What turns people into looters? (5×8 – 8/10/11)

The predictable outcome of nothing to lose, Wisconsin speaks, PTSD and 9/11, the polar bear probe, and Ellen in Minneapolis

The first item in today’s Five by Eight is from colleague Michael Olson, who was good enough to fill in for me yesterday while I waged a battle with a migraine.


The images of violence and businesses being looted and burned in London are heartbreaking. For most of us, it is hard to understand why people would ever behave in a destructive manner like we are seeing and hearing over the past few days.

Our friends across the pond have had their fair share of civil disturbances, but these recent images also evoke the long and sometimes brutal history of civil uprisings and riots on our soil.

There probably isn’t an easy way to make sense of the current situation in the UK, but there are various identifiable factors at play.

Many of the rioters are young and currently on a school holiday. “Numbers are all important in a riot and the tipping point comes when the rioters feel in control,” Prof. John Pitts, a criminologist, tells the BBC.

“You cannot riot on your own,” he adds “A one-man riot is a tantrum.”

And while psychologists explain that imitation and a flexible moral code play a role, wide-scale looting doesn’t happen without some kind of leaders with anti-social tendencies.

Former Manchester United hooligan Tony O’Reilly recalls a rampage through Swiss Cottage in the 1980s when Manchester United fans ended up looting a jewellery store. “The mob itself wasn’t looking for jewellers but a few of the bright criminals used the mob and bystanders and the mob joined in because of the buzz.”

Rioting, in this case, is more than a form of political protest. But you can’t neatly separate politics from the disturbances and simply charge those participating as thugs.

Prof Pitts says riots have to be seen against the backdrop of “growing discontents” about youth unemployment, education opportunities and income disparities.

He says most of the rioters are from poor estates who have no “stake in conformity”, who have nothing to lose.

“They have no career to think about. They are not ‘us’. They live out there on the margins, enraged, disappointed, capable of doing some awful things.”


Five months can make a big difference…

Aside from a few polls that were conducted by organizations with skin in the game, there had not been widespread indication that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had lost the support of Wisconsin in his assault on public unions earlier this year. The demonstrations at the Capitol deservedly captured the news coverage — they were quite a sight, indeed — but when it came down to “punishing” Walker via the recall election of six Republican lawmakers, Wisconsin demurred. So either Wisconsin is behind Walker, or — at least in the case of Hudson senator Sheila Harsdorf — it really likes Morgan Freeman sound-alikes.

More significant, perhaps? It wasn’t close. Harsdorf won in every county, according to unofficial results.

Make no mistake: Wisconsinites were very interested in giving their opinion. In Harsdorf’s race, more people voted yesterday than voted last November. Still, what qualifies as a large and impressive turnout, is when 44% of registered voters show up to vote.

By the way, none of the national TV morning news shows led with the story of Republicans holding serve in Wisconsin. Or put it second. Or third.

3) PTSD AND 9/11

We’re a month away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Many people have moved on, but many volunteers in New York — and thousands of witnesses — are still suffering a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, the New York Times reports.

Charles Figley, professor of disaster mental health at Tulane University’s School of Social Work and a former Marine, advanced the concept of PTSD in a 1978 book on Vietnam War veterans. He said one reason the trauma had been so hard to shake was that it ripped at the most ordinary fabric of daily life.

The landmark is not a distant hill in Afghanistan that one will never see again. “It’s the places you see every day, where you proposed to your wife, where you remember getting the news that you got promoted, where your young children played,” Dr. Figley said.

“You go into a combat zone and then you leave,” he added. “You don’t leave home. You return all the time.”

One of those suffering still is Stanley Mieses, who filed reports for NPR in the days after 9/11.

Mr. Mieses, who is receiving treatment under the Zadroga Act, lived six and a half blocks from the trade center and watched the buildings collapse. The police evacuated him, but he returned every few days to feed his cats. “Dead people were blowing into my apartment off the windowsills,” he said, remembering the ash, “because the landlord was too cheap to clean it.”


Scientist Charles Monnett’s 2004 report that polar bears were drowning while searching for ice raised public alarm about the threat of climate change and melting ice. The assertion warranted a mention in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

He’s now the subject of a criminal investigation into whether he steered a government contract to another scientist in exchange for a peer review of his work, NPR reports.

“There’s no way this can have anything but a chilling effect on the ability of other scientists to carry out their work,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that campaigned to have the polar bear listed as a threatened species. Her group has teamed up with Greenpeace to ask the administration for an investigation into this investigation.

But others caution against rushing to any judgments.

“We won’t know, until the [inspector general] is done, exactly what the charges are and exactly what they are finding,” says Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

That’s not to say Arctic ice isn’t disappearing. It is. But a study this week says it’s been worse in the past.


It didn’t take long for Minneapolis to forget about Oprah whatsername.

It was all part of a promotion from WCCO, which is moving her morning show to Oprah’s old spot.

As the video shows, she hung out at the Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet Mall. That’s a fairly understated statue of a pop icon, at least by Chicago standards where this has now been officially dedicated.


Giving us another opportunity to play “art or eyesore?”

Bonus: A beautiful day, a lovely park, Red Wing, and the 1812 Overture. Breathe it in, it snows in four months.


What do you make of the UK riots?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Life as a CIA operative.

Second hour: Why do so many women say they’re doing more at home?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Financial planner and investment advisor Ross Levin answers your personal finance questions.

Second hour: Neurologist Thomas Rando, speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival on the subject, “Can We Reverse Aging?”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Political talk with NPR political editor Ron Elving.

Second hour: Brooke Gladstone talks to Neal Conan about her book, “The Influencing Machine.”

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The nation’s debt ceiling crisis ended last week– at least one chapter of it. Soon, a congressional super-committee will have to find more ways to cut the deficit. Will it come up with a deficit-reduction plan, or a massive political fight for the rest of 2011?

  • BenCh

    Those poor polar bears! More needs to be done for these animals, and not just polar bears! Save the woolly mammoths!! I don’t want those gracious woolly mammoths to go extinct- something needs to be done about this climate change over the past 14,000 years…

  • Jamie

    I disagree with your take on Wisconsin, Bob. The fact that two senators were recalled there is monumental! Especially when you consider the dirty tricks that were played by Republicans and all the money the Koch brothers and other fat cats spent in Wisconsin to defeat Democrats. They were, as we all are, up against the rich, powerful national conservative scheme to eliminate the middle class and indenture whoever is left over.

    Perhaps Walker wasn’t “punished” as severely as we would have liked, but recalling two lawmakers is a significant message to him and his corporate fat-cat supoprters. And you can’t say that “Wisconsin demurred” or that “Wisconsin is behind Walker” either. These were just 6 districts.

  • Heather

    Thank you, Jamie.

    One thing that will not be lost on me is that — based on the calls and mailers I received — Shelly Moore’s campaign was very issues-driven, while Sheila Harsdorf’s seemed to emphasize name-calling and blame-shifting. She actually ran a robocall referring to “Barack Obama’s foot soldiers invading our district”, and she still seems to think that all those signatures on the recall petitions were those of big outside interests. I have voted for Harsdorf in the past, but I’ll never make THAT mistake again. And if there’s still an effort to recall Walker, I’ll support it.

  • On Wisconsin – see, I made a little funny there. But seriously, the reason the recall election might have missed the prime slot at the top of the news is the democratic narrative is completely ruined. There was no trouncing of the WI GOP, no repudiating Gov. Walker, no change of control of the Wisconsin Senate.

    But Bob – I think phrases like “his assault on public unions earlier this year” is a little strong. He pushed for reforms that, granted, the public unions didn’t like, but is that really an “assault?”

    Recently, the city of Central Falls, RI declared bankruptcy. Why? Because their public employee union wouldn’t agree to benefit reforms. More cities and more states face a similar problem – public union benefits they can’t afford. Bankruptcy voids public union contracts therefore it’s not in the best interest of the union.

    Whether people like it or not, Governor Walker passed a law that would allow Wisconsin cities, towns and school districts the ability to avoid becoming Central Falls, RI or Prichard, AL. In this respect, Gov. Walker very well may have actually saved union jobs and benefits.

  • MR

    It’s tough to say “…Gov Walker very well may have saved union jobs and benefits” when the truly controversial part of that measure was the one that essentially removes all bargaining power that the unions have, not the one about wages and benefits (which the unions offered to accept if the union-busting measures were stripped from the bill).

    Calling it an “assault” on unions seems about right then.

  • Jamie

    “Assault” is absolutely correct.

    Drae, you seem to be drinking too much of the Republican Kool-aid — the stuff that is meant to divide middle- and working-class people from one another in order for the fat cats to take over. Most of what you said here is false. I don’t have time right now to go into detail, but perhaps later…

  • Jeff

    Yes, BenCh, there have been naturally-caused cycles of global cooling and warming. (In the past 650,000 years there have been seven.) Many of these have been caused by the Earth’s orbit around the sun changing slightly which changes the amount of solar radiation it receives. What is different now is that the change is human-caused (we have put more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there ever has been in the past 650,000 years) and that the warming trend is happening much faster than ever in the past 1,300 years. So while you poo-poo the polar bears, remember that what is bad for them now will be bad for us soon.

    source: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

    PS — If you don’t believe that global climate change is really human-caused, remember that it doesn’t do any harm to use less resources and produce less carbon dioxide. But if the vast majority of scientists and I are right and it *is* human caused, it *will* do harm to not reduce your production of carbon dioxide. Which way would you rather be wrong?

  • @ Jamie – do you always insult your debate opponents like that? Drinking the kool aid indeed. Meanwhile, you sound like you get all your talking points from Daily Kos.

    Like FDR, I have long thought public unions were a conflict of interest. I don’t mean long as in months, I mean years. Of course, there are “assaults” on public unions being conducted by Democrats but no one seems to be pitching a fit over Mayor Emanuel or Governor Cuomo. Oh no, it’s just Republicans making things up and drinking kool aid.

    But did you know the largest employer in the state of California is their penal system? Do you know how underfunded their pension plan is? Have you researched public unions and the prison-industrial complex? Are you aware that public union benefits are driving tuition increases? Have you seen Waiting for Superman?

    You say I’m wrong but don’t have time to fact check me. I’m not surprised. Nor am I afraid, because the facts are on my side. Go ahead – check me.

  • California & Massachusetts are hardly bastions of far-right extremism, yet they too have “assualted” public union benefits. At least in MA they have, and CA voters want to according to some polls.

    Shocking as this may be for Jamie, I didn’t get my “kool aid” from Fox News. I got it from places like National Affairs and The Economist



    So, while I’m being told the issue of reigning in public union power is just a front to “divide us” meanwhile there are actual studies and numbers that show the position of lawmakers (on BOTH sides) in restricting collective bargaining has its merits.

    But please DO let me know when we’re protesting at the statehouse in Boston.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

    — John Steinbeck

  • Jamie

    Excellent quote, Jim. We can always count on you for the intelligent, the pithy, the true.

    I still don’t have time, but Drae, you’re still showing your Kool-aid stains. I don’t read Daily Kos. Nor do I just read “talking points.” That’s what Republicans do. I read a wide variety of things, and I see some faults in unions. But I know that we’d be waaaaaay worse off without them, and I know they’re one of the main targets of the insidious, extremist, corporatist right-wing movement that’s been getting a grip on our country for the last 30 years.

  • Bob Collins

    Debate the issues, not the commenters please.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Jamie – Thanks. But all credit to Steinbeck. I just like to read and listen and sometimes pass on good stuff when I can remember it.

    The attack against unions by politico-whores like Walker who do the dirty work for the Koch bros and their ilk appeals to the anger and fear of an ignorant populace, whose major complaint is ” I don’t have decent health care/ job security/ wages/ retirement, why should they?”

    Drae – The rise of tuition is primarily due to the increasing number of academic administrators and their CEO-like salaries. ((The business-izing of education.)

    Sorry I didn’t have time to find the data, but I know that as an intellectually honest researcher and reporter, you can access it if you so desire.

  • Jamie — your hyperbole doesn’t impress me. And please note I’ve been specific about public unions.

    Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Chicago, New York – these are where Democrats have “assaulted” public unions.

    “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” -FDR

    “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.” -FDR, again

    Now, I’ve provided facts, links and quotes, Jamie. You have provided hyperbole and name calling. I’ll check back later to see if you’ve offered any substantial, verifiable facts to disprove me or if you only have time to tell me I’m wrong and fling more invective.

  • Jim – I already did research that, and it’s benefits. Specifically, health benefits. At the University of Arizona those costs have gone up 10% a year since 2004.

    But, tell me. Is there a socialist economy you think the US should emulate? One that doesn’t have jobless youth riots, a sovereign debt crisis, or ties to brutal regimes?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drea – I’m a mixed economy kinda guy, not a pure socialist. As is Uncle Sam.

    A few that I think that we would do well to emulate would be Canada, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and of course Norway – which is the best of the best in nearly all economic and social metrics.

    Thanks for asking.

  • Jim – well, the Germans don’t pass the brutal regime requirement, but thank you for sharing your list.

    I have a nice Canadian fellow who regularly comments at my site. I’m not sure how we came to gain his attention, but my blog partner & I enjoy a cordial internet friendship with him. He’s a reasonable, Canadian centrist, and he wrote one of the best pieces on the public union debate of all that I read.


    I hope you’ll take a look at it. Also, we always welcome polite, reasonable debate at my site, and feel free to stop by some time.

  • Jim – my reply is pending because I had to add a link. Sorry.

    But I also wanted to take a moment for the polar bears and agree with Jeff’s comment. In addition to NASA, I highly suggest BenCh (and others) look at the American Institute of Physics’ site and search for their Discovery of Global Warming. It comes in a hard book form or internet form.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drae – “well, the Germans don’t pass the [no ties to] brutal regime requirement…]

    Are you referring to the Third Reich? East Germany?

    If we’re gonna go back a bit further in history, the Scandinavians have quite the “steal the women and rape the horses” history all their own.

    Are you referring to Germany’s current ties with some less than pristine Middle Eastern regimes?

    Or perhaps you’re referring to the belle of the brutes, CHINA! (Good thing the US doesn’t have any connection with THOSE creeps).

  • Jim – not just Germany’s ties to the Middle East, but Croatia.

    We’re all interdependent, so maybe no one passes the regime test.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drae – “We’re all interdependent…”

    Exactly. And precisely for that reason, what any partner does affects/ reflects upon the rest.

    It is therefore essential that WE (the U.S) demand responsible behavior on the part of our partner regimes, leading whenever possible through our own good behavior, and using whatever economic leverage that we have when our partners don’t live up to the highest possible ethical economic standards.

    The argument that “The Market” is amoral is somewhat akin to saying that guns are just a tool that can be used for good or evil.

    We must have rules and oversight for the use of powerful and potentially dangerous tools, honestly examine the results of their use, and place consequences on those that use the tool to fraudulently benefit a few at the severe expense of many.

  • Jim – I see again that you’ve highlighted the need to examine the evidence and abide by the results – kind of like the scientific method. It reminds me of a great book – The Science of Liberty by Timothy Ferris.

    It might surprise you that I agree. I don’t think all regulations are bad, nor do I think they’re all good. But if you want to see a tool in the wrong hands, look into the prison-industrial complex.