Coronavirus, Domestic Policy

Wasting America’s Moment

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I called it “America’s moment” and urged a military-style response.  The American people’s acceptance of the initial lockdown and social distancing measures showed a community spirit that many thought lacking in today’s society. In the end, we met the moment in a uniquely American way – through technological innovation resulting in effective vaccines that would allow us to resume a normal life. Now the resistance to those vaccines risks wasting this moment because of a combination of political pique and selfish independence.

Anti-vaxxers like to seize on the inherent uncertainties of the “fog of war” to quibble with statistics while ignoring the obvious.  It is a fact that COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising significantly among the unvaccinated population for the first time in months due to the new Delta variant.  If you’re above 30 years of age, you have a significantly higher risk of hospitalization or death if unvaccinated.  Moreover, while breakthrough infections are possible, the evidence suggests that persons vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are less likely not only to acquire the original disease and its variants, but are also less likely to transmit it to others.

Unfortunately, former President Trump and some governors are catering to the anti-vaxxers by opposing or even banning mask and vaccination mandates by local governments and private businesses trying to protect their citizens and continue the return to normal.  A better response would be to encourage vaccinations by enacting a federal worker’s compensation system that would protect workers who have a fear (however much it’s been hyped) of a reaction to the vaccine.  Such a system would also insulate businesses from potential legal liability so they can continue to operate normally.  

Vaccination refuseniks espouse a warped sense of American independence to justify a response that endangers their fellow Americans. They seek to assert their “independence” by exposing themselves and their fellow Americans to painful and expensive hospitalization and even death.  They also jeopardize the normalization of everyday life they claim to crave. As TR said above, a free people must exercise their freedom responsibly.  I challenge all of the unvaccinated to look into Roosevelt’s eyes and tell him why they should be allowed to so endanger their fellow Americans and the American example to the world.   

Domestic Policy, Government, Immigration, Uncategorized

A Blow for Immigration and Governmental Reform

This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it reasonably good place for all of us to live in.

Theodore Roosevelt

A federal district court in Houston has struck down the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and its companion for parents of those children. Specifically, it held that the program was an administrative rule making required to follow the notice and comment process of the federal Administrative Procedures Act (APA).  The failure of the Obama Administration to follow this process rendered the program illegal. CNN helpfully included a copy of the Order and Opinion of the court here. The decision is not only a step towards effective immigration reform, but also strikes a blow against the power of the administrative state. 

The court essentially took up the issues ignored in the US Supreme Court’s Regents of the University of California opinion that I previously discussed here.  This decision struck down the attempted rescission of the DACA program by the Trump Administration as itself violating the APA while glossing over the illegalities in the original rulemaking. This new federal court opinion turns the tables and focuses on those infirmities, noting that the Supreme Court itself held that DACA was not simply a passive non-enforcement policy. Instead, it conferred affirmative immigration relief such as the right to receive a work permit and the right to travel abroad without permission.  It did so despite admitting in the original memorandum that only the Congress could confer affirmative immigration relief. The district court’s opinion built on Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in the Regents opinion by highlighting the real reason for the program – the inability of successive Presidents to unite the Congress and country around an immigration bill that included effective limits and enforcement as well as the necessary relief for longtime residents. 

The district court was mindful of the hardships an immediate cessation of the program would cause to current participants and simply prohibited further expansion of the program for the time being. The Biden Administration has announced that it will appeal the order and urged Congress to pass a bill fixing the problem. The administration’s latter position is correct. Both political parties need to look beyond the twin corruptions of identity politics and corporate contributions to pass a comprehensive immigration reform legalizing the status of the “Dreamers” and creating real enforceable limits on future immigration as I advocated in this post. A truly comprehensive answer to the immigration crisis would be a new beginning for insuring the American Dream for both lifetime citizens and immigrants alike. 

Domestic Policy, Government

Abolish the Police, not the Policeman

Theodore Roosevelt as New York City Police Commissioner

If the police power is used oppressively, or improperly, let us by all means put a stop to the practice and punish those responsible for it; but let us remember that a brute will be just as much of a brute whether he is inefficient or efficient. Either abolish the police, or keep them at the highest point of efficiency.

The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (1917.) Scribner’s Mem. Ed. XXI, pg.73; Nat. Ed. XIX, pg. 63

After the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case, I am republishing this article from 2020 on how Theodore Roosevelt might have approached the modern policing crisis. Unfortunately, the lessons still ring true even after a year.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, this blunt observation of Theodore Roosevelt is particularly timely and provocative. As police commissioner of New York City, TR knew the difficulty of preserving the legitimacy of a police force in an ethnically diverse city.  Police corruption, whether in the form of bribery or brutishness, sapped that legitimacy and needed to be swiftly and certainly punished.  He also knew that such corruption often arose from systemic failures in society that were foisted on the average police officer to solve.  Whether the slogan is Roosevelt’s or today’s “defund the police” chant, any sustainable police reform movement must address these past policy failures.

The Militarization of Police Departments

After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government decided that every metropolitan police department needed to be prepared to deal with a terrorist attack. This ended a successful era of neighborhood policing based on increasing the number of police officers walking a beat or otherwise regularly connecting with city residents. Instead, cities stocked up on military-style equipment, which had the effect of separating the police from the public and glorified the use of force over early intervention. Hollywood then further glorified it through television shows like “SWAT” and a host of police buddy movies.  This resulted in a culture that ruled by fear instead of respect.  It is past time to reverse course and reinvent the policeman as a community problem solver and give him or her the necessary support and resources.  To do so, though, we must face another reality.

The Reduction in City Police Forces

The calls to abolish or reduce police forces are gratingly ironic in light of Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that two-thirds of the 50 major police departments reduced the number of officers per capita over the last two decades.  Smaller police forces were cheaper because of the lower personnel cost, as opposed to riot gear and other equipment that do not demand employee benefits. We cannot implement neighborhood policing without more policeman, which requires more funding, and soon.

It is equally ironic that the relevant model may be the “surge” in military force that temporarily pacified Afghanistan and Iraq.  The federal government should fund a similar surge in the number of city police over the next ten years subject to strict rules to insure it results in more and better-trained officers on the beat. Cities would then be expected to pick up the funding for this increase afterwards.  Accepting the higher federal and local taxes necessary to achieve this more humane and sustainable form of policing would be the most concrete way to show our commitment to remedying past police abuse of poor minority communities.  However, even this change will be insufficient if we neglect another crisis in law enforcement.

The Expansion of Criminal Law

Roosevelt’s police force was plagued by bribery caused by the attempt to enforce Sunday blue laws that were deeply unpopular among poor immigrants and which he personally opposed. Today’s police officers are asked to not only keep order, but also enforce a myriad of new financial and economic rules.  George Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, which is a federal, not local, crime.  Eric Garner of New York died while being arrested for failing to pay the state cigarette tax. If the police become identified with laws that have little legitimacy in their communities, they will inevitably face resistance and a lack of cooperation in enforcing other laws.  Many cities already refuse to assist in enforcing the federal immigration laws in order to encourage illegal immigrants to cooperate with police in preventing violent crime. 

The accretion of federal, state and local criminal laws over the years has placed all of law enforcement in an increasingly untenable position. All levels of government should conduct a thorough review of their criminal codes with the goal of either repealing minor criminal statutes, converting them to civil violations or developing new enforcement methods.  Local police could then return to enforcing laws that preserve neighborhoods rather than disrupt them.

Conclusion

For most of this year, our nation has been concentrating on breathing freely by avoiding the coronavirus.  Both the yearning to reopen and the George Floyd protests show that breathing freely is not enough for Americans. We must also be able to breathe free. Resisting arrest is never excusable, but resistance will occur more frequently if Americans believe they are not free.  Blaming the police without examining the policy failures that affect all of us regardless of color will only sow the seeds of more resistance and a less efficient police force.