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Bonus points for discretion

Every once in a while you read about something that is both jawdroppingly outrageous and, at the same time, not at all surprising. This story, out of Methuen, Massachusetts, is one such item. It seems that folks applying to be cops in that town are asked whether they would treat a drunken friend or police officer differently at a traffic stop than they would treat your average Joe. I’ll bet you think you know the right answer, but I’ll also bet you don’t.

Methuen asked candidates how they would handle a situation in which where they found a driver in a crash who appeared to be intoxicated. The candidate was then asked if the response would change if it involved a relative or a police officer they knew from a neighboring town. The questions are obviously designed to elevate honest officers but was instead used to select dishonest ones. When candidates said they wouldn’t arrest family or fellow officers, the hiring panel noted the person “knows discretion.” Indeed, Bowman said that “Some of the interview panelists actually heaped high praise on those candidates who stated that they would arrest a stranger but not arrest a friend or family member based on the same facts, citing their understanding of ‘discretion.’”

Now, if you follow the link in the post to which I’ve linked, you’ll get to another article in which the graders expand on their reasoning. It isn’t just that the cop wannabes in question understand the use of “discretion”, it’s that anyone who answers differently can be presumed to be a liar and/or giving what they think is the correct answer. That type of disingenuousness can’t be tolerated in a potential cop; better to restrict the field to those who are upfront about their refusal to treat all comers equally.

It occurs to me that this logic can, and probably should, be extended beyond the drunk driver hypothetical. Shouldn’t any potential white cop who claims he would treat brown or black people the same as a white person be excluded from consideration on the same grounds? And what’s the correct answer to this multiple choice question: if you suspected a very obese, unhealthy looking black man of selling cigarettes would you a) exercise your discretion and ignore him because you have more important things to deal with, b) exercise your discretion and give him a warning or a summons, or c) exercise your discretion and choke him to death. If you’ve read this whole post, you now know that the correct answer is c.

All the euphemisms fit to print

The New York Times was never able, so far as I can recall, to refer to enhanced interrogation techniques by the more direct term torture. This was, of course, regrettable, because the word torture conveys the reality more directly and accurately than the euphemism. However, the Times’ avoidance of the T word was somewhat understandable, though not forgivable, since we must assume the Times wanted to avoid admitting that we torture, and, lest we forget, the Times had some responsibility for legitimating the war in which torture became official government policy. Torture is something that other people do, and so the newspaper of record (and most other newspapers too) took shelter behind a euphemism. To my mind our use of the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” was reminiscent of the use of the term “ethnic cleansing” by the Serbs (or was it the Croatians) after the fall of Yugoslavia. Amazingly enough, the Western press fell into line then too, and used the term in place of the more accurate, and more informative word genocide.

Okay, we have now arrived at the point where I will make my point. In this morning’s Times we learn that there’s a lot of human trafficking taking place in Bangladesh and other Asian countries. There’s another term for human trafficking that conveys the reality far more clearly (and isn’t conveying information what newspapers are supposed to be about) than the words the Times chose to use. The term is slave trade. Now really, was that so hard. It’s not like the Times need to cover for the U.S. in this instance. After all, we’re not engaged in the slave trade anymore. It would be interesting to know why the Times feels the need to sugar coat this activity, even a little bit.

A case for Obviousman

If you read the comic strip Non Sequitur you are no doubt familiar with the Superhero who makes occasional appearances in the strip. Obviousman’s super power consists in the ability to spot the obvious. This may not seem like much of a superpower, but he’s got something over today’s media, that’s for sure. He could help them answer this question, which Media Matters tells us they’re all asking:

“Why Only Now?”: Media Ask Why Trump Drew GOP Candidates’ Ire For McCain Remarks, But Not Anti-Immigrant Rants

Here’s what Obviousman would tell them: If these guys (and the one gal) criticize Trump for racism, they run the risk of alienating the racist base to which they all want to appeal, albeit in somewhat subtler fashion than Trump. The McCain flap gives them safe ground from which to mount an attack on Trump; not because they despise his racism, but because he’s a threat to them. The base doesn’t particularly like McCain, but they won’t be offended by attacks against Trump on that ground.

The modern day Republican Party is the party of racism, the natural result of Nixon’s Southern Strategy from many years ago. At the present time it is death for any person seeking the Republican nomination to sincerely condemn racism. This is OBVIOUS, and if in fact the national media are unaware of this fact they are far stupider than they have any right to be. Indeed, their question might be turned on them: Why Not Now: Why doesn’t the media acknowledge the reality of the Republican Party instead of continuing to insist that both parties are equally to blame for what ails us? The fact is they are fully aware of this reality. They simply prefer not to mention it, as doing so would make their corporate masters uncomfortable.

Addendum: Paul Krugman makes some of the same points here. I love it when I can link to someone saying the same things as me after I’ve said it. Of course, in this case it’s not such a big deal, because it’s all so OBVIOUS.

Hillary’s for what I’m for, unless, of course, she’s not

Hillary Clinton’s strategy has been obvious for a while. That strategy, just to be clear, is to get as many people as possible to believe that she is for what they are for, without actually committing herself to anything. You don’t really need to do a statistical analysis of her speeches in order to demonstrate this basic fact about her campaign, but it doesn’t hurt, and if you’d like to see such an analysis, check it out here.

Clinton is hardly unique among politicians in adopting this strategy. In fact, the cynical among us might say that it differs not at all from the strategy employed in 2008 by our current president. We have all seen those bumper stickers asking us how we like all that hope and change stuff. The sad fact is that those stickers make a point, though not the point intended by those who display them. We heard what we wanted to hear in 2008. It just turns out that what we heard wasn’t what Obama was saying. In fact, he wasn’t saying anything much. It remains to be seen whether Clinton can get away with the same strategy this year, given her baggage, which includes close and notorious ties to our Wall Street oppressors. Obama had close ties too, but they weren’t notorious and Wall Street wasn’t in as bad an odor then as it is now.

In a world tending more toward the perfect than our own, it would be the job of the press to pin Clinton down. But that’s not a job in which the media has much real interest. Sure, they’d like to bring her down, but they want to do it on their own terms, through overblown scandals, insinuation and a sense of personal aggrievement. They moan about a lack of access, but if they get it, they want to ask questions about Benghazi or emails, not about things that matter to the American people. So, one can’t complain about Hillary keeping them at arm’s length.

Still, I’m an optimist. (No, really, despite what opinions to the contrary you may have formed by reading this blog.) Hillary is going to come under pressure to declare herself, not from the press, but from the other Democratic candidates and the people. People are fed up, and I think they’re tired of bullshit, which is precisely what Hillary is selling these days.

Storm is threatening

Read about it here.

I suppose that it is some consolation to know that the Chinese economy is just as vulnerable to the tender ministrations of Goldman Sachs as is the American economy. It will be interesting to see if the Chinese government has any better luck than ours holding Goldman accountable when, as seems likely, the Chinese economy falls apart.

All of this raises an interesting question, one with which I have wrestled, but to which I’ve never found a satisfactory answer. In this case, it appears that the Chinese government, in league with Goldman, has snookered allegedly sophisticated investors into buying stock in companies set up specifically to own non-performing loans, which were purchased by those companies at face value, despite the absolute knowledge that they were in default, or nearly so. So there’s your business plan: pay top prices for worthless assets and hope someday those assets will appreciate in value, when there is no reason on earth to believe that will ever happen. Who are these investors buying these stocks, and how could such smart people do such dumb things? You say: maybe they’re not so smart; to which I say how could that be; ask any one of them and they’ll tell you how smart they are.

I’ve asked myself the same question about the folks on the losing end of the deals engineered by folks like Mitt Romney and his friends at Bain Capital. You know, the deals where Bain buys a company (pays itself a fee for doing so); loads it with debt (pays itself a fee for doing so) that it uses to pay itself big returns and then steps aside while the thing goes bankrupt, costing loss of jobs to workers and loss of money to the idiots who lent the money to Bain in the first place. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing here. Maybe these “investors” are betting with other people’s money and paying themselves large fees for doing so, so that they too can step aside and let someone’s 401k take the hit. There’s a common thread in all of this; win or lose, there is no social utility in any of these financial devices. They are simply ways to divert other people’s money into the pockets of Wall Street con men. We count ourselves lucky if they just take a cut and leave the economy relatively unscathed, but if history is any guide, sooner or later they bring everyone down, except, nowadays, themselves.

Ready to Die

Glenn Beck is looking for a few good men to lay down their lives:

Next week, Religious Right activist Jim Garlow will be hosting a four day conference at his California megachurch called the “Future Conference: What You Thought Was Coming … Is Here Now.” That sort of a dire warning perfectly matches up with what Glenn Beck has been saying for the last several months, so naturally Beck invited Garlow on to his radio program yesterday to promote the event.

Garlow’s conference is coming at the perfect time, Beck said, because society is about to collapse and America needs passionate pastors who are willing to give up their lives if necessary in the fight against the coming persecution of Christians. Fortunately, the Black Robe Regiment that he and David Barton established a few years back has managed to cobble together at least 10,000 pastors who are willing to do just that.

“The number in the Black Robe Regiment is about 70,000 now,” Beck said. “The number that I think will walk through a wall of fire, you know, and possible death, is anywhere between 17,000 and 10,000. That is an extraordinary number of people that are willing to lay it all down on the table and willing to go to jail or go to death because they serve God and not man.”

Garlow was in complete agreement, saying that the necessity of being willing to die is “honestly where we are.”

via Right Wing Watch

I am having a bit of difficulty imagining a scenario in which the willingness of the 10,000 or more could be tested. If I were cynical, I would assert that the number of the willing is inversely proportional to the risk. To be honest, when I first heard about all these men of the cloth willing to lay down their lives, the first thing that came to mind was this scene from the Life of Brian:

Am I hoping beyond hope in expecting Glenn to lead the black robes to death and glory?

Sausage making in Hartford

There’s an old saying to the effect that you really don’t want to know how legislation or sausage is made. I’m not sure about the meat variety, but I’d actually love to know how this sausage was made. It is Section 57 of the budget bill just passed by our legislature. It reads as follows:

Sec. 57. (NEW) (Effective October 1, 2015) (a) As used in this section, “fire sprinkler system” means a system of piping and appurtenances designed and installed in accordance with generally accepted standards so that heat from a fire will automatically cause water to be discharged over the fire area to extinguish or prevent its further spread.

(b) When renting any dwelling unit, the landlord of such dwelling unit shall include notice in the rental agreement as to the existence or nonexistence of an operative fire sprinkler system in such dwelling unit and shall be printed in not less than twelve-point boldface type of uniform font.

© If there is an operative fire sprinkler system in the dwelling unit, the rental agreement shall provide further notice as to the last date of maintenance and inspection and shall be printed in not less than twelve-point boldface type of uniform font.

Now, you might ask, what does this have to do with the budget? The obvious and correct answer is: nothing. Presumably, someone snuck it in there, or was allowed to do so by leadership in order to buy that someone’s vote for the entire package. Why anyone would want it, is a mystery. Why anyone would inflict such a poorly drafted monstrosity on the state is an even bigger mystery.

I’ve been grappling with the language ever since I found out about it. I represent a local housing authority, so we will need to comply with it. In order to do that, we must know what it means. It’s meaning is not so clear as you might think on first reading, and the practical problems it poses are daunting. This statute proves there is merit to the committee process, where bills are vetted and where interested people might have a chance to point out problems.

For starters, what does the term “when renting any dwelling unit” mean? I think it means “at the beginning of a tenancy”, but it could arguably mean “during the period of a tenancy”. The housing authority has hundreds of tenants. Each has a lease. Do we have to get each of them to sign a new lease in October, or can we put this language in new leases? If the former, it’s an administrative nightmare, particularly because for the most part we have to do it in order to inform the tenants about something they don’t have: sprinklers. Wouldn’t it make sense to restrict the requirement to dwelling units in which sprinklers were required by code?

Normal private landlords will have their problems with this too, assuming that they even find out about it. The landlord-tenant act recognizes that there are many landlord tenant relationships that operate under what we refer to as an “oral” lease, i.e., an unwritten lease in which the relationship between the parties is governed by state law. I often advise private landlords to not bother with a written lease; the statutes work fine for both parties. How does this new statute apply to such leases? Does it implicitly ban them? After all, you can’t put something in 12 point bold faced type of a uniform font into an oral agreement. (Maybe if you give a very loud oral notice in a uniform volume that would count) The statute requires that the notice be “in the rental agreement”. That implies that it can’t be provided as part of a separate notice. Answer to question: who knows? Whoever drafted this statute clearly never bothered to run it by anyone with a passing familiarity with landlord-tenant law.

Well, you might say: no harm done. There doesn’t appear to be any sanction for failing to comply. At least there’s no express sanction. Which means a court would have to figure out what the effect of non-compliance would be. Is a non-complying lease void? Does non-compliance excuse non-payment of rent? Is it an unfair trade practice? Inquiring minds might like to know.

This is not a big deal in and of itself. My guess is that the statute will be ignored by all and sundry. But it does make one wonder what other potential disasters are lurking in this “budget bill”. And I’d really like to know who snuck this provision into the bill. Is there a legislator who sells sprinkler systems? Maybe Groton’s John Scott (R-Insurance Agent), can use this technique to get his insurance agent relief bills through next year.

Europe’s March of Folly

If you haven’t read Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly, go read it. It should be required reading in high schools everywhere. Anyone who has read it can only shudder at the possibilities opening up in a Europe that is marching in tandem toward chaos. If this writer is correct, and I suspect he is, the people of the other countries afflicted by German and corporate imposed austerity are taking heed of the Greek vote rejecting further austerity madness:

Meanwhile, the political fallout in Europe is just beginning. The Syriza-like party in Spain has become a serious contender, tied in third place with the two other traditional parties. No formal anti-establishment party has risen in Portugal, but the Socialist opposition, which is almost sure to win the upcoming election, promises to stand against austerity.

And it will not stop there. If Germany and its northern European allies don’t offer a respite, the anti-austerity political contagion will spread across the Continent because a new generation is slowly taking over and it wants a brighter future than the drab predictability of never-ending sacrifice. Old technocrats will eventually be replaced.

Greeks have defied the attempts to repress their democratic will. Welcome to the new Europe, for better or worse.

via Consortium News

The Greek government is by no means an existential threat. In fact, it is making a lot more sense than the austerians. But there is every reason to believe that parties of the right will step in to exploit the legitimate grievances of the peoples afflicted by austerity. In Greece itself there is a high level of anti-Semitism, with the vast majority believing that Jews have too much power over the financial system. In times of stress people everywhere (not just here) look for scapegoats, and there are plenty of political parties ready to blame the blameless for economic troubles those very parties have every intention of perpetuating should they gain power. If it’s not the Jews, it’s immigrants or some other out group. We are in the anniversary years of WW I, toward which Europe sleep marched, perfectly illustrating Tuchman’s thesis. It’s happening again, led by a Germany that is financially strong today in large part because it benefitted from forward looking policies it refuses to apply to Greece and the other peripheral countries. If Syriza goes, which is the clear objective of Merkel and her henchpeople, it is not at all clear it will be replaced by the corporate and bank friendly regime she appears to want. If history is any guide, it’s far more likely that a party of the right will take advantage of the opening created by the corporatists to gain power. It doesn’t have to happen, but it’s quite likely, and it’s a possibility that should be obvious to anyone (I mean, it’s been obvious to me for awhile, which shows how obvious it is), yet seems to be ignored by everyone with any semblance of power in Europe.

The DCCC wants my money and will lie to get it

Well, maybe “lie” is too strong a word. Maybe “mislead” would be better. The type of misleading that, were it anything but political fundraising, would be considered fraud.

The immediate cause of my (rekindled) ire: an email I received today from the DCCC fundraising off of Bernie Sanders “passionate speech about income inequality in front of thousands of fired up progressives in Maine.” “It was” the DCCC avows, “AMAZING”.

It probably was.

Except the last thing the folks who run the DCCC want to see in Congress is more Congresspeople like Bernie Sanders. They call me constantly, and I always tell them the same thing: I won’t give my money to a Democratic organization that seeks out the most conservative candidates it can find. You can read one indictment here, the money quote being:

The real tragedy is that the DCCC and the DSCC– for all their mealy-mouthed protestations of “neutrality” in primaries– continue recruiting fiscally conservative candidates, in the image of Blue Dog Steve Israel and New Dem Joe Crowley (both crooked Wall Street-backed politicians being high up in House Democratic Party leadership). The DCCC gets into trouble by recruiting these awful conservative candidates– some actual opportunistic Republicans– and either lose outright or win and then lose the seat soon after when Democratic voters realize they’ve been sold a bill of goods. Yesterday, reporting for Roll Call, Emily Cahn, wrote that the DCCC, still smarting from the disasters of their past recruitment “strategy,” is reassessing– or at least cultivating an image of reassessing the failed recruitment agenda.

And here’s what we get:

Horrible New Dem-type candidates pushed by Steve Israel who led the Democrats into jaw-dropping defeats– some in heavily blue districts– included Jennifer Garrison (OH), Sean Eldridge (NY), Domenic Recchia (NY), Ann Callis (IL), Jerry Cannon (MI), Erin Billbray (NV), Andrew Romanoff (CO), Kevin Strouse (PA), Marjorie Margolies (PA), John Lewis (MT), Pam Byrnes (MI), James Lee Witt (AR), Emily Cain (ME), Bobby McKenzie (MI), Aaron Woolf (NY), Martha Robertson (NY), Suzanne Patrick (VA), Manan Trivedi (PA) and Nick Casey (WV).

Fiscally conservative Democratic incumbents who followed lame DCCC messaging and were defeated– primarily by Democratic voters’ decision to boycott the elections– included Blue Dogs and New Dems like Ron Barber (AZ), Nick Rahall (WV), Pete Gallego (TX), Dan Maffei (NY), John Barrow (GA), Joe Garcia (FL), and Brad Schneider (IL). Several other putrid conservaDem incumbents managed to hold onto their seats by the skin of their teeth, like Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA), Scott Peters (New Dem-CA), Ami Bera (New Dem-CA), and Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY).

We don’t win by being Republican-lite, and what good would it do us if we did. The linked article notes that the DCCC is trying to change the image of what it is doing, but the substance remains. The DSCC is, of course, no better. Right now they are pushing an ex-Republican, whose stripes are mostly unchanged, over Alan Grayson for the Senate in Florida. The sad fact is that winning is secondary; winning with Wall Street friendly types is the objective, and if that means losing a few seats you could have won with good candidates, well, that’s the price you have to pay.

Let’s parse this

Politico has obtained a draft of the TPP treaty section governing intellectual property. While it’s devastating all around. it’s provisions on pharmaceuticals are particularly bad. Drug prices would rise everywhere, and in many poorer countries generics would no longer be available, meaning that (even more) people will die so drug companies can make obscene profits. The provisions in question are those proposed by the United States, so keep that in mind as we go further.

What struck me was this:

U.S. officials said the key point to remember about trade deals is that no provision is ever final until the entire deal is final—and that major compromises tend to happen at the very end of the negotiations. They expect the real horse-trading to begin now that Obama has signed “fast-track” legislation requiring Congress to pass or reject TPP without amendments.

via Politico

So, let’s parse this. The Obama administration is telling us that there is no need to worry about the terrible effects of its own proposals, because there is always the chance that it will compromise and the final product will be better than what it has clearly signaled it wants, by proposing it in the first place.

The Obama folks have always had rather strange ways of approaching negotiations. When it came to the health care and stimulus bills, Obama’s approach was to make his opening offer what he felt he would probably get after protracted negotiations. Shockingly, Republicans demanded more concessions, which he proceeded to give them, even though it bought him nary a vote. And let’s not even get into the negotiating strategy he employed to avert government shutdowns, by offering to eviscerate Social Security. Only the refusal of Republicans to agree to anything Obama proposed saved us then. But let Tom Tomorrow tell the story:

Back to the “trade” pact. Based on past practice, there is no good way to look at these “trade” proposals. First, if this is an indication of what Obama thinks he would get after protracted negotiations ( see: cartoon above), one must be truly frightened to contemplate what Obama would really want if given his druthers. But I suspect that this is not a replay of his health care negotiating style; he reserves that for Republicans, or did until recently, as there are some indications he may have learned a lesson most of us never needed. No, his administration will be playing hard ball on this, so what you see in the draft is what we’re likely to get when the dust settles.

So we are left to ponder some semantic distinctions. Is his administration merely being disingenuous, or would it be more accurate to say that they are lying?