Blast from the Past: Andy’s Blog
Andy made be gone, but his writing lives on. Here’s an archive of Andy’s blogs that he posted on the old website. They were either announcements for upcoming TruthToTell episodes or comments on past shows.
The Police Culture is Killing US
The recent FBI raids on citizen anti-war activists and continuing reports on police killings continue in cities across the country are giving rise to new outrage over the treatment of regular folks and active dissenters – but in all the wrong places. That is, even our so-called liberal legislators and elected executives have said nothing in the wake of what appears to be the senseless violence, raids and arrests occurring among all law enforcement agencies since 9/11, and enabled by certain clauses in the Patriot Act enacted in haste following that still-questionable debacle in New York and DC.
We at TruthToTell did a three-part series on police culture after witnessing many of those abuses by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in person – either in the streets or in various locales around the Twin Cities, but especially – and frighteningly – at the Republican National Convention in 2008. We’ll deal with the FBI later, but it is the daily assault on citizens by local cops that inspires this writing.
Nothing seems to crack open the cop culture, not indictments, not the rare conviction of a cop for out-and-out assaults and murders they commit on a more regular basis than ever before.
Minneapolis’ is the worst police culture around here (Minnesota and the Upper Midwest) and one of the worst in the nation when it comes to violence, but time has worsened an already seriously corrupted 150-year-old system of violence and abuse. And it’s polluting all police forces.
Does anyone think that all those films and plays of corrupted cops and sheriffs in towns and cities large and small were based on completely conjured personalities?
No. The models were living, breathing criminals in uniform or toting badges and guns residing in every department in every jurisdiction, protected by the Blue Code and their bosses and the courts, either out of loyalty or fear or both. Such elements only tend to get worse when let off the hook as often as cops are, giving them all license to behave more and more violently against the people they’ve grown to hate the most: the poor and people of color; and hate they do.
One need only listen to the recordings of their arrests and confrontations in the streets, disproportionately men and women of color – the first step on the road to disproportionately higher conviction rates, harder sentencing and concomitant prison populations. 80% of most prisons are men of color. Similar are the populations of women’s facilities.
It all starts with the cops. Or us. We, perhaps unwillingly or unwittingly, have been too long “collaborating” with the system by refusing to hold it – and them – truly accountable for these outrages against “civilians.”
I put “civilians” in parentheses because the police have become nothing more than paramilitary units, the rest of us literally “outsiders” to them, “civilians” who never really understand these (mostly) men who feel more and more entitled by their uniforms and hardware belts to run roughshod over anyone (sometimes each other), from traffic stops to the mentally ill.
They are “the authority.” You do not disagree with them to their faces or they attack you verbally and physically for “resisting” arrest or “threatening an officer.”
Law enforcement officers lie openly on their reports when describing the conditions of an arrest and are never forced to prove their contentions that an arrestee was resisting arrest or threatening before the beat or killed the person. Never mind the absence of weapons. Words are enough for these guys to pounce on the innocent, and anything in your hand is a weapon deserving of death.
The entire criminal justice and political machinery (including arbitrators) of federal, state, local governments protect all but a handful of truly egregious violators of the law and Constitutional rights. The rest literally get away with murder.
As always, exceptions to these rules exist in the police, but their voices are quickly and effectively stifled, either by their bosses or by the Blue Code of Silence, thus enabling the worst of the worst to dominate the forces. “Violations” of the Code are redressed by shunning, perhaps even violence. Internal consciences are thus quelled and change is impossible from the inside. Internal Affairs divisions are hated, but tolerated if they don’t really cross the line into actual prosecution. And they generally don’t, leaving appeals processes to the toothless civilian review boards, themselves either co-opted by the department or by the politicians who appoint them.
The media then chime in with their compliant and complicit reporting of more visible incidents, rarely, if ever, challenging the content of police reports or the comments of a defensive police chief or spokesperson, thus tainting the potential trial jury pool either when that defendant comes to trial or the cop is called to account.
Juries want to believe cops. Judges do believe cops. Even defense counselors are afraid of the police. Afraid to challenge an arrest, they convict; or afraid to convict a cop who clearly has overstepped the law and/or the bounds of ethical performance of their duties.
For the last 60-plus years, police officers have abandoned the cities (even the counties) that hire them, no longer patrolling the neighborhoods in which they would otherwise live and pay taxes and elect their officials. Ninety percent (90%) or more of all police and fire personnel lives miles away from those jurisdictions and it’s eliminated all notion of community engagement, therefore community policing. The courts have ruled that they cannot not be forced to reside in the jurisdictions of their employers (us) and they have thus become occupying armies in the pursuit of law enforcement. They live in (often remote) enclaves – sometimes even out of state – living together in suburban and exurban cul-de-sacs where they eat, sleep and recreate among themselves – often to extremes.
Because they see themselves as consummate outsiders in a democracy, they hardly favor democracy as a check and balance on their power and authority, and increasingly they behave like it. In the streets they become judge, jury – and, too often, executioner, when they’re allowed to get away with it – and, as mentioned, they are, more often than not.
Police officers, almost to a man or woman, are hard-right conservatives, perhaps even tea-partiers out of uniform, but certainly more likely to be anti-tax (unless it’s spent on public safety), anti-government (even though that’s who pays them), anti-politician (despite being protected by politicians across the political spectrum) and anti-gay, not to mention racist and sexist in the 19th-Century mode.
This is a group, among several professions, with a statistically high rate of suicide, alcoholism or abuse, drug use, infidelity and the concurrent rage and behavioral issues that follow those. And we ask these dysfunctional humans, more often than not trained in war either as MP’s or combat-infected soldiers, to patrol our communities. These are men (mostly) who return just as often as the rest of the military with serious head trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who find a home in police departments where they’re pretty much allowed to do what they did in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam: kill, maim, degrade and dehumanize as they or their buddies were.
And this gets to the crux of it: While some of these guys join a force with all the naïveté of a child growing up wanting to be a policeman or fireman, dedicated to preserving the community peace and always “helping people,” too many are coming in without the education and emotional stability it takes to patrol “civilian” communities and mete out their power and justice on an even keel, treating everyone as the laws and Constitution insist they do: as charged, but not convicted human beings, no matter how serious the crime, but to treat everyone with the respect all humans deserve, no matter their flaws and mistakes, no matter how much you may disagree with their speech and behavior.
We are not really recruiting community police officers who, while armed, should rarely need to draw their weapons and who, when they stop a potential traffic violator, treat them as flawed humans, not the scum of the Earth they often portray violators of all kinds. We need master’s graduates who may eventually become hardened by some of the terrible crimes committed, but who don’t lose sight of the fact that not all of humanity is as bad as this drug dealer or that drugged-up and drunk perpetrator of robberies and domestic assaults. They must stop thinking that because we “outsiders” have not adequately addressed the conditions that spawn all this crime, we’re going to tolerate this outrageous violence inflicted on victims and perpetrators alike.
We need officers vested and invested in their communities, not just in themselves, and in their profession as professionals, not as street cleaners with weapons at the ready and the paranoia that comes from seeing a mortal threat behind a nasty word or a cry for help and responds with verbal and physical abuse.
We need chiefs who demand the highest order of professionalism from patrol to reporting and elected officials who will hold the hiring authorities accountable for their inability to control their people.
We need voters who elect candidates willing to hold their charges accountable and responsible for legal and professional exercise of their authority, not the cowboys who feed off each other’s hatreds and jitters to commit crimes as heinous as those they’re supposed to solve or stop.
And we need our elected officials from the President on down to dogcatchers to stand up and curtail the unconstitutional assaults on our citizens based on skimpy evidence and questionable connections to “terrorist” groups, foreign or domestic, especially when the term “terrorist” is far too readily assigned to those who disagree with this nation’s and this administration’s wartime, foreign and domestic policies – and say so publicly and loudly in a variety of forums. These dissenters are not terrorists. They are the same types of Americans who have invoked change over the centuries – the loud, the boisterous, the dissenters – tea-partiers on the other end of the spectrum (maybe), as it were.
Where is the FBI when stickers adorn the backs of trucks and SUVs showing a giggling kid pissing on the name of Obama? Those stickers all but threaten the President, as do the accompanying statements of “patriotism” when these stated tea-partiers laugh at challenges to their threatened violence against this man, Obama, whom they see as the anti-Christ. Where is the Patriot Act in quashing these dissenters from national policy as well as pissing on the President? Where are the raids on these people who are at least as dangerous or more so than the AntiWar Committee that openly opposes US prosecuted war on other nations, peoples and domestic dissenters? Where are Betty McCollum and Amy Klobuchar and other elected Democrats in expressing outrage over the FBI’s wanton linking of long-time anti-war and anti-racism dissenters to Hamas? Political dissenters empathize and identify with those victims of our neglect – and that’s what seems to threaten the system more than anything. But insisting on equity and adherence to American principles should not be fodder for continued oppression or arrests or raids, either. Why is free speech limited to those on the right or to corporations or to law enforcement itself?
We are all responsible for a civilized society that recognizes that crime – and dissent – often grows out of oppression and poverty and the subcultures that grow to survive in such conditions and be come criminal in the process. Crime cannot survive long in a climate of adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, clean air and water, nondiscrimination, and equal opportunity.
And none of that should be excluded from any resident of this nation, this state or this city.
Andy Driscoll is producer/host of TruthToTell, airing live 9AM CDT on KFAI Radio in the Twin Cities and on your computer at www.KFAI.org. Podcasts are heard or downloaded later from www.TruthToTell.org/archives. Driscoll’s email address is: andydriscoll[at]TruthToTell.org.
On Local Government and Your Burden
The following was received in my Facebook request to be a “friend” on Saturday, Sept 25, 2010, Andy Noble wrote to Andy Driscoll on Facebook:
“Andy – I noticed you and some of your friends on Facebook, as we share some common political friends and interests. I am running for Ramsey County Commissioner against 16-yr incumbent Rafael Ortega, who has raised his own personal pay over $23,000 in the past 36 months with our tax dollars! He now makes $84,048 per year for a part-time job, while this county has an increasing deficit, lack of jobs, and ever-present foreclosures and vacancies… This embellishes what is wrong with government today, and the reason(s) some serve clearly for their own personal gain. I want to make a difference, and Ramsey County needs help – highest property taxes in the 11-county metro, and a declining population with rising foreclosures and vacancies. I look forward to staying in touch, and feel free to visit my website or contact me anytime Andy: Noble for Ramsey County Commissioner, www.NobleForRamseyCounty.com”
On Local Government and Your Burden
Open letter to Andy Noble, Candidate for District 5, Ramsey County Board of Commissioners:
Mr. Noble, while I’m always glad to see incumbents opposed, I like to see them opposed for the right reasons. Raising one’s own salary (when the law insists that they be the ones to do so) is not a reason to turn out an incumbent, unless the raises are flagrant and out of proportion to the task at hand, a task that, no matter how you slice it, is NOT a part-time job, and if you held that seat, you’d quickly see just how full time a nominally part-time job becomes overnight.
If it were up to the county board, most would create jobs overnight. But you can’t complain about jobs on the one hand and high taxes on the other and reconcile the dichotomy. The highest property taxes in the 11-county area mean more in the face of a steady reduction in local government aids than in the commissioners desire to raise taxes.
No one, but no one, not a Democrat nor a Republican, wants to raise taxes; but let the level of county (or city) services decline, and the screaming by taxpayers across the Metro could be heard in the next three states. Slice and dice LGA levels and that push-down will push up on the other end, sure as hell. Playing the taxing game may play well with consumers and taxpayers tired of seeing their real income drop, but that is not the reason real incomes drop. Real income drops when workers are underpaid, jobs leave the country and, especially in a recession, PhD’s have to apply for jobs at McDonalds.
If we remain unwilling to even out the real tax burden across al income brackets, we will suffer at the state and local levels sufficiently to add both income and tax burdens to lower and middle-income (an no income) residents. That may sit well with more affluent people in a position to proclaim, “Let ’em eat cake!”, but until conservatives and liberals alike agree on the real state of our economy and see the wisdom and self-interest in evening out those burdens, you conservatives will never see the end of what you call the “Class Wars.” Because that’s precisely what all this has become – a duel between selfishness and community, between “Me, first” and “He ain’t heavy, father, he’s m’brother.” The former have shown they simply don’t give a damn about the rest of humankind as long as they get theirs. The latter show at least a modicum of concern for the welfare of others and that the welfare of others is the welfare of all, the more stabilizing force in a democracy.
And I haven’t even started on the undue burdens placed on communities of poverty and color, whom the revenue systems must necessarily serve disproportionately, because the rest of us refuse to pony up our fair share.
Best wishes in your futile pursuit of that commissioner’s seat. By the way, this should not be read as an endorsement of Rafael Ortega, just for sanity in governance, especially at the local level.
No More Elections for Judges: A Judicial Revolution?
A major move is afoot to eliminate public ballots for judicial races altogether, many observers fearing the worse: highly partisan, highly political races for the judiciary many believe will compromise the objectivity and neutrality of the courts – a critical element in the dispensation of justice. (More to come)
Andy Driscoll: We, the Ungovernable
My friend, former State Senator and Author, John Milton, penned a short piece on the ungovernability of the US, to which I found myself following up with something of rambling dissertation on how this country is ungovernable for many reasons, many of which are embodied in the current political construct and atmosphere, both structural, that is, and by the Senate Club’s design:
On Jun 28, 2010, at 10:30 AM, John Milton wrote:
In the Gulf disaster, many of us pretend immunity by blasting British Petroleum or the feds, when in fact the responsibility for perpetuating our addiction to oil is ours. Once again, when the U.S. Senate refuses to extend unemployment benefits for lack of 60 votes, we can pretend to be offended, but once again we must hold ourselves accountable. We elected the senators, and, especially those of us who celebrated a Democratic majority in that body in 2006 and 2008, we need to look in the mirror.
Why? Because the Democratic majority in the Senate has the power – and the votes – to bypass the requirement of 60 votes. The Senate majority – by just 51 votes (out of the 58 in the caucus) – can end debate on any issue and pass any bill by a simple majority, as envisioned in the Constitution.*
Some Democratic senators – notably Levin, Harkin, and Leahy – have urged the leadership to eliminate the rule of 60, but both sides of the aisle seem transfixed by the notion that this so-called “protection of the minority” is in the best interest of the American people. Obviously, it is not.
So those of us who celebrated in 2006 and 2008 must take credit for supporting a Senate Democratic leadership that would rather stumble ahead with an ungovernable system.
Small comfort: at least our country seems to be more governable than Somalia.
* See “The Constitutional Option,” by Martin B. Gold & Dimple Gupta in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 28
Driscoll here again:
Aside from the fact that we are nation of 331 million souls – an ungovernable enough number in its own right – the framers placed “democracy” as the last on a list of desirable options when they created the Constitutional presidency instead of adopting the more responsible and accountable parliamentary model. The so called “balance of power” issue was an overreaction to a monarchical model, but it has also paralyzed for 250 years the flow of innovative public policy initiatives that would define us as the compassionate society many envisioned in that weakest of all documents – the Constitution.
Allowed to run amok, capitalism makes this country ungovernable as well. Without a deeply entrenched social contract for maintaining the most fundamental rights of human beings living in a collective political enclave – far more than the ephemeral “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or at least interpreting those words in the broadest of contexts – we have deferred to the economic power brought on through government by corporate control. As such, we now tend to believe that, despite the fact that we get the government we deserve by failing to vote or hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire – constantly – we deny or delay massive chunks of humanity the fundamental pillars of human survival: food, shelter, clothing, health care, clean air and water, and an education that fulfills the needs of both human and societal to maintain the species and provide for itself. Socialist constructs elsewhere in the world have understood these fundamentals for centuries, even when internal upheaval appears to threaten them. They would never think to abandon the basic responsibility of organized societies that their individuals members are neither denied those basics, nor become a greater burden through that denial that the cost to the organism is greater than if it had provided for all in the first place.
Such is the vaunted United States of America where poverty is at its worst and wealth has become king.
Speaking of size, the US is at least partially ungovernable because of its vast geography, where the lack of proximity to almost all of one’s fellow countrymen and women and the half dozen major regions have developed into cultures and political organisms unto themselves, many of whom, with the compliance of federal legislation and the courts, have been allowed to defy the Constitutional tenets that created them, but remain almost unreachable given their entrenched subcultures of racist, violent and corrupt local entities and elected officials.
This is where Lincoln went awry. Maintaining the union at any cost was not necessarily the best thing to do, if, in allowing defections by separate political and economic societies, there sprang up smaller nations or nation-states with a more governable and manageable geographic proximity and common approaches. Despite the risk that slavery as then practiced would continue for a time in the Confederacy, it could not, as an institution, continue for very long afterward, crushed by its own weight and the power of economic forces that would stop doing business under such conditions. One state or group of states or another would recognize that, like European countries have, the survival of a society requires cooperation and not oppression, and that, in the long run, equality of provision of those basic services best serves a nation as a whole and concedes to no one person the power to control the flow of those services by private means.
The United States is far more like the dying Rome than most of us would care to admit, but the wide disparities in the provision of those basics is pulling us down into an uncivilized muck of a country, our ability to govern ourselves completely out of control – and for many millions of us, abandoning the power that true democracy should bestow: simply…voting.
Electoral defections from such democratic means to quietly revolt against the desecration of our stated principles leaves us no alternative but to accept the national cultural deterioration as inevitable, and thus, we leave to irrational, but powerful, few the power to set the agenda for our cities, our counties and towns, our states, and, eventually, our country from behind the scenes, as they have for some decades now, slowly, but surely.
We may not be able to immediately cut this country up into more desirable and governable nation-states, but we determine for ourselves best who runs our local units of governance by ceasing to believe they are the least important entities of our live, but the most important, no matter what the media may tell you affirmatively (editorializing) or subliminally by omission of coverages of those offices so critical in determining our daily quality of life. Here is where we can and must hold our leaders accountable and responsible – and stop deferring to others our own responsibility for our own governance.
It’s been attributed to several people – Alexis de Toqueville or Karl Marx or that curmudgeonly journalist, H.L. Mencken, but, as implied by John Milton in his far shorter essay below: “We get the government we deserve.” Nothing is truer in a democracy.
The Cunning of History
I’m in the process of moving and stumbled across a slim volume I hadn’t read since my days as a cynical undergraduate at the Evergreen State College. It’s The Cunning of History by Richard L. Rubinstein and came recommended to me, not on a course required reading list, but like so many books I read at Evergreen, through the recommendation of a professor who was generous enough to suggest a few titles to peruse in my spare time.
It’s a book well worth revisiting as I have heard Peter Erlinder discuss at great length the legal case he is making to defending the alleged genocidaires. of Rwanda. The story of Peter Erlinder – a man demonized in the European press, somewhat romanticized in our local press – is layered with complexity. And that’s where the value of Rubinstein’s slight, but powerful analysis of the post war years in Germany has come into play.
Rubinstein makes the argument, and quite convincingly, that the Holocaust was not an illegal act. In fact, one of the brilliant things about the Nazis was how the government systematically stripped undesirables of any legal recourse to assert rights under the law. This may seem obvious, but when you are on trial for violating laws that did not exist during the alleged acts, it provides a powerful argument for your attorney. As Rubinstein coldly points out in The Cunning of History, you cannot convict a person of committing a crime against someone who is stateless, without citizenship. Legally, you are not a person without an institution. That’s why undocumented workers have legal recourse in the U.S. – they might not be American, but have citizenship somewhere.
Of course in the process of making this argument, Rubinstein is also making the argument that Nazis also knew that they were committing acts that a future body might find reason to seek a legal recourse – hence stripping persons of their citizenship.
This is not the case in Rwanda, where the 1994 genocide – and I say genocide, not alleged genocide, because I do believe it was a genocide, regardless of the legal arguments Mr. Erlinder and his colleagues will put forth – was committed 46 years after the passage of the United National Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We do have international bodies to pursue offenders, we do have international laws to hold those who massacre accountable. But still Rubinstein at the end of his little book brings up the parodox of the Holocaust – and there is a parallel paradox in Rwanda.
There were black lists in Germany and Austria, names of people who were Nazis, which wasn’t unusual in countries where it was required to join the party. Many served jail sentences, a few years, but quickly, at least in the west, the occupiers realized they needed workers. The Marshall Plan needed civil servants, engineers, teachers, professionals who could raise a central Euroepan giant out of the ashes. And so companies that had the taint of Nazism -I.G. Farben (they manufactured the gas used in the death camps) was reborn as Hoechst; and those goofy ads we Americans find so funny are made by Volkswagen, the industrial child midwifed into existence by Adolf HItler and company. And there are many others that bear the mark of Cain.
Rwanda’s economy has been growing steadily as President Kagame has stabilized the country. And yes, his methods offend our democratic ideals of free speech, free assembly – and the international community should be watching him so that he does not become another African dictator we abhor but are too busy to do anything about. But here is the cunning of Rwanda’s history: asking survivors who’s neighbors, bosses, employees, even priests, attempted to murder them to live with their former attackers. That’s a lot to ask. And it hasn’t come without violence: reprisal killings of Tutsis against Hutus, and then Hutus responding to reprisal killings. This is what President Kagame is dealing with, and no doubt the prospect of more violence as the result of these trials weighs heavy on his mind.
By no means am I saying Mr. Erlinder’s treatment was right – quite the contrary, I am appalled. Every person accused of a crime deserves to defend him or herself and address his or her accusers. Their day in court, to use the parlance of our times.
Perhaps that is the ultimate cunning of history: that we will argue about whether a genocide was committed or not. A lot of people were killed in Rwanda over the course of 3 months in the spring of 1994; a lot of people did the killing, mostly by hand with machetes, no easy task. Maybe it doesn’t matter if we call it a genocide; what matters is that the victims, and the genocidaires get justice.
Twin Cities Media Alliance on Press Freedoms
Among the remarks captured were those of Andy Driscoll, Producer/Host, TruthToTell and Executive Director, CivicMedia/Minnesota