Category Archives: public safety

The Problem Of Focus: Viewing the Russian Interference Issue

At the risk of redundancy, please remember the findings and suggestions in the Cardin Report:

Putin’s Asymmetrical Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security,” finds that President Trump’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the threat posed by the Russian government has hampered efforts to mobilize our government, strengthen our institutions, and work with our European allies to counter Putin’s interference in democracies abroad.

Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president, and without a strong U.S. response, institutions and elections here and throughout Europe will remain vulnerable to the Kremlin’s aggressive and sophisticated malign influence operations.

Notice the three elements incorporated in this introduction.  We haven’t mobilized our federal agencies into preventative action. We haven’t strengthened our political institutions to prevent further incursions from Russia.  Nor have we cooperated fully with European allies to prevent more interference.

The current occupant of the Oval Office and his apologists appear to define Russian meddling only in terms of electoral results, if the Russian interference didn’t cause any change in the voting returns then there was no big problem, and hence no sense of urgency in addressing the Russian bots, trolls, and other efforts.  There has been no cabinet level meeting to date during which the Russian Interference constituted a major agenda item.  Recall AG Jefferson B. Sessions’ statement last October:

“We’re not,” Sessions said, when asked by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., if the government is taking adequate action to prevent meddling in its elections. “The matter is so complex that for most of us we’re not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.”

Sessions said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 election and may attempt to do so again. He said the Justice Department has been aggressively looking into the stealing of trade secrets in the private sector and noted that the FBI’s computer experts are also highly trained.

“Are we at the level we need to be yet? I don’t think so,” Sessions conceded.”

Sessions made the statement in mid-October 2017, if finger counting is correct that’s 8 months since the onset of the current administration. Nor has the Cyber-security page on the DoJ been updated since that date.  “Are we at the level we need to be yet?”  I don’t think so either.

The Department of Homeland Security also has a cyber-security component.  DHS describes its concerns:

“Cyberspace and its underlying infrastructure are vulnerable to a wide range of risk stemming from both physical and cyber threats and hazards. Sophisticated cyber actors and nation-states exploit vulnerabilities to steal information and money and are developing capabilities to disrupt, destroy, or threaten the delivery of essential services.”

The idea that the Russians might be profoundly interested in disrupting the delivery of essential electoral services doesn’t seem to have moved to the top of the department’s concerns, at least not to the point of making any special reference to those instances of interference.  There is a draft of a DHS publication on cyber-security efforts (pdf) available online for the purpose of public comment, published this month.  At this point let’s review the Cardin Report summation of the problem, and then read a portion of the DHS Draft Report on what might be the same subject.

Cardin Report: “Mr. Putin has thus made it a priority of his regime to attack the democracies of Europe and the United States and undermine the transatlantic alliance upon which Europe’s peace and prosperity have depended upon for over 70 years. He has used the security services, the media, public and private companies, organized criminal groups, and social and religious organizations to spread malicious disinformation, interfere in elections, fuel corruption, threaten energy security, and more.”

 DHS Draft 1-5-18: “Given the networked nature of the risks, real coordination is necessary to fully understand the problem and identify paths to solutions. While the information technology and communications sectors do actively work to understand security risks, sectors often are unable to coordinate well with other sectors. Even though some entities coordinate domestically or regionally, there are few global mechanisms to share information about threats, solutions, and their adoption and efficacy. In many cases, lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities has impeded collective action, resulting in security failures.”

At no point in the draft does one find any specific reference to interference in political institutions and operations.  A generous interpretation might be that political interference is included in the general category of infrastructure.

In short there’s not much in the DHS Draft which would offer any Nevada voter, of any stripe, comfort as to the security of our political institutions, or our election processes.  In fact, a quick reading of the draft leaves the impression that the issue of political cyber-security is left to the private sector, and market forces, whatever that might be.

Therefore, we’re back where we started, with a federal Executive Branch unable or unwilling or un-directed to develop specific guidelines or regulations toward preventing Russian interference in political matters and a market (Google, Facebook, Twitter) adrift and stumbling around what they may perceive as business and public relations pot holes on the road to prosperity.

“Russian trolls sought to steer Facebook users toward events, even protests, around contentious issues like immigration. In its response to Congress, published Thursday, Facebook elaborated that Kremlin-aligned agents created 129 events on 13 of its pages. Roughly 338,300 unique accounts viewed these events, while 25,800 accounts indicated they were interested and about 62,500 said they would attend. “We do not have data about the realization of these events,” Facebook explained.”

“Google, meanwhile, previously informed Congress that it had discovered that Russian agents spent about $4,700 on ads and launched 18 channels on YouTube, posting more than 1,100 videos that had been viewed about 309,000 times.”

“And Twitter told lawmakers at first that it found 2,752 accounts tied to the Russia-aligned Internet Research Agency. Last week, however, the company updated that estimate, noting that Russian trolls had more than 3,000 accounts — while Russian-based bots talking about election-related issues numbered more than 50,000.”  [Recode]

There does seem to be some movement from social media operations, however nothing in the draft appears to directly address any specific assistance to state and local governments trying to secure their election rolls, ballot security, and count integrity.  Not to put too fine a point to it, but the DHS draft reads like it was crafted by the Chamber of Commerce not law enforcement agencies.  A wide and highly generalized focus such as the one presented in the DHS draft doesn’t exactly offer much satisfaction to those voters seeking an answer to the problem: What are we doing about Russian interference?

PS: “The Departments are requesting comment, asking for further insight into the issues and goals raised by the report, as well as the proposed approach, current initiatives, and next steps. The draft will be finalized based on adjudication of received comments before submission to the President. The final report is due to the President on May 11, 2018.” <https://www.ntia.doc.gov/report/2018/report-president-enhancing-resilience-internet-and-communications-ecosystem-against&gt;

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Filed under Nevada politics, oversight, Politics, Public Records, public safety

The Russians Are Already Here: Contrasts and Comparisons

A peek at the past — Most people know that Japanese forces attacked the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.  The US entered World War II immediately.  President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his famous “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress on December 8th.  While most Americans recognize the first lines of the speech, it’s time to remind ourselves of Roosevelt’s remarks later in his brief address:

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.”

At the end of the war in 1945 there wasn’t much public appetite for additional war investigations, but Congress did act.  A resolution adopted on September 6, 1945 called for the formation of a joint committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack.  One of the results of the investigations and other efforts was the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which among other things consolidated the military into the Department of Defense and established the Central Intelligence Agency.   In other words, after an attack on the US, we were capable of thorough investigations, even when public sentiment was divided on the results, identifying problems, and legislating proposed solutions.

On September 11, 2001 radical terrorists attacked targets in New York City, Washington, DC, and attempted a third attack thwarted by passengers.  The 9/11 Commission was established by PL 107-306 on November 2002.  The commission was independent, bipartisan, and directed to publish a full and complete account, and mandated to make recommendations to prevent future similar attacks on the US and its citizens.

These are two of the most commonly cited examples of US responses to attacks on the United States as people try to evaluate current attacks on our country and our responses to those assaults.  While these are useful markers, and excellent examples of our capacity for both action and self-reflection, they aren’t precisely analogous to present Russian attacks on American institutions. To repeat the obvious, the two major previous attacks were physical and highly visible. They were both ‘mechanical’ in the sense that the main elements of the attacks were either weapons or weaponized aircraft.

Notes about the present — By contrast, the Russian assault on US (and other western nations) is better seen as an extension of the Cold War between the US and the former USSR.  Any investigation of Russian activities must, of necessity, be broader than the more focused investigations of December 7th and September 11th.  It must also take into consideration the weaponized use of non-mechanical forms of assault.  It challenges our ability to reflect on the nature, extent, strategy, and tactics of the current attacks.

We have not responded all that well to this assault.   For one thing, the weapons used relied on our own strengths.  We have an open and engaged environment with constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and press.  This very environment was used to foment discord, and disinformation — and that was the point.

In January 2017 the US intelligence services released a public summary of their findings concerning Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  Two of those findings should be especially concerning:

“In unequivocal language, the report pins responsibility for the election attack directly on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, ruling out the possibility that it was ordered by intelligence officials or simply carried out by Kremlin supporters.

 United States officials believe Mr. Putin wants to damage the image of American democracy to make it less attractive to Russians and their neighbors.”

In light of these remarkable conclusions, the US response has been equally remarkably tepid, partisan, and confused.

First, the current investigations of the matter are fragmented.  Instead of following the precedent of an independent commission (such as the 9/11 commission)  or even a bipartisan investigative panel (such as the Pearl Harbor committee) the Congress established a special counsel to investigate possible violations of US statutes, and relied on standard (and partisan) congressional committees to conduct a wider range of inquiries into the wider aspects of the Russian attacks.

Secondly, the partisan nature of the Congress has interfered with the efficient and efficacious collection of evidence and testimony in regard to the nature and scope of the Russian assault on our democracy.   Perhaps no committee has been such a signal example of what partisanship can do to an important investigation as the House Intelligence Committee.  The Senate Judiciary Committee’s efforts directed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) are questionable:

“Grassley’s role in the congressional probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has perplexed and concerned members of his own party, Republican staffers on the committee told The Daily Beast.

The probe appears to have already missed one of its own deadlines. And rather than publicly needling potential Russian meddlers, Grassley has primarily used his bully pulpit to rip an opposition-research firm and the FBI.”

In short, Senator Grassley seems at present to be more concerned with casting doubt on a specific dossier and its origins than on conducting an independent investigation.   A reasonable person could easily conclude that the current Congress has failed to create an atmosphere in which the conclusions of its various panels will be accepted as credible by the general public.  Of all the failures of the 115th Congress, this may well be the one with the most lasting deleterious effect.

The Russians are here, and the 115th Congress has neither demonstrated its interest in focusing on specific problems and solutions as the Congress in 1945 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, nor the interest in exploring the nature, scope, and specifics of the attacks of September 11th.   Perhaps this is an example of the greatest danger posed by Putin’s assault on democratic institutions?

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Filed under Homeland Security, Nevada politics, Politics, public safety

Police Union Actions Imperil Public Sector Unions

I wrote a post on the subject of police union conduct and public relations last July, and it seems to be an appropriate time now to link back to it.  There was also a post on police accountability.

I’ll repeat for those who haven’t read those posts that I am a former public sector union member and former office holder in a public sector union.  I am not an opponent of public sector unions, and I am not fond of those who pile on the criticism when there’s bad publicity.  However, I am concerned that police union leaders are treading a fine line, which if crossed too often or too far will cause more harm to their associations than good.

We now have two more unfortunate examples of union leaders who are jeopardizing the effectiveness of their organizations:

(1) Philadelphia, PA — police union president calls members of Black Lives Matter a “rabid pack of animals,” after previously asserting a police officer’s Fatherland tattoo with an eagle was just a picture of a bird.

(2) Cleveland, OH — the police union doesn’t want to hold the flag because Cleveland Browns’ management supported players’ protest.

Why do these actions and announcements imperil public sector unions? Let me count the ways:

(1) There are those who don’t support public sector unions and these people would be ever so pleased to remove your capacity to negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions.  Police and Firefighters have been lucky thus far that many anti-union pieces of legislation have carved out exceptions for first responders — but make no mistake, if the criticism gets too vehement and too prolonged those exceptions will be more difficult to maintain.

(2) One of the most common arguments against public sector unions is that they “protect bad apples.”  This contention has been widely employed against teachers and other public sector employees.  By focusing on protecting individuals who have behaved badly instead of on the provisions of the contract the union leadership gives credence to these voices.  A pro-tip might be: If someone is about to hit you don’t hand them a bat.  There are times you might have to say, “We will defend the rights of Officer X, and help him present the best possible defense.”  Unspoken in this context is “we’ll help him present a defense if he can dream one up.” The less the personnel issue is “personalized” the more likely a positive outcome in the long run.

(3) Focus on what’s important.  Every union needs to focus on wages, hours, and working conditions.  The more the focus is extended into politics, social issues, religious controversies and other realms the less effective the union can be in improving those three basic elements.  Getting involved in local (or national) political controversies, such as the one in Cleveland, creates distractions and distractions create eventual problems at the bargaining table.

(4) Don’t forget you do work for the public.  That would be all the public, even the ones who don’t like or trust you. I once had a prolonged dialog with a person who offered an initial disparagement of public sector unions with a common generalization about “they are in it for themselves and not the public.”  My admission that I was a former public sector union member who agreed with some of the criticism and yet could provide a rationale for some rules and contract provisions was met with “you’re different.”  The more members of the general public can be convinced that “we” are mostly “different” and do not fit the convenient generalizations parroted by opponents the better.  However, taking sides isn’t helpful.

Another point should be emphasized.  No one would dream of allowing a nurse to refuse to treat a person because of the patient’s nation of origin.  That would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of the patient’s rights.  No one wants a teacher to refuse to assist a student who is a member of an ethnic minority, that too would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights.  No one wants a county clerk to register only members of one political party — that would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights. No one could imagine a firefighter refusing to rescue a person because the individual was a member of a particular religious faith.   So, how is it not unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights to refuse service to a group because members of that organization, team, or party hold views not in accordance with your own?

(5)  Don’t let management off the hook.  There are, in any organization of any size, some individuals who cannot or will not perform up to expectations and standards.  The reason that some “bad apples” are in the barrel is that someone hired them and put them there.  And, that someone isn’t the union.  A shop steward’s or union rep’s job is made much easier when management is encouraged to maintain or increase its hiring and performance standards.  Speaking of performance standards, a union representative’s life is smoother when those standards are mutually agreed upon after thorough discussions concerning the most appropriate elements to incorporate into the standards and practices, and how performance is to be measured.  For example, if a person’s performance involving interaction with the public is jeopardized by personal tattoos which seem to align that individual with Neo-Nazi or other white racist elements  then that’s something the union and the management need to discuss.  A standard should be agreed upon and mutually enforced.  To do otherwise is to invite all the criticism upon the union and its representatives and let the management off the hook.

Perhaps it’s time for a gentle reminder that to be elected to union leadership means not only do you represent your union members to the management, but that you represent your union to the public?

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Filed under football, labor, Politics, public safety, racism

The Not-So-Stealthy Attack on Americans

During this something less than merry Month of May the United States Senate is scheduled to take up the Regulatory Accountability Act which will make it all but impossible for our own government to protect citizens (and citizen consumers) from corporate depredation.  We have a warning:

“Among its most egregious provisions, the RAA sets an impossibly high burden of proof that agencies would have to meet before finalizing and implementing a new rule, such as a new air quality or food safety standard. The bill also requires agencies to conduct several rounds of cost-benefit analyses that give more weight to the compliance costs to industry than the benefits to Americans. Taken together, these provisions and others in the bill could lead to total gridlock in the agencies charged with protecting the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe; ensuring that products are safe before they enter the market; and reining in the worst financial market abuses.”

Interestingly enough the Big Corporate Interests don’t even bother to mention “small businesses” in their push — read shove — for this anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-Main Street bit of legislation.

A better label would be the Unaccountability Act of 2017 — in that corporations would be protected from citizens who like drinking clean water and breathing clean air, eating healthy and uncontaminated food, driving safe cars, and being reasonably assured that Wall Street investment interests aren’t pulling a “de-regulation” extravaganza that could make the debacle of 2007-2008 seem mild by comparison.

If you enjoyed the scandals of Enron, the predatory behavior of Wells Fargo, the Great Recession brought on by Wall Street Casino operations — then you’ll love this draft to deregulate the major corporations.

On the other hand if one is appalled by the “Screw Grandma Milly” antics of the Enron crowd, if one isn’t concerned that the bank isn’t surreptitiously opening accounts (and charging fees) like Wells Fargo, or if one isn’t concerned that mortgages might be oversold, and fed into another giant bubble of derivative trading — then a phone call to the Solons of the Senate is required.

As the machinations of the Russians, the squirming of the administration, and the daily deluge of tweets from Dear Leader, suck the air out of the room, beware that major corporate interests are working through the halls of Congress.

This is the time to contact our Senators, Senator Dean Heller (who has made no secret of his affinity for deregulation) and Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto who is more likely to be amenable to the concerns of ordinary citizens.  The so-called “Regulatory Accountability” is nothing more than a not-so-stealthy attack on ordinary Americans by extraordinarily powerful corporate interests.

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Filed under conservatism, consumers, Economy, Enron, financial regulation, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, public safety, secondary mortgage market, subprime mortgages

Police Accountability: No one model and no single system

Crime Scene Tape

There was a meeting in Reno, NV between members of the community, representatives of Black Lives Matter, and law enforcement officers. That’s good. [RGJ]  It’s a start. Or, to put it another way it’s another step on a path forward which has the tortuous feel of a mountain trail with numerous cut backs.  We might be able to more fully address the issues related to policing our communities if we’d take some additional topics into consideration.

One of the most obvious topics is the use of force, in perhaps too many cases deadly force, and how police officers may be held accountable in controversial situations.  The importance of Tennessee v. Garner can’t be overestimated, and further, administrative and legal cases do seem to have an effect on policing policies and practices. [Hudson] However, public perception is also related to faith in the system, and the system is fragmented.

In Nevada, for example, how a citizen can report instances of police misconduct varies with each jurisdiction, and sometimes within a single metropolitan area.  Reporting a favorable comment about policing is very easy in Reno.  There’s a website form for that.  Reporting an instance of possible police misconduct isn’t as simple.  Reno, Washoe County, and Carson City each have their own process and requirements for filing an allegation of misconduct. [ACLU]  There are four ways to file a complaint in Reno, three ways in Washoe County, and only one way (in person) in Carson City.   The report information goes to the Internal Affairs Office in Reno, passes to the Sheriff’s office in Carson City, and through the Sheriff’s office in Washoe County.

The Accountability process is also a matter of local jurisdiction. There is a local Review Board in Las Vegas, which while it does have some investigative powers is confined to making recommendations only.  Even this improvement met with a critique from the Justice Department in a 2012 investigation:

“Metro’s Use of Force Review Board — currently a mix of residents and department personnel — needs revamping because of procedures the COPS Office found “outdated and insufficient.” To remedy the situation, the report recommends Metro create a stand-alone manual for the board, which would outline its purpose, operating procedures and clarify roles of the board’s members.” [LVSun] [DoJ] [DoJ Report pdf]

This wasn’t all the Department of Justice had to say on the matter in October 2012.   The report found that the Coroner’s inquest process related to the review of the use of deadly force was ineffective at the time. The District Attorney’s office needed more training and expertise related to investigating deadly force incidents, and while the Clark County DA had begun to review officer involved lethal shootings, and to issue decision letters, there were no letters for serious, non-fatal use of force incidents. [DoJ Report pdf]  The current accountability public perceptions may rest on how much progress has been made since the 2012 recommendations, and on the application of the review processes in the context of Nevada statutes on police use of force.

The public is beginning to perceive that investigations of police officers are quite different from those a private citizen can expect.  For example, in Las Vegas the officer will receive a 48 hour notice before an interview, and even if that notice requirement is waived it must be approved by the association.  Additionally, the officer will be provided with ALL evidence during an interrogation to facilitate correcting “inconsistencies.”  There are also contractual provisions allowing an officer terminated as a result of an investigation 30 days to appeal and to enter into binding arbitration. Written reprimands will be removed from the officer’s personnel file after 18 months; minor suspensions after 3 years, and major suspensions after 5 years.  There is to be no retention of investigation records in which the officer is exonerated, or the allegations are held to be unfounded, or un-sustained.   The contract in Las Vegas is about “average” in its provisions for police protection, with the major exception that the city is not exclusively liable for civil actions related to the incident.

There are some jurisdictions in which an officer cannot be interrogated for more than 6 hours in a given session, and may not be threatened with vile language or threats of demotion, transfer, or termination of employment. (Fort Worth)  Louisville, KY allows no threats, coercion, or promises made during an interrogation, and St. Petersburg, FL allows only one interrogation session.  [CTP interactive]

“Public Employee and Public Ideology” issues are also entangled in these topics.  There are some conservative voices only too pleased to blame teachers’ unions, for example, for allowing the retention of “bad apples.” However, these voices are strangely silent when the subject of police unions comes to the fore.  It is in no one’s best interest when any public employee is subjected to discriminatory, capricious, or arbitrary treatment regarding his or her demotion, dismissal, or refusal of re-employment.  However, when other public employees are alleged to have been responsible for the death or physical injury of another the notice and the interrogation limitations are not available to them, nor are the requirements that they have access to all the evidence collected prior to the interrogation.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

That there is no single model and no single unifying concepts for police accountability means that each jurisdiction is left to its own devices to cope with community and police relations.  Some, like the Dallas PD, have done a better job than others, such as Baton Rouge and Ferguson, MO.

Perhaps we’d be well served to think outside the dotted lines at some tangential issues which exacerbate the situations in which both law enforcement and community members find themselves.  Let’s start with what is likely to be one of the most obvious.

Racism.  Could we at least recognize that it exists? Could we at least acknowledge that it informs some actions that are not necessarily overt? Remember the African American college student who was arrested in NYC for buying a belt the clerk and officers said he couldn’t possibly afford, and concluded that he’d thereby committed fraud? [HuffPo]  Or, the African American actor who was arrested for buying his mother a $1,350 watch, as a present for her college graduation? [DNAinfo]  These are simply more high profile illustrations of the problem as related by one of the participants in the Reno meeting:

“Don Dike-Anukam said he was glad he attended Sunday’s event and hopes others will consider what life is like when “the shoe is on the other foot.”

“It’s hard to explain to people who never had to literally prepare for a police stop or have been followed in a supermarket when you’ve done nothing wrong or know what it’s like to have that feeling of suspicion and done nothing wrong,” Dike-Anukam said. “It makes you a little angry and annoyed inside and sad at the same time.” [RGJ]

Combining racism and fear is a truly toxic mix. What of the police officer  knowing that he is dealing with a white person in a traffic stop who may be armed, and feels less insecure? Or, more insecure if the person in Black? Is the white citizen more innocent until proven guilty, or the Black citizen guilty until proven innocent?

Police as collection agents. One of the things that precipitated the mess in Ferguson, MO was the use of the police department as a collection agency in an effort to bolster the town budget.  In 2010 the Ferguson police department generated $1.4 million for the county treasury, almost 25% of the city’s $13 million budget. [RS]  To put the issue more bluntly:

“…when budgetary whims replace peacekeeping as the central motivation of law enforcement, who is more likely to write up more tickets, the good cop or the crummy one? When the mission of the entire department shifts from “protect and serve” to “punish and profit,” then just what constitutes good police?” [MJ]

Most of the incidents that initiated the current turmoil began as traffic stops and other very minor items in the grand scheme of things.  We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask how many of these stops were associated with increasing revenues for local governments? With fulfilling quotas of some kind? With “keeping the numbers up?”  None of this having much to do with good police work.

Police Training. Now, if we combine racism and revenue generation, then why are we surprised when minor incidents become major news?  One element which seems to need further discussion is the addition of de-escalation policies and training for police officers.

In March 2016, the Los Angeles Police Commission voted to implement a use of force policy emphasizing de-escalation and the use of minimal force in encounters with the general public. [LAcbs]

“One of the recommendations suggests the LAPD’s use-of-force policy be revised “to emphasize that deadly force shall only be exercised when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or appear impracticable.

The revision in policy will also establish the expectation that officers redeploy to a position of tactical advantage when faced with a threat, whenever such redeployment can be reasonably accomplished in a manner consistent with officer and public safety.” [LAcbs]

Unfortunately, the police union doesn’t seem to be on board:

“Clearly this is not a collaborative process by the Police Commission,” he said. “We are very concerned that the recommendations as written may jeopardize officer and community safety. We’re afraid that this policy does not take into account the split-second, life-and-death decisions police officers must make in the field.”

An internal LAPD report was released earlier this month that found LAPD officers used force nearly 2,000 times last year, including 21 cases in which people were fatally shot. More than one-third of the 38 people who were shot by police were mentally ill. [LAcbs]

However, making those decisions is a function of training and experience, and if the training includes how to de-escalate a volatile situation then both the safety of the officer and the safety of the citizen could be improved.  It hardly seems fair to criticize an officer when the predominance of his or her training is consumed in fire arms training, and then complain when the person shoots first and faces the questions later.

Guns. Eventually it all comes back to guns.   Now, there’s research reported on the subject:

“The results were shocking: line-of-duty homicide rates among police officers were more than three times higher in states with high gun ownership compared with the low gun ownership states. Between 1996 and 2010, in other words, there were 0.31 officer fatalities for every 10,000 employed officers in low gun ownership states. But there were 0.95 fatalities per 10,000 officers in the high gun ownership states.” [WaPo]

Law enforcement officers “working in states with higher levels of gun ownership faced a greater likelihood of being shot and killed on the job compared with their peers in states with lower gun ownership,” the study concludes. The relationship was strong enough that every 10 percent increase in gun ownership correlated with 10 more officer deaths over the study period. [WaPo]

If we’re truly interested in the safety of our law enforcement personnel then we have to address what’s killing them. Guns.

This partial list of “Things To Think About” is a heaping portion of problems on our collective plate.  None of these discussion will be easy, or simple, or without rancor.  However, I don’t think that we can afford to ignore any of the elements.   Those who refuse to consider the possibility that there are problems in our contemporary system will not be convinced there is a necessity to address these topics; those who do should take heart that communities around the country, like Reno, are at least beginning the discussion.

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Filed under civil liberties, Gun Issues, Las Vegas, Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics, public safety, violence

Please Stop Making Excuses

Remember back in the day when Granny quoted Benjamin Franklin for the umpteenth time, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else?”   If any positive commentary has come from this miserable week in America it’s that at least no one is trying to excuse the assassination of police officers in Dallas, TX.  But heaven knows there are enough other excuses floating about.

There is no excuse for the perpetuation of a system in which members of minority groups and ethnicities are subjected to lower standards of service and respect.  Let’s look carefully at some of the excuses.

## Consider this commentary from a right wing writer:

“When communists, anarchists and other left-wing rabble-rousers march through the streets of New York City chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops,” and, “When do we want it? Right now,” they aren’t merely attacking that thin blue line that has sworn to defend us; they are, in fact, trying to topple our very form of government.

When they block our streets, disrupt our stores and hurl epithets (and worse) at those who have sworn to protect us, they aren’t merely trying to protest a grand jury decision they didn’t like; no, their real goal is to make clear their utter disdain for the country that grants them the freedom to flout our laws and traditions.”

The essential premise is that the present system, including policing practices, is perfectly acceptable and any attempt to criticize the white controlled power structure must be done in dulcet tones with tea room manners.  Otherwise, it is to be condemned as the object of “communists, anarchists, and other left wing rabble.”  Yes, this is nothing more than an ad hominem attack meant to excuse or temporize the actions of a small minority of law enforcement personnel who should really consider another occupation.   This form of excuse making utterly ignores the reality that no one is calling for “toppling” the government – the purpose is to make the government more responsive to and respectful of the lives of ALL citizens.

## And then there’s the now infamous excuse making by a former New York City mayor:

“When you say ‘black lives matter,’ that’s inherently racist,” the ex-mayor said. “Black lives matter, white lives matter, Asian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter. That’s anti-American and it’s racist.” [NYDN]

Are we supposed to excuse the excesses by blaming the victims?  The former mayor seems to have truncated the expression “Black Lives Matter” and attached to it the prefix “only.”  The people attaching the prefix are those who excuse their opposition to even listening to the protesters (much less acting on their demands) by saying in essence, “I’m white and any attack on MY government or its officials must be racist.”  This argument is best explicated in this essay in response to a sophomoric complaint about an instructor’s t-shirt.   How about if we made the signs less succinct and said, “Black lives matter as much as everyone else’s.”  They don’t matter more than other lives, and they certainly shouldn’t any matter less. Again, there is no excuse for making anyone subject to a standard other than equal before the law.

## Riffing off Black Lives Matter and creating Blue Lives Matter isn’t helpful to either the African American community or the police because it too often seeks to excuse excesses by replacing Black with Blue and subverting the message that all lives should be valued equally.   There is no analogous history of blue lives being under extra scrutiny in their neighborhoods, placed under arrest more often than others, and being perceived as guilty until proven innocent.   However, in the wake of the assassination of two Las Vegas police officers by right wing morons who draped anti-government flags over them there is a need to protect blue lives …. as if they were white, or black, or Hispanic, or Asian… [See also HuffPo]

## A corollary to this comes in the form of the FOP request for a hate crime investigation into the assassination of the Dallas police officers. [NPR] Indeed, an expression, if verified, that the shooter wanted to kill white officers would constitute a motive based in hate.  However, a ‘blue lives matter bill’ is essentially grandstanding.  If the killing is predicated on racial bias then we already have laws on the books for that.  In fact, Nevada is rather specific about aggravating circumstances in seeking the death penalty if:

The murder was committed upon a peace officer or fireman or an employee of the Department of Corrections who does not exercise general control over offenders imprisoned within the institutions and facilities of the Department, but whose normal duties require him to come into contact with those offenders when carrying out duties prescribed by the Director of the Department. And the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a peace officer or fireman. [DP.org]

In short, there are already statutes granting extra consideration if a first responder is the victim, why adding the category of “hate crime” isn’t superfluous needs to be explained.

## A more subtle form of excusing the perpetrators of excessive force is the media tendency to report on the demerits of the victims.  Cases to the point: (1) Where were the calls to find out how the Charleston, SC church assassin was ‘radicalized?’ Not that we didn’t  have a pretty good idea already – shady and disgusting white supremacist sites – but exactly where did he find those writings which ‘inspired’ his hatred? Who wrote them? What else have they written?  What threat do they pose to the security of our nation?  (2)  Should a person end up dead on a sidewalk after a traffic stop why should I know  they have accumulated a handful of misdemeanor arrests, or owe court administrative fees?  Does this excuse the actions which might be adjudicated as excessive force?

The time has come to put away the excuses, warehouse the rationales, and listen.

“Condemning a culture is not inciting hate. That is very important. Yet black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than anything else.”  [Michael Eric Dyson]

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, Gun Issues, Politics, public safety

GOP’s State of Confusion: Anti-LBGT or Anti-Muslim or Both

Confused

OK, I am officially confused. Which is it, does the GOP want to be seen as the champion of conservative religious tenets which hold homosexuality as sin and corruption; or, does the GOP want to be thanked as the protector of homosexuals from the evil-doing nasty folks of IS/Daesh?

Invisible Victims

No matter how hard some conservatives may try to avoid saying LGBT, the attack in Orlando, Florida was made on a GAY nightclub.  As noted previously Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) was capable of observing this fact; while, on the GOP side of the aisle Representative Cresent Hardy (R-NV4) just couldn’t quite resist the temptation to generalize the victims.  Somehow, Representative Hardy’s lights couldn’t illuminated the fact that the victims were in a GAY nightclub.  He’s not alone.

The Republican National Committee’s first response mentioned “lifestyles,” but even that was edited out of their second edition – now the terror attack was made on “any American.”  Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX)  publically denied Pulse was a GAY nightclub immediately before blocking attempts to provide LGBT protections in a bill before his committee. [TP]

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was blunt: “This body should not be engaged in political games,” Cruz said. “We should be focused on the threat and keeping America safe and defeating radical Islamic terrorism.” [BusIns] Against whom?  Once again, the victims of the horrendous attack were invisible.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was just as vague in remarks made on the Senate floor yesterday — “This week in Orlando, Americans were targeted deliberately and taken  forever from their families by a terrorist ISIL has claimed is “one of  the soldiers of the caliphate.” It is clear from his behavior that this was not a random act of  violence. This was a calculated act of terror.” [LoC pdf]  Scrolling down the entirety of the  Majority Leader’s comments yields exactly Zero references to the victims of the Orlando attacks – patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Yes, it was obviously calculated, and yes, it was an act of terrorism – against the patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Squirrel Logic

But wait, after making the victims of the assault on the Pulse nightclub almost perfectly invisible in their comments about the attack, the GOP would now have us believe they champion GAY rights? Excuse my confusion – I would have thought these people were invisible to you but…

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) appears on the scene with this bit of baffling political analysis:  “Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)” [TPM]

And, far be it from Mr. Trump to pass up an opportunity to stick his oar in the muddied waters:

Donald Trump, in his first major speech after the weekend’s tragedy suggested that Hillary Clinton “can never claim to be a friend of the gay community.”  “She can’t have it both ways,” Trump said. “She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress them.” Ask yourself, who really is the friend of women and the LBGT community: Donald Trump with his actions or Hillary Clinton with her words?” [TPM]

There seems to be more than a little political semantic gamesmanship here.  The message to the heretofore invisible LGBT community seems to be either you are anti-Islam or you have to be anti-LGBT, there is no middle ground.  This conflation of all practitioners of Islam as anti-gay is as inaccurate as it is distasteful divisive rhetoric.   Those unsure of this might want to consider the following comments by an Islamic scholar in the Dallas Morning News:

“As Muslims we believe there’s no compulsion in religion. That’s actually a Quranic verse. Everyone adheres to their own set of values, their own set of morals. But that should not lead to the oppression of another person or to harming another individual. The way that we talk about that is the way that we talk about anything in the Quran or in the prophetic tradition.

Yes, you’re going to find Muslims that would offer revised interpretations of the Quran. But I think one thing that’s important to stress is that conservative is not the same thing as radical. If a person has conservative views that they uphold within their own family life, so long as that does not lead to denying, belittling, or dehumanizing someone else, then I don’t think that’s particularly problematic.”

Thus much for the lack of middle ground.  Doing a quick inventory – Islam is not a compulsive religion (check), Islam has conservative followers (check), Islam teaches that one’s beliefs may not “deny, belittle, or dehumanize” someone else. (check) Conservatives are not necessarily radicals. (check) Only in the most bigoted way imaginable could a person decide that all members of the Islamic faith are radicals. Only in the most prejudicial manner could a person proclaim that all followers of Islam are necessarily so anti-gay that they could excuse or rejoice in the killing of their fellow citizens.

There may be a second message in the dog whistling coming from these Republican remarks.  It’s  message to their own base.  If the actual victims of the massacre are invisible, and if they can be generalized out of the picture, then it’s possible to believe that all Muslims are radical, and it’s acceptable to “monitor, screen, place them under surveillance, and restrict their freedom and liberty” in the name of public safety for “all Americans” (except the ones we won’t name.)

A third screech from the dog whistle may be aimed at a more general audience.  By creating an artificial “either/or” proposition the GOP can seek to associate Democrats with Muslims.  The inference is that Muslims are dangerous, Democrats support Muslims, ergo Democrats are dangerous.  Their’s is a simple but demonstrably false syllogism which depends on the acceptance of the initial false proposition that ALL Muslims are dangerous. I’m fond of calling this Squirrel Logic: Squirrels have hair on their heads. That man has hair on his head. Therefore, that man is a squirrel.

A Broader Perspective

While the GOP may wish to fixate on the terrorism facet of the attack on the GAY nightclub, what happened seems far more complex.  The horrific massacre had more than one element – it had a very disturbed radicalized young American man wielding military weaponry with a high lethality rate, in a GAY nightclub, who intended to kill GAY people.  It really isn’t hard to unpack the elements.  A marginalized person (self or otherwise?) who attached himself to a radicalized version of a religion, and who had easy access to a military weapon and enough ammunition to launch a killing spree in a GAY nightclub, the victims in which have themselves been marginalized in anti-LGBT rhetoric. 

Taking any one of the elements out of the toxic equation shouldn’t lead us to conclude that there is any single policy change that would have prevented the tragedy.  However, removing at least one certainly wouldn’t hurt and might help avoid subsequent attacks.

It would help if we could tone down the anti-LGBT rhetoric. Just as it is no longer socially acceptable to make a joke of someone’s ethnicity, wouldn’t it be nice if the mocking, demeaning, and dismissal of a person’s sexual orientation were no longer acceptable in polite society.  This isn’t “political correctness,” it’s merely fine old fashioned good manners.  It would be even more helpful if we could enact statutes protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community and being as concerned about their rights as we are our own.

It would help if we toned down the anti-Islam barrage.  Those whose image of Muslims, and especially of Muslim Americans, is composed of TV footage of Daesh outrages, or foreign cultural practices commonly abhorred, should take note of the many resources available for better understanding their Muslim neighbors.  They should consider the following statements from Muslim community leaders:

Dawud Walid the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan says Mateen doesn’t represent Muslims in the U.S. His message to the public; Muslims are American and as all other Americans, they are loyal to their country even if they disagree with certain issues.The rule of American Muslims is to abide by the laws of the land and to be peaceful and this recent extremist act that took place this morning, is the rare exception and in no way embodies our morals or our values as Americans citizens who just happen to be Muslims,” said Walid. [CBS Detroit]

Or, this:

“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” [CAIR]

A little more mutual understanding should certainly help more than vilifying the American Muslim community.

It would help if we made it less likely that a disturbed or deranged individual could  get access to a military style weapon of war, which were never designed for civilian use.   There are listings of weapons by lethality. The AK-47 style; the M-16 (AR-15) “family”; the M240 machine gun; the PK machine gun; the QBZ 95 assault rifle.  It would seem reasonable that if a gun is listed as one of the five most lethal weapons in the world that common sense implies its ownership should be restricted.  Perhaps restricting the magazine capacity would assist in diminishing the lethality of these weapons when they are misused by civilians? That, too, sounds like common sense.

It would help if we de-stigmatized those who are harboring feelings which are anti-social and the antithesis of stability.  Who missed the signals that the Orlando shooter was demonstrating troubling personal behavior? Were the signals and warnings acted upon appropriately? Who could have warned authorities that the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter was exhibiting disturbing behavior – do we need to emphasize the necessity of giving local authorities a warning about those who combine disturbed thinking with fixations on violence?  Who might have warned authorities about the intentions of the Colorado Springs PPA facility shooter?  We are fond of saying “If you see something, say something,” why not practice what we’re preaching? And, why not support the funding and increased resources of our mental health services?

If we persist in seeing only those elements of mass shootings which conform to our pre-existing ideologies then we’ll miss the opportunities available to diminish the likelihood of further mass tragedies. A broader perspective is required to reach better horizons.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Islam, Mental Health, Nevada politics, public safety, terrorism

Zombie Guns Blazing in NV Legislature

zombie guns 2

This is the kind of news Nevada can do without:

“A “campus carry” bill believed to be dead in the Senate will be amended into another Second Amendment measure on Friday, Assembly Judiciary Chairman Ira Hansen said Wednesday.

Hansen said that because the Senate Judiciary Committee won’t hear Assembly Bill 148 that would allow those with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons on college campuses, it will be amended into a Senate bill on the deadline day for committee action on most bills.” [LVRJ]

The bills in question is SB 175 and SB 240.  The Guns Galore crowd, championed by Michele Fiore (R-NRA) and Ira Hansen (R-Ammostan), wants those with concealed carry permits to be able to pack “heat” on college campuses.  Little matter that others may find this uncomfortable or downright dangerous.  Happily, there are some restrictions in place on concealed carry permitting in this state – not that the Ammosexuals wouldn’t like to eliminate those eventually.

The Current Requirements

In Clark County those wanting a permit must the a Nevada resident of Clark County, or an out of state resident who has received firearms training in Clark County; 21 years of age, not prohibited from firearms ownership by state or federal law; and must successfully complete an approved firearms course in Clark County.  [LVMPD]

The requirements in Washoe County are essentially the same. A person must be at least 21, provide documentation of competence with a firearm, meet the standards set forth in NRS 202, have no DUIs in the preceding five years or record of “substance abuse.”  [Washoe pdf]

Campus Numbers

The University of Nevada campus in Reno as of the Fall of 2013 had 15,694 undergraduates, of whom 47%, or 7,454 were male, 8,240 were female.  The average age of a UNR undergraduate was — 21 years of age. [CP]  There were 23,090 undergraduates enrolled in UNLV, 12,824 female, 10,275 male.  The average undergraduate age at UNLV was reported as 18 years. 23% were aged 25 or older. [CP]

One obvious feature of these figures is that there are a significant number of young males on both major college campuses in this state.  We do know from the CDC* and other sources  that firearms and young men aren’t a particularly good mixture.  Pew Social Trends reported:

“Men (and boys) make up the vast majority (84% in 2010) of gun homicide victims. The gun homicide rates for both genders have declined by similar amounts since the mid-1990s, though the male rate is much higher—6.2 gun homicides per 100,000 people in 2010, compared with 1.1 for females.”

… and …

“Males are the vast majority of gun suicides (87% in 2010), and the suicide rate for males (11.2 deaths per 100,000 people) is more than seven times the female rate (1.5 deaths). The highest firearm suicide rate by age is among those ages 65 and older (10.6 per 100,000 people).”

Thus, what the ammosexual alliance is proposing is to place more firearms in a setting in which there are significant numbers of already vulnerable individuals in the setting.

Individual Tragedy and Economic Costs

Aside from the human tragedy there are economic factors to consider before advocating any further proliferation of firearms and the situations in which those guns can be allowed.

In December 2012, Bloomberg Business news reported that gun violence was costing the American economy some $174 billion.  Forbes magazine reported in 2013 that gun violence was costing each American about $564.

And, then there is the “market” argument, which the Minneapolis Post analyzed as follows:

“Treating gun violence as an externality assumes that weapons markets are legitimate and that we must live with the consequences.  However, certain aspects of this market may not be legitimate. Markets do not exist in a vacuum.  They are created and designed by people, and societies can decide to modify or restrict markets depending on its values and goals.

Debra Satz, a professor of philosophy at Stanford University, addresses this in her book “Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Limits of Markets.” At the heart of her analysis is the concept of noxious markets, i.e. “markets that people find especially objectionable” and which should be curtailed or eliminated.

One important reason why societies deem some markets as noxious is that trade in these goods causes extreme harm to individuals and/or society.  Markets in assault rifles, large-capacity ammunition magazines and related items could be thought of this way. The damage caused by guns used to commit crimes is so great that we must regulate them and, in some cases, eliminate them.”

We know, for example that alcohol and tobacco products are often classified as “noxious markets.”  There are spill-over effects in society, in terms of public health costs, and other related expenses or losses.  Therefore, we regulate and use tax policy to curb the consumption and use of these items.  State legislatures are quick to add “sin taxes” to diminish the ‘noxious’ markets for some products, especially in the tobacco categories. However, they’re remarkably slow to consider taxing/regulating the use of guns and ammunition.  An amended SB 175 merely serves to advance a ‘noxious’ market, rather than curbing firearms proliferation which endangers young people – especially young men.

U.S. News and World Report was more blunt on this subject, when speaking of the economic costs of firearms and school security in America:

“However, the firearms industry has managed to avoid picking up the tab for its externalities. A recent proposal by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association shows the size of the problem. After the Sandy Hook school shooting, the NRA proposed that the best solution to gun violence in school is to have more guns in school. They argued that every school should post an armed guard (or several) to stop would-be shooters. Let’s set aside the constitutional and practical considerations and just consider the economics of this for a moment: It would cost nearly $5 billion per year to put a trained, equipped, armed guard in each of America’s 132,000 K-12 schools. That calls for a fee—let’s call it the “Schools Security Fee”—of $500 to $750 for every new and used handgun purchased in the United States. The fee is roughly the cost of a typical good-quality new pistol! If imposed, it would double the price of handguns and cripple the firearm industry. Yet it’s ironic that many of the folks who claim to hate taxes and government see no problem in proposing a $5 billion expansion in government, which necessitates taxes to pay for it.”

Whether viewed in macro-terms such as in the classification of firearms as a ‘noxious’ market, or in micro-terms as in a discussion of school safety officers, the message is essentially similar.  The manufacturers of firearms and their Ammosexual Allies are arguing that lethal weapons do not constitute a ‘noxious’ market and therefore should not be taxed or regulated even if the economic costs run into the $174 billion range.

Hostage Taking

While we can have socially oriented or economically based arguments over firearms regulations it must be admitted that there is an emotional factor to consider.  The positions taken by the Nevada Firearms Coalition which calls for legislation to “enhance personal liberty,” perceives proliferation as a ‘beneficial’ market, and a positive social good.**  “Armed” with this emotional attachment to firearms and their retail sales, the Guns Anywhere advocates are perfectly willing to hold other, and better, legislation hostage in order to advance their cause. Witness:

“As I reported earlier this week, Assembly Members Michele Fiore (R-Las Vegas) & Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) are retaliating against Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) & Senate Judiciary Chair Greg Brower (R-Reno) for shelving their “Guns Everywhere” bill (AB 148) in Senate Judiciary. So they just amended SB 240, Roberson’s mental health & “voluntary background checks” bill, to include elimination of Clark County’s “Blue Card” handgun registry…”  [LTN]

Winston Churchill was right: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

—————————————-

* Warning: Depending, of course, on your download speed this file can be very slow loading. (94.3 mb .zip format)

** See also: The 50 Caliber Institute.

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Filed under Economy, Gun Issues, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, public safety

Wall Street Lilliputians Want To Tie Up the Regulators

H.R. 185

There was H.R. 37 – the Eleven Bill Wall Street Wish List, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives, a bill of, for, and by the Wall Street Wonders who brought us the Crash of ‘07-08.  On January 13, 2015 the House approved  H.R. 185, another De-regulation Bill from those same awesome people who burdened us with bailouts.   The bill has a lovely name, the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015,” and was introduced by Virginia’s own ultra-conservative Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) The miserable measure passed on a 250-175 vote [rc 28] with Nevada Representatives Amodei (R-NV2), Heck (R-NV3) and Hardy (R-NV, Bundy Ranch) all voting in favor of it while Representative Titus (D-NV1) voted No.

What was it that the three Nevada Representatives found so appealing in the bill?  Gee Whiz folks, friends, and neighbors, don’t you know this bill will FREE us from those burdensome regulations on Clean Water, Clean Air, and Stable Financial Markets! In short, H.R. 185 is a bill of the polluters and exploiters, by the exploiters and polluters, and for the exploiters and polluters. And, it would be bad enough if we ended up drinking the dregs from phosphates and breathing smog – but this is also another example of the financial sector wanting to roll back regulations protecting consumers, investors, and ordinary working citizens.

The bottom line is summarized by the Center for Effective Government as follows:

“This legislation represents nothing more than a backdoor effort to undermine public protections without having to be on the record opposing implementation of laws the American people support, like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Instead of improving our system of public protections, the Regulatory Accountability Act would add numerous hurdles and delay to agency efforts to develop new safeguards and give big business even more opportunities to interfere in this process. This would waste government resources that agencies need to achieve their missions.”  (Emphasis added)

Most of the attention from opponents of the bill was focused on the environmental issues, and related worker safety regulations. However, this bill also “deregulates” the bankers as well. Before the SEC or the CFPB could issue rules for the protection of investors and citizens the agencies would be required to conduct a manipulated form of cost-benefit analysis concerning the “cost of the rule” for businesses.

The SEC, CFPB or other financial regulator would have to:

“…conduct a cost-benefit analysis for all proposed rules and guidance, as well as any potential alternatives to the proposals or guidance. The bill would also expand the scope of these analyses by requiring agencies to include highly speculative estimates of all “indirect” costs and benefits for each option. Yet the bill does not even define what would qualify as an indirect cost.” [CEG]

But, wait, there’s more:

“The bill would mandate that all federal agencies adopt the “least costly” rule out of all the alternatives considered. The only exception to this default rule is if the agency can demonstrate that the additional benefits to the rule justify the additional costs, although it is unclear what the agency would need to do to satisfy this requirement. Given that Congress has just recently cut agency budgets, agencies with already limited resources and rulemaking timelines may choose to adopt the least costly option when they lack resources to demonstrate that the additional benefits justify adopting a more costly rule.” [CEG]

Notice the two elements which are left vague, (1) the definition of an Indirect Cost; and, (2) the standard by which the Additional Benefit is to be evaluated. How convenient!  Are we to assume that if the financial industry can offer some form of sublime speculation and declare that to be an “indirect cost,” then what the Financialists say will be held as Gospel?  Are we to assume that no matter what “additional benefit” might accrue for the protection of consumers – if the industry (financial, industrial, manufacturing, etc.) can say it is “unjustified” then we’ll just have to take their word for it?

No, the supporters of the bill will say – We’re not for repealing the Clean Water or Clean Air Acts, or the Dodd Frank Act – we merely want to make it all but impossible for the agencies to implement those laws.

Let’s take a look at a real world example.  The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is proposing a rule concerning pre-paid products.

“[The proposed rules] would close the loopholes in [the prepaid product] market and ensure prepaid consumers are protected whether they are swiping a card, scanning their smartphone, or sending a payment.”

Sounds reasonable.  However, it ranks in the litany of complaints from the American Banker’s Association, an organization still screaming about the ‘unfettered tyranny’ of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

“…prepaid companies would be required to wait 30 days after issuing cards to begin offering their customers credit. That’s making, not implementing law. And the CFPB’s prerogative to unconditionally exempt parties from its rules is absolutism.”

Oh, the horror! There is another side to this story. 

“The proposal would require prepaid companies to limit consumers’ losses when funds are stolen or cards are lost, investigate and resolve errors, provide easy and free access to account information, and adhere to credit card protections if a credit product is offered in connection with a prepaid account. The Bureau is also proposing new “Know Before You Owe” prepaid disclosures that would provide consumers with clear information about the costs and risks of prepaid products upfront.

“Consumers are increasingly relying on prepaid products to make purchases and access funds, but they are not guaranteed the same protections or disclosures as traditional bank accounts,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Our proposal would close the loopholes in this market and ensure prepaid consumers are protected whether they are swiping a card, scanning their smartphone, or sending a payment.”  [Consumer Finance] (Emphasis added)

Funny how the American Banker’s Association left out the part wherein consumer losses would be limited in case of loss or theft, and the bank would investigate and resolve errors, and the same credit card protections would apply to prepaid cards, and the card holder could get “clear information about the costs and risks” of holding that card? And, they left out the part in which the protections which apply to plastic would also apply to the pre-loaded Smartphone.

Let’s guess what that “cost benefit analysis” might be, since it’s the bankers  who would be running the show.   What might be an “indirect” cost to the banks if they had to (1) limit a customer’s losses if his or her pre-loaded Smartphone were lost or stolen? (2) Investigate and resolve errors? Plastic or Electronic? or (3) If they actually had to inform the prospective customer about the costs and risks associated with a pre-loaded card or device?

And our Banker Says: “It is simply too costly, it absolutely can’t be done, it will ruin our bottom line, and deplete our shareholder value! Whatever benefit might redound to the customer – it will never be enough to justify the expense to which we will be put.  And besides that “It’s Tyranny!”Really?

And, NO, this isn’t like the EU defining a banana – it’s like requiring the seller of the financial product in question to be upfront about the costs and risks, and to address the issues created by loss and theft, and to investigate and resolve errors.   The ABA would have us believe this is about picky details like the URL addresses, and not about basic credit protection services.

There’s one form of direct cost the banker would like to avoid – any infringement on their activities in the secondary market for credit card debt, which is done this way:

“The process of securitizing credit card receivables is very similar to that of securitizing mortgages and other loan obligations. A card issuer sells a group of accounts to a trust, which issues securities backed by those receivables. The card issuer still services the account, but the assets are removed from its balance sheet. This allows the card issuer to issue more accounts and to reduce its capital reserve requirements, the amount of money banks are required by law to hold to do business. This money doesn’t earn interest, so, naturally, the card issuer wants to reduce its required reserves as much as possible. As the cardholders pay on their accounts monthly, most of the money is sent to the trust, which pays the holders of the credit card ABSs interest and principal. The card issuer retains a servicing fee and part of the finance charge as profit, and also includes part of the principal—the seller’s interest.” [TM.com] (Emphasis in original)

Oh, precisely what we want to hear! Right? When the banks securitize their credit card receivables it’s JUST LIKE mortgages and other loan obligations? We’ve seen that movie before and the ending was most unpleasant.  Nor are we looking at pittances. When Credit Card Receivables where first securitized in 1987 the total was $2,295.20 million, this climbed to a hefty $52,159.57 million by 2014. [SIFMA download] Little wonder the Bankers of the ABA don’t want anyone treading on their territory and placing any restrictions on to whom they may sell pre-loaded financial products.

So, what would a “cost benefit analysis” yield?  If just one customer was reduced from the total of those whose pre-paid (pre-loaded) debt could be securitized – would that be enough to trigger the “NO.”  If the amount stemming from the securitization of that customer’s credit was removed would that trigger the “indirect cost” NO?  The beauty of leaving the language in H.R. 185 vague is that all costs – no matter how speculative – must be considered, and all “indirect costs” – no matter how small or creative — must drive the regulation of the banking industry.  Not, Heaven Forefend, the costs to the consumers when credit cards/pre-loaded phones are lost or stolen, or when disputes cannot be resolved by the consumer without recourse to expensive and protracted litigation?

So, we’d have to ask Representatives Heck, Amodei, and Hardy, is this what you intended – that pre-paid/loaded Smartphone credit line holders do NOT have the right to know, in clear plain old readable English, the costs and risks of holding Corporation X’s credit card?  That they do not have a right to know that they have free and easy access to their credit information? That they do not have a reasonable expectation that errors will be corrected and disputes resolved without litigation?  Because in voting in favor of H.R. 185 that is exactly what they are saying.  (Our thanks and praise  to Representative Titus for NOT joining that chorus.)

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Filed under Congress, ecology, Economy, financial regulation, public health, public safety

Memo to Police Union Reps: Do be careful, please.

Coolidge Police Strike

It was September 1919, and about 80% of the Boston police force went on strike.  Police Commissioner Edwin Upton Curtis denied that the officers had a right to form a union, and he was certain they had no right to form one associated with the  American Federation of Labor.  Calvin Coolidge rode anti-union sentiment all the way to the White House, the Boston officers who had been fired for striking weren’t reinstated until 1931, and it would be two decades after the strike that police would be able to form unions – generally after World War II.

The gains made to protect officers from arbitrary and capricious hiring and firing, to insure their rights in regard to due process, and to bargain wages, hours and working conditions were hard won, and required general public approval to become reality.  Whether the police union representatives like it or not, associations of law enforcement officers are public employee unions, and subject to some of the same dynamics which affect other such organizations.  Ergo, here comes some unsolicited advice.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.  As of now most conservatives are inclined to support the police, and to support their use of lethal force.  [Salon]  As long as the “us versus them” mentality can be associated with communities of color, with poor people, and with those who might advocate for things like increasing the minimum wage, the conservative voices will be pleased to sing the praises of pro-police activities.    As long as the police are keeping such movements as the “99%” Occupy Whatever under control the powers that be will be supportive.

However, there’s a chink in the Kevlar.  The police are fine as long as they don’t ask for “exorbitant” overtime pay, or get negotiated pension benefits which appear “too large.” United Airlines is bristling at the pay for security personnel (police/firefighters) at the Newark airport. [ChAviation] Wages for Port Authority Police are under scrutiny as some veteran officers earn six figure salaries – one example, which is not identified as an outlier, given as $221,000. [NBC

What we don’t know is how much experience (seniority) this officer had, nor do we know the rational for running up all the overtime.  Medical expenses at home?  Several children to send to college?  Home mortgage payments? Yes, that $221,000 sounds “outrageous” when compared to the median income in a Newark household ($33,960)  but not quite so outstanding when compared to the U.S. median of $71,629.  It’s  even less so when we insert the cost of raising children from birth to 18 years of age in the northeast:

“In New Jersey and the rest of the Northeast, the cost is even higher. Families can expect to spend $261,000. After adjusting for inflation over 17 years, that amount grows to just less than $350,000.” [NJ.com]

It appears that some of those who are touting the efforts of police to secure places like bridges and tunnels, the World Trade Center, and other  New York City airports are loathe to pay the overtime negotiated for that protection.

Newspapers in Nevada were publishing overtime stories last year about corrections officers overtime pay [LVSun] and one news outlet placed a discussion of overtime pay framed as a “public trust” issue. [News8]  Once again there were brief mentions of police providing security for special events, and of seniority levels, but it’s hard to miss the point that these negotiated overtime payments might be considered “excessive.”

Rarely can one find articles, such as the one in the Chicago Sun Times which points out that suburban police and fire pension funds in that metropolitan area are “drying up.”  How much national publicity was given to the problems with the pension funds for New Orleans (LA) port police? [NOLA] Examples in California and Detroit made the national scene as cities faced bankruptcy – and it should be noted that the questions were framed as “either the police and other public employees should absorb the cuts so that (1) debts incurred by city governments could be paid off, or (2) tax cuts and loopholes could be maintained, or taxes could be kept lower than necessary to support the negotiated agreements – Did anyone speak to how closing tax loopholes or removing subsidies, or even raising taxes to meet expenses, might solve the problem?

Here again, we find the old canard that the only way to make a city budget balance is to do so on the backs of public employees – never, never on those who benefit from tax incentives, breaks, and subsidies, nor should any bondholders have to take a “hair cut” on ill-advised public projects.   Police spokespersons are gently advised to secure all the support they can, but be aware that the impetus for “transparency” for public employees’ salaries and benefits, and the publicized issues involved in pension benefits are motivated by a desire to play the “public employees at the public trough’” card with conservative voters.

It’s Us vs. Them when money matters.  Remember when teachers were highly regarded?  That would be before they decided that being hired or fired on capricious grounds wasn’t a good thing. Back in the Good Old Days when merit counted for nothing and New York City could shake down teachers for $120 for a job and $175 for a transfer.  {Bettman: The Good Old Days – They Were Terrible}  That would also be before the days when they decided that during a teacher evaluation the principal should actually appear IN the classroom and not conduct “humming bird evaluations” from the corridor.  That would also be before the days when teachers decided that their wages should allow them to pay off student loans for degrees costing about $9,139 per year, and still put food on the table, gas in the car’s tank, and dress “professionally.”

Now “unions” come under fire for “putting the needs of the teacher ahead of the needs of the students” for daring to declare that a salary schedule might need enhancement to meet the financial needs of the teachers in the system.  Once again, the question is framed NOT as how revenue might be generated to pay teachers what they are worth and what they need, but how demands for salary increases are jeopardizing the services the school can provide.  So-called ‘reformers’ come from the woodwork and every other conceivable direction to tell the general public that in order to ‘improve’ education the union must be broken, and teacher paid based on some matrix of quantifiable factors – as if education and schooling were one and the same.

The police unions are perilously close to the edge of the ‘public employees at the trough’ and ‘protectors of the incompetent’ charges when they negotiate wages and benefits.  Once more, when it’s a question of controlling the ‘great unwashed’ the conservatives are supportive, but when it comes to a question of paying for that ‘protection’ the conservatives are willing to slip easily into their Taxpayer Protector mode – not the regular garden variety taxpayer, but the tax benefited, bond holding, variety.

It’s almost guaranteed that when the police negotiators come up against those who want to protect bondholders and tax break benefited interests their status as “public servants” at servants’ wages will be inserted into the public discussion.  One of the banners so often waved in teachers’ faces is the canard that unions protect the incompetent, the extrapolation of this is, of course, do away with the union and the problem will be solved.

Policeman Police Thyself.   There’s a way to defend against the latter charge, but it requires some humility. The boisterous defense of police activities by  union leadership in St. Louis, Cleveland, and New York City, may ring well to the rank and file in the short term; however, it doesn’t take too much effort for the other shoe to drop – a public perception that the union is protecting incompetent officers.  Therefore, it might be recommended that:

Police union leadership should remind the public that the union is protecting the contract, not necessarily the actions of a few officers.  If the master agreement calls for a specific response to matters of suspension, demotion, or dismissal, then the union should insure the due process rights of its membership.  After all, the union is collecting dues, and those dues include defense of the person and the contract provisions.

Perhaps instead of caterwauling about an attack on the police from an uncooperative community, the union representative might want to say, “Officer X is facing some very serious charges, charges which could result in his suspension, demotion, or dismissal, and his union is tasked with defending his due process rights under our master agreement at every step in that process.”

If more comment is deemed necessary, then something like the following could be offered: “Officer X is guaranteed by our contract to have every opportunity to present his defense, and we will help him present it.” (It isn’t necessary for the representative to add in public —  “If he can dream one up.”)

The foregoing hypothetical allows the union to present its case as a defense of the contract provisions – and how many people don’t believe that contracts should be honored? – instead of taking the posture that even the most egregious actions by an individual union member should be fiercely defended in the public domain.

The right of public employees to organize, and to defend their membership was long in the making, and faces some important issues today as the anti-tax, pro-tax break and taxpayer subsidy, mentality holds serve in regard to community services.    The old saw might prove true some day: “Never  permanently antagonize an enemy, some day you might need him.”

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