Retraining America, not just the police

Photo of a taser body cam with a red circle slash on top

Body cams aren’t the answer

If you and I have similar friends on Facebook, hardly a day goes by without seeing an example of a cop behaving badly caught on film. Yet, despite film of the choke-hold killing of  Eric Garner, for what couldn’t amount to more than a misdemeanor crime, the cop walks.

There is the video of a guy turning to his car to get his ID as the cop instructed him to- and ending up with a newly perforated body- caught on film by the officer’s own dash cam.

There is the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a Cleveland playground, within 2 seconds of the cop’s arrival- all caught on film.

The president and the family of Michael Brown think that body cams will somehow solve the problem. Ask Eric Garner how the camera worked for him?

Shooting as a solution has been programmed into the mindset of Americans for the last 30 years- on camera- via television. College kids have a drinking game – drink a shot every time Jack Bauer kills someone in an episode of “24.” Long gone are the days of Sheriff Andy Griffin, who wouldn’t let his deputy have more than one bullet.

The art of diplomacy as practiced as part of the job of “peace officer” has been replaced with SWAT gear, body armor and tanks. Yes, tanks.

Take a look at how your local beat cop dresses. Thirty years ago, he wore a white shirt, a tie, jacket, shiny dress shoes and a dress cap. Now, we’re seeing cargo pants, polo shirts over a bullet proof vest and a baseball cap. The shiny shoes, replaced with combat boots. The six-shot .38 revolver, now a 13-round .40 cal. automatic, plus a taser. We’re putting soldiers on the streets to do police work. Look in the trunk of the cruiser- where there used to be a shotgun, there’s also an AR-15.

You only need these kinds of tools in war. In fact, long ago, our government saw the danger of using a military to enforce local laws.

In June of 1878, at the end of Reconstruction, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, to prevent an army from enforcing state laws. Yet, when President Nixon began his “War on Drugs” in June 1971, we declared war on our people and started putting ridiculous numbers of them in prison- tearing apart basic family structures and creating an entire subculture of perpetually underemployed people in our country. The country where “all men are created equal” began to come apart.

The funny thing is that this all started happening after we got done patting ourselves on the backs for passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, where we stopped looking at blacks as some sort of sub-human underclass. Folks, note, this was only 50 years ago.

I was just reading about how MLK and his captains, planned to manipulate the media in Birmingham- how they wanted to overload the jails, how they wanted the water cannons turned on the protesters- and the dogs set loose. The use of children as protestors had some people worried- Robert Kennedy, who was the Attorney General was quoted as saying “An injured, maimed or dead child is a price that none of us can afford to pay.”

How do we reconcile that with the dead Tamir Rice? Michael Brown? Trayvon Martin? The list goes on, and we don’t even think there is a price connected to these acts anymore. We came together on Sept. 11, 2001 in horror, because a few dozen idiots managed to kill 3,000+ “innocent Americans” in an act of terrorism, yet every day in America 32 Americans die by gun violence- meaning that every 100 or so days- is the equivalent of a World Trade Center attack.

We’re numb. We’re dumb and we’re naive if we think the problem is going to be solved with body cams.

The first step has to be a re-evaluation of what constitutes a crime in America. Eric Garner was getting harassed for selling single cigarettes “illegally” on the street. He ended up dead. The Wall Street bozos put millions of people out of work, out of their homes, and collapsed our economy- yet, none of them spent a day in court.

We spend more incarcerating people involved in illegal drug sales than we spend on education in this country. What happens if we paid for college instead of paying to turn people into unemployable x-offenders? What happens if we treat drug addiction with health care professionals instead of by warehousing them in prisons?

Decriminalizing pot is long overdue. Why is methadone treatment an ok substitution for heroin, even though it barely works? If someone wants to be drunk it’s ok- but high, oh, no? If they want to smoke cigs OK- but shoot heroin no- even though nicotine is a harder drug to beat?

We put our police in impossible situations daily- asking them to do things they aren’t really supposed to do. Now, they carry narcam to save people from OD’ing on opiates- what happened to making sure people didn’t speed on the streets, or steal porch furniture?

We can’t expect better police until we have a better understanding of what their role in society is. If it’s to be engaged in a war on drugs, and we continue to militarize them- we’re going to get more of the same. If we do a reset, and get back to keeping the peace and instilling a sense of safety for all- we might get back to the time where talking first comes back in style.

I’ve purposely stayed away from talking about the John Crawford murder in Beavercreek. And while I think John Crawford was an idiot, who had no clue on how to act in public while holding something that resembled a gun, the cop, Sean Williams, had no clue on how to appraise and defuse the situation.

When he arrived, with his limited information as relayed by the dispatcher, from an unverified source (the 911 caller was a completely unreliable idiot), he entered a Wal-Mart expecting an “active shooter situation.” However, there were no crowds of people heading for the doors in a panic, there were no people screaming- that all was caused by the cop failing society and shooting a guy with a pellet gun who was talking on his phone. A woman, leaving the store in the cop-caused shooting panic, died. Two people died because of a cop operating with training that was fundamentally flawed. Training that allows us to easily “afford” to justify shooting people in the name of protecting the peace.

We’ve become so accustomed to violence in this country, that the photo of Bull Connor’s dogs and water canons barely would register as a violation of our social compact. Those images were tame compared to the video of the murder of Eric Garner- an unarmed man, choked to death by a bevy of “peace officers.”

No, a retraining of police isn’t the answer- we need to retrain our entire country. This is not how we should treat each other. This is not America the beautiful anymore, where all men are created equal, land of the free and home of the brave.

We live in a police state that’s run amok. You can watch the video anytime you want.

 

 

 

 

A prepper’s holiday season

The patches and crest of the US Army Special Forces- the "Green Berets"

The patches and crest of the US Army Special Forces- the “Green Berets”

The United States Army spends at least a million dollars on every guy (and yes- it’s still a guys-only club) they train to wear a green beret. Don’t get caught up in the Rambo fantasy- the Special Forces isn’t the same as SEAL Team 6, Delta, the Ranger Battalions or Marine Force Recon.  Sure- they can go in and do amazing damage relative to their size- since they are highly trained, well equipped and typically well supported, but direct action isn’t their main mission.

Their main mission is to train and organize others to go overturn their government, or to keep their government in power- depending on which way the political wind blows.

Send in an A Team of 12 guys (no, it’s not anything like the “A-Team” TV show either) and out should pop a well trained, organized and equipped group that’s anywhere from Company to Battalion size – depending on where and what the team is given to work with. Translation- give them a literate group of French young men behind German lines in WWII (pre-Special Forces example) and you could have a team easily run a battalion- give them a bunch of semi-literate dope farmers in Afghanistan- and they’ll be lucky to have a few effective squads. Garbage in- Garbage out.

We have no problem at all sending these men all over the globe to “take care of problems” in third world nations where elections are non-existent or questionable, or where “civil rights” are being violated, or where plague and famine are winning a war caused by poverty and disconnected economies. We’ll even send them on humanitarian aid missions- where SF medics do dentistry and demolition guys blow up things to make damns, or set up water purification systems.

My question to you- is at what point is some other country going to look at our country- at Ferguson MO, or the latest shooting of a black kid with a pellet gun, and decide to send their Special Forces here to organize the disowned underclass to rise up and fight? Sounds crazy right? What makes it any different when we do it in places from as far and wide as Nicaragua to Somalia? Liberia to Libya?

And, why do we think that one day, one former Green Beret isn’t going to decide to do it in his hometown?

I look at the insane peaks of the U.S. stock market- and know that the company’s values aren’t rising because of higher real wages, higher real employment, higher standards of living, a better or stronger economy- and think, didn’t we learn a damn thing since 2009- or even since 1928?

Is the real reason “Black Friday” sales were down because you could shop on Thanksgiving? Or is it that people sense something isn’t quite right- and it’s not just riots, gas prices swinging, or temp jobs pushing numbers in the right direction.

All those people who laugh at “preppers” stockpiling water, fuel, guns and ammo? Do you really want to bet on you an economy built on lies anymore than a democracy that’s elected by a minority well schooled in stupidity?

When the mountains of cash printed and shoved into the economy for the rich to use to fill their bank accounts, which then purchase the best politicians money can buy, all become semi-worthless (which is what typically has happened when money supplies grossly outstrip the actual needs by real users of it)- you end up with the only real value being in things needed to survive: clean water, fuel, food and bullets.

We are not facing a zombie apocalypse- which is made up of mindless dead people roaming the streets- we’re waiting for the mindless sleepwalking wage slaves to wake up and demand to take back the streets.

You are free to return to your holiday cheer. Don’t say you’ve not been warned.

note: For the record, I don’t think most preppers really have a clue on how to survive. I lay better odds on those who live in a tight-knit community, than any people thinking they will make it alone. Also, while I only served with Special Forces units while in the Army and the Army reserves, I never completed the Q-course. I have never served in a line unit- or with anyone who wasn’t at least a paratrooper. My official Army MOS was 05B-1A4P, which means I’m a radio operator, who knows morse code and is Airborne qualified.  I  served on an A-team for over a year in the reserves while in college. I have the utmost respect for the training, the mission and the Beret.

 

 

We once rioted over a tax on tea

Michael Brown didn’t deserve to be shot dead.

Darren Wilson shouldn’t have had a big guy tussle with him while still in his cruiser.

People taking to the streets rioting, looting and attacking cops isn’t the answer.

“Leaders” like Al Sharpton screaming injustice over this small piece of stupidity in the corner of the insane asylum shouldn’t be given a microphone.

The President should have been there to read the Grand Jury release- and continue on to talk about the real problems this country has- and not the ones that the media is turning into a circus.

If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice- it’s time to take a good long look at how Michael Brown and Darren Wilson ended up on Canfield Drive.

These two losers in the lottery of instant fame by accidental stupidity are products of a country that’s lost its moral compass and its right to call itself the land of liberty, home of the free, brave or where all men are created equal.

This country is ready for another revolution, but this won’t be it. Michael Brown isn’t Rosa Parks. Michael Brown, if not by Darren Wilson, would have probably ended up just another statistic at another time. We live in a country that thrives on fear- fear of black men, fear of drug dealers, fear of bringing a knife to a gun fight. And one in six lives in fear of keeping their home, finding their next meal, or keeping their second job, which still doesn’t provide enough for them to safely raise a family.

There is a Mark Twain quote from long ago, that’s as applicable today as when it was written: “Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed.”

And our country is starving. For food, for substance, for leadership – that knows the difference between right and wrong. That understands what true equality means. We’re headed to a throwdown where many think that those with the most ammo think they will win. Yes, a real live shooting war on the streets. The people rioting in Ferguson when the first riots broke out, didn’t take the hint when that they were seriously under-armed and over-confident.

The real crimes in this country are being driven by less than 200 extremely rich people who are buying elections. The real crimes are taking place daily on Wall Street where legalized theft is legitimizing the theft of trillions out of retirement funds, real estate mortgages, and through funny money pyramid schemes where the Federal Reserve keeps printing money- and rich people keep stockpiling it- while the dumb maybe-voters go out for a smack down by the cops in Ferguson.

Our prisons hold more black men, indited for stupid petty theft, that cost us billions to keep away from their families- while Wall Street invests in private prisons, private armies and lives in a world so far removed from Canfield Drive that you need NASA to build a rocket to bridge the gap.

Michael Brown and Darren Wilson aren’t even pawns in the game of chess that’s long been played out in this country. Big money could care less what happens to justice because they already own it. Didn’t you get the hint when OJ got off? The only person who’s managed to give them a scare was Bernie Madoff who made off with a bunch of stupid rich people’s money.

Injustice is happening all over this country, but the people rioting don’t know who their real enemy is.

Remember this is a country that once revolted over a tax on tea.

Ignorance is the enemy, and he won long ago.

note: I’ve been avoiding this and the WalMart shooting of John Crawford in Beavercreek for a while. I’ve been waiting to spend more time to write an analysis of what went wrong here- not in Ferguson. As I sat at dinner with a friend, watching the reading of the Grand Jury findings on a phone, in the Spaghetti Warehouse, the question came up- “what is the trigger for a revolution” and how far off it would be. Only history will know, because while it’s happening, it’s never that obvious.
This may not be my best writing- or the most coherent essay- but it’s what I’m thinking now- and it may evolve over time. I ask that you go easy on me- and stick to the ideas that you are having as this mess unfolds into the pages of the history books- or not. Many better people have died for a cause, the President just awarded the presidential freedom medal to the “Mississippi Burning” heroes, 50 years later.
I look forward to your thoughts.

The nadir of American “politics”?

This election, Nov. 4, 2014, may have been where America hit political rock bottom. At least I hope so. Estimates of $3.6 billion wasted on what amounted to an auction of elected office. Voters, disgusted with the lack of respectable and credible candidates stayed home for the most part. Those who voted often felt dirty.

If you need proof that those running this clown show have lost touch with reality, from this morning’s N.Y. Times:

“Barack Obama has our country in a ditch, and many of his lieutenants running for the Senate were right there with him,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “The punishment is going to be broad, and it’s going to be pretty serious.”

via Election Results: Republicans Win Senate Control With at Least 7 New Seats – NYTimes.com.

“The punishment” for serving our country? The punishment for trying to work in a system that’s been derailed by dirty money and gerrymandered districts? Where our government actually shut down because of the lack of the most basic skills critical to civilized society- compromise?

I was once chided by none other than former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin for talking about politicians- when she corrected me with her definition of herself as an elected representative. When will our “elected representatives” start acting like representatives again? What happened to the statesman?

In the city of Dayton- less than 24,000 people voted- of the approximately 100,000 registered voters. Granted I believe the total to be inflated as much as 25,000- but that still says more than half stayed home.

As to our country being “in a ditch” and placing blame unilaterally on Democrats- I truly wonder what we were in when Barack Obama took office? The economy had just disintegrated thanks to Wall Street being run like a casino. We’re still at war, with zero end in sight- even though we still are pretending we’re not. And, while numbers of unemployed are low- we’ve taken so many people off the rolls- and accepted the fact that most workers are now woefully underemployed in sub-living wage hell, that our economy is nothing but a house of cards, ready to implode once again.

The stock market is near record highs- just waiting for a “correction” that will wipe trillions off our general net worth- and yet, the chairman of the Republican party is doing a happy dance with his new-found power.

For the first time in 22 years- the idea of running for office, to make a difference, turns my stomach. If this is the way the game will be played from here on out- it’s one that disgusts me.

If anyone who was elected yesterday, truly believes that it’s because of their skill and merit- other than perhaps Fred Strahorn and Jim Butler, who both faced hapless opposition, they should be ashamed of themselves.

We’re all losing when political office is bought- not won, when campaigns are about mud, not ability and when choices are almost always the lesser of two evils.

Why Dayton politics are like a game of hockey with bad referees

Saturday night I went to see the Dayton Demonz play a game of hockey at Hara Arena. Very early in the game an obvious icing call was screwed up and the faceoff was held in neutral ice instead of back in the defensive zone (for those of you who don’t understand hockey- bear with me, but the reason for the icing call is to keep the game moving- stopping the defending team from tossing the puck all the way down the ice every time they feel pressured). My friend and I were bewildered- the fans who know the game were bewildered, how does someone referee a professional hockey game and not know the most basic call in hockey?

But it got worse. A period in hockey is 20 minutes long of stop time. The purpose of referees is to keep the game moving, only blowing the whistle when something happens that gives a team an unfair advantage or tries to slow the action. Typically, without a whole lot of penalties, a period takes, even with time outs, less than 45 minutes. This game- the first period took over 70- and I seem to remember only one penalty being called.

Typically referees only talk, and are officially only allowed to talk to players wearing either a C or an A on their sweater (hockey jersey for the unindoctrinated) – they don’t talk to the bench or the coaches, unless giving the coach a warning or a penalty. These refs seemed to have never learned that part- talking to both benches and each other way more than is customary. As the players became more and more frustrated with bad calls- and missed calls, things got chippy on the ice. Predictions for a brawl or two were being made as the game continued to get out of hand.

Kinsella got a little pissy!!! #demonz #goalieprobs

A major fight in the second period got the fans going- where a Demonz player beat the living crap out of a much bigger opponent. The Federal League was supposed to be making a real effort at cutting down on the brawling this season. Apparently the refs didn’t get the memo- nor did they try to break it up. By the third, they gave the Demonz captain a 10-minute misconduct. The missed calls had the players making bad decisions left and right- not knowing what was going to fly or not fly. With about 10 minutes left to go in regulation, the Demonz goalie got beat on a good goal, and turned around and flipped the net over. This is an automatic penalty for either “unsportsmanlike conduct” or “delay of game.” No call. Nothing.

By the end of the game it was tied- with both teams having guys in the box. Overtime is 4 on 4 and five minutes of sudden death play. It’s well after 11 pm at this point- a full hour, to hour and a half later than the game should have been over. The Demonz captain came back to sit in the box- since as soon as the first whistle after his ten minutes was up- he could re-enter the game. The moment he re-enters another fight starts up- despite the Demonz having a man advantage at the time. A quick goal by the visitor ends the game and as the teams are heading off the ice a brawl breaks out- with one of the refs getting hit and going to his knees. A total failure of controlling the game- and a poor example of what the game of hockey is all about.

WTF does this have to do with politics in Dayton you may rightly ask? Has Esrati lost it?

The beauty of hockey is that the rules are pretty simple, and everyone who plays the game understands them. While there are some nuances that it takes a while to learn, and some penalties are judgment calls- good referees and good players know that things usually have a way of balancing out, and that when the rules are followed- the game works.

In Dayton, our political players have bent the rules, ignored the rules and lied about the rules for so long, the game no longer resembles the game at all. It’s how we end up with a building owned by the people, being the leading tax scofflaw downtown. (The Port Authority is a public slush fund for building buildings for people who don’t like to pay their way- examples being the headquarters for MCSi- which is now the headquarters for Mead School Supplies, the parking garage for the former Relizon/WorkFlow One/Deloitte/CareSource building.

Our politicians are so confused at whon they report to, they run for office because they are told to, even though they have no real interest to continue, and money is thrown their way. Instead of spending our money on public safety and infrastructure- we funnel into pseudo-government organizations like CityWide Development, the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Dayton Development Coalition where our money gets handed out like candy to congressmen’s wives’ firms on a no-bid contract.

We’ve forgotten what our objectives are, what the rules are and how to keep score properly. It’s a total farce at the game of government, just as was the “hockey game” on Saturday night.

Lucky for hockey fans, there are referees and league officials who will review that game and sort things out.

For dealing with Dayton’s clusterduck of a game, you only have me and my blog-  since the paper’s publisher is in bed with the Dayton Development Coalition and the owners of the media love the money from the auctions we call elections.

Good luck voting tomorrow. Even if you do the right thing, the refs in charge won’t get the score right.

 

Time to change the national anthem and chuck the constitution: Police militarization

Photo by Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

Ferguson MO militarized police photo- Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

It’s this photo that makes my stomach turn. This is not a police force to “Serve and protect”- but a police force to deny free speech, the right to peaceably assemble and to protest.

We are no longer the home of the brave and land of the free.

When gun nuts talk about needing to own an assault rifle, because they are afraid of the government overstepping its bounds, they now have the poster photo to prove the crazies are right.

Let me count the ways that this is wrong. The idiot on the top of the “Urban Assault Vehicle” is actively sighting a target. If he had a legitimate reason to do this, all those “riot police” should be on the deck- with their weapons pointed at an imminent threat. If anyone else held a fully automatic assault rifle like that, they would be shot by the police with the excuse that they were inciting panic. In Beavercreek Ohio, you can get killed for talking on a cell phone with a BB gun in a Walmart- this is an order of magnitude worse.

The mismatched uniforms- with desert boots and woodland camouflage also make these “police officers” look more like extras on a low-budget Hollywood war movie. Why wear BDU’s at all? Are they police- or soldiers? Police officers work for us- have pride in their community, and represent us- soldiers are here to repress us. The moment you don a military uniform, you are no longer serving and protecting me, at least that’s the way this former soldier sees it.

No matter how much police forces train to use this gear, it’s not suited for police work. Good cops know their first and most effective tool, is talking to people, trying to establish rapport and common ground. Note to cops: the moment you don your GI Joe gear you throw all that “one of us rapport” out the window. If we really need an MRAP on the scene, you’d do better to let it be the National Guard in it, because after the shit storm is over, they go home outside the community- and you, well, you’ve permanently distanced yourself by actively taking arms against our citizenry.

SWAT was a bad TV show- that forever changed the idea of what cops should and shouldn’t do. It probably did as much or more damage to the idea of “community based policing” than Jack Bauer on 24 did to interrogation techniques. No, physical torture doesn’t get you good intel or accurate intel- it just makes you guilty of war crimes. Want a lesson in the Geneva Convention- ask Senator John McCain, don’t ask “John McClane”- the cop character in the Die Hard movies which also distorted the reality of what happens when most people shoot other people- even highly trained people shooting other people. The reality is, most cops don’t shoot very often, and this kind of BS isn’t why they got into policing. Any chief who orders his officers to go out with automatic weapons and point them as if to shoot- should be relieved of command.

For those who need a refresher- the United States is probably the only country that glorifies a war battle in its national anthem, and not even the revolutionary war, but the war of 1812. We seem to still be confused as to what a “land of the free and the home of the brave” means. Are we now brave, to walk in protest, facing our fellow countrymen armed to the teeth, to protect our freedoms which have been slipping away from us since September 11, 2001?

The Constitution, starts with this preamble. Read it. Then look at the photo above. Do the two go together?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Habeas Corpus- the right not to be be unlawfully detained, and to have a judge and jury determine your fate:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

When police show up with the firepower to go to war, our collective rights are being stripped from us. Those which are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution).

They read in brief (from this post)

  1. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition.
  2. Right to bear arms.
  3. Right not to quarter soldiers.
  4. Freedom from unnecessary search or seizure.
  5. Due process of laws.
  6. The right to a speedy trial.
  7. The right to a trial by jury.
  8. No cruel or unusual punishment.
  9. Constitutional rights do not deny other rights.
  10. States rights

Look again at the photo above. The Third amendment specifically applies to this-

“the Third Amendment subordinates military authority to civilian control and safeguards against abuses that can be perpetrated by standing armies and professional soldiers.” via The legal dictionary/free dictionary.

Do those cops look like cops, or professional soldiers to you? They do to me.

We have a constitutional law expert as our president. Now is not the time for him to be on vacation. What is happening in Ferguson MO is a danger to the state of our union, and demands his attention. It’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting about police militarization, because if this is how my police serve and protect, I say they are doing neither.

Right after I posted this- Butler Township Trustee Nick Brusky tweeted the following:

The crime scene instant replay hypocrisy

The first thing the rabble rousing reverends call for in the recent police shooting of a young black man in a lily white communities Walmart is to see the store video- all of it.

Yet, the exact same people rail against traffic cams installed to monitor speed and stop lights.

Don’t forget the ones who screamed bloody murder over the high resolution drone surveillance either.

Our society has been spoiled by instant replay from every angle to figure out if a penalty in football was called correctly or if the players foot stepped on the line, that we seem to expect the same from some Chinese DVR taking low rez photos at 10 frames per second in a store.

Some police departments are experimenting with personal video recorders attached to the shirts of their officers, to provide “evidence” of what “really happened” in a police interaction. This is after “dash cams” became the norm- letting the public voyeurs see some things as horrible as when a few local white supremacists decided to do a Bonnie and Clyde move- shooting an unsuspecting State Trooper on a routine traffic stop. Hyped by media that still lives by the adage “if it bleeds it leads” we’ve turned into junkies for “Reality TV” of real life tragedies which often happen when idiots and guns mix. Even pellet guns- as was the case in the Beavercreek Walmart.

One person wrote into the Dayton Daily news wondering what would have happened in the Walmart had a private citizen packing now legal heat at decided to take out the bb gun waving, cell phone talking black man, instead of the police? Or what would have the police done had they seen one of those Concealed Carry people waiting with gun drawn- in case the pellet gun genius came their way? It’s sad that just the hysteria caused by this incident also took the life of a young woman who died as she tried to flea the scene by yet undetermined causes.

What does store security video do to change all of this? We’re yet to find out. Most of it comes without sound- so unless the Feds have lip readers, ways to enhance video like on crime scene shows (I work in video and can tell you that most of that “resolution enhancement” you see on CSI is total BS) we may just end up with more questions than answers. This isn’t an NFL game with 13 cameras following the ball at all times from all angles.

At least ten years ago- I sat in a Greene County Court room where a young black man was about to be sent away for three years in prison. The evidence then? A dash cam recording – which coupled with mandatory sentencing laws, decided the case for the judge. The crime? A drunk black man, in cuffs in the back of the cruiser, says on camera to the officer “you won’t live to see your next birthday.” A mandatory 3 year felony stint for threatening the life of a law enforcement officer. Had the black man just hit the cop- 6 months and a minor misdemeanor.

The judge said in the sentencing- “In all my years on the bench, we usually have two parties telling different stories about the same event, and somewhere in the middle is the truth. Here, all we had to do was press play” and a life was changed for saying something stupid.

Video replay of crimes can’t always be the gold standard for deciding guilt or innocence, at some point common sense has to enter into the equation.

I don’t envy the cops who had to make a split second decision about if a gun is real or not real, and if the person acting irrationally (yes, walking through a store with anything like a firearm un-holstered or pointed anywhere other than the floor or ceiling is irrational) could prevent that officer from going home to his family that night. It’s in those split seconds where photographic evidence isn’t the end all and be all. If it shows a gun being pointed anywhere other than floor or ceiling- what the commands were, if they were followed, timing- don’t really matter anymore in my book. The possibility of a tragedy brought on a real tragedy and second guessing it isn’t solving the problem.

The real questions should be is what other shoppers saw- what they thought? Does one persons account via a 911 call make this a situation calling for SWAT? Should the 911 caller be questioned for inciting panic? These are some of the questions that need to be answered.

As to our constant monitoring by video and its effect on our civil liberties, that cat is so long out of the bag it’s time to stop arguing about it, and consider what our real expectations are for a civil and moral society that doesn’t break down into dysfunction at the drop of a dime.

Why property values and tax revenues are dropping: and how to solve it

Just back from a contentious meeting of Historic South Park Inc. For the last year, the County Prosecutor’s office has been sending high-priced lawyers out to our meeting to answer questions. Of course, since we can’t actually get them to file a case directly, this is a ridiculous waste of resources. Tonight, the two county prosecutors were joined by a city prosecutor, who also, won’t file a case unless it’s brought to them by the police, the city law department, or some other department.

The issue was mostly housing code enforcement, at which the laws have been failing for years to make a real change in our community’s net worth. The problem is that they mostly deal with prosecuting physical issues- peeling paint, overgrown yards, dilapidated and abandoned properties. The secret to South Park’s success has been by focusing on social capital- instead of the bricks and mortar. More homeowners create more stable neighborhoods. Local landlords do better than absentee ones. Law abiding citizens create a sense of security that makes investment possible.

So, why are most of our laws focused on the physical capital? My quality of life isn’t damaged by the peeling paint on my neighbor’s carriage house. Sure, the wood can weather- and eventually rot- and decrease the value or increase the costs of repair- but this is a minor problem compared to the following key issues that are killing our neighborhoods: I call them the four pillars of failing cities.

Bad neighbors are bad for investment

Around 2008/9 a foreclosed home was bought by a drug addict with a brood of criminals for family. On average, we’ve had well over 30 police calls per year to the address. Older sons have been in and out of prison, younger ones are a constant issue for children’s services and truancy officers. Windows are broken, bonfires in the backyard are often used to separate metal from plastic for scrap (including a large number of air conditioners) and since they moved in- a string of 17 years without a single break-in, changed to several a year. Well documented on this site.

While the city has no problem charging law-abiding citizens progressively higher fines for false alarm responses by police, no one is fining the bad neighbors for their draining of city resources for their failure to conform to society’s basic rules. Change this- and shut down homes that require inordinate amounts of public dollars- and not only will the city have more resources, but quality of life will improve in the neighborhood- boosting investor confidence.

Bad bankers are bad for investment

A home once appraised for over $150K gets foreclosed on. It had a woman who was divorced from a disgraced public servant living in it. She owed about $70K on the property- and the bank wouldn’t settle for less than the outstanding debt. They used our county prosecutors and sheriff to bounce her out of the home. Once vacant, they failed to properly winterize the home, forcing the bank to invest about $5k to make the home sellable. They then auctioned the home for $45K. Had they accepted a refinancing deal of $40K (what they netted on the deal) they would have kept her in the home- and not used your tax dollars to process the paper to evict- probably costing the taxpayers another $10K.

The solution: If a bank sells a property for less than what its lowest offer was to the homeowner, they are forced to contribute the difference back to a fund to help assist homeowners keep their properties. If a bank has inventory that is currently not being maintained or properly marketed, they aren’t able to proceed with foreclosures. If a bank takes possession of a property in habitable condition- and sells it in less than habitable condition, due to theft, malfeasance, or incompetence, they are forced to pay the purchaser for all repair costs to return those services.

The foreclosure cycle is only contributing to decreasing property values and it’s insanity for taxpayers to continue to support private enterprise with managing their business. As a small business owner, I can barely count on the courts to help me collect on my court-awarded debts.

Bad property owners are bad for investment

We have properties throughout Dayton that are owned by shell corporations, people in other countries, people who can’t be found. While peeling paint is something the city seems to focus on, the most dangerous physical problems are:

  • Leaky roofs
  • Overflowing gutters, which can cause foundation issues and siding and structural rot
  • Stink trees- weeds that grow at a crazy pace and can break foundations in a few years
  • Critters- raccoons, possums, feral cats, etc., can render a home uninhabitable quickly.
  • Dopers
  • Squatters

The problem is, if you can’t find the owner, how do you address these problems? This is where nuisance property laws and eminent domain could be useful, but both seem to be too much work for our elected public officials. We’d rather wait until the property is to the point where it has to be torn down than create intervention strategies that can avert entropy, which is the real enemy. A vacant home isn’t killing the neighborhood values- unless it begins to have the above problems. Work on systems of notification, fines and seizure in order to prevent non-compliant owners from devaluing others’ properties through their apathy.

Impotent police are bad for investment

No, I’m not talking about cops that can’t become parents, I’m talking about police who don’t have the manpower or the support of the community to enforce community standards. Sure, robberies, murders and vandalism suck- but, quality of life, peace and tranquility are where police can best make their presence felt.

You don’t speed through Oakwood for good reason- they enforce speeding laws- without the assistance of stand in cameras. They come when you call about drunk neighbors, loud music or even not putting your trash cans away. Dayton police would scoff at all of those complaints when in fact, those are the root base of community standards of conduct that make the difference in property values. Investment in community safety may trump all “economic development” dollars ever spent in our community- and pay back many times more, than our current reactive solution of tearing down the detritus of our years of failed priorities.

We, the citizens of Dayton, deserve better. If we had leaders who really understood anything other than how to keep their friends and family on the government dime, we might stand a chance of once again becoming the “Cleanest and safest city in America” worthy of investment.

Choose wisely.

The dirty little secret of the VA: failures in government contracting

While Congress continues to feast on the foibles of the VA, pointing fingers at anything that moves, one little minor problem continues to be overlooked: Federal contracting and its farcical system of awarding contracts and providing the lowest and best cost solutions to the taxpayers. The Feds are the largest purchaser of goods and services in this country.

As a Service Disabled Veteran, who owns his own business, and jumped through all the hoops to become a “Certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business” I still have not managed to crack the code of getting work from the Federal Government- including the VA, which is committed to spending at least 7% of their purchasing power with SDVOB’s.

While Congress has the VA on full lynch mode- and claims to have Veterans interests at heart, they’ve never gotten upset that the Federal Government has totally failed to follow it’s own law:

The Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-50 Download Adobe Reader to read this link content) established an annual government-wide goal of not less than 3% of the total value of all prime contract and subcontract awards for participation by small business concerns owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans.

via Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concerns (SDVOSBC) | SBA.gov.

The main reason: the government depends on the General Services Administration (GSA) to approve all potential contractors with an arcane system called a GSA Schedule. Called “a license to hunt” by veterans’ advocates, the process of getting a GSA schedule is convoluted and overly burdensome, especially for small businesses. While the GSA demands the lowest and best price offered to the government, we’ve seen how well that works with minor purchases like the the F-35 going over budget and way past on time.

From paper clips to printing to pharmaceuticals, the system is rigged so that only a small number of vendors are actually able to compete or bid all in the name of “fairness.”

The VA, is also forced to use private contractors solicited via this process- and when they fail, there are no repercussions to the  contractors.

Take my eyeglasses for example. Mine were broken on Friday May 9th 2014. I was seen that night at the VA. I’d recently had an eye exam, and went to the eyeglasses shop on Monday to get a new pair made. They told me they were running 4-5 weeks behind, which struck me as odd- since there are any number of places in Dayton that can supply eyeglasses same or next day. Luckily, I’m friends with Kevin Harrington of Downtown Dayton Optical and he made me a few pairs of fixed glasses to replace my no line bifocals that day. By Wednesday I realized switching glasses every time I got a text was going to be unbearable for 4-5 weeks, I asked him to make me a pair of no line bifocals. He got them to me the next Monday.

Sign at Dayton VA explaining delay in glasses delivery

Sign at the Dayton VA Optical Shop

It was still bothering me that a pair of eyeglasses for veterans would take that long and I contacted Director Glenn Costie- explaining that glasses are pretty essential to a veteran and there is no excuse for that long a wait. Turns out I was right.

I was called by one of his assistants who told me the contract stipulated 2 week max. They were in the process of switching contractors, to one promising one week. After a month had gone by and still no glasses, I sent a note to Director Costie asking “Why isn’t your purchasing department penalizing the hell out of this crappy vendor?” saying I would write a blog post about this situation (a blog post I wrote in a post surgery fog also got a lot of attention). The next day, a message was on my home answering machine from a woman who sounded almost incredulous that she was calling- saying my glasses were in.

A sign on the sign-in desk for the optical shop at the VA says:

“Notice to Veterans awaiting Eyeglasses
We apologize that the current wait time for eyeglasses is about 5 weeks.

The Company contracted to manufacture the eyeglasses are not meeting our expected delivery time of 5-10 days.

We are finalizing changes so that our expectations of faster delivery times are met.

We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

I’m pretty sure if I violated a contract with the government, I’d be in prison.

This isn’t the first time a VA contractor has screwed up. Last year, when it was determined that I needed to have my parathyroid gland removed, after months of unnecessary tests including 2 needle biopsies and 2 radioactive scans- despite blood chemistry clearly identifying the issue- I was scheduled for surgery at the Cincinnati VA in July with a specialist. Turns out, he too was a private contractor, and works full time for University of Cincinnati medical center. Contracted for X number of hours with the VA, he sees patients and does surgeries at the Cincy VA only on Thursdays, something like twice a month. When he decided to take a few weeks off in July- they bumped me from my initial consultation, meaning I’d have to go in August- and then wait another month to be operated on. Then, he took a day off- on his VA scheduled day. I wrote both the surgeon and Director Costie again- and here was the summary outcome email back to Costie thanking him after he stepped in on my behalf:

I’m not sure what transpired between you and Cincy.
I’d also sent an email directly to the surgeon through his private practice site.
It said something to the effect of-
“you signed a contract with the VA to operate once a month.
When you take a surgery day off- you don’t just get to bump veterans to the next month- because your private practice comes first.
Veterans didn’t get the choice when they were serving- to say, sorry- I’ll deploy next month, I’m busy.
When you miss a day- you get to do two days the next month. Our veterans deserve your best.”

He came in and apologized to me-
said it was refreshing to see the patient’s perspective. Said he’d been with the VA for 20 years- and this kind of thing still happens- because of a miscommunication- and that maybe I should come work there to help straighten things out. I said I’d pass on the government job- but thanks.

Unfortunately, other veterans don’t have the ability to call bullshit when they see things going wrong, and unfortunately, Congress seems to be so busy pointing fingers that they don’t see the problem either. Accountability means contracts must be enforced at all levels if we truly want to help our veterans- and get our tax dollars’ worth.

I think highly of Director Costie- and I was saddened to hear that he’s going to Phoenix to try to clean up that mess, but the real question is when is the GSA going to be held accountable for securing contracts that are routinely ignored?

Back in 2005, on behalf of my veterans business group, VOB108, now VOBOhio, I wrote a proposal for a GSA EZ schedule to help small businesses have a chance at selling to the federal government. That would be a good start- and possibly allow small businesses a true shot at government contracts- and also, what are the true penalties involved in not performing to contract standards?

Considering new government rules on medicare and medicaid asking for verified outcomes, isn’t it time for the same when hiring contractors for the VA for service delivery to our veterans? And, while we’re at it- how about the same for our Congressmen- when you don’t work and shut down government, you should lose your job and be sent to prison.

 

The real reason Boehner wants to privatize the VA

John Boeher wants to privatize the VA, while Gen. Shinseki makes $200K, and the health-care industry donates $265 million to politicians

Apparently the people at the VA don’t donate enough to politicians.

Gen. Eric Shinseki is in charge of the VA, and is a service-disabled veteran. The operation is immense.

one of the nation’s biggest health care systems, a far-flung operation that treats 6.5 million people a year at 151 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics, with more than 18,000 doctors and an annual budget of more than $57 billion.

The need for care has increased with a surge in the number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, coming on top of a population of aging veterans who were already straining the capacity of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Improvements in battlefield medicine mean that many service members survive with severe injuries that need treatment after they leave the armed forces….

Q: How big is the Department of Veterans Affairs?

A: The clinics and hospitals serve more than 230,000 veterans a day and deliver care in 85 million appointments a year. The 6.5 million patients treated each year include more than 757,000 whose military service began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

via History and Context of an Embattled Department of Veterans Affairs – NYTimes.com.

And while heads of local Dayton health networks make upwards of $4 million, to run a much smaller operation- that claims to be a non-profit, and receives well over half of its revenue from the government via Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements- Shinseki makes $200,000 a year- doing his public service job for the taxpayer.

And while mistakes happen in all health care facilities, the latest uproar over delayed care or medical malfeasance has Faux News in an uproar, all medical providers screw up, get sued, lie, cheat and steal, that’s how lawyers make money in this country.

But, when Speaker John Boehner, who served 8 weeks in the Navy before being discharged for a bad back, says he wants to privatize the VA, one has to wonder why?

More than two decades ago, Boehner said he offered an idea that was controversial at the time: Why not privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs?

The idea was soundly rejected by veterans organizations.

Now, in the midst of a sweeping scandal over reports that veterans had died waiting for treatment, Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., said Friday that the idea still has merit.

“I still like the idea and especially now,” he said, but cautioned that “until we understand what’s happening and until we understand whether it can be fixed or how it can be fixed, all veterans seeking care shouldn’t have to wait.”

Boehner, in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News on Friday, said he believes the problems at the VA are “systemic,” and said he is not convinced that having VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resign will fix the problem.

via Boehner wants to privatize the VA.

As a veteran who receives excellent care for myself- and my 87-year-old father, I can only come to one conclusion: VA officials don’t contribute money to political campaigns anywhere near as much as the people who run our private health-care system.

In the 2012 cycle- the health industry ranked sixth in all giving, donating $265,727,881.

56% of the donations went to Republicans, not that it matters. The reality is, money spent on political campaigns by companies that receive public dollars should be banned. This means if you are a defense contractor, a health provider, any company that sucks on the public teat, you shouldn’t be able to buy your way into office with the taxpayers picking up the tab.

Gen. Shinseki isn’t the problem in the first place – if the idiots in government had listened to him, when he warned Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that the numbers of troops to occupy Iraq would be in the hundreds of thousands and would suffer casualties, we’d have a lot less dead and wounded soldiers.

It’s time to hold Boehner and the rest of Congress responsible for a war that has bankrupted our country, a political system that is corrupt, and a media conglomerate that feasts like vultures on the only truly successful health care-organization in the country when it comes to providing care efficiently- the VA.

Thank you Gen. Shinseki for your service, as a general and as chief of the VA.