Archive for the ‘Citizenship’ Category

When the King is Law in a Democracy

October 7, 2020

I’ve been battered by my news feed this morning. Issues local and larger driven not simply by a pandemic but by government fiat about how we must handle this pandemic. I’ve touched on this topic before, particularly on the issue of the goals of state policy over the last seven months being shifted from flattening the curve to driving pandemic cases to an arbitrarily defined minimal number.

California has led the way in this from the very beginning. And the rules continue to change. Rules that have not been presented for a vote to the population but rather are dictated by the governor for implementation at the county level. The governor has created a tiered system of restrictions based on criteria he defines – and is free to alter at any point.

Case in point, for the past two months there have been two major criteria determining how restrictive a tier any given county is in – case rate and test positivity. But now a third criteria has been added. It is no longer enough that a county drops below arbitrarily defined thresholds related to case rate and test positivity. Now counties must also demonstrate – by arbitrarily defined means – that their efforts to combat COVID-19 are adequately distributed among all population groups in their county.

This new Equity Metric theoretically intends to make sure that disadvantaged groups in a county do not lag “significantly” behind other groups in the county in terms of case rate and test positivity. But in reality, the Equity Metric requires that disadvantaged groups report case rate and test positivity scores below the mandated metrics for the county as a whole. In other words, the county as a whole could meet case rate and test positivity requirements to move into or remain in a lower tier of restrictions, but if the disadvantaged groups in that county (which the county itself must identify) have higher rates in either of these two categories, the entire county will not be allowed to progress into the lower-restriction tier, or could be pushed up into a more restrictive tier.

On the flip side, the Equity Metric could potentially help a county move into a lower-tier of restrictions. If a county hasn’t met the requirements yet for the next lower-restriction tier, but the county’s lowest quartile disadvantaged groups not only meet that criteria but the criteria for the next level in lower down restrictions, the county would be allowed to move into the next lower tier.

Obviously, the intention is to encourage (force?) counties to invest more money in treatment, education, etc. for their most disadvantaged groups. At the same time, since these groups often consist of ethnic minorities known to be impacted by COVID at higher rates than less-disadvantaged groups, it means an entire county could be prevented from progressing to a lower-restriction tier just because one small subset of the population is struggling with higher rates of reported cases and test positivity ratios.

All of which may or may not make sense, but all of which is also a completely arbitrary addition to what the counties in our state (and country) have been focusing on for the last seven months. It smacks of ideological profiteering – taking advantage of a situation to distribute wealth and resources differently, rather than a strictly “scientific” approach to limiting the spread of a worrisome contagion.

I’m sure the governor had advisors on this, but I’m also pretty sure those advisors are similarly inclined to him, ideologically. And once again, we the citizens have to deal with the effects of his laws without getting any say in them. Presumably then, “science” in a very loosely defined sense supercedes rule by law and the American concept of rule by the people. Since these rules are ostensibly “for” the people (as defined by an unidentified subset of the people), it is apparently not necessary to get our feedback and approval on these rules.

For a short-term emergency situation this can be dealt with and accepted. That’s what we all more or less agreed to back in March. But seven months on, the restrictions are only piling up, and the impacts are being borne solely by the citizens of counties and states and not by the people elected to run the government. As I argued months ago, if our elected representatives are not impacted by the rules they make, there is no natural braking system for just creating more and more rules and restrictions.

For instance, our governor dictated that law enforcement was not allowed to enforce any laws regarding overnight camping on public property (beaches, parking lots associated with beaches, etc.). Citizens have frequently been banned from going to the beach on major holidays due to concerns about crowds and contagion, but if you pitch a tent on the beach and sleep there over night, nobody is allowed to bother you. Increasing numbers of tents are cropping up on beaches. Again, the governor can issue his order – don’t enforce the law – but he doesn’t have to deal personally with the ramifications of his ruling.

Presumably this is because of an acknowledgment by our elected leaders that homelessness is going to increase as a direct result of the economic restrictions they’ve put in place for the last seven months. Rather than mandating the protection of the most vulnerable populations, they’ve simply shut down – arbitrarily – large swaths of society. Small and mid-sized businesses are being devastated by not being able to open or only being allowed to open at a far reduced capacity (25% or 50%). Any economics major or businessperson can tell you that a business owner determines the viability of renting or buying a space and hiring workers and offering goods or services based on a certain minimum threshold of business. You can’t arbitrarily slash that threshold and expect a business model to still work. It might, for a short time. As long as stimulus loans are out there, for instance, but it isn’t sustainable.

I’ve heard predictions that anywhere from 30%-60% of restaurants will close and never reopen. The figures are as high as 85% for small, independently owned restaurants. They won’t be able to stay in business. The economic impacts of COVID restrictions are going to start cascading into the coming months. It will be a devastation of our economic landscape the likes of which haven’t been seen before. Could unemployment reach Great Depression rates? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

And when a restaurant closes it isn’t just the owner who loses – everyone they employ loses. The community that enjoyed or relied on their service loses. The community also loses tax revenues from that business. The impacts are massive on this scale.

And this is just one particularly business sector.

So we’re going to have more homeless, our leaders presume, and therefore we just aren’t going to enforce laws against homelessness in communities. Never mind that beaches don’t have bathroom facilities or running fresh water. Never mind the trash and debris that accumulate under these conditions. Instead of mandating (and providing) resources for counties to address this grim reality proactively, the governor’s order to not enforce laws simply creates new or exacerbates existing problems while simultaneously limiting the ability of any given community to deal with them.

Or consider the law in our state preventing landlords from evicting tenants because they are no longer able to pay their rent due to being unemployed because of COVID. Why are property owners expected to bear the burden financially for problems created directly by executive orders from governors? How are property owners expected to remain viable leasing property to people who aren’t paying them? How is it fair for one group of people to create a situation where another group of people bears the exclusive repercussions and losses for decisions the other group of people dictated?

If our elected leaders are not directly and immediately impacted by the results of their decisions – especially their directed decisions that don’t go to popular vote – then we’ll continue to suffer under laws and rules arbitrarily conceived and applied. I don’t doubt the intentions of most of these laws and rules is good. I do doubt whether good intentions equate to actual benefits or the desired results – it’s notoriously tricky to directly correlate closing a broad section of the economic sector with reduced transmission rates of COVID. You can argue for a correlation but it’s hard to prove causation. There are just too many variables. And again, for a short period of time correlation may be enough. Is it enough seven months later? At what point – if any – does it cease to be enough?

I maintain that if our elected officials are going to declare that certain businesses simply aren’t allowed to open, then the salaries of these officials should be directly affected. I’m sure a smarter person could determine an effective ratio. I’m sure it’s rather draconian to say that if you arbitrarily shut down any one kind of business for an entire state or county you oversee, your entire salary as an elected official should be withheld. But then again, maybe it isn’t too draconian.

Of course, elected officials would not be penalized for laws approved by their electorate.

Not until our elected officials personally and directly feel the devastating effects of the rules they are making up on the fly can we the constituents be assured they are really, really, really grapping with and making the best possible choices rather than the easiest ones. If they’re personally having their life’s savings drained away by the very policies they’re demanding the electorate abide by, I would feel a lot more confident they’re trying to find the best way forward. A way that doesn’t simply create an explosion in homelessness when they’re in no danger of living in a tent themselves.

We’ve allowed our elected leaders to extricate themselves from real life as the average citizen experiences it for too long. Whether it’s a separate retirement plan from Social Security, or a separate healthcare package from what citizens have available to them (even with the ACA!), or salaries guaranteed from tax dollars and therefore only secondarily linked to the decisions made in state capitols or Washington D.C., we shouldn’t be surprised our leaders seem unsympathetic to the plight of their constituents if they are not dealing personally (and financially) with the effects of the rules they put into place.

Mobs and Justice

September 25, 2020

Once again there are mobs floating around major cities in our country demanding justice after the decision of a grand jury not to indict any of the police officers involved in the tragic shooting death of Breonna Taylor. The range of these protests is typically broad, from peaceful protests to more violent protests. The Los Angeles Times reported about two cars that “plowed” through protestors, implying guilt on the part of the drivers, though when you actually read the article it’s far from clear that’s necessarily the best characterization of what happened.

First off, a reminder that protests which block traffic are illegal, though some states allow protestors to block streets if they obtain a permit in advance. But a mob of people arbitrarily deciding to block traffic is in itself an illegal act – pretty much all the time as far as my limited Internet research shows. I’m happy to be proved wrong with appropriate links in the comments section. This document from the ACLU indicates as much. Blocking traffic is in itself illegal, an irony somehow lost in the shuffle of cries for justice, which clearly then are cries for justice in certain situations rather than others, problematic in the least. And needless to say, attacking vehicles and their drivers is very, very illegal, very much against the idea of justice the protestors claim to be demanding. At least one of the vehicles in the LA Times article received extensive damage from protestors who were angered it didn’t want to stop. The car that struck one of the protestors is also said to have damage on it, damage the driver claims was inflicted on the vehicle first and which caused the driver to try and escape the crowd.

Complicated stuff at best, though the headlines certainly wouldn’t lead the casual reader to that conclusion. I don’t think they intend to, frankly.

The cry for justice in this situation is also problematic. The death of anyone is a tragedy, and certainly the death of someone in their own home at the hands of public agents of any kind is additionally odious and should call for investigation. However, investigation actually did happen. The cries and protests for justice come after a grand jury determined no criminal charges were appropriate against the officers involved for Taylor’s death. The officers weren’t cleared of wrong doing by an internal investigation but by a grand jury. A grand jury is a means for determining possible offenses in a situation and lodging official charges to be pursued in a court of law. A grand jury is made up of private citizens, similar to the jury in a court case. They are assembled and tasked with determining to the best of their ability whether a crime has or hasn’t been committed.

So the crowds blocking roads and attacking motorists in a demand for justice are ignoring the fact that justice has already been applied. Typically 16-23 people are assembled for a grand jury and a majority of them must agree a crime was committed and indicate which law was broken. So the majority of the people on the grand jury for this case determined the police officers did not violate a law.

That doesn’t mean Taylor’s death isn’t tragic. It doesn’t mean that perhaps the existing laws might need to change, and already there is discussion towards that end regarding the serving of no-knock warrants, where police can enter a home without prior notification or warning. Of course there are also reasons why such warrants exist, such as protecting officers from a coordinated, deadly response to their ringing of the doorbell or knocking on the door. In this particular case the man they were looking for – an ex-boyfriend’s of Taylor – was not there. Yet her current boyfriend was there, and he was armed, and he opened fire on officers first.

I don’t hear the protestors talking much about that. Clearly, this is a more complicated situation than some people would like it to be. Some details don’t contribute to a story of an innocent young woman shot to death in her own home by reckless and uncaring agents of the State. Apparently the majority of the grand jury realized this as they explored the facts of the case.

So what is justice then? If the due process of the law is inadequate, what do the protestors suggest as an alternative? Is it a matter of mob justice, so to speak, where if enough people scream and yell and threaten and destroy property, they determine the appropriate verdict in a trial? Is this justice? Do what we demand or we destroy things?

Grand juries have been around for over 800 years and are part of a cherished and celebrated legal process and set of protections against mob justice or the arbitrary whims of power. They’re intended to provide as much assurance as possible that a crime really has – or hasn’t – been committed, regardless of which persons or powers demand an outcome to suit their own preferences or interests. Against this what do the protestors suggest as an alternative?

Deadly force is deadly serious, without a doubt. That’s something police officers are trained to recognize and to which they are at least theoretically held accountable. They are also responsible for performing dangerous work like serving warrants on premises or for people that are known to be dangerous and capable of killing them. That’s a lot of pressure to be under, even for professionals, and something the law seeks to take into account. I also assume the man who fired on those police officers when they entered the home understands that deadly force is deadly serious, and if you’re going to pull a gun and start shooting immediately rather than waiting to assess the situation a bit better, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re probably more comfortable with deadly force than the average person. Cries for justice ought to reasonably include why this man opened fire immediately.

Bad things happen. Sometimes bad things happen because of bad people, and in those situations the bad people should be held accountable. But not all bad things are matters of injustice or a matter of bad people. This is something that should be – and is – evident regardless of your ethnicity. Yet even ethnic minorities are denounced and vilified if they question or disagree with the mob justice mindset that insists on a particular verdict. Do the mobs have all the details and information the grand jury did? Is their shouting and blocking traffic a superior insight into the happenings of that fateful day? Does their anger somehow trump whatever facts are available?

Should it? Is that how we want verdicts reached – by whoever screams the loudest or makes the most intimidating threats?

Are the protestors demanding an end to grand juries? Are they demanding that police be disbanded? Are they demanding an end to no-knock warrants? Are they demanding a particular charge and conviction of murder in this particular case? Are they demanding other things not specific to this case but part of a larger agenda of change? And how will they respond if a larger or more vocal or more violent group of protestors shows up and demands just the opposite? Who decides who is right? Is it just a matter of starting to shoot and stab each other and see who is left at the end of the exchange? Or do we rather place our faith in a good albeit imperfect system of law, knowing that sometimes injustices will go unpunished, but that far more often than not justice will be done, and can be relied on to be done without protests and threats and violence?

If the laws need to be changed then work for change. But that change involves not simply making demands under threat of violence but wrestling with the difficult realities of a sinful and broken world where many bad people exist, and where most of them probably don’t wear a badge. If you want to agitate for change then know what it is you’re agitating for as well as what you’re agitating against. Because tragedy happens every single day. This doesn’t make it less tragic. But compounding tragedy with riots and threats of violence does make it more tragic, especially if you don’t really understand what it is you’re asking for or protesting against.

Replacements and Rhetoric

September 20, 2020

With the death of long-time Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the battle over her replacement begins. At least the public battle. Have no fear, folks on both sides of the political aisle have long been considering how this would go down, and her unfortunate failing health in the last year only accelerated those back room discussions. But now that she’s gone, you and I begin to be privy to the battle over her replacement.

The battle is accentuated because Ginsburg was noted for her steadfast ideological concerns over issues of reproductive health and gender. It’s unfortunate that the career of anyone should be boiled down to issues that probably occupied a relatively small percentage of her 27-year tenure, but there it is. Those who share her ideological views are adamant that her successor must embody those same ideological views and carry on her legacy. Those who disagree with her ideology see an opportunity to create long-lasting change in the Supreme Court.

Obviously, this disagreement is going to cause problems. And the problems have already begun. Prominent liberals are already threating violence if RBG’s seat is filled by the Republican controlled Senate and Oval Office prior to the election (and before the possibility of a shift in control to the Democrats of one or both branches of government).

Speaking of government and branches. Y’all remember your basic civics lessons, right? The division of our government into three different branches – Executive, Legislative and Judicial? Checks and balances, to ensure that no one person or group gains to great control over things? And as part of this checks and balances system, Supreme Court vacancies are filled by Presidential appointment with Senate approval (a process some have humorously expanded)?

It’s all about balance, presumably. And the funny thing about balance is that it’s rarely a matter of stasis. Like driver’s education used to teach, staying between the lane markers requires constant adjustments, which means at any given point in time you might be straying a bit to the left or a bit to the right, but through constant corrections you hopefully stay in your own lane and don’t go veering off the road. Or into someone else.

Ginsburg apparently forgot this concept when she allowed herself to disparage the process of checks and balances and judicial appointments. And both she and her supporters conveniently forget (and the media certainly isn’t going to help us with a pertinent history lesson) that Ginsburg replaced someone else, a Supreme Court justice by the name of Byron White. White was appointed to the Supreme Court by John F. Kennedy. White cast a dissenting vote in Roe v. Wade, meaning he voted against legalizing abortion. He also voted not only to outlaw capital punishment but to reinstate it under allegedly better legal conditions.

So Ginsburg herself hardly carried on the ideological bent of her predecessor. I’m sure if someone had suggested to her at any point in her career that her duty was to carry on the ideological leanings of a particular predecessor, she would have dismissed the idea as ludicrous and odious. It’s unfortunate if she really did express a desire that the process should be short-circuited intentionally, and that others would take the opinion or wish of any single person, no matter how beloved, as a pretext for a call to violence on a national level.

Supreme Court appointments are usually passionate affairs, at least in the last 40 years. The decisions have long-term effects on judicial rulings that impact law on a national level. It’s right that people want to see someone they agree with given the honor of serving in this capacity. But it’s unconscionable that anyone would advocate violence or a deliberate disrespect of the mechanisms that protect all of us by rule of law. Our elected legislators are quite good at utilizing or inventing all manner of mechanisms to sway things in their preferred direction, and there has only been one Supreme Court Justice nominated to the position in an election year (early in 1988, rather than a month or two before the election). But to call for violence, as though the law of the land has now become mob rule or might-makes-right is a sign of just how dangerous our current cultural and societal situation is.

And a sign of how important the law has become – or not become – whether at the Supreme Court level or otherwise.

Words Matter

September 19, 2020

As I’ve tried to argue here repeatedly over the last 14 years (!), words matter. Language matters, and we need to pay attention to what is being said and how it’s being said.

For instance, for the first time I can remember, the flu is being called a pandemic. I don’t argue whether or not the flu qualifies as a pandemic. I’m pretty sure it does – it affects a good portion of the world (at least I assume it does – I think press coverage of world health issues is normally pretty light, and since the flu recurs every year, there has been little interest historically in talking about it unless it’s somehow more dangerous or otherwise distinctive) and it affects a good portion of the population (in the neighborhood of 19 million Americans annually (as opposed to the estimated 6.7 million cases of Coronavirus reported in the US after 6 months).

What I do question is the curious fact that this year, the flu is being called a pandemic. Most of the news stories I see using this terminology are fear-mongering, painting dire possible scenarios since COVID-19 is ongoing as flu season begins. The other common denominator in stories referring to the flu as a pandemic is the emphasis on getting the flu shot.

The overall impact is one of creating fear. Fear is a particularly useful emotion as it is very powerful and hard to resist. It’s also hard to live with over a prolonged period of time (like, say six months or more) without some debilitating psychological, social, spiritual and even physical side effects beginning to manifest in some people. In a situation where one is afraid, the urge to remove the source of fear somehow can become nearly overwhelming.

How do you remove fear of illness? With the flu, the insistence is not on proper rest or diet or hygiene or anything else – it’s almost exclusively on getting the flu shot. It’s not that these other things aren’t recommended, it’s just that you never hear about them. The only thing that appears in the news and media is the importance of getting the flu shot, despite the fact the flu vaccine at best has effectiveness rates of 60% and regularly (four times between 2014 and 2019) still clocks in at less than 40% effectiveness. Still, the answer to easing fears about the flu is to get vaccinated.

Likewise, much emphasis has been placed on a vaccine as the answer to our Coronavirus fears. Certainly, government mandated social distancing and mask wearing is also emphasized, but particularly in the last month or two, the emphasis increasingly turns to vaccines and when they might be available. Part of this is due to the fact that like it or not, most people are resigned to the reality of masks and social distancing. There are mandated signs and other repeated emphases locally to reinforce these measures (though they are, at best, questionable as to the degree of their effectiveness).

So media decides to focus on the vaccine. As a political football (of course), and as the source to the end of our COVID-19 fears. Despite the fact there are nagging suspicions that immunity is short-lived (I’ve seen allegations of someone getting reinfected just a month after recovering from COVID-19. Other reports question anti-body likelihood after 12 months).

Vaccinations are the answer to our health fears. Health fears stoked in large part by incessant and uncontextualized media reporting. Big numbers provided in isolation from other numbers that might give them different meaning. Big numbers intended to create fear, and fear intended to be dealt with by recommended (and eventually, I’m sure, mandated) measures such as vaccinations.

Watch the language, folks. And watch what it does to you. I’m not saying there isn’t anything to be worried about. But what I am saying is the change in the way language is being used this year should be an equal source not just of curiosity but of concern and intrigue to you as well. Stay informed, but recognize that simply watching or reading the news is not enough to accomplish this.

The Talk

August 27, 2020

This article questioning the value of The Talk caught my eye. The column is primarily politically motivated and I’m not going to deal with the political rhetoric that predominates the second half of the article.

I’d like to say to Ms. Brazile that I am not black or a person of color or a minority in the traditional usages of those words in our culture. But I had The Talk as well. I don’t remember the specifics but it was a very clearly communicated lesson. Police are here to protect us and as such we assist towards that end by being polite and deferential. I must be polite and deferential to use Ms. Brazile’s words. But perhaps my must is different than hers and the version of The Talk she seems to imply.

Because while I have no doubt police and other first responders were highlighted as people deserving of our respect and gratefulness, politeness and deference were something I was taught everyone deserved. My parents, my teachers, my neighbors, strangers – everyone. I learned these basic concepts in the classroom. But I also learned them at home. And at home they could explain the deeper reason and reality behind these talks. The reason why others deserved this and it was incumbent upon me (must) to give it is that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And the command He gives me isn’t simply to grudgingly pretend to give politeness and deference but rather to actually love my neighbor, whomever that neighbor happens to be at the moment. And further still, I am commanded to love even my enemies, to pray for those who persecute me (Matthew 5, Luke 6). So it isn’t just a matter of whether I agree with the person in front of me or think they’re doing their job properly or even whether I know for a fact they are doing their job improperly, I am not released from the command to love them. And love encompasses both politeness and deference.

That was my talk, given not just once, and my talks started long before I was a teenager.

The Talk you refer to sounds different. I don’t know or presume to judge what your religious leanings are. And Lord knows in our cultural rejection of the concept of God and the authority of the Bible, lots of alternative concepts are forced into service to convince people how they should live their lives with others. Concepts like tolerance and kindness, things I’ve written about critically here over the years because they can’t possibly replace love your neighbor as yourself.

The Talk you describe sounds a lot like a talk about self-preservation and self-defense. It sounds like a talk aimed at saving someone’s life when something has gone terribly wrong, not as how you ought to be with everyone, all the time. It sounds like a talk that presumes the worst about the police and frankly, everyone else. It sounds like a talk that is ultimately not very convincing because it comes far too late, and is far too limited in scope, and it is likely being given by someone who doesn’t really believe The Talk themselves, though they undoubtedly had a similar talk at some point in their lives.

However I’m going to go out on a limb here and make an assumption and an assertion. And that is that The Talk you refer to is not the first talk or the only talk on this topic. I’m willing to wager that nearly every child in every school room in this country received a talk multiple times at a very early age. A talk aimed at teaching them how to behave with others, to show courtesy and respect to authorities and those older than themselves. A talk, even, that described police and firefighters as heroes who are here to help us.

But what also seems evident is that though nearly every single person in our country probably had those talks, there are some people who either weren’t listening or, more likely, heard other talks as well. Talks that asserted courtesy and politeness and deference weren’t default ways of interacting with other people. That the police were enemies, not friends. That you have to fake politeness and deference because they certainly aren’t warranted. Regardless of the situation.

Ms. Brazile questions the efficacy and appropriateness of The Talk if it isn’t working. But I’ve watched an alleged video of this latest shooting in Kenosha. And as near as I can tell there isn’t an ounce of politeness or deference being demonstrated anywhere in this video. I hear people screaming – which surely can’t help the situation. I hear moments of silence that I assume are blocking out profanity. I see what appears to be a young man struggling against police rather than cooperating with them and apparently ignoring their commands for some reason. It’s not a good quality video, and it might not even be authentic in this age of digital forgeries and deep fakes. But I’m assuming it’s authentic until I learn otherwise, and I’m making that assumption in good faith rather than in an intentional desire to skew things.

The Talk isn’t being followed in this video by any of the bystanders or apparently the young man at the center of it. I don’t know what happened right before this video or right after it. I’m not defending the use of lethal force in this or any other particular situation, though I readily admit lethal force is sometimes necessary and appropriate.

I’m simply observing that for a community of people you assert to have given and received The Talk, none of them are following it, as near as I can tell. Which leads me to question your conclusion – that The Talk is nothing more than wasted words. You assert this young man was innocent and was merely trying to help out a situation, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on in this admittedly grainy and shaky video. Regardless of what this young man thought he was doing or intended to do, it ended up with him disregarding The Talk as you described it. Which means perhaps it isn’t The Talk that’s deficient.

Perhaps it means instead we need to really look closely at the other talks this young man probably heard. Because it’s those talks he appears to be listening to, for whatever reason. And listening to those talks never is helpful to a person. In this case, he appears to have been seriously wounded. But he might have just as easily been injured to a lesser degree while struggling with the police. Or he might just as easily have ended up arrested and charged with resisting arrest or interfering in an officer’s duty or any number of other charges. All of those outcomes are bad. All are tragic. There is no outcome, no situation where ignoring The Talk you describe makes any sense.

So perhaps instead of blaming The Talk, or the police, or systemic racism, we need to examine the other talks young people are hearing. Because those talks don’t seem to be helping anything or anyone.

Political Suggestion

July 27, 2020

Perhaps like you, my town is starting to be dotted with notices of businesses closing. Doors shutting for good after being forced to shut down as part of the grand social sacrifice to stop the spread of the coronavirus. I’ve heard little mention through official channels of remorse for these closures, the preliminary wave of what I expect will be a much larger wave continuing on into the years ahead of us. I’ll assume our leaders presume loan monies are adequate to sustain businesses shuttered for months on end.

The signs and notices around town tell a different story.

Of course most of our elected officials don’t have businesses to run. Their salaries as well as their premiere health benefits are guaranteed through tax dollars. They can literally weather the pandemic indefinitely, determining who closes and who opens without any serious personal risk themselves. I’m sure they know people who are affected. At least I hope they do. I hope somebody close to them has lost their business or their health insurance. Not out of vindictiveness but so our leaders have an accurate measure of the economic and psychological pain being caused through prolonged closures.

For an illness that is far less lethal than we originally feared.

In some ways I imagine it is like royalty in centuries past. While the masses of people beneath them might be struggling through catastrophe, the wealth of the aristocracy could effectively insulate them from those effects, or allow them to relocate for a period of time. Responsiveness suffers when there is sufficient buffer between the reality of the electorate and the reality of those elected.

So a suggestion.

For as long as some businesses must remain closed or at much reduced capacity, those elected leaders responsible for mandating the closures should endure a commensurate level of economic suffering as well. As long as there are businesses not allowed to reopen, all officials from the Governor down to the local elected leaders should not draw any salary. They should be entitled to unemployment benefits like everyone else, for which they must file like everyone else. They should have the same health insurance coverages – or lack thereof – of anyone else on unemployment. This situation should continue until mandatory closures are lifted and businesses can reopen.

If businesses are allowed to reopen (or continue operating) but at reduced capacity, all officials from the Governor down to locally elected leaders will only draw salary and benefits directly proportional to the reduction in capacity they are mandating for others. If restaurants can only serve half the customers, government officials should draw half salaries.

In the case of varying levels of closures or reductions in capacity mandated, government official compensation will be tied to the most restrictive mandates currently in force.

Again, this is not intended to be punitive. At least no more punitive than the existing closures and restrictions. But it is intended to lend an air of urgency to a very real and pressing catastrophe that many of our elected officials seem to be personally unaffected by. Their salaries continue as they order others into unemployment. Their benefits packages continue to operate without a blink while others are at risk of losing health coverage and any number of other benefits tied to employment and the overall economic health of an employer and the economy at large.

This would motivate our leaders to be more creative in addressing the issue than simply ordering people to stay in their homes and close down their businesses. It should motivate our leaders to be more creative than simply adding trillions of dollars to our national debt in bailout payments or destroying state budgets through loss of tax revenues.

If our leaders share our pain and our concerns, I have to believe they will be far more motivated to figure out solutions that everyone benefits from. This can’t go on indefinitely, or even through the end of the calendar year as some people (academics, government officials or others without any real skin in the game in terms of personal finances) are prone to warning us.

Thoughts?

Coronavirus Roundup

July 23, 2020

A few miscellaneous items related to the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly in the United States but also around the world as well. After all, who can escape the daily headlines with staggering infection counts and updated fatality tallies? And if these things are being reported so loudly and often, they must be important, right?

Certainly they are important. It’s not as though Coronavirus appears to be fictional. The question becomes what sort of important are they, and how do we make sense of them with other important things?

For instance, we’re being quoted daily the number of new fatalities linked to COVID-19. Certainly we don’t get daily death tallies for other illnesses, diseases, or accidents. Surely the death figures for COVID-19 must be devastatingly abnormal? Surely far more people are dying in 2020 – and primarily related to COVID-19 – than in other years?

What if that doesn’t appear to be the case? What if death rates aren’t massively higher than in other recent years? Could that tell us anything about Coronavirus or how it’s being treated or reported?

More and more I hear different industry experts and commentators talking about how they don’t anticipate any change in how things are being done right now until a safe and effective vaccine is developed. Considering vaccines aren’t necessarily discoverable on demand, this seems like a problematic place to lodge your hope. Add to that how effective or safe is defined with no long-term studies and things get further complicated. And add to that the possibility that antibodies may not last, or may not act like other antibodies and it gets even more complicated. After all it would be pretty frustrating to push (or demand) everyone get vaccinated only to find it didn’t offer long-lasting protection.

And protection is what we’re after, right? We want to know we’re being protected. That’s what our governments are there to help do, right? Protect us?

Or maybe just some of us?

Evidently some people aren’t as deserving of protection as other folks, which is disturbing to say the least. But this is an issue European nations find far less disturbing now than they did when, say, the Nazis were deciding which people merited living and which ones didn’t. At least this is Great Britain we’re talking about, rather than America.

Oh, whoops. Perhaps the problem isn’t as distant from the land of the free as we’d like to imagine.

So this COVID-19 thing has a lot of dimensions to it. But in the midst of it, don’t think that while your businesses and schools and churches might be shut down, that your legislators have stopped working on their pet projects.

AB 2218 was introduced into the California Legislature back in February of this year. In other words, a lifetime ago in Coronavirus terms. I’m sure it didn’t seem so unusual back then, wanting to take money from the general fund to specially fund and provide for transgender individuals and their very specific needs. Whatever those are, as defined by special interest groups where the president/CEO is transgender and 75% of the employees are transgender (Section 2.f.2.A-C). Doesn’t sound like a very diverse workplace, frankly.

Back then in February, it was apparently suggested that a specific amount of money be appropriated from the General Fund for these very vague purposes. Fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000). However despite the pandemic raging and society crumbling and all that, this bill was amended in Assembly not once but twice (May and June). Somewhere in those amendments the dollar amount was eliminated. Meaning there is theoretically – or literally – no limit to how much money from the General Fund could be appropriated for these purposes. After all, this Bill clearly defines the huge need. It asserts at least 218,400 Californians identify as transgender. That’s a huge number. But considering California has an estimated 40,000,000 residents (and that’s probably a low figure given our very hospitable attitude towards unregistered folks), the figure comes out somewhere in the neighborhood of .00546 percent of our overall population.

Now there are roughly double the number of Coronavirus infections (remember Coronavirus? That’s where we started this post!) in California as transgendered people. I think it’s safe to say that the Coronavirus case numbers will grow much more rapidly than the transgendered numbers. And currently most of the counties in this state are under some sort of restrictions or lockdowns due to inadequate medical facilities to handle the potential surge in need for hospital beds and ICUs and qualified medical staff.

So why in the world would our lawmakers decide that right now, in the middle of a pandemic when California is reporting more cases of COVID-19 than any other state in the country, right now we should free up unlimited funds for the support of transgender folks? Why aren’t they figuring out how to direct more funds to those areas areas with the least medical support or the highest rates of hospitalizations? Or at least I’d think they’d be working tirelessly to direct any available funding towards relief of from the Coronavirus, and providing support services for people and families who have lost their jobs and businesses and savings.

So yeah, curious times to be sure. Good to keep your eyes and ears open. You never know what you might learn.

The Forest

July 20, 2020

A very good read here. It requires that we lift our heads up above the headlines being screamed at us moment by moment to recognize the larger damage that has, is, and apparently will continue to be done.

Conclusions to be drawn, since the author does much in terms of description but very little in terms of prescription?

For starters, this should be a stark wake-up call to the inherent dangers of a professional political caste made possible by unlimited terms. It’s tragic that more publicity has been given in recent years – by both red and blue pundits – to eliminating term restrictions on the Presidency than on calls for term limitations on all elected offices and officials. Often such calls are aimed only at the legislative branch of government, but real thought should be given to considering term limitations for the judicial branch as well. I have long maintained that people with a vested stake in the real world tend to be more responsive to the needs of people they are not so different from than people who are virtually guaranteed employment for life at tax-payer expense without really needing to consider the needs of the taxpayers.

Criticism of the media for not fully reporting more nuances of the Coronavirus pandemic is necessary and warranted combined with some hard examination of why such willful exclusion of contextualized data and information continues. Much self-righteous indignation has been expressed in defense of our free press, but when the press is nearly uniform in what it says and how it says it, I suspect strongly it isn’t nearly as free as it likes to think itself, or as we need it to be.

Other conclusions?

Irony

June 29, 2020

I’m a sucker for irony, so perhaps it’s just my skewed view of the world that finds it darkly humorous that players in the National Women’s Soccer League have the option of sitting in the locker room during the national anthem rather than being on the field as has been traditional in most American sports for decades.

Perhaps people will find it interesting that a soccer league – regardless of gender – was created in part to make the world a better place by creating a “platform” for players to voice their individual opinions and preferences. I’m willing to bet those opinions and preferences are not uniformly encouraged or supported, which leads me to suspect it’s less about player rights and self-expression and more about an organizational perspective of what makes the world “a better place.”

I have a solution to this curious conundrum of a team not being unified in their expressions of national support – just remove the word national from the league name. Since it clearly doesn’t indicate anything more than a designation of location, it hardly seems necessary. And if players believe that dissent means publicly disowning their nation until their nation does what they, personally (or organizationally) want it to do, all the more reason to remove the confusing nomenclature.

Clearly the national anthem is not a requirement for citizenship, and since most (all?) professional sports teams are private enterprises, there shouldn’t be a necessity of a tradition of the national anthem being played if they are ashamed of their country. Of course, I’d think it also reasonable that such teams would repudiate any compensation they might be receiving from public funds, whether in the form of tax breaks or other incentives. To make sure they don’t feel compromised in their play. Of course. I’d hate for them to feel unduly burdened in those ways as well as in the issue of the national anthem.

Writing History

June 26, 2020

You wouldn’t know it from reading local news stories, but public officials are allowing mobs of people to destroy public landmarks – the costs of which are borne by taxpayers.

For instance, in San Francisco several statues were recently knocked over by mobs of people. The reports of what happened and why are fascinating. Consider this report, which begins as a fairly neutral account of what happened and some of the costs entailed, but then devolves into a virtual legitimization of the destruction due to essentially bureaucratic red tape. If only officials had moved more quickly to respond to input, the situation could have been handled properly. The writer ends the column justifying the destruction of public property as appropriate, despite the fact that some of the destruction mentioned in the article is also described as “less thought out”.

Or you could read this report, that begins with justification of the actions. Neither article describes any real effort to apprehend the vandals or stop them from destroying the statues in the first place, even though it seems likely the police could have effectively intervened. Perhaps fear of reprisals in the form of demands for disbanding or defunding the police department caused officers to hesitate to get more directly involved? Regardless of the rationale, those police officers will be directly involved in terms of their tax monies being used to pay for necessary cleaning, removal, storage, and whatever other costs the mobs incurred.

Closer to home an effort was made – perhaps half-heartedly – to destroy a statue in Ventura, California.

This report makes it seem like a rather innocuous discussion, really. A respectful exchange of ideas about the future of a statue commemorating a historical figure prominent in California history. A “rally” is described to “discuss” relocating the statue to private property.

Or you could read this account, which describes a far more volatile confrontation and a desire for more than discussion, at least by some of those present. Again, police presence is described as somewhat distant, but in this case enough to deter those bent on illegal activity from pursuing their goal.

I’m not quite clear how these events are described so casually despite the destruction of public property intended or carried out. Does the fact that someone is allegedly angry mean they are not subject to the law? Isn’t the law intended, at a very practical level, to discourage certain behavior by people who might be highly emotional and not thinking most clearly? I’d be fascinated to learn if Black Lives Matter has plans to reimburse cities for the forced redecorating (dedecorating) carried out in the movement’s name? Perhaps they’ll take up collections from people happy that the offending monuments are gone to defray the costs? Or is that really not at all something they’re concerned about? Hmmm. That’s a tough one to figure out, isn’t it?

It’s a dangerous situation when people believe they can act with impunity, destroying parts of their community without bothering to consider how others think or feel about the destruction, and expecting those other people to pick up the tab for their actions. If this is a foreshadowing of how things will operate in the future of defunded police departments, I can’t say I’m a fan of it.

Not that anybody’s asking me.