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Daily Archives: July 23, 2009


Chips, Skips and Apologies

Justified anger is a wonderful thing. It allows one to act like a complete ass with little, if any, impunity. For example, I recall once while backpacking my way through Egypt when a taxi driver I made a deal with for a ride ditched me for some other riders. We were in a sleepy, seaside town on the Sinai peninsula, separated by several miles of harsh desert terrain from the local bus stop. The driver wanted to maximize the trip, understandably, and sought out a few more riders (there was only two of us) before leaving. Of course, when he returned the taxi was full and we were left without a ride, stranded in Dahab. Needless to say, I was a bit miffed.

Luckily, I had consulted my trusty, Harvard-drafted “Let’s Go: Egypt” prior to entering the country, which suggested throwing a loud and boisterous fit if put in a situation where you are likely being cheated. So, I did. And it worked like a charm. I threw luggage, cursed at the top of my lungs, and glared menacingly at the taxi driver causing him to quickly exit the situation as a crowd of onlookers gathered. But suddenly, something wonderful happened; the crowd sympathized with my plight, took me under their care, and within a few minutes I was being treated to warm food, cold drink and a new taxi (driven by someone’s cousin as I recall) was summoned to take us on our journey. By acting like a spoiled child, just because I was screwed out of a ride, I was treated as a victim in need of comfort, and not a damned fool in need of discipline.

My tantrum was quite effective and confirmed to me that “justifiable anger” is a powerful, and intoxicating, thing. It is the “castle doctrine” of emotional responses which places blame for any incident squarely on the shoulders of the instigator, leaving you with unquestioned moral authority. However, like any intoxicant, it also tempts overuse and abuse.

Gates being arrested at his home

Gates being arrested at his home


By now you are probably aware of Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr.’s arrest in Cambridge, Massachusetts. What should have been a non-story became a huge imbroglio because of Dr. Gates’ stature, and the media’s endless pursuit of “Racism in America” stories. Even so, it was likely on its way to dying on the back pages of Boston newspapers until Pres. Obama resurrected it with his rather careless and admittedly ill-informed denunciation of the police officer involved.

After spending most of an hour patiently reiterating his arguments for changing the health insurance system, President Barack Obama turned his press conference sharply toward an iconic moment in American race relations: The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. earlier this week by the Cambridge Police.

[...]

“I don’t know – not having been there and not seeing all the facts – what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two that he Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home,” Obama said in response to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet.

Gates, Obama allowed, “is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don’t know all the facts.”

In other words, despite not knowing all the facts, the President decided to weigh in anyway on the side of his friend and to assume the worst about the police. Unfortunately, Obama is not alone in his ignorance or willingness to castigate someone without questioning the actions of Dr. Gates.

Chips

If anything is clear about the situation, it is that escalation was not necessary and could easily have been avoided. Dr. Gates apparently has a huge chip on his shoulder with respect to white cops, in the very least, and reacted poorly to Sgt. Crowley following up on a breaking and entering call. Indeed, Pres. Obama, among many others, opined that Gates was perfectly justified in being angry (“but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry”) because he was being accused of robbing his own house.

Yet such reaction completely ignores the reason for Crowley being there in the first place: to protect Dr. Gates’ house. Why would a policeman acting in defense of Dr. Gates’s own home upset him? Because Dr. Gates has a huge chip on his shoulder and succumbed to that sweet temptation of justifiable anger to grab the moral high ground. In doing so, he elided right past the justifications for Crowley’s visit, as well as his questions, and instead went right into victimization mode.

Crowley, for his own part, also seems to be carrying a chip or two. One, that is not uncommon to policemen, appears to be a distinct aversion to challenges to his authority. After all, yelling at a cop in your own front yard hardly seems like a criminal offense. In addition, and more understandably, Crowley carries a big chip on his shoulder regarding being called a racist. Here’s why:

The Cambridge cop prominent Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. claims is a racist gave a dying Reggie Lewis mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in a desperate bid to save the Celtics [team stats] superstar’s life 16 years ago Monday.

“I wasn’t working on Reggie Lewis the basketball star. I wasn’t working on a black man. I was working on another human being,” Sgt. James Crowley, in an exclusive interview with the Herald, said of the forward’s fatal heart attack July 27, 1993, at age 27 during an off-season practice at Brandeis University, where Crowley was a campus police officer.

It’s a date Crowley still can recite by rote – and he still recalls the pain he suffered when people back then questioned whether he had done enough to save the black athlete.

“Some people were saying ‘There’s the guy who killed Reggie Lewis’ afterward. I was broken-hearted. I cried for many nights,” he said.

Surely someone who faced such criticism, despite administering his best efforts, is going to be a little sensitive to being called a racist. I wouldn’t be surprised if “oh no, here we go again” was the primary thought running through Crowley’s mind while Gates was delivering his tirade.

Unfortunately, Crowley’s chips may have caused him to ignore the obvious (if unwarranted) source of Gates’ ire, and instead to grab for that justifiable anger high ground himself. The end result is that a normally routine procedure becomes a huge production that serves the interests of no one.

Skips

Of course, to be fair, Gates’ reaction was quite confusing to the officer.

Consider for a moment, how you would assess the situation had you been in Crowley’s place. You receive a call about a B&E in progress and immediately respond, asking the caller who reported the incident to meet you at the front door to the residence. In all likelihood you’ve responded to similar calls before only to find that the either it’s someone breaking into their own home, or that an estranged girlfriend/wife is calling for backup in a domestic situation, or something other than an actual robbery. Therefore, you request the caller to be there just to be sure.

Upon arrival, you have to assess the situation without having any knowledge. You meet the caller who tells you that two black men with backpacks were observed trying to “wedge” the front door open with their shoulders, thus raising suspicion and precipitating the call. OK, now you can be reasonably certain that it’s not a domestic situation, but there still may be an innocent explanation. You notice someone inside the house, looking out at you as you approach the front door. Who could it be? The owner? A friend? Or perhaps a potential burglar? You don’t know but the only way to find out is to question the person.

Now, stop and think for a moment. If the person you are about to question is the home’s owner, wouldn’t you expect a rather cooperative attitude? You are defending their home after all. In contrast, if the person inside is someone who shouldn’t be there, then you would expect a more evasive, or possibly hostile reaction. But how do you deal with the rightful owner calling you a racist (pdf)?

As I turned and faced the door, I could see an older black male standing in the foyer of [redacted] Ware Street. I made this observation through the glass paned front door. As I stood in plain view of this man, later identified as gates, I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me. He replied “no I will not.” He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was “Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police” and that I was “investigating a report of a break (sic) in progress” at the residence. While I was making this statement, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed “why, because I’m a black man in America?”. I then asked Gates if there was anyone else in the residence. While yelling, he told me that it was non of my business and accused me of being a racist police officer. I assured gates that I was responding to a citizen’s call to the Cambridge Police and that the caller was outside as we spoke. Gates seemed to ignore me and picked up a cordless telephone and dialed an unknown telephone number. As he did so, I radioed on channel 1 that I was off in the residence with someone who appeared to be a resident but very uncooperative. I then overheard Gates asking the person on the other end of his telephone call to “get the chief” and “what’s the chief’s name?”. gates was telling the person on the other end of the call that he was dealing with a racist police officer in his home. Gates then turned to and told me that I had no idea who I was “messing” with and that I had not heard the last of it. While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me. I asked Gates to provide me with photo identification so that I could verify that he resided at [redacted] Ware Street and so I could radio my finding to ECC. Gates initially refused, demanding that I show him identification but then did supply me with a Harvard university identification card. Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police.

The statement above if from Sgt. Crowley and, most likely, is self-serving. Then there is Gates’ version of events:

When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates.

In comparing the two statements, they contain a lot of agreement on how the events unfolded. Both accounts state that Crowley asked Gates to step outside and that he explained the reason for his visit. They also both agree that Crowley asked for verification that Gates belonged in the residence, as well as that Gates provided at least his Harvard ID. They further agree that Gates asked for Crowley’s identification, although they differ as to why.

In fact, Gates never suggests why he wanted the officer’s ID, nor what could have possibly prompted the request. If Gates’ statement is to be accepted as true, we would have to believe that he was a perfect gentleman throughout the process until his request for Crowley’s ID was ignored. Indeed, Gates’ entire story depends on the idea that he only became outwardly upset when Crowley refused to give him identification. And even if that were true, it does not explain how the charges of racism and racial profiling came to be leveled. It’s not as if refusing to show official ID has some racially disparate component to it.

Gates has further problems with his story as well. According to Crowley’s statement, he radioed into ECC with pertinent information as he got it and requested the presence of Harvard Police. In addition, he observed Gates making a phone call to someone and asking for the “chief” while declaring that a racist police officer was in his home. All of these statements are verifiable by looking at the radio transmissions from Crowley and the phone records from Gates. Oddly, Gates makes no mention of the phone call, nor offers any explanation as to how the Harvard Police came to be at the scene. That tends to lend credibility to Crowley’s version of events.

On the other side of the ledger, however, it sure does look like Crowley lured Gates outside in order to arrest him and show him who was boss. His claim that he went outside to speak with Gates because the acoustics were inhibiting his ability to communicate with ECC sounds just a little too perfect. Crowley further neglects to explain why he could not have offered to write the information down for Gates, or even better, simply handed him a business card (which every cop I’ve ever dealt with has had plenty of). That would have presumably satisfied Gates for the time being and allowed Crowley to exit the situation without any further ruckus. Instead, both parties claim that Crowley asked the professor to step outside, in full view of the poor crowd who’s tender mercies were then violated by Gates’ tirade, and voilà Crowley then had a reason to arrest him.

Despite all the foregoing, and regardless of whose version of events you believe, there is simply no indication of why this has been turned into a racial incident. Some suggest that the original caller was racist for immediately assuming that two black men trying to force a door open were criminals. But that’s just absurd, and I would hope that if a passerby sees anyone of any color breaking into my home they call the police. Others hypothesize that a white professor would not have experienced the same treatment at the hands of the police, but that ignores (a) the agreed upon facts, and (b) the fact that police would be derelict if they did not verify who was in the home, and whether or not they belong there. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have run into similar circumstances regardless of race (I know I have). To date, no one has offered a reasonable explanation as to how the incident justifies charges of racism and racial profiling, although plenty of people are perfectly willing to assume such is the case.

Apologies

I may as well get the ball rolling for turning what could have been a succinct piece into a meandering tome. So, sorry about that.

Next up is Officer Crowley who is adamant that no apology will be forthcoming.

Crowley himself, speaking to the Globe yesterday and again last night in Natick, said he will not apologize and asserted, “I am not a racist.’’

Crowley’s police union issued a statement saying it had reviewed the arrest of Gates and expressed “full and unqualified support’’ for his actions.

“Sergeant Crowley is a highly respected veteran supervisor with a distinguished record in the Cambridge Police Department,’’ said the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association. “His actions at the scene of this matter were consistent with his training, with the informed policies and practices of the Department, and with applicable legal standards.’’

I guess you can forget about the Police Department delivering one either.

As for Gates, well he hasn’t been asked for one, and it does not appear that one will be forthcoming, especially now that the President of the United States has backed him.

Obama acknowledged that Gates is a friend and that since he was not there, he cannot know exactly what role race may have played in the incident.

Gates’ daughter and attorney said they were pleased by the president’s comments.

Charles Ogletree, Gates’ attorney and a fellow Harvard professor, told “Good Morning America’s” Dan Harris today that Gates “was simply pleased that Barack acknowledged he was a friend and what he had read and heard and understood to have been reported that Professor Gates did not violate the law.”

Perhaps the media will apologize for turning this into a major story, and perceptibly backing Gates’ version by playing up the racism angle, not to mention raising the issue at a prime time news conference on health care. Hmmm … no, I guess that’s just silly.

Once the tempting fruit of justifiable anger is consumed, it almost impossible to give up. Should Crowley apologize for arresting Gates? Yes, he probably should, but I’m sure he feels too justified in his anger to do so: Gates shouldn’t have berated him for protecting Gates’ own home, and certainly shouldn’t have called him a racist.

Should Gates apologize for his tumultuous behavior and unwarranted accusations? Most definitely, but that isn’t likely to happen either because Gates feels justified in his anger as well: Crowley shouldn’t have arrested him, causing him embarrassment and extreme discomfort, simply because he was yelling and screaming while on his own property.

So, nobody will apologize, nothing will be fixed, and no wounds will be healed. Welcome to post-racial America.


Al Gore, Call Your Agent

There goes that “scientific consensus” about AGW again. And in a peer-reviewed study too.

Three Australasian scientists have published a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research claiming that virtually none of the observed temperature increases in the Earth’s atmosphere in recent years can be attributed to man-made factors.

Ummm … sure am wantin’ me some of that cap-and-trade now.  As anyone should be able to figure out by now, the science is anything but settled concerning AGW.

Their research says that it is the El Nino-Southern Oscillation that pretty much has its way with temperature. And, the claim, volcanoes have a pretty significant impact on cooling.

“The surge in global temperatures since 1977 can be attributed to a 1976 climate shift in the Pacific Ocean that made warming El Niño conditions more likely than they were over the previous 30 years and cooling La Niña conditions less likely” de Freitas said.

“We have shown that internal global climate-system variability accounts for at least 80% of the observed global climate variation over the past half-century. It may even be more if the period of influence of major volcanoes can be more clearly identified and the corresponding data excluded from the analysis,” he added.

Their conclusion?

“Overall the results suggest that the Southern Oscillation exercises a consistently dominant influence on mean global temperature, with a maximum effect in the tropics, except for periods when equatorial volcanism causes ad hoc cooling.”

And man?

Not so much.

I’m sure our resident AGW believers will troop in to tell us how this is obviously not anything that “real science” would advance – except this is real science, with real scientists and a peer-reviewed study.

~McQ


Hell Freezes Over – NYT Fact Checks Obama

I‘ll leave it to you to read the health care fact check. But this was of particular interest to me:

The president continued to take credit for deficit reduction by making a claim that has been challenged by many experts.

“If we had done nothing, if you had the same old budget as opposed to the changes we made,” the deficit over the next 10 years would be $2.2 trillion greater, the president said.

In fact, $1.5 trillion of those “savings” are mainly based on an assumption that the United States would have had as many troops in Iraq in 10 years as it did when Mr. Obama took office. But before leaving office, President George W. Bush signed an agreement with Baghdad mandating the withdrawal of all American forces within three years.

So Mr. Obama is claiming credit for not spending money that, under the policy he inherited from Mr. Bush, would never have been spent in the first place.

For those of you who missed it, even Bush didn’t plan on keeping as many troops as we had then for 10 years. The SOFA agreement and the general withdrawal timetable had been announced before Obama ever took office.

A perfect example of why every “fact” Obama utters needs to be examined carefully (that’s true for every politician, but this one especially), especially now when he’s promising the moon and stars in health care for less cost. Again, read the fact check for some of the points addressing that.

~McQ


The Health Care Presser

I loved a tweet that Jon Henke sent out last night during the Obama health care press conference.  It had me laughing – “Shorter Obama: you’re either with us or against us”.

In reality the press conference was the retelling of the same old nonsense. We’re going to expand the insurance system, require everyone be taken, no pre-existing conditions, no dropping you or denial of service. We’ll pay for it by finding some savings in waste, fraud and abuse, do health care delivery better than anyone else has ever done it, tax the rich and do it all – every bit of it – cheaper than it’s being done now, because we’re the government and we’re the experts in efficiency.

Tell me that wasn’t the crux of the presser?  Anyone left wondering why the majority of Americans are skeptical?

And of course we had the usual canards out there. The claim that preventive medicine is cheaper than medicine as it is being practiced now. Take a moment to read this post by a doctor who lays out the con in minute detail. Here’s another view. Here’s a fact no one seems willing to deal with – the vast majority of all health care costs come in the last 6 months of life.  No one has beaten death yet.  Ergo that fact isn’t going to change unless the entity with the money refuses to pay up.  So while preventive care may extend life, the cost of preventive care is more expensive and the end result remains the same.

As for paying for it,  the whole appeal, of course, was to give the allusion to the middle class that he and the Dems were all for soaking the rich to cover the cost, even talking about how taxing millionaires met his “principle” on that.

But as Mickey Kaus points out, you have to listen carefully:

I don’t want that final one-third of the cost of health care to be completely shouldered on the backs of middle-class families who are already struggling in a difficult economy. And so if I see a proposal that is primarily funded through taxing middle-class families, I’m going to be opposed to that …

Kaus points out that those two words, in “Wash-speak” mean he’s open to a middle-class tax to pay for the “new” and “improved” health care (49% isn’t “primarily”, right?).

And then there’s the dawning understanding around much of the country that this isn’t about reforming health insurance at all (something that might be appealing to most).  It is about a fundamental change in how health care is delivered. As the Republicans have begun saying, it is “experimenting” with your health care.

Can I guarantee that there are going to be no changes in the health-care delivery system? No. The whole point of this is to try to encourage changes that work for the American people and make them healthier. And the government already is making some of these decisions. More importantly, insurance companies right now are making those decisions. And part of what we want to do is to make sure that those decisions are being made by doctors and medical experts based on evidence, based on what works. Because that’s not how it’s working right now. That’s not–that’s not how it’s working right now.

Yes the government is already making some of those decisions. And the unfunded liabilities of the government system threaten to bankrupt us.

But the point remains that peppered all through the statement and answers was the phrase “health care delivery”.  That is one of the things driving down the approval ratings on the legislation.  Its one thing to say, “hey we’re going to eliminate pre-existing conditions, portability issues and denial of service while making sure everyone has insurance”.   It is an entirely different thing to say “we’re going to tinker with and change the way your health care is delivered”.

Now suddenly the government is in territory few want it in.  And that’s the overreach that Obama and the Democrats have committed that is driving the health care legislation approval numbers down.  Which gets us into the politics of this.

Obama said “this isn’t about me”.  But in fact it is all about him and maintaining his credibility.  But his problem, as usual, is he’s outsourced his signature agenda item to Congress.  Peter Wehner discusses the result:

On virtually every important issue — from the stimulus package, to cap-and-trade, to health care, to taxes, and more — Obama is ceding the agenda to the barons on Capitol Hill. And they will lead him over a cliff.

Why this is taking place is hard to know. It may be that Obama and Company are over-learning the lessons of the Clinton and Carter years, when relations with Democrats on the Hill were strained. It may be that Obama doesn’t like to immerse himself in the nitty-gritty of policy and is more comfortable deferring to those who do. It may be that the liberals on the Hill actually reflect what Obama himself — whose record as a legislator was, after all, markedly liberal — favors. It may be that Obama’s lack of experience is now showing through. Or it might be a combination of all four.

Regardless of the cause, the result will be damaging, and maybe even debilitating, to the Obama administration. All the campaign’s promises — about practicing a new brand of politics, finding middle ground, embodying hope and change — seem so old, so dated, and so cynical. Obama is turning out to be Salesman-in-Chief. But what he’s trying to peddle — an unusually liberal agenda and legislation that ranges from ineffective to downright harmful and reflects the desires of leading Congressional Democrats rather than the needs of the country — ain’t selling.

No, it’s not, thus the reason for the presser. As I pointed out yesterday, it is obvious at points he has no idea what is or isn’t in the bill. But what he does have a firm grasp on are his talking points, even if, as the days and weeks go by, they’re shot away or, at best, left hanging tattered and limp.

Speaking of politics, I love the attempt to take on the Republicans as the bad guys (one of the main Democratic talking points for days has been that the Republicans have brought no alternative to the table) and then this:

So, for example, in the HELP committee in the Senate, 160 Republican amendments were adopted into that bill, because they’ve got good ideas to contribute.

I’m not noting this with particular approval, I’m simply noting how this gives lie to the talking point.

To conclude, for anyone who has looked into the issue and followed the debate, such that is has been, Obama’s performance was anything but impressive. It was a mix of tired talking points and a con job – careful rhetoric that implied one thing while really saying something else (the middle-class tax increase being a perfect example).

But that doesn’t mean that some form of health care legislation won’t pass. I think, unfortunately, it will. And that is all about him and politics and he knows it. So do the Democrats. Clinton, Reagan, and GW Bush all passed their signature legislation before the first August recess in their first term. That isn’t going to happen in Barack Obama’s case. But he and the Democrats know that something they can call health care reform must pass or, as Obama is reported to have said, it will destroy his presidency.

To our eternal sorrow the fact that he’s right means the Democrats will do whatever is necessary to pass something to maintain his viability.

~McQ

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