Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 2017

The Theory and Practice of Civic Engagement, by Eric Liu

leave a comment »

James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

If you happen to be in Redlands, California, on Thursday evening, September 21, I suggest you go by the headquarters of the tech company Esri to hear a talk by my friend Eric Liu, on the practical possibilities for civic engagement in our politically troubled age.

If you don’t happen to be in Redlands, I recommend getting Eric’s book, You Are More Powerful Than You Think. It addresses a central question of this politically troubled age: what, exactly, citizens who are unhappy with national politics can do, other than write a check or await the next chance to vote.

This is a question I wrestled with immediately after last year’s election, in this Atlantic article, and in a commencement speech a few months later. But Eric, author of several previous books about the theory and practice of citizenship (including The Gardens of Democracy and A Chinaman’s Chance) and head of the Citizen University network, based in Seattle, has devoted his useful and enlightening new book to just this topic, in the age of Trump. He described some of its principles in a NYT interview with David Bornstein a few months ago. Essentially his topic is how to bridge the gap between thinking, “something should be done,” and actually taking steps to doing that something, on your own and with others. This also is the ongoing theme of Citizen University, which emphasizes that citizenship is a job in addition to being a status.

I’ll leave the details, of which there are many, to Eric — on the podium in Redlands or in the pages of his book. The high-concept part of his argument flows from these three axioms:

  • Power creates monopolies, and is winner-take-all. → You must change the game.
  • Power creates a story of why it’s legitimate. → You must change the story.
  • Power is assumed to be finite and zero-sum. → You must change the equation.

He goes on, in practical terms, to illustrate what these mean. The political question of this era (as discussed here) is how the resilient qualities of American civic society match up against the challenges presented by the lurches of Donald Trump. Can the judiciary adhere to pre-2017 standards? How will the Congress fare in its ongoing search for a soul? Will states and cities maintain their policies on the environment, on standards of justice, on treatment of refugees and immigrants? And how, fundamentally, can citizens play a more active and powerful role in the affairs of their nation? These and others are central struggles of our time. And Eric Liu’s book is part of the effort to push the outcome in a positive direction.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Politics

We should recognize that Scott Walker may simply be stupid: Wisconsin Is Going to Lose a Bundle on the Foxconn Deal

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum has an interesting chart and post. The chart:

The post begins:

It’s official: Wisconsin has approved a deal to bring a huge Foxconn facility to its state. The way this deal works is that Foxconn pays taxes to Wisconsin and Wisconsin provides Foxconn with refundable tax credits—that is, money that’s paid regardless of whether Foxconn has any tax liability. What this means is that it’s possible for Wisconsin to pay Foxconn more than Foxconn pays in taxes. In fact, it’s not only possible, it’s what they expect. Here’s what the deal looks like in cheese-colored chart form.

According to estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the money Wisconsin pays to Foxconn will be higher than the combined taxes they get directly from Foxconn and from workers at the Foxconn facility. This annual deficit won’t become positive until 2033. The cumulative deficit won’t become positive until 2042. And this all assumes that Foxconn produces the 13,000 jobs it says it will. If it doesn’t, the deal will look even worse for Wisconsin.

Why enter a deal that’s certain to cost Wisconsin money in the short term and will only become profitable in the long term if Foxconn is still around in 25 years—a long time in the tech industry? . . .

Read the whole thing.

See also “Wisconsin Just Gave Foxconn $2.85 Billion — and Protection From Its Court System — to Build a TV Factory.” The first paragraph:

On Monday, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a law that will transfer $2.85 billion from his state’s taxpayers to a Taiwanese tech company. The law also allows said company to forgo an assessment of how its plans will impact the state’s environment, and to flout laws meant to protect Wisconsin’s wetlands and waterways. Finally, the legislation stipulates that, should environmentalists, local businesses, or Wisconsin residents sue this company, for any reason, any trial-court rulings against it will be automatically suspended, until a higher court weighs in — should the higher court rule also against it, the company will be able to take its case to the state’s (conservative-dominated) Supreme Court in an expedited fashion. . .

Yes, Scott Walker is stupid. And/or he was paid handsomely on the side by Foxconn.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Interesting parallel between Vietnam War and American Revolution

leave a comment »

James Fallows has a column that points out similarities, along with a very interesting comment from a reader:

The Ken Burns / Lynn Novick 18-hour series on The Vietnam War began its run on PBS on Sunday night and continues through this week and next. I felt about as familiar with that era as I could imagine—with its tensions at the time, with the journalism and literature that came out of it, with the historical assessments, with the war’s role in music and movies and others parts of pop culture and public imagination. Even so I found this a tremendously revealing series. I recommend it very highly. Please find a way to watch—now, or in the many streaming and download alternatives they are making available.

***

As with any attempt to grapple with a topic this vast and complex, and of such emotional and historical consequence, the Burns/Novick series is bound to be controversial. For one example of an avenue of criticism, see this review by veteran Asia-hand correspondent Jim Laurie, who was on-scene in Vietnam and Cambodia during the war.

Here’s another: When I did an interview with Burns and Novick for the upcoming issue of Amtrak’s The National magazine, I asked them about one of the central themes of their press-tour presentation of the project, as opposed to the video itself. Both Burns and Novick have stressed the idea that the divisions generated by the Vietnam war prefigure the polarization of Trump-era America.

To me, that seems a little too pat. Even though I argued back at the time that the “class war” elements of Vietnam were a central reason the U.S. remained engaged for so many years, so much has happened between then and now that it’s hard to trace a sensible connection from those times to these. Since the height of the fighting in Vietnam, we’ve had: the end of the draft; the disappearance of the Soviet Union; the emergence of China; multiple dramatic shifts in political mood (the arrivals of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, later Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump, were each seen as the dawns of new political eras); the 9/11 attacks; multiple wars; multiple booms and busts; multiple grounds for hope and despair. Donald Trump was on one side of the Vietnam class-war divide, with his student deferments and mysterious physical disqualifications. Figures as politically diverse as John McCain, Al Gore, John Kerry, Jim Mattis, and Jim Webb were on the other. But it’s hard to make a neat match of that cleavage 50 years ago to the multiple axes of disagreement now. To me, it seems easier to trace a line of descent from the Civil War –subject of Ken Burns’s first national-phenomenon film series, back in 1990—to Trump-era divides than from the Vietnam war.

I lay out this disagreement on a specific point as a set-up for emphasizing  how valuable and informative I think the series is overall. It is remarkable in interleaving the accounts of participants from opposite sides of the same battle – the Americans and South Vietnamese, but also the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong – all describing what they were afraid of, what their plans were, how they reckoned victory and defeat in struggles for control of a particular hill or hamlet. It offers abundant evidence of battlefield bravery and sacrifice, on all sides – but precious few examples of political courage or foresight, especially in the United States. It’s hard to say whether Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon comes off worse for the combination of strategic misjudgment and flat-out dishonesty in management of the war. The White House recordings from both men are spell-binding.

Please watch. And since most of today’s Americans had not even been born by the time the last U.S. forces left Vietnam, it’s all the more valuable for generations who know nothing about that era first-hand.

***

Further on the theme of linkages between Vietnam and previous American engagements, a reader makes the evocative connection to the first war that troops of the newly formed United States ever fought.

A reader of the Vietnam era / Boomer era, who grew up in South Carolina, writes:

I saw your recent post in the Atlantic about the upcoming Ken Burns film on the Vietnam War and I remembered this place, the camp/hideaway for General Francis Marion and his irregular forces in the American Revolution. It is about as inaccessible now as then, even following designation as a national historic site. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 10:21 am

Posted in Government, Military, Video

Morning links: Oklahoma City cops shoot, kill deaf man despite warnings

leave a comment »

Again, Radley Balko reports law-enforcement activity:

More items at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 8:43 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

The sex-offender panic is destroying lives

leave a comment »

Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

The video below tells the story of Shawna, an Oklahoma woman who is still in mandatory treatment because 15 years ago, when she was 19, she had sex with a boy who was 14. Over at the Marshall Project, David Feige has more about the unlikely people swept up in the sex-offender panic for offenses most of us wouldn’t associate with a typical sexual predator. Take the case of Adrian:

Adrian was a junior at North Dakota State majoring in business management, when he travelled to Miami for spring break. There, he met a girl at an 18-and-over club. They flirted and danced, then walked to the beach where they had sex. They spent about five days together, hanging out on and off and occasionally hooking up.

Adrian returned to college after the trip and all seemed well, until seven months later when he got a call from a detective with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. As it turns out, the girl had used a fake ID to get into the club. She was actually 15 years old at the time. Her mom filed a complaint when she found out what had happened.

Asked to return to Miami to answer some questions, Adrian took a bus back to Florida. He explained to the detective that everything was consensual, and that he’d assumed the girl must have been 18 or older since she was in the club. Officers recorded his statement, thanked him for his co-operation, handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. Unable to post the $40,000 bond set by a judge, Adrian remained in jail for nearly eight months. It was the first and only time he’d ever been arrested.

In Florida, as in most other states, the fact that the girl was a willing participant was not a defense. Having admitted to the affair and facing some twenty years in prison, Adrian had no choice but to plead guilty to four counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a person under 16. That guilty plea guaranteed he’d spend the rest of his life listed on Florida’s sex offender registry . . .

Five years after his guilty plea, Adrian had been rejected from more jobs than he could count. Unable to find housing that complied with a Miami ordinance that prevents registrants from living within 2,500 feet of any public or private school, daycare center or playground, Adrian was was forced into homelessness. He slept in a car parked in a lot — one of the few places sex offenders are actually allowed to reside. His college career was over, as was any hope he ever harbored of having a productive life. Then, two years ago, almost a decade after his conviction, Adrian failed to properly register his whereabouts with the police. As a result, he was sentenced to three years in prison.

Yes, we should discourage 19-year-olds from having sex with 14-year-olds, and 21-year-olds from having sex with 15-year-olds. But these people aren’t predators. They aren’t pedophiles. They showed poor judgment and had non-coercive sex with partners who were physically mature. (Yes, the law says any sex with a minor is de facto coercive.) Perhaps we should punish them, but we shouldn’t seek to utterly destroy them. And in Adrian’s case, the lack of intent makes what happened to him all the more unjust. It’s all the worse when you consider how little evidence there is that these laws do anything to protect society from actual predators.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Supreme Court has just upheld a state law allowing prosecutors to charge minors who send nude photos of themselves to other people …. as child pornographers. If convicted, that means mandatory prison time and a lifetime on the sex-offender list. . .

Continue reading.

The video to which he refers:

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 8:37 am

A Tennessee man could remain in prison for years, even though a judge and prosecutor have dismissed the charges against him

leave a comment »

Radley Balko describes a Kafkaesque quirk of the American criminal “justice” system:

From the Tennessean, here’s a crazy story about a man who looks to be doomed to years in prison, despite the fact that the charges that put him there have been dropped. You can thank the state’s parole board.

A judge and prosecutor dismissed the criminal allegations against John Leon Smith, but in the eyes of the Tennessee Board of Parole he’s still guilty.

The man will remain in prison until next year at least — maybe until 2026 …

… Smith served about half of a 40-year prison sentence for a violent armed robbery and threatening to kill workers at a Nashville restaurant in 1992. Smith fired several shots, which wounded one worker, and as he fled from police, fired shots at officers, according to appeals court records.

“I was drinking and drugging and it cost me my life,” he said. “I threw it away in 30 minutes.”

He was released on parole in October 2013, according to state records.

Seventeen months later he was arrested on two felonies, alleging possession of marijuana and a weapon, court records show. At the time, Smith lived at a North Nashville home with two other people.

Because of his criminal history, Smith wasn’t supposed to have guns.

Court records and transcripts say undercover police intercepted a UPS package with nearly 8 pounds of marijuana inside and delivered it to the home, where Smith answered the door. About 30 minutes later, another man arrived and tried to leave with the package before he was arrested, according to a transcript of one detective’s testimony.

Officers later found a handgun in furniture in Smith’s bedroom and three rifles and a shotgun in a separate closet, records say.

A Nashville judge dismissed the gun charge two weeks later after hearing testimony from the homeowner that Smith did not know the guns were in the home and the handgun belonged to someone else, according to a court transcript.

In March 2016, a year after Smith’s arrest, prosecutors dismissed the other charge against Smith — the drug crime — after the man who claimed the package of pot pleaded guilty, court records show.

“Your case is dismissed,” a judge told Smith, according to the transcript. “That’s the end of that, so, for you.”

The problem: Smith’s arrest was a violation of his parole. Such violations can send him back to prison. It doesn’t matter that the charges were dropped. And the ultimate arbiter of whether Smith violated his parole isn’t the judge or prosecutor, but the Tennessee Board of Parole. And that group of seven people, all appointed by the governor, has decided to keep Smith in prison. Bizarrely, the Tennessee legislature has even passed a law that should apply to cases like Smith’s. But the parole board decided, unilaterally, that the law isn’t retroactive.

This isn’t the first time the Tennessee Board of Parole has come under criticism. Here’s an op-ed, also in the Tennessean, from May:

In 1978, Lawrence McKinney was sentenced to 100 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

He could have expected to serve every bit of it, if not for the work of Memphis attorney Lorna McClusky and the Innocence Project, among others.

He was released after serving 31 years and given $75.

Mr. McKinney didn’t commit the crime and pled not guilty to it. He maintained his innocence and turned down offers for a plea bargain.

Yet, after 31 years of wrongful incarceration, the Tennessee Board of Parole has the gall to want us to believe that it was Mr. McKinney’s release that was the mistake.

Media reports described a Board of Parole hearing to discuss McKinney’s case, after he had been released, that had the feel of a trial. McKinney was grilled about his conviction, which, again, had already been vacated and charges dismissed.

One board member seemed to reject conclusive DNA evidence. To add insult to injury, the same board member flat-out declared that McKinney committed the rape in 1977.

“[W]hen you look at the record in its entirety…what is clear and convincing to me is that Mr. McKinney did commit…the crime of rape in 1977,” he said.

What’s more, arguably this kind of alternative reality seems to be par for the course for the leadership of the Board of Parole.

When recently asked about another case of Robert Polk — a prisoner wrongfully held in prison for two years partly because the Board of Parole did not hold a timely hearing — the leader of the board reportedly said that the wrongful incarceration had nothing to do with the board or his leadership.

As noted, the board considers clemency and exoneration petitions in addition to parole. Exonerees must be declared innocent by the governor in order to be compensated, and most governors won’t exonerate without the board’s recommendation. Tennessee has exonerated just two people since 2000, and only one received compensation.

Members of the parole board are appointed to six-year terms and make around $100,000 per year. It isn’t made up of judges or retired judges. The appointees are largely political. Last year, for example, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed two new members to the board. Both are best knownfor being related to prominent state Republicans. One, Zane Duncan, is a former lobbyist for a Kentucky railroad company … and son of a GOP congressman.  The other, Roberta Kustoff, is a former tax attorney and wife of Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.).

The makeup of the rest of the board is just as puzzling. The current chairman, Richard Montgomery,  is a former state legislator with no criminal justice background. Gary Faulcon is a 25-year police officer. Tim Gobble is a former cop, Secret Service agent and chief deputy of a sheriff’s department. Finally, Barrett Rich is a former state trooper and three-term Republican in the state legislature. Gay Gregson is at least from outside of law enforcement. She worked for more than 20 years in special education and has won community service awards in West Tennessee. She was also an outspoken supporter of Haslam during his campaign.

These are the people who decide the fate of Tennessee prisoners up for parole — and who advise the governor on clemency, pardons and exonerations. They’re mostly former cops and former politicians. There are no psychiatrists or social workers. There are no criminal justice academics, experts in prisoner rehabilitation, or — God forbid — defense attorneys.  According to the board’s annual report for fiscal year 2015-2016, it considered a whopping 16,338 parole hearings that year. Among its “accomplishments” for that year, the board notes that it …

  • “Planned the 13th annual Tennessee Season to Remember event honoring homicide victims, in cooperation with other state criminal justice agencies.”
  • “Honored 12 members of the [Board of Parole] staff with awards for reaching milestones in state service.”
  • “Planted eleven trees in cities across the state to honor victims of crime, and honored victim advocates for their work.”

There’s nothing wrong with honoring victims of crime, of course. But there are also no “accomplishments” listed as prominently to suggest that the parole board puts an equal value on redemption, rehabilitation or reentry. . .

Continue reading.

Words fail me.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 8:30 am

The Cynicism Behind Graham-Cassidy Is Breathtaking

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum notes:

It’s hard to know how to react to the cynicism of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. For starters, of course, it’s as bad as all the other Republican repeal bills. Tens of millions of the working poor will lose insurance. Pre-existing conditions aren’t protected. Medicaid funding is slashed. Subsidies are slashed.

But apparently that’s not enough. Republican senators (and President Trump, of course) obviously don’t care what’s in the bill. Hell, they’re all but gleeful in their ignorance. Nor is merely repealing Obamacare enough. Graham-Cassidy is very carefully formulated to punish blue states especially harshly. And if even that’s not enough, after 2020 it gives the president the power to arbitrarily punish them even more if he feels like it. I guess this makes it especially appealing to conservatives. Finally, by handing everything over to the states with virtually no guidance, it would create chaos in the health insurance market. The insurance industry, which was practically the only major player to stay neutral on previous bills (doctors, nurses, hospitals, and everyone else opposed them) has finally had enough. Even if it hurts them with Republicans, Graham-Cassidy is a bridge too far:

The two major trade groups for insurers, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, announced their opposition on Wednesday to the Graham-Cassidy bill….“The bill contains provisions that would allow states to waive key consumer protections, as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing medical conditions,’’ said Scott P. Serota, the president and chief executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

….America’s Health Insurance Plans was even more pointed. The legislation could hurt patients by “further destabilizing the individual market” and could potentially allow “government-controlled single payer health care to grow,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, the president and chief executive of the association. Without controls, some states could simply eliminate private insurance, she warned.

Literally nobody in the health insurance industry likes this bill. The chaos and misery it would unleash are practically undebatable. It’s being passed for no reason except that Republicans have screwed up health care so epically that they have only a few days left to pass something, and Graham-Cassidy is something.

If there’s any silver lining at all to this mess, it comes from AHIP’s Marilyn Taverner:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 8:26 am

%d bloggers like this: