Thursday, February 17, 2022

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2

The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2

This episode:

- "Putin will not invade - unless..." explained

- Government pushes, media embraces, unquestioning acceptance of official claims

- Disband NATO

- "The Threat" to public education

(Sources to follow)

Saturday, February 12, 2022

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 4: RIP

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 4: RIP

With only the time to do this quickly:

Meat Loaf died on January 20 at the age of 74. A cause of death was not released.

Howard Hesseman, probably best known as Dr. Johnny Fever on "WKRP in Cincinnati," died on January 29 from complications from surgery for colon cancer. He was 81.

Finally, the one that affected me the most personally, Thích Nhất Hạnh died from complications from an earlier stroke. He was 95. And if you don't know who he was, you owe it to yourself to find out.

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 3: Police Training Needs Changing

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 3: Police Training Needs Changing

Here's a tragedy about which you might have heard, which raises two things I have talked about before with regard to police training and encounters with police.

On January 27 on I-65 south of Nashville Tennessee, a state trooper saw a man named Landon Eastep on the shoulder and pulled over to get him off the highway. Eastep, according to police, pushed away and produced a box cutter which he refused to put down.

Another cop came and tried to de-escalate the situation. More cops arrived until Eastep faced a semicircle of nine cops, most if not all with their guns drawn.

After about a half-hour of this standoff, Eastep pulled from his pocket what police called "a cylindrical object" and held it out toward the cops. They shot him, killed him. The object was not a gun.

First off, I will say that I can't honestly blame the cops for shooting. Look a the picture to the right, a freeze frame from a body cam. You can see Eastep holding out his arms toward the line of cops. I guarantee you every one of those cops thought - and you too would think - "he's pulled out a gun and he's aiming." I would likely be thinking "Omigod he's going to kill me."

We can argue about did all nine of them have to shoot him, or did they have to shoot him more than once, which apparently they did, or a bunch of related questions about the intensity of the response, but I can't blame them for there being a response.

But given that, that's where's where my questions rise. One, why did they have to shoot him - by which I mean, why was that their only present alternative? Why have we devoted so little energy, so little research, so few resources, to the idea of truly non-lethal methods? And no, I don't mean tasers; they are not non-lethal - even the company now calls them "less lethal" or not "intended to be lethal" or some such blather - and really are for relatively close quarters.

Next, one of the cops tried to, again, "de-escalate" things. But in a true sense, he didn't; rather, he avoided further escalation. Which is not the same thing. Remember, this had already gone from one cop to two cops to nine cops with guns drawn. It had already escalated. De-escalating would mean lowering the existing tension, not just avoiding raising it further. What that cop was trying to do was convince Eastep to de-escalate by dropping the box cutter and cooperating.

He was saying all kinds of encouraging things, like "whatever it is, we can work it out; we can get help; I don't want to die, you don't want to die; you're not going to jail," and so on, all of which is good - but, and this is a serious failing, I think, with the training they get and okay maybe it did happen across the half-hour outside of time frame of the video that was released so if it did excellent, but what I noticed is that the cop never asked a question. It was never "what's going on; what would you like us to do for you; what do you hope will happen here." He was just making flat statements. Statements hoping to keep Eastep calm, yes, but still flat statements.

And if asking open questions isn't part of what they're taught in dealing with these kinds of situations, I think it's a terrible mistake. A terrible shortcoming.

Because again: Look at the picture: Where is Eastep going to go? What is he going to do? Unless he is truly clinically insane, so divorced from reality that he can't even comprehend what's going on around him, he can't think he is going to shoot his way out of this. He can't think he's going to fight his way out of this. If he wants to get away, his best, his only, chance is to hop that guardrail and run like hell, hoping either to outrun the cops or they'll decide he's just some vagrant and isn't worth pursuing. But he didn't. He stood there not cooperating for a half-hour and then pulled something from his pocket and held it like it was a gun.

I think we can even determine the critical moment that generated what followed. Remember, this started when a state trooper stopped to get Eastep off the highway. According to Don Aaron, a representative for the Metro Nashville Police Department, I'm quoting NBC News here, "as they approached the trooper’s car, Eastep 'pushed away' from the officer and produced a box cutter." Given that description and what followed, especially when combined with his window's acknowledgement that he was struggling with mental health issues and drug addiction and had relapsed just a few days earlier, I cannot help but think that he was sitting on that highway with a box cutter thinking about suicide and trying to get up the nerve to do it. But as he's approaching the cop's car, he thinks "If I get in that car there's going to be a lot of hassle for my wife and they're going to stop me. I can't let that happen." And then the flash, which may not have even been in words, "I know what I have to do."

In other words, I'm convinced that what we had here is a case of "suicide by cop" and it is a real thing. In fact, a survey of the research literature on the topic a few years ago1 found that by various estimates, approximately 10 to 29 percent or more of officer-involved shootings involve suicide by cop incidents.

Consider that Eastep stood on that highway for a half-hour, just standing as if waiting, and again it just seems to me that at some point he realized the cops were not going to shoot him so he did something to provoke them - make them think he had a gun. Suicide by cop is a real thing.

And there are in fact training modules, good training modules, for cops on just that, including what it is, how to recognize that it's what you're facing, and ways to deal with it.

But those sorts of materials don't do a damn bit of good if they are not a routine - by which I mean a standard, in fact make that a required - part of police training.

So again again again I say that part of the whole problem with police violence, part of the whole issue of police actions, of what they should be doing, of what we should not expect them to be doing, of what we should not have them dealing with, and of what we should expect them not to be doing, is that the way we train police is deeply screwed up and leads to needless violence and needless death. It remains true that we can't deal with the problem of police violence until we deal with racism in policing and in society - but it is equally true that we can't deal with the problem of police violence until we deal with the way we are training police to think.

1Patton, Christina L. and Fremouw, William J. “Examining ‘suicide by cop’: A critical review of the literature." Aggression and Violent Behavior, 27 (2016) 107-120. (I couldn't find a direct link.)

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 2: War at Home?

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 2: War at Home?

And while we are being prompted to panic over the prospect of war in Ukraine, we are also being prompted to panic over the prospect of war at home.

On Jan 22, The COVID States Project released the results of asking 23,000 people across the country whether it is "ever justifiable to engage in violent protest against the government?" Note that the word "ever" was emphasized in the polling.

Nearly a quarter - 23% - of Americans say it's sometimes OK to use violence against the government - and 1 in 10 Americans say violence is justified "right now."

Now, this was an online poll, so it was nonprobability no error bar, no margin of error. However, there have been other, more scientific, polls in recent months that have found much the same answer.

A post-election University of Chicago poll found almost 1 in 10 Americans believed the use of force was justified to restore Tweetie-pie to the presidency. And this December, the Washington Post and University of Maryland together found that one in three Americans think violence against the government is sometimes justified.

In response to this latest poll, Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace expressed concern over the fact that the number of Americans who express support for the idea of violent political protests has doubled over the last decade.

Well, Listen Up, people: There are at least two good reasons to think such results are meaningless and the panic they generate is more dangerous than the results themselves.

One was raised by COVID States Project co-director David Lazer, who said the same thing I thought whenever one of these polls appeared. Quoting him: "We began with the American Revolution and so we are, in a sense, taught from grade school that it is at some points in history justifiable to engage in violent protest," he said.

In fact, I can't see how any good old-fashioned patriotic American can read the Declaration of Independence and still say it is never okay to use violence against the established government, the established order.

Indeed, shortly after Shays' Rebellion was quashed in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. ... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

The other question is even more fundamental: What constitutes violence? What constitutes "against the government?" What do those term mean in this context?

Consider the Plowshares Movement. These people are Christian pacifists who engage in direct action to promote the vision behind idea of beating swords into plowshares. One time, they boldly walked into a factory making nosecones for nuclear missiles, found where some were stored, took our hammers, and beat on them until they were to make unusable. Here's the question: Was this a violent demonstration? They used hammers; in fact something they were charged with was possession of lethal weapons: the hammers. And they damaged government property. So was this violent?

Suppose there was a nighttime march with some folks carrying tiki torches to light it. One gets dropped and a fire starts. Maybe a storefront gets damaged; maybe a car burns. Is the action violent? There was property destruction, but it was an accident.

Suppose there is a BLM protest and people are facing off with a line of cops. Someone in the crowd throws a plastic water bottle and hits a cop. Is this now a violent demonstration? A crime has been committed, assaulting a cop. Does that constitute violence against the government?

What does the term "the government" mean in this context? Ask the Plowshares people they'll say it's not about the government, it's about government policy. Ask a BLM protester if they're protesting the government, they likely would say they are protesting police violence, that it's about racism, about conditions.

The point isn't that there is any right answer to these and similar questions, it's that how you answer them will determine how you answer the question on the poll. Which means those percentages don't tell us anything; they provide no useful information.

In fact, Sean Westwood, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, is working on a paper that tries to correct for the errors in measurement that exist when people are questioned about a vague concept like political violence, errors that he feels tend to overstate American support for - and thus the prospect of - such violence.

Bottom line is that while because of the changes in the percentages over the last decade that Rachel Kleinfeld cited, we can reasonably say that the overall approval of political violence however defined has increased, we honestly don't know how much the actual potential for it has, especially when we consider that for all our talk about looming civil war, there is far less political violence in the US today than there was in the 1970s.

From the late 60s to the late 70s, nearly a dozen radical underground groups such as the Weather Underground and the Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN set off hundreds of bombs.

The first bombing campaign ran between August and November 1969 and involved attacks on a dozen buildings around Manhattan.

Bombings by the Weather Underground began in early 1970 and by June, then-president Tricky Dick Nixon was saying “revolutionary terror” represented the single greatest threat to American society. In a single eighteen-month period during 1971 and 1972 the FBI counted 2,500 bombings on American soil, almost five a day.

As late as 1976, after a series of attacks in San Francisco, an FBI representative called the city “the Belfast of North America.”

Why don't we remember this? Well, for one thing we as a people have short memories and this was 50 years ago; for another, the "workers' uprising" many of those radicals predicted never came about; and just as importantly, we didn't have things like TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and a 24-hour news cycle featuring outfits like Faux News to magnify events even as context gets stripped away.

My point here is not that we should be unconcerned, January 6 - which was an attack on the government, on the process of elections and so the structure of government - disproved that. It's rather that first, in terms of political violence we have been here before and more and second and more important, that is not the real threat we face. The real threat can be found in the words of James Madison, who in June 1778 said "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation."

The threat we face is not that of violent insurrection, but that of "silent" and indeed not-so-silent but overt "encroachment" on our right to vote, on the process of conducting elections, on the process of counting votes; threats to our right of public protest, to the free press; there is more threat to our future as a reasonably free political society in restrictions on mail-in voting than in a whole string of Nazi parades and Florida Gov. Ron DeSandTick is far more of a danger than that QAnon Shaman guy from the Capitol insurrection could hope to be.

No, of course this doesn't mean ignore the violence or tolerate the violence or excuse the violence. It means keep your cool, don't let the violence panic you, like the old song says "carry it on," and always remember the difference between the puppets and the puppet masters, between the useful idiots and the users.

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 1: War in Ukraine?

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16, Page 1: War in Ukraine?

I was going to do a big thing about Ukraine, including going into some of the background, including the divisions within Ukraine between the anti-Russian western parts which resent a history of Russian domination and the ethnic Russian eastern parts which for that reason are more oriented toward Russia. We'd have to look at the Orange Revolution, the Euromaiden protests and the Revolution of Dignity, the Russian seizure of Crimea, the on-going slow-motion war in eastern Ukraine involving two breakaway provinces, none of which even gets to the competing great power claims about the present day situation.

It soon became clear that all that was too much. So I'm going to pass on that.

Instead, I'm going to make a bold prediction. Which by the time you see this could already have proven me disastrously wrong. But - I predict that Russia is not going to attack Ukraine.

Frankly, I think that if Putin was intending to attack, he would have done it. The seizure of Crimea came within days after the Revolution of Dignity had forced the resignation of the pro-Russia president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. In the case of Georgia in 2008, Russian forces invaded within hours of government forces seizing the capital of the pro-Russia breakaway province of South Ossetia. Instead, we have this dragged-out posturing and looming presence but no direct action.

Rajan Menon, director of the grand strategy program at Defense Priorities and a senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, had I think a much likelier vision of events than the "Omigod, it's war any moment" version: “Some of this," he said, "is Putin saying, ‘We matter as a country, and you can't do in European security whatever you want, pretending that we don't exist.’” In other words, "We will not be ignored, our concerns will not be waved off."

Could Russia legitimate security concerns? Or could they at the very least honestly feel such concerns?

Okay. On February 9, 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker told both Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and President Mikhail Gorbachev that in exchange for Soviet cooperation in the reunification of Germany, that NATO would not expand "one inch eastward" out of respect for Soviet security concerns. In fact, he apparently said the same thing three different ways.

Look at the second map.

You can see it's a map of Europe with this funny purplish line through it. The countries in blue are members of NATO. Every one of those blue countries to the east, to the right, of that line joined NATO after that promise was made. The pale blue country is Bosnia and it is in the process of entering NATO. The green nations are Ukraine and Georgia and the plan is for them to also join NATO.

So if you were a Russian government official, could you feel that you had been tricked or lied to, that you had security concerns which had been ignored?

Now for the sake of completeness I'll add that US officials have striven mightily to insist that "one inch eastward" didn't mean that, it only applied to the former East Germany, not anywhere else, which bluntly is a real stretch but even at that doesn't address the fact that the Russians could honestly feel differently, honestly feel betrayed, honestly feel that NATO can't be trusted and despite all the pretty words is not actually interested in mutual security but in dominance.

Okay, given that, why no invasion? Because even if Putin intended to - which I say he doesn't - he has to know it would be hard and bloody. It wouldn't be like when Russians rolled into Georgia. Ukraine is nearly 10 times the size of Georgia and its military is seven or eight times bigger. We keep hearing about the 100,000 troops Russia has along its border with Ukraine. The Ukranian army has 150,000 members plus another 50-100,000 in a navy, air force, and National Guard, plus the arms and equipment that has been coming in from NATO nations. There are those who say that's irrelevant because Putin would attack with cruise missiles and other long-range weaponry which is a stupid argument because first then what's the big deal about the 100K troops and second, that would provoke the same sort of NATO response that a ground invasion would.

And it's not just me that has doubts.

Ukrainian authorities have projected calm. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Ukrainians not to panic, saying "There is no reason to pack your bags." A week ago, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament that “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” Russia will invade imminently.

Meanwhile, Newsweek reports that several current and former US, Russian, and Ukrainian officials have said that US intelligence of an imminent Russian invasion is being exaggerated, a number that apparently includes some within Zelenskyy's inner circle.

In fact, Newsweek says, the US intelligence community has yet to establish a consensus on whether Russia was truly preparing to take on what would be an intensive military operation.

Even US Sec of War Lloyd Austin has said publicly that we don't know if Putin has actually decided to go to war and White press secretary Jen Psaki says the administration will no longer use word "imminent."

Well, I maintain he hasn't intended to, that he doesn't intend to, that his real concern is to make the declaration that Russia and its concerns are still something to which the West must pay attention, and that he won't invade Ukraine - unless...

And I'm going to leave you hanging there. If in two weeks I have not yet been shown to be a lousy prognosticator, I will go into what the greatest threat of war here is - except to say as a teaser that, as is so often true, it will not be as the result of someone's or some nation's unforced choice.

Friday, February 04, 2022

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16

047 The Erickson Report for February 3 to 16

Episode 47 of The Erickson Report takes a slightly different tack from the usual.

We address only three topics because they involve things we just want to say.

One is a prediction regarding war in or over Ukraine. A second is an incident relating to police training. And the third is polls about support for political violence.

The Erickson Report is news and informed commentary from the perspective of the radical nonviolent American left. It is an example of what is known as advocacy journalism, using facts and logic but never denying it has a point of view. Including its earlier titles Left Side of the Aisle and What's Left, it is now approaching 350 episodes across 11 years.

Comments and reactions are always welcome either by message here or by email at whoviating at aol dot com.

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