Friday, February 06, 2009

Schticks of One - Coming Out of Hiatus Edition

After a long, fed-up-with-politics-induced hiatus, a few new things worth discussing.

I. Police pursuits

First, WCSH-TV, Channel 6 in Portland, reported a day or so ago that the state legislature was looking at placing restrictions – or even an outright ban – on high-speed police pursuits. This was in reaction to some recent chases that ended in disasters all the way around. As a former police officer, I can tell you that many chases are unnecessary.

A large number of pursuits are for motor vehicle offenses – speeding, unsafe lane changes, and so on (a quick viewing of Cops, Speeders, and other similar shows displays the often questionable “basis” for pursuits). It is unnecessary and unconscionable to risk the police officer’s life, the lives of other motorists or pedestrians, or even the offender’s life for an offense that generally merits only a mail-in fine. This is aggravated by the introduction of the PIT maneuver (Pursuit Intervention Technique), where the police officer strikes the fleeing vehicle with his cruiser, causing it to go out of control. There have been many documented cases of innocent vehicles being damaged – and the occupants of those vehicles being injured or killed – as a result of the maneuver being performed on crowded highways.

Making this situation even worse is that in many cases, the police officer has been able to get the license plate number of the fleeing vehicle. I’m not sure about the laws in Maine, but when I was a police officer in Connecticut, there were statutory provisions establishing that the registered vehicle owner was the presumed operator (what the lawyers call a “rebuttable presumption”). If the police have the offending vehicle’s license plate number, they have sufficient information to track down the presumed operator of the vehicle; it then becomes the owner’s burden to prove that he was not operating the car at the time in question.

Additionally, I feel that a valid argument could be made for prohibiting pursuits of alleged drunk drivers: although already a menace on the highway, the drunk being pursued by police will almost inevitably make a mistake – often a tragic mistake – in his efforts to avoid apprehension. The drunk not being chased, however, has a tendency to try to drive very carefully, to avoid attracting police attention (in fact, we were taught in the police academy that “excessively careful” driving could be an indicator of operating under the influence).

Obviously, I do not believe that all pursuits should be banned – only those that pose an unnecessary risk to other members of the public. If the state feels that it must take some action, one option is basing a pursuit decision on the nature of the offense. For example, the state might allow pursuits in cases involving serious felonies (aggravated assault, homicide, rape, arson, armed robbery), where the offender’s identity is unknown. However, in lesser offenses like theft, burglary, or motor vehicle offenses, or in serious cases where the offender’s identity is known, the state may opt to prohibit chases.

II. Racists bailing on the Republicans

An article on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “HateWatch” blog reports that white supremacists are saying that they have been betrayed by the Republican National Committee, which recently elected former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele as its national leader.

“I am glad these traitorous leaders of the Republican Party appointed this Black racist, affirmative action advocate to the head of the Republican Party because this will lead to a huge revolt among the Republican base,” wrote former KKK leader David Duke. “As a former Republican official, I can tell you that millions of rank-and-file Republicans are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore! We will either take the Republican Party back over the next four years or we will say, ‘To Hell with the Republican Party!’ And we will take 90 percent of Republicans with us into a New Party that will take its current place!”

Of course, it has been obvious for a while now that the Rethuglicans had consciously been wooing the racist/supremacist crowd, along with the fundamentalist Christianist community, in an effort to portray themselves as “real, working-class ‘Muricans.” This might have been more successful, had the primary interests of the real Republican leaders – accumulating ever more wealth and power – not been so at odds with the needs of the rank-and-file. The appeal of the Rethuglicans to the blue-collar crowd was three-fold:
  • We’re gazillionaires, so you can be, too;
  • We’ll keep them uppity n*ggers and women in their place (i.e., out of your jobs, bars, and neighborhoods); and
  • All the “best” people are Republicans

Couple this with their overt appeal to the ultra-conservative, ultra-patriotic types, and they had a potent force.

For a while.

But since their poster-child, the New England blue blood, cowboy-wannabe, good ole boy, global village idiot Dubya screwed everyone with his shameless prostitution to big business, even the redneck racists are learning: the Rethuglicans don’t care ‘bout nobody iffen they ain’t rich white evangelical neoconservatives.

III. Peanut butter recall

From the Dining section of Wednesday’s dead-tree edition of the New York Times:

  • Almost 900 products were recalled after salmonella tied to hundreds of illnesses was traced to a Georgia peanut factory.
  • The business of selling peanut butter in America is worth nearly $900 million a year.
  • When the economy goes south, it’s one of the inexpensive but nutritionally rich foods that shoppers buy more of.
  • [The Peanut Corporation of America] has expanded its recall to include any foods made with its products since January 2007.
  • Critics of the food industry, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest[1], say this outbreak points up how serious problems with food manufacturing can be.
    [It also points out how the lackadaisical “oversight” by the FDA under the Bush regime resulted in huge profits for big business at the expense of the health of American citizens (and at least one Canadian)]
  • Peanut butter started its move to the masses in 1904 when, along with iced tea, cotton candy and the ice cream cone, it became popular at a world’s fair in St. Louis.

    [1] These are the same folks who provided the startling news that movie theatre popcorn is not all that nutritious, and that Chinese food isn’t all that healthy either.