About that so-called “shoplifting epidemic”

Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria over at Popular.Info do, as usual, great work setting the record straight on what the media inaccurately, without proof, have been covering as the the so-called “shoplifting epidemic” that has been allegedly gripping the nation:

For several years, Walgreens and other major retailers have been sounding the alarm about an alleged spike in shoplifting, describing it as an existential threat to their business. These dramatic claims generated a nationwide media frenzy.

Now, Walgreens is quietly backtracking.

In a conference call with investors on January 6, Walgreens Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe was asked how shoplifting and related problems impacted the company’s financial performance. Kehoe admitted that “maybe [Walgreens] cried too much last year” about the issue, adding that the drugstore chain probably spent “too much” hiring private security companies.

Kehoe added that theft at Walgreens had “stabilized” and the company was “quite happy with where we are.” Walgreens’ “shrink” — an industry term for inventory losses from theft, damage, or administrative errors — had gone down from 3.5% of sales last year to roughly 2.5% in its last quarter. Walgreens declined to specify how much of the “shrink” was due to shoplifting as opposed to other causes, like employee theft and damaged goods. Across the industry, “external theft” accounts for only one-third of total shrink. That means shoplifting at Walgreens likely amounts to less than 1% of sales.

But Kehoe’s upbeat comments gloss over Walgreens’ central role in fomenting the national panic over retail theft. Just a year ago, Kehoe said that part of the reason Walgreens’ reported lackluster earnings was because of “gangs that actually go in and empty our stores of beauty products.”

“This is not petty theft,” Kehoe insisted at the time. “It’s not somebody who can’t afford to eat tomorrow.”

Walgreens has been joined by other major retailers who have been echoing similar cries and drumming up fear: Walmart CEO Doug McMillion warned that Walmart may have to raise prices or close stores because theft was “higher than what it has historically been.” Former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli stated on national television that retail theft was “spreading faster than COVID.”

Publicly available data, however, contradicts the theft-wave narrative. The number of shoplifting offenses dropped 46 percent between 2019 and 2021, according to the FBI’s crime data explorer. The National Retail Federation (NRF), a trade group that represents retailers like Walgreens and has amplified the theft-wave narrative, has also found that shrink declined to 1.4% of total retail sales in 2021, from 1.6% in 2020. External theft, the NRF found, made up 0.5% of total retail sales in 2021.

The article continues:

In May 2021, Walgreens told the New York Times “that thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and that it had closed 17 stores, largely because the scale of thefts had made business untenable.”

Months later, the retailer announced the closure of an additional five stores in San Francisco and told the San Francisco Chronicle that “organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that.” The company said it had to increase investments in private security in San Francisco by “46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment.”

When the company announced it was closing five stores in San Francisco due to rampant theft, police data obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that “the five stores slated to close had fewer than two recorded shoplifting incidents a month on average since 2018.” Moreover, the company’s claims that thefts at its San Francisco stores were four times its national average were not reflected in citywide crime data — in 2020, shoplifting had reached its lowest level since they began collecting data in the 1970s.

Moreover, back in 2019, Walgreens announced it would close 200 stores across the U.S. as part of a larger “cost-reduction” plan. The San Francisco Chronicle, in 2021, raised the question of “whether a $140 billion company was using an unsubstantiated narrative of unchecked shoplifting to obscure other possible factors in its decision.”

The “shoplifting epidemic” played into so much of the right-wing agenda on crime, race — you name it.

The GOP and its willing suckers in the mainstream media could tie the shoplifting narrative into a false indictment of the bail reform movement that likely cost San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin his job. It was also used to bludgeon Democrats in the mid-terms as being responsible for increasing crime when, in fact, most types of non-violent crime, including shoplifting, had been dropping.

To be sure, there were some shockingly brazen shoplifting incidents during the pandemic. But there were also some before and after the pandemic. There have always been brazen shoplifting incidents.

But the statistics prove that the “epidemic” rise of these incidents is simply a false narrative begun by retailers trying to make excuses for bad business decisions, and then helped along by lazy reporters in the mainstream media.

MAGA candidate caught (allegedly) masturbating near pre-school

Way back when I was a newspaper editor in Boston, I used to be invited on local TV and radio stations to give my opinions because, as we all know, being a newspaper editor makes you an expert on everything. (Hey, I don’t make the rules.)

Given that my areas of expertise were LGBT civil rights and HIV/AIDS, I was usually paired with an extreme right winger of some sort to “add balance” because, of course, to be fair you needed someone who sees basic civil rights issues for an entire class of Americans as up for debate — solely because that right winger’s interpretation of the Bible (or Koran, etc.) told them to do this.

Again, those are the rules. I don’t make them.

It was the usually some arch-conservative local person from the same rotating cast of right-wing loonies who loved talking about gay sex. They hate gay sex. But they never got tired of talking about it, including some outré sexual practices that they pictured LGBT people doing in public or on an altar somewhere.

I observed on a couple of occasions on-air, to the face of these right-wingers, “You know, you think about gay sex all the time. You think about gay sex more than do any gay people I know. What does this say about you, this obsession with what gay people do with their genitalia in the privacy of their bedrooms?”

The right-wingers would sputter and become angry, and the now-uncomfortable host of the program would change the subject.

But my point was made, and it is just as salient today as it was back then: I assume any right-winger who is that obsessed with gay sex is hiding something.

We are moving back into a time where these age-old bigotries about LGBT folks — that we “recruit”; that we “groom” children for later abuse; that we want to teach toddlers about gay sex, etc. — are making a comeback.

This is despite ample evidence over the years, including up to the present, that anyone’s children and grandchildren, niece and nephews, would be safer spending the weekend at a gay chorus convention than they would be spending one night with a roomful of Baptist ministers or Republican candidates for office:

A GOP candidate running for an Arizona college district’s governing board was arrested on a charge of public sexual indecency after an officer allegedly caught him masturbating in his truck near a preschool.

Randy Kaufman was arrested Oct. 4 but suspended his campaign Tuesday following media reports of his arrest. Kaufman is running for the governing board of the Maricopa County Community College District, and was allegedly caught masturbating by the county’s community college police.

“I fucked up,” Kaufman told an officer during his arrest, according to a police report.

The report says the incident began when an officer with the Maricopa County Community Colleges Police approached Kaufman’s parked vehicle and saw the man with his pants down.

“[Kaufman] appeared to be looking at a cell phone in one hand,” the police report said. “I immediately became alarmed as I saw [Kaufman] had his pants down mid-thigh and was exposed showing his fully erect nude penis. [Kaufman] was manipulating his genitals in a masturbatory manner.”

The officer said Kaufman didn’t seem to notice the officer at first, but that Kaufman was in view of a nearby bicyclist and a preschool where children were playing outside. When confronted, the officer said, Kaufman apologized for the act.

“I’m sorry,” Kaufman said, according to the report. “I fucked up. I’m really stressed.”

Ah, yes. The old “I’m stressed so I beat off at a pre-school” defense.

Kaufman is running on a fire-and-brimstone “family values” platform in which he has stated he wants to “protect our children [from] the progressive left.”

I could do a daily feature on this blog where I highlight nothing but family values conservatives who are caught trying to diddle children or abusing their children or spouses, or any number of other awful things they get caught doing.

Yeah, don’t vote this guy into a position where he’s around students.

60 Minutes Australia has a new report that points to heavy police involvement in infamous decades-long gay murder and bashing spree in Sydney

I was already familiar with the long run of murders and gruesome near-murders that gripped gay Sydney in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Officially just over 80 solved murders, 30 unsolved murders and countless violent attacks, the true number of murders and assaults will never be known.

Now 60 Minutes Australia’s Undercover Investigations unit has a new report out that links many of those murders and attacks to the New South Wales police department, where some officers actually took part in the attacks, while much of the rest of the department simply refused to investigate when the victims were gay men.

They hunted in packs and stalked their prey like a blood sport, terrorizing the gay community for more than two decades. But incredibly, on the frontline of the thugs were NSW police officers. On Under Investigation, Liz Hayes and her team of experts expose one of the most disgraceful chapters in NSW police history.

There have been other documentaries about the attacks, including this Crime Investigation Australia report, and Deep Water: The Real Story, a 2-hour documentary.

But the 60 Minutes Australia report is the first one I’ve seen that delves so deeply into police involvement in the crimes.

You can watch the entire report below.

When a boomer starts a sentence with, “Well, when I was kid…” you know they are about to spout utter bullshit

I was riding in a car today with a fellow boomer and we happened to pass, within a few minutes of one another, two yards with trampolines with those giant 12-foot safety nets around the perimeter.

“When I was a kid, we played on trampolines without nets and nobody ever got hurt,” my friend observed knowingly.

I gave him an incredulous look. “Do you not remember that we spent three years of high school learning beside a quadriplegic former jock moving himself around the hallways with a mouth-operated joystick on his wheelchair? And he was the second person in our class to be seriously injured in a trampoline accident?”

“Oh, yeah,” my friend said. “I forgot about them.”

This kind of thinking is rampant among baby boomers who tend to have an idealized version of their own childhoods. You hear this total bullshit come out of their mouths all the time.

“My mother smoked and drank when she was pregnant with me, and I turned out fine,” usually comes from someone like a woman in her 60s who has zero contact with her three adult children she screwed up emotionally for life.

“My parents beat us kids all the time and we survived,” usually comes from someone like an elderly alcoholic biker whose life has been a series of dead-end jobs because he never outgrew his inability to control his anger and resentment when someone disagrees with him about small things or tells him what to do at work.

But this bit of stupidity is always my favorite: “We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. Nobody had to know where we were every minute of the day.”

I have first-hand experience with this because my two best friends, Jake Surber and Jon Simpson, disappeared on Aug. 30, 1975, during a trip to the state fair. I was supposed to go with them, but my mother refused to let me go because she didn’t have the money.

Jake and Jon didn’t return home that night. Their bodies were found later in two different locations, both sexually assaulted and brutally stabbed. They thought at one time that the killer was found and prosecuted, but it turned out maybe they got the wrong guy.

So I’ve been especially attuned to crimes against children my entire life. There were a lot of child rapes and murders, and horrific parental child abuses, even during the so-called golden years about which baby boomers wax nostalgic. Those crimes simply did not receive the same media coverage they do now.

Children are definitely safer now than they’ve ever been, precisely because products are required to be (somewhat) safer, cars have three-point seatbelts and rear-facing child seats, head protection is more common when kids are taking part in risky activities, and parents can keep better tabs on them through cell phones and the internet.

The golden age of childhood that my contemporaries romanticize is a figment of older imaginations who have shitty memories. The only thing that often surprises me is how unaware they are when they do it until you point out to them the wide gap between what they believe and what actually happened.

It’s guns from outside of Chicago that are killing and terrorizing law-abiding Chicagoans

In Chicago right now, taxpayers are more likely to be the victims of crime than criminals are to be punished for it. So, the question is, “Why would anyone in Chicago pay taxes?” You’d have to be a masochist to do that, and pretty soon only the masochists will be. 

Fox News infotainment host Tucker Carlson, who failed to mention on his Sept. 13 show that all of the guns that allow “the worst people” in Chicago to target everyday citizens don’t originate in Chicago, but rather come from just across the border in gun-permissive states such as Indiana and Wisconsin — along with Iowa and Michigan.

QAnon-believing father kills wife, family dog; shoots and wounds daughter

Another murder tied to QAnon beliefs.

Police in Michigan say a man opened fire on his family, killing his wife and injuring one of his daughters. His other daughter says he was spiraling out of control before the shootings, blaming it on QAnon.

Rebecca Lanis, 21, says her grandmother called her Sunday morning, asking if she was at the hospital. At a friend’s sleepover and unaware of the tragedy that had just unfolded at her home, she found that a strange question.

But she soon learned that early that morning, her father, 52-year-old Igor Lanis, had shot and killed her 56-year-old mother and critically injured her 25-year-old sister, Rachel Lanis.

The sheriff’s department says Igor Lanis also killed the family dog.

“It was like I was in a movie or nightmare or something. How could this happen to me?” Rebecca Lanis said. “I had a really close bond with my mom, and I just can’t believe that she’s not here.”

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office says when officers responded to the family’s home in Walled Lake, Igor Lanis opened fire on them. A Walled Lake police officer and an Oakland County deputy returned fire, killing the man.

She says her father started getting more agitated at normal things and often found a way to bring up conspiracy theories about vaccines, 5G and electromagnetic fields. He turned to extremism – like QAnon, a political conspiracy theory centered around baseless claims that Trump was fighting enemies within a so-called “deep state” and a sex-trafficking ring run by Satanic cannibals.

Rebecca Lanis says her family’s tragedy is a warning for people to pay attention to their loved ones who may need help.

“I think that people need to focus more on radicalization, QAnon. If they have relatives with guns who are like this, you need to get them help, and they need to get checked into a mental institution, even if you think they’re not dangerous,” she said.

These are the people Fox News and Tucker Carlson are radicalizing.

Trump keeps playing right into the hands of the Department of Justice

It’s a question that untold numbers of us have asked ourselves: How has Donald Trump gotten away with being so crooked for so long?

That question has been batted about ad infinitum.

But those days seem to have come to an end, with federal law enforcement finally using Trump well-known stupidity and lazy habits against him, as David A. Graham at The Atlantic recounts in this interesting article:

As the great American philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Omar Little each expressed in their own ways, if you go after the king, you can’t make a mistake.

The Department of Justice now finds itself in just such a can’t-miss scenario in its legal battle with Donald Trump over documents he took with him to Mar-a-Lago. Given the delicate political calculation, any error could strengthen the former president, weaken the rule of law, and imperil the Constitution. But so far, the federal government has been a step ahead of Trump at every turn.

The latest demonstration came in a filing late last night, in which prosecutors dramatically swept away the most recent excuses from Trump and his allies, who have insisted that the former president cooperated with the government and acted in good faith. The filing provides evidence that Trump and his team not only didn’t hand over all classified materials, but actively sought to conceal them by misleading the FBI. And a striking photograph, showing cover sheets with bold red block letters reading top secret // sci, preempts any claim that Trump might simply not have realized the documents were classified.

This has been the pattern of the story of Trump’s mishandling of presidential records from the start. In January, the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago. By February, NARA had already told DOJ about classified documents, according to a letter from the agency’s head to Representative Carolyn Maloney. Although a lawyer for Trump requested that NARA not disclose the contents of the boxes to the FBI, government lawyers were already a step ahead, pointing out that “there are important national security interests in the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community getting access to these materials … Some include the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) materials.”

Trump is a moron, and he’s mostly now only able to hire lawyers who are also morons or near-morons. The days of him being able to sleaze and bluster his way out of legal messes is (hopefully) drawing to a close.

One of several in a rotating list of Trumpland excuses for having top secret documents is that he didn’t know they were top secret. So the DOJ shared photos of what they found during the raid of Mar-A-Lago so that everyone could see that nobody could miss that these were restricted documents, since they were clearly and ostentatiously labeled as such.

There’s an epidemic of prison suicides. Should we care?

There is an epidemic of suicides among incarcerated people in this country, as the good folks at the Brennan Center note in a current article:

Why are people in jail taking their lives so often? A 2020 Reuters invest­ig­a­tion corrob­or­ates the Justice Depart­ment’s find­ing that suicides are a top cause of jail deaths and suggests three primary drivers.

First, a signi­fic­ant propor­tion of people who land in jail are from margin­al­ized communit­ies and grapple with symp­toms of poverty, primar­ily substance abuse and mental illness, as well as unem­ploy­ment and home­less­ness. Accord­ing to the latest Justice Depart­ment data, 63 percent of people in jail exper­i­enced drug depend­ence or abuse, and 44 percent of people in jail repor­ted having had symp­toms of a mental health disorder in the prior year.

Second, the preval­ence of detained people with seri­ous mental health needs is at odds with the goals, design, oper­a­tion, and resources in most jails. The near absence of mental health treat­ment or other types of beha­vi­oral health services is exacer­bated by jail staff who are often not trained or equipped to prevent, detect, or respond to beha­vi­oral health crises. For example, only about one-quarter of New York City correc­tions staff repor­ted complet­ing suicide preven­tion train­ing despite a surge in self-harm and suicides at Rikers. A recent invest­ig­a­tion of Indi­ana jails, citing staff short­ages with train­ing or expert­ise, simil­arly found that many suicide attempts occur openly, includ­ing among people on suicide watch or those being monitored by video.

It is perhaps unsur­pris­ing then that accord­ing to the latest avail­able data, the major­ity of people in jail with mental illness — 62 percent — were not receiv­ing mental health care. Yet jails are often described as “de facto mental hospit­als” because they have filled the vacuum created by a pervas­ive lack of adequate beha­vi­oral health services in the community and because beha­vi­oral health issues under­lie many of the circum­stances that land someone in jail.

Third, the condi­tions inside most jails are terrible and the treat­ment often abus­ive, making them unlikely to offer any respite for people exper­i­en­cing crises or mental illness. Jails are typic­ally char­ac­ter­ized by loud and unpre­dict­able noise, bright lights, unsan­it­ary condi­tions, and in many places, an atmo­sphere of threat and viol­ence.

Confront­ing an intrins­ic­ally isol­at­ing exper­i­ence in an insti­tu­tion whose aim is to punish rather than treat or rehab­il­it­ate can also be trau­maticHuff­ing­ton Post invest­ig­a­tion follow­ing Sandra Bland’s in-custody death quoted correc­tions expert Steve J. Martin, who described jail as “a total and abso­lute loss — imme­di­ate loss — of control over your being, over your phys­ical being.”

Put together, it is under­stand­able that jail may in fact exacer­bate a person’s mental illness, and quickly. Indeed, accord­ing to the Justice Depart­ment, most jail suicides happen soon after admis­sion, with nearly half of suicides occur­ring within seven days of arrival. A signi­fic­ant propor­tion of jail suicides — 77 percent — occur by detained people who are charged but not convicted of any crime and are there­fore legally presumed inno­cent.

It’s probably safe to say that if you asked average Americans whether jails and prisons should be more about rehabilitation or punishment, most of them would say punishment. After all, if we make jails and prisons as legally unbearable as is possible – which is basically what we have now – criminals would be more likely when they get out of prison to lead lives that will not lead them back to incarceration.

But that is not what is happening. People who go into prison as the damaged human beings many of them are, are subjected to conditions in most prisons and jails which guarantee that they will come out more damaged than when they went in. Often profoundly more damaged.

Socially and physically damaged inmates, especially the ones with mental health issues, do not come out of the experience ready to start lives as earnest, tax-paying citizens.

Many of them come out with even greater mental health challenges that virtually ensure they will be so broken that getting their lives in order is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible.

Assuming they live long enough to make it out of incarceration in the first place.

This is not soft-headed liberal whining. It’s plain fact there for anyone willing to look honestly at recidivism rates.

A genuine interest in lessening crime has to be accompanied by the conviction that the money we spend now on providing meaningful mental health treatments, along with job training and socialization programs, will save us even greater costs later on repeat incarceration, and increased crimes against persons and property stemming from the prison-to-prison pipeline we now have.

Army soldiers more likely to be locked up for minor drug offenses than for sexual assault

ProPublica and the Texas Tribune discovered some startling — although not totally unexpected — things about sexual assault in the Army:

U.S. Army soldiers accused of sexual assault are less than half as likely to be detained ahead of trial than those accused of offenses like drug use and distribution, disobeying an officer or burglary, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

The news organizations obtained data from the Army on nearly 8,400 courts-martial cases over the past decade under the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed a process known as pretrial confinement. The resulting investigation of the nation’s largest military branch revealed a system that treats soldiers unevenly and draws little outside scrutiny.

When service members are accused of crimes, their commanders, who aren’t required to be trained lawyers, get to decide whether they are detained before they go to trial.

Soldiers accused of sexual assault are placed in pretrial confinement at lower rates than those charged with some more minor offenses.

On average, soldiers had to face at least eight counts of sexual offenses before they were placed in pretrial confinement as often as those who were charged with drug or burglary crimes, the news organizations found.

That disparity has grown in the past five years. The rate of pretrial confinement more than doubled in cases involving drug offenses, larceny and disobeying a superior commissioned officer, but it remained roughly the same for sexual assault, according to the analysis.

“Justice that’s arbitrary is not justice,” said Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force. “It shouldn’t come down to the whims of a particular commander.”

You can read the rest of the article here.