Category Archives: Politics

Money Watch: Who’s playing in the Georgia Senate race?

campaign money There is a negative ad campaign being launched in Georgia against the candidacy of Democrat Michelle Nunn from the “End Spending” super PAC, the brain child of the former CEO of TD Ameritrade.  The group describes itself as an “independent 501(4)c” which is roughly analogous to describing the wheels as independent of the bicycle.

Open Secrets offers a more exact description:

“Ending Spending is a conservative 501(c)4 group that focuses on federal spending and the national debt. The group originally targeted earmarks, but broadened its message to include balancing the federal budget and paying down the national debt. The group was founded by Joe Ricketts, the former CEO of TD Ameritrade and a known conservative backer. Brian Baker, the current president of Ending Spending, was an adviser to former Sens. Robert Dole and Richard Shelby. The group does not disclose its donors, and its money goes towards electioneering expenses.”

The Washington Post reported that as of August 1, 2014 ES Action Fund had ladled $345,000 for air time in August. The Nunn campaign made a $331,000 ad buy.  And where might all the the ES Action Fund money come from, even if the donors aren’t published the New York Times ferreted out some from the 2012 campaign, and the names ought not to be any surprise.

First, of course, there’s Mr. Ricketts who put $11.7 million in the pot in 2012, and then to absolutely no one’s surprise the next two names on the list are Nevada’s own Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who each donated a half million each in the 2012 cycle.   [NYT] It shouldn’t come as any more of a surprise to find the name of Linda McMahon on a 2014 donor listing. [CPI]  Given the generosity of its donors, and their deep pockets, state elections aren’t off the table, the organization has already ventured into state elections in the Wisconsin recall, and  the 2012 Nebraska Senate race. 

Thus, when the end of the ad says – brought to you by the ES Action Fund, be advised this is the old GOP/Koch/Adelson Gang showering ultra conservative candidates and causes with thousands of reasons to vote in favor of more breaks for millionaires and billionaires.

Comments Off

Filed under campaign finance reform, campaign funds, Politics

Stripping Doesn’t Have To Happen In a Bawdy House

Stripping is associated in most people’s minds with one of two things, either dancing while steadily removing garments accompanied by music by David Rose, or taking layers of paint and varnish off some surface.  In the financial world it means roughly the same thing, only better – for the bottom line. And since we’re not talking our our bottoms, but those of U.S. corporations with overseas affiliates, or those which want to shape themselves that way, let’s try to understand the language they are speaking.

The financial definition of Earnings Stripping is:

“A method of avoiding taxes by paying excessive amounts of interest to another party. For example, an American subsidiary of a foreign company might reduce its taxable income by paying an excessive amount of interest to its parent. The IRS has developed regulations that are intended to limit earnings stripping.”

Yes. the Internal Revenue Service is trying to do something about this highly dubious practice, in Section 163(j) of the law.  Implementing Section 163(j) means the IRS would require adherence to the “arms length” standard in intercompany indebtedness.  In one example, if 60% of an affiliated  firm’s assets are financed by debt, then the deduction for interest is limited to 50% of the firm’s operating profits. [TaxTR]

In order to carry out the law, the IRS has to be able to do two things. First, it has to evaluate whether or not there’s an arms length interest rate.  The key to arms length transactions is that neither side has any incentive to act against his or her own interest.  If I’m the banker I’m going to try to charge the highest interest rate for a loan I can, and if you are the borrower you are going to smile nicely, threaten to go to another bank, and work to get me to reduce the interest rate for the loan.  But, how to evaluate the arms length status of a loan made from the parent company to an affiliate?

Secondly, there has to be a way to determine if the operating profits truly reflect the “income attributable to the functions, assets, and risks incurred by the affiliate.” [TaxTR]  The affiliates credit rating helps determine if the interest rate is at least close to “arms length,” and the operating profits have to be such that the IRS can see that the intercompany interest rate at least has the appearance of propriety.*

And now the fun begins.  The current flap over corporate inversions plays is related to good old fashioned earnings stripping, the Wall Street Journal explains:

“When a U.S. company acquires a foreign firm, and decides to domicile overseas in a low-tax country like Ireland, it will often load the U.S. subsidiary up with debt that is “owed” to the foreign headquarters. Interest payments on this debt can often be deducted from taxable income. If the debt is considered “excessive,” the practice is known as “earnings stripping.”

The Bush Administration took a look at these dubious practices back in 2007.  The report (pdf) analyzed several proposals offered at the time to restrict the ability of foreign controlled domestic corporations to practice earnings stripping.  The report concluded that corporate inversions were associated with earnings stripping, and that the government needed to (1) look carefully at the arms length part of the problem, (2) update the regulations from those issued in 1968, and (3) new rules should be made to help determine the amount of income from a multi-national company is subject to U.S. taxation.

By August, 2014 not much movement had been made on restricting the global corporations from engaging in earnings stripping.  In what has become a familiar refrain,  the WSJ explains:

“The Obama White House has already proposed that Congress pass a law that would effectively end such earnings stripping arrangements, but Congress hasn’t acted. The Treasury Department could instead decide to act unilaterally to prohibit the practice, effectively by amending 163(j) in the tax code.”  (emphasis added)

The White House proposal is summarized by the analysts at CTJ:

“President Obama included two proposals in his most recent budget plan that would address the problem. The first would treat the entity resulting from a U.S.-foreign merger as an American corporation for tax purposes if it is majority-owned by shareholders of the original American corporation. The proposal would also treat the resulting entity as an American corporation if it has substantial business in the United States and is managed and controlled in this country.

The president’s second proposal would address earnings-stripping by barring American companies from taking deductions for interest payments that are disproportionate to their revenue compared to their affiliated companies in other countries.”

The issue was beginning to get some traction by August 14, 2014 when Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, proposed a four part bill to end the earnings stripping game. Republicans were unwilling to move, saying it might make U.S. companies more attractive for foreign takeovers. [WSJ]

Opponents of restricting the stripping also cite the “high” U.S. corporate tax rate of 35%, however, large corporations – as in Fortune 500 – on average paid only 19.4% of their profits in federal income taxes from 2008 to 2012, and 26 companies in the Fortune 500 paid nothing at all during the five year period.  In other words, no matter how low the U.S. corporate income tax is set there will always be some entity lower, say at an inviting 0% – or Tax Havens. It doesn’t seem at all practical to allow U.S. corporations to pretend their profits are earned in Cyprus, Luxembourg, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, or Singapore, [TW] when it’s perfectly clear for all to see their major business operations are in the United States.

Another argument for doing nothing, or even doing something worse, is that taxing overseas profits gives corporations an incentive to become foreign.  Fact checks are necessary at this point. U.S. taxes on foreign profits are minimal and American companies get “a tax credit equal to any taxes they pay to foreign governments, and are allowed to defer U.S. taxes until they officially bring their offshore profits to the U.S.” [CTJ]

If anything is done at all by the Do Less Than Nothing 113th Congress we might count it as miraculous.  One peek at the official calendar for the House of Representatives demonstrates the point. The House Majority Leader’s calendar illustrates the point that there are only five days on which votes are scheduled for the entire month of September. (pdf) No voting will take place in the House during the month of October, except for October 2nd, thereafter all days are labeled “district work week” – the district work being getting re-elected.    The Senate calendar isn’t much more full.

While Congress fiddles, or the band continues to play “The Stripper,” the list of U.S. corporations which have availed themselves of tax havens and possibly earnings stripping continues to grow. And the band plays on.  The longer the music continues the more average American income earners will be expected to shoulder the burden of generating revenue, and the less will be expected from corporations – those other kinds of “people,” my friend.

*For a more technical look at some of the controversy around Section 163(j) see Morrison, “Section 163(j) and Disregarded Entities,” Bloomberg BNA.  April 6, 2011.

Comments Off

Filed under Economy, Politics, Taxation

Alito’s Worst Decision?

On May 27, 2014 Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court in the case of Plumhoff et. al. vs. Rickard. (pdf)  Mr. Rickard was killed, along with a passenger in his car, by gun fire from police pursuing him after a traffic stop.  The decision found that the use of deadly force was justifiable considering the threat to public safety posed by Mr. Rickard’s reckless high speed getaway attempt, Rickard’s 4th Amendment rights were not violated, and “in any event, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate a clearly established law.” [scotusblog

But, there was more.  How about the number of shots fired in the attempt to halt Rickard’s escape?  Were 15 shots unreasonable? The decision thought not:

“We now consider respondent’s contention that, even if the use of deadly force was permissible, petitioners acted unreasonably in firing a total of 15 shots. We reject that argument. It stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended. As petitioners noted below, “if lethal force is justified, officers are taught to keep shooting until the threat is over.” 509 Fed. Appx., at 392.”

There are some problems here.  First, is the Supreme Court really saying that if an officer fires once in the face of a “severe threat to public safety” that all subsequent shots are justified?   The Court did recognize that if initial volleys had incapacitated Rickard, subsequent shots might not be justified.  However, what of Allen, the passenger in the vehicle?

“Allen would be of central concern. But Allen’s presence in the car cannot enhance Rickard’s Fourth Amendment rights. After all, it was Rickard who put Allen in danger by fleeing and refusing to end the chase, and it would be perverse if his disregard for Allen’s safety worked to his benefit.” 

Yes, it would be perverse if Rickard used Allen as something of a hostage.  Yet there is still the unresolved issue of who created that severe threat to public safety?  The police in hot pursuit or Rickard for behaving like a fool? Thus, our second question.

Secondly, what constitutes a “severe threat to public safety?”  Mr. Rickard was stopped for a traffic violation, in his instance a broken headlight.  The initial impression, given the state of the windshield and the dysfunctional headline, lead the officers to believe the car had recently been involved in an accident; Mr. Rickard’s decision to flee the scene and lead the police on a high speed chase didn’t do anything to dissuade the officers that this was the case.  The officers caught up with Mr. Rickard in a parking lot.  Rickard continued his attempt to flee this scene as well, 12 more shots were fired and both individuals in the car were killed. These facts seem to illustrate a tragic process with several moving parts.

Did the reckless high speed chase, in itself, create a severe threat to public safety?  And, does this, in turn hinge on the type of pursuit policy adopted by the police department or law enforcement agency.  There are two forms of pursuit policy – a restrictive policy limits the crimes for which a pursuit may be initiated, and a discretionary policy gives the officers only basic guidance as to when to initiate, conduct, and terminate a pursuit. [PCM

If the Supreme Court is assuming that a discretionary policy is perfectly acceptable, then what does this mean for law enforcement agencies such as Las Vegas, NV which shifted to a restricted policy in the wake of a series of high speed pursuits that ended badly? [LVSun] In fact, Las Vegas Metro went from almost being a poster child for high speed errors to an exemplary  41% reduction in the initiation of high speed pursuits in the three years ending in 2013.  Indeed, the LVMPD was given national recognition for its achievements in improving safe pursuits in October 2013.

Common sense would appear to support the decision of the Las Vegas police to adopt a restricted pursuit policy which lessens the dangers to the suspect, the public, and the police. However, if there is no legal incentive to adopt such a model, then why would ‘unreconstructed’ police departments do so?  And, this of course leads to the unfortunate third question: Did the police create the “severe threat to public safety” when a pursuit was initiated without determining if the pursued was a known felon, or suspected in a felony, or a reasonable conclusion drawn that the pursued must be apprehended immediately?

Some police departments such as the LVMPD have well defined articulated use of force policies (pdf) not that these policies haven’t generated some controversy. [LVRJ 11/29/11]  Others, like the TMCC report dated April 2011 are more general: “… that officers use only the force that reasonably appears necessary to bring an incident under control, while protecting the lives of the officer and others.”  Even this is amended to include a “reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm, or to prevent the escape of a fleeing violent felon who the officer believes poses a serious threat of death or serious injury to the officer and others.”  The state of California has 56 pages worth of guidelines for pursuits, crafted in no small amount of detail as of 2006.  The Reno (NV) Police Department summarizes its policy as:

“Officers may pursue a suspect when they reasonably believe the suspect has committed a felony or poses an immediate threat to human life. Unless exigent circumstances exist, officers will normally not pursue a suspect who has committed a misdemeanor crime. Officers must articulate justifiable cause necessitating immediate apprehension of the suspect when pursuing for any offense.”

The Reno policy also incorporates other considerations like traffic conditions, weather, pedestrians in the area, time of day, and the identity of the subject being pursued, among others similar to the California standards.   

If the decision in Plumhoff v. Rickard can be faulted for providing cover for law enforcement officers who may well have contributed to the “severe threat to public safety” in an ill-advised pursuit, and further criticized for justifying all the force necessary until the “threat is over,” then can it also be faulted for allowing police departments to meet the lowest possible standards?

Have Justice Alito and his colleagues sanctified the mediocre or worse, while disparaging the efforts of other jurisdictions to articulate and standardize their use of force and pursuit policies?  If so, then this may well be one of  Justice Alito’s worst decisions. 

[See NYT for more]

Comments Off

Filed under Politics, public safety

Can You Get There From Here? Northern NV Public Transportation

Reno Bus

 

There are many things one can find online, but there are also some topics which are difficult to research in Nevada using online sources. For example, how do members of the public research and evaluate the operational effectiveness of the Reno Transit Commission?

For example, according to the RTC every $1 billion in annual transportation expenditure yields a $3.6 billion sales boost, and supports approximately 36,000 jobs. [RTC] Of course, what we don’t know is whether these numbers are national averages or local figures.  The local numbers appear in the annual report (pdf 2013) for the fixed route transit system.

Ridership is recorded as 8,096,298 for FY 2013, with 240,643 para-transit rides, or 22,182 rides (631 para-transit) per day.  If we use the 2013 Census projections of 233,294 for Reno, and another 93,282 for Sparks, NV we have 326,576 residents of the Reno/Sparks cities who ride the buses at a 22,182 rate per day; or, about 7% of the local combined populations.  The goal is to have a system wide average of 30 passengers per service hour, the current rate is reported at 32.4.

As with too many public transit programs, the RTC can’t rely on fares for its total operating expenditures. RTC fares generate about 4.1% of total revenues, the bulk of which (48%) come from revenue bonds.  A note of caution should attend these numbers because the RTC is also heavily involved in street improvements, and alternative transport (bicycle route) infrastructure.

There is much to be gleaned from annual reports, but more might expected when the RTC operating statistics are available beyond those from 2010. (pdf)

It would also be interesting to access information coming from members of the Reno/Sparks community — granted that bus routes from various neighborhoods to local retail centers is highly desirable, but do the routes also facilitate transport from those neighborhoods to other place people need to go — for medical, legal, or other services?

Do ridership trends indicate a need to enhance routes between other areas, such as Carson City, Fernley, Gardnerville, and Incline? Do those ridership trends in the immediate Reno/Sparks area continue the downward lines illustrated in the 2010 statistics?

How do the RTC plans conform to the population trends in the area?  The 2010 Washoe County planning document estimates an increase in the number of residents over the age of 65 to increase from 12% (2010) to 17% by 2030, or just under 100,000 people.  According to the Census Bureau the figure has already hit 14%.

Finally, how does the RTC address the one issue which a recent study from the University of California found to be of singular importance to public transit riders — timeliness. Passengers were willing to endure overcrowding on smaller vehicles and willing to take longer routes, IF the result were trains and buses which ran on time, or more specifically had less than a ten minute delay. Technology didn’t seem to help ameliorate this issue because those who have smartphones or gadgets to keep track of bus operations were those less likely to use the buses in the first place. The article posits the ridership is reduced because people know of the delays, it could also be because those who can afford smartphones are less likely to be taking a bus in the first place.  [Governing]

Public transportation can make a city.  Imagining New York or Washington, D.C. without the subway or the Metro is inconceivable. However, the idea is often poorly translated to mid-major cities, all too often tied to retail shopping centers, and behind the sprawl curve.  It will be interesting to see what the 2015 report reveals about the Reno Transport Commission’s efforts, and if northern Nevada can set its goals higher in terms of congestion reduction and ridership increases.

Comments Off

Filed under Politics

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Police Edition

Police 2The Nevada Progressive asks today about the evident lack of concern for background checks, and the evaluation of prior service records in the Ferguson, Missouri, police department — it’s a valid question.  It’s also a valid question in any inquiry into patterns and practices in many law enforcement agencies in the St. Louis County area.  For that matter, the issue should be raised in other regions as well.

There are, as mentioned before, about 91 separate jurisdictions in St. Louis County.  Some are too small to operate their own police forces and rely on St. Louis County to provide them.  This includes several  “North of the Delmar Divide.”  [St.L PD]  The current situation leaves about 50+ jurisdictions, of varying sizes and resources, to provide their own police departments — Ferguson is thus one of many.

A Question of Money

The city of Chesterfield, organized in 1988, is southwest of Ferguson.  Its 83 police officers serve a community which is 86.5% white, has a median income of $96,851, and median value housing units of $329,500. 4.3% of its residents are below the Federal poverty level.  [census]  Chesterfield can afford to vet its applicants — for any office.

By contrast, those small suburbs located North of the Delmar Divide often cannot.  Berkeley, Missouri is 81.8% African American, the median household income is $35,677 and the median value of homes there is $76,300. [census]  St. Louis County has a personal property tax, property taxes, and a 2.88% sales tax.  To add to the chaos created by the fractured system, the Parkway School District (Chesterfield) has a composite tax rate of 6.7256 while the Ferguson-Florissant composite rate is 7.8591. [StLCo] In short, the ‘tax effort’ in the Ferguson-Florissant area is higher, but the revenue is lower than in the wealthier neighborhoods.

A Question of Supply

We already know that Officer Darren Wilson formerly served with a police force (Jennings) which disbanded in the wake of serious tensions with the community. [WaPo] The St. Louis County police department has not been immune to these problems — one officer, Daniel Page,  has been suspended pending an internal investigation including a mandatory psychiatric evaluation, often seen as prelude to dismissal or demotion. [CNN] A police officer from the suburban St. Ann Department was suspended indefinitely for pointing his rifle and threatening protestors. [Reuters] Sgt. Weston, of the Velda City PD, took to Twitter to justify the military style assault on protestors in Ferguson, and further suggested he’d like to “punch AG Eric Holder in the nose for so many different reasons.”  [RFT]

But wait, there’s more: An officer who arrested reporters in the Ferguson McDonalds restaurant has his own legal issues, has a suit pending alleging he, Justin Cosma, and his partner in the JeffCo PD arrested and hogtied a 12 year old who was at the end of his driveway checking the family mailbox. [Slate]

In 2009, the Ferguson Police were involved in an incident in which a wrongly identified suspect was eventually charged with destruction of public property for bleeding on the officers’ uniforms. [TDB]  In yet another unfortunate display of hiring disasters, Ferguson PD employed an individual who left the St. Louis City PD under a dense cloud of suspicion for hitting children. [HuffPo]

If a person is getting the impression that the vetting and hiring of police officers in suburban St. Louis County is a slap dash thing, there’s not much to refute that disturbing conclusion.

The police chief of Ferguson has already said he’s been trying to hire more ethnic minority individuals for his force — it may be instructive that the one individual of color he did hire recently was the self same person who left the City PD under that gloomy cloud?  First, it has to be acknowledged that young African Americans would not be drawn to employment in a career which harbors individuals such as those mentioned above.  If the local ‘police culture‘ doesn’t preclude rants at Oathkeeper meetings, or obscenely threatening protestors, or charging innocent civilians with destruction of property for bleeding after a beating, or Tweeting that punching the chief law enforcement officer of the nation would be a good idea, or using a baton on kids, then who would want to join?

Secondly, if a police organization cannot assure the community it is policing itself then there are options. Disbanding the force and replacing the personnel is an option, IF those persons don’t simply end up in another jurisdiction, having learned nothing in the interim.  And, If the personnel who come in as replacements aren’t simply new faces with old problems.

A Question of Training

Assuming the police department of Anywhere, USA, can better screen its applicants to weed out the disturbed, the bigots, and the ne’er do wells, there are some questions which citizens can ask which might mitigate the militarization and use of excessive force.

#1. How many hours of in-service training in community relations are required?  How is the effectiveness of this training evaluated?

#2. Does the department have a WRITTEN use of force policy, and what actions are taken in cases of an officer involved shooting or in the instance of a citizen complaint about the use of force?

#3. How often, and under what circumstances, does the department evaluate the success of its practices in terms of community relations? If the policies are evaluated only after some unfortunate incident has occurred, then the department is already behind the game.

#4. Does the department have a formal, institutionalized format for citizen involvement in handling complaints from the public? If not, why not?

#5. Does the department regularly seek information about the association of officers with hate groups or radical organizations? Does the department have a written (and Constitutional) policy about police officer involvement with organizations which promote radical agendas?

#6. Does the police department have involvement in state or Federal programs which seek to prevent problems before they become part of a “patterns and practices” investigation?

As always, we’ll get better answers when we ask better questions.

Comments Off

Filed under Politics

Ferguson: Time to put the brakes on the Kid Bashing?

Teen PostOne of the more unfortunate responses from white voices to the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri is the “Get A Job!” refrain.  Thus far members of the Great Uninformed have taunted a financial analyst, and generally assumed that if a person were on the street protesting the individual ‘must’ be unemployed. It’s a good guess, but not a rational assumption.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Approximately 47% of young men aged 16 to 24 in St. Louis County are unemployed. [Guard] However horrifying that statistic may be, it still means that over half of the young men in the county are, in fact, working.  To another point, I have a problem with putting 16 and 17 year old kids in the employment statistics generally, even though the technical notes from the BLS advise counting only those who have looked for work in the target four week period.   Call me old fashioned, but my idea of what a 16 or 17 year old youngster should be doing is Being In School.  That’s their job — to be in school.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with compiling statistics on how difficult  boys and girls find getting a summer job, or on trends about their part time employment, BUT my bottom line is that young people 16 and 17 years old have no business being included in employment statistics other than on a seasonal basis.

Education, Education, Education

Speaking of school.  About 37% of young African American young men are enrolled in college.  That’s too low, but again there’s a need for some perspective.

“Increasing numbers and percentages of Black and Hispanic students are attending college. Between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of college students who were Black rose from 11.7 to 15.1 percent, and the percentage of students who were Hispanic rose from 9.9 to 14.3 percent (source). Also, the percentage of Black 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college increased from 30.5 percent in 2000 to 37.1 percent in 2011 and the percentage of Hispanics enrolled increased from 21.7 to 34.8 percent (source).”  [NCES]

More young Blacks and members of the Hispanic community are, in fact, enrolled in college.  We also need to remember that the cohort is a declining one, the general 18 to 24 year old category is expected to be reduced in the next decade by about 4%, so a 13.9% predicted increase in college enrollment is a pretty positive thing. [IHE]

So, before the Great Uninformed pass judgment on the kids, they should know that the odds are about 50/50 they are yelling at someone who does have a job, and that they are spewing on about kids who are more likely to have plans for college than the previous cohort.

College isn’t the only thing those ear-bud inserting cocked hatted little Apples of Mother’s Eye are doing — there are also apprenticeship programs, with an national enrollment of 164,000 in FY 2013; and, across the nation about 375,000 individuals are currently receiving apprentice training. [DoL] As of mid 2013 there were another 60,000 signed up for Job Corps training at 125 centers nationwide. [JC]

It’s probably not occurred to the Great Uninformed that the individual they are currently insulting could be the person who will show up after completing their training from the air-conditioning repair service to fix their AC, or stop the flood in the bathroom, or get the transmission repaired in the family wagon.  On that fine day, the baggie pants T-Shirt clad ‘thug,’ ‘criminal’ and ‘creep’ will look like Salvation Personified  in his or her business logo white/blue shirt, tool kit in hand.

If we’d like more doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants, engineers, designers, EMTs, air conditioner repair technicians, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, …. there are some things we can do to help.  The St. Louis Community College System, literally in the heart of the Ferguson situation, acknowledges some of the problems.

The St. Louis CC reports on their efforts to attract more young African American men, and lists the problems they face:

“There are numerous reasons that can be attributed to the low numbers of African-American men persisting at community colleges and attaining their educational goals. The lack of on-campus support services, low or no financial assistance, lack of transportation, legal issues, the need for childcare, under prepared for college, and most importantly the lack of positive role models are just to name a few.”  [StLCC]

On campus support services range from one on one tutoring to group learning sessions, help using informational technology, study groups, and language instruction.  These efforts aren’t cheap and shouldn’t be approached as such. Cutting public college/university budgets because of lack of state support is counter-productive if we truly want the next generation to pick up the economic baton.

Don’t get me started on the lack of public transportation in general — the rant could go for days.  However, it doesn’t do to disparage young people who live in suburban sprawl or in metropolitan areas with meager public transport for not jumping at the chance to hike miles to a bus station, then transfer to a Metro, travel more miles, and then repeat the process at the end of the school day — IF there is a bus and IF there is a Metro.  I know, those of us of a certain age walked to school, up-hill both ways, in blizzard conditions…. Spare me.

Legal Issues

Legal issues? Could this be a euphemistic way to describe police records for petty crimes, misdemeanors or class Z felonies, plaguing kids these days?   Please stare at the following chart from ChildStats.Gov for a moment.  Who, by the percentages, has a more visible rate of drug and alcohol dependency?

Drug Use ChartThis is an eye test: Whose line is the lowest on the chart? If you said “Blue” you pass. Blue, for Black, non-Hispanic 18 to 24 years of age.  Member of the Great Uninformed who fail this test are probably listening to other members of the Great Uninformed instead of the kids themselves.  If African American young men are the lowest on the chart tracking alcohol or drug dependency where does the impression they are likely to be drug dealers come from?  Try the judicial system.

‘Since blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites on drug charges, they are more likely to acquire the convictions that ultimately lead to higher rates of incarceration. Although the data in this backgrounder indicate that blacks represent about one-third of drug arrests, they constitute 46 percent of persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts.[21] Among black defendants convicted of drug offenses, 71 percent received sentences to incarceration in contrast to 63 percent of convicted white drug offenders.”  [HR]

Notice, it’s not that African Americans are more likely to DO drugs, but that it’s more likely they will be arrested and convicted than their white cohorts.  And for this, those “legal issues” will haunt a young African American in terms of housing, education, and employment.  As the old saying goes, “Justice may be color blind, but the War on Drugs isn’t.”

 Family Family Family

Child care? Here’s another topic for another day.  The U.S. has little to no real child care services when compared to other developed nations.  The role model issue offers some cause to pause.  If the media were to be believed, especially some facets of our national media, every Black child grows up in a single parent household without a father.  Not quite.

The Census Bureau’s 2013 report (pdf) shows approximately 55% of African American children in single parent homes, 31% for Hispanic children, White 21%, Asian 13%.  Read these numbers in reverse and note that 45% of African American children are growing up in household with two adults.  As in the case of the employment figures, there’s a better chance that the Great Uninformed will automatically assume the Black youngster is in the 55% category and not the 45% classification.  For further clarification, there are maps included in the Census Bureau Report which illustrate that children in Missouri are more likely to live in two-adult homes, and fewer live in single family homes than the national average. {figures 4 and 5}

Every reporter in the country has been speaking to the 67% African American population in Ferguson, Missouri — perhaps this is an outlier?  Not. So. Fast.  The Census Bureau also tells us that 68% of the 8,751 Ferguson households are defined as family homes.  Of these, some 31% have children residing there.  2,669 of these households, or 31.3%, are single parent (female) homes.  7.4% are single parent (male) homes.  Again, before jumping to the conclusion that the youngster on the TV screen marching down West Florissant Ave. is from a ‘broken’ home with a single mother — look at the actual numbers.

We almost inevitably get from the Single Mother narrative to the Absent Dad.  “These kids have no role models.”  First, it’s true that many African American men live separately from the mothers of their children — but don’t jump to the conclusion this means they are absent from their children’s lives.

“Recent data published by the Center for Disease Control reveal that African-American fathers spend more time in their children’s day-to-day lives than dads from other racial groups, defying stereotypes about black fatherhood. The Pew Research Center has found similar evidence that black dads don’t differ from white dads in any significant way, and that there isn’t the expected disparity found in so many other reports. Although black fathers are more likely to live in separate households, Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.” [HuffPo]

When we speak of role models it’s nearly always in a positive sense. “Dad” or “Mom” is the primary role model.  Is it necessarily ‘negative’ to have a parent known in the household for working two jobs to make ends meet? Or, ‘negative’ to have parents who shift child care roles in order to juggle employment schedules?  There are other ‘negatives.’ What kind of a role model is a local police officer who assumes kids sitting on the stoup are up to no good?  Would this encourage a youngster to want to be a police officer?  What kind of role model is it if a Black youngster is trailed through the department store by security or sales personnel who assume that shoplifting is the order of the day? Would this encourage a youngster to want to work in retail sales?

What kind of a role model might a teacher be who calls on the white children in the room first, and the Black students rarely if at all? Would this encourage a young person to be a teacher? What kind of a role model is a secondary school principal who illustrates the national statistics that Black young people are more likely to receive more and longer suspensions than white students? Does this encourage a young Black person to want a career as an educator?

Imagine a Black teen entering an office building, do the women clutch their purses? Do the men move back and check their wallets? Who would want to grow up and work in that office building?  Before the Great Uninformed pontificate on the roles of fathers and mothers, they might want to consider how their own actions convey ‘models’ to young people of color.

Kids Kids Kids

The problems evident in the Ferguson situation won’t be solved over-night, nor are there quick Band-Aid solutions at hand.  However, it might help if the youngsters who feel threatened in their own community were seen for what they are: Baggy pants, ear-bud inserted, caps askew, often silly teenagers –much like everyone else’s baggy pants, ear-buds likely requiring surgical removal, caps smashed down on expensive hair cuts, silly teenagers; texting constantly to see if She said He Liked Her better than Him maybe but He didn’t like Her better even if She looked at Him in the hall while He was with Her.

God love them, they will grow up, and if God has a sense of humor they’ll have at least one child just like themselves.

Comments Off

Filed under Economy, Politics

We can’t solve what we can’t see: How a lack of national police reporting obscures local problems

BlindfoldOn November 28, 2011 the Las Vegas Review Journal published an article in which it was reported:

“The nation’s leading law enforcement agency (FBI) collects vast amounts of information on crime nationwide, but missing from this clearinghouse are statistics on where, how often, and under what circumstances police use deadly force. In fact, no one anywhere comprehensively tracks the most significant act police can do in the line of duty: take a life.

“We don’t have a mandate to do that,” said William Carr, an FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C. “It would take a request from Congress for us to collect that data.”

Local law enforcement agencies have guidelines and internal review processes in one form or another, but what they don’t have are compilations of statistics which would facilitate analysis of trends, and problems.

As of July 31, 2012 Mother Jones magazine cited the Review Journal study of shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, but was still lamenting the lack of national statistics and analysis.   Six days ago, August 14, 2014, USA Today reported the results of an FBI study which concluded, flawed though it may be, the FBI database is the best thing we have, and it’s informing us that officers have been involved in approximately 400 lethal events.   Again, the problem of statistical gaps raised comment:

“University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert, who has long studied police use of deadly force, said the FBI’s limited database underscores a gaping hole in the nation’s understanding of how often local police take a life on America’s streets — and under what circumstances.

”There is no national database for this type of information, and that is so crazy,” said Alpert. “We’ve been trying for years, but nobody wanted to fund it and the (police) departments didn’t want it. They were concerned with their image and liability. They don’t want to bother with it.” [USAT]

This goes some distance toward explaining why we’ve not been able to address the issues of officer involved lethal events with any precision.  Police departments are reluctant to report incidents with any specificity and quantity, Congress won’t ask the FBI to compile the information, and the blind lead the blind into interminable debates about IF there is a problem, and what the nature of the problem might be.

There are 17,000 law enforcement jurisdictions in the United States, but only 750 contribute such statistics to the national database. [USAT]  Here’s why this is a problem:

# Failure to quantify a problem, or to attempt a quantification using a mix of statistical and anecdotal evidence colors any scientific analysis of projections, correlations, and trends.  We cannot rationally analyze and evaluate that which we cannot statistically describe.

For example, if we have two highly publicized cases of lethal events, does this mean we have a problem?  Is the problem ethnic? Cultural? Is it even a problem?  Lacking valid and reliable statistical context none of these questions can be adequately addressed.

# Without a statistical context the anecdotal and the immediate obscure the predictive and the analytical. The argument becomes one of perception, and perception uninformed by any clarification or larger context.  When the argument spills into the street the view becomes even more opaque.  While the existing statistics do support the assertion that interactions between white officers and black suspects are more likely to be negative, the limited depth of the statistics precludes giving the numbers any range.  We have a general sense of negativity, from a limited number of jurisdictions, which leads to more problems.

# Since not all law enforcement agencies are compelled to supply statistics on this subject, there is little predictive value from the numbers we do have.  We can study the trends in large agencies, such as Las Vegas Metro, Los Angeles, or New York City, but little can be reliably said of agencies which do not report.  Unfortunately, this situation means that smaller, or less responsive, police departments can’t adequately address problems — real or potential — in their environs and jurisdictions.

For example:  Let’s create a hypothetical in which there is a major metropolitan police department which does track and report its officer involved lethal event figures.  If this is a well administered, community responsive, department then we can reasonably conclude that Megatropolis area has good police/community relations.  Further, if a few suburban departments collect and report their statistics, and those, too, are positive, then most community leaders might conclude relations in the overall region are generally good, and in no need of assessment or change.

But, let’s toss a fly in our hypothetical ointment — What if there is a cluster of small jurisdictions in the metropolitan area which do not report, and do not have a demonstrable record of positive interactions with their community members?   In this instance, the partial analysis  of statistics from a limited sample obfuscates problems which will eventually flare into anecdotal evidence.  Or, to put it more simply — into people in the streets and headlines in the newspapers.

It didn’t have to be this way.  The International Association of Chiefs of Police began collecting data on officer involved incidents in 1995, and reported in 2001 that there were 3.6 records of use of force for every 10,000 calls for service.  [IACP]  For the first two years the project was supported by a joint grant from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, and from 1998 to 2001 the database was funded by the IACP. [IACP pdf]  The IACP developed proto-type software for reporting and worked to secure state and local cooperation, but in 2001 the funding dried up and the project halted. [USAT]

Therefore, for the last 13 years we’ve been effectively operating with vision obscured by the lack of hard data.  Some law enforcement agencies may have made great strides in terms of community relations — but we’d not see that reflected in national statistics because we don’t have the numbers. There may be some police departments which have trajectory trends in police officer incidents that are essentially negative — but we don’t know this because we don’t have the numbers. There may be some regional problems indicating negative trends in community relations, but we don’t know this because we don’t have the numbers.

There are also reasons for police departments to support the collection of more, and better, data.  First, it’s really difficult to fix problems which aren’t acknowledged, and when anecdotal evidence — from either side — is all that’s available it is all too easy to miss trends. Secondly, if Department A is tracking its use of lethal force, while in the next door ZIP code Department B is functioning blithely unaware that it has a growing problem, then it’s reasonable for Department A to be aware of neighboring problems which threaten to land on its own doorstep. And, third, it is all but impossible to objectively evaluate the seriousness of issues such as the use of lethal force, and the efforts made to correct injustices,  without a solid, reliable, national database.

It’s high time for Congress to require that the Bureau of Justice Statistics compile and report statistics on officer involved use of force incidents, and to resurrect the IACP project with adequate funding.  Otherwise, we’ll continue to blunder in the dark, living witness to the truth of the old adage: There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Comments Off

Filed under Gun Issues, Politics