Proof of Capacity for Change

If we learn no other lesson from this plague, let it be that we are, in fact, still capable of widespread change. Of rapid change. Of drastic change.

So are the monuments and flags coming down—many are remnants of a false value system and in their pigeonholes new symbols can be made to replace them.

That when we pick a symbol, when we choose a pattern of organization, if it serves well enough we keep it, flaws and all. But when it becomes a harm, when it impedes moving forward, we uproot it. Going to the offices and shops amid a pandemic meant a risk of life and limb, so people stopped abruptly. But for many, those trips or any trips meant maybe they would be pulled over and face the possibility of a false value system of policing that represents everything that a flag can’t: you aren’t secure in your person, your house, your papers and effects. You are a forced plea or a gunshot away from ruin.

That system is harder to replace than a monument. It’s got no grommets hooking it to a pole, instead it’s woven into so much of our governments’ budgets, bolted down, shackled to our culture and media. But we can, as sure as we all wear masks to stop stray particles of pestilence.

Our lack of change is not down to inability. It is often not even a lack of will or of political disagreement, but of instinctive pushback. Take the Senate, where McConnell and the Republicans put already-cold milk into the cooling saucer and are now waiting for it to cool some more. They acknowledge a need for change, but enough of their members rely on being opposition that they can’t push a comprehensive bill.

The way to overcome this kind of nothing-by-default system is to use their pressure points. Qualified immunity, for one. Instead of their bill being a carrot for states that reform, it should be: states that do not reform will lose qualified immunity.

The argument that nobody in the Senate can make is that the officer that murdered George Floyd should not be subject to a lawsuit for it. Donald John Trump and some Republicans want to protect qualified immunity, then that’s the barrel to get them over and make them pay at least table stakes for it: reform to enable qualified immunity.

It’s a reasonable proposition: jurisdictions that make reasonable efforts to guard against civil rights violations by police should be given some greater measure of assurance as a result.

But that’s for this limited case. For the greater case, change means changing. Look for opportunities big and small to do differently tomorrow than what you did today.

In 18 weeks the nation can vote to change.


The Scientific Approach to Reducing Police Violence

I don’t know what combination of changes will reduce police violence. But I do know:

  1. It will take some combination of changes. One change will not do it.
  2. There is a way to find that combination of changes.
  3. Changes to policing will make the job of policing itself safer.

I can come up with plausible ideas, like an alternative to jury duty (those who are called in for it would skip their next jury call) where members of the public are tasked with hanging out with cops from their community (in a group of up to six (yeah, I know it won’t work at the moment due to the pandemic)) for an hour or two and engaging in some activity where they talk. Bowling or a shared meal, whatever.

But all the plausible ideas that might build connective tissue and bridge the gaps that have contributed to the problem, along with the other ideas, may sound fine, but will they actually work?

Have the federal government pass a law. The law will condition existing funds or new funds to communities that try some change that is intended to reduce policing problems. Think of it like opportunity zones, but without all the greedheads twisting it to only enrich themselves.

Anyway, if you have 500 municipalities with significant data available across the country, and they all try some changes, some of those will yield what at least smells like progress. And then those changes can be adopted in other localities, and sooner or later we’ll find some things that help.

It’s the scientific method, applied to a problem in the real world!

Now the changes can’t be anything. Having all police wear green shoelaces isn’t (or would it?) going to make the nut. There would need to be some reasonable review process for developing and vetting the ideas. Possibly—depending on the change—an ethics review (like the above idea of conscripting civvies to hang out with cops—is that a kosher use of their time?).

But one plausible prediction is that a good portion of places that do make some change under such a program would see positive results. That is to say, sometimes doing something visible and meaningful is enough to change the attitudes that have long-persisted and wrought harm. Not always, but sometimes. Even if it’s just wearing green shoelaces.

Set that aside, as it could be temporary. But even accounting for a kind of social placebo effect, some places will make changes that have a bigger effect than that. And we can replicate. And we can mutate the changes to see if we can get a stronger effect.

Or we can wait for the next act of violence and throw up our hands again and feel fucking impotent and dread hearing from the right-wingers who want to blame anything but the broken fucking record of the system that is incapable of change.

Other cities haven’t waited. There were diamonds in the rough of these protests, cities that have better records currently. The rest should emulate the ones who get it right.

Given the plague is still around, local governments should be coordinating with protesters more closely to both avoid these horrid incidents of violence by police against peaceful protests and to minimize the opportunity of transmission of a deadly disease.

The election is in 21-ish weeks. You should register to vote! You should plan to vote! You should close your eyes and visualize yourself voting! You should go to the mirror and look yourself in the eyes and say, “I’m gonna vote.”


Republican Healthcare Reform Purgatory

The Republicans keep coming back to healthcare. At the rate they are going, they will match their attempts to repeal and replace under Obama, and with equal results.

Something in the Republican psyche keeps telling them to make this happen, and that mantra apparently makes them forget that they couldn’t get to yes. So they start again, only to remember that the deal isn’t there.

The main problem here is that they haven’t started over. They keep trying to revive a very broken approach, and the blame there is largely on the High-Fructose Corn syrup, err, House Freedom Caucus. That bloc wants a full repeal of the ACA. And they’ve been pushing and shoving their sugar-free colleagues, trying to get them to agree to a move that would be harmful to their own interests.

Before the ACA there was a vibrant scamsurance industry that sold people policies that wouldn’t pay for a lot of things, or where they could kick people off while pocketing their premiums if the person ever got sick. It’s not clear that the HFC is funded by that unsavory element, but it is undeniable that their legislative desires would return us to those bad old days.

If the GOP wants to govern responsibly, the first step is to reject that approach to healthcare. So far, they’ve tried to balance things out, and so far they’ve gotten nowhere. That’s because they need the HFC to pass the bill unless they work with Democrats. Working with the opposition is entirely possible, but they would have to accept a much smaller tax cut for the wealthy.

They would also have to swallow their pride, after going it alone so long. They would have to explain to their constituents that the idea that all Democrats are scum just doesn’t hold water, and, really, they are patriots and have some good ideas. Yuck.

And so the Republicans find themselves in this loop. They really want to cut those taxes for the wealthy, so they can use them to pay for a larger tax overhaul for the wealthy. Meanwhile, Democrats have jumped the gun, already starting to point out that tax reform should include the question of how it would affect Trump’s taxes, necessitating the release of his past returns.

There are actual insurance companies that would like to know how this shakes out. There are people who buy insurance that want to know if they should prepare to be uncovered for a period of time and cancel that skydiving trip. But the Republicans are still pretending that they can govern without some faction or other giving in.

They are pretending that 24 million more uncovered individuals is something people will accept. That they can humor the HFC. That all of this doesn’t end in tears unless they stop these headfakes toward reform and actually start over and tell the HFC that either they work with the rest of the GOP on a moderate reform, or the GOP has no choice but to work with the Democrats.

In all visible scenarios, the GOP faces an electoral reckoning. But they’re the party in power, so their best-case is a responsible, moderate change that makes things better.


Gun Issues

When the nation was reformed under the US Constitution, the country ratified the Second Article of Amendment of the Constitution, which stipulated the right to be armed in defense of the nation. The US Supreme Court has ruled that this right includes the individual’s right to be armed, outside of a militia (roughly because, if the individual is not armed, how can the militia really be so).

But we have random shootings happening, and we wonder what we should do about it. Some claim that we should limit the amount of automatically fed ammunition that firearms support. That we should pick and choose which guns should be sold. That we should have waiting periods and background checks. Others say we should focus on mental health care: that people who kill people are obviously disturbed, and they should be treated to prevent these incidents.

There are a lot of guns in the country, most of which are owned by law-abiding folks who are reasonably responsible. They want to keep owning guns, keep going hunting, keep target practicing. They have a bit of a fear or concern of government encroachment of these activities, too.

But nobody wants more people shot. We just haven’t figured out how to act. So we wait. We wait for the breakthrough that will let us do something, anything, about the problem, or around the problem.

The gun control crowd thinks that it’s insane we can’t just crack down on guns. Make them be registered, make them harder to obtain, they say.

The gun owning crowd thinks that it’s insane we can’t just arm everybody. Make them ubiquitous, make anyone looking to shoot someone worry about being shot right back, they say.

Then there are a lot of other issues that get brought up in the mix. How should the media cover such tragedy? How did the candidates respond? How many times does this have to happen before we try something? Anything?

I’m not sure what the ultimate solution is, but a couple of things do stand out:

The gun lobby, if they want to keep their guns, should be leading the charge to try to get non-control solutions enacted. The fact that they only whine and repeat tired lines about their cold, dead hands means they’re begging to have their guns taken away, rightly or not.

The pro-gun folks are constantly on defense, because these are gun issues. Barring some major change in culture and language, these will remain gun issues. Moreover, they fail to support reform of any sort, mainly out of fear that if and when it fails to produce the desired result, they will have a harder time blocking gun control.

So, their strategy is to do nothing, even though these are issues about which they choose to concern themselves.

The gun control side should push divestment and other economic leverage strategies if they believe their cause is just. They don’t have the legislative route, but money is louder than law anyway. The fact that there is no high-profile divestment and boycott is an equal sign of complacency as the gun lobby’s inaction.

But they don’t do that. The control side is a lot less organized and vocal. The fact that they do not have a legislative caucus, capable of legislating, means they feel like they can’t do anything. They haven’t found the traction to build any sort of national movement, and they’re as afraid as the gun folks that if they try a big push and fall, they will lose any credibility and set their movement back even more.

So we have a stalemate of inaction. Neither side dares to actually do anything meaningful. And so the only people doing anything are the shooters, with their meaningless violent acts that bring horror and dismay to us time after time.

But, if either side acts, the stalemate will get broken, and something will change (successfully or not). If both sides act as above, the stalemate will still get broken, and something will change (successfully or not). This seems to be a case where any action would be preferable to no action. Either side, literally doing just about anything, that would be something.

Waiting for Congress to elect a speaker, to swing to the Democrats, to figure out that none of us call post offices by their pet names so they might as well stop bothering, that’s all futile. Congress is proving that although we do need government, we can get by without a legislature. We won’t do great things, but we won’t just fall apart if the GOP decides it has better things to do than govern.


Reorganizing a Government

After the second world war, the military of the United States got an overhaul (1947). It realigned the military structures, including splitting off the aerial force into its own department outside of the army. (The act, The National Security Act of 1947, also established the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and a subsequent amendment renamed the then-named National Military Establishment to the Department of Defense.)

Businesses reorganize from time to time, as well. One of the features of reorganization is that they almost always come later than they should have come. Another of the features is that they invariably piss off more people than they should (aside: most of the people initially pissed off find out that it wasn’t actually painful, and those suffering real pain from the changes mostly do so in silence).

But it is past time for some realignments of the overall government of the United States. Indeed, we’re reaching the springtime of this century and there’s nary a peep calling for a wholesale spring cleaning.

Looking at the facts of this nation’s development, it was never devised as a superpower. It was never envisioned as the major economic powerhouse it has grown to be. The founders expected the nation to prosper, but it has done so beyond their wildest dreams.

And that’s a bad thing, because? Because when you build an engine that you intend to be a workhorse, to serve its people for as long as you can foresee, you build it one way. And when it turns out that engine is now expected to (eventually) steward in a new world order on its back, carrying not just its own people, but the people of the whole world, that engine will turn around, punch you square in the nose, and trample off to the nearest bar for a nice long drunk.

Not that this nation does need to carry the whole world. It shouldn’t and can’t.

The point is merely that the country wasn’t built for its current purposes. And the sooner we admit that and actually look to change it or change our purposes, the happier we will be for it. We don’t want to be half way to the beach only to figure out that our luggage rack is now shaped like a satellite dish.

How do we realign the government, with such dire inability to do anything as it is? Ah, that’s the beauty of the thing. We don’t really have a choice. If we wait long enough, that is. Sooner or later, the wheels come off and we’re in a ditch. And then who can say no? That’s how it usually seems to work. But maybe we can agree that we’re headed for a ditch and pull over, fix things, and then throw a nice party for ourselves.

In the future I’ll try to drum up some specific ideas for each of the branches, specific ways (some old, some new) to realign the government. In the meantime, feel free to think about it yourself.