Can Police Prevent the Next Charlottesville?

“We saw it coming,” said a Virginia officer, but they couldn’t stop it. Still, law enforcement experts say measures can be taken — even when protesters are armed.

Police in riot gear stand in front of the controversial statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Even before the demonstration in Virginia began last weekend, the police there knew they weren’t going to be able to handle what was coming.

Charlottesville police officers, including Sgt. Jake Via of the investigations bureau, had been contacting organizers and scanning social media to figure out how many demonstrators were headed their way and whether they would be armed.

“The number each group was saying was just building and building,” Via said. “We saw it coming. … Looking at this, I said, ‘This is going to be bad.’”

The protesters’ numbers were too large and the downtown park too small. City officials tried to get the demonstration moved to another, more spacious location, but lost in court after the rally’s organizer, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged his freedom of speech was being infringed.

The protests, of course, ended tragically. Local law enforcement was widely blamed for losing control of the event and standing back even as people were attacked.

Via maintains that nothing the police did could have stopped the violence between the two sides. “No hours and hours and hours or even months of planning is going to stop the radicals from both sides wanting to go at it,” he said.

With more demonstrations planned in cities across the country, ProPublica interviewed law enforcement experts in the United States and Europe to ask what more can be done to prevent bloodshed at protests where people are spoiling for a fight. The consensus was that additional steps can be taken.

But many of the tactics come at a price. Some could be viewed as impinging on civil liberties and the constitutionally enshrined rights to free assembly and protest. Others require funding and coordination that is difficult to achieve within the fragmented framework of American policing. A few are as simple as strategically placed blockades that keep the two sides separate. Here are some of the top approaches and how they might — or might not — be deployed in the U.S.

Drones, Anti-Mask Laws and Open-Carry Restrictions

Local police forces will increasingly institutionalize the use of drones at mass demonstrations. That’s the prediction of Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Cameras in the air with real-time feeds transmitted to officers on the ground would allow police to cover more terrain and in some cases, identify potential conflicts before they erupt.

“Demonstrations spread, and these violent confrontations can take place in disparate areas,” said Levin. “It’s like when a hammer hits mercury.”

Drones can also be safer than helicopters. In Charlottesville, a helicopter monitoring the demonstration went down, killing two state troopers aboard.

But police drone use has been met with opposition from civil liberties groups. Drones donated to the Los Angeles Police Department have gone unused for years amid privacy concerns. Activists have argued that access to the devices, which make surveillance cheaper and more efficient, will lead police to more routinely surveil private citizens.

Earlier this month, LA’s police commission gathered to discuss relaunching the program only to be met by chanting activists who shut down the conversation twice. Similar stories have played out in Seattle and elsewhere.

Another tool cities and states (including Virginia) have used is anti-mask laws, which bar groups of people from disguising themselves in public. Violent demonstrators will sometimes arrive in ski masks or scarves wrapped around their faces. New York City has a ban, with exceptions including for Halloween. So does Alabama, a rule it instituted in 1949 to unmask the Ku Klux Klan. A similar restriction in California, though, was struck down after Iranian Americans hoping to safely (and non-violently) protest the post-revolutionary regime back home sued on First Amendment grounds.

Police Stood By As Mayhem Mounted in Charlottesville

State police and National Guardsmen watched passively for hours as self-proclaimed Nazis engaged in street battles with counter-protesters. Read the story.

Another challenge in Charlottesville was the number of demonstrators who came with guns, and were allowed to do so lawfully, because of Virginia’s open-carry laws.

Even in states with such statutes, the authorities have some options. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s law school, said the Supreme Court has upheld the right to have guns at home, but not necessarily in public. “Think of curfews. The government has the ability to take steps to protect public safety,” Chemerinsky said. “The more evidence there is that it’s a threat to public safety, the more sympathetic the courts would be.”

The evidence could consist of past rallies that broke out into violence, or intelligence that an armed group is planning to employ force in the future.

Still, attempts to temporarily restrict gun rights have floundered in the past. Before the most recent Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the head of Cleveland’s largest police union and others called for the state’s open-carry laws to be tightened during the convention. Gov. John Kasich refused, saying “Ohio governors do not have the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights.”

A more radical approach comes from Philip Zelikow, a history professor at the University of Virginia and former executive director of the 9/11 Commission. In 1981, he worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights nonprofit, to ask a federal judge to shut down a group called the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which was showing up armed and in Army-style clothing on the Texas Gulf Coast to harass Vietnamese fishermen.

With the support of the Texas attorney general, Zelikow and his team invoked a 19th-century law that forbids “military companies” not authorized by the governor. They argued that the Klan qualified because it was not government-regulated but had “command structure, training and discipline so as to function as a combat or combat support unit.” The lawyers prevailed, and the Klan was forced to leave its weapons at home.

A similar argument also succeeded soon after in North Carolina, and Zelikow said groups like those in Charlottesville that are mixing weaponry and political activism could be subject to similar legal challenges. “These problems haven’t come up much in recent decades,” Zelikow said. “The issue subsided and memory fades but here we are again.”

Most states have restrictions on private military-like groups. Zelikow was contacted by lawyers from Oklahoma this week, asking if their state had such a law on the books. “It took me about five minutes to find,” he said. Zelikow is now trying to form a team of lawyers to bring a case in Virginia.

Looking Abroad

Thousands of people, divided into two opposing sides, squaring off in public. Some come armed, looking to damage property and wreak havoc. Many filter in from out of town, complicating efforts by police to negotiate peace in advance.

It’s a scenario European authorities know well, though with a different kind of group: soccer hooligans.

Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former supervisor in the Israel National Police, said cops in the Netherlands use a “situation-oriented” model to keep violent rival soccer fans under control.

That framework trains officers in perceptual skills, helping them develop the emotional intelligence to read members of crowds and make sound judgments about which situations are truly dangerous. Officers are put through simulations in which they can achieve positive, nonfatal outcomes. Trainings are handled in groups, not individually, so that in the field, officers are less likely to misinterpret any of their colleagues’ motions or actions.

“European police forces are light years ahead of us in terms of training.” Haberfeld said. “It’s not something you can train police officers to do in half an hour. It’s a serious commitment.”

Reaching that level of training may not be feasible in the U.S., where local municipalities set their own academy protocols. (And demonstrations are less frequent than soccer matches.) The training in the U.S. typically lasts just a few months, compared to the couple of years that European police cadets get.

In Germany, police forces commonly have specialized units assigned to each side of a potentially violent protest. Officers meet with the groups’ leaders in advance and discuss plans for the protest in detail, including symbols that are forbidden for display by the government.

Protest leaders can be denied permits to demonstrate because of criminal records, forcing them to turn leadership of the event over to another member of the group. They’re also asked to assign deputies from within their organization who can help the group’s leader keep things under control. Those assistants also have their records vetted by the police before being approved.

Once at the event, the specialized police units show up in distinctive yellow vests, and without riot gear, so they can mix in with the demonstrators less threateningly. When officers see someone with a banned weapon, they sometimes will only film the demonstrator and make an arrest later.

“It is important for us, is not to have a negative solidarity spillover effect. … If we disarm a person or act against a small group of potentially violent protestors, other people around solidarize with them against the police,” said Elke Heilig, head of the anti-conflict team in Pforzheim, Germany. “This leads towards escalation.”

Keeping Peaceful Protesters Away

Social media gives hate groups a new megaphone for getting the word out about their rallies, opening up communication with many previously fragmented niche groups and helping lead to larger gatherings, experts said. A big crowd is inherently harder to police, but what makes the scenario even more vexing for law enforcement is that they’re now dealing with not just one or two groups, but many, along with unaffiliated individuals.

“People are coming in from disparate places and disparate groups who don’t answer to any single authority. A Klan leader can tell his folks to stand down,” said Levin, a former NYPD officer. “Social media has been a magnet not only for haters but for unstable haters.”

Some municipalities are responding by using social media tools to dissuade some activists from showing up. City officials in Berkeley, California, have experimented with discouraging peaceful protesters from attending demonstrations they expect to be violent.

In March, fights broke out between supporters and opponents of the president at a demonstration near the Berkeley campus. Some of the unruly counter-protesters were believed to be affiliated with black bloc, an anarchist group whose members are known to wear black and mask their faces. Mayhem ensued. In one case, a man wearing a “Trump is My President” shirt had his face bloodied.

“There are people who come intent on committing violence and they look for ways to subvert whatever you set up,” said city spokesman Matthai Chakko. “There are people who use peaceful protesters as shields. They blend into crowds after they commit their acts.”

In April, before another planned demonstration, the city launched a messaging campaign suggesting peaceful protesters keep their distance. “Consider whether the approach others advertise is the style and venue for you,” one alert read, warning of violent protesters. “Reaching out to organizations or individuals in need is an alternative to conflict. When people at an event act in a way that compromises your values and goals, separate yourself.”

The number of peaceful protesters dropped significantly, Chakko said, and the city is taking a similar approach with an unpermitted, white nationalist demonstration expected later this month. The alert the city sent out Wednesday was direct: “The best response for those seeking to safeguard our community is to stay away.”

Barriers and Chain-Link Fences

Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on police reform efforts in Los Angeles, said the most fundamental strategy for dueling demonstrations is keeping the two sides separate, with physical obstacles and police in between. “Create a human barrier so the flash points are reduced as quickly as possible,” she said.

Law enforcement will sometimes quarantine protesting hate groups inside concentric chain link fences, creating a large empty space between opposing groups. Those entering the inner ring are sent through metal detectors.

A New Generation of White Supremacists Emerges in Charlottesville

A group that included many people who were college-educated or ex-military displayed effective planning. “White people are pretty good at getting organized,” said one. Read the story.

At an anti-Sharia protest in San Bernardino, California earlier this year, the two groups were kept on opposite sides of the street, with horse-mounted cops there to prevent protesters from crossing over.

The lack of space to separate the factions was a widely noted problem in Charlottesville. The massive demonstration was allowed to take place inside a small downtown park, making it more difficult for police to insert themselves and separate the two sides. “The two groups are both trying to occupy the same area and this doesn’t give police a lot of maneuverability,” said John Kleinig, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Demonstrators ended up spilling out beyond the park, and one counter-protester was killed when an Ohio man allegedly plowed his car into a crowd a few blocks away from the park.

Demonstrations can in some ways be easier to control in concentrated urban areas, where police use tall buildings with little or no space in between them as barriers. And smaller city police forces generally have less training in large crowd control.

“I’m former NYPD,” Levin said. “We had grid patterns and streets we could block off, put a wedge in when we had an unruly crowds. … You have people hemmed in by structures and street grid patterns. In smaller places, people can spread out in all different directions.”

Since the weekend, amid criticism of their handling of the demonstration, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas acknowledged that crowd’s spread led to problems.

“We had to actually send out forces to multiple locations to deal with a number of disturbances,” he said. “It was certainly a challenge. We were spread thin once the groups dispersed.”

Special correspondent Pia Dangelmayer in Germany contributed to this story.

 

 

ProPublica

 

Capitalism doesn’t give a flying fuck

Leela Yellesetty explains why the abysmal conditions endured by airline passengers and workers alike have everything to do with the bosses’ bottom line.

Airlines are cramming more and more passengers onto each flight

Airlines are cramming more and more passengers onto each flight

DURING HIS brief but memorable tenure as White House communications director, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci attempted to explain Trump’s vision for health care reform:

What the president is trying to do is make the health care system freer. So why not disrupt and decentralize the system, make it more price competitive, increase competition for the insurance companies and trust the process of the free market, like in telecom, like in airlines?

Really? Yes, the health care system is awful, but did the Mooch really think a good selling point for reform would be to make it more like Comcast, the most hated company in America? Or United Airlines, which wasn’t able to beat out Comcast even by dragging a bloodied man off a plane, so they decided to kill a bunny rabbit for good measure?

“No one wants health care to be like the airlines!” talk-show host Seth Meyers quipped in response, “‘How was the hospital?’ ‘Not great. My surgery was three hours late, my bed was double-booked so they dragged me out of the OR, and then they sent my appendix to Albuquerque!'”

What’s to blame for the awful treatment of passengers and airline workers alike? The problem isn’t bad business decisions, but the drive for sky-high profits.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

FOR THOSE of us who hate the elaborate torture that is U.S. air travel–that is, all of us who can’t afford first class–we have some tentative good news. A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address “the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat,” as one judge put it.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the consumer advocacy group Flyers Rights, which pointed out that the distance between seats, known as the “pitch,” has decreased from an average of 35 inches to 31, with some as low as 28, while seat widths have shrunk by an inch and half in the past decade–at the same time as the average passenger has grown larger.

The group argued that this posed a health and safety hazard by making it difficult to evacuate in an emergency and increasing the risk of passengers developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially fatal condition caused by a blot clot as a result of prolonged sitting in cramped space.

The FAA rejected the petition, claiming–with “research” to back it up–that the issue of seat size was one of comfort and not safety. While the court agreed that the danger of DVT was not well established, on the safety claims, it blasted the FAA for a “vaporous record” of “off-point studies and undisclosed tests using unknown parameters.”

Indeed, the FAA refused to disclose most of the tests used to make its decision, claiming they were proprietary.

While the ruling simply directs the FAA to revisit the petition and doesn’t directly compel the agency to set minimum standards for seat size, it is certainly a positive development in the face of the ongoing airline assault on our safety and comfort, not to mention dignity.

Apparently not everyone is cheering this development, though.

In article sneeringly titled “Let Them Shrink: FAA Should Not Regulate Airline Seat Space,” Forbes‘ Omri Ben-Shahar argued that the airlines are actually giving consumers exactly what they asked for. That is, if we want cheaper flights, we should be prepared to suffer for them.

If you want better seats, just pay more–indeed, one reason our seats are shrinking is to make room for “premium” options for the lucky few.

William McGhee, author of the airline industry expose Attention All Passengerssummed up the attitude of Forbes writers and airline executives this way:

Things are just fine in business class and first class. I don’t think that’s coincidental. It reflects the larger issues we face as a society right now, the 99 Percent vs. the 1 Percent. I’ve talked to execs about deteriorating conditions in the back, and their response is basically, ‘You should pay for and sit up front,’ which is a bit of a ‘Let them eat cake’ response.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AS EASY as it can be to dismiss an argument inspired by Marie Antoinette, it’s worth probing some of the claims that Ben-Shahar makes more closely.

For one thing, it’s true that airline travel is more affordable and accessible to the average person that it was in the glory days of free food and adequate legroom.

Back then, air travel was largely a preserve of the wealthy. For free-market enthusiasts like Ben-Shahar and the Mooch, therefore, the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 was a victory for consumers, increasing competition and thereby lowering fares and improving service.

This sounds good, but it doesn’t remotely depict what has actually happened in the decades since deregulation. Instead, what’s played out is a sordid tale of rampant inefficiencies, corruption, bankruptcies, mergers and deteriorating conditions for both passengers and workers.

Right after deregulation, there were more than 400 certified carriers and 10 major airlines. Today, just four airlines control 80 percent of all domestic flights. Rather than encourage competition, deregulation removed antitrust provisions, allowing airlines to collude in raising fares while reducing service.

The 2013 merger of American and US Airways to create the world’s largest airline was accomplished by an army of corporate lobbyists, lawyers and economists, while executives and their Wall Street backers salivated at the profits to be made from the deal:

Indeed, government investigators had uncovered documents showing airline executives crowing about how mergers allow them to charge travelers more. “Three successful fare increases–[we were] able to pass along to customers because of consolidation,” wrote Scott Kirby, who became the president of the new American Airlines, in a 2010 internal company presentation…

A 2014 Goldman Sachs analysis about “dreams of oligopoly” used the American-US Airways merger as an example. Industry consolidation leads to “lower competitive intensity” and greater “pricing power with customers due to reduced choice,” the analysis said.

Another useful tool in the industry playbook is bankruptcy. All of the four remaining airlines filed for bankruptcy in the past decade–and they are now the four most profitable airlines in the world.

In fact, they were doing just fine before, but bankruptcy allowed them to slough off inconvenient costs of providing decent pay and benefits to their employees. As United Auto Workers activist Gregg Shotwell commented on American’s 2011 bankruptcy:

Capitalism isn’t above the law in the United States–it is the law. Peace and solidarity activists are hounded, harassed and arrested, but the forcible transfer of wealth from the working class to the investing class is protected concerted activity.

American Airlines’ debt doesn’t outweigh its cash and assets. In fact, American is financing its own bankruptcy. That’s not distress, it’s brass-knuckles union busting. The business press makes no bones about American Airlines’ plan to profit off the broken backs of labor contracts. In fact, they crow about it.

American Airlines ordered 460 new planes from Boeing and Airbus less than five months ago, at a cost of $38 billion. Those contracts will be honored even as American plans to dump pensions underfunded by about $10 billion for approximately 130,000 workers and retirees.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THIS UNION busting comes with real consequences for passenger safety as well. Abysmal pay and working conditions for pilots in budget regional carriers has resulted in an increase in crashes, to give just one example.

While cutting corners on workers’ rights has helped boost airline profits and executive compensation, the impact on fares for passengers is less than meets the eye. As Carl Finamore explained in a 2010 article republished at SocialistWorker.org:

Champions of the free market boast about upwards of a 20 percent reduction in fares since 1978 when airlines were freed to set their own prices without the nuisance of government regulators. But this is very misleading. There are several factors contributing to the decline in prices. For example, booking online has almost entirely eliminated the large commissions of travel agents. Experts state these fees normally accounted for a full 10 percent of ticket prices.

And while it is true that fares to large cities has benefited from increased competition, where it exists, smaller communities have, conversely, seen substantial fare increases as their airports have experienced reduced or lost service. Millions of travelers are also forced to purchase tickets to major hub airports they otherwise would have bypassed during the period of regulation where direct flights to and from smaller markets were offered.

The last major factor making the price of flights misleading is the explosion of fees for everything from luggage to meals to wifi to the ability to board early–coming soon: the surcharge if you would like to not be beaten and dragged off the plane. This has been the single largest source of profits for airlines in the last decade, with Delta alone pulling in $5.7 billion from such fees in 2013 alone.

As Tim Wu pointed out in the New Yorker, this pricing model sets up a perverse incentive:

Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IS THERE any way out of calculated misery?

The current trajectory we’re on doesn’t seem promising. While the past few years saw record profits for airlines in part due to lower fuel costs, as costs begin to rise, we should expect new rounds of crisis, bankruptcies and mergers, all of which will, of course, be apaid for by further attacks on worker and passenger dignity.

Ultimately, we would be wise to heed the words of former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall that “market forces alone cannot and will not produce a satisfactory airline industry, which clearly needs some help to solve its pricing, cost and operating problems.”

Nationalizing and making the airlines a public utility would be a rational response to the anarchic yet calculated misery of deregulation. In a sane system, we would also look for ways to reduce the amount of air travel, given its carbon footprint, but this would require reorganizing corporate practice and providing affordable, sustainable travel alternatives, such as high-speed rail, as well as providing workers more vacation days to make slower forms of travel feasible.

Of course, we should expect none of these solutions to be forthcoming from the airline executives–least of all under a certain president who, within weeks of taking office, gleefully told a group of them: “You’re going to be so happy with Trump.”

Instead our salvation from the unfriendly skies lies, as an anonymous Delta employee put it recently, in passengers and airline workers joining forces in support of each other:

Instead of indicting each other (employees and passengers), we should focus on fostering solidarity. Many of our interests are the same.

Most obviously, a passenger’s flying conditions are also an airline employee’s working conditions…The declining emphasis put on passenger comfort and airline employee working conditions can be traced back to a common cause: the deregulation of the U.S. airline industry and the relentless pursuit of profit.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/08/10/capitalism-doesnt-give-a-flying-f–k

The Police State Trump Is Building Is Far More Destructive to American Democracy Than Any Collusion with Russia

NEWS & POLITICS
Three years after Ferguson, the administration seeks to militarize policing even more. It’s a dangerous path.

Photo Credit: Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock

Three years ago next week, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed a young man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. That shooting sparked nationwide unrest and a national discussion of “use of force” doctrine and the militarization of the police. Those had been subjects of concern among civil libertarians for some time as more and more departments around the country developed policing models based upon the rules of engagement in war zones.

War in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than 15 years has produced a surplus of military gear that ends up being sold to local law enforcement agencies, along with a culture of “us against them” that’s created a sense of siege in too many communities of color. Although this has been a gradual change, the sight of all that combat-style weaponry rolling down the streets of the middle American suburb of Ferguson came as a shock to a lot of people.

The Black Lives Matter movement, which grew out of the Trayvon Williams shooting in 2013, gained momentum after Ferguson, as did various organizations working on policing reform. Awareness seemed to be growing that the drug war had become a real war. As the ACLU report, “The War Comes Home” stated:

All across the country, heavily armed SWAT teams are raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. It should enrage us that people have needlessly died during these raids, that pets have been shot, and that homes have been ravaged.

Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.

For a brief moment it felt as if there might be the political will to put a stop to some of these excesses. But of course for every action there’s a reaction, and a backlash against Black Lives Matter and police reform grew as well. When Donald Trump came along promising to be the “law and order” president and won the election, whatever progress was being made stalled out completely.

Unfortunately, it’s not just local police forces that are militarized; national police agencies are as well. The Department of Homeland Security has the largest law enforcement agency in the country, with ICE and the Border Patrol heavily invested in tactics and strategies developed in war zones. They use all manner of military equipment, including battle-tested helicopters and weaponized drone aircraft.

Their reach is much farther into the country than most people realize. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, has a huge jurisdiction that stretches 100 miles from any U.S. international border, whether on land or at sea. That means it covers the entire state of Florida and the entire state of Maine, as well as virtually every major metropolitan area. These agencies routinely use interior checkpoints far from any border for roundups of suspected undocumented immigrants and conduct various other kinds of Homeland Security investigations.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the second largest federal investigative agency in the country after the FBI, with more that 20,000 employees. Under the direction of former Marine Gen. John Kelly (now the White House chief of staff), and despite protestations that they are only going after the “bad hombres,” ICE agents have been instructed to “take off the gloves” and seize any and all undocumented immigrants that may cross their paths.

For a brief moment it felt as if there might be the political will to put a stop to some of these excesses. But of course for every action there’s a reaction, and a backlash against Black Lives Matter and police reform grew as well. When Donald Trump came along promising to be the “law and order” president and won the election, whatever progress was being made stalled out completely.

Unfortunately, it’s not just local police forces that are militarized; national police agencies are as well. The Department of Homeland Security has the largest law enforcement agency in the country, with ICE and the Border Patrol heavily invested in tactics and strategies developed in war zones. They use all manner of military equipment, including battle-tested helicopters and weaponized drone aircraft.

Their reach is much farther into the country than most people realize. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, has a huge jurisdiction that stretches 100 miles from any U.S. international border, whether on land or at sea. That means it covers the entire state of Florida and the entire state of Maine, as well as virtually every major metropolitan area. These agencies routinely use interior checkpoints far from any border for roundups of suspected undocumented immigrants and conduct various other kinds of Homeland Security investigations.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the second largest federal investigative agency in the country after the FBI, with more that 20,000 employees. Under the direction of former Marine Gen. John Kelly (now the White House chief of staff), and despite protestations that they are only going after the “bad hombres,” ICE agents have been instructed to “take off the gloves” and seize any and all undocumented immigrants that may cross their paths.

“I like predictability,” the agent said. “I like being able to go into work and have faith in my senior managers and the Administration, and to know that, regardless of their political views, at the end of the day they’re going to do something that’s appropriate. I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Furthermore, the Trump administration wants to hire 15,000 more agents to throw into this chaos. According to a new report by the DHS inspector general, that would require vetting more than a million people in order to fill those jobs. Even worse, the report says that the department is so poorly run that it couldn’t come up with any decent reason to justify hiring all those new agents in the first place.

I’m not sure this will stop them from doing it. We already knew that the agency planned to lower its standards anyway. Remember, the “law and order” president promised his loyalists that “American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” He wants his police state.

Maybe Congress will finally find some backbone in its dealings with President Trump and tighten the purse strings. We can only hope so. These massive paramilitary agencies have already expanded their mission beyond any reasonable scope. They represent a threat to democracy and the rule of law, and the last thing we need is even more of them.

Note: Unless President Trump resigns or declares war I’ll be off until Aug. 16. 

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/police-state-trump-building-far-more-destructive-american-democracy-any-collusion?akid=15939.265072.6NPoLt&rd=1&src=newsletter1080571&t=17

Google’s chief search engineer legitimizes new censorship algorithm

By Andre Damon
31 July 2017

Between April and June, Google completed a major revision of its search engine that sharply curtails public access to Internet web sites that operate independently of the corporate and state-controlled media. Since the implementation of the changes, many left wing, anti-war and progressive web sites have experienced a sharp fall in traffic generated by Google searches. The World Socialist Web Site has seen, within just one month, a 70 percent drop in traffic from Google.

In a blog post published on April 25, Ben Gomes, Google’s chief search engineer, rolled out the new censorship program in a statement bearing the Orwellian title, “Our latest quality improvements for search.” This statement has been virtually buried by the corporate media. Neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal has reported the statement. The Washington Post limited its coverage of the statement to a single blog post.

Framed as a mere change to technical procedures, Gomes’s statement legitimizes Internet censorship as a necessary response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”

The “phenomenon of ‘fake news’” is, itself, the principal “fake news” story of 2017. In its origins and propagation, it has all the well-known characteristics of what used to be called CIA “misinformation” campaigns, aimed at discrediting left-wing opponents of state and corporate interests.

Significantly, Gomes does not provide any clear definition, let alone concrete examples, of any of these loaded terms (“fake news,” “blatantly misleading,” “low quality, “offensive,” and “down right false information.”)

The focus of Google’s new censorship algorithm is political news and opinion sites that challenge official government and corporate narratives. Gomes writes: “[I]t’s become very apparent that a small set of queries in our daily traffic (around 0.25 percent), have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for.”

Gomes revealed that Google has recruited some 10,000 “evaluators” to judge the “quality” of various web domains. The company has “evaluators—real people who assess the quality of Google’s search results—give us feedback on our experiments.” The chief search engineer does not identify these “evaluators” nor explain the criteria that are used in their selection. However, using the latest developments in programming, Google can teach its search engines to “think” like the evaluators, i.e., translate their political preferences, prejudices, and dislikes into state and corporate sanctioned results.

Gomes asserts that these “evaluators” are to abide by the company’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, which “provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag, which can include misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and unsupported conspiracy theories.”

Once again, Gomes employs inflammatory rhetoric without explaining the objective basis upon which negative evaluations of web sites are based.

Using the input of these “evaluators,” Gomes declares that Google has “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content.” He again asserts, further down, “We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content.”

What this means, concretely, is that Google decides not only what political views it wants censored, but also what sites are to be favored.

Gomes is clearly in love with the term “authoritative,” and a study of the word’s meaning explains the nature of his verbal infatuation. A definition given by the Oxford English Dictionary for the word “authoritative” is: “Proceeding from an official source and requiring compliance or obedience.”

The April 25 statement indicates that the censorship protocols will become increasingly restrictive. Gomes states that Google is “making good progress” in making its search results more restrictive. “But in order to have long-term and impactful changes, more structural changes in Search are needed.”

One can assume that Mr. Gomes is a competent programmer and software engineer. But one has good reason to doubt that he has any particular knowledge of, let alone concern for, freedom of speech.

Gomes’s statement is Google-speak for saying that the company does not want people to access anything besides the official narrative, worked out by the government, intelligence agencies, the main capitalist political parties, and transmitted to the population by the corporate-controlled media.

In the course of becoming a massive multi-billion dollar corporate juggernaut, Google has developed politically insidious and dangerous ties to powerful and repressive state agencies. It maintains this relationship not only with the American state, but also with governments overseas. Just a few weeks before implementing its new algorithm, in early April, Gomes met with high-ranking German officials in Berlin to discuss the new censorship protocols.

Google the search engine is now a major force for the imposition of state censorship.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/07/31/goog-j31.html

Trump’s Allies Are Taking Over the Media and Creating Their Own Reality

MEDIA

Is anybody paying attention?

Members of the media watch the third US presidential debate on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This post originally appeared at The Nation.

On July 17, the Idaho television station KBOI tweeted a story about a would-be robber who allegedly “arrives early at banks to find doors locked.” Even more confusing than the indecipherable English was the photo it ran: that of Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson being arrested at a protest in Baton Rouge (the robbery suspect was not even black). Having had the mistake called to their attention, the station apologized, although another story on KBOI’s website used the same image of Mckesson beneath the headline “Officer wounded in deadly ambush sues Black Lives Matter.”

That KBOI is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group should surprise no one who has ever paid attention to the company — a category, alas, that includes precious few people. Sinclair is a far-right media operation that until recently has flown under the radar of all but the most studious media critics. It received brief scrutiny in December, when it was revealed that Jared Kushner had struck a deal with the company to give it special access to Donald Trump in exchange for a promise to run Trump interviews across the country without commentary. These were especially important to the campaign in swing states like Ohio, where Sinclair reaches many more viewers than networks like CNN. More recently, the station made news when its vice president and director, Frederick G. Smith, whose family owns the company, made a $1,000 donation to Greg Gianforte’s House campaign the day after he assaulted Ben Jacobs of The Guardian for the crime of asking a question about Trumpcare. Now the company is poised to take over Tribune Media in a $3.9 billion deal. Add Tribune’s 42 stations to the 173 that Sinclair already owns, and you’ve got the single biggest conglomerate of TV stations in America, reaching 70 percent of all households in the nation.

Though it receives a fraction of the attention lavished on Fox News, Sinclair is, in its own way, every bit as awful. It forces its affiliates to run regular segments by a former Sinclair executive, Mark Hyman, along with those of Boris Epshteyn, who, until recently, was a “senior adviser” to Trump and is now a full-time apologist for anything and everything the president says and does. In an impressive recent segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver noted that Sinclair sends scripts to its local news anchors to be delivered verbatim together with the clips it wants shown. Among these are “questions” like “Did the FBI have a personal vendetta in pursuing the Russian investigation against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn?” When the Trump administration approves Sinclair’s merger — which it certainly will, despite the fact that the merger violates current rules about concentration of ownership — local television news will be further delocalized as it grows simultaneously more right-wing and Trump-friendly.

A similar fate awaits Time Inc. if it is sold to either of what are reported to be its most energetic suitors. The first of these is American Media, which, run by David Pecker, might as well be run by Trump himself. Earlier in the year, Kushner offered to kill a story about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski’s then-secret romance in Pecker’s flagship tabloid, the National Enquirer, if the Morning Joe co-hosts would personally apologize to Trump for their critical coverage. This extraordinary collusion was only recently revealed by Scarborough and Brzezinski in The Washington Post, after our idiot president went after Brzezinski for allegedly “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” Pecker denies all this, but it is entirely consistent with the tone of the coverage that Pecker has given his friend since Trump first announced his presidential campaign. (Representative headlines: “Donald Trump — His Revenge on Hillary & Her Puppets” and “Top Secret Plan Inside: How Trump Will Win Debate!”)

It’s hard to imagine a worse combination than a terrible tabloid tied to Trump and right-wing extremism, but if you were forced to find one, it would be the billionaire father-daughter combination of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who infamously bankrolled Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway and are the moneybags behind Breitbart News. The Mercers’ Renaissance Technologies recently snapped up nearly 2.5 million shares of Time Inc., creating speculation that they, too, were angling to buy the publisher of TIMEPeopleand Fortune, among other titles.

So on the one hand, far-right extremists with next to no commitment to traditional journalistic standards are seeking to expand their empire to the point where their version of “reality” will soon overwhelm the reporting from what remains of the mainstream media. On the other hand, those institutions — under intense financial and political pressure — are increasingly caving in to demands that they tailor their coverage to make it more consistent with the fantasy world promoted by Trump and his acolytes. CNN head Jeff Zucker, recently profiled in The New York Times Magazine as a lonely defender of truth under fire from a hostile White House, not only guided Trump’s career at NBC, he practically turned CNN over to the huckster during the campaign. In addition to all the free airtime he gave Trump, Zucker hired both the hapless Jeffrey Lord to act as Trump’s de facto on-air surrogate and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was simultaneously being paid by the campaign and enjoined by a nondisclosure agreement from telling the truth at the time of his hiring. Zucker’s defense? Lord and Lewandowski, far from informing CNN viewers regarding facts and evidence, are instead acting as “characters in a drama,” as if news programming were no different than The Sopranos.

MSNBC, meanwhile, has been on a hiring spree of right-wing hacks like Hugh Hewitt, Charlie Sykes, Greta Van Susteren (since fired) and George Will, who will join Elise Jordan, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele, Rick Tyler, Nicolle Wallace, Scarborough and the execrable Mark Halperin on this allegedly “liberal” counterpart to Fox. Meanwhile, Fox is still Fox, despite the departures of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, among other sexual predators formerly in the station’s employ.

And yet, where are you reading about this? Who besides a British comedian with a weekly show on pay cable is raising this particular alarm? Almost no one. The frog is in the water and the heat is turned up high. But it’s not a frog; it’s the possibility of truth even entering our political discourse and determining the fate of our democracy that’s dying a slow death.

Eric Alterman is CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, media columnist for The Nation, a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of nine books, including When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (2004), Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (2011) and Inequality and One City: Bill de Blasio and the New York Experiment, Year One (2015). Follow him on Twitter: @Eric_Alterman.

http://billmoyers.com/story/trumps-allies-taking-media-creating-reality/

What if all journalists wrote like tech journalists?

Hypnotized by Silicon Valley’s hype machine, too many tech writers are little more than fawning lackeys

What if all journalists wrote like tech journalists?

Apple CEO Tim Cook(Credit: AP/Richard Drew)

Ever since the ’90s tech boom, tech journalists have tended to cover their beat a little differently. More specifically, compared to other journalistic fields, tech journalism is more likely to be reverent, even fawning, toward the subjects it is supposed to critique.

“Visit any technology-focused media outlet, or the tech sections of many news organizations, and you’ll see that ‘gadget porn’ videos, hagiographic profiles of startup founders or the regurgitation of lofty growth expectations from Wall Street analysts vastly outnumber critical analyses of technological disruption,” wrote my Salon colleague Angelo Young, in his article about how Silicon Valley sells a side of ideology with its gadgets. “[C]riticisms that do exist tend to focus on ancillary issues, such as Silicon Valley’s dismal lack of workplace diversity, or how innovation is upsetting norms in the labor market, or the class-based digital divide; all are no doubt important topics, but they’re ones that don’t question the overall assumptions that innovation and disruption are at worst harmless if not benevolent.”

This is the dismal state of tech journalism in the digital era: Because of the tech industry’s success at branding itself as selling a sunny, progressive vision of the future, most (but not all) tech journalists don’t really cover it with a critical eye. Some publications and blogs read like advertisements for gadgets, and breathlessly cover minor, quotidian firmware updates as if they were front-page stories.

Which leads us to a thought experiment: What if all news stories were written the way tech journalists cover their beats? What if all journalism was infected with the same cultish CEO adulation, the fawning adoration, the puff pieces about how this week’s disposable gadget is the most amazing thing to have ever existed? How might the news look to us then?

Reader, here’s a take on a shiny new product — not in the tech industry, but the fast-food industry — written from just that perspective.

It’s here: McDonald’s Lobster Roll 7

McDonald’s adds a fresher crustacean and an improved crunch at a higher price point — but should you buy it?

Reviewing the new Lobster Roll 7 is a lot like reviewing the previous models, but different. The roll, which was announced last week at the annual Worldwide Food-Eater’s Conference (WFEC) at the futuristic McDonald’s campus in Oak Brook, outwardly resembles the last Lobster Roll — but inside, it’s totally new.

Until recently, the notoriously secretive fast-food company had been mum about the next generation of its ever-popular sandwich. For the past two years, journalists have had to rely on the slow trickle of supply-chain rumors and leaked photos of questionable veracity to guess at the nature of the next model. The hype machine is so overblown that there’s a cottage industry of excitable vloggers who make a living creating speculative computer mock-ups of the next Lobster Roll and posting them on YouTube.

But back to the WFEC reveal: Perhaps the most surprising announcement from the Wizards of Oak Brook was the changed naming scheme. No more McLobster. It’s just Lobster Roll 7 now.

More elegant, perhaps, and an intriguing shift in marketing strategy for the decidedly minimalist company. Indeed, since meticulously engineering the first McLobster, the company has opted to make subtle year-to-year changes in its sandwich design, a strategy that makes sense given its astonishing popularity. Many reviewers believed the second generation model was “near-perfect”; how can you improve on perfection? Tinkering is all that’s left. Yet as sandwich tech improves, we can surely expect to see some of the fruits of that innovation implicated in this model. McDonald’s certainly spends a pretty penny on R&D.

If you take a closer look, most of the outward changes to this Lobster Roll model are subtle. For example, the way the lobster is cut is more angular than before — an interesting design decision for a company that always had a fetish for bevels. And for the first time, the lettuce no longer comes from Korean-based Lettuce International; relations between the two companies have been frosty ever since LI began selling a competitor crustacean roll.

While anticipation was sky-high for the next iteration of the Lobster Roll line, questions linger about McDonald’s ability to continue to dominate the industry. Mickey D fanboys have reason to be suspicious of this release; ever since the first groundbreaking McLobster was released in 1993, the crustacean fast-food space has become way more crowded. Rival Panera has been innovating in the crustacean sandwich world for the past few years, and has built up an impressive condiment ecosystem to rival that of McDonald’s. Likewise, the new Lobster Roll 7 will be the first iteration of the McDonald’s line released under the aegis of new CEO Steve Easterbrook, who last year took the reins from his iconic, brilliant, industry-defining predecessor, the ever-reclusive wunderkind Don Thompson — whose leadership of the industry-defining company has been immortalized in five biopics over the past 10 years, including an eponymous 2016 film written by Aaron Sorkin.

But enough about expectations. What about the product?

Let’s just say that fanboys are likely to call this Lobster Roll “world changing” (many of them without even tasting it, if the long lines outside McDonald’s stores across the globe are any indication). You may roll your eyes at such an epithet, but they may indeed be right. Even the most crotchety reviewers will likely admit that the Lobster Roll 7 epitomizes a paradigm shift for the industry. And to those who say it’s barely an innovation on previous models, I say this: Why mess with perfection?

Keith A. Spencer is a cover editor at Salon.