Davis, the spy plane, Steele and Trump

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks dro­dricks@balt­sun.com

No­body asked me, but … Af­ter all of it — the death of Fred­die Gray, the demon­stra­tions, the fires and drug­store loot­ings, the surge in shoot­ings and killings, the po­lice tri­als and the De­part­ment of Jus­tice re­port — we would like to have a suc­cess­ful po­lice com­mis­sioner. Bal­ti­more needs one.

So a lot of Bal­ti­more­ans are root­ing for Kevin Davis to stay and suc­ceed at two huge tasks: re­form­ing his de­part­ment of bad prac­tices and ar­rest­ing the vi­o­lent crime that leaves so much blood in the streets.

Davis has ea­gerly em­braced the chal­lenge. In in­ter­views, in news con­fer­ences and on the street, he comes across can­did, smart and wholly lik­able. That’s why his han­dling of Per­sis­tent Sur­veil­lance is per­plex­ing and trou­bling.

Davis has de­fended the aerial sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tion, and his only re­gret seems to be that Bloomberg Busi­ness­week broke the story be­fore he could tell any­one about it. On Richard Sher’s “Square-Off” show over the week­end, the com­mis­sioner claimed Per­sis­tent Sur­veil­lance had helped solve a mur­der and some shoot­ings.

“Early in­di­ca­tions are,” he said, “with this tech­nol­ogy, it can make the streets of Bal­ti­more safer.”

That’s fine and prob­a­bly true. But if, af­ter this test run, Per­sis­tent Sur­veil­lance never flies over Bal­ti­more again, it will be the com­mis­sioner’s fault.

Like it or hate it, we live in a sur­veil­lance so­ci­ety — there are cam­eras ev­ery­where — and I’m mostly on the side of the un­wor­ried. If you’re in a pub­lic space, you don’t have much ex­pec­ta­tion of pri­vacy. The prob­lem is not pri­vacy. The prob­lem, from the great and never-end­ing re­al­ity show we call Bal­ti­more, was se­crecy.

The project went into op­er­a­tion se­cretly, and it was funded well out­side of pub­lic over­sight. The whole thing ends up look­ing shady — as if the Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment and Per­sis­tent Sur­veil­lance knew there would be sig­nif­i­cant blow­back all along — and it dam­ages Davis’ cred­i­bil­ity when he needs ev­ery ounce. An apol­ogy for not in­form­ing the pub­lic, in­clud­ing the mayor who ap­pointed him, would have helped.

But as soon as a news­pa­per colum­nist sug­gests you should apol­o­gize, it’s too late.

No­body asked me, but ... Michael Steele, the for­mer Repub­li­can na­tional chair­man and Mary­land lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, ought to just de­clare sup­port for Don­ald J. Trump for pres­i­dent. He’s pretty much there, from what I see and hear.

When I asked him on my pod­cast last week if he had de­cided who would get his vote in Novem­ber, Steele said, “I have not made up my mind.” But he was crit­i­cal of Hil­lary Clin­ton and spoke pos­i­tively about the “new team” at the head of the Trump cam­paign.

Since then, Clin­ton un­leashed an at­tack on Trump for his ties to the ex­treme right wing, and for not mov­ing quickly enough to dis­avow the sup­port of one-time Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The Clin­ton cam­paign re­leased a tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial quot­ing mem­bers of the Ku Klux Klan who sup­ported Trump: “A lot of what he be­lieves, we be­lieve in.” Trump coun­tered by call­ing Clin­ton a bigot. Steele came to Trump’s de­fense on MSNBC, and again on a Philadel­phia ra­dio show, call­ing the KKK com­mer­cial “in­cen­di­ary” and say­ing Clin­ton’s at­tacks on Trump for his ties to big­otry are as bad as Trump’s ties to big­otry. It was one of those false equiv­a­len­cies only a Trump sur­ro­gate can come up with, and it’s clas­sic Amer­i­can de­nial­ism: Rais­ing the race card is as bad as racism.

Steele might think he’s found a com­fort­able place in the wob­bly mid­dle ground for the rest of this cam­paign. But his re­cent com­ments put him on the Trump team.

No­body asked me, but … Given what we’re see­ing in Maine, and given what we’ve seen in New Jer­sey, Mary­land’s Larry Ho­gan must be the most ra­tio­nal, lik­able Repub­li­can gov­er­nor on the East Coast, if not the en­tire coun­try.

As for Maine’s Paul LePage, this tea party Repub­li­can’s big­gest of­fense — or the one draw­ing the most at­ten­tion right now — might be his ill-tem­pered, racially charged re­marks. But the worst of it has to do with the real power he wields as chief ex­ec­u­tive.

LePage has stood with other Repub­li­can gov­er­nors, and com­plicit leg­is­la­tures, that re­fused to ex­pand Med­i­caid un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. LePage has kept Med­i­caid from reach­ing 70,000 low-in­come Maine res­i­dents who do not have health in­sur­ance.

In April, the Maine Leg­is­la­ture, with a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate and Demo­cratic-con­trolled House, man­aged to ap­prove Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion. But the bill passed with­out a veto-proof mar­gin so it never got to the gov­er­nor’s desk, re­ports Kevin Miller, staff writer with the Port­land Press-Her­ald.

So, yeah, LePage ap­pears to be an ill­tem­pered guy who seems to say some­thing racially charged ev­ery chance he gets. But he’s kept thou­sands of poor peo­ple from get­ting health care, and that’s the worst of it.

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