Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

It can be tough policing the mean streets in these days of desperation, when drug cartels and other hardened criminals are out there… somewhere… you really can’t know where, until they strike, and another civilian is marked with a V — for Victim.

But the good people of Orange Country, Florida, are lucky, because they’ve got the astonishing team of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office keeping watch, ready and able to preempt any criminal gang before it can strike locals with the dreaded V. In fact, a recent ruling by a U.S. Court of Appeals documents the truly incredible vigilance of this dynamic policing duo.

The DBPR/OCSO target in this case was a suspicious enterprise calling itself Strictly Skillz, and the agents spent a month carefully planning a joint sweep operation including a fully armed SWAT team in full battle dress. On the day of the raid, the team first sealed off the parking lot; next, two plainclothes cops entered to size up the danger; and then — BAM! — the SWAT team hit the unsuspecting subjects. Wearing riot gear and brandishing their guns, the team seized half a dozen of the enterprise’s kingpins, cuffed them, and then laid them out on the floor, while officers searched the premises for more than an hour. Alas, nothing criminal was found.

You might assume that this was a narcotics operation, but no. In fact, Strictly Skillz is just a barbershop. What possible criminal activity led to this militaristic show of brute force? “Barbering without a license.” That’s a mere second-degree misdemeanor, but there was no violation, for all licenses at the shop were valid. DBPR could’ve determined that by a routine inspection, but instead the OCSO got involved to muscle the barbers, because… well, because it has a SWAT team and a military mentality, so it thinks it’s above the law.

In this case, the court not only yanked this abusive duo’s constitutional chain, but also ridiculed its Keystone Kops routine of SWATing at barbers. But it’s not funny — for police now run thousands of these farcical SWAT raids a year, and they’re rarely held accountable. They justify their over-the-top response to routine police work with the idea that since they have the equipment, they might as well put it to use.

Multibillion-dollar armament giants have long profited from the constant wars and repressive tactics of police states around the globe, but they’ve now discovered a hot new growth market here at home: The militarization of our local and state police agencies. The people of Ferguson, Missouri, learned about the domestic proliferation of battlefield firepower the hard way when their own police department came after them with a Bearcat tank, two armored Humvees, stun grenades, M-16 rifles and other weapons of war.

It’s been widely reported that this push into combat gear (and the militant mentality that accompanies it) has largely come from a 1990 congressional act authorizing the Pentagon to disperse surplus war equipment around the country. Less known, however, is that our corporate arms peddlers have lately leapt into direct sales of their deadly goodies, holding field demonstrations and trade shows to titillate the fancy of police chiefs and other officials.

Long Range Acoustic Device Corporation, for example, makes the long-range sound cannon that was used in Ferguson, literally blasting away demonstrators with ear-shattering pain. Also, such tear gas makers as Combined Tactical Systems are having a field day supplying and re-supplying police agencies. Then there’s Taser International, whose electrocution gun — which can stop a heart — is now on the hip of nearly everyone with a badge.

In September, corporate militarizers paraded their stuff in — of all places — Missouri at a shebang called Military Police Expo. LRAD, CTS and Taser were there, along with a horde of other venders, to meet and greet, schmooze with and sell to a crowd of “civilian law enforcement and chiefs of police” who were invited to enjoy a shopping spree.

A coalition of citizen groups is organizing to stop this pernicious sale of arms to be used against… well, us citizens. For information, go to www.FacingTearGas.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: OregonDOT via Flickr

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]