Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You know what's stupid?

I was sitting here applying for unemployment insurance coverage and the thought occurred to me that my car insurance was unaffected by my job loss.  It has no idea that whether or not I have a job.  Yet my life, health, and dental insurances were all lost once I was asked to not show up to work.  That's a pretty stupid system that we've got there.

You know what else is a pretty stupid system?  The War on Drugs.

I had mentioned last week that the video of the drug raid in Missouri really pissed me off.  Well, on that subject, Radley Balko has an outstanding piece ("A Drug Raid Goes Viral") which makes the interesting point that "despite all the anger the raid has inspired, the only thing unusual here is that the raid was captured on video, and that the video was subsequently released to the press. Everything else was routine."

The closest I've ever been to illegal drugs was when I would drink beer before I was 21.  I've never done marijuana, meth, crack, etc.  It's just not my style.  With that said, one of the greatest failures of the 20th and 21st Centuries has to be the War on Drugs.  Prohibition never has and never will work.   With the War on Drugs, the cure has been far worse than the disease.  And the video of the "routine" drug raid in Missouri should give every citizen pause to think about what we're really doing here.  As Balko points out,
According to surveys of police departments conducted by University of Eastern Kentucky criminologist Peter Kraska, we've seen about a 1,500 percent increase in SWAT deployments in this country since the early 1980s. The vast majority of that increase has been to serve search warrants on people suspected of nonviolent drug crimes. SWAT teams are inherently violent. In some ways they're an infliction of punishment before conviction. This is why they should only be used in situations where the suspect presents an immediate threat to others. In that case, SWAT teams use violence to defuse an already violent situation. When they're used to serve drug warrants for consensual crimes, however, SWAT tactics create violence where no violence was present before. Even when everything goes right in such a raid, breaking into the home of someone merely suspected of a nonviolent, consensual crime is an inappropriate use of force in a free society.
The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the video is interesting. Clearly, a very large majority of the people who have seen it are disturbed by it. But this has been going on for 30 years. We've reached the point where police have no qualms about a using heavily armed police force trained in military tactics to serve a search warrant on a suspected nonviolent marijuana offender. And we didn't get here by accident. The war on drugs has been escalating and militarizing for a generation. What's most disturbing about that video isn't the violence depicted in it, but that  such violence has become routine.
As horrifying as the video from Columbia, Missouri, is, no human beings were killed. The police got the correct address, and they found the man they were looking for. In many other cases, such raids transpire based on little more than a tip from an anonymous or confidential informant. Nor is it unusual for raids just as violent as the one depicted in the video to turn up little in the way of drugs or weapons. (Whitworth wasn't exactly an outstanding citizen—he had a prior drug and DWI conviction. But he had no history of violence, and there were no weapons in the home.) Surveys conducted by newspapers around the country after one of these raids goes bad have found that police only find weapons of any kind somewhere between 10-20 percent of the time. The percentage of raids that turn up a significant amount of drugs tends to vary, but a large percentage only result in misdemeanor charges at worst.
Shooting the family's dogs isn't unusual, either. To be fair, that's in part because some drug dealers do in fact obtain vicious dogs to guard their supply. But there are other, safer ways to deal with these dogs than shooting them. In the Columbia case, a bullet fired at one dog ricocheted and struck another dog. The bullet could just as easily have struck a person. In the case of Tarika Wilson, a Lima, Ohio, SWAT officer mistook the sounds of a colleague shooting a drug dealer's dogs for hostile gunfire. He then opened fire into a bedroom, killing a 23-year-old mother and shooting the hand off of the one-year-old child in her arms.
The Columbia raid wasn't even a "no-knock" raid. The police clearly announced themselves before entering. The Supreme Court has ruled that police must knock and announce themselves before entering a home to serve a search warrant. If they want to enter without knocking, they have to show specific evidence that the suspect could be dangerous or is likely to dispose of contraband if police abide by the knock-and-announce rule. As is evident in the Columbia video, from the perspective of the people inside the home that requirement is largely ceremonial. If you were in a backroom of that house, or asleep, it isn't at all difficult to see how you'd have no idea if the armed men in your home were police officers. The first sounds you heard would have been gunfire.

The militarization of America's police departments has taken place over a generation, due to a number of bad policy decisions from politicians and government officials, ranging from federal grants for drug fighting to a Pentagon giveaway program that makes military equipment available to local police departments for free or at steep discounts. Mostly, though, it's due to the ill-considered "war" imagery our politicians continue to invoke when they refer to drug prohibition. Repeat the mantra that we're at war with illicit drugs often enough, and the cops on the front lines of that war will naturally begin to think of themselves as soldiers. And that's particularly true when you outfit them in war equipment, weaponry, and armor. This is dangerous, because the objectives of cops and soldiers are very different. One is charged with annihilating a foreign enemy. The other is charged with keeping the peace.
To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of the video from Missouri is how the officers are dressed.  They are wearing every available piece of armor and equipment imaginable.  They are in full riot gear (minus the shields) over marijuana.  This is what it has come to, a weed is so important that we must be at war with it.

It's called "mission creep" and it is as reliable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  Every government program starts with the greatest of intentions (and everyone knows what the path to hell is lined with).  "It's for the children," they'll say.  Or, "think about our society."  Or, "it's for the public good," or every other platitude that politicians sling about year after year.

And as a government program creeps along, the tentacles of it's mission stretch deeper and deeper into the lives of the citizenry, until one day, 30 years later, it's become "ok" for militarized cops to break down a door, fire a couple of rounds into a dog or two, and terrorize a man's wife and child, only to find that the "tip" they received about a man being a drug distributor was a bit of an exaggeration.  And I'm supposed to believe that the man with the "drug paraphernalia" is the bad guy?  That the man with the marijuana is the danger to society?

That's stupid.


SONG"Hip To My Heart" by The Band Perry  --- great song (with a fairly lousy video) from a great new band with an odd band name.  It should also be noted that the rest of their debut EP is really great.

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  Watching two of my siblings graduate from their respective schools.  It's going to be great to see all of the family.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Things that have made me happy today.

  • The wife is officially done with her second year of law school!!!
  • I walked into the kitchen to find my dog's head buried deep into the trash can that I had mistakenly left out.  The look on his face after being caught red-handed was priceless.  We stood looking at each other, both dumbfounded at what the other is seeing, for a beat.  Then I said, "What are you doing?"  He responded by sending himself straight to timeout down in the basement.  It was flipping hilarious.
  •  Found a great deal on KC strip steaks at the local grocery store.  And they were delicious.
  • Got a call back for one of the jobs for which I've applied.  Alas, it's only part-time, so I'm not certain I'll take it.  Yet I was still pleased to get a nibble on one of the lines I've cast. 
  • I'm up $15,000 in play money on online poker.
  • Watching this video:

    Things that have pissed me off today.

    I'm usually a fairly positive guy, but there were many things that pissed me off today.

    1)  Video of a SWAT raid in Missouri. As REASON's Radley Balko points out,
    SWAT team breaks into home, fires seven rounds at family's pit bull and corgi (?!) as a seven-year-old looks on.
    They found a "small amount" of marijuana, enough for a misdemeanor charge. The parents were then charged with child endangerment.
    So smoking pot = "child endangerment." Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone's safety.  Just so we're clear.
    2)  The reason I found out about this story is because I was able to read most of today's tweets on Twitter.  The reason I was able to read most Twitter tweets today is because today was the first day of my new job search.  I had to make up a resume and have sent out about two dozen applications.  That pisses me off.

    3)  As I was listening to sports talk-radio, one of the hosts announced their poll question of the day:  "Should Cinco de Mayo be a national holiday?"  Are you freaking kidding me?  Seriously?  There are people want to make a national holiday out of a date that gets limited (at most) celebration in Mexico?!?!  I imagine that these same people who would make it a U.S. national holiday are the same ones who mistakenly believe that May 5th is the Mexican Independence Day.  Those idiots piss me off.

    4)  While I'm in that same ballpark, another thing that pissed me off today was that ‘Los Suns’ Join Protest of Arizona’s New Law.  From the NYT,
    The Phoenix Suns delivered a powerful statement Wednesday night with a relatively subtle gesture: a three-letter addition to their uniforms.
    Their jerseys said “Los Suns” — a Spanish-English combination intended to acknowledge the Cinco de Mayo holiday and, more broadly, to express opposition to Arizona’s new law dealing with illegal immigrants
    You have got to be kidding me.  I'm sure that the people who see this act of solidarity by the Suns would be completely horrified if the owners of the Washington Wizards had pulled out their old "Washington Bullets" jerseys to show solidarity after D.C.'s handgun ban was struck down in the Heler case.  Bringing politics into sports pisses me off.  Can't I have one escape from politics?

    5)  My iPod pissed me off when it re-synced my entire library just as I was trying to get out the door to walk the dog with The Wife.  I about threw it across the room, I was so pissed.

    Honorable Mentions:
    • Only 4 people showed up for Tuesday night Volleyball, so we had to borrow players from other teams.  Freaking weak.
    • Our culture is so intrigued by "sex scandals" that even B-level celebrities like David Boreanaz get press for cheating on their wives. 
    • My best Facebook update/tweet of the week got very little reaction, which pissed me off because I thought I was such a genius for thinking of it: 

      I'm waiting for Alan Jackson to come out and say what everyone is thinking about the flooding in Nashville:  President Obama hates country music.

    Hopefully the rest of this week is better.  I feel that after identifying the items that are causing me to be in a pissy mood, I can get on with the rest of my life.


    SONG:  "Sante Fe" by Drive-By Truckers --- I just got this album by DBT and I love it.  This band is what would have happened had Tom Petty been the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Great stuff.

    MOVIEYoung @ Heart --- this is probably the most powerful documentary I have ever watched.  Touching, inspiring, and entertaining.  Whether you rent, buy, or steal it, you must watch this movie.

    Here is the trailer to give you a taste of the Young @ Heart group:

    TELEVISION:  FRINGE: Season 1 -- The Wife and I have started watching this show on Netflix and it is very interesting and entertaining.  I knew I would want to watch this show one episode right after the other.  I knew I'd never be able to stick with it watching with a week between each episode, but back to back viewings are quite entertaining.  This show is a Sci-Fi version of Bones and/or House, which is a good thing.