The Coming Reform Era

The presidency of Donald John Trump has shown particular vulnerabilities in the separation of powers, and those will need to be addressed. Here are some areas needing consideration.


The abuse of acting officials instead of confirmed ones is a high abuse of office. There needs to be statutory language (which will be challenged, but should be upheld) setting strict limits on how much the executive can delay nominating for any given position. Any changes should also codify a timeframe for senatorial response or a dead-by limitation for non-response.


The crimes of the Attorney General notwithstanding, the main reform needed in the Department of Justice is avoiding the appearance of bias by investigators. One option would be mandatory duty rotation to undermine the system where one or more investigators “owns” a particular investigation. The in-rotated agents would review the casework and would be less tolerant of any mistakes or malfeasance, given they would be responsible for moving the investigation forward.

Another option would be to have some agents conduct preliminary audits of investigations while they’re ongoing, to catch any problems sooner.

Financial Disclosures and Divestment

Primarily, rather than relying on disclosures by candidates and officeholders, the government should require publishing by the Treasury or other offices holding documents. (In general, where the law can avoid an opportunity for criminality, it should be taken; there’s no reason to let a candidate be delinquint in matters of disclosure. Indeed, this principle would also avoid many honest mistakes that are made, which makes it doubly effective.)

In terms of divestitures, perhaps some options may be offered, including one whereby all profits are forfeited during tenure of office and for some period after, for cases where an official really wants to hold onto some property or business for personal (non-profit) motives. By pushing the profit timeframe far enough away from official business, it may dull the appeal of trying to profit off of official acts.

Judicial reforms

Given the fervor with which the Republicans have sought to pack the courts, one suspects that some reforms will be necessary. These should include continuing legal educational requirements for judges, so that they may be apprised of the fast-changing legal landscape.

There will also need to be some reorganization of the various courts and circuits. That’s a long-standing problem that’s been needed almost as badly as increasing the number of seats in the House.

Causes of Action for Congress

Often thwarted by questions of standing, specific causes of action to bring suit for enforcement of Constitutional law should be codified. Congress itself should revise its rules to be prepared to again exercise its inherent contempt authorities for the enforcement of its subpoenas.

It should also create and maintain its own store of the more necessary government documents, separate from the executive, as there is zero cause but obvious and illegal action by the executive to withold important documents. Congress should be furnished all necessary documents as a matter of course. It ought not have to ask the executive for copies later.

There are many more issues that will need to be scrutinized and reformed. Many of the issues will only come to light in the coming decade, as we shall never in our lives see the end of the drip, drip, drip of corruption that this administration has gotten up to.

But, like Love Canal and other environmental disasters in the past, the toxic sludge will bring a reform era to American law and politics.


Biden’s Vice-Presidential Choice

Some numbers: America has had a total of 48 vice presidents. Of those, 14 became president, either through election or succession. Of those 14, only two were vice presidents to presidents who had gone on to be elected president. (Those were President Jefferson (served under President John Adams, who had been vice president under President Washington) and President Ford (served under President Nixon, who had been vice president under President Eisenhower).)

The ability to continue on in the stead of a president is absolutely the most essential role and duty of the vice president, and that should be the primary factor in choosing a partner for the 2020 ticket: someone that can take over. That’s more true as there are indications that Biden would not seek a second term if elected, which would put more weight on this pick being an exception to that rule.

One of Biden’s benefits, having been vice president, is that he knows the job. He knows the Senate, and he knows the ceremony. He’s been steeped in the day-to-day politics without being in a particularly accountable or involved position. He’s had the confidence of the president, ridden in the front passenger seat while the president drove, ready to steer if he fell out.

After readiness to lead, the pick does several things for a campaign. The all-important fundraising, for one. Most politicians have a set of go-to donors, some of whom will already have communicated how much more they could give, should their favorite daughter be tapped.

Then there’s support in states, regions, or with particular groups the candidate needs to carry. This depends on the race, but is usually at least a partial factor in every choice for vice president, even if it’s not the main one. An offshoot of this, for current officeholders, is what will become of their old job. If they’re a senator, will their seat be safe?

Surrogacy is also a big part of the pick. Can they campaign well? Draw a crowd? Can they gain access to venues the main candidate either doesn’t want to, or wouldn’t be as well received in? Do they have any rhetorical specialties? Second languages?

Biden will announce his choice sometime this week. It should be interesting to see the rollout, given the otherwise odd nature of this election so far.


On Masks

Lots of folks don’t seem to understand masks. I’ve seen some folks say that the virus is too small to be stopped. But most pollutants, dust, viruses, do not exist in air by themselves in a simple and lonesome form. Even when floating in air, things want to stick to other things. Regular stitched masks without special filters aren’t perfect, but they can block a lot of small conglomerations. Moreover, the more doublings of cloth can make that even better. The tradeoff of doublings up is the efficiency of breathing—the thicker the mask, the harder it is to pull air through.

In a different area, cholera in water, see NIH: Fogarty International Center: February 2015: “Sari cloth can filter cholera from water, research shows”. In that study, villagers in Bangladesh used simple cloths, folded twice (for four layers), to filter water as they collected it. It filtered 99% of cholera bacteria from the water in lab tests, and while the real-world use probably wasn’t as effective, it still cut cases and the cases that developed were milder.

Simple interventions can be effective. Masks do help, even if they aren’t N95 masks. Even if people make some mistakes in wearing them part of the time. They still help.

Separating the mouth covering and the nose covering would improve masks.

The nose is a challenge due to the variety of shapes, but more importantly it could be continuously covered even when the mouth needs to be uncovered. It is very easy for the public to cover the mouth and not realize their nose is uncovered, mainly because of the natural tendency to forget our noses. Noses are passive. Mouths are active. We do all sorts of things with our mouths, like eat, drink, brush teeth, talk, sing, whistle, play musical instruments, chew gum, and so on. Most of what we do with our nose is breathe.

I’ve often seen, sometimes in person, but often in photographs, people without their noses covered. I admit, I made the mistake on one occasion, myself. It’s an easy mistake, but we breathe through our noses, so it’s important to cover.

By covering the nose itself, or through some other method of protecting the entrances to the nasal airway separately, most of the inhaling could be protected and a common mistake could be countered. It would also make the masks more comfortable to wear, as a combined design is harder to make than two separate designs.

One of the most important things about that Sari cloth study is the fact that cases were milder. Masks do not block all cases, but likely do lead to milder ones. That may help reduce the transmission rate, but even if it doesn’t, it surely saves lives.


What Do Police Say about Police Reform?

I tried to find out what police say is the way to reform police. Didn’t find anything.

Did find a report from the National Institute of Justice circa 2000 that showed at least some police in some departments were aware of the problems. See National Criminal Justice Reference Service: National Institute of Justice: May 2000: PDF: “Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority”. It’s based on a National Police Foundation survey.

At least moderately surprised it wasn’t completely one-sided. But would still be interested in hearing what police think is the way to reform, given lots of reporting that they’ve often viewed retraining with derision.

At that time, for example, majorities thought police were permitted to use as much force as needed, that going beyond allowable force was unacceptable. A fifth acknowledged officers in their department at least sometimes used more force than necessary. About half acknowledged the omertà followed by some law enforcement officers.

They also asked about controlling abuse. While about 93% said their departments already took a strong anti-abuse stance, about 85% thought a chief taking a hard-line against abuse would help prevent it. About 90% also said immediate supervisors were important in that effort. But only 55% thought changes in methods of supervision would be effective.

Worse, supermajorities answered that training in ethics, interpersonal skills, and in cultural awareness could reduce abuse—but these are the very sorts of training that are often dismissed as wastes of time or as jokes or unrepresentative of the real world by police.

There is a racial breakdown of results, which shows an expected divergence in views between white officers and Black officers. That divide is muted but still apparent on questions around methods like community-oriented policing and citizen review boards.

But these are 20-year-old results, and they don’t tell us too much about what police think reform should look like. They do tell us, at least then, many saw problems that justify reform. More importantly: lots did not. That is an obvious place to begin efforts of reform: it’s a lot easier to make a system better if more of those involved aren’t in denial about the problems.

This also fits the general pattern that those in the best position to make reforms are silent or in denial of the need, which will ultimately mean a longer road to reform, and reforms that aren’t as well-tailored to the problems as they could be.

Police have a lot of problems. Their profession has the highest suicide rate. The problems policing causes to society, particularly minority communities, is well-documented. Part of the issue is the sort of HAL 9000 effect—that their primary directives are often contradictory, which makes them do a job that often fails to have a full-on successful outcome.

That is, if you have to protect people and punish people, that’s not workable. If you’re protecting them, then the criminals aren’t punished. If you’re punishing the criminals, then they’re not protected. Part of that is due to the system of prisons and jails, which is built to be punitive rather than rehabilitative. Police know that punishment is part of the job, but unlike nurses and doctors, they almost never get to see positive outcomes of arrests. They typically aren’t getting thank-you cards from past arrestees.

Anyway. Point is mainly that I’d be interested to see more data about how police think their jobs can change for the better.

The election comes in fifteen weeks.


Analogies: Better Pocket Protectors

This is a general analogy. It can apply to police reform, but it’s generally applicable.

The basic analogy is that people used to wear shirts with breast pockets and keep pens in them. Those pens would leak, and it would ruin the shirts. So some people took to wearing pocket protectors—small containers that would be inserted into the pocket and if a pen leaked, it would catch the ink and keep the shirt safe.

The analogy is is for a policy deficiency, where rather than fixing the problem of the leaky pens, there’s a call by some for better pocket protectors. That is, the source of the problem, leaky pens, is not addressed. What are the conditions that lead to leaks in pens? Shoddy manufacturing, poor storage conditions, whatever. But these things, prevention of the conditions that lead to ink being spilled, are left alone. The focus is placed on better pocket protectors.

So, for climate change, for example, the pocket protector might be things like doing geographic surveys to figure out what land will be inhabitable and arable in the future and relocating people, but otherwise not doing anything about carbon pollution.

Or, for police and justice reform, it’s calling for more police and police militarization, rather than redevelopment of distressed areas, better social policies, etc.

Or for wildfire policy, it’s moving mountains to fight fires rather than doing controlled burns and groundfuel management.

For immigration policy, the wall is a very expensive and mostly useless pocket protector. Lacking policies that both encourage orderly immigration and economic stability in other parts of the world is a good way to find out exactly how useless a pocket protector it is.

For pandemic policy, containment was supposed to be the strategy to get control over the caseload while alternatives became available, including testing and tracing. That’s right—sometimes, and usually for a limited time, a pocket protector does make sense. We put a hardcore pocket protector in place to give time to work on tracking leaky pens. But many of the governors and president never actually worked on tracking leaky pens. They removed the pocket protector anyway, and now we see ink running over much of the nation.

We’re also not too picky when it comes to pandemic pocket protectors—we would love to cease every case and be free of this plague, but honestly if a combinations of masks and scheduling and tracing, or a vaccine, or whatever reasonable and practicable policy combination can simply lower the rate of transmission so that it is stopped, that’s what any reasonable government should be working toward.

Or consider the problem of nuclear waste. It is currently stored in what was intended as temporary storage at the power facilities, and a permanent storage was planned, but has never opened. Given the nature and longevity of that particular sort of pen, a pocket protector might be the only viable solution for long-term protection.

The main purpose of this post is to highlight the connection between disparate policy areas. That the same patterns exist in various policies is worth understanding. When possible, common principles should be brought to bear in policy matters and therefore more consistency can be had in regulation and governance.

The particular choice of a pocket protector, instead of, say, tupperware or antimatter containment units, is not particularly important. Depending on the policy area, a different container might be more appropriate.

The characteristics of a containment policy are necessary for the application of the analogy. Taxes and spending policies are seldom meant to be outright containment, and so are ill suited to this analogy.

On an unrelated note, the term reopened early is incorrect. The timing of their opening is not at issue, but the condition in which they did so. Reopened unready would be more apt. The main point here is that these places delaying their opening wasn’t going to magically prepare them any more than they were, and their lack of preparation is the flaw, not how soon or late they took an unprepared action.