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society

Proud of Y’all

I was going to write about how bankrupt the Republican party is, and how that organization would rank on the functional scales used for diseases and conditions in psychology and medicine, but nah.

I really just want to say how proud I am of America, even some Republicans who are resisting and pushing back against Donald John Trump and have done so for over four years now. I know it’s not over, that it won’t truly be over until we see the election results, and even if Donald John Trump loses, he’ll still be in office until 20 January 2021. But all the same, there are a lot of really good people who do believe that basic decency matters. That human rights matter.

I know Biden talks about the soul of the country. And that’s sort of what I’m getting at, but not entirely. Because even if Donald John Trump loses this election, there will still be a lot of people who voted for him, who support him. It’s very distressing and sad that they cannot or will not see the truth before them. And it was sad every day before, and it will be sad every day hence.

The soul of America will live on even if Donald John Trump is reelected, maybe especially if. The soul of America that I was taught about, alongside its many sins and foibles, was basic decency, human rights, democracy, service, helping, joking, struggling through, getting up when you’re down, and then offering your hand to the next person who needs it.

So many people work every damned day to keep America’s soul going. Keep it up! Thank you!

The truth before us isn’t only how bad Donald John Trump and his enablers and teammates and patrons and followers can be. It’s also how good and kind and hopeful the majority of Americans are.


When we look back on the years of the country under Donald John Trump, we must remember all the efforts to reduce the swelling, to break the fever. The people who brang us cups of juice and made us cheese toast. Maybe Donald John Trump gets reelected, and the country gets turned into the world’s goldest giant resort for schmucks and rubes. But not without a fight. And even if it does, somewhere all these glorious people will still be shining with the true American spirit against the darkness, against the greed, against the gross and ruinous bastards who think we’re no better than a bumper sticker, one for three dollars, or four for ten.

The soul of America is not for sale to Republicans or anyone. It cannot be beaten, shot, arrested, or silenced. It is the ever-present cry for a world of free people practicing their educated guesses and discussing how to make things better for everyone. It rebukes the liar, befuddles the bigot, and distresses the despot. And it ain’t going nowhere.


The election is in nine weeks. Please register to vote (even if you happen to be a Trump supporter, but especially if you aren’t). Please do vote.

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
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
society

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.