Categories
society

On the Government and the Theory of Democracy

Before elected government, there were still governments. In many places it was by the wealthy, by the church, by divine right and that was the only right. There, law was based on status—blood and force and prophecy of who could pull a sword from a stone.

And then came the idea of natural rights, that everyone should be treated with a certain respect because we are alive and that is enough status by itself.


When we speak of democracy, we’re talking about a sophisticated cycle:

  1. People choose their government.
  2. The government performs for a time.
  3. People reevaluate and repeat step 1.

This kernel of scientific government is essential to progress and to maintaining a functioning society. It attempts to strike a balance between unfettered change and conserving the old. It sets a cadence, it gives a ritual, it provides a path forward.

Those who stand in opposition to democracy are standing opposed to the basic educational loop by which we can improve society. They propose something like:

  1. People don’t choose their government. The government is whoever can grab the reins and kick everyone else off.
  2. The government does whatever the fuck it wants. (To be fair, it could be good, but if it isn’t there’s no recourse.)
  3. Ashes, ashes. We all fall down.

Then, maybe, the survivors build something out of those ashes.

But the tried-and-true loop of democratic government is superior, adaptable, dependable. Only it has a flaw. Its flaw is that we have to give up our power and we have to trust that the people will make good decisions over time. Not every time, but that on average the decisions will be better than a dictator’s, better than a business’, and better than any minority interest of any kind, religious, ethnic, whatever.

And that requires the people have a say. But there are those who are afraid of what we have to say to each other. On both sides.

Many fear the racism, the batshit conspiracy, the anti-religious zealotry of so-called Christians. Others fear the cancel culture, the spectre of communism arising from greater social welfare programs, and culture that’s not aligned with their values or tastes.

But that’s society, and that’s what we have to work with. Fear. That we might fuck it all up, and ruin it all, and be left with ashes. But, for all the resistance to Donald John Trump, the conservatives of this country have not admitted that America trusted and allowed for such a grave mistake. We afforded this ruin, including thousands upon thousands who have given up their lives to a virus that this supposed leader did not prepare to act against and that he has largely neglected to manage.

We know our lives may be lost to blunders of impetuosity by our fellow citizens, but we still believe in the cause that over time, on average, we will do better by voting, by choosing. That the flaw that allowed Donald John Trump to exist as a candidate, and then as an elected president, is the same flaw that makes our system work at all. That yes, we can fuck it all up. But no, we do not want to fuck it up, and we will strive to learn the lessons and avoid the mistakes and purge the corruption and right the ship and sail into the bloody sunset!

Anyhoo. The election is in ten short weeks.

Categories
unAmerican

The Move to Ban Vape Mail

The bill is 116th Congress: S. 1253. It passed the Senate by unanimous consent, which is another way of saying no Senator could be bothered, with everything going on, to say, “I object.”

Now, the bill doesn’t get everything wrong, but it gets one thing very wrong: it adds a ban on the US Postal Service carrying vaping-related packages, either as the primary carrier or as a last-hop service for commercial carriers. (Actual tobacco products have been in that boat for some years, though cigars are exempted because enough rich fools smoke them and have a lot of clout.) Some rural customers, who are often not served by commercial carriers, will be unable to receive delivery of the products at all (though the law being amended does exempt Alaska and Hawaii, which effectively means that rural folks in those states are treated better than rural folks in the remainder of the nation).

With all the attention on the post office these days, what with Donald John Trump and his Postmaster General DeJoy trying to derail the 2020 election, and his OMB with their postal butcher’s chart, one would think the US Senate, or at least one Senator, would not want to cut off another slice of flesh, however small, from one of the most impressive and dependable government organizations. But they did, and now it’s up to the House to finish (the House had previously passed a similar bill, so it seems likely).

The basic idea behind the bill is to prevent teenagers from ordering e-cigarettes online and getting them in the mail. So far, so good. But it also prevents everyone from that basic commercial function. Commercial carriers can continue delivering the products, but only with enhanced age verification measures.

The USPS should, by rights, be able to compete with commercial carriers for revenue, given that Congress has, in their infinitesimal wisdom, requires them to generate revenues rather than funding them as part of the general welfare, as an essential government service, as the necessity they are. It’s not like the military turns a profit, but they get beaucoup. The IRS does bring in revenue, and they get mismanaged and cut down. And the USPS with them.


There is an obvious need for a modern system to verify age for all purposes online. There is also an obvious need for improving the delivery verification mechanisms. Congress has not attempted either of those things. They have simply shrugged off their duty to regulate with care. That is sad.

As the country moves toward cannabis regulation, for example, there will come a day where it will be shipped across state lines. Should the post office be banned from that? Shouldn’t there be a modern system of age verification for it? Or for alcohol. Or any other product that, by law or by a vendor’s choice, is to be age restricted?

And if no children live at an address, why shouldn’t the resident be able to register that fact and have their packages delivered as any other article would be?

The Postal Service should be modernized, including steps that protect and improve its ability to carry ballots during elections. Democrats absolutely should not assist in cynical plots to undermine a bedrock institution like the USPS.

But not a single senator—not my senators, not yours, not the best nor worst, not nobody’s—bothered to object to this bill. It is a damned shame. The weal is left unguarded, the US Postal Service is further neglected, the system gets just a little worse.

Categories
society

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.

Appointments

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.

DOJ

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.

Categories
society

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.

Categories
science

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.