Categories
society

What is Our Government?

It’s a hard question, because history requires a lot of context and it often contradicts itself because mankind has been long confused and remains so. And I don’t write very long pieces on here.

Suffice it to say our government, under any president, any congress, and any judiciary, is imperfect. At times it has been less imperfect, and others, more. It has been a government ignorant of many problems, working according to a set of mostly amoral principles in opposition to the rhetoric and design of its founding. And when a problem came to light, it was promised it would be solved, with mixed results and a pattern of amnesia. In other words, a nation of humans behaving as humans.

The American government was founded on two basic ideas:

  1. Inalienable rights to enshrine individual (and therefore collective) liberty.
  2. Government designed with an immune system to defend itself against the corrupting spirits of power. (Commonly called separation of powers.)

But per expectations, the corrupting spirits ever since have tried to undermine good governance, and often they have succeeded. But they have never succeeded in demolishing that foundational belief that such corruptions should be beat back, wherever they arise. And so, despite evil’s triumphs, it remains an endangered species in the halls of true democracy.

Which brings us to now, with something larger-than-reasonable portion of the country inviting evil to nest in Liberty’s bosom, for various reasons. The reasons are varied. Some are outright corrupt, but many are merely misled, putting some pet issue ahead of their common sense.

And the rest is most of us, determined that liberty shall give no quarter to corruption. But this majority of us, we know that the wicked do lurk in lobbying lunches, in contract bids, in packed courts. We know that the tarnish on the foundation is hard to scrub, that anti-labor actors and anti-suffrage politicians ever do try to build that nest.

So America is both things at once. There is America, the plan. The plan to build a nation inhospitable to the corrupt. A plan that flexible government responsive to the people would make good choices and learn from its mistakes. And there is America, the reality. The reality that corruption has festered, allowing all of us to be inundated with robo-calls from scammers, with bum deals where taxes aren’t balanced, all these petty problems that trip us up. And those small problems bring bigger ones, like our inability to deal with people being abused and even killed by the justice system, or our failures to act swiftly to stop climate change.

And every election, we must vote against reality. We must vote for the plan. To make America an eyesore to the corrupt. To make the enemies of liberty, those who feed off of neglect and indifference, feel unwelcome and foreign in our lands. Those who would apply pricing formulae to suck as much money out of diabetic persons, or who would take for a ride the family of the incarcerated, who just want to say “Merry Christmas” pay through the nose for that luxury.

All around these forces work against us. In many cases, we ourselves are enlisted by them in one industry as we curse them in every other. But it’s no way to live. The plan rejects it. The plan says to hell with it and fuck that noise. There’s a better way. To elect those who will regulate, who will watch and act to stop pollution, to educate children, to mend those who commit crimes so they will make our nation stronger. People who will help us all extinguish our prejudices and bad ideas, while raising up our moments of humanity and our smart thoughts.

We have the plan, we just have to keep rehearsing, working out the kinks, and be mindful of the gap between the plan and the reality, and make sure we remember which is which. We have to remember the one we want to see happen.

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

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.

Categories
society

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.

Categories
society

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.”