The Philadelphia cops called it a "nickel ride." The name came from the prevailing price for a ride down a rickety roller coaster in an amusement park -- which should give some of idea of the ancient roots of this particularly cruel form of police torture. For decades, cops abused criminal suspects by throwing them, handcuffed and unsecured, into the open back of a police van, then careening around sharp curves or slamming the brakes on a rough ride to central booking.
To keep with modern times, you'd think they's change the name -- call it a "$79.95 All Day Pass," or an "E-Ticket Ride." Or, here's an even better, crazy idea to bring policing practices into the 21st Century: How about stopping "nickel rides" altogether?
Philadelphia has found that hard to do -- last year paying a recent victim of a rough police van ride $490,000 in a civil suit, despite moves to halt "nickel rides" in 2001. And now, incredibly, we learn that authorities in Baltimore are probing whether Freddie Gray -- the 25-year-old man whose death after a police encounter has sparked massive protests and scattered unrest -- was given a rough ride after his arrest, possibly after officers had already snapped Gray's spine.
"We don't control a lot of this stuff. We sort of make our best choices, and we'll—we'll catch up."
The end came shortly before 9 p.m. on a nippy spring Saturday night. We'd all seen it coming for years, especially after the heart-attack-like shock of the Iraq War years in the early 2000s, when elite journalists pinned an American flag to their lapels and left their skepticism back home in the closet. But the awkward, babbling explanations by Louis and his fellow CNN panelists about why they -- and, in fairness, their competitors on MSNBC, Fox and even Al-Jazeera America -- were pathologically unable to ditch their black-tie-dyed puffball coverage of the D.C. media's so-called "nerd prom" truly felt like the respirator plug had finally been yanked, violently, from the wall.
Never in American history have four words so well summed up a president's ambivalent and convoluted stance on a major policy issue then last August, when President Obama, about to head off to Hawaii for summer vacation, told reporters: "We tortured some folks." In just those four words, Obama did somehow manage to convey more candor and more forgiveness than Dick Cheney or his nominal boss George W. Bush mustered in 14 wretched years after creating this nation's great moral failure of the 21st Century. But Obama's statement was also vague, informal -- perhaps inappropriately so -- and weary. The so-called leader of the free world seemed helpless to find a just detergent for the national stain of torture.
Today, Obama was back with a new announcement, and he might as well have said this:
We killed some folks.
Never have I heard so many opinions on a book that absolutely none of the people clucking about it have read. I'm talking about "Clinton Cash," the forthcoming book (as seen in the New York Times) about the big money that rolls into the Clinton Foundation and whether that influenced Hillary Clinton's official actions while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. The book was written by a well-established conservative journalist, Peter Schweizer -- opening up a whole another can of worms.
Like Obamacare, we'll have to publish the book to find out what's in it. Here's an inkling from the Times, which has paid for access to "Clinton Cash" (the book, not the actual cash):
His examples include a free-trade agreement in Colombia that benefited a major foundation donor’s natural resource investments in the South American nation, development projects in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and more than $1 million in payments to Mr. Clinton by a Canadian bank and major shareholder in the Keystone XL oil pipeline around the time the project was being debated in the State Department.
Tomorrow is Earth Day, a great American tradition that started 45 years and -- like a lot of great American traditions -- is more honored in the breach than in the observance. So far in 2015, we've shown our love and appreciation for Mother Earth by contributing to the hottest year since humans started keeping track, thanks to our flair (flare?) for creating greenhouse gases. Joe Biden's in Philadelphia right now, hailing Earth Day Eve by calling for more renewable energy (yay) and better infrastructure to keep exploiting fossil fuels (meh).
I was already thinking about Earth Day when I read this shout out from the great author Naomi Klein for a speech given at the 1970 inception by the iconic investigative journalist I.F. Stone, who pointed out that it's kind of silly to talk about saving the planet when so many of our tax dollars are wasted on killing machines (Apologies for the dated Nixon reference, although that's kind of what we do here at Attytood):
We are spending, on new weapons systems alone, more than ten times as much, in this coming fiscal year, in the Nixon budget, than we’re going to spend on air and water. We’re spending a billion dollars more a year on space than all our expenditure on natural resources. The priorities of this government are lunatic—absolutely lunatic. And we’re not going to save the air we breathe and the water we drink without very many fundamental changes in governmental policy and governmental structure.
I woke up today expecting to blog about other things, but when I read this on my way into work I was so floored that I knew I wanted to post it here. It's a subject that needs to be on the front burner in the Philadelphia's mayor's race -- but it probably won't be. It's an issue that is too sensitive and also too complicated, with no one solution, no quick fix. And the sum is made up of many moving parts.
There are 36,000 missing black men in Philadelphia, according to a new study.
Let me back up a bit. They're "missing," but we know where a lot of them are. Some of them are in the ground -- dead at a ridiculously young age, thanks largely to violence but also to other hazards of urban living, from bad food to bad air. Many more are behind bars, part of the American diaspora that has given this nation the highest rate of incarceration of any developed nation.
The 2016 candidates for the White House are off and running, and to say that it's been underwhelming would be an overstatement. On the Republican side, it feels like the same 8 or 9 candidates that we had at this point in 2011, just with different names attached. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is running against herself...and I'm not sure that she's winning (although the wretched Maureen Dowd may drive a sympathy vote). The candidates' policy views seem largely driven by consultants and focus groups (the exception may be Rand Paul...proving it's possible to be unpredictable and bad!). No wonder that we're fascinated by what looked like a police-stick-up-video of Hillary's secret Chipotle run.
I'm wondering if it's even possible over the next 19 months for someone from either party to say something new and intelligent about the Middle East. Or even acknowledge the obvious -- that our frequently bomb-driven blunders over the last six decades have helped an already, dangerous unstable part of the planet get even more dangerous, and more more deadly. What's happening right now in the Mediterranean is immoral and unconscionable:
ROME — Hundreds of people were feared dead on Sunday after a ship overcrowded with migrants capsized in the Mediterranean, as the authorities described a grisly scene of bodies floating and sinking in the warm waters, with the majority of the dead apparently trapped in the ship at the bottom of the sea.
There's only one thing that's clear today about Doug Hughes, the 61-year-old mail carrier who flew a gyrocopter onto the lawn of the U.S. Capitol in a political stunt yesterday: He's lucky to be alive. When Hughes breached the no-fly zone around the key government buildings in Washington, he was met by agents with their assault weapons drawn, and some officials wondered why he wasn't brought down with lethal force.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who never met a war he didn't want to start or a terrorism suspect he didn't want to detain or execute without a trial, said this: “He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky. I don't know why he wasn't, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our home land. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already."
Yo...to paraphrase another famous aviation incident, the Hindenburg crash, where is the humanity? What Hughes did was certainly foolhardy on some levels -- he was fully aware that he was potentially committing suicide-by-National-Mall-cop, and others could have been hurt in the crossfire. Personally, I'm happy that Hughes is alive, happy his mission ended without violence. Graham's comments suggest the greatest threat to America remains his own rich inner fantasy life of Muslims under every bed.