Monday, December 29, 2014

Lifestyle Police Responsible for the Death of Eric Garner

Preface:  Writing began before the grand jury decision and the subsequent assassination of two of NY'S FINEST.  The only update reflected in the writing came after the refusal to indict that occurred while I was still composing this piece.  Originally I had deemed the officers' actions as only incidental to this piece's point but noted the decision.  However, the ensuing protests prompted a demand for elaboration on that because I could not let certain talk go unanswered, no matter that I walk a fine line between two camps that sometimes softly clash.

As a retired NYC Police Officer (I served twenty years in one of the highest crime precincts in the city) and head of a nationally active NYC-based smokers’ rights group (C.L.A.S.H.) for the last fifteen years, I think I bring a unique perspective to the table regarding the Eric Garner case.  What I see is a two-part event as unrelated to each other as my own two roles. 

The refrain, “he was killed for selling cigarettes,” that I’m hearing is a conflation of circumstances that offends my dual interest senses.  No. He was approached for selling cigarettes.  He was physically engaged for resisting arrest.  Furthermore, he was not killed. He died.

What transpired after Garner refused requests to comply with a lawful order by police is an entirely different subject (police conduct) from what trained their attention on him in the first place (cigarette sales).  Separate trials are in order.

A man at least twice the size of the officers present who couldn't just say, “Well, if you don’t want to go we’ll be seeing you,” was taken down to the ground in order to effect a lawful arrest.  Any unintended residual compression was at best only a contributing factor in the death of a man suffering from a number of health ills. There was no premeditation on Officer Pantaleo’s part to “choke” him in retaliation for not complying (as too many predisposed to cop bashing are convinced occurred).  Mental state is a crucial factor in assigning blame. Pantaleo was no more guilty of murderous thought or disregard for risk than a motorist who fatally hits a pedestrian crossing against the light.  In plain language he just wanted to cuff him, not snuff him.

Schooled on the law and privy to all the facts and testimony, the grand jury concurs. And no video alone (short a scene of a person standing still and being shot in the back by police) can substitute for that in order to judge it intelligently. There is especially no replacement for having first walked a mile in an officer’s shoes to know what the many ingredients were for what took place.  Every uttered "could have," "would have," "should have," may as well come from kindergartners. 

Those who stubbornly cling to fruit from their own seed are lost causes.  Their chain of reasoning takes on an error-filled life of its own when the starting premise is fatally flawed either willfully or ignorantly.

Thus ends the first trial.  Peel this onion to its rotten core if you’re looking for an indictment.

Those who wave away the cigarette tax issue are either clueless (no knowledge of the depth of the anti-smoking campaign), anti-police (it will detract from their militancy) or anti-smoker sympathizers (don’t want attention drawn to it).

Jon Stewart said the cigarette tax is the “least salient aspect of this case” because “he could've been out there with mix tapes or a squeegee or a snow cone, and the same kind of s--t could have happened."  His mistake is to put this particular subject in league with quality of life crimes that don’t share a single fingerprint.  

I understand the point he’s expressing on behalf of many is that any interaction with police can escalate (though of course I disagree with the added insinuation that cops are the instigators).  But that’s a red herring itself because this is one opportunity for interaction that wouldn't exist at all except for the work of one cast of characters.  

Find me a horde that advocate and lobby for laws (literally daily for decades) against anything the way the anti-smoker crusaders do. Rather than lobbying Congress to shut down the industry they perversely turn their rage toward private citizens by trampling on civil liberties. Is there any other product under protest by one group or another that, in order to get their way, goes after the industry’s customers more than the industry?

[Author’s note: To drive home my point, as I write, a local TV news station just finished a protest story and the very next story was on a press release issued about a CDC study – designed to mold policy -- on the financial costs of smoking]

If you argue that the problem is that the police are up in too many faces then you can’t possibly be against the elimination of any one ground to do so.  

That trial – the attraction to Garner in the first place -- starts here.    

Loose cigarettes – forever commonly referred to as “loosies” – have been around, well, forever.  You could find them in many a neighborhood store. They were mostly a matter of convenience for people who only wanted a smoke or two for the day.  The war on smoking had yet to commence in earnest and this offense was low on the radar.

Then the neo-prohibitionists rode into town. Since then, loosies – no matter from a taxed or untaxed pack – are now sold on sidewalks too. Mass revolt overtook earlier mere convenience for the few, opening the door for individual entrepreneurs to fill the demand, created by ideologists, for financial relief.  Don’t take my word for it.  “The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much,” is how another loosie peddler put it to the NY Times a few years ago.  

So when Senator Rand Paul and others said cigarette taxes and the illegality of selling single cigarettes were at the root of the Garner case they’re right.  But they also frustratingly fail to dig to the seed. Draping the “Big Government” tent over the guilty party and leaving the blame dangling on the words “it’s a tax issue” lets particular tent crashers off the hook – tyrants who are best described by C.S. Lewis as more oppressive than robber barons who at least sleep, while the moral busybodies torment us without end.

It’s the national organizations and groups such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, American Cancer Society, the American Heart and Lung Associations, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, American Legacy Foundation, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), down to the most locally set (but in orchestration with the rest) NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City who convinced lawmakers that one of the best ways to bend adults to their will was to price their product of choice out of their reach.

Or more accurately described by a gentleman speaking to the New Zealand Herald when asked how he felt about buying bootleg cigarettes following Bloomberg’s city tax increase:  “I should be guilty because I don't let him rip me off? F*** him!"  

Evidence of who’s calling the shots regarding anti-smoking-related policy, including cigarette tax hikes, is abundant.  This is a mere sampling. Despite local references, these groups are but organs of a national body:

“[O]rdinance sponsors should not call the shots in a smokefree campaign. Your coalition should.”
-- Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights document guide for organizations 

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights writes the law language (“Model Ordinance”) that lawmakers then introduce. 

“[T]he Public Health Law Center worked along with [public health advocates]… writing almost every one of Minnesota’s local smoke-free ordinances, and also drafting tobacco taxation and product regulation policies." 

“[T]he organization has led three successful campaigns to raise the cigarette tax in Pennsylvania since 1991.”
-- Executive Director, Smokefree Pennsylvania 

“The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association of the Northeast and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids all endorse higher prices as a critical component of our strategy to prevent youth smoking and lower smoking rates in New York City.”
-- NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City 

What occurs goes beyond the usual lobbying all groups are certainly entitled to in hopes of having their interests served through the enactment of a law or implementation of policy.  The anti-smoker cartel doesn't just sit at the table, they run the meeting.  Need a better image?  Look no further than the recent shot of Al Sharpton sitting at the table between Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton to understand what I’m telling you.

Compliant former Gov. George Pataki swept in the first two significant state cigarette tax hikes (55 cents a pack in 2000 and 39 more cents in 2002), followed by former Gov. David Paterson who heaped on another $1.25 in 2008 and $1.60 more in 2010.  The agenda preceded Bloomberg’s reign but he jumped on board immediately following his election, adding $1.42 to city smokes in 2002.  

Ideology trumping financial gain is also found in Bloomberg’s kind – lawmakers who use their power to impose their shared paternalistic views on the governed – when he had this to say about his motives:

''If it were totally up to me, I would raise the cigarette tax so high the revenues from it would go to zero.'' [Link] 
 “This city is not walking away from our commitment to make it as difficult and as expensive to smoke as we possibly can…” [Link]  

By the way, as a councilman, Mayor de Blasio voted for it.

In 2007 the same special interests tried to pressure Bloomberg to hike the city tax again, their culpability on display with these words from a previous director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City:  “[W]e all in tobacco control believe this is the next best thing to do.” This is a group that originally operated with the same email address as the NYC Department of Health []. 

As if it weren't enough, Obama’s first act as president was to raise the federal tax on cigarettes by 62 cents to $1.01 per pack (his request for 94 cents more in 2013 was rejected). 

If it were as simple as revenue raising the rate would reflect a more rational number, not the 1110 percent combined increase that NYC residents were treated to in eight short years.  There’s a sin tax and then there’s sinfully abusive taxation.  No doubt revenue is the bonus effect for lawmakers trying to balance the budget, and they certainly aren't blameless for going along, but it’s not the primary driver.  (And let me add here that anyone who entertains the thought that the street level cop is channeling the highest of their higher ups and thinking, “I’m going to make some money for the city today,” as a factor for taking action is a candidate for the purchase of the Brooklyn Bridge.) 

Following his first cigarette tax hike, Gov. Paterson told a radio station that in hindsight he and the legislature acted excessively, blaming a supportive public poll that provided cover.   

A description of the anti-smokers’ obsessive compulsive intolerance of all things smoking-related and the evil they feel it inflicts on the world (don’t forget “the children”) can be summed up by pointing to one of their own obscene advocacy ads:  A portrayal of the World Trade Center as two smoking cigarettes instead, with a tag line that smoking kills more people than were killed by terrorists since 9/11.  Intellect or conscience fully abandons them when they can’t or refuse to process the difference between someone rolling their own dice (a personally accepted risk) and having someone else load the dice with explosives and drop them on your head (definitive death by force).    

So when Linda Chavez called the sale of loosies “a crime with no victims” the sound you heard was that of hundreds of anti-smoker activists’ heads exploding.  But it’s their silence that follows that’s incriminating.

They normally could be counted on to make a statement in some manner about anything to do with “saving lives” by keeping cigarettes out of reach. It’s not like loosie sales aren't in their cross hairs.  As far back as 2001 the American Cancer Society was roaming around Harlem with recruited teen volunteers, looking for violators, according to an article in The New York Beacon headlined, “Denounce Sale of Loosies in Harlem.”  

Whether through social media outlets, request from media or via press release, you can always find the addition of their two cents on any topic related to tobacco or smoking,  Their relationship with city government is so tight that they are given space for statements in the mayor’s office press releases (sample) on the subject.  Fire-safe cigarettes were about fire, not smoking, yet they were even at the vocal forefront of that push.   

So where are they now when the tobacco control issue is undeniably related to the story of Eric Garner? His death has them hiding behind other’s indignation to suggestions that this tax policy plays any meaningful part in this.  Helpful is that the media appears not to even be looking for them for comment.  That or they’re not having their calls returned.  At least one paper looked for me.   

In that radio interview, Paterson went on to concede high cigarette taxes are built upon something greater than just the revenue benefit: “[A]nd I think unfortunately for smokers the whole industry is to some degree under attack and perhaps it becomes an avenue that public servants know they can get away with because the public doesn't seem to care.”

Under attack by and the control of Big Anti-Smoker.  It’s only that the NYPD has been conscripted into their army to carry out their mission.  

The lifestyle police, not the NYPD, are responsible for the death of Eric Garner.  When will they be made to answer for themselves?

Eric Garner is what the public reaps from their indifference to issues that don’t directly affect them or, conversely, agree with the “attack.”   The “merchants of death” (aka tobacco companies) screamers – aided by the indoctrinated and apathetic -- has caused the death of a merchant, not the industry.

In this most particular instance, the protesters should first look in a mirror and then "regroup" in front of the right door.  So should everyone else.


Epilogue:  Taken to its logical conclusion you can credit the anti-smokers’ account with two more bodies...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Disagreement with Tobacco Control Now Punishable By Law

What century or what country are we living in?

In the 17th century Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” for holding beliefs that contradicted the church, forced to recant and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

These days in Russia, you can be fined for exposing children to homosexuality because it promotes social acceptability in defiance of the government’s position.

Surely not the American way, right? 

Yet when the issue is tied to smoking, New York City emulates both in time and place.

Leaning heavily on one of the soviet-style anti-smoker tenets that even the sight of smoking or appearance thereof sends a message that undermines their attempt to relegate it to a “socially unacceptable” and “deviant” behavior, Ex-Mayor Bloomberg, the city council and his health commissioner demonstrated that the truth is only what they say it is when it came to banning the use (vaping) of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) wherever traditional smoking is banned.

On the local level, government determination of what the truth will be to advance its legislative agenda is bad enough. But when at the same time a U.S. District Court judge, by court order, makes that established truth mandatory of others – dissent punishable by law -- at the urging of the U.S. Department of Justice, the breath of the Inquisition is on our national necks.

In regard to NYC, when former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona writes a formal letter to all council members urging them to reject the proposal to ban e-cigs because there was no valid social or scientific reason to do so, he’s dismissed and suddenly a disagreeing city health commissioner is more the expert than he is.  

Dr. Carmona served as the SG between 2002 and 2006.  It was he who spun gold for the rejoicing anti-smoker movement with the release of his 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, “The Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke,” from which emerged two press conference bullets intended to be the coup de grace to the head of all dissent:  “The debate is over,” and “no safe level.”  He was worshiped. To this day, those (his) words are considered unassailable by many.  

Today Carmona serves on the board of directors for NJOY Inc., a large electronic cigarette company.  

At first blush, it’s understandable that the council could find Carmona’s motive suspect – that he was serving the interests of the company for which he now works. But that suspicion can only be raised if one also entertains the idea that he is a man of questionable character who will say what benefits him at the moment. 

People can change jobs but a person’s nature is innate and achieved intellect fixed.  Carmona’s views can’t, at one’s pleasure, be scholarly gospel, and the next moment unreliable or dishonest. 

No matter.  Whether his press conference words in 2006 were, as many have charged, nothing but political because no support for them can be found in the actual Report or he’s dead right about e-cigs falling short of “unsafe,” he’s a man who was once revered for delivering the goods but who wasn’t even given the time of day now. (Perhaps a victim of his own doing – “no safe level” no matter what -- coming back to bite him in the ass?)  Buck the state dogma and it’s “Carmona who?”

On the federal level, in a racketeering (RICO) case brought against the tobacco industry by the U.S. Dept. of Justice, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in 2006 that the industry had lied and ordered “corrective statements” as part of the punishment.  But it took until now for an agreement to be reached on the content and placement (top newspapers and on major TV networks).

No issue is taken with the prescribed statements about primary smoking.  That ship has sailed.  What’s at stake here are the ordered statements about secondhand smoke. 

They begin with the major tobacco companies having to state that they “deliberately deceived the public about the health effects of secondhand smoke,” followed by a “The truth is…” list of effects that end with Carmona Who?’s words, “There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”   

That the tobacco companies have filed an appeal over the wording is irrelevant at the moment. Two branches of government acting in concert have just directed that not only will they not hear of disagreement but that one must be forced to speak the government line.  No less than a state religion has been established right under your “smoke-free” noses.  The gospel is only what the government’s Anti-Smoker Church says it is and you have no choice but to adhere to it.

What’s remarkable is the anti-smoker crusaders’ triumphant wave of this decision -- rendered single-handedly -- as the absolute “truth” (the tobacco companies had lied) when seven years later a jury of one’s peers in Charleston, W. Va., decided that five major tobacco companies, in a case brought against them by hundreds of smokers, “didn't intentionally conceal evidence regarding the dangers of smoking.”

Arguing who might be right or wrong is beside the point.  The point is that a bonafide difference of opinion does exist. Though the scales of justice could easily tip further in favor of a diverse collection of eight regular folk versus one possibly biased judge (more on that later).  

Nevertheless, in the world of Judge Kessler and her champions, how soon until these eight people will be ordered to retract their verdict and replace it with a government mandated corrective statement?

Despite the stranglehold our modern day Prohibitionists’ have on the flow of information, effectively blacking or drowning out opposing views in the news, claims of effects on health by so-called secondhand smoke remains controversial. The science is not settled.  In fact, the “undeniable” has crystal clearly been denied.

For instance, it was only a few months ago that an article on a soon-to-be published study was printed. Headlined “No Clear Link Between Passive Smoking and Lung Cancer” in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the available abstract says, "A large prospective cohort study of more than 76,000 women... found no link between [lung cancer] and secondhand smoke."  

Buy the full paper and there you’ll find Dr. Gerard Silvestri adding, "We've gotten smoking out of bars and restaurants on the basis of the fact that you don't want to die. The reality is, we probably won't."

So how is holding a position that is apparently supported by contrary material a lie? If anyone is deliberately deceived it’s we the people from whom this latest study was kept.  Find it reported by mainstream news.  I dare you.

There’s more.

In 2003 Drs. James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat had their study on secondhand smoke published in the British Medical Journal that concluded there was “no significant relationship between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and tobacco-related mortality.”  

Just this past July Dr. Ronald Bayer from NYC’s Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health emerged with his analysis about smoking bans in outdoor spaces like beaches and parks. “Far from definitive and in some cases weak” was what he concluded in response to claims that it causes harm to health, extraordinary litter, and influences young minds (promotes acceptability).

In an extensive NPR interview Dr. Bayer emphasized, “The evidence of harm to non-smokers on the beach or in a park from someone smoking is virtually non-existent.”

Criticism of these papers doesn't absolve any who force a confession of sin from a defendant who can provide tangible reason for honestly believing differently. 

That’s not to say they haven’t tried to essentially airbrush the counter evidence out of existence (the same way the anti-smokers have airbrushed cigarettes out of photos) to create a synthetic “no alibi” environment.

Kessler, in agreement with a DOJ argument as part of the RICO case, goes as far as indicting the Enstrom and Kabat paper as a lie itself.  That tacitly implicates all such studies as fabrications simply for its guilt-by-association subject matter.

Their work and reputations dragged into this case, these researchers’ honesty and integrity were put on co-trial without any representation.  Their part was what the behind-the-scenes leaders in the anti-smoker movement told the DOJ it was and cemented by the testimony of one.

Having already gone to great lengths to defend his paper when it was first released from a vicious attack by those with an “ideological and political agenda,” Dr. Enstrom’s response to this further injustice was to write, “The Judge repeated in her opinion a number of the misleading and inaccurate statements about my study[…] However, the Judge identified no specific errors in the study and identified no scientific misconduct by me. At no time was I ever given an opportunity to challenge or refute the statements made about me and my research in the USDOJ Findings of Fact, in the trial itself, or in the Kessler opinion.” 

The previous charge of bias in and by this court doesn’t appear so far-fetched.

Deliberately deceived”?  

Considering that the aforementioned evidence to the contrary regarding secondhand smoke is but the tip of the iceberg, that’s as grotesque a charge as if a court ruled (as if it was its place to even do so) believers of human evolution are willful liars rather than leaving them alone to lean on a scientifically based difference of opinion no matter how hotly contested by others.  Would we not be aghast at the very idea that the debate was a matter of permission by a court at the urging of a government agency?

But in light of NYC’s behavior and especially the actions of Judge Kessler and the DOJ  how soon until Silvestri, Enstrom, Kabat, Bayer and the many other researchers who have reached similar conclusions or any one individual will be hauled into court and tried for the act of entertaining unacceptable thoughts, punishable by law?  If the crime is going against government doctrine why stop at industry?

Unless they want to admit persecution (“Big Tobacco is evil”) as the grounds for prosecution, the court is clear; it’s ultimately what was said, not who said it.  Galileo went down for asserting the earth revolved around the sun, not because he was Galileo. 

Let it also be clear none of this is to defend the tobacco companies that are but a red flag exhibit, but to denounce the elimination of dissent.

Despising the tobacco industry is no refuge for what the secondhand smoke portion of those “correctives” portend for everyone’s freedom to dissent when one is refused their honest belief, based on multitudes of material, that something remains genuinely open to debate.