Saturday, June 28, 2014
Hypermilitarized police departments are more dangerous than whatever they fight.
Nestled awkwardly among the usual guff, the outrage website Salon this week took a welcome flyer and accorded space to something genuinely alarming. “A SWAT team,” the headline screamed, “blew a hole in my 2-year-old son.” For once, this wasn’t hyperbole.
The piece’s author, Alecia Phonesavanh, described what it felt like to be on the business end of an attack that was launched in error by police who believed a drug dealer to be living and operating in her house. They “threw a flashbang grenade inside,” she reported. It “landed in my son’s crib.” Now, her son is “covered in burns” and has “a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs.” So badly injured was he by the raid that he was “placed into a medically induced coma.” “They searched for drugs,” Phonesavanh confirmed, but they “never found any.” Nor, for that matter, did they find the person they were looking for. He doesn’t live there. “All of this,” she asks, “to find a small amount of drugs?”
Historians looking back at this period in America’s development will consider it to be profoundly odd that at the exact moment when violent crime hit a 50-year low, the nation’s police departments began to gear up as if the country were expecting invasion — and, on occasion, to behave as if one were underway. The ACLU reported recently that SWAT teams in the United States conduct around 45,000 raids each year, only 7 percent of which have anything whatsoever to do with the hostage situations with which those teams were assembled to contend. Paramilitary operations, the ACLU concluded, are “happening in about 124 homes every day — or more likely every night” — and four in five of those are performed in order that authorities might “search homes, usually for drugs.” Such raids routinely involve “armored personnel carriers,” “military equipment like battering rams,” and “flashbang grenades.”
Were the military being used in such a manner, we would be rightly outraged. Why not here? Certainly this is not a legal matter. The principle of posse comitatus draws a valuable distinction between the national armed forces and parochial law enforcement, and one that all free people should greatly cherish. Still, it seems plain that the potential threat posed by a domestic standing army is not entirely blunted just because its units are controlled locally. To add the prefix “para” to a problem is not to make it go away, nor do legal distinctions change the nature of power. Over the past two decades, the federal government has happily sent weapons of war to local law enforcement, with nary a squeak from anyone involved with either political party. Are we comfortable with this?
The Right’s silence on the issue is vexing indeed, the admirable attempts of a few libertarians notwithstanding. Here, conservatives seem to be conflicted between their rightful predilection for law and order — an instinct that is based upon an accurate comprehension of human nature and an acknowledgment of the existence of evil — and a well-developed and wholly sensible fear of state power, predicated upon precisely the same thing. As of now, the former is rather dramatically winning out, leading conservatives to indulge — or at least tacitly to permit — excuses that they typically reject elsewhere. Much as the teachers’ unions invariably attempt to justify their “anything goes” contracts by pointing to the ends that they ostensibly serve (“Well you do want schools for the children or don’t you? Sign here”), the increasingly muscular behavior of local police departments is often shrugged off as a by-product of the need to fight crime. This, if left unchecked, is a recipe for precisely the sort of carte blanche that conservatives claim to fear.
Leaving aside the central moral question of the War on Drugs — which is whether the state should be responding to peaceful transactions and consensual behavior with violence — there is, it seems, considerable room between law enforcement’s turning a blind eye to the law and its aping the military in its attempt to uphold it. The cartels of Mexico and drug lords of America’s larger cities are one thing; but two-bit dealers and consumers of illicit substances are quite another. In the instance that Salon recorded, the person that authorities “were looking for, wasn’t there.” “He doesn’t even live in that house,” Phonesavanh confirmed. But suppose that he had, and that he’d been dealing drugs as charged? Does this alone make the case for the tactics? I suspect not. Instead, attempting to catch a violator in the act by releasing military vehicles full of machine-gun-wielding men, storming a home in the dead of night, and performing a no-knock raid that results in a two-year-old’s being pushed into a coma might, one suspects, be overkill — in many similar cases, literally so. The question for conservatives should be this: If cowboy poetry is no justification for federal intrusion, can drug dealing be said to serve as an open invitation for the deployment of the ersatz 101st?
In the more febrile of the Right’s quarters, the sight of MRAPs being delivered to the chief of police in Westington, Mont., has given rise to all forms of regrettable silliness — to visions of black helicopters and reeducation camps and an America on the verge of being taken by force by the gun-toting rangers of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Nevertheless, a small amount of latent paranoia has served America well, and Chekhov’s advice that “one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it” should be applied to governments as rigorously as to aspiring playwrights. Once the holders of the monopoly on violence are accorded the latest weaponry, there will always be the temptation to use it. Likewise, once one has taken the mental and linguistic leap of ascribing to domestic law enforcement the imprimatur of “war,” one may be inclined to reach for the trigger that little bit more quickly. The disaster at Waco, Texas, was, it seems, more cock-up than conspiracy. But the recognition in the aftermath that the whole bloody mess could have been avoided if local officers had taken the time to chat with the victims should haunt us to this day. Rushing in at 100 miles per hour rarely works out, whatever the ill that one is attempting to resolve.
The Left’s current inclination is to spin offenses out of straw — having no major battles left to fight, it seeks to detect microaggressions; with overt bigotry so thin on the ground, the dog whistles have come out; and with the barriers to the Declaration’s maxim having been largely removed, the focus has shifted to the structural and the invisible. But first-degree burns and holes in the chest are different things altogether — not to be dismissed or downplayed — and that the issue is being raised by an outlet known for its absurdity should not dull its impact. Will the Right wake up to the threat, applying its usual mistrust of power to a favored group, or will its usually alert advocates leave themselves willfully in the dark until, one day, a flashbang with their name on it is tossed through the window to wake them up with a start?
– Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.
Friday, June 27, 2014
June 4, 2014
The Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon, second from left, with his new project Molly and the Zombies. Left to right: Guitarist Brian McGee, Fallon, bassist Catherine Popper and drummer Randy Schrager. (Drew Gurian )
In his songwriting, Brian Fallon sometimes encounters a perfect phrase — a group of words that unequivocally paint his song’s complexion in a way that other terms cannot.
Even if the impeccable line doesn’t quite flow into his tune’s melodic structure, whether it’s too many syllables or too few, Fallon shoehorns it into the lyric, as he feels it’s just too good to discard onto the cutting room floor.
Such is the case in the chorus of "Red Lights," a wistful ballad written by the Gaslight Anthem frontman and performed with his new, Americana/folk project Molly and the Zombies.
"There’s this one line that goes ‘I’ll end up on one of my accusers knives,’ but I wrote the words before the music," Fallon says. "I was jamming it in there, and was thinking ‘this doesn’t fit’ and ‘it’s rushed,’ but then I thought ‘Bob Dylan wouldn’t care.’ "
With that — an imagined nod from a legend — Fallon wedges his words and delivers them with deliberate grit that’s Dylan-esque in its own right. He sings unworried by the slight chop in rhythm, and simply expresses what he thinks needs to be said.
Such an ease fuels Fallon’s latest endeavor, a versatile fivesome of tracks that confidently blends both the Jersey singer’s driving, rock background and the folkier sum of parts he’s assembled over the last year.
The group includes guitarist and Plow United frontman Brian McGee, drummer Randy Schrager and Ryan Adams & the Cardinals’ former bassist Catherine Popper, whose voice add some breadth to the new songs. The soft, female tone is a welcome complement to Fallon’s scratching vocals — particularly on "Red Lights" and "Sketchy" — and adds a vulnerable dynamic not so present on Gaslight Anthem albums.
But the Molly songs were never written to sound like Gaslight, anyway. For some time, Fallon had desired to take a short break from his rock roots and weave together some Americana music, a style he defines as "what came out of the really old country music, came out of Grand Ole Opry and that kind of thing. But it’s not really folk, it’s not country, it’s this progressive thing."
So he wrote a few songs, and last year began building his group. Fallon and McGee had palled around in Asbury Park before, where McGee works as a guitar tech at the Russo music store. Popper and Schrager were pulled in after a Joe Strummer tribute show in New York.
"We were talking about Americana music and we thought, maybe we should see what happens if we try to get together, and I had a couple of songs that weren’t going to be used for Gaslight, and said, ‘Hey, let’s try these.’ "
The new, fairly tranquil tunes can be heard two ways, Fallon says: online here, or in-person. There is no record deal, and there will be no record, on CD or vinyl.
Shows are booked as opportunities present themselves, Fallon says. For now, the only planned live performance for Molly and the Zombies is set for the Bell House in Brooklyn Thursday, as part of the Red Bull Sound Select concert series. The group played its first show in December, opening for the Bouncing Souls at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
Fallon’s approach to putting all the music online — for free — is pretty new school, considering the classic rock ’n’ roll technique used to record these tunes.
The Red Bull folks acted as benefactors and set Molly up in their New York studio, a space large enough for the band to record all at once, and not in cordoned-off sound rooms. The open-air recording was new to Fallon, and conducive to the live-show vibe he and his bandmates were trying to achieve as they laid down the tracks.
"Our goal was to do it like Bob Dylan did ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ where you just kind of do it until you get the right takes," Fallon says. "These guys have something that I don’t have, where they can play on cue and each time it’s a little different."
And for Molly and the Zombies, a name born from a Roky Erickson song further born from a 1943 horror movie, "a little different" each time was just fine.
"This was about playing in a band and having fun," Fallon says.
On the Gaslight front, the New Brunswick-based band finished recording its fifth LP in April and a new album is due out in the coming months, but Fallon is tight-lipped for the moment on hard-and-fast details.
"You just have to hear it," he says. "You’ve got to check it out because it’s something else, but it’s awesome."
By Charles Krauthammer
June 26, 2014
The Supreme Court this week admonished the Environmental Protection Agency for overreaching in regulating greenhouse gases. The Clean Air Act covers polluters that emit 250 tons per year (or in some cases, 100 tons). This standard makes no sense if applied to greenhouse gases. Thousands of establishments from elementary schools to grocery stores would be, absurdly, covered. So the EPA arbitrarily chose 100,000 tons as the carbon dioxide threshold.
That’s not “tailoring,” ruled the Supreme Court. That’s rewriting. Under our Constitution, “an agency has no power to ‘tailor’ legislation to bureaucratic policy goals by rewriting unambiguous statutory terms.”
It was a welcome constitutional lesson in restraint, noted the Wall Street Journal. One would think — hope — that an administration so chastened might reconsider its determination to shift regulation of the nation’s power generation to Washington through new carbon dioxide rules under the Clean Air Act.
Fat chance. This administration does not learn constitutional lessons. It continues marching until it meets resistance. And it hasn’t met nearly enough.
The root problem is that the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, was never intended for greenhouse gases. You can see it in its regulatory thresholds which, if applied to carbon dioxide, are ridiculously low. Moreover, when the law was written, we hadn’t yet even had the global cooling agitation of the 1970s, let alone the global warming panic of today.
But with only two of nine justices prepared to overturn the court’s 2007 ruling that shoehorns greenhouse gases into the Clean Air Act, the remedy falls to Congress. It could easily put an end to all this judicial parsing and bureaucratic mischief with a one-line statute saying that the Clean Air Act does not apply to carbon dioxide emissions.
Congress can then set about regulating greenhouse gases as it wishes, rather than leaving it to the tender arbitrary mercies of judges and bureaucrats. Otherwise, we will soon have the EPA unilaterally creating a cap-and-trade regime that will make its administrator czar of all power regulation in every state.
Of course, a similar scheme failed to pass a Democratic Congress in 2010. Our president doesn’t let such niceties stand in his way, however. He has an agenda to enact, boldly enunciated in his Feb. 24, 2009, address to Congress promising to transform America in three areas: health care, education and energy. Education lags, but he’s now on the verge of centralizing energy regulation in Washington through naked executive action, having already succeeded in centralizing health care in Washington through the Affordable Care Act.
With energy, he’ll do it by executive order after failing to pass the desired legislation. With health care, he does it with a law that he then amends so wantonly after it passed that the ACA itself becomes a blank slate on which the administration unilaterally remakes American medicine.
Employer mandate? The ACA says it was to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. It didn’t. The administration decreed that there should be several classes of employers, each with different starting dates, contradicting its own law.
Private insurance? The law says that plans not conforming to ACA coverage mandates must be canceled. Responding to the outcry that ensued, Obama urged the states and insurers to reinstate the plans — which would violate the explicit mandate of his own law.
One bit of ACA lawlessness, however, may prove a bridge too far. The administration has been giving subsidies to those who sign up through the federal exchange. The ACA limits subsidies to plans on the state exchanges.
This case will reach the Supreme Court. It is hard to see how the court could do anything other than overturn the federal-exchange subsidies. The court might even have a word to say about the administration’s 22 (or is it 37?) other acts of post-facto rewriting of the ACA.
Perhaps. But until then, the imperial president rules.
Having been supine for years in the face of these encroachments, Congress is stirring. The Republican House is preparing a novel approach to acquiring legal standing before the courts to challenge these gross executive usurpations. Nancy Pelosi, reflecting the narrowness of both her partisanship and her vision, dismisses this as a “subterfuge.”
She won’t be saying that on the day Democrats lose the White House. Then, cheered on by a suddenly inflamed media, the Democrats will no doubt express horror at such constitutional overreach.
At which point, the temptation to stick it to the Democrats will be overwhelming.
At which point, Lord give us strength.
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