Tag Archives: justice

&some. Lives Matter

There’s a story going viral now, in the spring of 2017, about a waitress who paid for the meals for a table of policemen she served who had just been at the funeral of a murdered colleague. Some versions of the story include a picture of her note on the back of the receipt, including the line, “#policelivesmatter”.

This is clearly a response to the “Black Lives Matter,” movement, whose theme might be summarized as, police shouldn’t get away unchallenged with so many shootings of African-Americans. It suggests that African-American lives don’t matter, that too many people believe that so many African-Americans are criminals and dangerous that almost any police shooting of an African-American can be justified.

The implication of #policelivesmatter, or #alllivesmatter, for that matter, is that police lives, like African-American aren’t valued and that some class of people in America shoot law enforcement officials with impunity routinely. “All Lives Matter” would imply that anyone in America can be shot with impunity, that African-Americas aren’t more likely to be killed by people not prosecuted than others.

People who shoot police offices are routinely found, arrested, and tried for their acts. The man accused of killing the officer in Columbus faces (faced? I can’t find anything about an outcome) the death penalty.

It’s much less common for officers who kill African-Americans to face criminal charges, let alone convictions.

Our legal system values highly law enforcement lives. It doesn’t hold the same value for African-American lives.

I don’t mind a waitress’s act of kindness toward police officers mourning one of their own. I mind her telling them she supports them, doubly so when she herself is the daughter of a retired office.

What I mind is the coopting of the construction, “<adjective> Lives Matter”. Get over it. Stop it. Admit there’s a problem and stop making every social issue about yourself.

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Government Is Not a Business

I find myself reminding myself that government is not a business lately. Some of that is due to Voldemort’s ascension to the head of government; people seem to think his alleged success means he’ll be successful at running the government. But we heard talk of running the government like a business long before he threw his wand into the ring. I think I remember hearing it during the (now only) Clinton Administration twenty years ago.

I was always amused when after people screamed about running government like a business they got upset when they found government managers paying their employees well and having lavish meetings to reward their best employees. Hey, that’s what some kinds of business do: they motivate their best people with rewards, not just praise, and sometimes they pay more to hire better people than merely competent. But, I digress.

Government exists to do the things that individuals and businesses can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t. They do things for a common good, which is very different from why a business operates. National defense is an example. All of us collectively have an interest in keeping our country safe from foreign aggression, and sometimes keeping our country safe means making alliances in which we trade the promise of other countries’ support of us in a time of need for our promise of support of them in their times of need. It turns out, we can find businesses that will provide soldiers and weapons, but they don’t offer their services to individuals or small communities; they offer their services to countries.

Fire protection is another service managed by governments. In the early days of America, fire protection was sometimes provided by insurance companies for their clients — but that caused problems as fires spread from one company’s client to another company’s client’s property. Communities recognized that fire departments were community assets and that fire protection was a community’s shared responsibility.

Law enforcement and criminal justice is another area that is — or should be — a public interest service, not a commercial enterprise. We want those enforcing the law and those prosecuting offenders to be beholden to all of us, not just those who pay for the services. While some legal matters are civil matters handled by private parties in lawsuits between each other, other matters are offenses against the state, against the collective good. Murder isn’t a crime because of the loss felt by relatives or friends of the victim; it’s also an offense against the peace shared by all of us, against our security and safety.

There are other things government does for the benefit of all of us when the will of the people is not to trust private enterprise with some goal or task.

The National Park Service and, to a lesser extent, the US Forest Service, are examples of government doing things for a collective common good instead of letting private enterprises manage those things for some combination of our common interest and their own private benefit. We the people own Yellowstone and Yosemite instead of the Disney Corporation or the Hilton Hotels chain because our collective interest is in conflict with some of their interests. Yes, they may be well equipped to collect park entrance fees and run campgrounds, but they have concerns about economic returns that we don’t want to subject natural treasures to. The Forest Service has a somewhat different mandate, focussing a little more on allowing the use of resources of managed private benefit while arbitrating among competing interests for the maximum benefit of all. So, they permit logging, for example, but in ways that will ensure the continued health of the forests, or so the expectation says.

The Environmental Protection Agency, that scapegoat for all that ails businesses, is an example of an agency that pursues goals that have intangible benefits, benefits few private enterprises would recognize, let alone make priorities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, is another such agency, protecting workers against economic pressures that might motivate private enterprises (and governments) to act against workers’ interests. Both the EPA and OSHA were founded after public outcries arose about abuses that were too scandalous to ignore. Worker safety wasn’t a priority for business owners during the Industrial Revolution until the collective public outcry led to OSHA’s foundation and various laws about worker safety and workers’ rights. Similarly, the EPA and other government agencies with mandates to fight pollution arose because business had no economic case to care about soil pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and other forms of pollution.

This is why I don’t give much of a care about business whining about the high cost of fighting global warming, or “climate change” if you want to call it that. We know that businesses have various economic incentives to ignore long term effects in pursuit of quarterly earnings or protecting the the existence of their market. To the private individual, long term thinking asks, “Will there be a healthy planet for my grandchildren’s grandchildren?” but the long term thinking of an oil or coal executive might ask, “Will there be a market for our products in fifty or one hundred years?” You might hope there will be other uses for oil or coal that damage the environment next, or other uses for the technologies they currently use for those fields, but for those businessmen, maximizing their economic return over the time periods they care about means preserving their markets as they are, pollution be damned.

I hear interviews on the radio with voters who want this candidate or that to downsize “government.” I have yet to hear someone say, “Let’s start with not filling in the potholes on my street.” Everyone always wants to start with the government functions they don’t use. Do we really need OSHA to make sure fishing in the northern Pacific fishing fleets is safe? Do we even need OSHA to tell me how to keep my workers safe? We don’t, until someone cuts corners and cuts more corners and suddenly our worker mortality rate is climbing. Mine safety? Well, sure, profit margins are getting thin for coal because natural gas is getting even cheaper and even more widely available, but, yes, those miners’ lives matter, even if they’ve become numb to the danger.

OSHA barely monitors, let alone regulates or enforces, safety in health care. Are nurses routinely asked to risk their bodies in how they do their jobs, moving heavy loads or working with dangerous diseases? OSHA has a mandate to do that, as they do with any job in which people get injured or killed, but according to a news story a I heard a couple of yeas ago, they have no funding or staffing to fulfill that mandate.

Can the National Park Service and the US Forest Service keep all of their capital investments and improvements in good working order, or is maintenance and upkeep slipping due to budget pressures? Why would we build visitor centers and campgrounds if twenty-five years later we can’t maintain them? (Please don’t talk about capital investment compared to expenses; look at the big picture and tell me if the result is right, not how we got that result.)

I would love to see some agency or perhaps some NGO think tank look at every branch of the Federal executive branch, at every Department, at every agency, at every bureau, and compute how much it would cost to do all of their jobs correctly. Would some park say, “We need 425 Rangers but we only have 230”? Never mind if we could find enough qualified people to do that work; just tell me how much you would need if you had access to the resources you need. Add all that up, and then tell me what the Federal budget should be. Then tell me how much more income we need than we have.

Every government agency and program exists because at some point in time, there was a compelling case to create that agency or program. Despite Tea Party intuitions, very few agencies or programs exist just because no one thought to kill them when their role disappeared. Politicians love to take credit when they can find a program that has outlived its usefulness and retire it. Government unions aren’t so powerful that there are 312 buggy whip inspectors now because we once needed 312 buggy whip inspectors.

People’s interests naturally conflict. I want the best tools at my work to do my job; my manager wants the lowest costs, unless we can demonstrate that the higher costs are justified by higher incomes as a result. I want the shortest route from Madison to Chicago, but there are small towns between here and there that don’t want an Interstate highway through their downtown and other cities in the region that want the highway to come close enough to them to be useful for them, too. Government exists to mediate among those competing interests. The rich and powerful might be just as happy without that mediation; they could just buy or bully their way to what they want, if they’re so inclined. But those limits on their ability to do that are meant for all of us, because all of us have times here or there when we can’t protect our own interests on our own.

Businesses are meant to be great in competitive situations; competition is supposed to keep those businesses honest in their dealings with customers and to encourage improvement.

Governments are meant to work in non-competitive situations, where there is a common good, regardless of whether their are tangible incentives to meet that common good. They’re also meant, as I just said, to provide balance among competing interests, to provide equal protections for all so that might and justice go to all of us, not just the most powerful or the richest.

Government is not a business. It’s not meant to be. The sooner we remember that — or admit that — the sooner we should return to a functioning, equitable government that serves us all.

When and How to Panic?

My family was raised to under-react. When all around us are losing their heads, we might be the ones assessing the threats and triaging the initial casualties before deciding how to react. Some of that comes from our dad, who was trained as a Red Cross disaster aid volunteer and a National Ski Patrolman volunteer as well. Part of that comes from having both parents having hyper-rational educations and mindsets. There probably are downsides to this, such as when people wonder if I care about something because I’m still trying to figure out how to respond rather than validating their panic and fear.

This has been a great week to under-react. Tuesday’s election results in the USA were shocking for many of us in the USA, partly because the pollsters had been so encouraging about the likely outcome, and partly because of the horror at what’s been promised by the victor and what he represents. Freedom of the press? Overrated and such an inconvenience! Prosecution of the winner for alleged crimes that have already been investigated and deemed minor or innocuous? Hey, what’s the use of winning an election if you can’t rub it in the loser’s face? Persecution based on religion? Oh, maybe it’s not a real religion, so maybe it’s fine to assume guilt and just prosecute them and exclude them! A blind trust for the alleged billionaire’s businesses? Sure (wink, wink, nod, nod)! It’s be as blind as the victor’s tax returns are transparent!

It’s eight or nine weeks until we remove “-elect” from Voldemort’s new title. Some things are being announced now, such as who’s leading certain areas of the transition team, but many things remain unknown. Sadly, he hasn’t renounced most of his stated positions, and it’s not clear what his few attitude adjustments actually mean. Worse, many of his appointments to his transition team are consistent with our worse fears. A global warming denier is heading the transition team for the EPA. Dr. Ben Carson has a role in the education area. His kids are going to be heavily involved. And a notorious science denier, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, now has oversight over the whole transition team, replacing unindicted felon and co-conspirator Chris Christie.

The Republican establishment kept control of the Senate and the House. Are they going to be a check on Voldemort after he spent so much time being disdainful of the Republican establishment, or will they try to get their patrons’ interests passed since they might align with Voldemort’s patrons’ interests as well? That, frankly, is an unknown. It’s hard to imagine veterans like John McCain rubber-stamping blatant war crimes as new American policies, but then again, it was hard to expect some of the things McCain has said in the past twelve months.

Will the Civil Service acquiesce to Voldemort’s desires, or will they slow-walk all changes in an effort to simply outlast what may be a short attention span? The political appointees will try to do their master’s bidding, but the career government workers may know why things haven’t happened that way before and why they shouldn’t, such as international laws or federal laws and regulations that can’t just be waved away. Admittedly, Pence as the replacement in case of impeachment gives us no reason to believe he’d roll back most of Voldemort’s notions, perhaps with the exception of some of the most radical ideas, such as leaving existing multi-lateral trade agreements or embracing war crimes as a way to secure der Fatherland.

So, the inner core of the new administration looks as corrupt and wrong-headed as we feared. The Congress being Republican means it won’t be as strong a check on the Executive Branch as a Democratic Senate would be. What about the courts, especially the Supreme Court?

Everyone’s waiting to see who will replace Scalia eventually on the bench. I’ll remind you, though, that Scalia never opposed any of the Right’s favorite goals. It wasn’t Scalia who found a way to upload the Affordable Care Act, and he never embraced reproductive rights over “right to life.” Yes, some decisions will be 5-4 instead of 4-4 as they’ve been since Scalia’s death, so that may resume some of the national slippage to the right, but it won’t accelerate it. That will wait until one of the reliably progressive voices on the Court dies or steps down. I can’t imagine Stephen Breyer or the Notorious RBG voluntarily stepping down, knowing that they’re replacement would change the Court’s philosophical make-up, but Scalia didn’t step down by choice, either. Death comes to us all.

Worse, the Republican Senate of the past two or three Congresses has left many Federal court benches partly empty. Those may now all take a sharp turn toward reactionary positions. Interim decisions on issues doing eventually to the Supreme Court will sooner take positions repressing diversity and civil rights in favor of business interests and theocracy. I don’t see the Senate being too nuanced in which conservatives they consent to to fill those positions. Whoever has talked to Voldemort last will get a lot of judges the like in lasting positions of power.

Finally, there are The People. A narrow minority of them, located in precisely where Voldemort needed them to be, supported his bid for the Presidency, so Voldemort can’t say he was supported by a majority of voters or even a plurality, let alone a landslide. Still, there are already reports that some Death Eaters, especially younger Death Eaters, are being emboldened by his ascension and are already threatening and trying to intimidate the mudbloods’ counterparts in our world: Muslims, Latinos, and members of the LBGT community. There certainly have been several well-publicized cases so far, but in many cases less extreme Death Eaters are rebuking these acts of intimidation and hatred, perhaps waiting for when laws and policies will inflict similar indignities under the cover of authority. It’s also clear that many progressive groups and traditional civil rights advocacy groups are preparing for a long series of struggles to protect the gains of the past sixty years in the face of the revival of opposition to those gains.

I don’t follow British domestic news closely enough to know if their surge of Death Eater activity after the Brexit vote has continued. That’s where the safety pin was first taken as a symbol of tolerance and acceptance directed as those who might otherwise worry about tolerance and acceptance. Is it needed now in Britain all those months later? Is it needed here, or is it just a quick way for some people to feel like they’re doing something in response to this horribly upsetting election?

I’m still in under-react mode. The composition of Voldemort’s transition team tells me that concern is warranted, that the initial calls for national unity were errant or at least simplistic. I would never united behind a science denier running the EPA, even on a transition team, and it has nothing to do with things we fear but haven’t seen yet. Seeing the charlatans who will be choosing those who will set and enforce policy is enough to say, some reaction will be required. What I’m not sure about, yet, is where I’ll need to focus my support, financial and otherwise, to do the most good. I can see why Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and anti-poverty organizations like Oxfam America are ramping up fund-raising activities. I just don’t know to direct my support among them, yet. I will; it’s clear that private efforts will have to replace existing programs or counter Federal and state efforts to roll back protections.

I fear that in a year, all of those asking for my support will in fact be in positions in which my support would have been well deserved; it may be a multi-front, multi-cause debacle in our near future. However, I need more certainty than “may,” so I’m trying to wait. I live in a “red” state, one that has elected and re-elected a Koch Brothers disciple and twice now sent a tea party moron to the Senate. Will Death Eaters from the surrounding rural areas come to Madison and try to purify it of its multi-cultural, progressive nature? I hope not, but if they do, resistance begins at home. If we’re spared that particular battle, when I’ll look beyond for which causes that I support most need my support.

Keep the powder dry, but make sure “they” know we haven’t put the powder away.

No metaphors were hurt in the writing of this essay, but several were mixed poorly.  

The Next Impeachment

If the Republicans hold the House of Representative, which seems likely thanks to gerrymandering, there are insanely partisan Representatives who’d like to start impeachment hearings against President Hillary Clinton on January 23, 2017, on the grounds that they’ve been trying to catch her at something for more than twenty years, so she must be guilty of something. If somehow enough social conservatives stay loyal to the Republican brand and our next President is Donald J. Trump, he, too, would face impeachment hearings on January 23, 2017, even if the Republicans keep the House. Being caught on tape talking casually about committing sexual assault is simply too horrible to tolerate if any of those politicians want to be reelected in 2018.

Impeachment is a protracted process, as many of us learned in the late-Nineties. A committee has to vote to send articles of impeachment to the full House. Nothing happens in the House without a debate, and then the full House votes — but impeachment is only an indictment, not a conviction. That happens by trial in the Senate. The Senate has convicted people in an impeachment trial before; there have been four convictions in my lifetime, all of Federal judges. Nixon resigned before the House started the inevitable impeachment process; a Federal judge after Nixon was impeached but resigned before his Senate trial. At any rate, if the House starts the slam-dunk impeachment of Trump on January 23, 2017, either Trump declares that he was never serious about being President and resigns on January 24, or he tries to lie his way out of it and is convicted just before Independence Day.

Impeachment requires a vote by two-thirds of the Senate. There’s no way two-thirds of the Senate will be Republican in the next term, even if you throw in a couple of coal state Democrats who are obliged to hate Hillary because of her position on coal. So, the rabble-rousers might try for articles of impeachment, and the feckless House leadership might tolerate it, on the grounds that it’d be a good not to actually deal with Hillary’s legislative agenda, but even if the House plays it out and votes for articles of impeachment, Hillary would be absolved by Independence Day, and she and Bill would be a footnote in history about the first couple of impeachment recipients. Actually, that would be overkill; she’ll be the first woman impeached in US history anyway.

If you accept this logic, then the revelation of the tape today makes this race Clinton v. Pence. At this point, all the scummy things Pence has done, both as Governor of Indiana and as an elected Representative, should come back to haunt him. It’s almost enough to make me wish the last two debates were indeed Clinton v. Pence, but Trump won’t allow himself to admit that his goose is cooked. So, the loyalists to the Republican brand will be happy to have someone with that brand in the White House, whether that’s plausible or not, and won’t admit their disgust until they lock up their chance to pack the Supreme Court. That assumes, of course, they have more luck filling Scalia’s seat than Obama has had. In this polarized age, I wouldn’t take that bet.

The Balance of Power & the Use of Deadly Force

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/08/16/father-utterly-terrified-after-trooper-points-gun-at-his-7-year-old-during-traffic-stop/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/08/15/one-person-shot-as-unrest-in-milwaukee-continues-for-a-second-night/

State police in Arizona are apparently furious with a San Francisco man for posting a description of a terrifying traffic stop several nights ago. These police seem to think the officer’s display of a weapon and his aggressive, confrontational actions were justified by a mistaken report that the car was stole.

A Milwaukee police officer shot a young black man after a foot chase, and the police seem to think the shooting and subsequent death are justified because the dead man was holding a gun. They haven’t said the gun was ever pointed near or at the police officer who shot, merely that the gun was visible after the man had fled the scene of a traffic stop.

Are we allowed to hold police officers to a higher standard than George Zimmerman or any other vigilante? Can we expect and insist that deadly force not be used first by the police unless there is an imminent danger of the use of deadly force? Can we insist that that the police not treat a traffic stop, even of a car reported stolen, as a situation in which the officers are a split second from death in the absence of other, aggravating factors?

Being a law enforcement officer is dangerous work. It’s almost as dangerous as living while being a person of color. But we give police officers in this country firearms as the ultimate protections against violence, not as tools to escalate situations. There are other ways officers can minimize risks in traffic stops and foot pursuits. We give officers in many jurisdictions body armor to reduce risks from unexpected gun fire. They aren’t absolute protection, but they improve an officer’s odds to counter-balance the restraint we expect armed officers to show and the risk that such restraint accepts.

Threatening to shoot an unarmed man, as happened in Arizona, or shooting a man holding a gun, apparently before the gun was aimed, let alone used, are examples of officers escalating a situation instead of defusing it. This is not why we employ police officers. We aren’t hiring bullies to rule by fear; we’re hiring and training people to control and defuse situations. Haven’t you heard the slogan, “To Serve and To Protect”? We, the citizens, are the ones to be protected and served, not the officers in blue or tan.

Any man or woman who can’t be better than the criminals they are called to deal with shouldn’t be an officer, or at least shouldn’t be on duty, plain and simple. Those in authority are supposed to be the best of us, not the angriest or most aggressive.

I hope the police in Arizona can see why any motorist, tourist or otherwise, would be shocked and horrified by casual display of tools of deadly force, let alone specific and explicit threats of deadly force, when the motorist no legitimate reason to expect such violence.

I hope the police in Milwaukee can differentiate between a threat of eventual deadly violence and the threat of immediate deadly violence. I hope the police can even allow someone to escape when violence hasn’t already been committed rather than escalate the situation into a violent one.

The police need to be the best people in a confrontation, not merely the best armed or the ones best defended after such a situation.

Wisconsin State Legislative Hypocrisy

The Wisconsin state legislature is one of those bodies that loves it when Washington defers decisions to states. They didn’t want to be forced into expanding affordable medical care, so they opted out of federal medical insurance subsidies for the nearly poor. They would have been in favor of dumping the Common Core education standards in favor of local standards instead of making sure businesses throughout the country would know what a high school degree from Wisconsin meant. They’re not the only state to feel this way, but the Kochian State of Wisconsin is certainly currently one of the more vocal advocates for telling Washington to mind its own business.

That makes this article, then, doubly interesting. The state legislature is denying its municipalities and counties the option to become sanctuary cities and to issue local photo IDs. Both of these measures, of course, are aimed squarely at illegal immigrants. Not the terrorist ISIL types; no, these are aimed at the illegal economic refugees from Latin America who are our restaurant bussers, our home cleaners, and our other menial laborers.

The Wisconsin state assembly doesn’t want “local” control; they want state-level, Koch-endorsed control.

I’m fairly sure these legislators are completely unaware of the irony of their actions.

I’m not. And I’m as angry as I always am with the Kochian State of Wisconsin.

Almonds and Water

I have no sympathy for California almond growers.

California is a poor place to settle and civilize. It’s not as bad as Hawaii; it has some natural resources with which it can feed itself, but thirty-eight million people live in a state that is largely arid. There are regions that get more rain and support vegetation better — but they tend to be mountainous and don’t support agriculture well.

I lived in California as a child. I lived through the droughts of the 1970s. I remember them laying a water pipeline from the East Bay into Marin because Marin’s reservoirs weren’t receiving enough water for the county’s needs. I remember reading about the state’s aqueduct system, moving water all around the state from where it could be captured to where it was needed. On the one hand, that’s an impressive engineering feat. On the other hand, it’s the symptom of a problem: economies developed where they couldn’t be sustained locally.

I understand at some level why water rights exist and why they’re so valued. At another level, though, the greater good isn’t well served by unrestricted water rights.

A farmer needs to know that he (or she) can rely upon a source of water over years if he is to invest in his farm. We need farmers to grow food to feed us, so at that level, water rights support the greater good. However, when farmers start growing crops that are mostly exported, such as almonds, that is harder to cite as an example of supporting the greater good. Almond production has sky-rocketed in recent decades, and foreign demand has driven up the price of almonds enough to support this increase in production. If water had to be bought on the open market, the economies of almond production might be very different, and there might be less almond milk available for the lactose-intolerant, in California, the rest of the USA, and elsewhere.

Almond growers point out that they’ve become more water efficient in the recent decades, reducing by one-third the amount of water they need per unit. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re using one-third less less water than on some prior date; when you look at those production graphs, all you can infer is that the use of water for almonds hasn’t grown as fast as the almond output. “It could be worse,” doesn’t mean, “It isn’t bad.”

This might be one case in which government interference in the free market, such as the granting of water rights, clearly perverts natural market forces that might otherwise encourage more equitable use of resources. Of course, business usually only opposed government interference with market forces at the consumer level; when those government efforts protect businesses, philosophical purity becomes unaffordable for the businesses.

Almonds and agriculture aren’t the only problem, of course. Just as the US population has grown from 200 million to past 300 million in my lifetime, so has California’s population grown, by an even greater rate. California’s electronics industry has erupted in my lifetime, and while they’ve probably reduced their water usage from peak years, it’s almost certainly higher than it was fifty years ago, because the industry barely existed fifty years ago.

It goes against human nature, though, to tell people, “You can’t move here,” and the electronics industry has done more to drive the modern economy than the almond growers. You can argue that people should move elsewhere or that electronics manufacturers should move to where water supplies are more plentiful, but that implies that the research universities that incubated the electronics industry should move, too, to the economies that grow up around them would grow elsewhere.

Who’s going to convince Stanford and CalTech that they need to relocate to the Gulf Coast so they have a better water supply? The Pacific Northwest might be an easier sell, but the temperate zones there are just as narrowly concentrated as they are in California. If we don’t talk as much about drought in Oregon and Washington, that doesn’t mean it’s not a risk. Seattle’s notoriously rainy conditions won’t increase proportionally with population growth.

It’s not an easy problem, water management and scarcity. Some people believe that Mideast peace will be threatened by water issues if we ever get to a point at which sectarian violence isn’t a threat. California and the rest of the USA Southwest will always have water issues. But that doesn’t mean that rapid growth in a water-intensive crop fueled by overseas demand isn’t a contributing factor that needs to be called out and addressed.

As I said, I’m not sympathetic to California’s almond growers.