Saturday, August 23, 2014

The solution to the police state

The solution to police brutality is already available: What happens when Police wear body-cams.

Of course it's not perfect. Any system has flaws and potential for abuse or misuse.

But the fundamental point is that people cannot remain moral without accountability. This is not a knock on police officers; it is a statement about human nature. We are feedback loops; if no one is standing beside us to frown when we drift in the wrong direction, we literally go off the rails. We have known this since forever: "absolute power corrupts absolutely" was well-understood long before John Dalberg-Acton wrote it down. And haven't internet forums exhaustively proven that anonymity = douchebaggery?

In the first year the Rialto police force wore these cameras, complaints about police behavior went down by 88%. That is incredible. Can you imagine any other technology increasing quality of customer satisfaction by that much and yet not being instantly adopted by every company everywhere? What is stopping every police chief in the country from reducing his civilian complaint file by a factor of ten via the trivial expense of a few cameras?

Much more tellingly, the use of force went down by 60%. Now there can be a lot of explanations for this: perhaps perpetrators who were aware their actions were being recorded were reminded to behave better, lest a jury see their intransigence. But it is hard to dismiss the notion that police use of force had perhaps been higher than strictly necessary the year before.

It was not too long ago that people were being threatened with severe criminal penalties merely for filming cops performing arrests (sometimes even when they were the arrestee). It may not be too far in the future when every public servant who is legally authorized to wield deadly force must also wield a camera. And when that day comes, we will look back on today the same way we look back at the early firearms that lacked safety catches.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

More Police State

I have to stop writing about this, because if I don't, that's all I will have time to write about. It just seems never-ending.

But this one is too good to pass up: the Ferguson police beat a man while he was in a jail cell.

No, that's not the absurdity - it gets worse. They then charged him with a crime of destroying property for getting his blood on their uniforms. Shades of Stalin!

But wait - if that was all it was - it wouldn't even qualify for my blog. It gets worse. Later, during a trial, they swore under oath that their uniforms did not have blood on them.
“After Mr. Davis was detained, did you have any blood on you?” asked Davis’ lawyer, James Schottel.

“No, sir,” Beaird replied.

Schottel showed Beaird a copy of the “property damage” complaint.

“Is that your signature as complainant?” the lawyer asked.

“It is, sir,” the cop said.

“And what do you allege that Mr. Davis did unlawfully in this one?” the lawyer asked.

“Transferred blood to my uniform while Davis was resisting,” the cop said.

“And didn’t I ask you earlier in this deposition if Mr. Davis got blood on your uniform?”

“You did, sir.”

“And didn’t you respond no?”

“Correct. I did.”

So there it is. A cop can charge you with a crime, swear out a complaint against you, sign a legal document and put in you jail for that crime; and then later, under oath, deny that the crime ever too place. And it's OK. Nobody goes to jail over it, nobody gets fined over it, nobody even gets a black mark in their personnel file over it. Well, by nobody, I mean no cops, of course. Other people don't count.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Careful! We don't want to learn anything from this

So some mining company decided to exploit the pristine wilderness, as they do. Unfortunately there was already someone exploiting it: the salmon industry, possibly responsible for half the salmon on the store shelves.

The people making a living off of salmon found themselves in a fight with a huge corporation that had both political support and deep pockets. The free market wanted to mine that copper for the profits now, and never mind the harm to the salmon industry, since the free market had priced the copper at more than fish. And never mind that the salmon industry is sustainable - it can go on indefinitely - but by definition the copper mine will run out (or more likely be abandoned during some fluctuation of commodity prices).

Sounds pretty familiar to us liberals. But of course this is Alaska, so everyone involved is a die-hard Republican. And like die-hard Republicans everywhere, they suddenly discovered the value of government when they personally needed the help of government:

Greg Harris, a fisherman who has lived in Bristol Bay for 33 years and who describes himself as being “as conservative as they come,” struggled with the contradiction. “Last year the EPA came out here,” he recalled, “and I told them point blank: ‘I think the EPA is an overstretched, over-budgeted blown bureaucracy.’”

He needed to make that clear in order to justify what he said next: “I think you guys are like a big octopus – you have your tentacles into everything. But if one of your tentacles can help with this, I’m all for it.’”

Don't worry - they'll still all vote Republican:

Make no mistake: Halford will die a registered Republican, and he still believes in the things he thinks Republicans are supposed to stand for, development included. “I have become more and more conservation-oriented as I’ve realized the pressure on renewable natural resources,” he allowed. “But I would not call myself an environmentalist, and in the past I probably would have strongly resented being called an environmentalist.”

Just because in this instance they needed the help of government to prevent a corporation from destroying their livelihood and the the livelihood of their children's children's children doesn't mean they recognize that anyone else ever legitimately needs the help of the government against a corporation.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Paul Krugman finally catches up to me

Inequality is a drag

And this, in turn, implies that redistribution — that is, taxing the rich and helping the poor — may well raise, not lower, the economy’s growth rate.
Apparently, the leading economic minds of the day are beginning to grasp the fact that Ronald Reagan sold us all a lie. Voodoo economics, it turns out, really is just voodoo. All this nonsense about the Laffer curve really is just laughable. Everything the ordinary citizen of the last two decades thinks about the economy is simply bunk. All lowering taxes does is make everyone poorer.

The secret to a healthy economy is high taxes. The reason is as simple as it is obvious. What makes an economy grow? DEMAND. Nobody builds a factory because they have a lot of money; they build a factory because the one they have isn't making enough stuff. And what drives demand? SPENDING. You have to spend to create demand. And what do governments do with all the money they collect in taxes? THEY SPEND IT.

This is so mind-numbingly simple as to defy explanation. How could those Austrians have been so wrong, but more to the point, how can the educated population of the world not see how wrong they are? For over 30 years the economies of the world have been driven by this idiotic inversion of basic truth, and the result is massive injustice, financial panics, and crumbling infrastructure.

Taking money from people who have it and then spending it makes the economy go. If you can't understand this, you're probably the kind of person who can't understand why fiat currency is better than a gold standard. Taxes are in fact why the world has progressed past subsistence farming.

If you think that rich people deserve their money, because they made it all by themselves without any help from anyone else, then just consider taxes as the price we charge for calculus. You want to avoid taxes? Fine, make your money without calculus, or logic, or democracy, or literacy, or fire, or any of the rest of the heritage of civilization and knowledge that you inherited for free.

This reminds me of an old joke, ironically a Christian one, which makes it even stranger that the people who often tell this joke don't see how it applies to their own economic prejudices:

God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”

The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.

“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.

“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. You get your own dirt.”

Stories that bring sermons to life

Is it wrong of me to tell Libertarians - get your own math?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


A friend asked me to exercise my vaunted status as Published Science Fiction Author in fulfilling one of the steps of the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. Since it is almost certainly the only time I will ever be called upon to employ said status, I wrote a little flash-fiction and put it on my author Facebook page. Which is itself so utterly obscure that finding it ought to satisfy anyone's idea of a hunt.