we have to beat up two girls. And then the other boy got on the bus."

At several points the girls can be seen using their belts to hit them while onlookers do nothing to help the sisters. Several people can even be heard telling the girls not to file a formal complaint against the men.

The shocking recording, which has since gone viral and lead to the arrest of the three men, prompted a huge response on social media. But the incident highlights the continued lack of public awareness surrounding sexual harassment faced by young girls throughout India, where according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 93 women are raped everyday.

The video also recalls the 2012 Delhi gang-rape, in which a 23-year-old woman died after being brutally raped by a group of men on a city bus. The assault lead to massive protests calling for the government to legislate harsher punishment against sexual assaulters.

 

Could Immigration Sink Obamacare at the Supreme Court?

| Mon Dec. 1, 2014 11:10 AM EST

David Savage writes today that President Obama's executive order on immigration could have an unintended consequence: convincing Chief Justice John Roberts that Obama really is riding roughshod over the rule of law and needs to be reined in. And perhaps the latest challenge to Obamacare is just the place to start:

Two years ago, the chief justice surprised many by joining liberals on the court to uphold the constitutionality of Obama's Affordable Care Act. And he probably holds the deciding vote in a second legal challenge to the healthcare law — one that seeks to eliminate government insurance subsidies to low- and middle-income enrollees in two-thirds of the nation.

But Roberts, an appointee of President George W. Bush, has shown an increasing skepticism toward what conservatives call Obama's tendency to overreach....The question now is whether the president's immigration action will influence the thinking of the justices, and particularly of Roberts, as they consider in the upcoming healthcare case whether the president exceeded his authority.

....Critics are appealing to Roberts and the court's conservatives, arguing the president and his advisors have no power to unilaterally change a law passed by Congress. Their argument echoes the criticism voiced over Obama's immigration directive, accusing the president of trying to fix a broken system by acting on his own rather than waiting for Congress.

Experts say that legally the healthcare case is a close call. If so, the outcome may turn on whether the justices are inclined to give the president the benefit of the doubt, or whether they believe it's time to rein him in.

Granted, Savage is just speculating here. He really has no evidence for this at all and quotes nobody aside from a single legal expert from the Cato Institute. Still, you have to assume that perhaps he's been hearing rumors that prompted him to write this. And it certainly fits into speculation that Roberts might be hunting around for an excuse to atone for his apostasy two years ago when he upheld Obamacare in the first place.

It's kind of unnerving to even suspect that Supreme Court justices might really think this way. But it's hardly inconceivable. The law itself, along with the real-world consequences of the court's actions, don't seem to occupy a large share of the justices' minds these days. These are becoming bleak times in Supreme Court land.

Flashback: The Reagan White House Thought AIDS Was Pretty Hilarious In 1982

| Mon Dec. 1, 2014 10:45 AM EST

Today is World AIDS Day. Mother Jones' Gabrielle Canon has a heartbreaking story about the first AIDS hospice center. (Get tissues ready.) Reading it reminded me of another first: The first time a reporter asked the White House about AIDS.

Via Jon Cohen's Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine, here is the transcript from the White House press briefing on October 15, 1982, the first time Reagan press secretary Larry Speakes fielded a question about AIDS.

October 15, 1982:

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
MR. SPEAKES: What’s AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don’t.
MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.
Q: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any—
Q: Nobody knows?
MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.
Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping—
MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no—(laughter)—no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.
Q: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you’re saying or what?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that.
Q: Didn’t say that?
MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.)
Q: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.)
MR. SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, I retract that.
MR. SPEAKES: I hope so.
Q: It’s too late.

They still thought it was pretty funny a year later: June 13, 1983:

Q: Larry, does the President think that it might help if he suggested that the gays cut down on their "cruising"? (Laughter.) What? I didn't hear your answer, Larry.
MR. SPEAKES: I just was acknowledging your interest—
Q: You were acknowledging but—
MR. SPEAKES: —interest in this subject.
Q: —you don't think that it would help if the gays cut down on their cruising—it would help AIDS?
MR. SPEAKES: We are researching it. If we come up with any research that sheds some light on whether gays should cruise or not cruise, we'll make it available to you. (Laughter.)
Q: Back to fairy tales.

The laughs just kept on coming: December 11, 1984:

MR. SPEAKES: Lester's beginning to circle now. He's moving in front. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q: Since the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta—(laughter)—reports—
MR. SPEAKES: This is going to be an AIDS question.
Q: —that an estimated—
MR. SPEAKES: You were close.
Q: Well, look, could I ask the question, Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: You were close.
Q: An estimated 300,000 people have been exposed to AIDS, which can be transmitted through saliva. Will the President, as Commander-in-Chief, take steps to protect Armed Forces food and medical services from AIDS patients or those who run the risk of spreading AIDS in the same manner that they forbid typhoid fever people from being involved in the health or food services?
MR. SPEAKES: I don't know.
Q: Could you—Is the President concerned about this subject, Larry—
MR. SPEAKES: I haven't heard him express—
Q: —that seems to have evoked so much jocular—
MR. SPEAKES:—concern.
Q: —reaction here? I—you know—
Q: It isn't only the jocks, Lester.
Q: Has he sworn off water faucets—
Q: No, but, I mean, is he going to do anything, Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: Lester, I have not heard him express anything on it. Sorry.
Q: You mean he has no—expressed no opinion about this epidemic?
MR. SPEAKES: No, but I must confess I haven't asked him about it. (Laughter.)
Q: Would you ask him Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: Have you been checked? (Laughter.)

Now go read Gabrielle's story about what it was they all found so funny.

Black Friday Now Just Another Opportunity to Mock the Poor

| Mon Dec. 1, 2014 10:42 AM EST

Luke O'Neil regales us this weekend with a roundup of media coverage of Black Friday:

Consider the jocular hosts’ grinning affect as they relate news of brawls throughout the country in this clip from Fox & Friends First today, for example, or how numerous Web sites will round up the best brawl videos. As Yahoo News writes on the spread of Black Friday violence to Britain this year, “That means even more grown adults fighting over discounted underwear, and more opportunities to for us to gawk at them.” Or take this video of a fight inside of a Houston Wal-Mart. You’ll notice producers from a variety of television programs — “Good Morning America,” Fox News, CNN — all asking for permission to use the video on their broadcasts, because they know this type of shopper-on-shopper violence is a huge draw.

So what does it all mean? O'Neil points out that coverage of Black Friday brawls is a big ratings draw, which makes it the perfect place for yet more commercials to promote Black Friday sales:

It’s hard to avoid the message of those ads. We’ve been bombarded with them for weeks now, from corporations eager to entice shoppers with so-called “door-buster” deals. And then, once the shopping public falls for them, a privileged segment of the population sits back and dehumanizes them for its collective amusement. Look at these hilarious poor people, struggling to take advantage of a deal on something they might not otherwise be able to afford on items that we take for granted, we joke on Twitter. The message is the same: this is shameful, materialistic behavior. And by pointing it out, we differentiate ourselves, reaffirm our class status as being above the fray of the lowly and desperate.

If you read this wrong, it can seem like just a bit of tiresome PC tsk-tsking. Do we have to feel guilty about everything these days?

But O'Neil has a point, and it's one that irks me as well. It's similar to my irkitude over loyalty cards. Some of this, I'll admit, is just my own personal brand of curmudgeonliness, but mainly it's because the discounts they provide have become so damn big in recent years. For me, loyalty cards are optional if I feel like being cranky about it, but most people no longer have that luxury. If you're living on a working-class income, you flatly can't afford to give up a 10 or 15 percent discount on your food every week. You have to fork over your loyalty card number, and that means everything you buy is sliced, diced, tracked, and sold to every marketer in the world. Don't like it? If you're poor, that's tough. Your privacy is no longer even an option.

In a sense, of course, these are both just routine examples of how the lives of the poor are harder than the lives of the non-poor—and there's hardly anything insightful in pointing out that the poor lead hard lives. Still, there are limits. Do we really have to mock them for the mere fact of having incomes low enough that Black Friday sales are meaningful to them? Do we really have to create a marketplace in which merely having a low income forces you to make the most intimate details of your life available to anyone willing to pay a few dollars for it?

These are hardly the biggest problems of the poor. I don't even know if they'd make the top 100. But they're both examples of the way in which being poor doesn't just mean you can't afford as much nice stuff as richer folks. They're examples of ways that we rob the poor of dignity for no real reason other than being poor. So even if they aren't the biggest problems in the world, they're worth thinking about occasionally.

St. Louis Rams Show Support For Ferguson Protestors With "Hands Up, Don't Shoot"

| Sun Nov. 30, 2014 5:22 PM EST

St. Louis Rams players Tavon Austin, Kenny Brit, Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook, and Chris Givens entered the field at Edward Jones Domes for Sunday's game against the Raiders in the "hands up, don't shoot" pose, which has become a touchstone of the Ferguson protests ever since the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in August.

(via ​Deadspin)

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Saints' Latest Offers 2 Takes on the Same 11 Songs

| Sat Nov. 29, 2014 4:35 PM EST

The Saints
King of the Sun/King of the Midnight Sun
Fire

Chris Bailey, one of the greatest—and most underrated—singers in rock and roll, has fronted Australia's Saints since the '70s, when the band cut the snarling punk classic "(I'm) Stranded." Bailey and a revolving support crew have explored a variety of styles over the years, with his gritty, expressive vocals the only constant. (Imagine Eric Burdon of The Animals with a little less blues.) Following a profile-raising cover by Bruce Springsteen earlier this year on his High Hopes album, the latest Saints outing is an interesting experiment, offering two different takes on the same 11 songs. King of the Sun, the nicer version, features big pop arrangements that employ horns, pianos and the like; King of the Midnight Sun presents a scuzzier, garage-appropriate alternative closer to the Saints' original style. Either way, Bailey is a compelling leading man who never sounds an unconvincing note.

Did Ray Rice Get What He Deserved?

| Sat Nov. 29, 2014 1:39 PM EST

Over at Vox, Amanda Taub easily dismantles the argument that the NFL and Roger Goodell initially went easy on Ray Rice because they didn't know the details of exactly what he had done. The arbitrator's report makes it crystal clear that (a) they knew, and (b) they could easily have viewed the damning elevator videotape if they'd had even the slightest interest in it. There was obviously something else at work:

The reason Rice wasn't given a more severe punishment in the first place is that the NFL didn't take the assault seriously enough....In the arbitration, the NFL claimed that Rice misled them by saying that he only "slapped" Palmer, and that she had "knocked herself out" on the railing, rather than that he had knocked her out. (The other witnesses to the disciplinary hearing deny that, and Rice claims that he not only used the word "hit," he also demonstrated to the Commissioner how he had swung his fist across his body during the assault, making its force clear.)

But the fact that the NFL made that argument suggests that they still don't understand domestic assault, or take it seriously enough. The idea that it is somehow morally superior to "slap" one's girlfriend than to "hit" her is bizarre, particularly in a situation in which the alleged "slap" knocked the victim unconscious.

Yep. The NFL has since tightened its standard disciplinary action for domestic violence, but only time will tell if their attitude lasts—or, better yet, becomes even less tolerant.

Still, the stock liberal narrative that Rice was essentially let off with a slap on the wrist leaves me uneasy. What Ray Rice did was horrific, and it's inevitable that any hesitations on this score will be taken as some kind of defense of his action. For the record, that's not what I mean to do here. But I'm uneasy nonetheless and want to make two related points.

First, although Ray Rice's assault of Janay Palmer was horrible, any sense of justice—no matter the crime—has to take into account both context and the relative severity of the offense. And Ray Rice is not, by miles, the worst kind of domestic offender. He did not use a weapon. He is not a serial abuser. He did not terrorize his fiancée (now wife). He did not threaten her if she reported what happened. He has no past record of violence of any kind. He has no past police record. He is, by all accounts, a genuinely caring person who works tirelessly on behalf of his community. He's a guy who made one momentary mistake in a fit of anger, and he's demonstrated honest remorse about what he did.

In other words, his case is far from being a failure of the criminal justice system. Press reports to the contrary, when Rice was admitted to a diversionary program instead of being tossed in jail, he wasn't getting special treatment. He was, in fact, almost a poster child for the kind of person these programs were designed for. The only special treatment he got was having a good lawyer who could press his cause competently, and that's treatment that every upper-income person in this country gets. The American criminal justice system is plainly light years from perfect (see Brown, Michael, and many other incidents in Ferguson and beyond), but it actually worked tolerably well in this case.

Second, Ray Rice committed a crime. We have a system for dealing with crimes: the criminal justice system. Employers are not good candidates to be extrajudicial arms for punishing criminal offenders, and I would be very, very careful about thinking that they should be.

Now, I'll grant up front that the NFL is a special case. It operates on a far, far more public level than most employers. It's a testosterone-filled institution, and stricter rules are often appropriate in environments like that. Kids take cues from what they see their favorite players doing. TV networks and sponsors understandably demand a higher level of good behavior than they do from most employers.

Nevertheless, do we really want employers—even the NFL—reacting in a panic to transient public outrage by essentially barring someone for life from ever practicing their craft? Should FedEx do that? Should IBM do that? Google? Mother Jones? Perhaps for the most serious offenses they should, and it's certainly common to refuse to hire job candidates with felony records of any kind. (Though I'll note that a good many liberals think this is a misguided and unfair policy.) But for what Ray Rice did?

I just don't know about that. Generally speaking, I think we're better off handling crimes through the criminal justice system, not through the capricious judgments of employers—most of whom don't have unions to worry about and can fire employees at a whim. I might be overreacting, but that seems like it could become a dangerous precedent that hurts a lot more people than it helps.

I'm not unshakeable about about this, so please argue about it in comments—though I'd really prefer it if we could avoid ad hominem attacks that I just "don't get" the scourge of domestic violence. I have precious little tolerance for domestic violence, and that generic accusation gets us nowhere anyway. My actual argument is this: (a) Rice is a one-time offender who made a momentary mistake, not someone who's a serial abuser; (b) this is normally grounds for relative leniency; (c) Rice was treated reasonably by the criminal justice system; (d) that's the appropriate place for handling crimes like this. We should not applaud workplaces being turned into arbitrary kangaroo courts simply because a case happens to get a lot of public attention. It's a slippery slope that we might come to regret.

POSTSCRIPT: Looking for counterarguments? I'll give you a few:

  • Rice was not acquitted. If he completes the diversionary program the case will not show up on his record. But he was indicted on felony aggravated assault charges, and more than likely would have been convicted if the case had gone to trial.
  • For reasons noted above, the NFL has a special responsibility to be tougher than most businesses on domestic violence offenders (and, I might add, other crimes as well—drunk driving, for example, is potentially far more dangerous than what Rice did).
  • We need to send a message about domestic violence, and a high profile case like this makes more difference than a thousand routine convictions. If, as a result, one millionaire athlete ends up being treated slightly unfairly, that might be an acceptable tradeoff.

Friday Cat Blogging - 28 November 2014

| Fri Nov. 28, 2014 3:05 PM EST

Today's theme is cat TV. On the left, Hilbert is camped out in front of the small TV in the dining room, perhaps hoping for a rerun of the squirrel docudrama that aired last week. On the right, Hopper is entranced by the big-screen TV in the study, probably watching the hummingbird reality series that seems to air constantly around here. It never gets old, though.

Have a happy black-and-white Friday. Also, a happy gray-and-white Friday. And be sure to watch lots of cat-approved TV.

Chart of the Day: Oil Prices Are Plunging Thanks to OPEC

| Fri Nov. 28, 2014 2:40 PM EST

OPEC finished up its winter meeting yesterday and decided not to cut oil production. This came as a surprise to those who still think of OPEC as the maniacal oil hawks who roiled global petroleum markets in the 70s, but less so to those who know that cartels are notoriously difficult to hold together—especially when it's a leaky cartel that's missing some key producers. In any case, OPEC members couldn't agree on just who would pay the price of cutting production, and the Saudis, for reasons still unclear, were unwilling to shoulder the burden themselves this time around. So OPEC oil production will remain unchanged.

The result? After six months of declining oil prices, we suddenly got plunging oil prices. Why? Not so much because of the shale oil revolution in the US. For all the attention it gets, fracking has increased global oil production by only a few percent and would normally have only a moderate effect on prices. Unfortunately, these aren't normal times: in addition to a small increase in the oil supply, the global economic slowdown has depressed demand. That's a bigger factor than fracking, and with European and Asian economies looking increasingly fragile, not one that seems likely to be corrected anytime soon.

How low will oil go? No one knows. When will it turn up again? Probably not until the global economy starts to grow at a decent pace. And no one knows when that will happen either.

For more, check out Brad Plumer, who has a much more detailed explanation of the both the politics and the economics of the oil scene here.