Weighing in on police training, campaign spending and the resurgence of the lumberjack

Posted at 9:10 AM, Dec 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-15 12:22:22-05

In an article for the Atlantic, law professor and former police officer Seth Stoughton offers some first-hand insight into how officer training might be partly to blame for unnecessary use of lethal force. Stoughton makes two key points: The fear of violence taught in police academies is largely to blame for the "shoot first ask questions later" approach that is becoming apparent in many high profile law enforcement cases, and deep-seeded, almost unconscious racial biases lead to the disproportionate deaths of black people at the hands of officers.

They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance. And as they listen to the fallen officer’s last, desperate radio calls for help, every cop in the room is thinking exactly the same thing: “I won’t ever let that happen to me.” That’s the point of the training.

But what about the consequences of a mistake? After all, that dark object in the suspect’s hands could be a wallet, not a gun. The occasional training scenario may even make that point. But officers are taught that the risks of mistake are less—far less—than the risks of hesitation. A common phrase among cops pretty much sums it up: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”

Less than a month after the midterm elections, Binyamin Appelbaum for the New York Times Magazine takes a deep dive into how campaign spending has affected election outcomes since the groundbreaking Citizens United Supreme Court case. The answer: not much.

Appelbaum lays out how the amount of money spent has decreased in elections over the past few years—“spending has dropped as the economy has grown”—and how donors view their contributions as more of a charity donation than an influencer.

Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University, says that the facts are surprising only if we subscribe to an incorrect view. In a 2003 paper, ‘Why Is There So Little Money in U.S. Politics?’ he argued that people and corporations actually view giving money as an ineffective way to influence politicians. Donations, Ansolabehere says, are best understood as a form of consumption, akin to making a charitable contribution. Donors are supporting a cause they believe in, and they take pleasure in doing so. ‘We basically think that giving money makes you feel good,’ Andsolabehere told me.

Instead Applebaum suggests that those aiming to affect real change should focus less on elections and much more on lobbying, writing "it’s less effective to influence the selection of policy makers than to influence the policy-making process itself."

Finally, Willa Brown, a doctoral candidate for history at the University of Virginia takes readers into the world of lumberjack envy in her piece for the Atlantic.

We’ve all seen them, the plaid, check and flannel shirt-wearing, bearded hipsters whose look harkens back to a time when your job was to be one with the forest and your basic manly instincts were all you needed. Brown explains that the longing for the lumberjack era has long plagued white middle-upper-class men and is once against prevalent now that the concept of the male single-earning household is all but obsolete.

The lumberjack, as we know him, only came onto the scene as a symbol of American manhood a little over a century ago, at a moment when American men were in desperate need of a hero.

She compares the mythology surrounding the lumberjack to similar reverence for the American cowboy. But while the image of the cowboy has taken on multiple meanings, the lumberjack image has continued to prevail as a symbol of heterosexual masculinity at its finest.

[Also by Miranda Green: Budget deal puts D.C. pot plans in jeopardy]

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