Archives for: December 2017

Moore Loses

Right now, the AP and other organizations are projecting Doug Jones to win the Alabama Senate race. While I have my issues with Jones (and the Democratic Party), I can’t help but be relieved. Having that Constitution-shredding theocrat in Washington would have been a nightmare.

It will be interesting to see what happens now. This was a clear rejection of Trump, Bannon and the radical wing of the GOP. They managed to blow a Senate seat they should have taken by 30 points. If the GOP doesn’t shape up, they are looking at losing the whole shebang next year.

The Death of Daniel Shaver

In early 2016, pest-control specialist Daniel Shaver was a in a hotel drinking with two friends he’d picked up and showing off a pellet gun he used for his job. Someone saw him at the window and called the police. What resulted was a police officer shooting Shaver to death. The officer was acquitted last week and the judge released the body cam video of the shooting. If you can stomach it, here it is:

If you can’t watch — which I understand — I’ll tell you what happens. Shaver — drunk, scared, crying and begging the officers not to shoot him — is trying to comply with the barked orders of one of the officers, which are often contradictory and confusing. As he begins crawling toward the officers, he reaches back — possibly to pull up his pants. At that point, the officer with the camera shoots him five times, killing him. The officer who shot him was removed from the force at least in part for etching “You’re Fucked” in the barrel of his rifle.

Patterico, a prosecutor, gives as good a defense of the shooting as can be given here, citing videos that were often deceptive as to what was happening. It’s a fair analysis but I disagree with it. There were multiple officers at the scene; there was no indication of a second gunman; telling Shaver that if he moved the wrong way he’d get shot was a grossly unreasonable demand to make. Patterico’s analysis illustrates, once again, the underlying problem with police-civilian confrontations: untrained civilians are expected to react perfectly and not make a single mistake; trained police officers are allowed leeway for mistakes and errors. We’ll break down shootings like the Zapruder film to illustrate “mistakes” the victim made that justified the shooting; but we won’t hold officers to the same standard.

What we see in the video is the result of the aggressive training police officers have been getting in recent years (one of which is literally called “Bulletproof Warrior”). They are told to see every movement as a potential attack — this at a time when shooting of police officers and assaults on officers are at an all-time low. And they react accordingly.

The reason for the acquittal is that juries have been told, based on Supreme Court precedent, that a shooting is justified if the police are in fear of their lives. Note that there’s no requirement that the fear be reasonable. Or that the fear not be a result of their own previous actions. If police needlessly provoke a confrontation that results in a civilian getting shot, all the jury needs to consider is what was going on at the moment of the shooting, not all the mistakes that led up to that. In the Tamir Rice incident, for example, the fact that the police roared up in a car, jumped out and opened fire was considered irrelevant. All that mattered was that Rice made some motion that could possible be interpreted as dangerous (the avoidance of which would have required superhuman reflex control on his part).

This, again, is not a standard that applies to civilians. Had Daniel Shaver shot an officer under similar circumstances, he’d be on death row. Had Shafer needlessly provoked or confronted the officers, he’d be held responsible.

I don’t know what we can do to stop this. Over a thousand civilians are killed by police every year, accounting for one-third of the stranger killings in the US. Granted, sometimes those a unavoidable; there are people who decided to attack cops. But over and over again, we see avoidable shootings for which no one is held responsible.

(One rare exception was the Walter Scott shooting. Officer Slager was recently found guilty of murder and sent to prison. But this is hardly a vindication. Slager was caught on cell phone video shooting a fleeing unarmed man in the back. Before that video emerged, he was well on his way to acquittal, claiming that he shot Scott when the latter grabbed his taser (even falsely claiming to have performed CPR). Had it not been for the civilian taking video, I doubt he would have even been charged.)

We need a serious change in how we approach policing in this country. Our methods are designed to deal with crime rates of 30 years ago, which were double what they are now. No, scratch that. They were designed to deal with a supposed wave of superpredators and monsters that never emerged. Until things change, people will continue to die and distrust of the police will continue to grow.

RIP the GOP

I wrote most of this Saturday morning but have let it set for a few days so that I could cool off and read more sober opinions of the GOP “tax cut”. Reflection has not changed my opinion much so the post now goes, largely unaltered except for the paragraph slamming the Democrats.

On Friday night, the GOP engaged in act of legislative chicanery that makes Obamacare look like the Magna Carta. Early in the morning, they passed a half-baked, half-assed “tax reform” bill that literally had hand-written corrections on it. This bill had no hearings, had not been read and rewrites a massive section of the US economy.

What we do know about it makes it one of the most irresponsible pieces of legislation I can remember. It purports to be “tax reform” but it doesn’t actually reform taxes very much. It doesn’t eliminate any rules — in fact, it expands them. It has some good changes — faster expensing and depreciation, better child tax credit, putting some Obama Admin regs into writing. But mostly it simply cuts tax rates and uses various pieces of gimmickry to get the hole it blows in the budget down to $1.5 trillion. And that topline number is largely garbage. It is unlikely that future Congresses — Republican or Democrat — will allow the planned tax hikes on the middle class to occur. I would estimate the cost of this tax cut as “more many than you can shake a stick at”. And this is when we are already facing trillions of dollars in future deficits. As I have said many times, a tax cut that runs up debt is not a tax cut. It’s simply a shell game, moving the burden from current taxpayers to future ones.

That’s apart from the other things that the bill does. Reconciliation may change things but the current iteration would hit higher education with taxes, hit high-tax states and hit students loan debtors. It repeals the Obamacare mandate, which will result in millions of people losing in insurance and probably tip insurance markets into a death spiral (since community rating and pre-existing protections are still in place, people can now wait until they’re sick to buy insurance).

You can see, in the smoldering wreckage, the vision of real tax reform. One that eliminated loopholes and cut the rate down to its actual effective rate of 25%. One that had the Rubio-Lee Amendment to give more money to families with children (our fertility rate has now plunged below replacement level). But in their rush to pass anything, the GOP put together this Frankensteinian monstrosity.

The defenders of this bill are citing all kinds of debunked horse manure to try to pretend that it’s not that bad. Just to address a few of these:

  • Tax cuts do not pay for themselves. In theory, this might work when marginal rates are very high. But in practice, we are well on the downslope of the Laffer Curve. Reagan’s tax cuts did not pay for themselves, which is why he had to raise taxes multiple times. Bush’s did not, which is how we ended up with the nation’s first trillion dollar deficit.
  • A lot of people are dragging out the “starve the beast” line, that decreased revenues will force spending cuts. This idea is pure garbage. It doesn’t work in theory. It doesn’t work in practice. If anything, starve the beast encourages more spending because the public gets the idea that government spending is free.
  • The stimulating effects of this tax cut on the economy are, at best, unclear. While tax cuts can stimulate the economy, broad rate cuts are a less than ideal way to do so. And this bill does nothing to eliminate the deadweight loss of the tax system since it doesn’t actually simplify the tax system.

We are on a dangerous fiscal course right now. Trump and his policies will eventually bring Democrats back to power. Democrats, being nearly as useless as Republicans, will not only not reverse the tax cuts, they will massively increase spending. As the debt soars out of control, the economy will be hurt and we will find ourselves facing down a financial crisis the likes of which we have never seen. If the trip to bankruptcy started with Bush and continued through Obama, it has now been given a jolt of gas from the GOP. After years of holding Obama to flat spending and cutting the deficit by two-thirds, they’ve thrown everything out the window. This year’s debt alone is slated to be around $800 billion.

The thing that I realized Friday night is that the GOP I knew and was a part of for so long is dead. This is now the party of Trump. Trump is financially irresponsible, amoral, filled with imagined resentments and doesn’t give a damn about anyone other than himself. That is the GOP now. They’ve blown another hole in the debt, are about to elect a child molester in Alabama, spend their time raging against “liberal elites” and no longer care about the debt as long as they get their damn tax cut.

I’m done with them. All the real conservatives are leaving the party. I’ve long been on the other side of the road, but this is where I burn the bridge.

I won’t vote Democrat, since they are almost as bad. One need only see the response to the GOP tax cut to realize that. Cries that it is a “war on America” or that “millions” will die as a result of it are not the statements of a sane party. And their alternative to GOP fiscal recklessness is … more fiscal recklessness.

There is no longer a conservative party in the United States. There’s the dumbass liberal party and the dumbass populist party. I will not be part of either of those.

The Steinle Verdict

Yesterday, a jury acquitted Jose Inez Garcia Zarate of both murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Kate Steinle, while convicting him of a gun charge. Zarate was a seven-time felon who had been deported five times from the United States. ICE asked San Francisco to detain him but San Francisco is a sanctuary city. As he was neither facing a violent felony charge nor had violent felony convictions, he was released. While in the Embarcadero district, he picked up a gun and either fired it or had it accidentally go off. The bullet ricocheted and hit Steinle in the chest, severing her aorta and killing her. She was 32.

Naturally, there has been a lot of anger at the verdict, led by the Baby in Chief. But there are two very separate issues here.

First, I believe that the jury delivered the correct verdict. The death of Steinle, while horrifying, appears to have been an accident (or at least could not be proven one beyond a reasonable doubt). Zarate didn’t deliberately shoot her. And under California law, a voluntary manslaughter charge requires a deliberate act.

Second, there is the debate over sanctuary cities, multiple re-entry illegals, the wall and “Kate’s Law”. To me, this debate should be going on independent of the verdict of juries. We need to be thinking about the future, not trying to prevent the past. I’m mixed on a lot of this. I’m not happy with sanctuary cities which defy federal law for political reasons but many of the proposed solutions to his problem cross me as unconstitutional. Kate’s Law — which would impose mandatory minimum’s — strikes me as a potential disaster:

I’ve never seen any credible evidence that more prosecutions or higher sentences deter aliens from returning after deportation. Certainly an alien with a criminal record who is sitting in federal prison is not, at that moment, returning after another deportation and committing more crimes, but the system lacks the resources to make a statistically significant impact through such incarcerations, unless you’d like to pay a lot more in taxes, which you would not. And while you are incapacitating criminal aliens through mandatory-minimum incarceration you are not using those prosecutors, judges, or jail cells to incapacitate other criminals, including domestic criminals who offend at a higher rate.

Mandatory minimums, if applied rigorously, would therefore dramatically reduce federal immigration prosecutions. Of course, they wouldn’t be applied rigorously; they almost never are. Instead, the likely outcome is this: Congress would pass mandatory minimum laws covering some illegal reentries. Federal prosecutors would retain discretion of whether to charge aliens under those new statues or under existing statutes without mandatory minimums. Federal prosecutors would use that discretion the way they usually do — to coerce cooperation and guilty pleas. So the length of sentences for aliens returning after deportation wouldn’t increase; there would just be more prosecutorial power and discretion and somewhat quicker pleas. The impact of the law would be the opposite of how it is sold to the public.

Ultimately, what we need is comprehensive immigration reform. Streamline the immigration process for legal immigrants while improving enforcement of those laws. We’ve known this and needed this for 15 years. But every time it comes up, Republicans scream “amnesty”, Democrats scream “racism” and a compromise becomes impossible.

This is a bit personal for me. Many years ago, a close relative — who I’ll call Liz — was T-boned at an intersection by a truck full of illegal immigrants who blew through a red light. Her car careened into a telephone poll. She was not wearing her seat belt. The accident broke one of her high cervical vertebra. Fortunately, her spine was not severed or she would have died on the spot or been quadriplegic. But the injury has dogged her and will dog her for the rest of her life. The illegal immigrants vanished, leaving her insurance to cover the cost.

You can talk all day about how immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than American citizens or that they’re just here to work, etc. But those words mean nothing to someone who has had a loved one injured or, God forbid, killed by a person who should not have been in this country in the first place. Their anger and frustration over that is not racism. It’s not bigotry. It’s not white supremacy. It’s a normal reaction to tragedy that could have been avoided.

People are saying Kate would still be alive if we’d had a wall or if Obama had not been “weak” on immigration (this about the President who set records in deportations). Maybe. But I would rather think about the future and what we can do to prevent other tragedies. A wall by itself will only stimulate the Mexican ladder industry. But a comprehensive approach would allow law-abiding people to come here, would allow us to know where they are and what they’re up to and free up resources to keep people like Zarate out of the country.

Unfortunately, I see no chance this will happen. Our Congress is useless, our President is clueless and our media are chasing their own tails.