Thursday, May 28, 2020

No More George Floyds

Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, an African American, “has 18 complaints on his official record, two of which ended in discipline from the department including official letters of reprimand.” [1] Another officer involved, Tou Thao, “was sued, along with another officer in 2017 for excessive use of force, a case whose final terms were sealed as terms of the settlement.”

According to the lawsuit against Thao, one Lamar “Ferguson and a woman who was eight months pregnant were walking home when Thao and” the other officer, Robert “Thunder stopped and searched them without cause. The officers handcuffed Ferguson, and Thao threw him to the ground and began punching him, while Thunder kicked him, according to the allegations.” [2]

“In a Facebook video that emerged Tuesday, Mr. Floyd can be seen being pinned to the ground by…Chauvin, who has his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Other footage later emerged showing two other officers sitting on Mr. Floyd’s body. Mr. Floyd is heard pleading that he can’t breathe, and eventually loses consciousness. A fire department crew called to assist found paramedics working inside an ambulance on ‘an unresponsive, pulseless male,’ a fire department report said. Mr. Floyd was pronounced dead later that evening.”

Meanwhile, “Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the official responsible for bringing charges, said that by itself, the video—which has circulated on social media—won’t necessarily be enough evidence on which to base a criminal case.” The U.S. “Justice Department said it has made the investigation a priority, assigning experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the case to probe whether the officers willfully violated Mr. Floyd’s civil rights,” but bringing “federal civil-rights charges against police is a challenge, as prosecutors must reach a difficult standard of proof that requires them to establish that an officer not only acted with excessive force but also willfully violated someone’s constitutional rights.”

Three things come to mind. The first is, why were Chauvin and Thao still police officers? Police officers, for the sake of civic peace, need to be blameless when it comes to their conduct. It may be a high standard, but they are allowed to carry firearms in public, and are given special dispensation for the application of force. Chauvin was disciplined twice. Thao had already used excessive force. It makes no sense that people who can’t manage to conduct themselves properly should be permitted to wear a badge and carry a gun.

The second is this: why do we place the question of whether felonious charges will be brought on the state level in the hands of one official? At common law, which we inherited from England, the issue was put before a grand jury. And it wasn’t the sort of grand jury we see today, which are basically rubber stamps for whatever the prosecutor wants. A grand jury had actual investigative power, and they weren’t limited to looking into whatever some government official chose to put before them. Anyone could bring a case before the grand jury. We need to bring those grand juries back in every state, and prosecutors should be required to go forward with any indictments they issue. This will be especially useful where prosecutors feel uncomfortable because of perceived institutional connections with the accused.

And while we’re at it, why do we need professional prosecutors at all? Just appoint attorneys to serve as prosecutors for each case, like many localities do for public defenders. Serving as only a prosecutor or a defense attorney has a tendency to unbalance one’s perspective anyway, and this would be a remedy for that particular psychological issue.

The third thing that comes to mind is that, at long last, prospective police officers need to be checked for racism before they get a badge. Racism is stupid, and the last thing we need is stupid people walking around with handguns and other weaponry.

Legislators take note.   

Monday, May 25, 2020

Making Census

It appears that “states with large rural populations are lagging behind the rest of the nation in answering the 2020 questionnaire.” [1] And why is this? “They have the largest concentration of households dependent on receiving forms from census workers in the spring.”

“Two months after most U.S. residents could start answering the 2020 census, response rates in states that have many households without city-style addresses ranged from 40% to 50%. The national rate is 59% as of mid-May.”

A census every decade is a constitutional requirement [2], and some of us might be laboring under the impression that it is a rigorously accurate process. But the “2010 census missed more than 1.5 million minority members…,” yet “overcounted the total population by 36,000 people, or 0.01 percent, mostly because of duplicate counts of whites who own multiple homes.” [3] Meanwhile, there were “advertising and outreach efforts that pushed census costs to $15 billion.”

Proportional representation in the House of Representatives, the purpose of the census, is an undeniable good. But should the representation be of raw population, or actual voters? In the Constitutional Convention, William Paterson of New Jersey argued that only free persons should be considered in apportioning representatives, since slaves would never be allowed to vote. [4] That seemingly commonsense view wasn’t unanimous, and the result was the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise whereby slaves would count as three-fifths of a person for purposes of allocating representatives.

We don’t have slaves anymore, at least we’re not supposed to have them, and the concerns of slaveholding states are no longer relevant. Perhaps, then, we can revisit the question of who should be counted in a census. In fact, we don’t really need a census. People will count themselves every time they vote. Representatives can be apportioned for each state based on the total number of voters from that state in the previous federal election.

This process will do more than save money. It will also create a disincentive to suppress votes. States who take actions to prevent voting from certain segments of the population, say, on the basis of race, will potentially reduce their representation in Congress. And that would be a good thing. Wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Imbecility of Parties, Again

Back in March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. [1] This legislation released “more than $2 trillion to deal with the coronavirus crisis,” but “an oversight commission intended” by the legislation “to keep track of how the money is spent remains without a leader.” [2] 

Why is this? “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have not agreed on a chair, leaving the commission rudderless as the federal government pumps unprecedented sums into the economy.” [3] The result is that “the panel’s remaining members can still do some oversight work, but cannot hire staff or set up office space. The four members have not met as a group since the economic rescue law was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March.” [4]

The purpose of the panel is to “watch over $500 billion in lending to distressed industries backed by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. The Fed has said the money can be leveraged to offer more than $2 trillion in loans to U.S. companies.” [5] But because our political leaders can’t agree on a chairperson, “the panel’s activity has been reduced to tweets and letters by individual commissioners and a May 8 statement in which it pledged to publish a required report ‘soon.’” [6]

Now the reason why Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell can’t agree on a chairperson is obviously because they are members of different political parties, and the parties can’t work together on anything. At all. So now there is going to be no effective oversight of trillions of dollars being lent to private companies.

Political parties aren’t in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers originally didn’t want political parties to emerge, but soon fell under the party thrall. This latest disgraceful episode yields us yet another reason, among a catalogue of reasons, of why political parties are a public nuisance and must be gotten rid of before our nation is reduced to utter imbecility.