Windypundit https://windypundit.com Classical liberalism, criminal laws, the war on drugs, economics, free speech, technology, photography, and whatever else comes to mind. Thu, 15 Feb 2018 06:53:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 43535019 America’s Harvest Box: Socialism for Republicans https://windypundit.com/2018/02/americas-harvest-box-socialism-republicans/ https://windypundit.com/2018/02/americas-harvest-box-socialism-republicans/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 06:32:45 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=11037 About a year ago, my friend Jennifer was mocking our current lack of school choice with this analogy to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP): …the system we have, wherein people are given food stamps to spend at whatever store they please, is FAR better than a system wherein poor people are only able to get food […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at America’s Harvest Box: Socialism for Republicans

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About a year ago, my friend Jennifer was mocking our current lack of school choice with this analogy to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP):

…the system we have, wherein people are given food stamps to spend at whatever store they please, is FAR better than a system wherein poor people are only able to get food from ONE specified grocery store in their neighborhood — and if that store is subpar and has a crappy selection of food, tough shit for them; if they want to shop at a decent grocery store, their only option is to move to a neighborhood which has one. Yet that dysfunctional hypothetical is EXACTLY how our public education system works now.

The SNAP program is far from ideal, but it’s much better than Jennifer’s laughably zany idea.

Fast forward a year, however, and it turns out that the Trump administration has come up with something much, much dumber.

The Trump administration wants to slash food aid to low-income families and make up the difference with a box of canned goods — a change that Office of Management and budget director Mick Mulvaney described in a Monday briefing as a “Blue Apron-type program.”

“What we do is propose that for folks who are on food stamps, part — not all, part — of their benefits come in the actual sort of, and I don’t want to steal somebody’s copyright, but a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash,” Mulvaney said. “It lowers the cost to us because we can buy [at wholesale prices] whereas they have to buy it at retail. It also makes sure they’re getting nutritious food. So we’re pretty excited about that.”

People have come up with a lot of questions about this plan, and I have a few concerns of my own.

[Update: And so does my friend Jennifer, who scooped me on this angle with a post of her own.]

Will it really be cheaper? Sure, the government can buy the food in bulk, but they still have to distribute it to everyone, which is a job that retailers do right now. Can the government actually perform the distribution cheaper than people whose livelihood depends on controlling costs?

What about delivery costs? Under the current system, the cost of getting the food to people’s homes is born by the SNAP benefit recipients themselves, in the sense that they pick the food up themselves. Granted, delivery is probably a nice time-saving benefit for recipients, but there’s no way it’s cheaper for the government.

What about people who move a lot? What about transients and migratory farm workers? What about people who crash with friends? What about the homeless? How will the delivery service work for them?

(Frankly, I wouldn’t expect the deliveries to last. Somebody will decide that since poor people aren’t working, they have plenty of time to pick the food up from a local depot…thus more closely conforming to Jennifer’s original mocking suggestion.)

Even if the system of in-kind food distribution reduces costs, I’m pretty sure it will be far from cost effective — recipients will be getting far less bang for the buck. With food stamps or EBT cards, the recipients get to make their own choices about which foods to buy, which means they can carefully target their needs. That’s just naturally more efficient than letting distant bureaucrats decide what they need.

I hope these food packages will be customized to handle common medical situations, such as low sugar for diabetics, gluten-free for people with celiac disease, no peanuts for those with allergies. On the other hand, the proposed “America’s Harvest Box” program closely resembles the USDA’s current Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which offers only 52 different foods. Even a 7-Eleven stocks over a thousand items.

In any case, there are other reasons besides medical needs for customizing food choices. Secretaries, store clerks, dock workers, nursing mothers, and heart patients all have different food requirements. In addition, many poor people don’t have very versatile kitchens, so they would be better off if they could select foods they can cook easily. And it’s a lot easier to satisfy a picky child with the 30,000 choices from a grocery store than to force them to eat foods they don’t like.

In the long run, with billions of dollars to be spent on food every year, the selection of items to offer is almost certain to be captured by lobbyists for the agriculture industry. They won’t care what foods poor people like, and they won’t even much care what foods are healthy. Instead, food choices will be driven by which agricultural sectors contribute the most money to campaigns or have the most employees in swing states.

The craziest thing about “America’s Harvest Box” program is that it is a giant government-run program proposed by Republicans. Conservatives are supposed to love efficient free markets and hate planned economies, but when Republicans propose programs like this, it shows they don’t really understand why free markets are good. They don’t really believe that individual consumers making choices for themselves will be far better at it than buildings full of government bureaucrats. They only give lip service to “free markets” because it’s what they think their donors want to hear. In practice, gigantic socialist agricultural programs go over just fine with American Republicans. 

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at America’s Harvest Box: Socialism for Republicans

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Show Me the Memo! Or GTFO! https://windypundit.com/2018/02/show-memo-gtfo/ https://windypundit.com/2018/02/show-memo-gtfo/#respond Fri, 02 Feb 2018 00:10:44 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=11030 If I’m following the story correctly, California Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, has prepared a 4-page memo which purports that the FBI lied in some way to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to get permission to wiretap a Trump aide who was supposedly talking to the Russians.  […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Show Me the Memo! Or GTFO!

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If I’m following the story correctly, California Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, has prepared a 4-page memo which purports that the FBI lied in some way to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to get permission to wiretap a Trump aide who was supposedly talking to the Russians. 

Democrats are arguing that Republicans only want to release the memo to protect Trump by derailing Muller’s Russia investigation. Republicans are arguing that the memo should come out because it will show that the Russia investigation is driven by partisan hackery. And now the FBI is now saying they have “grave concerns” over the memo because it is misleading and reveals secrets.

To hell with all of them. Either show us the memo or shut up about it. All this speculation is pointless when the memo itself is right there.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Show Me the Memo! Or GTFO!

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The First Year of President Trump https://windypundit.com/2018/01/first-year-president-trump/ https://windypundit.com/2018/01/first-year-president-trump/#respond Wed, 31 Jan 2018 00:41:59 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=11020 I gotta say, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. Last year about this time I was concerned about four major policy areas where I thought Trump could ruin things. He’s been active in all of them, but as I suggested, he’s done the most damage in the area where he […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The First Year of President Trump

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I gotta say, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.

Last year about this time I was concerned about four major policy areas where I thought Trump could ruin things. He’s been active in all of them, but as I suggested, he’s done the most damage in the area where he has the most direct control: Immigration. Trump’s attempt at a Muslim ban fell apart pretty quickly because it was so poorly executed (although that did not stop our traitorous Homeland Security department from trying to stop permanent residents from re-entering the country). He keeps trying though, with the result that our immigration system is in turmoil. He has also been creating chaos for the “Dreamers” who were brought here as children, leaving their status unresolved and in jeopardy for most of the year. Trump is a wrecking ball.

Lest you think Trump has some principled objections to illegal immigration, he’s also been pushing for more restrictions on legal immigration, including a reduction in the diversity lottery, reduced acceptance of refugees, restrictions on family immigration, and a bizarre scoring system for merit-based immigration.

Trump has done less damage to our healthcare system. The direct Obamacare repeals all failed, and cutting the advertising budget appears to have only slightly lowered enrollment this year. On the other hand, the tax bill removes the individual mandate for next year, without making much in the way of offsetting adjustments, which greatly increases the risk of a health insurance death spiral in 2019.

Trump is moving even slower on Trade. He appears to have killed U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that hadn’t been approved anyway, so it’s not so much a setback as a failure to make progress on a trade deal that wasn’t all that great. On the other hand, the recent tariffs on solar panels and washing machines show Trump’s willingness to steal from some Americans for the benefit of the better connected. In addition, that kind of unpredictability discourages investments.

Finally, I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to foreign policy, but I think I would have noticed any really bad blunders, like nuclear war. And the leaders of most other nations seem to understand that Trump’s bluster shouldn’t be taken too seriously. (The fireworks in North Korea have remained rhetorical.) I do have this vague impression that by restricting trade we are losing influence, and nations like China are moving in, but that may have happened anyway as China becomes wealthier.

Clearly some people have lost big under Trump, but as bad as some of those things are, the overall damage has been surprisingly limited: The broad economic indicators have continued their long streak of improvements and no major disasters have befallen us.

To be honest, I expected much more of a shit show, but things have held together better than I thought.  I think this reflects less on Trump as a President than on the resilience of our institutions, but it’s still good news.

For the coming year, I expect continued turmoil in all of these areas, and I’ll add criminal justice to the list, as the Trump administration continues to reverse federal policies and as the reduced oversight of state law enforcement plays out.

(Now let’s see what happens in the State of the Union address.)

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The First Year of President Trump

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Shitholes and the American Dream https://windypundit.com/2018/01/shitholes-american-dream/ https://windypundit.com/2018/01/shitholes-american-dream/#comments Sat, 20 Jan 2018 19:04:26 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=11005 I know I’m late to this story, but it took me a while to figure out how to say what I wanted to say about one of the more recent things President Donald Trump said about immigration: President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Shitholes and the American Dream

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I know I’m late to this story, but it took me a while to figure out how to say what I wanted to say about one of the more recent things President Donald Trump said about immigration:

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday.

I do think people should be mad at Trump, but I think a lot of people are mad at him for the wrong reason.

Many people, especially those from Haiti and Africa, have been disputing the word “shitholes.” Given the sorts of things I write, I can’t complain about the obscenity, and if we take “shithole” as a hyperbolic way of saying those are not very nice places to live — at least when compared to developed countries like the United States — then many of those places are indeed…crudely speaking…shitholes.

Obviously, quality of life varies from person to person, and there’s no clear way to measure it, but there are some commonly-accepted proxy measurements, such as GDP per capita, infant mortality, and the Freedom House rating. So we can observe that Haiti has a GDP per capita of $1,784, which is less than 1/30 of what we produce in the United States, the infant mortality rate is eight times higher than the U.S., and Freedom House rates Haiti as only Partly Free.

Furthermore, when Haiti was hit with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake just outside of Port-au-Prince in 2010, the collapse of its poorly-constructed buildings killed at least 100,000 people. By comparison, when a similar 6.9 earthquake struck near far-wealthier San Francisco in 1989, it killed only 63 people. After Haiti’s earthquake, the country suffered a cholera outbreak that killed an additional 9,480 people. Compared to how we live in the United States, Haiti is a pretty awful place to live.

Sub-Saharan Africa is more of the same. GDP per capita is about $3,823 per person per year. Of the 25 largest countries, encompassing 90% of the population, the best economic performance comes from South Africa, with $13,225 GDP per capita, which is less than 1/4 the US GDP per capita. Infant mortality in the best country is five times that of the United States, and about half the countries have infant mortality rates more than ten times the U.S. rate. Freedom House’s ratings tell us that 39% of the population is living in countries that are not Not Free and only 11% of the people are fully Free. Of the seven famines that have occurred so far this century, six of them were in Africa.

These are not uniformly terrible places. They have pockets of commerce and industry, of art and science, and they have some areas that are great places to live. But on average, for most of the people living there, quality of life sucks compared to the United States.

It’s important, however, to put this in perspective. Modern humans first show up in the fossil record about 300,000 years ago. For most of the time since then, up until the start of what economist Deirdre McCloskey calls “The Great Enrichment” a few hundred years ago, the average human lived on the equivalent of about $3 per person per day, and the infant mortality rate was as much as fifty times worse that the current U.S. rate. The poorest countries of the world today, including Haiti and Africa, have a quality of life that is still better on average than what most humans have experienced throughout almost our entire existence as a species. In other words, until quite recently, the entire fucking planet was a shithole.

(Just as there are exceptions within even the poorest countries today, there were exceptions throughout history — wealthy cities such as Babylon, Memphis, Athens, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople, Tenochtitlan, and Beijing — but only a small group of people were ever able to live in them.)

Author William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” He might as well have been talking about the Great Enrichment. It started a few hundred years ago and it took off big time in the West. It’s spreading everywhere, but in some places it has only just begun.

Having said all that, I still think Trump, and people who agree with him, are badly wrong. To begin explaining why, let me tell you two true things about myself:

True Thing #1: Judging by my income, I am one of the most productive people in the world. I’m easily in the top 1% world-wide. (See the Global Rich List to find out how you rank.)

True Thing #2: True Thing #1 has almost nothing to do with me. I’m reasonably smart, reasonably well educated, and I have a reasonably good work ethic, which helps a bit, but almost all of my advantage over the rest of the world comes from having the great good fortune of living in the United States. If I were to move to Haiti or El Salvador or Zimbabwe, my productivity, and therefore my income, would crash down to the local levels or worse. I would probably die an early death.

The opposite is also true: Conditions in the “shitholes” of the world have almost nothing to do with the people who live there. Trump’s biggest mistake was not calling some countries “shitholes,” but in not recognizing that just because people live in shitty places doesn’t mean they are shitty people.

When people from third-world countries come here, they will find an advanced modern civilization with safe drinking water, mass immunization, efficient transportation, rule of law, personal and economic freedom, private property, courts that enforce contracts and award damages for torts, educated people, massive capital investment, real estate titles, innovative technology, reliable institutions, useful ethics and traditions, and millions of other highly productive people to trade with. In that environment, they will become vastly more productive.

In theory, that should be obvious to supporters of the MAGA revolution. The campaign was premised, after all, on the idea that the United States was suffering not because its people were lacking, but because its rulers were terrible, and if we just replaced the establishment politicians at the top, the greatness of the American people would carry the day and Make America Great Again. Unless you have some theories about the superiority of white people, there’s no reason to assume that all the problems of places like Haiti and Africa aren’t also caused by terrible leaders, and that the bulk of the people there are just as good as we are.

Another major cause of poor conditions in Haiti and Africa is that they have been subject to centuries of colonialism, exploitation, corruption, and slavery. And even when the colonial powers pulled out, they left behind damaged governments, damaged institutions, and a damaged civil society — all the ingredients for spawning corrupt dictatorships.

Some defenders of Trump’s remarks claim that he’s just restating our policy of merit-based immigration:

The argument that the U.S. should prioritize admitting immigrants with better education, skills and financial resources has been a legitimate policy position for decades.

That excuse doesn’t work because “Haiti” is not a level of education, and “Norway” is not a skill. Trump didn’t say “Why do we get so many fruit pickers instead of mechanical engineers?” He was talking specifically about national origin.

You could argue that national origin is not race, and therefore it’s not racist, but it’s still Trump judging people collectively by the groups they involuntarily belong to, rather than as individuals. It may not be racism, but it’s the same kind of thing as racism. And given the general racial characteristics of people in Norway and people in Africa or Haiti, it’s not hard see that Trump wants fewer brown people.

Furthermore, so-called “merit-based” immigration is a pretty freaking weird thing for “small government” conservatives to support. Talk to conservatives about business regulations, and they’ll argue that companies can reach agreements with their customers and employees without unnecessary government intervention that would only increase costs and stifle innovation. Ask a conservative about limiting fossil fuel consumption or distributing clean energy subsidies, and they’ll explain that our mix of energy sources should be decided by the market, and that the government should not be “picking winners” in the economy.

The basic argument is that there’s no good reason to believe that government employees know enough about the economy to make those kinds of decisions better than the market can. This seems like an argument that applies to immigration policy as well: There’s no possible reason to believe that Trump or Congress know enough about the U.S. economy to plan the mix of education and skills that millions of employers will need in the workforce for years into the future. And yet suddenly conservatives think we need federal government to forcibly control who we can hire from other countries: “Sorry Haitians, we’re only taking Norwegians this decade.”

Speaking of Norway, let’s address Trump’s puzzlement over why we don’t get more Norwegian immigrants. The most obvious reason is that Norway is a small country with only 5.3 million residents — slightly fewer than Minnesota. Haiti has twice as many people, and Sub-Saharan Africa has close to 200 times as many. We don’t get many Norwegians because there aren’t many Norwegians.

Even allowing for population differences, there’s also the fact that Norway’s GDP per capita is about 20% higher than that of the United States, and the infant mortality rate in Norway is half the U.S. rate. So the answer to we don’t get more immigrants from Norway is Why would they want to come? Compared to Norway, the United States is the shithole.

That’s kind of how immigration works. Whether they’re traveling across the ocean, relocating to another city for a job, or moving to a better school district, people migrate in hope that the new place they live will lead to a higher quality of life. We’re all here because someone decided they wanted to get the hell out of some shithole somewhere else.

Let people live someplace better, someplace that rewards hard work and innovation, and they will live better lives. When Emma Lazarus put these words in the Statue of Liberty’s mouth,

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I like to believe that she wasn’t inviting the poor and homeless to come here because we would take care of them, but because we would not get in their way. We would let the huddled masses have their freedom. We would take in the wretched refuse, and we would let them seek the opportunities that would allow them to thrive. That was, and for many immigrants still is, the American Dream.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Shitholes and the American Dream

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One Week at the Litter Box https://windypundit.com/2018/01/one-week-litter-box/ https://windypundit.com/2018/01/one-week-litter-box/#respond Fri, 12 Jan 2018 18:38:48 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10981 A few years ago, we bought a Litter-Robot automated cat litter box. It’s a spherical litter box that detects when a cat has been inside and rotates itself to dump the resulting clump of cat litter into an internal compartment. It makes maintaining the box easier, and it suppresses the odor much better than regular cat boxes. […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at One Week at the Litter Box

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A few years ago, we bought a Litter-Robot automated cat litter box. It’s a spherical litter box that detects when a cat has been inside and rotates itself to dump the resulting clump of cat litter into an internal compartment. It makes maintaining the box easier, and it suppresses the odor much better than regular cat boxes. Our dentist had bought one and she swore it did a great job, so we decided to try it.

But the big question was, would the cats recognize this contraption as a litter box? Our plan was to put it near their old litter box and see if they used it. If we only had one cat, this would be simple: We’d check the collection tray in a couple of days, and if we found clumps then we’d know he’s using it. But how could we make sure all three cats were using it? It’s not like we could watch it all the time.

The solution is obvious, and I’m sure most of you already figured it out: I setup a motion-detecting web camera with night vision that uploads captured frames to a server. Then we just reviewed the images to make sure that we saw all three cats in there.

Afterward, I turned about a thousand captured images into a short video for your enjoyment:

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at One Week at the Litter Box

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Oprah For President? https://windypundit.com/2018/01/oprah-for-president/ https://windypundit.com/2018/01/oprah-for-president/#comments Wed, 10 Jan 2018 21:51:06 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10978 Ever since her speech at the Golden Globes, people have been floating the idea of Oprah Winfrey for President. This is, of course, a silly idea. Or it would have been, before Trump. Oprah, like Trump, has no experience in government. Like Trump, Oprah is a celebrity who has had considerable success at business. And […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Oprah For President?

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Ever since her speech at the Golden Globes, people have been floating the idea of Oprah Winfrey for President. This is, of course, a silly idea. Or it would have been, before Trump. Oprah, like Trump, has no experience in government. Like Trump, Oprah is a celebrity who has had considerable success at business. And like Trump, Oprah embraces junk science. If not for the example of Trump, electing her President would seem ludicrous and highly unlikely.

(This is not to say that Oprah is the same as Trump. Oprah is, as far as I can tell, a much better person.)

I wonder, when the Republicans chose Trump as their candidate for President, didn’t they realize they would be normalizing the idea of an inexperienced celebrity President? And if so, didn’t they realize which party has the most celebrities?

Republicans are going to learn that lesson the hard way when the Winfrey/Hanks 2020 campaign heats up.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Oprah For President?

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Questionable Free Speech at Drexel University https://windypundit.com/2018/01/questionable-free-speech-drexel-university/ https://windypundit.com/2018/01/questionable-free-speech-drexel-university/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 00:46:29 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10964 Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher is now gone from his position at Drexel University. A year ago, I blogged a brief contingent defense of his controversial “white genocide” tweet. (Contingent because it only applies if he meant what I guessed he meant.) Drexel condemned his tweet at the time, but took no further action against him. It would have […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Questionable Free Speech at Drexel University

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Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher is now gone from his position at Drexel University. A year ago, I blogged a brief contingent defense of his controversial “white genocide” tweet. (Contingent because it only applies if he meant what I guessed he meant.) Drexel condemned his tweet at the time, but took no further action against him. It would have been nice if they had explicitly supported his right to free speech, but their actions were in keeping with the principles of free speech: They didn’t stop him from speaking, but they didn’t refrain from using their own free speech to criticize him. 

However, after several other controversial tweets — one criticizing the way our society honors the soldiers who carry out American foreign policy, another blaming the Las Vegas shooter on Trumpism and white entitlement — Drexel placed him on administrative leave in what sounds like a classic case of the “heckler’s veto”:

The university says the issue is safety, but not everyone is buying that explanation.

Drexel’s statement is as follows: “The safety of Drexel’s students, faculty, professional staff and police officers are of paramount concern to Drexel. Due to a growing number of threats directed at Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, and increased concerns about both his safety and the safety of Drexel’s community, after careful consideration the university has decided to place Professor Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave. We believe this is a necessary step to ensure the safety of our campus.”

Sometimes, giving in to the “heckler’s veto” is unavoidable when the forces of oppression vastly outmatch those defending free speech. If the protests against Ciccariello-Maher overwhelmed Drexel’s campus security and budget to the point where they couldn’t protect the Drexel community from the danger, then shutting down the controversial professor may have been their only way out. Some fights just can’t be won.

That said, here’s how Ciccariello-Maher describes the problems that led to his resignation:

This is not a decision I take lightly; however, after nearly a year of harassment by right-wing, white supremacist media outlets and internet mobs, after death threats and threats of violence directed against me and my family, my situation has become unsustainable.

Sorry, but that doesn’t sound like the level of danger that would justify giving in to the hecklers. I haven’t seen the specific threats (and the specifics certainly could matter) but as a general rule, anonymous threats against public figures are garbage, and they certainly shouldn’t occupy campus security very much. I’m not aware of any actual violence committed against Ciccariello-Maher, and it’s not as if they had thousands of protesters show up to wreak havoc.

Furthermore, all the threats appear to have been against Ciccariello-Maher and his family, not the Drexel community at large, so if Ciccariello-Maher felt unsafe, he could at any time have placed himself on leave. That he chose not to do so may have increased the risk for him, but there’s no reason to believe it endangered anyone else at Drexel.

I’m not sure what to make of his resignation. On the one hand, he did that to himself, which is not Drexel’s problem. On the other hand, this smells a lot like constructive termination. That’s when an employer doesn’t technically terminate an employee, but it makes the employee’s situation so bad — taking away responsibilities, badmouthing them to the public, assigning them all the worst tasks — that they quit on their own. Constructive terminations are common when dealing with employees who are protected from at will termination by law or contract — civil service employees, union employees, and tenured faculty. So it sounds a lot like Drexel found a way to fire a tenured professor for the words that he said.

As a private organization, Drexel has no First Amendment duty to protect Ciccariello-Maher’s speech. However, as FIRE points out in their coverage, Drexel had publicly announced that they supported his freedom of speech only to carry out a private investigation about which they have shown little transparency. Professor Ciccariello-Maher may very well be a rabble rouser, an anti-American jerk, and a colossal bore, but Drexel has not shown itself to be a friend of free speech and academic freedom.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Questionable Free Speech at Drexel University

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Just Consequences https://windypundit.com/2017/12/just-consequences/ https://windypundit.com/2017/12/just-consequences/#comments Wed, 20 Dec 2017 02:40:38 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10941 There was an interesting criminal case out of Fairfax, Virginia the other day, involving a young lady named Sandra Mendez Ortega who stole some jewelry from Lisa Copeland while cleaning her house. The Washington Post lays out the events this way: The case began with Copeland’s discovery in September 2016 that her engagement and wedding rings […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Just Consequences

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There was an interesting criminal case out of Fairfax, Virginia the other day, involving a young lady named Sandra Mendez Ortega who stole some jewelry from Lisa Copeland while cleaning her house. The Washington Post lays out the events this way:

The case began with Copeland’s discovery in September 2016 that her engagement and wedding rings were missing from the container where they were usually kept. The engagement ring had been her grandmother’s, made in 1943, and the two rings were appraised at $5,000 in 1996, Copeland said. Copeland didn’t realize a third, inexpensive ring had been taken until it was turned in.

Fairfax City police investigated and interviewed the three women who had cleaned the home. All three denied taking or seeing the rings, court records show, and no one was charged.

But after the interviews, Mendez Ortega reportedly felt bad about the theft, admitted to her boss that she had the rings and turned them over to him. The police were contacted and Mendez Ortega confessed to them as well, saying she returned the rings after learning they were valuable. The police had her write an apology letter to Copeland, in Spanish, which said in part, “Sorry for grabbing the rings. I don’t know what happened. I want you to forgive me.”

The case went to trial, and the jury found her guilty. But in Virginia the jury is not only the finder of facts, but also has the job of deciding the sentence. I’ve heard Virginia criminal defense lawyers complain that this can lead to very harsh sentences, because jurors lack the sense of proportion that a seasoned criminal judge would have. In this case, however, the jury went the other way:

What the jury did was extraordinary. They felt bad for the young woman, pregnant with her second child, and agreed that she had made a dumb, youthful mistake. Reluctantly, they convicted her of the felony. But the fine they imposed was her daily pay as a maid, $60. And then they took up a collection and gave her the money to pay the fine.

Naturally, this has pissed off some law-and-order types. Gatewaypundit hilariously lives up to the stereotype by blaming the whole thing on liberal jurors who are just looking for a chance to hurt America by granting special favors to illegal immigrants:

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Fairfax County residents are some of the best educated, most worldly and wealthiest and liberal people in the nation. They can spot an illegal alien right away as they have willfully turned the D.C. suburb in to a haven for illegals. Mendez Ortega’s appearance on the witness stand during the penalty phase after her conviction made it clear she fit one of the profiles of illegals-she doesn’t speak English and worked as a a maid.

Fox News also leads with the illegal immigrant angle, and runs essentially the same story under the headline “Couple’s fury as jury pays illegal immigrant maid’s fine after jewelry theft conviction.”

That’s referring to the victim, who comes across as remarkably unsympathetic in news reports. I don’t mean that she has no sympathy for the woman who stole from her (although she doesn’t seem to), but that after reading her statements to the media I have very little sympathy for her. Obviously, stealing from her was wrong, and it was also a crime, but in the aftermath of the trial, she comes across as disturbingly vindictive. For example, regarding the letter of apology that Mendez Ortega wrote to her:

Copeland said she has never seen that letter, and that Mendez Ortega has never apologized to her in person. “Never saw it,” Copeland said. “Never heard about it until the trial, during sentencing.”

Well, the reason Copeland never saw the apology letter has nothing to do with Mendez Ortega. Copeland never saw the letter because the Fairfax police never gave it to her. That’s because they were deceiving Mendez Ortega when they got her to write a letter to Copeland. It a trick to strengthen the case against her, since almost anything she’d say in an apology for the theft would also be an admission of damaging facts. It’s a confession in the defendant’s own hand, which will be damning in court.

Nevertheless, Sondra Mendez Ortega most certainly did apologize for what she did. It’s not her fault that the police never delivered it. And as for an apology in person before trial, I’m pretty sure that’s an insanely bad idea. At the very least it would be another confession, and it could easily be construed as witness tampering.

“I was outraged,” Copeland said. “I was just flabbergasted. I didn’t think $60 equated to the crime at all.”

That was my first reaction too, but when I think about it, the outrage seems overblown. After all, this was

  • a non-violent crime
  • by a first-time offender
  • who turned herself in,
  • returned everything she took,
  • and showed up to face her trial.

Given all that, the jury’s sentence of time-served with a nominal fine (and the collateral consequences of a felony conviction) doesn’t seem completely out of line. Many judges are aware of what jail can do to people, and they’re reluctant to put first-time offenders through the system for fear it will make everything worse.

At trial, the facts were not really in dispute. The jury did not hear from Mendez Ortega during the case in chief, but they were already sympathetic to her. “We didn’t feel she should have been tried and convicted,” said Memmott, the foreman. “We tried every way we could to find some way of not convicting her. But the legal standard was very clear.” Two other jurors agreed that the felony conviction was appropriate, given the facts and the law.

I’ve been on a jury that convicted someone of a felony. It’s not a fun experience, signing that verdict sheet and knowing I’m saddling them with a felony record and possibly consigning them to a cage for a long time. Just because they deserve punishment doesn’t mean it feels great to dish it out. All things considered, I’d rather I never have to do that again. Which is why this bit makes me so crazy:

Lisa Copeland was amazed. “The fact that she confessed,” she said, “and they didn’t want to convict her? I don’t get this. That’s basically saying it’s okay to steal.”

Good God. The jury may have said they didn’t want to convict her, but they did in fact convict her. So the victim is basically angry because the jurors didn’t enjoy it enough. What the hell?

(Obviously, she’s the victim here, and therefore she deserves some slack, but I can’t help wondering if one of the reasons for the light sentence was that the jury somehow picked up on her vindictiveness, found it as ugly as I do, and decided they didn’t want to give her what she wanted.)

Still, the most frustrating response comes not from the victim or Fox News or Gatewaypundit, but from ethicist Jack Marshall at Ethics Alarms, whose post first brought my attention to the case.

As is usual, I have a number of quibbles with Jack’s analysis. For example,

“Justice had to be done,” said another juror, Janice Woolridge, explaining the guilty verdict. “But there’s also got be some compassion somewhere. Young people make bad decisions. We just couldn’t pile on any more.”

[…]

(Note to juries: your job is to determine the facts and guilt or innocence. Compassion should be left to judges.)

The parenthetical comment is not how things work in Virginia, where jurors are given the responsibility for determining not only the facts but, in the event of a guilty verdict, the sentence as well. Thus considerations of compassion are entirely appropriate.

One of Jack’s commenters explains this to him in a comment, to which Jack responds,

In this case, the judge should have rejected the jury’s fine and imposed one they’d really have to dig down deep for.

That’s also not the law in Virginia. When a criminal jury recommends a sentence, the judge can only lower it, not raise it.

I’m not a lawyer, so I shouldn’t throw too many stones, but since Jack teaches legal ethics for a living, it would be nice if he got the law right. To be fair, this was a free blog post, not professional advice, so he definitely deserves some slack for shooting from the hip. But he’d make his point more effectively if he focused on the jury’s decision making instead of ranting about ordinary Virginia criminal procedure.

However, as I mentioned in a comment (which Jack called “obnoxious and unfair, as well as ignorant”), in the unlikely event that anyone ever asked me if they should hire Jack to teach legal ethics, I would point them to these two statements:

If she had confessed and was remorseful, why did she plead not guilty?

[…]

If you are guilty and admit it, then you don’t try to get lucky with a jury.

Jack is certainly not the only lawyer to think it’s unethical to plead not guilty. (As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much criminal defense lawyers v.s. everyone else — which is practically a criminal lawyer’s job description.) But I think this is the result of confusing the legal meaning of a “not guilty” plea with the common everyday meaning, as Illinois lawyer Jeremy Richey explained some time ago:

Those words do not operate in a vacuum; they are part of our legal system. Our legal system establishes a presumption of innocence for every person charged with a crime and places a burden on the government of proving the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. When a person utters the words “not guilty” in court, all the players (such as the judge, prosecutor, and defense lawyer) understand that the person is requiring the government to carry its burden.

In other words, pleading not guilty is the mechanism by which you secure your constitutional right to a jury trial. And in Virginia in particular, pleading not guilty is a necessary step in claiming your right to be sentenced by a jury instead of a judge. There’s nothing unethical about asserting your rights.

In the comments, Jack attempts to draw a careful line between the ethics of a lawyer and of the client:

An ethical lawyer tells a guilty client that he or she has a good chance of being acquitted, and lets the client decide, after advising the client on the right thing to do. An ethical law-breaker turns himself in, pleads guilty, and accepts the just consequences of wrongdoing.

I see what Jack is getting at here, but it’s nonsense. First of all, on a practical level, how would this work? Is the defendant supposed to meet with her lawyer, discuss her case in detail, listen carefully to his wise counsel, and then just go ahead and ignore everything he recommended? Or do I misunderstand, and when Jack talks about “advising the client on the right thing to do,” does he mean that the lawyer should tell his client to plead guilty? Not for tactical reasons, but because it’s “the right thing to do”?

But why would it be the right thing to do? Owning up to your sins and accepting “the just consequences of wrongdoing” is great ethical advice for, say, a child apologizing to his mother for breaking a vase full of flowers, or a husband explaining to his wife how he lost the rent money at the track. But is has nothing to do with what goes on in a criminal proceeding. Jack is trying to smuggle an awful lot of bullshit into his argument on the backs of the words “just consequences.”

Pleading guilty isn’t the same as accepting the “just consequences.” Pleading guilty means accepting whatever consequences the prosecutor can convince the judge to impose, and there’s no basis for believing those consequences will be just. In an ideal world, the judge will be a neutral party, but the prosecutor will always be your adversary. At best, he’s going to be a stern by-the-book guy, and at worst he’ll be a fucking monster. In any case, the decision will be made by a system that is now biased against you.

So what happens if you feel a 90-day sentence is a just consequence, but the prosecutor is thinking more like five years? Contrary to the implications of Jack’s argument, there’s no a priori reason to assume the prosecutor’s preferred sentence is a just one. Normally, this would be resolved in plea bargaining, where you (through your lawyer) and the prosecutor negotiate to a sentencing plan that is acceptable to both of you. That won’t work, however, if you’ve already committed to a guilty plea, because your only bargaining power comes from your ability to walk away from the bargaining table and demand a trial.

(We can’t be sure, because the news stories don’t say, but it’s quite likely that this case went to trial after an unsuccessful plea bargaining stage. Ms. Mendez Ortega was probably willing to accept consequences for her actions, just not the consequences the prosecutor was willing to offer.)

It’s not sensible to believe that “just consequences” will result from an adversarial system where one side agrees in advance to the other’s terms, and it’s not unethical to refuse to accept such one-sided terms.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Just Consequences

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The Giving Season https://windypundit.com/2017/12/the-giving-season/ https://windypundit.com/2017/12/the-giving-season/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:10:27 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10925 Over at Popehat, in the spirit of the Christmas, Ken White has suggested three charities you could donate to this season. Although I have no problem with donating to any of them, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions of my own. To start with, I’m a regular donor to the Reason Foundation. This is […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Giving Season

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Over at Popehat, in the spirit of the Christmas, Ken White has suggested three charities you could donate to this season. Although I have no problem with donating to any of them, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions of my own.

To start with, I’m a regular donor to the Reason Foundation. This is the parent organization of Reason magazine, which is the flagship libertarian outreach publication, spreading ideas about free markets and free minds. Donating to them could help nudge us toward a world that is vibrant, prosperous, and free.

(I’m pathetically trying to draw their attention to my tiny little libertarian blog, so if you donate, tell them Windypundit sent you. Or don’t. It’s up to you. I am a libertarian, after all.)

If you’d prefer a charity that helps people directly, one of the most effective is probably the Against Malaria Foundation. They are consistently near the top of GiveWell’s list of best charities, and they have one single, simple mission: Giving out mosquito nets by the tens of millions to people in malaria-plagued regions. The nets cost only $2 each and will protect a pair of sleeping people from malaria-spreading mosquitoes for three or four years. Statistically, it takes fewer than 1000 nets to prevent a fatal malaria infection, so if you make regular annual donations, there is a good chance you will save someone’s life. Donating to AMF (or one of the anti-parasitic worms charities) will put you in the fight against humanity’s deadliest enemies.

If you’re looking for something in the middle ground between the philosophical Reason Foundation and the direct efficiency of AMF, check out GiveDirectly. Their approach is to carefully identify extremely poor people…and then give them money. It won’t be a lot by American standards, maybe $500 to $1000, but with it they’ll be able to replace their home’s thatched roof with a lightweight steel one, or buy a farm animal they can raise and sell, or…whatever they want. The idea — a very libertarian idea — is that the recipients will know their specific needs better than any aid worker ever could, so we should just give them money and let them figure out how to spend it.

I also donate to the Sex Workers Outreach Project, which advocates for the rights of sex workers and provides street-level outreach that, unlike so many “rescue” operations, does not involve law enforcement. Instead, it supplies help that sex workers actually need.

Yet another place your donations can make a big difference is your local charitable bail fund. (Here in Chicagoland, that’s the Chicago Community Bond Fund.) Many poor people are stuck in jail because they’ve been charged with crimes and can’t put together enough money to post even a small bond. Charitable bail funds post bond to get them out of jail, allowing them to return to their families, friends, jobs, and communities. Studies show that people out on bail are better able go fight the charges, and get better deals if they plea bargain. So donate to your local bail fund and help someone get home for the holidays, and maybe stay home. As a bonus, after their case is over, the government releases the bail funds back to the charity, where they can be used to bail out someone else.

Finally, helping people doesn’t have to be a big operation. If the opportunity arises, one of the most effective forms of charity is helping someone directly. Find someone in your community who needs help, and help them. Depending on your resources, you can let them move in with you for a while, give them a job, or just quietly put an envelope of money in their mail box.

It’s all good.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Giving Season

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Ye Olde Ethics Alarms https://windypundit.com/2017/12/mad-jackson-marshall/ https://windypundit.com/2017/12/mad-jackson-marshall/#respond Sat, 02 Dec 2017 08:09:10 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=9662 I just went through yet another argument about illegal immigrants in the comments at Jack Marshall’s Ethics Alarms blog. Jack has been a frequent source of blogging ideas (at least when I used to blog more), but he’s been kind of hard to take ever since Donald Trump was elected. It’s not that he likes […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Ye Olde Ethics Alarms

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I just went through yet another argument about illegal immigrants in the comments at Jack Marshall’s Ethics Alarms blog. Jack has been a frequent source of blogging ideas (at least when I used to blog more), but he’s been kind of hard to take ever since Donald Trump was elected. It’s not that he likes Trump, but he’s clearly attracted to Trump’s authoritarianism, especially when it comes to making life hard for people who are here illegally.

Jack is in the “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” camp: He regards our immigration laws as axiomatically beyond reproach, so his analysis begins and ends with the fact that these people broke our immigration laws — an unforgivable sin. (For an example of Jack’s style, he regularly ridicules people for getting upset when illegal immigrants are torn from families, friends, jobs, and communities by DHS.)

One of my biggest complaints about U.S. immigration policies is that they impose the will of anti-immigrant restrictionists on all Americans, even if we would benefit from the presence of immigrants, and even if we explicitly welcome them. This reminds me of the Fugitive Slave Laws imposed on non-slave states before the American Civil War. These laws attempted to force Northerners to return escaped slaves to their masters, despite the harm that would come to slaves sent back, and despite the clear rejection of slavery by Americans in free states.

Every time I read one of Jack’s posts about illegal immigration, I find myself trying to imagine what he would have written about those escaping slaves. So, without further ado…starting with Jack’s attitude toward illegal immigration, and mixing in some of his rants against Black Live Matter and the media, I arrived at the following, which I imagine to be a pamphlet published shortly before the American Civil War by one of Jack’s ancestors:

 

Ethicf Alarmf #28

by Jackson “Cotton” Marshall

 

Unethical Anti-Slavery Editorial of the Year:

Now THIS is Unprincipled Hooliganism!

 

The Salem Times-Gazette has published yet another crazy editorial that threatens to make my cranium shatter.

Last week, in Salem, Ohio, federal marshals were in the process of apprehending two slaves who had illegally absconded from a fine cotton plantation in Georgia, when they were set upon by a crowd of thugs, who identified themselves as members of the unprincipled, law-breaking Liberty Party. The marshals were injured, and the criminal slaves escaped, presumably to make their way to Canada instead of returning to their lawful owners.

The Times-Gazette actually applauds these criminals for “helping escaped slaves.”

This is Unethical.

1. Newspapers should report the news accurately, not spout “abolitionist” propaganda.

2. The editorial refers to the fugitive slaves as “escaped,” thus promoting the false narrative that plantations are harmful to slaves. The utterly nonsensical nature of this should be obvious to anyone who considers that slaves are an investment, and slave owners can’t afford to mistreat them, not if their plantations are to succeed. Admittedly, there have been some abuses, but for the most part slaves are well cared-for — given food and a place to live — unlike factory workers in the so-called “free North” where this act of hooliganism took place.

3. The entire abolitionist movement is itself based on the lie that the Negro is equal to the white man. But if Negros were really equal to white people of European extraction, they wouldn’t be complaining so much about doing the same kind of farm work that Europeans have been doing for thousands of years.

4. Also, if Negros are supposed to be equal to whites, how come none of them have helped their community by investing in cotton plantations? This is nothing more than an excuse for the unwillingness and inability of Negros to perform the leadership roles that white plantation owners have been taking on for over a century.

5. White people did not enslave free African Negros. The slaves brought to the Americas were all provided in legal sales by legitimate African traders.

6. The federal marshals were enforcing the Fugitive Slave laws. These laws were passed by the United States Congress, and they are entirely Constitutional. I know this because I’ve actually read the entire Constitution, including Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 which specifically states that

No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due.

No honest person could read that and conclude anything other than that fugitive slaves must be returned to their owners. The Times-Gazette‘s bias makes it stupid.

7. It’s true that legally, according to the 1842 Supreme Court decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, no State can be forced to assist the Federal Government in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act, but that’s a mere rationalization. That it’s not illegal does not justify supporting the flagrant violators of Fugitive Slave laws.

8. Canada continues its unethical subversion of our longstanding institution of slavery. Canadians are not bound by United States law, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are unethically depriving Southern plantation owners of their property.

9. Abolitionists continue their Orwellian deception of conflating free Negroes with absconding slaves. Bounty hunters who capture free Negroes certainly are a real problem — they deserve censure, and the free Negroes should be released immediately — but the truth you won’t hear in the media is that the vast majority of Negros captured by federal marshals are slaves who are too lazy to do the important agricultural work that is their God-given duty. Yet abolitionists scream and yell every time a Negro is captured in the North, as if these lazy slaves were deserving of the same rights as hard-working free Negros. What part of “fugitive slave” don’t abolitionists understand?

10. It is reported that 157 illegally absent slaves were apprehended in the North so far this year. Nobody knows how many weren’t apprehended, but it is probably more. No, they aren’t all rapists and murderers or even criminals, but they all went north or tried to go north illegally. That makes them wrong and undesirable, and all the linguistic tricks being employed to make that simple statement difficult to express won’t alter that central fact.

The Gazette goes on to complain that the slaves are being returned to the South, where they will be punished for what the Gazette calls their “attempt to gain the freedom of which every man is deserving.”

Good.

What abolitionist rabble-rousers refuse to admit is that Southern slavery of the Negro is the law of the land. Enforcement of the law against slaves stealing themselves away had, under previous administrations, been flaccid. It’s good to have strong leadership that sees the wisdom of bringing federal marshals to the fight. The refusal by some in the Northern States to enforce those laws is incompetent, it is irresponsible, and it is foolish.

Except for the rampant anachronisms, I think I nailed it.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Ye Olde Ethics Alarms

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The Dumbest Take Yet On the Whitefish Energy Scandal https://windypundit.com/2017/10/dumbest-take-yet-whitefish-energy-scandal/ https://windypundit.com/2017/10/dumbest-take-yet-whitefish-energy-scandal/#respond Wed, 01 Nov 2017 04:21:29 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10901 I know I shouldn’t be picking on left-leaning goofballs (because they’re powerless these days, and all the damage is being done by the right) but Kate Aronoff at In These Times has written the dumbest thing I’ve seen yet about the Whitefish Energy scandal. The article is titled “Repulsed by Whitefish Energy? Maybe You Also […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Dumbest Take Yet On the Whitefish Energy Scandal

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I know I shouldn’t be picking on left-leaning goofballs (because they’re powerless these days, and all the damage is being done by the right) but Kate Aronoff at In These Times has written the dumbest thing I’ve seen yet about the Whitefish Energy scandal.

The article is titled “Repulsed by Whitefish Energy? Maybe You Also Hate Capitalism.” That sounds like it might be a defense of the Whitefish mess in the name of greed-is-good capitalism. Or it could be a snarky send-up of that kind of that argument. But what it turns out to be is an argument that if you hate the Whitefish scandal, you might also want to start hating capitalism.

…Whitefish Energy is to disaster capitalism as Martin Shkreli is to America’s for-profit healthcare system: the most obviously bad actors in industries that are full of bad actors by design.

As Myerson wrote, “Satisfying though it might be to adorn his face with a black eye … there are more worthy objects of our loathing. All of Shkreli’s appalling antics and characteristics are in fact emblematic of the real villain: capitalism. Shkreli is capitalism embodied, and if you hate him, you’d do well to take up hating capitalism with at least equal fervor.”

The same goes for the eminently punchable team at Whitefish Energy. […] They did enter into a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to perform work that they are grossly unqualified to do, on a scale that dwarfs any of the contracts they’ve had thus far. Whitefish’s social media arm also got in a public spat with San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, at one point writing, “We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?”

To review what we know: Whitefish Energy, a small company owned by a guy who is friends with with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, received a $300 million no-bid contract from the government-owned electricity provider of Puerto Rico. In other words, a government-run entity gave a very sweet contract to a guy with good contacts in high political offices. This is not — in any way, shape, or form — free-market capitalism.

Ironically, the Whitefish scandal could prime the pump to privatize PREPA entirely, a long-sought goal of corporate-friendly interests on the island. The federally-appointed fiscal oversight board that oversees Puerto Rico’s government recently announced that it would move to install a Flint-style emergency manager to oversee the utility with an eye toward selling off large chunks of it. Included in their official reasoning for the decision was PREPA’s contract with Whitefish.

Aside from the gratuitous reference to the awful mess in Flint, Michigan (also largely a failure of governmental entities) this sounds like maybe a step in the right direction. (Although if the privatization effort is overseen by the same corrupt people who ran the government entity, things are unlikely to improve much.)

There’s a general moral sickness to this that’s all-too-common, particularly when corporations and right-wing governments decide to profit off of disasters—financial, ecological or otherwise. Take the case of Jeffrey Chiesa, the lawyer appointed by his friend and ally Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, to put Atlantic City’s indebted fiscal house in order.

This is more of the same: The elected leaders of Atlantic City screwed up its finances, and the elected governor of New Jersey gave a sweetheart deal to one of his friends, and somehow that’s capitalism’s fault?

Look, just because a corporation is involved doesn’t mean it’s capitalism. The Whitefish Energy scandal looks like standard-issue government corruption: Somebody with influence got somebody with power to give them the public’s money. It’s insane to call that a problem with capitalism.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Dumbest Take Yet On the Whitefish Energy Scandal

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The Unknown Reason for the Vegas Shooting https://windypundit.com/2017/10/unknown-reason-vegas-shooting/ https://windypundit.com/2017/10/unknown-reason-vegas-shooting/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 01:59:16 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10886 Like everybody else, I’ve been trying to make sense of the Las Vegas shooting, in which a 64-year-old guy named Stephen Paddock apparently opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 country music festival attendees from his 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds more. One of the confusing things […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Unknown Reason for the Vegas Shooting

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Like everybody else, I’ve been trying to make sense of the Las Vegas shooting, in which a 64-year-old guy named Stephen Paddock apparently opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 country music festival attendees from his 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds more.

One of the confusing things about this horrible incident is that from what we know about him so far, Paddock doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would do something like this. He went through a lot of trouble to kill as many people as he did, so you’d think he must have done something else on a smaller scale first to think this would be worth the effort, and yet according to reports he had no criminal record, no extremist political views, no trouble with his neighbors, and no obvious prior signs of mental illness. That’s strange because you don’t go from being a normal person to being a mass murderer overnight without a period of transition. The idea that people “just snap” is more myth than reality. It takes time to become the kind of person who would commit this kind of atrocity. So why weren’t there any signs?

I suppose one possible explanation is that Stephen Paddock was not the shooter: The real shooter lured him (and his guns) to the hotel, shot him, and then opened fire on the crowd, escaping before the police arrived to find a “convenient” murder-suicide scenario. I don’t actually believe this is what happened. It’s a movie plot, not real life, and unless the perpetrator is a Moriarty-level criminal mastermind, it would also leave a ton of evidence that would be easy for the police to discover. It’s even less likely than just snapping.

(Also, recent reporting about the incident rules it out.)

Another possibility is that Paddock had a brain tumor that caused a sudden, violent change of behavior. No doubt this crossed my mind because I’m familiar with the case of Charles Whitman, who similarly shot at a crowd from a high perch, at the University of Texas (Austin) in 1966, and was discovered at autopsy to have a brain tumor which some neurologists have speculated may have contributed to his behavior. Paddock’s behavior could also be explained by some other form of brain damage, perhaps from a stroke or a traumatic head injury or some other cause.

The truth is, the most likely explanation for the conflict between Paddock’s normal life and its violent end is probably much more prosaic. It’s most likely the same explanation as for every other murderer who is described by acquaintances as “quiet”: We’ve only heard from people who didn’t know him very well.

When something like this happens, it’s easy for the press to find the killer’s neighbors and colleagues, but few of them are likely to know anything relevant. As with most of us, a lot of people may have known him, but few people knew him really well. The media, and maybe the police, just haven’t found people who know, if they even exist.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Unknown Reason for the Vegas Shooting

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Football Players and Legs https://windypundit.com/2017/09/football-players-legs/ https://windypundit.com/2017/09/football-players-legs/#comments Tue, 26 Sep 2017 05:37:28 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10880 But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. — Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII (source) Jefferson was talking about freedom of religion, but truth be told, I feel the same way […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Football Players and Legs

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But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

— Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII (source)

Jefferson was talking about freedom of religion, but truth be told, I feel the same way about whether professional athletes stand or kneel while the American national anthem is playing. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. It doesn’t bother me either way.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Football Players and Legs

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Ethics of the Arpaio Pardon https://windypundit.com/2017/09/ethics-arpaio-pardon/ https://windypundit.com/2017/09/ethics-arpaio-pardon/#respond Sat, 02 Sep 2017 02:48:29 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10838 After seeing what a professional dominatrix had to say about Trump pardoning former Mericopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I decided to see what professional ethicist Jack Marshall had to say. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Is the balance between profiling, which in such situations is a valuable law-enforcement tool, and the importance of equal treatment […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Ethics of the Arpaio Pardon

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After seeing what a professional dominatrix had to say about Trump pardoning former Mericopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I decided to see what professional ethicist Jack Marshall had to say. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Is the balance between profiling, which in such situations is a valuable law-enforcement tool, and the importance of equal treatment under the law a difficult one legally and ethically? Yes. Does a sheriff have the right and authority to ignore the way this balance is decided once legal authorities define it?

No.

Is the determination of this balance often polluted by ideological biases, in this case, against enforcement of immigration laws?

Yes.

“Ideological biases.” That’s what you call someone else’s principles when you don’t like them. Jack is fond of accusing people of bias.

Do Donald Trump, and his supporters, and those Americans who may not be his supporters but who agree that allowing foreign citizens to breach our borders at will without legal penalties is certifiably insane, believe that Arpaio’s position on illegal immigration is essentially correct and just?

Yes.

Does that have anything to do with the results of the trial that found him guilty of contempt of court?

No.

Nonetheless, did his ham-handed methods give ammunition to open-borders, pro-illegal immigration, race-baiting activists […]

Yes.

Is sending Arpaio to jail a political imprisonment?

Yes, although he made it easy to justify on non-political grounds.

Are political prisoners the ideal objects of Presidential pardons?

Yes.

Good God, it’s crazy to call Arpaio a political prisoner. A judge ordered him to stop doing something, and he went ahead and did it anyway, which bought him a contempt charge. It was pretty straightforward. Sure, there are people who didn’t like him for political reasons (I’m one of them), but that’s true of every elected official.  This is nonsense.

Also, just for the record, it’s misleading to call someone a “political prisoner” when they’re not, you know, in prison.

Would pardoning him send dangerous messages (it’s OK to violate judicial orders you think are wrong; the ends justifies the means; Presidents should meddle in local law enforcement, “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”) as well as defensible ones (judges and elected official enabling illegal immigration are a threat to the rule of law; Joe is an old man with a long record of public service who deserves mercy even though he was wrong…)

Yes.

Invoking Arpaio’s record of public service is kind of laughable when it’s his failure to follow the rules of that service that got him his conviction. And it’s unreal that Jack would mention the rule of law without mentioning the awful damage that Arpaio’s pardon does to the rule of law. Arpaio is a thug, and Trump’s pardon sends a message to law enforcement thugs everywhere that the federal government is going to give them a pass. This is not even the first time Trump has sent that message, and it doesn’t get better with repetition.

 

Will such a pardon, especially as the news media is again spinning to make the case that Trump is sympathetic with xenophobes and white nationalists, further inflame an overly emotional debate that needs to be calmed, not exacerbated?

God, yes.

Or to put that a different way: Evidence that Trump is sympathetic to xenophobes and white nationalists tends to help make the case that Trump is sympathetic to xenophobes and white nationalists.

Sure enough, Democrats, Trump-haters like Senator John McCain and my echo-chamber Facebook friends are denouncing the pardon as if the President had loosed Hannibal Lector on the world.

The books area little vague, but I’m pretty sure Hannibal Lector didn’t kill anywhere near as many people as have died in Arpaio’s jails.

In doing so, they really look ridiculous, and might as well be wearing  “I hate Donald Trump and will scream bloody murder no matter what he does” in neon on their heads.

I don’t just hate Trump, I hate Arpaio too, and have for a long time. That Trump thinks Arpaio is a great example of American law enforcement is more than a little worrisome. Ditto for Arpaio’s brother-from-another-mother, Sheriff David Clarke.

Especially for Democrats, who have argued that non-violent criminals shouldn’t be imprisoned at all when they are young and black, the argument that an 85 year old man’s under-two year maximum sentence is an outrageous object of Presidential mercy and grace—that’s what a pardon is, you know–is the height of partisan hypocrisy.

Trump didn’t pardon Arpaio out of mercy for an old man. He as much as said he thinks Arpaio was convicted for “doing his job.” Trump pardoned Arpaio because he has no problem with a Sheriff who people’s rights and a court order to harass immigrants. Trump pardoned Arpaio because he likes “tough” cops.

The fact that Arpaio is 85 alone justifies a pardon by the standards Presidents have used since the beginning of the office.

Presidents don’t pardon every elderly prison inmate. They exercise discretion, and we can judge them on that discretion. Besides, if Trump was really concerned about Arpaio’s ability to survive prison, he could have commuted the sentence rather than granting a pardon.

Furthermore, the Federal Bureau of Prisons already has a compassionate release program to address situations like this. Prisoners who develop serious health problems are eligible, and prisoners over the age of 65 may request compassionate release after serving 50% of their sentence.

For that matter, we don’t even know what Arpaio’s sentence would have been. Judges take circumstances into account. He might not have gone to prison at all. But he would still have the conviction for contempt.

That his sentence is relatively short—many, many prisoners with far longer sentences have been pardoned by Trump’s predecessors–makes the pardon, if ill-considered, also de minimus, especially since there is no chance, literally none, that the old man, now out of office and retired, will have an opportunity to repeat the crime he was convicted of committing.

This is disingenuous. One of the purposes of punishment is to deter other people from committing the same crime. Pardoning Arpaio undermines this deterrence because it suggests to other people, including other chief law enforcement officers, that they can defy federal judges and federal law if President Trump likes them.

A pardon is an act of grace by which an offender is released from the consequences of his offense, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s website. It does not say that the offender was not guilty, or that the law that was violated can be breached at will.

But doesn’t it? If the President has stoked anti-immigrant fervor, and if he has championed Arpaio-style “tough” policing, then doesn’t pardoning Arpaio imply that Trump thinks it’s okay to break the law to do that?

They want him to be metaphorically hung up by his heels to appease their open-border, pro-illegal immigration base, making the fervor to punish him purely political, and having little to do with respect for the rule of law, which their own position on illegal immigration proves that they don’t respect themselves.

Rule of law is usually presented as being in contrast to rule by arbitrary exercise of power. Whether the government helps you or punishes you should depend on whether you follow a set of explicit rules, not on how much you are liked or disliked by the people wielding power. Thus the rule of law is undermined by the fact that Trump’s first and only Presidential pardon went to one of his most prominent campaign supporters.

(Jack used to talk a lot about the importance of avoiding the appearance of impropriety, even when there’s no actual impropriety, yet there’s no mention of that in anything he’s written about the pardon.)

It seems clear that Jack is getting hung up in immigration issues, but there’s a lot more wrong with Sheriff Joe Arpaio than the immigration-related activities involved in the contempt charge.

  • Arpaio’s office has botched a lot of sex crime investigations, either doing a sloppy job or not working them at all.
  • Arpaio proudly treated his prisoners terribly, sometimes serving them spoiled food and offering substandard medical care.
  • Arpaio setup a temporary “tent city” outdoor jail that operated for something like 20 years in the sweltering Arizona sun, subjecting prisoners to unsafe temperatures, sometimes with lethal results.
  • Arpaio did very little to discipline guards who mistreated prisoners in his jails, which he himself referred to as “concentration camps.”
  • Arpaio used his police force to intimidate his enemies. He jailed reporters who were critical of him, and launched a corruption investigation against a judge who ruled against him.
  • Then there’s the whole fake assassination plot against him, which put an innocent man in jail for 4 years.
  • Or the puppy-burning incident.

That’s the guy Trump pardoned. That’s the guy Jack is defending.

Let me be clear. This isn’t a Rationalization #22 “it isn’t the worst thing” defense of the pardon. It is a “the attacks on this pardon are wildly disproportionate to its reality, and thus transparent political theater” indictment of the pardon’s critics. Almost every pardon can be called a rejection of the “rule of law,” if you don’t understand what the pardon power is, and politicians who have been undermining respect for the very laws that Arpaio went over-board enforcing are the last people on earth who should make that argument. They are ridiculous in their hypocrisy.

I’m not sure what that is, but if it isn’t “it isn’t the worst thing” or “everybody does it” then it’s an ad hominem attack. Whether Trump’s critics are right or wrong about the pardon has nothing to do with whether they are hypocrites. A murderer who declares that “murder is bad” is not wrong.

Joe Arpaio was an arrogant, grandstanding bully and thug, and unworthy of his badge. I wouldn’t have pardoned him despite his age, but there were some good reasons for Trump to do so. It was almost worth doing just to prompt Trump’s foes and pro illegal immigration hypocrites into embarrassing themselves.

That’s a terrible reason for pardoning someone.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Ethics of the Arpaio Pardon

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The Dominatrix and the Sheriff https://windypundit.com/2017/08/the-dominatrix-and-the-sheriff/ https://windypundit.com/2017/08/the-dominatrix-and-the-sheriff/#respond Sun, 27 Aug 2017 16:04:23 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10829 I’ve been watching the reaction on Twitter to President Trump’s pardoning of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is a despicable authoritarian bigot, who I’ve written about several times previously. He is famous, and famously proud, of how tough he was on the prisoners in his custody. He liked seeing them mistreated and humiliated, […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Dominatrix and the Sheriff

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I’ve been watching the reaction on Twitter to President Trump’s pardoning of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is a despicable authoritarian bigot, who I’ve written about several times previously. He is famous, and famously proud, of how tough he was on the prisoners in his custody. He liked seeing them mistreated and humiliated, often in very unpleasant ways. I don’t know if he actually enjoyed it when his prisoners died, but a bunch of them have died, often under questionable circumstances, and Arpaio has never shown an ounce of human sorrow.

I was most struck by the reaction from Mistress Matisse:

Now, this next part is probably the sort of thing that only seems profound at 3:00 in the morning (when I started writing this), but bear with me… What really got me thinking is that Mistress Matisse and Joe Arpaio have something in common: They both like to hurt people.

As you might have guessed from the name, Mistress Matisse is a professional dominatrix. She literally hurts people for a living. And if you follow her Twitter feed (@mistressmatisse), you’ll see she enjoys her work. Oh, I’m sure there are days where she’s like “Oh God, I can’t wait to veg out in front of the TV once I finish sticking needles into this guy’s penis…”, but for the most part, she seems to have found satisfying employment. She hurts people, and she’s good at it.

Nevertheless, Mistress Matisse is pissed about Joe Arpaio, because of course, the difference between Mistress Matisse hurting people and Joe Arpaio hurting people is consent. And consent makes all the difference in the world.

Mistress Matisse posts descriptions and photos of the some of the things she does to her clients and, honestly, I couldn’t take that. If she tried to do some of those things to me without my consent, I would resist, violently if necessary. But her clients not only give their consent, they actually pay her to do those things.

Yet if I’m ever in Seattle and I happen to run into Mistress Matisse, I wouldn’t be the least bit concerned about her pain-causing skills. I don’t pretend to know or understand her very well, but I’ve read enough of her writings to know that she thinks very carefully about issues of consent. She doesn’t want to hurt people against their will.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit about consent. He’s a thug, and he had an army of deputy thugs working for him. I would be very nervous running into him in a situation he controlled. If he could find a way, he wouldn’t hesitate to have a critic like me thrown in a cage in the 110 degree heat of the Arizona sun.

I don’t have any profound point here. And I certainly hope this is not coming across as “Joe Arpaio is even worse person than a professional dominatrix,” because that would be insulting to the pro dom community. The juxtaposition between Mistress Matisse and Joe Arpaio just struck me as a stark illustration of the importance of consent.

As a someone who leans libertarian, I place a lot of importance in the concept of consent. And I regard the absence of consent as a defining requirement for legitimately designating something as a crime: Sex without consent is rape, commerce without consent is theft, and inflicting pain without consent is torture.

Lack of consent alone is not enough to make something a crime, but if there is full consent, then it should never be a crime. As far as I’m concerned, Mistress Matisse is a successful and valued practitioner of an unusual art. Nothing to worry about.

Joe Arpaio, on the other hand, hurt a lot of people without their consent. Obviously, detaining and punishing criminals without their consent is a necessary part of criminal justice, but the lack of consent also makes it especially important that the criminal justice system is subject to strict requirements and oversight. Arpaio had little of that, and he and his deputies went way beyond what was necessary to keep the peace.

It’s particularly relevant to the contrast with Mistress Matisse that Arpaio jailed consensual sex workers and subjected them to harsh conditions, including one particularly gruesome case in which his guards tortured and killed a sex worker. Yet that’s just one of many deaths and many more prisoners subject to torturous conditions. Arpaio was one of the most monstrous figures in modern American law enforcement.

There’s something very wrong, some kind of complete inversion of the meaning of consent, when we have governments that want to throw people like Mistress Matisse in jails that are run by people like Joe Arpaio.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Dominatrix and the Sheriff

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How Not to Change Your Employer’s Culture https://windypundit.com/2017/08/not-change-employers-culture/ https://windypundit.com/2017/08/not-change-employers-culture/#comments Tue, 22 Aug 2017 02:33:23 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10789 I told myself I wouldn’t write about the Google memo. The situation followed a drearily predictable script — guy writes something arguably sexist, it goes public, outrage erupts, company fires him, he becomes a martyr for the MRA cause, etc. — and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. There’s something that […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at How Not to Change Your Employer’s Culture

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I told myself I wouldn’t write about the Google memo. The situation followed a drearily predictable script — guy writes something arguably sexist, it goes public, outrage erupts, company fires him, he becomes a martyr for the MRA cause, etc. — and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

There’s something that bothered me though… As I understand it, the (now former) Google employee criticized the company’s diversity policy regarding women, using an argument based on statistical differences between the sexes. At least that’s what I’m hearing from people I consider reliable. I still haven’t read the whole memo, and I hope I don’t have to.

Honestly, I tried reading it, but I didn’t have the stamina to go on once I got to the part where he invokes evolutionary psychology. I’ve seen this before, and it’s never pretty. Evolutionary psychology is a branch of biology that tries to link psychological traits back to the conditions under which they evolved. It’s a legitimate science, but one in which firm conclusions are difficult to come by. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from invoking it to make some very questionable pronouncements about race and gender.

I haven’t read enough of the Google memo to know how far the author goes down that road, but here’s the thing: Given his stated purpose, evolutionary psychology is completely unnecessary. The author justifies his proposals based on supposedly innate differences between men and women. But if the evolutionary basis for those differences is backed by science, that science must necessarily make use of contemporary studies of men and women which demonstrate those differences, and those studies alone should be sufficient to support his proposals.

When your purpose is to propose changing the work environment to make it more accommodating to the differing preferences of women, all you need to know is what those preferences are. How women came to have those preferences may well be an interesting area of scientific inquiry, but it has nothing to do with workplace policy.

For example, suppose evolutionary psychologists conclude that women like the color pink because ancestral women were the primary caregivers of infants and attention to pink tones in skin coloration was important to maintaining infant health. If this was real science (instead of something I just made up), then the body of research supporting feminine color preferences must necessarily include studies that establish the statistical observation that women like the color pink. So if you want to propose painting Google meeting rooms pink to make women more comfortable, you need only refer to the studies showing that women like pink. There’s no need to bring up evolution.

More generally, for the ostensible purposes of the memo’s author, the reasons for differing preferences are beside the point. Perhaps they arise because of evolutionary pressures, or perhaps they are instilled in men and women by the expectations and restrictions of society, but when it comes to setting personnel policy, it just doesn’t matter. By the time men and women walk through the doors at Google for their first interview, they have whatever preferences they have, for whatever reasons they have them, and Google can’t do a thing about it. Google has to take its job applicants as it finds them.

The point I’m trying to make here is that this should have been obvious to the memo’s author. If he was sincerely trying to propose ways to accommodate women’s preferences, all he had to do was cite the research that backs up his arguments about differences between men and women. Bringing in evolutionary psychology was unnecessary, divisive, and distracting. If this was a sincere attempt to influence company culture, it was a stupid way to go about it.

The author’s other major mistake was to be disrespectful to the powers that be. The title alone, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” implies that Google managers are closed-minded and therefore foolish. Even if the author is right and Google is managed by people with absurd liberal biases, this is not the way to make them see the light. In fact, if you begin your letter to your employer with the rhetorical equivalent of “Hey, dumb-asses!” you should not be surprised when they construe it as your resignation.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at How Not to Change Your Employer’s Culture

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A Professional Ethicist Responds to Trump’s Remarks About Charlottesville https://windypundit.com/2017/08/professional-ethicist-responds-trumps-remarks-charlottesville/ https://windypundit.com/2017/08/professional-ethicist-responds-trumps-remarks-charlottesville/#comments Mon, 14 Aug 2017 06:56:20 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10804 Over the weekend there were some public gatherings of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. These were met by counter-protesters, and some of the encounters between the groups got violent.  The worst violence came on Saturday, when someone identified with the white nationalist movement deliberately drove their car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at A Professional Ethicist Responds to Trump’s Remarks About Charlottesville

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Over the weekend there were some public gatherings of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. These were met by counter-protesters, and some of the encounters between the groups got violent.  The worst violence came on Saturday, when someone identified with the white nationalist movement deliberately drove their car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring many others.

Everyone was kind of wondering what, if anything, President Trump would say about this. As it turns out, he had something to say, and it was…telling. You can read the whole thing here, but this is arguably the key sentence:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

It was the “many sides” phrase that got people’s attention. Trump may not exactly have been wrong — given that some of the counter-protesters were antifa activists, it seems likely that both sides got violent — but it’s the seemingly deliberate obscuring of the fact that one of the sides consisted of virulent racists that’s so revealing. We’re talking about a guy who famously denounces anyone who angers him, from his own appointed Attorney General to a department store that stops carrying his daughter’s line of fashion accessories. Yet he had nothing bad to say about any of the white supremacists, not even when asked directly about it. Twice.

For more insight into this matter, let’s see what one of my most frequent sources of blogging material has to say about it. Here’s professional ethicist Jack Marshall writing about the president’s remarks:

In contrast to the President’s correct restraint, we have Virginia’s governor Terry McAuliffe, who used the power and influence of his office to declare that people holding views he does not approve of are not welcome in the Old Dominion. In the midst of some patriotic grandstanding, he said…

“You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you….There is no place for you here. There is no place for you in America.”

This is leftist fascism, by definition. Who is Terry McAuliffe, or Virginia, or anyone, to say who can or should have a “place” in the United States of America? How is this statement applied to white nationalists any different legally or ethically from applying it to Muslims, or lesbians, or abortion advocates, or Catholics, Jews or libertarians?

I wasn’t expecting that. Damn, being a professional ethicist must be really hard. I never would have guessed that was the correct answer.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at A Professional Ethicist Responds to Trump’s Remarks About Charlottesville

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I Guess Racism Isn’t Quite Over… https://windypundit.com/2017/08/guess-racism-isnt-quite/ https://windypundit.com/2017/08/guess-racism-isnt-quite/#respond Sat, 12 Aug 2017 07:16:58 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10794 Almost nine years ago, right after Barack Obama was elected President, I wrote: [W]e now know how the story of American racism ends: The racists get their asses kicked. Racism won’t vanish in a week or a year or even a decade, but it will vanish. Barack Obama’s victory is a clear message to all […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at I Guess Racism Isn’t Quite Over…

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Almost nine years ago, right after Barack Obama was elected President, I wrote:

[W]e now know how the story of American racism ends: The racists get their asses kicked. Racism won’t vanish in a week or a year or even a decade, but it will vanish. Barack Obama’s victory is a clear message to all the hardcore racists out there—the KKK, the Nazis, Stormfront: It’s over. You’ve lost. You are no longer important. There’s no place for you here in the future.

It appears I may have been mistaken.

This was going on at the University of Virginia in Charlotte tonight:

These people are basically white nationalists, or maybe white supremacists. Although given that stiff-armed salute and the reports of swastikas and their chants of “blood and soil,” I think we can probably call them straight-up Nazis without triggering Godwin’s law.

(They’re really more like Nazi Lite though: Those are Tiki torches.)

Obviously, this is not the first sign that something has gone wrong with our pluralistic society. The alt-right has been growing for years and developing into a movement, we’re seeing a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, and now Britain is exiting the European Union and Donald Trump is in the White House.

Yet this rally somehow brought it home for me. I think it’s because many of them are so young. These aren’t just the bigots of the old society clinging to the past. These are newly-minted bigots. That’s not a good sign. I had kind of hoped we wouldn’t see much more of that.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at I Guess Racism Isn’t Quite Over…

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Cabbage Day [Updated] https://windypundit.com/2017/08/cabbage-day/ https://windypundit.com/2017/08/cabbage-day/#comments Wed, 02 Aug 2017 16:58:11 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10774 So the other day my friend Leo got a call from his cardiologist confirming an appointment. As I’ve mentioned before (post 1, post 2), Leo and his father are staying with us while Leo recovers from heart problems and a stroke. We had set up an appointment with his cardiologist for last Friday in preparation […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Cabbage Day [Updated]

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So the other day my friend Leo got a call from his cardiologist confirming an appointment. As I’ve mentioned before (post 1, post 2), Leo and his father are staying with us while Leo recovers from heart problems and a stroke. We had set up an appointment with his cardiologist for last Friday in preparation for heart surgery, but according to the call he received, the appointment was not on the day I had in my calendar. I called the cardiologist to find out what was going on, and the office staff had no idea what I was talking about. They had the same date for the appointment that I did.

So maybe Leo misunderstood the message. He has aphasia from the stroke, so he has trouble communicating with people, and it didn’t help that the message was one of those robo-call appointment reminders, which left him unable to ask for clarification. This was really not a good way to communicate with a stroke victim.

Eventually, I figured out what was going on. This call was actually from his cardiac surgeon rather than his cardiologist. Apparently, the surgeon had visited him while he was in the hospital, and somebody had set up a followup appointment, and not bothered to tell us about it.

Actually, we’re pretty sure they told Leo about the appointment, but this would have been a few days after his stroke. I’ve mentioned that his mental abilities are improving every day. The corollary is that his mental abilities were much worse when all this started. He remembers very little that happened during that first week after the stroke.

(This sort of thing was a common occurrence when dealing with Leo’s healthcare providers. A few days after this call we got another call about a cardiology appointment we had never heard of. This time it turned out to be a cardiologist who saw him at the second hospital and wanted to do a followup. We agreed there was no reason to see two cardiologists and cancelled the second one.)

Anyway, since the cardiologist and the surgeon are located a few minutes apart but about 50 miles away from my home, we got the surgeon’s office to reschedule their appointment to the same day as the cardiology appointment we already had, with a tentative surgery date of the following Wednesday. However, when Friday came, the cardiologist’s office called to cancel the appointment and asked if we could reschedule for the following Monday or next Friday. Suppressing my annoyance at the scheduling issue and the fact that these people clearly do not talk to each other, I explained that our surgery date meant next Friday was too late, so we’d be there on Monday.

It was still a busy day. We met with the surgeon’s office nurse, and she asked us a lot of questions and explained the process to us. The whole staff seemed very efficient. Then we were off to the neighboring hospital for pre-operative lab tests and a chest X-ray. Before I even got the car started, however, we got a call from the surgeon’s office. After we had left, the surgeon decided he needed a CT scan of Leo’s head, and in the time it took us to walk out to the car, his staff had called the radiology department to set it up. All we needed to do was tell the receptionist.

That all went relatively quick, and with the afternoon off because of the cardiologist’s rescheduling, we decided to drive over to Leo’s house just to make sure everything was okay.

Leo is something of an amateur naturalist, and last year he killed off all the grass in his yard so he could replant it with wildflower seeds native to the Illinois prairie. When I last saw the place, the prairie flowers had grown in a few feet high and looked pretty thick, but when we got there on Friday afternoon, almost a month later, Leo’s yard had turned into a spectacular explosion of dozens of different types of plants towering over my head and teaming with tiny wildlife.

Leo also likes to feed the local critters — birds, deer, raccoons, skunks, cats, etc. — so he can take pictures of them, but it looked like the feed bags he keeps in his house were starting to attract bugs, so we dumped them out at the back of his property so the local fauna could chow down.

(In my neighborhood, uncontrolled plant growth and feeding wildlife would piss off my neighbors and probably get me cited and fined, but it’s amazing what you can get away with when you live in an unincorporated area far from the prying busybodies in town government.)

While we were there, we started Leo’s car and moved it a bit so the tires wouldn’t develop a flat spot. (I don’t know if that’s really still a thing with modern tires.) We also rebooted the home network, which was behaving a little weird, and tidied up a bit.

On Monday, I stayed home to work while my wife took Leo to the cardiologist’s office. While they were there, the surgeon’s office called to say they needed some kind of approval from his primary care doctor. After a bit of a pissing match between the two offices, Leo’s doctor managed to get them in late that afternoon, which pretty much killed the whole day.

On Tuesday night, Leo ate his last meal before surgery. He then took a shower using special soap. This morning we got up at 4am, and he took another shower with the same stuff. I guess the idea is to minimize the chance that the surgical team will pick up contamination from a non-sterilized part of Leo’s body.

We were ready early, so we left early, just in case we ran into unexpected delays during the drive. We didn’t, so we got to the hospital an hour ahead of time. Eventually they brought us into some kind of prep room where Leo changed out of his street clothes. The anesthesiologist visited. The surgeon visited. They explained what would happen. They started an IV. And then we sat around and both dozed off until they came to take him an hour and a half later.

I’m in the waiting room now, trying to keep calm and keep occupied.

Leo is having open-heart surgery. It’s a cardiac artery bypass graft, abbreviated to CABG, which all the cool kids apparently call “cabbage.” Basically, as I understand it, they will knock him out and then open up his chest and cut through his chest bones to get at his heart. Then they hook him up to a heart-lung bypass machine that oxygenates and circulates his blood. This allows them to stop his heart. With the heart immobile, the surgeon can splice grafts into the cardiac arteries using relatively unused blood vessels from Leo’s leg. He’ll try to add as many grafts as he can, to maximize blood flow to the heart muscle. When he’s done, they will restart Leo’s heart, wire his chest back together, and then close him up. He’ll recover in the ICU for a day or two, and then they’ll move him to a regular room

As you might guess, this is not a sure thing. The heart-lung bypass lines can come loose, or he can start bleeding where they’re connected, or the machine can cause his blood to form clots which will enter his blood stream. The surgeon could make a mistake. A blood vessel could tear. His heart might not restart. Leo could start bleeding internally after the surgery. And there’s always the risk of infection.

Leo’s surgeon is apparently one of the best. The hospital staff speaks highly of him. Leo’s doctor says he’s the guy she’d want if she was having the surgery. From what they’re saying about him, I get the feeling he’s the kind of surgeon from whom medical students learn how to behave in the operating room.

And yet… there’s a small chance — but not small enough to be negligible — that my friend Leo will die. I can’t really grasp that. I can’t imagine what it would mean to me if Leo were gone. What haunts me now is thought of making that hour-long drive home to tell Leo’s wonderful father that his son is dead.

Really, though, I’m mostly OK. The surgery will in all likelihood go just fine. It usually does. There aren’t a lot of complications in Leo’s case, and everybody seems real confident. So the odds of failure are probably pretty small. Less than 1-in-100. Maybe less than 1-in-1000. In one sense, that’s terrific. But it’s still probably hundreds or thousands of times greater risk of death than on an ordinary day.

Well, an ordinary day for an ordinary person. With Leo’s heart problems, he’d be very likely to die soon without the surgery. So he has to have the surgery, and there’s no point worrying about it because neither of us can do anything to change the outcome. Leo has made the only decision he can, and we’re just going to have to see what happens.

Leo has been totally cool about that. As for me, as I sit here waiting for the surgeon to finish his work and come out and tell me how it went, I’m wavering between somewhat cool and somewhat freaked out.

So, I’ve got my laptop plugged in, I’m on the hospital we-fi, and I’m waiting.

Update:

Surgery is over. Everything went well. He’s just been moved to the ICU. I’ll drop in on him there — because for some reason everyone expects me to want to see him unconscious and on a respirator — and then I’m outta here. There may be drinking in my future.

(I’ve changed names, places, and other details to protect my friends’ privacy.)

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Cabbage Day [Updated]

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Fun and Games With the Sick and Elderly https://windypundit.com/2017/07/fun-games-sick-elderly/ https://windypundit.com/2017/07/fun-games-sick-elderly/#comments Wed, 26 Jul 2017 19:57:51 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10732 It’s been a little over a month since my friend Leo had heart failure and a stroke, and things have been very busy around here. As I mentioned, Leo had been planning to go into the hospital for heart surgery for a while, and since he was the sole caregiver for his 87-year old father, […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Fun and Games With the Sick and Elderly

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It’s been a little over a month since my friend Leo had heart failure and a stroke, and things have been very busy around here. As I mentioned, Leo had been planning to go into the hospital for heart surgery for a while, and since he was the sole caregiver for his 87-year old father, we had been planning that I would help take care of him by visiting him every other day.

At least that was the original plan, when Leo found out he needed heart surgery two years ago. For various reasons, some medical, some logistical, he kept having to put off the surgery, until last month his heart gave out and he had a stroke. And during that period, it turns out that things had changed. Things my wife and I were unaware of.

For about a week and a half, we tried to follow the original plan of making the 100-mile round trip to visit his father every day or so. Gradually, we realized that Leo’s father was not as independent as we thought. For one thing, his dementia is a little worse than we expected. He’s not totally out of it, and he’s able to live by himself surprisingly well — microwaving his own meals, taking his own medicine from pre-filled pill containers, and even doing his own laundry — and that fooled us for a while.

Eventually we realized that he was more forgetful than we realized, and that we would need to monitor him more closely. We decided the only thing that made sense was to bring him to live with us. It was already the weekend, and we knew we weren’t ready for him over yet, so we hired a home care service to help him out for three hours every day during the next week, with us still coming over most evenings as well. This would get us through until the following weekend, which would give us time to prepare the place.

Meanwhile, we were dealing with a medical mystery. Leo’s father was a diabetic, and his blood sugar levels had started rising since his son went into the hospital. We had a list of his medications, and there was no insulin, so it looked like he managed his diabetes with pills and diet, as evidenced by the supply of healthy low-calorie frozen dinners in his freezer. Our best guess was that he was eating too many of his favorite meals rather than a mix of healthy ones, so we began to shop for increasingly low-sugar/low-carb foods, and that seemed to help.

What neither of us knew is that Leo’s father was taking insulin. Or rather, he was supposed to be taking insulin. It turns out that the list of medications we had was only for filling Leo’s father’s pill boxes. Leo managed the insulin separately, since he didn’t want his father taking it by himself.

(I had asked Leo in the hospital if he managed his father’s diabetes with pills and diet, and he confirmed that he did. I knew not to entirely trust that answer, because Leo was often confused, but we had also asked Leo’s father if he took insulin injections, and he said no, so I felt pretty confident. In retrospect he must have misunderstood the question.)

We started to figure all of this out when I finally got Leo’s father’s primary care doctor’s office to send me a list of his medications, conditions, etc. I called his doctor immediately, and he told us that given the glucose levels we were seeing, the amount of time he had gone untreated, and the lack of any symptoms, we shouldn’t be too concerned. Just get him back on insulin again.

We went over that evening to get him started on the insulin. You’re supposed to take daily insulin in the morning, but we felt that giving it to him in the evening was better than nothing. Now that we knew what to look for, we immediately found a couple of boxes of insulin pens in the refrigerator. Then we had him test his glucose levels. They were perfectly normal.

There was no way we were going to dose him up with insulin and then just leave, because he could start to crash and we wouldn’t know it. So we just left things the way they were. The next day, a visiting nurse from the VA came to see him, and — thanks to a home care worker who gave him some high-sugar soft drinks she found in the refrigerator — his insulin was sky-high again. So the nurse dosed him up good and, with the help of someone at the VA, helped us figure out a proper insulin schedule.

The following Saturday, in an operation that went much smoother than it should have, we brought Leo’s father to live with us, along with his clothes, toiletries, meds (with insulin cold-packed for the trip), pillow, blankets, easy chair, iPad (for movies), bathroom scale, and binoculars (for bird watching).

Fortunately, this coincided with the beginning of our planned two-week stay-at-home vacation, so we had plenty of time to get Leo’s dad integrated into our household. It also gave me time to go back to his house for his microwave oven, so that he wouldn’t have to learn to use ours, which was also awkwardly located for him. I also prepped Leo’s house for vacancy by taking or discarding all perishable foods, emptying and shutting off the refrigerator, turning the air conditioning up to 87, setting some lights on timers, and installing an alarm system and security cameras. I also let the neighbor know we had moved him out and notified the Sheriff’s office so they could check the house periodically.

Meanwhile, while we were trying to take care of Leo’s father without putting him into a diabetic coma, Leo himself was working his way through the recovery process. He was transferred from the hospital where he was initially admitted to another hospital that had a good rehab program, and he immediately began receiving physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. This was about 20 minutes closer to where I live, so I had little trouble continuing to visit him every other day or so, and he continued to get a little better every time.

After maybe a week, the discharge planning nurse called me to tell me they were ready to move him to a nursing home for rehab. They sent me a list of facilities that were covered by Leo’s insurance and asked me if I wanted to pick one. I wanted to find one that was close to me so I could visit more often, but after doing some research on the Medicare website and Yelp, I decided to go with one of two nursing homes that were near the hospital. I took a quick tour and was impressed by the cleanliness and preparedness of the staff of both, so I went with the one that was closest to the hospital, on the theory that they were used to working together.

Leo continued to improve at the rehab facility, and after a week or so they contacted me to let me know they were thinking of discharging him, if we could take him in. That had been our plan all along, but this call came the week after we took in his dad, just as we were getting settled down.

That touched off a whole planning session for how to arrange the spare bedroom to hold a second bed. The bed that was in there was queen size, and we could fit another bed in next to it, but there wouldn’t be enough room between them for someone with a walker. Eventually, I got the idea of putting in a twin bed at a right angle, which would leave enough space for both of them to use walkers, but that idea was blown up when the home care service announced they were sending us a hospital bed for Leo. We considered not taking it, but they pointed out that he still had heart surgery coming up and would probably need it then. So we ordered another twin bed to go with the hospital bed and took out the queen size bed, which is now leaning against the fireplace into our family room/library.

Part of the discharge process from the nursing home was for me to receive caregiver instructions. So made a special trip over during the day, and the physical therapist explained to me the proper procedure for Leo to stand up from a chair and sit down safely, and which foot Leo should move first when climbing up and down the stairs. He also had me bring my car around so he could show us how Leo could get in and out of a car.

Leo and I agreed later that this training was mostly useless. I’ve taken care of someone more disabled than Leo before, and we’re both overweight, so we’re both used to moving carefully. For better or worse, pushing off the arms of a chair when standing up is not a novel idea for either of us.

On the other hand, you know what would have been nice to receive training on? The ZOLL LifeVest wearable defibrillator that Leo has to wear everywhere. Basically, it’s a cloth vest with EKG sensors and defibrillator shock paddles that snap into interior pockets, connected by a cord to a portable control box which is expected to sense dangerous fibrillation in Leo’s heart and if necessary, administer a shock.

I learned how it works by visiting the company website and watching their training video, which explains how to change the batteries and how swap the sensors between vests when it’s time to change to a new one. It also explains the alert sequence that occurs when it detects a problem with the patient’s heart: First the vest vibrates, then it emits a series of increasingly loud warbling tones, then it announces that bystanders should stand clear and not touch the wearer, and finally it extrudes conductive gel from the shock paddles and administers a defibrillation jolt. Rather annoyingly, all the LifeVest documentation refers to this as “treatment,” presumably to avoid alarming patients by admitting that it will electrocute the crap out of them.

In some sense, I guess I didn’t need training in how the vest works because Leo had been taught to take care of it himself, but it would have been nice to have been told what the LifeVest did and how it works. In particular, the control box has two buttons on it that the patient can press to stop the shock. In engineering terms, this step implements the condition that only a person who has lost consciousness is in need of defibrillation. For that reason it’s really important that only the patient operates the buttons.

So anyway, the rehab place sends Leo home to us on Saturday, and he and his dad have a reunion. Without the nursing home staff looking over his shoulder, Leo abandons his walker and quickly discovers that he can walk well enough without it. Everything is going fine.

And then later that evening the warbling alert tone starts on Leo’s life vest. Leo is standing up at the time, so he presses the buttons that prevent the vest from shocking him. He says he feels fine. And then the alarm goes off again. This happens several times in a row. He tells me it does this all the time and it’s nothing to worry about.

I’m not entirely convinced, but what really has me freaked out is that even if there’s nothing serious going on with his heart — and we’re pretty sure there isn’t because he’s still conscious — every single time that alarm goes off, it means that he’s within about 30 seconds of getting a painful electrical shock to the heart. Every single time. A few weeks of dealing with that and I’d be a nervous wreck.

Anyway, as I’d hoped, having Leo around makes our lives easier rather than harder. He’s still pretty messed up from the stroke, but he’s got it together enough that he can help take care of his father, which is a big load off our minds, because we knew we’d have a lot less free time once our vacation was over.

It’s a little weird, though. Leo has aphasia, which means he has trouble expressing himself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his thinking is impaired. For example, one evening he told us that his father’s blood sugar was too low, “About 150.” That’s actually pretty normal, but when I checked the glucose meter myself, it was actually around 50, which is much too low. Leo had read the meter correctly and diagnosed the problem, but he was unable to say the number accurately. Similarly, he has trouble saying the numbers on his father’s insulin injection pen, but he can still do the math to figure out how much insulin to give his father and then set the pen correctly by counting clicks.

And of course, Leo has far more experience taking care of his father than we do, so he can spot subtle clues about his father’s health, such as the sluggishness that indicated low blood sugar. Leo also understands his father’s needs better than we do, and can point them out to us, even when his father is too polite to mention it.

For example… You remember when I mentioned that his father was only eating very healthy low-calorie meals? Leo had something to say about that. At first, all he could say is that his father needed “big food” not “small food.” After some back-and-forth, we eventually realized Leo was talking about low- and high-calories meals. He was telling us that the low-calorie meals were his meals, which he had been eating to lose weight. His father, on the other hand, had been eating normal nutritious foods. What must have happened is that by the time we showed up to do grocery shopping, his father had finished most of his food, so all we saw in the freezer was Leo’s low-calorie diet meals. We assumed that’s what his father normally ate, and so that’s what we bought for him. And he was far too polite to ask for better food.

In other words, over the past few weeks we managed to run a 78-year-old diabetic man’s blood sugar way up…and then starve him with a weight-loss diet.

No harm done, apparently, but…Yeah, it’s a good thing Leo’s here.

(I’ve changed names, places, and other details to protect my friends’ privacy.)

 

 

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Fun and Games With the Sick and Elderly

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Trump Wants Obamacare to Fail https://windypundit.com/2017/07/trump-wants-obamacare-fail/ https://windypundit.com/2017/07/trump-wants-obamacare-fail/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 18:31:29 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10745 This tweet of President Trump’s yesterday illustrates what a clueless dick he is when it comes to healthcare policy: As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2017 Let me quote the key part: …let ObamaCare […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Trump Wants Obamacare to Fail

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This tweet of President Trump’s yesterday illustrates what a clueless dick he is when it comes to healthcare policy:

Let me quote the key part:

…let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan.

People who talk like that — including some of the people who demand that Congress should “repeal Obamacare” —  have no idea what Obamacare is or how it works. Obamacare is not just bolt-on legislation (like a subsidy or a tax) that can easily be removed. The Affordable Care Act was a complex, multi-phase restructuring of the healthcare insurance market that ran to 2000 pages. It created standards, regulatory bodies, organizational structures, mandates, taxes, waivers, funding channels, and a schedule for implementing all of it.

Obamacare is not something added to healthcare, it’s a transformation of healthcare. If you want to undo it, you can’t just remove it — not without throwing the healthcare market into chaos. You have to specify the transformation process that will produce the market structure you want. Consequently, the people who talk about “repealing Obamacare” are talking about a transformation of the healthcare insurance market that is every bit as fraught with risk as Obamacare itself.

I’m pretty sure that Trump has no idea what market structure he wants for healthcare. I doubt he’s thought about it much beyond a few aspirational slogans about how great it will be. And in the tweet I quoted, he isn’t even talking about something as vague as repealing Obamacare. He wants to let Obamacare fail.

In an insurance market, failure means that the insurance companies and their customers are unable to reach an agreement on price. It usually happens when premium prices start going up and policy holders who are least in need of insurance — those who have few claims — refuse to pay the higher prices and don’t buy insurance. That leaves behind only policy holders who have a lot of claims, so insurance companies have to raise premium prices to avoid losing money. That encourages even more policy holders to quit their insurance plans, and the cycle continues until the insurance companies give up and leaves the market, leaving everybody uninsured. This industry term for this is a “death spiral.”

It’s an open question whether ACA healthcare plans are in a death spiral. The ACA has features which are intended to prevent a death spiral, most prominently the individual mandate penalizing people for not buying insurance, which is supposed to keep policy holders from leaving when prices go up. However, there have been signs that a death spiral is in progress, such as rising prices and health insurance companies abandoning some markets. On the other hand, the market could just be shaking out — weaker players quitting because they can’t figure out how to operate profitably — which happens in a lot of new markets. It’s clear the Obamacare markets aren’t healthy, but it’s not clear if they’re actually failing.

Under the Obama administration, insurance companies had good reason to believe that the government would try to prevent a death spiral: This was Obama’s namesake legacy achievement, after all, and he would try to protect it. Since they were unable to get the cooperation of congressional Republicans, the administration was limited to making changes that were within the authority of the executive branch (although some argue they exceeded that authority). Nevertheless, the Obama administration kept a close eye on what was happening in the healthcare insurance market, and they kept tweaking the implementation of the ACA to keep things going.

Things are different now. With control of Congress and the White House, Republicans are in charge of healthcare policy and can do pretty much whatever they want. Yet so far, the various Republican healthcare plans haven’t addressed the “death spiral” issue at all. In fact, some of their proposals weaken the individual mandate without strengthening other aspects of the healthcare exchanges, which seems likely to increase the risk of a death spiral.

And as this tweet makes clear, Trump has no personal interest at all in keeping the exchanges going. But rather than dismantling them in an orderly fashion, Trump sees no problem with letting them fail. This is deeply callous. It’s the healthcare equivalent of owning a run-down apartment building and deciding that rather than repairing it, or even demolishing and rebuilding it, you’ll just let it collapse on its own before you try to rebuild.

Trump doesn’t seem to care that the failure of the Obamacare markets will have real harmful effects on people. It was a running joke that what Republicans didn’t like about “Obamacare” was the “Obama.” That struck me as unfair, but I think it’s accurate for Trump. Not in a racist way, as was implied by the joke, but in a personal way. Trump doesn’t care what happens to people who lose coverage if Obamacare fails because he sees this as a personal fight: He sees himself as the greatest President, a winner, and for that to be the case, all challengers must lose. He wants to see Obamacare fail because that will show the world he’s better than Obama.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Trump Wants Obamacare to Fail

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People Will Die! https://windypundit.com/2017/07/people-will-die/ https://windypundit.com/2017/07/people-will-die/#respond Fri, 14 Jul 2017 20:52:54 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10736 I just stumbled on this recent video by Remy. Yeah. So much of this going on.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at People Will Die!

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I just stumbled on this recent video by Remy.

Yeah. So much of this going on.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at People Will Die!

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Free the Squawk! https://windypundit.com/2017/07/free-the-squawk/ https://windypundit.com/2017/07/free-the-squawk/#comments Thu, 06 Jul 2017 17:54:31 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10714 Oh my God! They’re going after Squawk! It all started back in May, when Appellate Squawk (who somewhat disappointingly turns out not to be a bird with legal superpowers but a human female working for the New York Legal Aid Society) published a post poking mild fun at her office’s training about the importance of […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Free the Squawk!

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Oh my God! They’re going after Squawk!

It all started back in May, when Appellate Squawk (who somewhat disappointingly turns out not to be a bird with legal superpowers but a human female working for the New York Legal Aid Society) published a post poking mild fun at her office’s training about the importance of asking clients to clarify their gender. Here’s a taste:

Lawyer: [Reading from a card] I need to know whether your name expresses your internal deeply-held sense of your gender which may or may not be the same or different from your sex assigned at birth –

Defendant: Yeah, whatever. Then they handcuffed me to a chair and started throwing lighted matches on my lap, causing imminent danger to my manhood –

Lawyer: Tut, tut, gender isn’t a matter of stereotypical physical characteristics –

Defendant:   – so I confessed. But I can prove it’s false because there’s a surveillance tape showing I was on the other side of town at the time. My wife  –

Lawyer:  Your wife? What gender identity does they go by?

Defendant: Yo, are you calling me a FRUIT?

Lawyer: That’s a very discredited terminology. The term is non-binary gender fluid –

Defendant: Will you lower your voice? I’m in a holding cell with 20 other guys, you know what I’m saying?

Lawyer: I’d feel so much better about our relationship if you’d only come out of the closet.

Defendant: But I’m a man. Like Muddy Waters says, “M-A-N, I’m the hootchie cootchie man -”

Lawyer: You sexist pig, how dare you! (Exit)

That should give you the general idea. It’s typical Squawk snark about the absurdities of criminal defense. But apparently it was enough to put some people over the edge, and the Legal Aid Society has started an investigation into the matter.

Scott Greenfield has more details about the original training,

As it turns out, soon after the announcement of the new discrimination and harassment policy, a CLE was held, where the lawyers were instructed that the first thing they must do when meeting their clients was not to ask about the case, not to ask about the defense, not to ask about anything having anything to do with that nasty old-school mission of criminal defense. How horrifying! How exhausting!

No, the first and foremost concern was that LAS lawyers were directed to ascertain their self-identified gender and sexual orientation. It didn’t matter that there was nothing to suggest a gender or sexual orientation issue. They must put it first. And never, but never, call a client “Mr. Smith,” as that would presume their gender, even if no one had ever shown them the respect of using an honorific before. As a last resort, they were trained to use the word “Mx.,” which always serves well in the holding cell to identify defendants who tend not to be particularly woke.

(Scott may be exaggerating a bit. He does that sometimes.) [Update: Scott clarifies in an email that no, he was not exaggerating at all about the substance of the training, which is apparently as self-parodying as it sounds…which is not nearly as self-parodying as the fact that Squawk’s post has triggered an investigation.]

Scott also has samples of the complaints, some of which are kind of amazing.

I am reporting the content of this blog as creating a contributing to a hostile work environment. Please read it. It is terrible.

Some of the complaint is a little more specific.

[Squawk’s] email has served as a huge distraction from doing my job today. I am upset and really troubled that someone who works at the Legal Aid Society-an organization whose motto is to make the case for humanity-is joking about the importance of honoring a person’s preferred pronoun and gender.

Actually, if I understand Squawk’s point correctly, she wasn’t joking about the importance of honoring a person’s preferred pronoun and gender. She was joking about CLE session’s over-emphasis on gender and pronouns.

Yes, I know people with non-traditional gender identities and sexual orientations are going to face special problems when arrested and jailed. I also know this is not news to most criminal defense lawyers. But criminal defense lawyers are supposed to represent the interests of their clients, and I’m pretty sure that for even the most gender atypical of criminal defendants, their main interest when meeting their lawyer is getting the hell out of jail.

It is disturbing that the message indicates that an attorney cannot zealously represent their client while inquiring about a client’s preferred pronoun and gender identity. If anything, by asking a client about their pronoun *furthers* an attorney’s ability to best represent their client.

Well, in the abstract, sure, the more a lawyer knows about their client, the better. But this conversation isn’t taking place in the abstract. It’s taking place in jail. There is no privacy in jail. It’s a terrible feeling, and Squawk doesn’t think their lawyers should be making it worse:

One of the many annoyances of being accused of a crime is having to put up with humiliating questions from your lawyer. Like, “Was your grandmother a drug addict?” “When was the last time you had sex?” or “Do you hear voices?”

So even if the client is a tough-talking street thug who sometimes feels he’d rather be a pretty girl, that may not be the sort of thing he feels comfortable sharing with a total stranger while locked in a cell block with a thousand other tough-talking street thugs.

Then there’s the possibility, also raised by Squawk, that the client may feel insulted that his lawyer is implying he’s less than 110% manly man. We can discuss whether he’s a bad person for thinking that being gay or transgender is an insult, but that doesn’t change the fact that zealous representation will be more difficult if he feels insulted by the very first thing his lawyer says.

But I’m drifting off the main point here. I’m not a lawyer, and I really have no business telling lawyers how to do their job. (Although, some lawyers, damn…) My point is that Squawk’s post wasn’t making fun of LGBTQ people. It was making fun of the people in her office who think LGBTQ issues are more important than proper representation of clients.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Free the Squawk!

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The Perils of Restricting Hate Speech https://windypundit.com/2017/07/perils-restricting-hate-speech/ https://windypundit.com/2017/07/perils-restricting-hate-speech/#respond Tue, 04 Jul 2017 03:59:51 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10708 A while back, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by Laura Beth Nielson arguing that there’s a case for restricting hate speech. As a sociologist and legal scholar, I struggle to explain the boundaries of free speech to undergraduates. Despite the 1st Amendment—I tell my students—local, state, and federal laws limit all kinds of […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Perils of Restricting Hate Speech

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A while back, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by Laura Beth Nielson arguing that there’s a case for restricting hate speech.

As a sociologist and legal scholar, I struggle to explain the boundaries of free speech to undergraduates. Despite the 1st Amendment—I tell my students—local, state, and federal laws limit all kinds of speech. We regulate advertising, obscenity, slander, libel, and inciting lawless action to name just a few. My students nod along until we get to racist and sexist speech. Some can’t grasp why, if we restrict so many forms of speech, we don’t also restrict hate speech.

That’s where things get wobbly:

The typical answer is that judges must balance benefits and harms.

Okay…this feels awkward… Nielsen is a professor of sociology and the director of the legal studies program at Northwestern University, and she’s also a research professor at the American Bar Foundation, whereas I’m just a loudmouthed blogger. And yet…I’m pretty sure she’s wrong.

The limits on our First Amendment rights are narrowly defined, and to the extent that those rights are balanced, it’s not by judges. First Amendment lawyer Ken White explains the distinction, in another LAT piece:

Censorship advocates often tell us we need to balance the freedom of speak with the harm that speech does. This is arguable philosophically, but it is wrong legally. American courts don’t decide whether to protect speech by balancing its harm against its benefit; they ask only if it falls into a specific 1st Amendment exception. As the Supreme Court recently put it, “[t]he First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.”

Back to Nielson:

At the same time, our regime of free speech protects the powerful and popular. Many city governments, for instance, have banned panhandling at the behest of their business communities. The legal justification is that the targets of begging (commuters, tourists, and consumers) have important and legitimate purposes for being in public: to get to work or to go shopping. The law therefore protects them from aggressive requests for money.

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of some of those anti-panhandling laws either.

Consider also the protections afforded to soldiers’ families in the case of Westboro Baptist anti-gay demonstrations. When the Supreme Court in 2011 upheld that church’s right to stage offensive protests at veterans’ funerals, Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans’ Act, which prohibits any protests 300 to 500 feet around such funerals.

Again, Nielson is some kind of expert and I’m not, but…I’m pretty sure that particular law is written in a way that is viewpoint neutral: It doesn’t prohibit protests based on the content of the protesters’ speech. In fact, it doesn’t prohibit protests at all. It prohibits disrupting veterans’ funerals.

Nielson does go on to make an important point in what I think is the best part of her piece:

So soldiers’ families, shoppers and workers are protected from troubling speech. People of color, women walking down public streets or just living in their dorm on a college campus are not. The only way to justify this disparity is to argue that commuters asked for money on the way to work experience a tangible harm, while women catcalled and worse on the way to work do not — as if being the target of a request for change is worse than being racially disparaged by a stranger.

In fact, empirical data suggest that frequent verbal harassment can lead to various negative consequences. Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping strategies. Exposure to racial slurs also diminishes academic performance. Women subjected to sexualized speech may develop a phenomenon of “self-objectification,” which is associated with eating disorders.

These negative physical and mental health outcomes — which embody the historical roots of race and gender oppression — mean that hate speech is not “just speech.” Hate speech is doing something. It results in tangible harms that are serious in and of themselves and that collectively amount to the harm of subordination. The harm of perpetuating discrimination. The harm of creating inequality.

This part of Nielson’s argument is a solid explanation of why hate speech is unethical. In fact, I would go further: One of my recurring themes around here, usually in connection with economics, is that just because some benefit or cost isn’t tangible doesn’t mean it isn’t real. So even if people hurt by hate speech didn’t suffer tangible harms, they may still have suffered harm. For lack of a better word, their “hurt feelings” matter.

The hard part, however, is figuring out what to do about it. It is here that Nielson’s argument runs into the usual problems.

Instead of characterizing racist and sexist hate speech as “just speech,” courts and legislatures need to account for this research and, perhaps, allow the restriction of hate speech as do all of the other economically advanced democracies in the world.

Many readers will find this line of thinking repellent. They will insist that protecting hate speech is consistent with and even central to our founding principles. They will argue that regulating hate speech would amount to a serious break from our tradition. They will trivialize the harms that social science research undeniably associates with being the target of hate speech, and call people seeking recognition of these affronts “snowflakes.”

But these free-speech absolutists must at least acknowledge two facts. First, the right to speak already is far from absolute. Second, they are asking disadvantaged members of our society to shoulder a heavy burden with serious consequences. Because we are “free” to be hateful, members of traditionally marginalized groups suffer.

I acknowledge both of these facts, but I don’t think they get Nielson where she wants to go.

Actually, Nielson never says where she wants to go. Beyond a vague statement that “courts and legislatures need to…perhaps, allow the restriction of hate speech,” she never spells out what remedy she wants for the problem she identifies. So let’s get that out in the open: In order to protect members of traditionally marginalized groups from hateful speech, Nielson wants to make hate speech a crime.

How do you think that will turn out?

Pop quiz: If a middle-aged white guy walking down the street in a business suit calls a black woman a “cunt,” and at the same time in a different part of town a young black male walking down the street in baggy pants and a do-rag calls a white woman a “cunt,” which one of them is more likely to be arrested for hate speech? Which one is more likely to be stuck in jail because they can’t make bail? Which one is more likely to be pressured into pleading guilty because they are locked up? Which one is more likely to serve time in a cage? Which one is more likely to have trouble finding a job because they have a criminal record?

Oh, I’m sure there will be a few high-profile prosecutions of racist white guys — maybe some prosecutor will try to make his bones prosecuting Milo Yiannopoulos or Richard Spencer — but you’re kidding yourself if you think most of the arrests won’t be of people from the same groups that always get arrested for petty crimes: Blacks, Hispanics, poor people, immigrants, and the mentally ill.

History has shown that creating whole new reasons for incarceration rarely works out well for members of traditionally marginalized groups. Make hate speech a crime, and sooner or later we’ll be reading stories about a 45-year-old homeless black man killed by cops who were arresting him for a racist slur.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The Perils of Restricting Hate Speech

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Some Friends Of Mine Are Having a Very Hard Time… https://windypundit.com/2017/06/friends-mine-hard-time/ https://windypundit.com/2017/06/friends-mine-hard-time/#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 23:03:42 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10680 Some friends of mine are having a very hard time, and I just need to write about it. At about 4:30 on Wednesday, my cellphone goes off with an incoming call from my friend Leo. Leo never calls. We communicate by text message (encrypted, lately) and sometimes email, so I kind of figured something was […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Some Friends Of Mine Are Having a Very Hard Time…

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Some friends of mine are having a very hard time, and I just need to write about it.

At about 4:30 on Wednesday, my cellphone goes off with an incoming call from my friend Leo. Leo never calls. We communicate by text message (encrypted, lately) and sometimes email, so I kind of figured something was wrong. He’s my age, and he’s taking care of his 87-year-old father, who has some health problems. So I’m not expecting this to be good news.

The conversation goes something like this:

Leo: “I think I’ve just had a stroke and I need to go to the hospital. The problem is my father is almost out of food and I was just about to go to the grocery story. Can you come over tomorrow and do some grocery shopping for him?”

Me: “… Did you call 911?”

Leo: “No. I guess I should do that.”

So we discuss the importance of him calling 911 for another minute and then hang up.

A few minutes later, I text him back “How’s it going?” I figure if I don’t get an answer, I’m going to have to figure out how to get an EMS response at his house, which is about 50 miles from where I live. He calls me back and tells me he called 911.

My wife gets home and we drive out to his house. Along the way, we call the hospital he’d most likely go to, and he isn’t there. We reach out to the Nortown Fire & Rescue department, and they tell us they have no information but they’ll look into it. Lacking any further information, we decide to go to his father’s house. It is, after all, what Leo asked me to do, and it’s the only place where we know we can help.

Thirty minutes later, Nortown Fire & Rescue calls back. It turns out the call was handled by county emergency resources, not the town, but they’ve found out my friend is in transport to the hospital. We decide to keep on going to his father’s place.

Leo has heart problems, and we’ve discussed the possibility of my taking care of his father if he is ever unable to, so a few years ago he gave me a key to his home. The thing is, Leo is a tech geek, and his front door is electronic, so the key is just a piece of information stored in an app on my phone. We’ve tested it, and it works just fine. So it was something of a surprise that it didn’t work this time.

My wife and I start ringing the bell and knocking on the door and yelling for a while, but nobody answers. A neighbor comes over. She saw the emergency vehicles and wants to know if we know what’s going on. I give her a brief answer and ask if Leo’s father is home. She doesn’t know.

I go walking around the house, trying to see inside, and through one of them I can see his father calmly working in the kitchen. He’s a bit deaf.

We ring and knock some more, but no luck. Eventually I think to check if I have his father’s cell phone number in my phone, and it turns out I do. Amazingly, he answers, and after a minute I get him to understand that we’re at his front door, and he lets us in.

It got easier after that. I went grocery shopping while my wife kept him company. She gave him both our numbers and added them into his phone. I visited the next door neighbor and gave her a mission: If she sees anything unusual, like the father wandering around outside or EMS showing up again, or he comes over and asks for help, please call me. She agreed to do so.

After that we go see Leo at the hospital He’s still in the emergency department, although they’re getting ready to transfer him to the ICU. He’s groggy, in and out, and a bit confused, but we tell him we took care of his father, and he looks very grateful to hear that, but I don’t know if he’ll remember. We didn’t get to talk to his physician — it was getting very late and we had a long drive home — but after talking to his nurse, it turns out he had heart problems. To me, this makes more sense than a strokes since he had already had one or two minor heart attacks.

He was trying to talk to us, but the effort just made him start coughing, so we decided it would be better if we left. I managed to snag his house keys so my next visit to his dad would go more smoothly.

That was Wednesday. Thursday was a normal day. The hospital told us that Leo’s vital signs were improving, and we got in touch with Leo’s father who said he was doing fine as well.

On Friday, I get a call from an MRI technician at the hospital. He wants to know if I know if Leo has any metal in his body. (Someday I must find out why such a sensitive and versatile magnetic imaging system can’t detect pieces of metal ahead of time.) I ask what’s going on, and he tells me they need more information after a CT scan showed a large infarction in his brain. That means he had a stroke after all.

That evening, we went to see Leo’s father again. We didn’t tell him what I’d found out, since I had very little information. We didn’t want to give him bad news on little more than a technician’s comment. And we need to think this through.

While we were there, my wife got him to agree to call us that night when he had taken his meds. He did, but he didn’t answer when I spoke to him, and then he hung up and called back about ten more times, each time saying nothing. We were just about to start the drive back to his house to see if he was alright, when he finally got through and explained that his fingers were a bit shaky at the moment and he was having trouble operating the touch screen on the phone. We stood down and went to bed.

On Saturday, we got the word that Leo had been transferred to a regular hospital room, and we went to see him. It turns out there was rather a lot of bad news.

One of the doctors gave me a description of what happened. It turns out he had congestive heart failure, which turns out to be the good news. It’s a relatively manageable condition, and he has essentially mostly recovered from the episode. His vital signs are healthy and his lungs are almost clear. The cardiology team hadn’t yet reported in, however, so they may very well want to do some procedures while they’ve got him.

The bad news is that he did indeed have a stroke. I’m assuming that one of the clots affecting his heart was dislodged during the event and traveled to his brain. It was described as a pretty large infarction, which appears to be a way of saying the stroke caused some brain damage. He’s not a vegetable, nor does he seem to have any major paralysis. His face isn’t sagging. When we visited him, he recognized us and held a conversation that was in many ways ordinary and normal. He also seems to be in relatively good spirits, although that could be an effect of the drugs.

He’s missing a few things, however. His arm and leg on one side are weak or difficult to control — He described them as “not being there,” which sounds like there’s something wrong with his kinesthetic sense.

More troubling, he seems to have a hard time processing symbolic information. He recognized my wife and I instantly when we walked in, but later when the doctor asked him our names, he was unable to come up with my wife’s name, and he used his own name when referring to me. He also chooses the wrong word for some things. I had loaned him some camera gear, and was trying to tell me I could take it back, and he referred to it as a “telephone.” Lots of technical things seem to be “telephone” to him. It’s like he’s got a concept that he’s trying to come up with a word for, and he can’t find the word, so he uses one that is conceptually nearby.

This is all pretty devastating. Leo is a technical geek like me. He has two college degrees, and he used to teach at a nearby college. One of his hobbies is photography. And now his ability to understand symbolic information, technology…just isn’t there. Despite his fondness for the word “telephone,” he can’t figure out how to use the one at his bed.

On the other hand, he has no trouble understanding that he’s in the hospital, and he’s asked questions about how we’re taking care of his father. The other day he had the nurse call me to ask if we had turned on the air conditioning for his father, because it was a hot day, and he was pretty sure he had left it off on the day of the stroke. (He was right. I turned it on.)

This is obviously going to be a lot of work. I’ve already talked to Leo about a medical power of attorney, and some folks at the hospital are going to help us set it up. His doctor asked him if it was okay, and Leo gratefully said it was.

As for his father, I’m going to have to be able to talk to his doctor and get information about his medical condition and the medications he’s taking. I think I’ll probably have to figure out how to get a medical power of attorney for him as well.

There’s also the problem of money. The good news is that Leo doesn’t have a job. Instead of working, he’s been staying home and taking care of his dad. I know they have some investments, and I think his father has retirement income. The reason this is good news is that it means his illness isn’t going to reduce household income.

The real problem is going to be getting the bills paid. Everything is fine for the moment, but I don’t know how long this will go on. I keep having this mental image of Leo driving a stagecoach with his father in the passenger compartment. Now Leo has passed out, but the horses are still running. Sooner or later, if someone doesn’t take the reins, their lives are going over a cliff.

I’m going to have to figure out how to manage all this for them. With my parents, all I needed was a financial power of attorney, but this is a more complicated situation, not the least because I’m not a relative.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to spin up some social services for the father. I’ve reached out to the Illinois Department on Aging, and they’ve referred me to a local aid organization, but they tell me it could be a few weeks before they can begin helping us.

The most infuriating part is that Leo and I were making plans for all of this. We knew he had to have heart surgery, and we knew I’d have to take care of his dad, and we knew it could last a while, so we had already discussed setting up powers of attorney, providing me with lists of doctors and financial institutions, and a bunch of other things. His traitorous heart just beat us to the punch.

I’m trying to find reasons to be hopeful. For example, Leo’s dad is much better at taking care of himself than my father was at that age. And I already have all the house keys and computer passwords.

There’s also the incident with the clock. The last time we saw Leo, his therapist pointed to the big digital clock on the wall and asked him to read the time. He was unable to. He had no clue how to do what she asked. Maybe ten minutes later, when we I started to wind up our visit, my wife said something like “Well, we’d better get going. We’re going to see your father next.”

Leo glanced up and replied, “Yeah, it’s almost five. He’ll be eating dinner soon.”


(I’ve changed names, places, and other details to protect my friends’ privacy.)

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Some Friends Of Mine Are Having a Very Hard Time…

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The DOJ’s Dick Move on Legal Aid for Immigrants https://windypundit.com/2017/05/dojs-dick-move-legal-aid-immigrants/ https://windypundit.com/2017/05/dojs-dick-move-legal-aid-immigrants/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 01:43:03 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10668 Ever since President Trump took office, we’ve been hearing a lot about the public interest legal organizations that have been helping immigrants with the legal fight to come to America and remain here. That these organizations are even necessary is because immigration law is (for the most part) civil law, not criminal law. In many […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The DOJ’s Dick Move on Legal Aid for Immigrants

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Ever since President Trump took office, we’ve been hearing a lot about the public interest legal organizations that have been helping immigrants with the legal fight to come to America and remain here. That these organizations are even necessary is because immigration law is (for the most part) civil law, not criminal law. In many ways that’s a good thing, because it means that people who violate immigration rules aren’t saddled with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

But there’s a nasty twist: Because they are not charged with a crime, they do not have a Sixth Amendment right to a government-provided lawyer under Gideon. That’s the “If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you” part of the Miranda warning. People with immigration problems don’t have that right, so indigent defendants can go through the entire deportation process without ever having a lawyer at their side. Even children. (That story is insane, but it’s not a lone example.)

Having a lawyer is really important. As immigration lawyer Mirriam Seddiq put it in an email to me,

The real problem is that people in immigration court don’t have the right to counsel. They can get one if they can get one, but they aren’t entitled to it in the same way they are in the criminal context (no 6a right) This is a thing that probably needs to change because what could be worse than being sent away from your entire world to another country?

Because of that, these public interest organizations have taken it on themselves to offer a variety of free services, from helping with paperwork to fully representing people through deportation proceedings.

I guess that pisses off someone like Donald Trump, and now it looks like his man at the Department of Justice, Jeff Sessions, is striking back with a cease-and-desist letter to one of these organizations, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which describes it this way:

The DOJ letter purports to rely on agency regulations issued in 2008 that require attorneys to enter a formal notice of appearance if they provide any legal assistance to persons in deportation proceedings. However, the immigration courts do not allow limited appearances, so once an attorney files a notice of appearance they are obligated to take over full representation in the deportation proceedings.

The problem is that NWIRP is not staffed to fully represent a lot of people through the entire process. They’ve found they most effectively use their limited resource by giving a smaller amount of help to a larger number of people.

While NWIRP is able to provide full representation in some of those cases, the majority of people are left without an attorney. In response, NWIRP has historically provided limited assistance to help those individuals fill out applications for asylum, cancellation of removal, family visas; file motions to reopen removal proceedings, change venue, and to terminate proceedings; and advise them on defenses, forms of relief, and the procedural requirements for moving forward on cases. But now the cease and desist order has caused a dramatic and immediate impact in the way NWIRP is able to serve hundreds of unrepresented persons.

The DOJ order is based on regulations from the Executive Office for Immigration Review intended to protect immigrants from unscrupulous lawyers who take advantage of them by taking a fee and then disappearing without helping them. Obviously, lawyers who work for free aren’t trying to take advantage of anyone, and organizations like NWIRP have long been allowed to operate without having to follow this rule.

Now, however, somebody at Sessions’ Justice Department wants to enforce this rule against NWIRP, and presumably other such organizations, probably because they think this would be a good way to fulfill Trump’s goal of getting more illegal immigrants out of the country.

Any way you look at it, it’s kind of a dick move. Fortunately, at least for now, it’s a dick move that’s blocked by a federal judge. But it’s not a good sign.

(Hat tip to my occasional co-blogger Ken, who directed me to a Nation story by Rachel B. Tiven. Read the whole thing.)

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The DOJ’s Dick Move on Legal Aid for Immigrants

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Windypundit In the Age Of Trump https://windypundit.com/2017/05/windypundit-age-trump/ https://windypundit.com/2017/05/windypundit-age-trump/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 02:13:44 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10661 I seem to be having trouble blogging. My last post was on March 28th, an even 50 days ago. I think that’s one of the longest periods I’ve gone without posting since the very early days of the blog. I blogged more frequently than this throughout the months when my parents died. Part of the […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Windypundit In the Age Of Trump

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I seem to be having trouble blogging. My last post was on March 28th, an even 50 days ago. I think that’s one of the longest periods I’ve gone without posting since the very early days of the blog. I blogged more frequently than this throughout the months when my parents died.

Part of the reason for the reduced blogging is that I’ve been doing small projects around the house. We never really finished moving in, so I have a lot of catching up to do — unpacking boxes, moving furniture, putting things together. It uses up my spare time.

It also doesn’t help that my day job is changing. I’m taking on additional responsibilities, and I’m spending more time having to learn about some new technologies, which uses up more of my spare time. More importantly, it uses up my mental energy. Writing Windypundit is hard work. I have trouble finding the time to start new posts, and I have trouble keeping up the momentum it takes to finish a post.

(I have a bunch of partial posts from the last few weeks — taking The Federalist to task for attacking Elizabeth Nolan Brown, the dangers of weakening Section 230 protections, explaining why I’m skeptical of that study suggesting auto insurance pricing is racist, ranting about Jack Marshall’s ugly values, analysis of the Trump “tax plan,” a point that climate activists missed in Bret Stephens’s NYT piece, and a multi-part series on how insurance works. Some of those might still see daylight, but most are already too stale.)

There’s one other cause for my lack of blogging: The presidency of Donald Trump. Or rather, the difficulty I have in dealing coherently with the presidency of Donald Trump. I tend to blog about what might be called policy issues, and those aren’t much in the news these days.

That’s no surprise. My position has consistently been that Trump is a narcissistic sociopath. It’s not easy to talk about Trump’s policy preferences because he doesn’t have any beyond doing whatever is good for him. Heck, his “tax plan” consisted of a one page summary of provisions and some details given by his staff, and the provisions with the most details were the ones that would give Trump himself a big tax break.

I don’t know how to talk about policy ideas so vague and incomplete. Other pundits filled in the holes, but some of their assumptions were contradictory. Anything I wrote would be dependent on way too many assumptions to be useful.

The Republican healthcare plan was a lot more detailed — an actual bill before Congress — but even then it didn’t offer a solution to any of the major problems with Obamacare, nor did it deliver on Trump’s promises of much better healthcare plans. It just didn’t seem like serious policy, and that didn’t seem worth writing about, especially since non-serious policy could change when the wind blows.

In any case, both the tax plan and the healthcare plan were met with scathing responses from throughout the punditocracy. Much of the response was partisan, a little too much of it was crazy, and some of it I strongly disagreed with it. But all too often, by the time I caught up to the news cycle, everyone else had already said what I wanted to say, or close enough that I didn’t feel motivated to write.

That’s not to say there aren’t some real policy issues. Jeff Sessions all by himself is ramping up the war on drugs and shutting down criminal justice reform. I could certainly say things about that. But I’ve been saying things about that for a decade and a half, and everything I want to say right now boils down to “it’s very, very, very, very wrong to hurt people for committing consensual crimes.” That’s what I always say, and it doesn’t seem to be helping.

So right now it feels like everything I could write about anything going on is basically pointless.

I’m sure I’ll get over it. In part, I need to find better sources of news and information. I now realize that much of my daily skim was geared toward covering the liberal/leftist/Democratic establishment. I need to reorient my reading to find more interesting approaches to the sins of the conservative/right/Republican establishment. I’m not talking only about sites that attack the issues of the right. Sites that smugly defend them are just as useful for my purposes.

I also need to get away from the news cycle’s breathless coverage of every single Trump controversy. Potential scandals involving Russians, Comey, and Flynn may very well have an important, even devastating, effect on the Trump presidency, but they’re not what I want to blog about. I’m sure there are important policy changes going on — immigration is an obvious example — and I need to find out more about them.

Any suggestions?

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Windypundit In the Age Of Trump

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The AG Cartel Breaks Down https://windypundit.com/2017/03/ag-cartel-breaks/ https://windypundit.com/2017/03/ag-cartel-breaks/#comments Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:56:40 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10603 On the Reuters news wire, Dan Levine reports on the breakdown of a gentleman’s agreement between state Attorneys General not to target each other in elections:

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The AG Cartel Breaks Down

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On the Reuters news wire, Dan Levine reports on the breakdown of a gentleman’s agreement between state Attorneys General not to target each other in elections:

That hands-off stance ended this month when Republican AGs voted to abandon the agreement and spend money to help unseat Democrats in other states, according to the Republican Attorneys General Association.

I’m sure this is important news to those who were aware of this agreement, but for me, it’s the existence of the agreement in the first place that is news. Bad news.

It has long been my observation that any news story featuring the phrase “attorneys general” is going to be bad news. Nothing good comes from having these power-mad politicians combining their forces across state lines.

The  so-called ‘incumbency rule’ observed by the state attorneys’ party fundraising arms reflected a rare bit of bipartisanship in the polarized environment of U.S. politics, aimed at promoting cooperation across state lines on issues of common interest, such as consumer protection.

Consumer protection? Those sons of bitches! If two corporations agreed to divide up the market this way, it would almost certainly violate anti-trust laws.

They’re even doing it for the same reasons companies do it: Money. They’re essentially cartelizing the campaign spending market. They save money by not spending campaign funds to fight the opposing party’s incumbents in each other’s states. And the incumbents save money too, because they don’t have to spend as much to defend their positions. It’s win-win.

Except for the voters, who are more likely to find themselves stuck with an attorney general who faces little competition from the other party.

I assume this is all legal, because elections aren’t subject to commercial anti-trust laws, but it sure as hell smells bad.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at The AG Cartel Breaks Down

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Not Helping Youths In the Sex Trade https://windypundit.com/2017/03/not-helping-youths-sex-trade/ https://windypundit.com/2017/03/not-helping-youths-sex-trade/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 04:39:17 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10568 Last Friday I wrote about Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s terrific Reason magazine article on the FBI’s long involvement in policing Americans’ sex lives. In this post, I’d like to follow up on a small detail that caught my eye. Supporters of anti-prostitution law enforcement operations often justify them as necessary to protect victims of sex trafficking, […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Not Helping Youths In the Sex Trade

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Last Friday I wrote about Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s terrific Reason magazine article on the FBI’s long involvement in policing Americans’ sex lives. In this post, I’d like to follow up on a small detail that caught my eye.

Supporters of anti-prostitution law enforcement operations often justify them as necessary to protect victims of sex trafficking, especially children. Brown’s article mentions a Department of Justice report titled Evaluation of Services for Domestic Minor Victims of Human Trafficking as an example. In particular, she references the following passage, which ends with a question that needs an answer.

Detention was also used in the belief that it protects young people and ensures their connection to services. Key informants acknowledged that this situation was not ideal but argued that young people were likely to be safer in detention than elsewhere. A public defender asked, “How else do you get them services but lock them up and force them to engage in services?”

As a libertarian, my instinctive response is “How about…nonviolently?”

Is it really necessary to send cops with guns to forcibly “help” people? And even if you think it’s necessary to coerce child victims of sex trafficking into accepting social services, can’t you do it without giving them a criminal record? State child protection agencies have the authority, if they believe there is immediate danger, to remove at-risk children who are living with their parents. I’m pretty sure they can figure out a way to take a child off the street.

That won’t work with young adults, but that doesn’t mean arresting them is the only solution. There are better alternatives. We know this because non-governmental organizations like the Sex Work Outreach Project (SWOP) don’t have arrest powers, and they’ve been doing outreach to sex workers for years.

Katherine Koster from the U.S. chapter of SWOP characterizes many of the problems facing young sex workers as basically a variation on homelessness:

The issue is that there is a very large gap in no-strings-attached resources for homeless youth. A great example of this is the lack of shelter beds for youth.

[…]

Institutions–from schools to hospitals–very commonly are not a “safe” and comfortable space for homeless, especially GLBTQ youth.

[…]

We need to be making these resources available to youth on a voluntary basis. We need to stop attaching funding for services to the criminal justice system, as is frequently the case, and start making sure funding for these core services are available to people without being arrested and locked up, without interacting with the criminal justice system.

Here in Chicago, the Young Women’s Empowerment Project spent years studying ways to help young women in the sex trade, and they had some useful observations, especially about what they call institutional violence:

First, we were surprised how many stories we heard from girls, including transgender girls, and young women, including trans women about their violent experiences at non profits and with service providers. This was upsetting because adults and social workers often tell us that seeking services will improve our lives. Yet when we do the systems set up to help us actually can make things worse. This was clear when looking at the foster care system.

[…]

Health care providers were also identified by girls as being unethical. We heard many stories from girls going to the emergency room or to a doctor and being placed in psychiatric units just because they were in the sex trade, transgender or were thought to be self injuring. 

Law enforcement authorities come in for special criticism:

There are particularly a lot of examples of police violence, coercion, and refusal to help. Police often accuse girls in the sex trade of lying or don’t believe them when they turn to the police for help. Many girls said that police sexual misconduct happens frequently while they are being arrested or questioned. […] Stories about police abuse outnumbered the stories of abuse by other systems by far.

So what are the alternatives? The YWEP has their own solution:

When leaving isn’t an option or what a girl might want, YWEP is here to encourage and facilitate safety planning, harm reduction ideas, and offer support and resources. Unlike programs that focus on exiting the sex trade—which usually exclude girls who aren’t ready, able, or wanting to exit—YWEP meets girls where they are and helps them make the next steps they choose. Empowerment means that girls are in charge of their decisions and have power over what they want to do—even if that means something different than what adults think is safe or appropriate. YWEP believes that the more often girls are in charge of the choices in their lives—whether that choice is about food, sleep, relationships, housing or the sex trade—the more power they take in their lives as a whole.

(My guess is that most members of YWEP lean liberal and progressive, but damn if that isn’t a heartwarmingly libertarian approach to helping people. They offer choices.)

The local SWOP chapter here in the Chicago area offers a variety of services, including a support group, monthly meetings, and weekly street-corner outreach events offering food, coffee, condoms, and referral to resources such as sex-worker-friendly doctors and lawyers. In winter they give out warm clothing.

Other organizations, although not focused primarily on sex workers, provide services that will nevertheless help homeless young people in the sex trade. Project Fierce Chicago, for example, has purchased a nine-bedroom house in the North Lawndale neigborhood, and they are renovating it to provide housing for 10-12 LGBTQ youths. (That may not sound like much, but with only a few hundred youth beds in Chicago, it’s going to help.)

Koster summarizes why this approach can help:

I think what is super-important is that 95% of the time, youth are not engaging in the sex trade because they are kidnapped from a secure home where all their needs are met. They are engaging in the sex trade because they ran away from an abusive home or foster home or were kicked our because they are GLBT, and they don’t have a place to sleep, they don’t have older people rooting for them and supporting them, they don’t have food. […]

So you don’t need to hold these kids in detention to protect them–you need to give them a safe place to stay and healthy meals, with great mentors and counselors. So meet their emotional and social and material needs, and they will be safe. You don’t need to hold them in a juvenille detention center to protect them.

This doesn’t sound hard. No, that’s not quite right…it sounds like it’s a lot of very hard work. But it doesn’t sound hard to understand. If you want to help people, you listen to them, you get to know them, you figure out what they want, and you give it to them.

And yet, we keep seeing stories like this one that I found at random:

Sure, there are a few local facilities where juvenile prostitutes can live, waiting for trial dates or transfers home, but these places are hardly ideal. They’re not designed for child sex workers—if therapy is offered, it’s certainly not tailored to the specific needs of juvenile prostitutes. More importantly, perhaps, they’re not lock-down facilities. Residents can leave. This means the girls must want to stay in a court-mandated home for delinquents (and what teenager would?) They must resist the urge to run back to their pimps—which sounds easy, until you remember that most were only selling sex because there was a pimp, with a lot of power over them, pulling the strings. Or throwing fists. Or both.

Girls living in these facilities have been known to bolt into the idling cars of pimps waiting outside—running right back into the abyss of abuse.

“These girls are so broken. They identify with the girls they work with, the pimps. [Prostitution] becomes their safe area, and they want to go back to where they feel safe,” says Susan Roske, Clark County chief deputy public defender. “We want to hang onto them, to keep them from running, and sometimes the only way to do that is in a secure environment.”

Many people running these arrest-to-rescue programs may have the best of intentions, but I think need to stop dismissing these girls’ choices as “broken” and answer an important question: Given that the girls, having experienced both, are running away from your facilities to be with abusive pimps, what does that say about the quality of your attempt to help?

If you have to arrest people and lock them up to get them to accept your help, maybe you need to rethink your approach to helping.

(Thanks to Katherine Koster at SWOP USA for her comments and for helping with some of the research for this post.)

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at Not Helping Youths In the Sex Trade

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An Alien Product Placement https://windypundit.com/2017/03/alien-product-placement/ https://windypundit.com/2017/03/alien-product-placement/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 11:58:48 +0000 https://windypundit.com/?p=10589 The most recent Alien: Covenant trailer comes with an opening commercial for Walter, the synthetic (a.k.a. artificial person a.k.a. android) played by Michael Fassbender in the movie. Here it is: At the end, they flash a couple of corporate logos. I naturally had to step through them. The first one is a new logo for […]

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at An Alien Product Placement

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The most recent Alien: Covenant trailer comes with an opening commercial for Walter, the synthetic (a.k.a. artificial person a.k.a. android) played by Michael Fassbender in the movie. Here it is:

At the end, they flash a couple of corporate logos. I naturally had to step through them. The first one is a new logo for Weyland-Yutani, which is the name of the fictional corporation (usually referred to as “The Corporation”) that has been running through all the films. The second logo, however, says “Intelligence powered by AMD.”

AMD is a real-world semiconductor manufacturer, and I gotta say, as product placements go, that’s pretty cool. (Not Mattel-hoverboard-in-Back-to-the-Future cool, but still pretty cool.)

It says something about my life that I immediately turned to my wife and commented on the absence of Hyperdyne Systems. Then we shared a brief moment of confusion between Hyperdyne Systems and Cyberdyne Systems — one is from the Alien series, the other from Terminator — before reassuring ourselves that, yes, Hyperdyne was the maker of the synthetics in the Alien series.

This is why we’re married.

This post by Mark Draughn at Windypundit was originally published at An Alien Product Placement

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