Category: Politics

Non-shared Experience

Arnold Schwarzenegger published an article in The Atlantic today that includes the following passage that vividly demonstrates the different experience people have in America:

    “My friend Erroll Southers, who has spent his career in law enforcement and served in my administration’s homeland-security department, wrote today: “I still get nervous when I receive the unexpected phone call at an odd hour, hoping my son, brother or relative has not become the next hashtag.”
    Think about that. Erroll Southers is a professor at USC, a former FBI agent, an upstanding man in every sense of the word, and because of the color of his skin, when his phone rings in the middle of the night, his first thought is that his son or brother might be the reason for the next march.
    I can’t even fathom that experience. If my kids FaceTime me late at night, it brings me joy, or maybe if they’ve been at a party, a laugh. It is completely unjust that for much of our population, those family calls bring anxiety.”

Even if a late night call brings anxiety, it’s not the same thing. My family had a “don’t call after 9PM unless it is an emergency” policy, but my thoughts when the phone rings at 10PM run toward natural causes, accidents … years ago, there was the possibly of a friend picked up on drunk and disorderly needing bail.

That didn’t take long

Today, Trump managed to run up against the ramifications of his EO that I predicted yesterday. He quoted some police chief who was on the wrong side of the race riots back in the late 60’s. While his message was first just locked so others couldn’t interact with it (censorship, but not censoring him), my understanding is that the thing is now hidden. Which is censorship. Censorship that is more or less required if the Section 230 exception doesn’t apply to Twitter.

Twitter isn’t responsible for the content users post on their site. The social media business model becomes untenable if they’ve got to employ people and technology to police content sufficiently to minimize legal risk. If they are responsible for content posted on their site, then, yeah, they need to hide/delete posts inciting violence, libelous information, and a whole lot of other data they’ve been allowing to fly. Content that makes up a good bit of Trump’s Twitter usage.

On Censorship

Trump finally issued his Executive Order retaliation against Twitter “censoring” his free speech online. Now I know people who use “talk to the lawyer” as a threat — a lot of people don’t have a decent understanding of the law, and many more people don’t have the time and/or money to deal with litigation. The times I’ve been threatened with “the lawyer”, the person had no legal case against me. I was, I expect, not meant to realize they had no case and cave immediately because lawyer = scary? Trump’s EO seems like the same kind of “empty threat”. Why? The implication of the order harms Trump. He’s a huge abuser of Twitter’s ability to ignore content based on Section 230. A great deal of his campaign strategy hinges on continuing to use Twitter as a platform to spread misinformation and hatred.

I’m not sure he can start regulating Twitter – he can try, and it will move through the courts. A publisher has control over their content — when the Hinckley Record includes letters to the editor on its website or print magazine, someone read through them and decided to include the letter in the publication. All of the comments on my blog are held in a moderation queue. This is sustainable because I get a few hundred visitors a day and a few comments per month. Is it feasible for the Hinckley Record to moderate all comments before they are posted? For a small paper, maybe. Is it feasible for Slate to moderate each comment before it is visible on the site? Is it feasible for Facebook to have someone read every single post before it goes live?! Even if courts decide he can remove Section 230 protections for social media companies … can he regulate the social media platforms that he dislikes while not regulating those who give him more leeway? Twitter loses the protection because they inform us that mail-voting isn’t rife with fraud, but Facebook removes all sorts of content too.

The legal basis for suspending Section 230 protection aside … Twitter hasn’t censored him. Slapping a label on free speech indicating said speech is factually inaccurate isn’t censoring. It could be considered editorializing. Or it could be considered fair warning. And I’m certain there’s a party-line divide on opinions there.

Reasonable Doubt

America need an org that identifies police misconduct instead of DNA testing and will file motions for new trials to present the perfectly reasonable argument that flagrant misconduct is likely not an isolated incident. Somewhat like Project Innocence, but with a different basis for their requests. 

There were some cops in Philly (well, I’m sure this isn’t unique to Philly) who got fed up with not finding evidence on people who they “knew” were clockin … so they planted what they needed to find, ignored search and seizure laws, etc. The city had to go back through a whole lot of cases because, hey, that’s reasonable doubt as Bob has been saying for three years that it wasn’t his crack. If memory serves, the city also had to fork over a bunch of money in restitution.
Would an officer who is willing to kill someone take the mindset of the Philly cops? ‘Knows’ the person is guilty, frustrated that no evidence can be found. Even without extrapolating additional misconduct, how many *other* people were ‘resisting’ like Mr. Floyd? People who ended up incarcerated for resisting arrest and/or assaulting an officer. The actions of the individuals in Minnesota seems like new evidence that would create reasonable doubt in other cases where the officers involved claim someone was resisting. Bob says he wasn’t resisting arrest. Officer Fred, who has demonstrably lied saying a compliant person was resisting, says Bob was resisting. That’s a far different assertion than Bob says he wasn’t resisting, Officer Fred, who is an upstanding officer with a decade of service, says Bob was resisting.

Masking the Free Market

I’ve noticed that dedication to “free market” seems highly correlated to “you made the decision I support” … if we make an a priori assumption that requiring a mask be worn is somehow an infringement of individual liberties (not a stance I take, but accept it for the sake of argument), isn’t each individual’s ability to “vote with their dollars” a main tenant of the so-called ‘free market’?
I’m close to getting a Costco membership *because* they’re the only grocery joint around here that was making customers wear masks. It’s out of the way, I don’t think they’ve got the convenient order-online-drive-through-pickup thing, and I have no idea what their vegetarian selection is like. But I hate giving my money to support Giant Eagle’s lax enforcement of actual requirements (employee wearing mask does not mean around their neck) and refusal to require common-sense safety precautions like masks for customers. And that’s the free market. Enough people go one way or the other, the companies will change their stance.
And *forcing* a company not to require a mask violates that company-person (thanks, Citizens United) liberties too, doesn’t it?


A friend pointed out that pants offer a little protection for me, but they are a lot of protection for you … So we can all stop wearing pants now, right? And protesting stores that require customers to wear pants! Freedom! Liberty!

Bare Cupboards

I loathe how Trump is interviewed. Reporters let him blather on, throwing blame for our current situation without clarifying facts. David Muir interviewed Trump on the news tonight. Trump claims to have come into the office with the cupboards bare — in a really bad position, with broken tests, blah blah blah. And Muir pushed back a little — it’s the third year of Trump’s presidency … if he knew there were massive gaps in our preparedness, shouldn’t he have filled them by now?

Which is a decent question, The Trump administration’s own budget request from Feb 2020 (i.e. the budget submitted after reasonable people realized this virus was going to be a problem) didn’t ask for any increase in funding for the strategic national stockpile.

But the line of questioning doesn’t address the omitted facts from Trump’s original claim. Firstly, Obama didn’t leave Trump a stockpile of functional SARS-CoV-2 tests because the virus had not been encountered in humans yet. There are probably millions of viruses we’ve not yet encountered, and Obama didn’t use his vast psychic powers to order the Time Force to travel into the future and bring back a few million tests (and, really, I think Obama was clever enough he’d probably have ordered them to travel farther into the future and bring back a vaccine and manufacturing instructions). That’s an outright silly assertion.

There were supplies that the national stockpile lacked. Why? The Obama administration asked for 65 million dollars to increase the stock. Didn’t get it. Equipment was used during the swine flu outbreak, and Obama wanted a 10% budget increase to replenish the supply. Didn’t get it. There was a Republican push to reduce budgets across the board — remember the tea party? The CDC had budget increases due to biosecurity concerns after 9/11, so they were an obvious target. The cut-budgets-or-sequestration debt ceiling debacle — with the predictable result that no agreement could be made on targeted budget cuts — farther reduced CDC funding. While it’s technically true that the Obama administration reduced funding for the CDC, there’s a lot of duress that’s glossed over. And it’s not like the Republicans were sidelined as a minority screaming about how we needed to spend this money.

Alas, to Trump’s benefit and the detriment of politics in general … there’s very little interest in diving into the details. Democrats assume Trump is some combination of incompetent and dishonest, Republicans assume Trump’s right and it’s all Obama’s fault.

Biosecurity and a return to normal

I’ve been hearing a lot, lately, about the “return to normal” — what do you most want to do when we return to normal, when do you think we’ll be returning to normal, what changes do you think they’ll need to make before we can return to normal. And the questions strike me as wrong-footed. Especially as Trump and Pompeo talk about SARS-CoV-2 coming from a lab. Now “came from a lab” doesn’t necessitate malicious intent. The fundamental, longstanding problem I’ve had with gain of function research (the reason I wasn’t at all upset when the Obama administration put thought into the cost and benefits of this research and subsequently dropped government funding for this research and I didn’t think it was a stellar idea to resume funding) is that biosecurity is so difficult. And the spread of this virus highlights how vulnerable we were.

Sure, nation-states have forsworn biological warfare … but that’s not everyone. This release was probably accidental. I don’t say that because of any insider knowledge, but if I wanted to release an infectious disease … I’d have done a better job of infecting people. Get some infectious people at the Super Bowl – eating and drinking downtown, riding the public transit system, walking around the stadium. Or send people to ride mass transit in a few major cities – spend a day riding trains through Waterloo station, a day milling around Grand Central. If there are suicide bombers willing to literally blow themselves up for the cause … it seems like they’d be equally willing to inject themselves with some infectious disease. And the border agents can search whatever they want — the easiest thing in the world to ‘smuggle’ into a country is your own bloodstream. No explosive or drug sniffing dog is going to notice, no aeroport scanner will see anything because there’s basically nothing to find. Unless this is malicious intent with the forethought to make it look accidental (or a different actor framing the ‘obvious’ culprit) … it’s accidental.

The fact no one has done it yet is rather amazing. We’ve demonstrated our susceptibility to biological attack. We’re in the middle of demonstrating our unwillingness to take actions to prevent the spread of a disease. I absolutely believe this is an attack vector that will be exploited in the future. So why would we want to return to the previous “normal”?!