Thursday, September 10, 2020

Ideas On A More Fair America

 Kurt Andersen's recent book on causes and solutions for our unequal society has some very plausible ideas I'd like to share.  They are addressed in his Evil Geniuses, The Unmaking of America.

He credits Ronald Reagan with much of the policy which began with an very socially unequal society inherent in all of our history from the beginning and which his team and the Republican Party he adopted later in his life exploited to their ends of greed and avarice.

Our unmaking has as its root, in his view, Reagan's core policy theme that the government should be mistrusted.  He had a lot to work with with people both on the left and right: Vietnam and lying about it, Watergate, inflation, abuse by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to name several very good reasons which enhanced a very American value of skepticism of authority.

Reagan policies around poorly framed amnesty for undocumented immigrants and failure to acclimate existing citizens with unfamiliar cultures fueled resentment. Economic circumstances requiring more unfamiliarity with two income households and many more women in the workplace added to resentment among our conservatives. Child care challenges because of this added fuel to the fire, including the costs to household budgets. 

Reframing of relatively new civil and voting rights with racism at the core of his belief system was like gasoline on burning embers.

The inauguration of the 24 hour hour news cycle and Reagan's elimination of equal time provisions required of networks and the convergence of news and opinion through unregulated cable programming added heat the the fire, according to Andersen.   On the heels of the shock of these changes came the chaotic and unregulated internet enabled by the new availability of P.C.'s. 

A hallmark of Reagan policy was further, dramatic deregulation of industry combined with  massive lowering of taxes for both corporations (taxes halved) and wealthy Americans led to abandonment of antitrust enforcement and a quantum increase in lobbying at both federal and state levels.  

Reagan deregulation of healthcare with elimination of state based regulation of medical services/facilities expansion leading to the chaos and poor care we experience today at obscene costs.  And the closing of mental health hospitals for chronically ill patients dumped onto the streets as homeless, neglected people.

Small businesses declined and mega-mergers emerged.  Product and service markups swelled. Business/conservative think tanks were born to sell a new myth of trickle down economic benefits with increase in corporate influence on legislation to further enhance profiteering. Shareholder value replaced community betterment in corporate mission statements. 

This all led to a laissez faire capitalism and replacement of new and better products with a reborn finance sector with Wall Street careers in a boom town environment.  While top tier incomes exploded, Reagan began to tax social security income for modest earners. Reagan introduced America to the rebirth of 1920's style of income inequality and an attack on collective bargaining and union busting. The minimum wage went into the freezer.  Contract labor became a norm for many corporations. Wages began their decline and stagnation that would sustain into the next century. 

This is the Reagan legacy we live with today including the replacement of science with the new hybrid merger of myth, religion and science in our education system . This of course, led to his climate change denial.  Today's anti-vaxxer and anti-masker and anti-health science movements which are terribly impeding our ability to address our Covid crisis.

Andersen posits that measures can and need to be taken to rectify these misdeeds of Ronald Reagan and those in the conservative think tank sphere that have imperiled both our democracy and our now very unequal and unfair capitalistic system.  He cites also the very uncertain political economy we face with two other major trends.  First, the wonders of highly perilous Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in processing and manufacturing.  These are major opportunities and challenges we must be prepared to address.  Of course, he does not ignore the economic and social threat the current Covid pandemic presents and the future altering course it represents for our economy and our lives in general.

A more fair America would meet citizen needs with 58% of us saying we want government to do more and provide more regulation. We have a history of doing more with government programs that gave us solar energy, semi-conductors, electric cars, touch screens, the internet, most pharmaceuticals and public utilities, where the private sectors profits from our funding as citizens. 2/3 of us want a wealth tax, much having been made as a result of govt R&D or funding, or both. 92% like the idea of Sweden's economy.  We favor organized labor/collective bargaining on a two to one basis.  the majority of us want the power balance to shift from commerce to consumers.

Andersen proposes some very plausible solutions to the unmet wants/needs.  He proposes reinstating anti-trust enforcement where increased competition can reduce prices and provide more responsive service.  He suggests government guaranteed healthcare without necessarily excluding some forms of private insurance options. 

He suggests that with 28% of of our lands held by the Federal government, we could create an Alaska style universal income with licensing fees from private users of those lands such as gas/oil in the short term, solar and wind  and geothermal installations as well as ranching and agricultural and foresting enterprises.  Add to that income source carbon taxes as well as internet taxes on commercial uses such as Google and Facebook. Additionally , the government could secure funding from payback for tech grants and  R&D investments we've made.  Add to this income derived from climate crisis green jobs programs employing millions with incentives to move  xome off shored industries back to our shores, especially in cases of goods and services, such as crisis medical products better produced here at home for national security reasons.

Finally, here is some of his stunning data. If we evenly divided all U.S. A. income and wealth among the entire population, it would generate  annual income of $140,000 for each household and provide each with a net worth of between $800,000 and $1 million.  This of course is a not to be realized fantasy, but a fair tax system not tampered with by a corporate lobby could move us to a more fair income/wealth redistribution without deny the 1% their yachts, at least several mansions and their private jet.  They would be denied control of the stock market, better put in the hands of small investors through regulatory reform .

Really, with a will to succeed that is uniquely American, America could do this. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

2020 Republican Party Platform

 This is the Republican Party Platform for 2020.  This is what they stand for.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Left & Right Rebellions Are Not Alike

 My 83 years have seen a number of major uprisings in the U.S.A.  I've participated in some, studied others.  I observe that they look similar on the surface but digging a bit reveals vast difference.  Here are a few named and later, explored. On the left, Anti-McCarthy political expression, civil rights movement,  feminist movement, anti-Vietnam war, anti-war protest spying termination, LGBTQ oppression, Iraq/Afg.anti-war protest, BLM/police brutality protest.  On the right, anti-Communist movement, Hard Hat cultural uprising, Silent Majority movement, Sex,drugs & Rock and Roll Hippie movement,Anti-government uprising, Tea Party Rebellion, anti-masker uprising.  Let's explore their roots, apparent similarities and vast differences. The point?  Maybe to better understand legitimate vs. contrived, manipulated protest.  After all, America is rooted in rebellion from our very beginning, including a healthy distrust of government overreach.

On the left, the anti-government protests listed above were all initiated by a few or a few dozen initiators who met at a kitchen table, church or bar somewhere and aired their grievances and began organizing protest, such as Hollywood writers/creatives being called out for leftist politics, Black religious leaders tiring of discrimination, a group of female intellectuals who grew weary of institutional miscegeny, college students being subjected to a military draft for a war in a land unknown to anyone here, anti-war organizers being illegally spied upon, LBBTQ persons infuriated by public scorn/ridicule, anti-war activists seeing a repeat of U.S. foreign intervention. Black reformers joined by allies expressing outrage of government brutality in their communities and racism encouraged by a President.

Having participated in several of these left uprisings and read extensively about their origins, creators and results, I am compelled to observe that they all had a common characteristic.  They were born from grassroots communities and amateur, unpaid organizers.  In a number of instances, these movements later acquired funding, in some cases substantial, from sympathetic contributors of financial means and even sustaining support from private institutions supportive of their missions. But their latter support came years after the movement's legitimacy and success was a near certainty. Like the Colonial rebellion, their roots were of the people and by the people, not initiated by a special interest organization with an agenda served by that movement.  Later, these movements became in many cases, formalized organizations with mission statements and experienced leaders to take them further into the public sphere. But also significantly these left movements were driven by a value system of common good....addressing making life better for all in the community.  A communal value.

In contrast, a close look at the right rebellions yields the conclusion that they were rooted in the value of rugged individualism and libertarian principles of individual fulfillment. Further, a close look yields the observation that these movements were initiated by organized groups with an agenda rooted in protecting capitalism and the existing social order incorporating racism, miscegeny and individualism in their core values.  Organized groups behind these movements on the right include the Chamber of Commerce, the John Birch Society,  Heritage Society, American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, NRA, Koch Brothers foundations and the many right wing lobbyist/advocacy groups dedicated to shaping government policy. You may find the Hippie movement strangely catalogued here on the right as it is often characterized as a movement born of liberalism.  A closer look reveals nihilism, narcissism  and "do your thing" libertarianism in its roots. During this era, left leaning people were engaged in the civil rights or anti-war movements. 

I have tried to find common ground between these movements of rebellion on the left and right. For example, the anti-maskers rhetoric seems rooted in civil libertarian ideology.  But a closer look suggests a much stronger influence from libertarian ideology putting one's individual rights above social responsibility.  

So, my search for similarities in various American rebellion movements lead me to a dead end.  So, I continue my fruitless search for common ground for left and right America.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Our Oppressed Show Us How To Be Americans

I just finished watching President Obama's eulogy of American Hero John Lewis.  Yes, I was moved to tears by the message, the messenger and the moment.
I hope you were too.

What struck me about this eulogy and all the others I heard was the dignity, control, intelligence and power of these messengers telling us Lewis' story.  A 20 year old kid from nowhere USA starting a lifetime of bravery, love and perseverance on the streets of a hostile South, his place of birth, not of choice.
No bitterness, no overt displays of anger, an absolute commitment to non-violent protest and messaging. He embraced his tormentors and brutalizers with love and patience.  That was way more than I've ever been capable of.  My parents tried to  teach me how to live with dignity, but somehow his family and community were way better teachers.  Or maybe, more likely, he was a way better person than me. 

The message from our former President Obama and all those giving testimony to Lewis' life was this:  you have oppressed us, but time and time again we give you the space to redeem yourselves, privileged white America.  We do not hate you for what you've done to us, our parents or our ancestors.  Some of you white people wrote both a Declaration of Independence and Constitution that we, Black Americans, admire and take as a blueprint for a better life for you.....not so much us, excluded from that document, including Native Americans, all women and us Black Americans. You were hypocrites at the time, excluding all of the rest of us but likely more than a handful of your founders would come to realize the words of A More Perfect Union meant we all would keep working on this democracy idea until we got it at least close to right.

Sure enough, once again, Americans of good will have taken to the streets, this time a much more diverse crowd, to remind us there is a huge task at hand.  It's in diminishing if not eliminating oppression of Black Americans.  This, in the face of the worst health epidemic in a hundred years and in the face of a cruel, selfish and authoritarian fascist government duly elected under our rules and doing everything they can to demoralize, demean and diminish all Americans of color in favor of a nationalist white majority who have ruled since the beginning of this nation. 

This deplorable minority of white Americans among us came to realize they are not alone in the land....there are others Black and others of color and differing religious and ethnic background who want to share in the glorious idea of equality and freedom for everyone here sharing that ideal. And that reality is threatening to their self image, self-esteem and privilege.

That is what the founders did: gave us an ideal toward which to work to create a More Perfect Union.  That is what Black America and the BLM movement is repeating; giving us an ideal, decidedly attainable if all of us treat one another as equals and put our shoulders to this task.  It doesn't mean that some of us in our lives will, through innate talent, intelligence or just plain grit won't attain more for themselves than some of our equals. But that doesn't empower this group to oppress those who attain less in a material sense.  That was not the idea of America in ideal and shouldn't be if we value fairness and all people as equals.

Just look at the lineup of those speaking on July 30 at John Lewis' funeral.  They were up there because of achievement, yes, connections, status and wealth. But all spoke of shared equality of opportunity and shared equality in participation in our democracy as advocated by John Lewis.  And a commitment to all of us working through the vehicles available to us to make life better and more free for all of us, without one group oppressing the other.

That is the difference they pointed out between Trump style Americans and Lewis style Americans. The Lewis people have an equal passion for equal opportunity for all of us, not just their own bubble, family or circle of support.  And they have gone to the streets repeatedly to voice that demand of a more just America.  And they have endured broken promises of equality, broken commitments to equal participation in our civil, economic and social order called America.  Yet, they, the overwhelming majority of them are peaceful, non-destructive and welcome allies of other ethnic and social backgrounds to join them in the task of making life better for us all.

Trump style Americans want skin pigment to be a deciding factor in winners and losers in striving for enrichment; they want power and domination over people of color and differing backgrounds from their own.  And they want to control the economic wealth and status for their own families and chosen circle without a commitment to advancing the status of others not like them. This is a long rejected social order of the dark ages in European history our founders, inspired by the Enlightenment, aimed to create in the new world.

I continue to want to call myself a Lewis style American.  The alternative for me is unthinkable.  I refuse to be an oppressor or keep company with those who in their silence and inaction, enable the oppressors to oppress.

I am a Lewis American committed to advancing a More Perfect Union.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Imagine Living With One Broken Promise After Another

America is a place of broken promises for millions of our fellow citizens, generation after generation.  Decade after decade; lifetime after lifetime. This can only induce deep, desperate sadness, or for some, rage for many and desperation for most.

It started with being uprooted from ones homeland, family, familiar surroundings and an established life with goals and dreams.  Taken away by force, chained and herded onto a slave ship and transported off to a life, if you survived the trip, of cruelty, forced labor and a life being owned by another human who saw you as a piece of commercial property.

Often you were separated from your family, sold to another brutal owner and denied education, a decent home and subjected to a life of humiliation.  You heard through the grapevine that some of the better educated, elite owners were planning a new government and some of you might even have been hopeful that new government might recognize your humanity and give you some basic human rights.  This was not to be. 

Your next generation or two were somewhat uplifted to learn that the masters who subjected you to this life of humiliation were being challenged to a civil war to free you and grant you rights.  After several years of bloodshed, including some of your brothers and sisters who had been freed fought alongside their liberators and died fighting for their right to basic humane treatment and some form of freedom.

After the conclusion of that horrific war, many of you were freed to develop a new life not being owned by other and pursuing some aspects of your hopes and dreams.  Many of you moved to start that new life and many were promised land and a start on a self-sufficient life of your own.  But that promise was quickly withdrawn, a broken promise..  this was the promise of 40 acres and a mule.  Can you imagine the disappointment in this unfulfilled promise? So, you joined with many of your fellow newly freed people and started little communities, schools to educate yourselves and your children, churches in which to build hope and community and commercial and agricultural enterprises to support life.

Many of you became voters and others among you offered yourselves as elected leaders in both State and Federal governments and started distinguished service to your fellow voters.  These governments started a process of reconstruction in southern states to provide basic life support and community services to lift you out of servitude, into independence and self sufficiency.

But after just a few short years, that reconstruction process was undermined by former slave owners and their supporters and laws were rewritten to deny you the political engagement of male voters with full citizenship rights as well as the modest community services established to uplift you. Can you imagine the disillusionment of this after the promise of freedom?

Soon, that reconstruction was ended and many of your  neighbors moved north to jobs in large cities with newly established industries and free communities but segregated from the majority white population who controlled these new industrial jobs, most of the housing and real estate and service businesses serving the daily needs  for food, clothing and medicines.  Your children had public schools to advance their lives which were separate from the dominant white populations, many newly immigrated from Europe.  But at least you had public schools to build for the next better off generation. This was some hope for you therein.

In large swaths of the U.S.A. males, let alone women  were denied voting and public service rights they had previously been granted and were gradually reduced to lives of limited mobility and citizenship rights and work as tenant farmers, almost akin to servitude their parents and grandparents were subjected to as slaves.  Can you imagine the depth of disappointment in this situation? 

In some areas of both the south, such as Atlanta and Tulsa, you were able to build thriving and robust communities with successful commercial ventures, your own banks and governments you built to provide for rights, order and some freedoms. Some were given hope for a better future.

But many of these communities were subjected to marauding bands of vigilante  and  white law enforcement officials determined to limit or deny your rights, thinking in doing so, they were preserving their own dominance and power.  Many nearby white communities had hanging trees and town squares where Black people suspected of crimes against white people were publicly tortured and hanged in front of crowds of celebrating or hostile white people.   The promised protections of reconstruction and integration into American life were denied to most Black citizens, who were relegated to servitude oriented work in both the south and north.  Black Americans became second class citizens.  Can you imagine the frustration you felt with all these broken promises?

White women began rising up and demanding full rights of citizenship, particularly the right to vote.  These radical reformers worked for 80 years, well into the twentieth century to attain their right to vote, often working side by side with Black women  on this amazing project, with the promise of voting rights for all.  But as success was finally achieved legally for white women,  the American electorate rejected the earned voting rights for Black women and they were left behind in the final resolution of those rights.  Another broken promise.  You, as Black women, despaired at your future in America.

America offered you a separate but equal life well into the 1940's and you stepped forward to serve the nation in a war to end fascism in Europe threatening our own more benign version of fascism studied by the Third Reich in creating their regime. In particular, they studied America's treatment of its formerly enslaved Black citizens.  But heroic Black Americans volunteered to go to war, defeat the fascist threat in both Europe and Asia, spilled their blood on the battlefield and many died.  The survivors were given some honors and privileges for their brave service, including enhanced education.  Public education was legally integrated in the mid-1950's by legal mandate.  But segregated housing patterns limited the integration process, and white citizens chose to depart neighborhoods adjacent to Black neighborhoods for nearly all white suburbia. And equal and remedial funding for ancient inner city public schools was denied as new funding poured into  new white suburban schools.  The promise of equity in public education was denied you.  As a Black person, it felt as if you would never experience full citizenship and acceptance as promise after promise was undermined.

You were still denied integrated housing though gradually, into the 60's, housing restrictions were modified for some, particularly those benefiting from advanced educations and somewhat less restrictive hiring practices of large corporations.  But neighborhood associations maintained restrictive covenants on which racial groups were welcome in their communities.  And though admissions policies of universities were improved to increase enrollment of the very best and brightest Black students, soon racist lawsuits were filed to challenge any equalization of the admissions process, let alone giving deserving Black students a helping hand to improve their chances of admission.  Corporations as well, some with commendable policy changes to reduce discrimination in interviewing and hiring practices of Black Americans, soon were undermined by resentment from white employees incorrectly perceiving unfair advantages for Black people.  And, in the workplace, Black employees found a frustrating mix of welcoming with isolation.  Top executive positions overwhelmingly favored white people.   Thus you found yourself better advantaged in applying for government and post office positions.  Can you imagine yourself as an intelligent, educated Black person most often successful in applying for jobs such as delivering mail?

White backlash to integrated suburban communities, including public schools led to the creation of many mostly white suburban school districts, leaving inner city schools deprived of an adequate tax base to upgrade and modernize public education.  Private and Christian schools in the suburbs as well as very affluent suburban public schools with robust tax bases emerged with at best token integration to assuage the consciences of white citizens.  Black persons felt the rejection and isolation on a very personal and profound level.

As quickly as fair housing laws, civil rights and voting rights legislation were created resulting from a massive national civil rights movement, street protests and aggressive lobbying for these reforms, white America began to challenge them legally.  But even more painful, your white neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens characterized these attempts at leveling the playing field for you as creating an unfair advantage and extra privileges. Resentment against your very presence began to harden and you had to seek other outlets to show your competence and talent.  Much of that occurred as superior and amazingly determined black athlete's talents became impossible for sports in high schools, colleges and professional athletics to ignore.  White Americans were quite content to sit in arenas and stadiums and cheer you own, support improved compensation for obvious superior talent and would even wear Jerseys with your name on it.  They even bought products advertisers enlisted your aid in selling on TV.
But, you were still not fully accepted as an equal neighbor, classmate and co-worker.  Can you imagine the anger this irrational contradiction created within you? 

The same was true of increasing acceptance of Black scholars, writers,  scientists, authors, journalists and artistic performers.  Obvious grit, hard work, talent and determination were impossible for white America to ignore.  All the while at the community level, your neighborhoods were in decay with denial of tax funds to upgrade and modernize.  You of limited financial means were relegated to aging suburbs and decaying urban centers where toxic land fills, chemical spewing industrial plants and power generating facilities had been located, endangering your health.  Food and healthcare deserts were the order of the day in your lower income and middle class neighborhoods.  These conditions were largely ignored by even so called liberal elected leaders in a position to rectify.  Your periodic eruption of public protests and raging presentations at city and county councils were mostly ignored. 

You were told we just didn't have the money to remedy life and quality of life threatening situations. Can you imagine your anger and frustration at seeing fancy gated communities build in distant nearly all white suburbs and ex-urban areas and marinas full of yachts while your appeals for remedies were rejected or ignored?  Some of your fellow entrepreneurial ghetto dwellers, deprived of accessible employment paying a living wage over the years reverted to the sale of street drugs, a form of self medication to despairing, unhealthy and hopeless Black Americans.  This enterprise was largely financed by elite, white wholesale level dealers who owned those yachts in the marina. Imagine going through generation after generation being made to feel your entire community were drug users and drug dealers, though the metrics otherwise disproved this?  And imagine how it feels to have your fellow white Americans fearful of coming into your community, fearful of violent drug related crime, though the actual behavior was limited to a very few Black residents.

This created a backlash mostly from white America called the War on Drugs, promoted by politicians eager to appear to be supporting law and order.  The object of most of this effort was aimed at  Black street dealers most easily observed, accused and charged with crime.  This created the illusion of progress when arrests were made in the 'hood.  This War led to the militarization of policing  in the 'hood, excluding suburbia and a high tolerance in White America for aggressive behavior toward these  so called criminals.   Over time, this aggressive policing extended to so called preventive policing with broken windows policies and the general suspicion that Black males were potential crime committers requiring intrusion into their lives on the roadways and streets of America.  White America was made to feel safer from crime.  You, the Black American, most of you male,were made to feel constantly under suspicion and both resentful and fearful of police abuse and restrictions on your  rights for free movement.

Over the years, policing evolved from the role of peacemakers and guarantors of safety to warriors fighting people they profiled, mostly Black men, stalking them, intimidating them, abusing them and shooting many down in cold blood as on a battlefield.  Imagine being a lawful Black person fearing those commissioned to protect you from a white American perspective, but who represent a threat to your very safety and serenity?  You feel insecure, untrusting and hunted on a daily basis.

Leaders your fellow Americans have elected, both locally but most visibly on a national level, have gained their office with both veiled and overt racism.  In particular,  Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and II and now, most outrageously, Donald Trump.  Nixon characterized you as less than human and used demeaning language to and about you.   Reagan demonized you and overtly began the process of overturning legal rights designed to protect all our rights; he characterized you as welfare grifters.  The Bushs' transformed the Republican party into the party of white racists and further eroded your limited progress in being accepted as full citizens.  Trump, most outrageously diminished you as less than human and dangerous.  He, more than any other President encouraged racism against you and other groups and empowered those sworn to white nationalism and violent oppression against you.  Yet demanded your patriotism and loyalty to him, your oppressor.

So, here you are, now presented with the Black Lives Matter movement, brilliantly created to focus attention on all this negative history.  It give you hope, including the welcomed support and public participation of young citizens, mostly denied the history detailed here in their education, but somehow understanding the hate they see from white America.  They are standing and walking with you, which may portend finally for significant attention to solutions to this national shame, a crisis.

These hopeful days, not the first to launch in the cycles of American history, give you some relief from the genetic, familial, written and oral history of the horrors to which you have been subjected.  The rage, despair, suspicion and hopelessness you feel are still very present.  Some white Americans around you understand this history of oppression, income and financial disparity,  educational, civic and social trauma you have experienced is not easily fixed.  The daily personal insults to which you are subjected are not disappearing anytime soon even with improved political leadership.

But some of us, a significant plurality of the population stand with you in revolutionary steps to remedy some of this injustice which has been visited on Black America whose brilliance, courage and determination is largely responsible for what good America has built and stands for. We will marginalize and shun those among us who wish you harm, fear you or hate you.  We join you in saying, Power to the People and commit to doing what we can, including loving and respecting you to move you and us to a life worth living. We commit to fulfilling the broken promises.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Honor Revolutionaries Without Slaves

Seven of the original writers and signers of the Declaration of Independence were not slave owners.  Let's honor them.  John Adams, Samuel Adams, Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Treat Paine, Thomas Paine and Roger Sherman.  They hailed from Massachusetts, Connecticut,  New York, and Pennsylvania.

Others of these patriots later engaged with anti-slavery societies, including Ben Franklin and John Jay.

Of note, our First President, George Washington, freed his slaves as an act of conscience.

I have for most of my life, applied the 80/20 % rule to my analysis of things.  Here again, about 20% of the creators of our country did the right thing about the issue of slavery in their lives.  Same was true of the supporters of the Revolution.....supported by about 20% of the Colony's populace.

The other 80% pursued their own self-interest agendas while the 20% did the hard work of creating the great American Experiment, risking alienation and rejection by the majority.

Maybe the current Revolution in the streets to do the right thing vis a vis racism and the need for systemic change and reform is inspired by our tradition of Revolution and attempts to perfect this Union that started in 1776.  The current polling in support of the change being advocated in the streets seems to suggest my 80/20% rule of thumb might well be grossly understated and wrong.  Let us hope so for the sake of the continuation of our Experiment toward a real democracy.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Rethinking Policing

Finally, Black Lives Matter and millions of allies have taken to our streets in mostly peaceful protests against policing abuses against our  fellow citizens who are black and brown .  But, in addition, and it is an important addition, Americans are now having a national discussion about our policing practices overall.  In particular, the massive resources of our tax dollars to municipal, county, state and federal budgets to our criminal justice system overall that in the main, miss serving our society.

Law and Order has been the battle cry of both conservatives and liberals concerned about public safety and our overall protection against abuse by others.  But in the course of our evolution from frontier justice to what many believe is a police state in America, we have now begun to understand that policing and the criminal justice system itself often heaps abuse on us. The data clearly says the abuse is disproportionately experienced by persons of color.  So lets talk about policing, and specifically where the criminal justice system starts......with arrests.

The FBI maintains national databases on arrest statistics from all policing agencies and provides a report annually.  The most recent such report tells us that while arrests are declining slightly overall, arrests of all kinds totaled 10,310,960 in 2018.  One strange aberration of their reports is that of those ten million arrests, 3.2 million, 30 %, were for unexplained "all other offenses of the 28 categories of arrests they report.  Not a clue as to what those arrests can be as their 27 other categories cover a broad range of violence, property and drug/alcohol and other anti-social  related categories. 

The really big 3 categories comprise 99% of arrests: 29% related to property, 20% related to violence including DUI which I consider a threat of violence and 20% related to drugs and alcohol.  So, presumptively 99% of policing and support staff time is dedicated to these three categories.

So, if we peeled off drugs and alcohol from their workload by decriminalizing or legalizing drugs and ending the War on Drugs, (mainly a war on minority citizens) we might reduce their workload and maybe staffing and funding by some comparable percentage....20%, and redirect solutions and public protection to other more qualified specialists such as health and counseling experts.

"Other offense"  arrests, cumulatively account for the largest arrest number, again 30%.  If these are such esoteric infractions and disruption to the public order as to not be counted as activities of either violence or property misappropriation, might at least a major part of them be handled by professions more properly trained to discipline or rehabilitate this mysterious category of offender?

We now have addressed potentially half of the time and resource allocation to policing and redirected that work to other professions.   Roundly, this is potentially a huge burden lifted from policing so as to reallocate their attention to work they might be better prepared and trained to address, violent crime which poses the greatest existential threat to us citizens.

Now as to violent crime, we know that some significant cause of violence is attributed to mental and emotional health problems. A significant number of persons suffering these kinds of issues are children; some of these vulnerable people can be identified early in life through both the medical and educational arenas, with solutions provided to many through vastly better funded and trained professionals in both fields. Yes, it is likely some perpetrators of violence, both children and adults would need to be at least temporarily removed from society for therapy, treatment and rehabilitation. In fact, the data says 50% of arrests involve young people.  Yes, most certainly we citizens will need protection from some perpetrators of any age as they threaten violent acts or are in the process of committing them.  But, certainly, some of those persons threatening violence can be better handled by persons expert in psychology and deescalation.

Thus, some percentage of policing time and resources can be redirected to those experts..Yes, policing will be required for some who are judged not restrained by non-policing professionals and certainly we will need policing protection from those in the process of committing violent acts.  And some, the sociopaths, might be beyond treatment and rehabilitation and will require incarceration to protect the rest of us.  But the recruiting and training of the remaining duties of policing, the prevention, intervention or cessation of violent acts by citizens  will require a complete rethinking of what kind of personalities are best suited for these tasks.  The evidence is clear that currently persons with authoritative personality traits are attracted to police work as now defined.  This has caused much of our heartbreak as a people in dealing with policing.  And, we have not yet seemed to be effective in screening out persons with overt racist views.  Likewise, there is evidence that programs to reduce implicit racism in us have not been effective.  Racism and authoritarian mitigation have to be our highest priority in revamping recruiting and training  police officers for the future of the reduced role of this service.

There are suggestions that police applicants have at least a college degree in criminal justice and certification and renewal, continuing education requirements similar to nurses.  Seems quite reasonable. In addition, there may be evidence that the stress of policing work might cause some PTSD.  All should be tested for this and other psychological issues with regularity.

So, now were are left with property related crime arrests, 29%.  We know that some, in fact many are related to drug addicted persons needing funds to satisfy their drug habits.  Couldn't we make a huge dent in property crimes by addressing vastly expanded drug treatment or legal provision of needed narcotics?  And another major dent in property crime committed to persons desperate for basic life supporting goods due to poverty, underpayment and joblessness.  Yes, some likely are social miscreants who have no respect for the rights of others to own possessions.  We need protection from those via arrest by trained police and more than likely some will require confinement if they are not treatable or cannot be rehabilitated. Likely, this will be a minority percentage of those arrested.

Traffic control work by fully trained police officers seems an under use of their significant training having little or nothing to do with policing driving violations.  Very likely, specially trained traffic/safe driving specialists could more appropriately provide safety for citizens in that arena, joined by EMS and police in situations of  road clearing, injury or acts of violence on the roadways of our country. 

Surveillance technology on cars and roadways can be cautiously explored in application to unsafe/illegal driving as possible replacement of invasive human intervention, though civil liberty implications must be carefully assessed.

There seems little doubt that over time, likely decades of revamping the  policing and criminal justice system, we can dramatically reduce the footprint  and task list of policing in America and yet provide safety, security and peace of mind for our our citizenry.  Thank you Black Lives Matter for charting a course for a much better America.