Monday, August 25, 2014

The red herring of Ferguson: The #1 cause of death for black men ages 15-34? Murder – by other black men.

One of the worst things about war is the fact that the people usually doing the fighting are those most physically capable of fighting, usually a nation’s strongest and most vibrant young men. The men most able to build or sustain a nation’s prosperity are the very ones that are going away to war and too often not coming back. As costly as war is, it’s usually undertaken because a nation, or its leaders or its citizens, think the sacrifice is worth achieving some objective.

The loss of such strong and vibrant youth is a cost that is paid not only by the families of the dead, but it’s paid by the communities and the nations that are left without whatever contributions the young men might have made to the world around him.

War is hell, as they say, and looking over a battlefield littered with a nation’s treasured youth is the perfect embodiment of that. The sacrifices always hurt, but they are to some degree understandable because they are undertaken in the pursuit of some greater good.

Which brings us to Ferguson, MO, and not just because it looked a lot like a war zone recently. No, Ferguson is important because of what sparked the riots: the shooting of an unarmed black youth by a white police officer.

To listen to the protesters is to understand that America is rampant with white cops killing innocent black men in every town or city. That is simply not true. More importantly, it’s a red herring. (Yes, white cops do sometimes kill innocent black men, but it’s relatively rare.) But why is it a red herring? Because it takes the focus off the fact that the number one killer of young black men ages 15-34 is… murder, and not by white cops or white people at all. It’s murder by other young black men! (For young black men ages 15-24, fully 50% of their deaths are due to murder!) How is it possible that in 2014 the number one killer of the most robust and vibrant elements of black America is murder? Not accidents. Not cancer. Not sickle cell anemia… it’s murder by other black men!

And this is where the connection with war comes in. During war the young men whose lives are lost are sacrificed for a purpose, for something that has been deemed in the national interest in one sort of another. Young black men who are dying on our streets and in our cities on the other hand are dying for… nothing.

Which is what makes the red herring of Ferguson so heartbreaking. Even if such protests were to ensure that no white cop ever killed another innocent black man, the scourge of death and murder that pervades the black community wouldn’t diminish by much beyond a small fraction of the total deaths.

So while the American media spent a week and a half obsessed with a burning Ferguson where protesters pelted cops with Molotov cocktails, bricks and urine, dozens of young black men were being killed in obscurity around the country by other black men. But of course it’s so much easier to throw bottles and make accusations than it is to advocate for real solutions to real problems. Problems like a dearth of fathers as 73% of all black children are born to single mothers. Problems like a crumbling education system where Democrats and the teachers’ unions keep the poorest children tethered to failed public schools. Problems like minimum wage laws that make it prohibitively expensive to hire young black men with little work experience, resulting in an unemployment rate in excess of 20% while the national rate is below 6%. Problems like a government welfare system that grows like an unbridled leviathan seeking to expand its budget rather than help the poor find their dignity, self respect and the pride that comes with being contributing member of society.

But none of those things are nearly as visually compelling as watching police square off against protesters. None of those things lend themselves to pithy sayings that are easily captured on tee shirts or cardboard signs or in 30 second sound bites. None of those things inspire media savvy “leaders” to roll up their sleeves and get busy trying to solve real problems. None of those things are easy. They are by definition hard problems to solve. It takes real work to solve them and they can’t be fixed by rioting.

Which is the tragedy of the red herring of Ferguson. Regardless of what the circumstances were, losing a son is devastating for a family. Thousands of black families across the country experience equally painful losses each year. By focusing energy, passion, angst and media on the aberration of Ferguson it takes the spotlight off of where it should be, which is solving the problems that cause thousands of young black men to lose their lives every year whose families don’t at least get the solace of knowing their sons died fighting for something of value to them and society as a whole.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Man Bites Dog, Ferguson Riots & Privileged White Kids Who Can't Get Jobs...

I’ve been told by a black friend that I, as a white person, can’t know the fear that permeates the mind of a black man when they are stopped by a cop, knowing that they can be harassed, arrested or killed simply for the crime of being black. That’s true. I can’t.

The truth is, it does happen that innocent black men are sometimes harassed, arrested and even killed by white cops. According to USA today, there were an average of 96 instances of white cops killing black men per year between 2005 & 2012. Author Jim Fisher states that 95% of all officer involved shootings are labeled “Justifiable Homicide” as when the victim had a gun, knife or some other weapon. Fisher believes that number is artificially high. Let’s assume that instead of 95% of those cases being justified, only 75% are and lets apply that to the USA Today stats. That would mean that there are 24 black men unjustly killed by police each year. That number is no doubt inflated, but let’s use it for discussion purposes.

Let’s put that number in perspective. In 2011, according to the FBI, approximately 2,200 black men were murdered in the United States by other black men. If you take that number and compare it to the inflated number from above, 24, the ratio of black men killed by other black men vs. black men killed by white cops would be approximately 95 to 1. That means for every black man murdered by the police, another 95 are murdered by other black men.

But we don’t see 95 Ferguson, Missouris burning around the country, do we? No. Indeed, the reason why Ferguson is so newsworthy is that it is an example of a Man bites Dog story rather than Dog bites Man.

Now, as another friend mentioned, getting shot by the police is not the same as getting shot by a guy in your neighborhood:

You can't compare the two! If you run into trouble with anyone else, you can fight, you can run, you can pull out a gun and defend yourself, your friends can help you.... when you are facing a cop, you can't do any of those things. Almost anything you do or say can be justification for them to use extreme force against you.

Most of that may indeed be true, but unlike the guy trying to take your lunch money or worse, cops are in the business of trying to protect people and the community. Every society needs a police force. In addition, there are community boards, inspectors general, internal affairs divisions – and sometimes even the US Justice Department – that look into every police shooting in this country. And beyond the institutional checks in place there are ubiquitous camera phone videos as well as plaintiff’s attorneys who represent the families of the dead.

As a result of all of this, cops often find themselves under a microscope like no other time in American history. But the truth is, none of what cops do is done in a vacuum, and what is seen on tape is often the final throes of a situation that has been playing out (and maybe escalating) over many seconds or minutes or even hours – The Rodney King video being a perfect example. Cops often are called upon to make life or death decisions in the blink of an eye. Every time they stop a car for a burnt tail light or are called to a domestic disturbance or see someone who seems to be acting strangely, they don’t know for sure what the outcome is going to be. But that’s their job.

Nonetheless, they do those jobs understanding the danger and the landscape they are working in. And that landscape sometimes breeds heightened caution. Black men make up 6% of the US population, but, according to the FBI are responsible for more than 50% of the murders. Black men make up 6% of the US population but according to the Census bureau are arrested for 38% of all violent crimes. Those facts exist, whether people want to acknowledge them or not. And that is the reality of the world police operate in, one that sees an average of 65 cops murdered each year and an additional 60 who die in the course of doing their jobs. Together those numbers can sometimes make for volatile, deadly circumstances, particularly in largely black communities like Ferguson, MO.

Years ago comedian Chris Rock did a great bit called “How not to get your ass kicked by the police!” It included such suggestions as “Obey the law”, “Be polite” and “Get a white friend”. As funny as the comedy piece was, there was a great truth about it. It reminded me of when I used to work as a manager at a restaurant and I would sometimes overhear young patrons complain that they didn’t get this job or that job because they were being discriminated against because of the way they looked. Occasionally I would need to interview high school or college students for a job as hostess or waiter. These applicants, largely privileged white kids, might come in with tattoos, wrinkled clothes, orange hair and with an overall unkempt look about them. And invariably they wouldn’t get the job. Usually it had much to do with how they looked. Here was the problem. I had one hour to interview X number of kids. Now, had I had the opportunity to spend an hour with each, getting to know their life story, by the time I got to know the real him or her I might have realized they were the greatest kid in the world and hired them. But that wasn’t reality. I had less than 10 minutes with each and I didn’t have the luxury of getting to know the “real them”. So I took in what I could, a big part of which was recognizing how they presented and comported themselves when they were applying for a job. I’m sure that I missed out on hiring some great kids, and that if I’d have only gotten to know their “real me” I would have recognized them for the superstar they were… but that wasn’t life in our restaurant and it’s not life on the street.

Cops have limited resources, information, time and sometimes have to make life and death decisions in split seconds, often amidst chaos. The reality is however that while being black is not a crime, crime statistics suggest that blacks will come into contact with law enforcement officers more often than others. And, again, while being black is not a crime, getting into a scuffle with police is not necessarily a good choice in most situations. Being belligerent to police is rarely a good choice in most situations, even if you’re in the right. Being uncooperative with police is rarely a good choice in most situations even if you suspect that you were stopped for DWB or Driving While Black. Cops often have limited time to figure out very complicated, chaotic and sometimes dangerous situations, both for themselves and others. They don’t always have the luxury of spending enough time with a young man to discover that “He was a good boy, he just fell in with the wrong crowd”. In dangerous situations, and those which can escalate to that point quickly, it’s probably always a good idea to do what one can to reduce the level of uncertainty and volatility and report any irregularities or abuse later. We don’t yet know the exact circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. But we’ve been told Brown and his friend were walking in the middle of the street amidst traffic. We’ve been told there was a scuffle and a gunshot may have been fired. And we can infer that Brown was likely concerned about getting arrested for a crime he had just committed. Finally we know that Michael Brown, a young black man is dead from the gun of Darren Wilson, a white police officer. That is all we know. None of those facts tell us what went on a week ago. After everything is known perhaps there will be grounds for taking action against Daren Wilson, and perhaps not. Today however, just as every day of the last week, the rioting that has occurred has done nothing to change any of the facts and has only succeeded in destroying the property of people who provide services in the community and in the long run making matters worse by for the people who live in Michael Brown’s neighborhood.

None of this suggests that rouge cops with chips on their shoulders and a bad attitude don’t exist. They do. Nor should any of it suggest that there are not truly innocent black victims of police brutality… There are, and more and more we’re seeing it on video. But like the Man bites Dog story, thankfully they are the exception rather than the rule. Most officers don’t sign up to be thugs. Most are trying to provide a service to a community, most do so heroically, often in extraordinarily chaotic and dangerous situations. Sometimes those situations turn deadly for either the cop or the perpetrator or, sometimes, an innocent person. But that is the nature of life, anywhere and everywhere. Police work is imperfect, being carried out by imperfect people in what are by definition trying circumstances. But if the concern is the save innocent black lives, to make the lives of black Americans better, the place to focus attention is not on the police with Michael Brown as the poster child, but rather on the communities and environments that have been the source of half of America’s murderers and murder victims every year for decades.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Vietnamization of Iraq - The Narcissistic Legacy of Barack Obama

A president’s job is tough. And that goes for any president. Aside from being in charge of an organization that employs millions of people and is responsible for the expenditure of trillions of dollars, he is the Commander in Chief. And it is in that area that no doubt weighs most heavily on presidential shoulders. The decision to send young men into battle where you know for an absolute certainty that some will not return must be an extraordinarily difficult decision to make, even when, as in say the D-day landings or Afghanistan, the clarity of the line between good and evil is as stark as between black and white.

For better or worse, that is one of the roles that a president signs up for when he takes the oath of office. Thankfully, other than for a remarkably small number of years in American history, the need for presidents to regularly make those kinds of decisions have been rare. Abraham Lincoln didn’t have that luxury. Neither Wilson nor FDR had it. Nor did Truman, LBJ, Nixon or George W. Bush. And Barack Obama hasn’t had that luxury either.

Adding to the complication of being a war president is the fact that for those not on the battlefields, life often goes on as normal. Aside from the Civil War and WWII, America has rarely been involved in a war where virtually everything in the country was on a war footing where everything is managed for the specific purpose of supporting the war effort. And as life goes on for most of the population, so too does politics, although any war effort is part of that equation.

One of the assets a president has at his disposal is a professional military. As such, presidents usually leave tactical decisions to the military while they can focus on the strategic decisions. In other words, a president decides which wars need to be fought, and the military generally figures out how to accomplish the given task. The lines are never stark between tactics and strategy however as LBJ often wanted to pick the targets to be bombed in North Vietnam and George W. Bush decided to launch “The Surge” in Iraq.

Governing and politics are theoretically different things, but in practice they too blur significantly. From political appointees to which cases to prosecute to deciding what’s a granted Constitutional power and what’s not, there is no clear line of demarcation between politics and governing. When the decision impacts how high farm subsidies will be or what the tax rate will be or how much cable companies can charge, those blurred lines are often tawdry and reprehensible, but they rarely result in the loss of human life.

The president’s responsibility as Commander in Chief is another story altogether. By its very nature that responsibility demands a higher level of attention by a president, and while politics will never be far from his mind, as Commander in Chief his duty is to think strategically in situations where the lives of civilians – both American and foreign – are at risk and the tactics necessary to enforce his strategic decisions may cost the lives American soldiers.

Which brings us to Barack Obama and Iraq. He was against the Iraq war from the beginning, as a state senator at the time saying: “I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.” Later as a senator Obama opposed the surge in 2007 and in 2008 voted to pull out American troops within 120 days. Ending the war in Iraq and bringing American troops home was cornerstone of candidate Obama’s platform in 2008. And as president he was adamant in his intention to keep that promise.

In reality however, the ground had been laid for the end of the war before Obama took office. George Bush signed the Status of Forces Agreement in November of 2008 that called for pulling all American combat forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011. What the SOFA did not cover however was the support that the United States would provide Iraq beyond 2011. Robert Gates, (George Bush’s Secretary of Defense in 2008 and Obama’s until July, 2011) told Charlie Rose that although their mission would change, he expected “perhaps several tens of thousands of American troops” to be left in Iraq after 2011.

And what were those troops supposed to be doing? Providing the Iraqi military with support and training and emboldening the Iraqi people to continue their march towards democracy with the knowledge that they were not going to be left hanging out to dry by the United States.  (Democracy rarely come quickly or easily.  The United States spent seven years under the disastrous Articles of Confederation before we got it right with the Constitution, and that's without being surrounded by neighbors who provided tens of thousands of terrorist agitators with weapons, training and safe harbor.)

But Barack Obama would have none of it. With an eye on the 2012 election he was determined to fulfill his campaign promise of ending the war. But what’s more, President Obama went farther than even candidate Obama did. Candidate Obama promised: "After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces." President Obama didn’t even do that. Indeed, he actually left the Iraqi people hanging out to dry, with dry being the operative word in a country that can only be described as a tinderbox surrounded by firebugs.

Rather than leave the 30,000-40,000 troops that Bob Gates and the rest of the military establishment suggested was necessary to give peace a chance, Barack Obama decided to leave only what was necessary to secure the American embassy. Had Barack Obama heeded the advice of the military professionals the Iraqi people very well may have been able to keep the sparks of sectarian violence and the duplicitousness, incompetence and partisanship of the Maliki government from becoming a raging inferno of death. But alas, unfortunately for the people of Iraq – and those in Syria and Lebanon and perhaps many more places – Barack Obama had better things to do than ensure that the blood and treasure America spent in Iraq over 7 years was not in vain. No, he had a election to win.

And the Vietnamization of Iraq was very much predictable. Today Iraq is a bloody mess, literally, and Barack Obama is finding himself forced to use the American military to try and keep what can only be described as a raging inferno from transforming into a cataclysm that engulfs every nation within a thousand miles and eventually reaches American shores.

Such is the character of a liberal, when reality clashes with grandiose theory, go with the theory as it’s usually someone else who’s left to pick up the pieces. Unfortunately for Barack Obama, his pursuit of political expediency vs. real leadership just might be the thing that torpedoes his cherished legacy of greatness. However unlikely it is to diminish him in the eyes of his worshipers, the rest of the country will see this episode for what it is, Barack Obama unleashed, in all of his unvarnished, narcissistic glory, bloodshed and consequences be damned, there’s an election to be won.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Cult of Barack Obama - Eight Questions to Help Identify Members

I’ve never quite gotten the cult of Che Guevara. Colleges across the country are crisscrossed with students wearing Che tee shirts and dorm rooms are decorated with Che posters. Sometimes if you ask the student wearing a Che shirt about him you’ll get a leftist screed worthy of Matt Damon’s bar scene in Good Will Hunting. They’ll talk about his “affinity for the poor”, that he was a doctor, and the fact that he fought against the American Imperialists and “Capitalist octopuses” who were abusing and exploiting the population of South America. Most of the time however they will simply say nonsensical things like “he fought for the oppressed” or he was a “man of the people”.

What you’ll rarely hear them tell you about, though, is Che the Communist, Che the murderer, Che the narcisist, or Che the sadist. You won’t hear them tell you about the thousands of innocent Cubans who were killed arbitrarily at Che’s direction, or by Che’s own hand. They won’t tell you about the economic morass his revolution brought to Cuba. They won’t tell you about the chaos he left in his wake.

Most people wearing Che shirts or sleeping under Che posters know nothing about Che Guevara but they know that he was larger than life and somehow being associated with him makes them cool.

Such is the nature of a cult. Cherry picking facts and ignoring those that damage the image of their idol. In the case of the cult of Che, it’s a pretty innocuous cult. Other than facilitating a hookup that one might regret in the morning or inciting a fisticuff on the student union, there’s not much of an impact on the wider world.

If only we could say the same about the cult of Barack Obama. His cult shares many of the characteristics of the Che cult: The posters. The tee shirts. The celebrity. Mostly though, the cult of Barack Obama shares the characteristic of its adherents knowing practically nothing about their deity. Ask Obama supporters why they like Obama and you’ll get things like “He is for the people” “He supports women’s rights”, “He fixed the healthcare system” or maybe “He got Bin Laden”. All of those points, like most about Obama, are either meaningless or simply wrong.

Being for the people or supporting women’s rights may make for a good sound bite, but they mean nothing in the debate over public policy. Does lowering taxes so that all citizens can take more of their money home count as being for the people? Does promoting a woman’s right to protect herself with a weapon count as supporting women’s rights? And as for Obama getting Bin Laden, a Facebook post recently summed that up nicely: Crediting Obama with killing Bin Laden is like crediting Nixon with landing on the moon.

And even those things they get right on the surface, they get wrong. They will say that unemployment is lower under Barack Obama, which it is, 6.2% today vs. 7.6%. That is true on the surface, but only because 11 million Americans have given up looking for work since Obama became president. Those people are not counted in the unemployment rate. Had they been counted the unemployment rate would be over 10% rather than 6.2%. They say he implemented Obamacare. This too is true on its face, but it’s a fundamental lie. Obamacare as it was signed into law has never been implemented. Obama has unlawfully given subsidies to tens of millions of people in conflict with the explicit language of the law. He has unconstitutionally given waivers and delays to tens of thousands of employers employing tens of millions of people so that the pain the law imposes won’t be felt until it’s politically expedient… for him. So, in reality, Obamacare as written has not been implemented, but Americans are nonetheless saddled with a dysfunctional system that has cost jobs and caused many people to lose their doctors, face higher costs and in some cases lose their insurance altogether. 

And the list goes on… The disconnect between reality and the fantasyland members of the cult live in is stark. But how do you know if a friend or loved one is a member of the Cult of Barack Obama? Well, like a mirror used to uncover a vampire, here are eight questions that might help you find out. (And remember, all of this is after Obama borrowed $5 trillion and the FED pumped almost $4 trillion into the economy.)
1) Is American household income higher today than it was when Barack Obama took office? No. Lower, by $2,500.

2) Are more Americans working today than there were when Barack Obama took office? Nominally yes. 146 million vs. 142 million, but as the population has grown by 13 million, a lower percentage of the population is actually working, 45.6% vs. 46.3%

3) Are there fewer Americans living in poverty today than there were when Barack Obama took office? No.  More are. 44 million in 2009 – 14.3% of the population vs. 48 million today, 15% of the population.

4) Are there more or fewer Americans on food stamps today than there were when Barack Obama took office? More. 47 million vs. 34 million.

5) Has the percentage of Americans with health insurance increased since Obamacare passed? No. 83.4% vs. 84.0%.

6) How does Barack Obama’s progressive recovery compare to Ronald Reagan’s free market recovery? Not well: 5.8% total growth over his first 5 years vs. 17.7% for Reagan’s.

7) Is Iraq better off or worse off today than it was when Barack Obama took office? Far worse.

8) Is the world a more stable or friendly place today than it was when Barack Obama took office? Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Ukraine, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Venezuela, Honduras…  Not so much.
If, after going through these questions and answers your friend still supports Barack Obama, they are likely part of the cult. Just to be sure however, ask them why they still support him. If they give you logical, cogent reasons for doing so then maybe they’re just confused and there may be some hope for recovery after all. For the rest it might be time Google "intervention".

Unfortunately, while today Che’s cult is largely harmless, Barack’s has wrought a disaster on the American people and the world beyond. Like the objects in the mirror that are larger than they appear, we can only hope that the cult of Obama fizzles soon after he leaves office as the magnitude of his ineptness and his failures becomes clear.