April 12, 2021

Thoughts as Prosecution in Chauvin Case nears the End

 As I write this, the state’s case against former police officer Derek Chauvin is nearing its end. The last prosecution witness is use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton, a criminal justice law professor, who apparently has analyzed the last minutes of George Floyd’s life instant by instant.

In light of my last post, “To Protect and to Serve,” the most interesting thing Stoughton has said concerns the concepts of threat and risk. Threat, he explained, necessarily involves the ability of a person to cause harm to an arresting officer, the opportunity to do so, and the apparent intention to do so. Police officers often justify shooting civilians by saying that they felt threatened. But Stoughton defined risk as simply a situation involving a potential threat. “While threat can justify use of force, risk can’t,” he said. Too often, I think, officers react not to threat but to risk they find uncomfortable.

In the case of Derek Chauvin’s handling of the arrest of George Floyd, it is impossible to see a prone, handcuffed, and weighted down George Floyd as representing a threat. He doesn’t even appear to represent any sort of risk to the officers on the scene.

The questioning of Seth Stoughton clarifies what happened to Floyd. He did not resist arrest, but he resisted being placed in the back of a squad car. He was, he claimed, claustrophobic. He was then removed from the squad car and placed on the street. This raises the question of what the arresting officers were intending to do. Were they trying to convince him to get back into the car? Were they eventually going to order a more spacious vehicle in which to place Floyd? Or were they just intending to kill Floyd to get him off their hands?

If Derek Chauvin is put on the stand—this hardly seems a good strategy by the defense, but it might be done as a last-ditch effort to avoid an inevitable conviction—I would hope that the prosecution will ask him what was his intended end game.

April 4, 2021

To Protect and to Serve

Watching the Minneapolis trial of Derek Chauvin, it is natural to ask what Chauvin’s defense can possibly be. The prosecution has offered witnesses to George Floyd’s life and his final day. Floyd was hardly a perfect human being, but he has at least been portrayed by witnesses as a sympathetic character. We have heard from his girlfriend. We have heard from bystanders appalled by the treatment he received at the hands of the Minneapolis police. We have been told that Chauvin’s behavior was unauthorized and uncalled-for. And, of course, we have seen the horrible videos.

Unless Chauvin’s defense team can pull an unexpected rabbit out of a hat, only three arguments appear available:

  1. Police have a difficult job, and civilians cannot fairly second-guess them. Their actions are beyond question.
  2. George Floyd had medical problems, used drugs, and succumbed to treatment that an ordinary (i.e., healthy) person would have survived.
  3. George Floyd was a big strong man—a man much larger than Derek Chauvin—and therefore a threat to the policeman. Extraordinary means were required to subdue him.

That we shouldn’t second-guess police actions is a conventional argument that is wearing thin in this age of Black Lives Matter. Too many unarmed black males are dying at the hands of police. The argument that the police must be given license to do anything they believe necessary in the line of duty simply won’t fly with the public these days, and I suspect it will be similarly unpersuasive to the jury. The defense will likely bring out this argument anyway, on the theory that it can’t hurt. (But it actually might.)

Blaming Floyd’s health and lifestyle is likewise a stretch. Yes, he was a drug user with a heart problem, but we learned last week that he worked out regularly and showed no evidence of being at death’s door in the videos from his last hour of life. Moreover, it is not hard to believe that one can die from being handcuffed on the ground with a knee on one’s neck for nine minutes. One’s general state of health is not likely to be particularly relevant in such a circumstance. Although EMS personnel and a cop tried to resuscitate Floyd, at least one of the first responders assumed that he was dead before he was loaded into the ambulance. It will be difficult for jurors to conclude that George Floyd’s death was not the direct result of the actions of Derek Chauvin. Nonetheless, expect the defense to blame the victim for his own demise.

The defense is probably going to offer the explanation police who kill most often trot out—that the defendant felt threatened and did what he—always he—had to do to protect himself. We are seeing the jury being prepared for this argument: George Floyd is big—and, implicitly, black and threatening—and Derek Chauvin is small and white. But the usual logic doesn’t work here. Floyd was immobilized on the ground and handcuffed. Anyone can see that he posed no credible threat to Chauvin or anyone else. Chauvin did not appear to be afraid of Floyd; instead, he seemed indifferent to his fate and in no hurry to conclude that enough force applied to the supposed miscreant was enough. But Chauvin or an attorney on his behalf will, no doubt argue that he felt threatened and did what he needed to do for his own safety.

Many police departments have adopted the slogan “to protect and to serve” (or “to serve and protect”). These infinitives indicate neither a subject nor an object. We are expected to infer that the police force exists to protect and serve civilians. Too often, however, the police protect and serve their own interests. When a cop is threatened or, more importantly, feels threatened, rightly or wrongly, the inclination is not to protect the public, perhaps even a perpetrator, but to protect him- or herself. This is a perfectly understandable impulse, but it is one that training should eradicate. Being threatened comes with the job. Police on the street need to recognize that and understand that even sacrificing their own safety or life may be necessary to protect those they are supposed to serve. Derek Chauvin cannot reasonably argue that he was protecting his prisoner or himself. In the various videos, he seems simply to be a self-satisfied sadist, and, one suspects, a racist. 

Police unions nearly always defend their members, irrespective of how outrageous their behavior may have been. It is gratifying that, in the Chauvin trial, police officials are actually testifying against a police defendant. We can hope that this is the start of a trend. Nonetheless, it is hard to get twelve Americans to agree on much of anything these days, and the verdict of the jury is very much in doubt.

Pray for justice for George Floyd.

April 3, 2021

What Do You Like about Donald Trump?

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
The question persists: What do people like in Donald Trump? Many Trump voters saw their votes as giving the finger to a government that, for whatever reason, they saw as not working for them. Others thought Trump would accomplish particular policy goals—outlaw abortion, end immigration, withdraw from foreign entanglements, create a whites-only Christian America.

Nominally, Donald Trump has lost his hold on power. His ability to influence policy is now minimal and will only be diminished as the former president is increasingly occupied with his very considerable legal troubles. He nonetheless commands a large following. One must ask what attributes Trump has that account for such affection.

It is easy to list, at least partially, traits that may be appreciated by Trump’s followers. Which of these account for the esteem in which he is held? Is his

          • Mendacity
          • Sarcasm
          • Cruelty
          • Volatility
          • Arrogance
          • Hypocrisy
          • Narcissism
          • Pettiness
          • Lechery
          • Ignorance
          • Vindictiveness
          • Irresponsibility
          • Corruption
          • Malevolence
          • Indifference
          • Amorality
          • Dishonesty
          • Duplicitousness
          • Capriciousness
These Trump virtues do not endear the former president to me or to most of my friends. Which of them, dear Trump reader, do you most value?

March 28, 2021

Defending Benjamin Franklin

I am a graduate of  Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Benjamin Franklin was established by the Orleans Parish School Board in 1957 as a school for gifted students. It has always had a selective admission process and a college preparatory curriculum. I entered Franklin in 1961 and graduated in 1964. Virtually all Franklin graduates attend college.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and damaged the school’s facilities in 2005, Franklin became a public charter school. It continues to be the highest-rated Louisiana high school and one of the highest-rated high schools in the country.

Recently, the Orleans Parish School Board became concerned about schools named for slaveholders, Confederate officials, and advocates of segregation. Remarkably, Franklin is one of the schools the board may rename. I had no idea that Benjamin Franklin once owned slaves (but see below). Fortunately, the board has solicited public comments regarding current school names and possible alternatives.

Below is an essay I sent to the Orleans Parish School Board a few days ago in defense of the name “Benjamin Franklin High School.” Although I address morality-based renaming of objects and institutions only obliquely, you can possibly guess that I have some ambivalence about the enthusiasm with which renaming has lately been pursued throughout the nation. That ambivalence also applies to the way individuals are being shamed or fired for past statements or actions. But I have no ambivalence about the need to retain the name “Benjamin Franklin High School .”

___________________________________


As a member of the Benjamin Franklin High School Class of ’64, I was aghast upon learning that the name of my high school had suddenly become subject to change. Renaming Benjamin Franklin would be a travesty. I am writing to discourage such an eventuality and to offer rationale for the status quo.

I am proud to be a Benjamin Franklin alumnus, and I am confident that this attitude is common among Franklin graduates. I am supremely grateful to the Orleans Parish School Board for creating the unique school that gave me and many other New Orleanians an educational opportunity that would have otherwise been unavailable. The affection in which Benjamin Franklin is held by its alumni is attested by the existence of an alumni association and by graduates willing to support the school financially.

I do not recall being lectured on the accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin during my high school career, but I am confident that students were generally aware of the significance of the school’s eponym and harbored no reservations concerning the school’s name.

Not infrequently do I brag about my high school, an institution that has justly received national recognition and which has a reputation that will require a degree of rebuilding should it become known by another, less appropriate, name.

It is difficult to know where to begin enumerating the virtues and accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin. They are legion, but brevity will, no doubt be appreciated. What follows is not comprehensive.

Benjamin Franklin is probably best known as one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. The story of our nation’s early history cannot be told without many references to Franklin, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris, and the U.S. Constitution. He was our first Postmaster General and, as Ambassador to France, was instrumental in enlisting France on the American side during the Revolution and in concluding the peace with England.

Additionally, Franklin was an inventor, scientist, writer, philosopher, and civic activist. He was a dedicated proponent of free speech and of the value of religion generally. He made significant contributions to the fields of publishing, demography, physics, oceanography, meteorology, music, and the practical arts. Through his writing, Franklin encouraged virtues we have often considered fundamental to the American character: thrift, honesty, desire for education, industry, tolerance, piety, and communitarianism.

Yes, Benjamin Franklin once owned a couple of slaves. In his time, this was common among the well-to-do. However, Franklin freed his slaves and, thoughtful, philosophical, and progressive man that he was, became an abolitionist later in life. He argued for the education of blacks and their integration into white society, and he led the Pennsylvania Abolition Society as its president. By contrast, George Washington, whom Americans rightly hold in the highest regard, owned many slaves but failed to free them even upon his death. Other Founding Fathers were likewise less enlightened regarding human freedom than was Benjamin Franklin.

We do our forebears a disservice when we judge them by contemporary standards, thereby depriving ourselves of enlightening rôle models. But we need hardly devise excuses for Benjamin Franklin. Whereas he was not a perfect human being, we cannot conscientiously accuse him of approving of chattel slavery. Although he once accepted the institution of slavery, he came to see it as wicked. To deny Franklin’s value as a rôle model because he once held views we today find odious, despite his eventually repudiating those ideas, is to deny the value of repentance and rehabilitation, perhaps even the value of education itself.

“Benjamin Franklin” is, in fact, an excellent name for a high school in general and for the college preparatory high school in New Orleans in particular. Franklin students are encouraged to pursue excellence, to seek out and act upon facts, and to contribute to the improvement of society—activities Benjamin Franklin pursued throughout his long life.

If we choose to name our schools only after persons who, according to contemporary standards, led not only exemplary but spotless lives, I fear we will only name schools after Jesus Christ. Not even Moses or Mohammed are viewed as completely faultless, even by those who most admire them.

I applaud the effort to remove from places of honor the names of those who advocated for slavery or who rebelled against the Union to preserve the peculiar institution. Let us not memorialize the names of John C. Calhoun, Robert E. Lee, or Jefferson Finis Davis. But no American should be embarrassed to claim Benjamin Franklin as a fellow citizen. New Orleans should be proud to have an extraordinary secondary school named for him, as I sincerely hope it will continue to have.

Lionel E. Deimel, Ph.D.
Benjamin Franklin High School Class of ’64
Indiana, Pennsylvania
March 26, 2021


March 19, 2021

Taking the Cats to the Vet (Day 2)

 See “Taking the Cats to the Vet (Day 1)” about my aborted veterinary appointment for cats Linus and Charlie.

March 14, 2021

Cat Carriers
Cat carriers on the floor. I saw
Charlie in the carrier at the
right.

7:30 p.m. For about a week, I have had two cat carriers on the floor in plain sight. Initially, I had the front flaps open and new catnip toys inside. When getting ready for our vet visit last week, I closed the front flaps and opened the top flaps of the carriers to make it easier to put the cats inside. I am surprised to see Charlie inside one of the carriers and enjoying the cat toy. I hope this is a good sign for our appointment this Thursday, March 18.

March 18, 2021

9:17 a.m. The cats are making themselves quite conspicuous. They cannot get into my bedroom (and, therefore, under my bed) or go upstairs. They have, no doubt, recognized that this is abnormal.

9:30 a.m. Lauren, the student housekeeper, arrives at her usual time. I confirm with her the schedule for capturing the cats.

9:54 a.m. I return downstairs and see no cats. A quick look around finds Linus behind the Clavinova. Charlie is in a dark corner next to a bookcase, an unusual place for him to be. So far, so good; they are limited to a confined area and I know where they are.

1015 a.m. I go briefly into my bedroom. Charlie is lying near the door when I come out. After sitting down, Charlie climbs onto my lap. I pet him for a long time. He seems unusually alert. I do not see Linus, who probably is still behind the Clavinova.

11:02 a.m. I eat a quick lunch, expecting to begin corraling the cats not later than noon and leaving for the Cat Clinic by 12:30 p.m.

11:20 a.m. I turn on the television and sit in my recliner, watching a program I recorded the day before.

11:22 a.m. Charlie jumps up on my lap. This is what I was hoping for, though having Linus on my lap would have been a happier circumstance. I watch television and pet Charlie for a long time.

11:58 a.m. It’s time to move. I put on my gloves—mostly in anticipation of dealing with Linus—grab hold of Charlie, walk over to his carrier, deposit him inside from above, and close the top flap. I then take the carrier upstairs. I fetch Lauren, my assistant cat catcher, and we proceed downstairs, closing the door at the top of the stairs behind us.

As I expected, Linus has remained behind the Clavinova. I suggest that we pull one side of the instrument away from the wall, allowing me to go behind it and grab Linus. Before I can step behind the Clavinova, however, Linus runs out at full speed and sprints up the stairs—big mistake on the part of the cat. He is now cornered on the top step. I pick up Linus with a vice-like, glove-protected grip, and Lauren helps me secure him in his carrier.

12:19 p.m. I back the car out of the garage. Lauren and her sister, who has joined the project, each take a cat carrier to the car. Once the cats are in the back seat and belted in, I leave for the trip to the vet.

1:50 p.m. I arrive at the Cat Clinic. The ride has been uneventful. I heard a few whines from Linus early on, but the cats were quiet for most of the trip. Alas, it rained the whole way. The trip is a long one. I became a client of the Cat Clinic when I lived in Mt. Lebanon, and I continue to be one because I like Dr. Bebko and the fact that only cats are treated at the clinic. Cats can be frightened in a waiting room with large dogs.

The pandemic has changed the mechanics of my annual visit. I pull into the driveway and call the clinic. I am told to bring the carriers into to the foyer. I do that and proceed to the parking area in back. I catch up with my reading while waiting for a phone call.

2:34 p.m. I get the call telling me that my cats are ready to be picked up. I supply my credit card number for payment and have a brief conversation with Dr. Bebko. I drive forward on the driveway and go inside to retrieve the cats and their paperwork. After buckling the cats into the back seat, I set off for home. It rains all the way, hard.

4:04 p.m. I arrive back home, take the carriers inside, and open the front flaps. After a moment’s hesitation, the cats scatter. I hope that I can go a full year without having to put the cats into their carriers again. My anxiety about having to do this begins about January.

March 11, 2021

Taking the Cats to the Vet (Day 1)

March 11, 2021

10:04 a.m.  I am relaxing a bit, steeling myself for the annual trauma of getting my two cats to the veterinarian. It is not the trip to or from the Cat Clinic and Hospital that I dread, but the hazardous task of capturing the critters and placing them in their carriers. As this job is prone to inflict injuries, I am wearing jeans and my heaviest long-sleeved woolen shirt. Gloves are within easy reach.

Charlie and Linus do not normally seem high-strung. They are both lap cats who often arrange themselves on my lap when I sit down to watch television. (Although Charlie will sit on my lap, he actually prefers lying across my chest with his head on my shoulder.) Getting the cats ready for their annual veterinary visit involves (1) finding them, (2) capturing them, and (3) placing them into their temporary cages. Each of these steps can go awry.

I don’t know where either cat is at the moment. I haven’t seen them since I gave them their breakfast. To limit where they can hide, a number of doors are closed, and I spent much of my day yesterday straightening up, so that a crazed cat can do as little damage as possible. I blocked off known hiding places as best I could. Extracting a cat who doesn’t want to move from under a bed is a trying enterprise. The cats may be upstairs now, but I am confident that they will come downstairs eventually.

I schedule my veterinary appointments on a day when a student housekeeper can help with the requisite three tasks. Having a second person available, particularly a swift, young one, can be a great help. Actually, the second person is essential.

Either cat can give me a hard time, but working with Linus is by far the more difficult. Linus has never liked to be picked up and carried even though he loves laps and being petted. When picked up, he tends to fight as if his life depends on it. He does so with no holds barred, and he runs away after extracting himself from my clutches. (This is the point at which first aid may be necessary.) I am cautiously optimistic today, as Linus has seemed less skittish of late and occasionally allows me to carry him short distances without inflicting injuries. Charlie is generally more coöperative and likely will not put up too much of a fight once I’ve taken care of his more troublesome brother.

10:43 a.m. A quick check upstairs locates neither cat. I’m concerned but not yet panicked. I also check under my bed, even though I have been keeping my bedroom door closed. Both cats like to spend time under the bed, and I am gratified to find the area cat-free.

11:00 a.m. I’m taking a quick trip to Arby’s to get a sandwich for lunch. This allows me to take my mind off the cats for a while.

11:36 a.m. Lunch is over. Cats are still in hiding. I’m going to sit down and watch television for a few minutes, as this is usually an invitation to the cats to join me.

11:58 a.m. The television-watching strategy is unsuccessful. It is time for a thorough search of the house. Despite searching upstairs and down-, my helper and I discover no cats, having looked behind and under furniture, in bathrooms and closets, and into every nook or cranny that seems like a possible hiding place. Where could they be? The cats never disappear so completely. I try sitting in front of the television again. I spread some cat treats on the floor, which usually act as cat magnets. No cats appear.

12:35 p.m. Time to call the Cat Clinic to say I will either be late or will need to reschedule. A recorded message announces that the staff is at lunch.

12:43 p.m. After two more bootless calls, I decide to leave a callback message. I say that I may not make my 2 p.m. appointment and should be called as soon as possible.

1:15 p.m. My call is returned. I explain that I cannot find my cats and will be, at best, late. We decide to reschedule for the same time next week. Sigh!

1:45 p.m. I go back to watching television. (The Pittsburgh Pirates are playing a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles.)

2:18 p.m. Linus appears upstairs from God knows where. There’s still no sign of Charlie. Linus runs downstairs, past the field of cat treats, and disappears behind the Clavinova, a favorite hiding place in times past. I look over the instrument and see him staring up at me sheepishly. I begin to think that the cats somehow knew what was in store for them today, but I don’t know how they might have known that.

3:15 p.m. Charlie jumps into my lap as I’m watching television. I have no idea where he came from. A few minutes later, he discovers the treats on the floor and devours most of them.

3:58 p.m. Linus discovers the few treats missed by Charlie.

Everyone is accounted for now. I still have no clue as to where the cats have been or why they decided to go there. Next Thursday, I plan to close the door at the top of the stairs, thereby confining the cats downstairs. They must have hidden somewhere upstairs. I hope that today’s episode will not be duplicated next week.

I will report on our visit to the Cat Clinic next week.

March 9, 2021

Annoying Squeeze Bottles

“Empty” Bottle of Kraft Tartar Sauce
“Empty” bottle of Kraft Tartar Sauce

Many products are packaged in squeeze bottles—ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, barbecue sauce, dishwashing liquid, among other products. There is a certain convenience in this packaging, but squeeze bottles are not always ideal, and some are annoyingly inadequate.

On the positive side, squeeze bottles allow the dispensing of the product in a convenient manner without the need to employ any special implement. (In former times, this would have been seen as uncouth in the case of food products, but these times are less formal.)

The most obvious problem with the squeeze bottle arises from the viscosity of the product. Vinaigrette salad dressing or dishwashing liquid is easily dispensed from such a container because the contents flows freely. In fact, squeezing isn’t even really necessary. Mustard or ketchup is dispensed with more difficulty because the product is thicker. (Heinz once described its ketchup as “slow good” because it came out of a glass bottle slowly.) Mustard or ketchup is easily obtained from a fresh bottle, but, as the bottle empties, it takes longer and longer to get condiment out of the bottle. And, when little product is left, it is hard to extract the last few drops of your mustard or ketchup.

When the condiment in the squeeze bottle is tartar sauce, dispensing is even more problematic. Because tartar sauce is quite viscous, even trying to get it out of a full bottle can be troublesome. One tends to get a large dollop, followed by nothing at all as the sauce flows leisurely toward the cap. Moreover, that dollop exits its package almost explosively, not landing on your plate quite where you intended. Tartar sauce should not come in squeeze bottles.

Finally, the shape of some squeeze bottles seems designed to frustrate the consumer. Kraft Tartar Sauce is not the only product sold in a bottle similar to that pictured above, a bottle with a narrow mouth and a body that widens, narrows, and widens again. Because tartar sauce flows with such difficulty—it is both viscous and inhomogeneous—after squeezing and hammering the bottle on the table, some sauce stubbornly remains in the bottle. Just try to get it out! The mouth is too narrow to insert any normal-sized spoon, and, even if you manage to insert some implement into the bottle, the irregular shape assures the impossibility of removing everything inside. In fact, the packaging is so horribly dysfunctional, that one wonders whether KraftHeinz designed it so that customers must buy replacement bottles sooner than they would were the packaging more user-friendly. Tartar sauce should be sold in glass or plastic jars with wide mouths and straight sides.

Would that manufacturers selling products in squeeze bottles took customer usability more seriously. Not every product sold in a squeeze bottle should be in a squeeze bottle.

More Thoughts on the Filibuster

My recent post about the filibuster (End the Filibuster) was, perhaps, unduly negative. There are circumstances under which the filibuster might indeed operate as its advocates say it does (or should). Unfortunately, it does not work well in the current circumstances. For many years now, Republican senators have been determined to stop nearly every bill supported by Democrats. In fact, Republican senators have actually not wanted Democratic support except when it was absolutely essential. There is every indication that their attitude toward the Democratic agenda has not changed. What I wrote about the filibuster assumed that Republican senators were not about to have a change of heart.

Assume, however, that at some future time, both parties had a genuine concern for democracy and for the citizens of the Republic. If the party in power proposed a bill whose general purpose was agreed upon by both parties, the minority party would have every incentive to achieve a compromise bill that was more to its liking. The 60-vote requirement would provide more incentive to the majority party to compromise than it would have in the absence of the filibuster. This is how proponents of the filibuster think it should work.

I remain in favor of getting rid of the filibuster because the GOP currently is not interested in democracy and the welfare of the citizenry. It is only interesting in power and opposing anything offered by the Democrats.

There have been proposals to modify the filibuster to make it less draconian. Perhaps one of these proposals could be helpful. I doubt it, but stay tuned.

March 6, 2021

End the Filibuster

 President Biden has a long and exciting agenda. Little of it can be realized without eliminating the Senate’s anti-democratic filibuster. It may be difficult to pass proposed legislation even then, but, first, the filibuster has to go.

Were the composition of the Senate different, the filibuster would be less pernicious than it is now. If 70% of the senators were of one party, for instance, the need to pass most legislation with a 60% majority would not be a major roadblock. A senate nearly equally divided between parties, however, makes the passage of any but the most innocuous or patently essential legislation difficult, if not impossible. And now, the strength of the parties in the Senate is mathematically equal.

The argument usually advanced for the value of the filibuster is that it encourages bipartisan compromise, since the party in power has to rely on votes of the other party to pass any legislation. Recent empirical evidence from a closely divided Senate suggests that this argument is nonsense. When the minority party is opposed to a bill proposed by the majority, the filibuster allows it to simply prevent passage. Thwarting the will of the majority involves no consequences and perhaps even can win points with the constituents back home. This outcome is particularly likely when the philosophical differences between parties are vast and the minority party harbors a decided hostility toward federal legislation generally. The result is not compromise, but stalemate.

How would the current Senate operate were the filibuster scrapped? If Democratic senators were determined to pass a bill, their minority GOP colleagues would be powerless to stop them. Simply saying “no” would be to no avail. The only strategy available to the Republicans would be to seek to amend the legislation to make it more to their liking. Democrats might even accept GOP amendments either as intrinsically positive compromises or because they perceive value in bipartisanship. Should Democrats accept Republican amendments only to see Republicans vote against the final bill, future “bipartisanship” will justifiably be unlikely.

To summarize, in the present circumstances, the filibuster produces not unity or compromise but simply stalemate. For those whose purpose in the Senate is to prevent government action, this is a good thing. For those who believe in governing to benefit the citizenry, the filibuster is a disaster.

In the absence of the filibuster, legislation will be approved, and the opposition party has incentive to, from their viewpoint, improve it. To fail to coöperate is pointless, except possibly as a campaign strategy.

Democratic senators should vote to consign the filibuster to history at their earlier opportunity, applying logic (and, if necessary, pressure) to any senator who clings to the mistaken notion that the filibuster facilitates compromise or advances the cause of democracy.


Update, 3/12/2012. I offer further clarification of my position on the filibuster in my post “More Thoughts on the Filibuster.”

February 13, 2021

The Case against Trump

 I was surprised this morning when defense attorney Michael van der Veen argued that the impeachment document against ex-president Donald Trump only charges that Trump incited the attack on the Capital. In other words, he considers Tump’s dereliction of duty, i.e., his failure to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” by trying to overturn the election and to prevent the Congress from certifying the votes of the Electoral College is irrelevant. This position attacks to full story that the House prosecutors have laid out.

That story is the following. It is clear and, I think, compelling:

  1. Trump knew that he would likely lose the 2020 election. Beginning months before the election, therefore, he began arguing that he could only lose if the election were stolen.
  2. Trump lost the election decisively.
  3. Trump never conceded defeat, arguing that the election had indeed been stolen and that the “steal”had to be stopped.
  4. Trump tried to turn the vote in his favor through intimidation and numerous meritless, unsuccessful lawsuits.
  5. Trump encouraged his supporters to come to D.C. on June 6 for what was eventually billed as a “Save America” rally.
  6. At that rally, Trump and other speakers told the crowd that they had to fight for their country; that he hoped that the vice president would dispute the Electoral College votes; and that they needed to march to the Capitol.
  7. Trump supporters, many of whom had attended the rally, sacked the Capitol while the votes of the Electoral College were officially being counted.
  8. Trump, knowing that the Capitol had been overrun, intentionally delayed calling for the attack on the Capitol to stop.
  9. Finally, Trump told the insurrectionists to go home and called them patriots.
  10. Once the insurrectionists were cleared from the Capitol, the Congress accepted the Electoral College votes that made Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump had tried every ploy he could devise to keep himself in office. His final hope involved Vice President Pence’s acting improperly and rejecting some of the votes of the Electoral College. Barring that, Trump thought his people could interrupt the vote certification that was ongoing in the Capitol. To what end was inclear.

February 3, 2021

Further Thoughts on the Trump Trial

Just over a week ago, I published an essay about the upcoming Senate trial of Donald J. Trump. (See On the Upcoming Trial of Donald Trump.) The purpose of that piece was to clarify the constitutional issues related to the trial. As the trial nears, we are getting clearer pictures of the arguments that will be advanced by the prosecution and the defense. Below, I consider those arguments.

The Senate has already taken a vote as to whether it is constitutional to try a president who is no longer in office. That vote failed to head off Trump’s trial, but it is clear that Republican senators find the argument that a trial is unconstitutional an attractive one. This position allows them to sidestep the question of Donald Trump’s actual guilt and to avoid the ex-president’s notorious vindictiveness. As I wrote earlier, however, there is precedent for trying a federal officer who is no longer in office. In that instance, a failed vote on the unconstitutionality of the proceeding also occurred before the trial.

The prosecution will argue that, if the Constitution does not allow for a trial of a president who has left office, a president can misbehave with impunity in the final days of his (or her) presidency, since it takes time to vote impeachment and conduct a trial. The defense may respond that an ex-president is still subject to prosecution for actual crimes. The “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” of Article II, Section 4. however, may encompass activities that are not strictly statutory crimes and which could therefore not be charged against an ex-president. Whether Donald Trump violated existing laws—I believe he has–is a separate question.

The defense will also argue that, since Mr. Trump is no longer in office, an impeachment trial is a meaningless exercise. To this may be argued that a conviction will bring opprobrium to the defendant, which will affect public opinion and discourage inappropriate presidential behavior in the future. More importantly, the Constitution allows (though does not require) the imposition of penalties beyond cashiering the defendant, namely “disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States” (Article I, Section 3).

That Mr. Trump, if convicted, could be prevented from again running for office is a tempting penalty to Republican senators contemplating their own run for president in 2024. It may not, however, be tempting enough to compel a guilty vote. On the other hand, little notice has been taken of the word “Profit” in Article I. One can reasonably argue that ex-presidency is actually an office, as it comes with pension, allowances, and Secret Service protection. By this argument, no only does Donald Trump have a lot to lose, but he can actually be removed from office by the Senate! (It is not clear whether the House prosecutors intend to make such an argument.)

When pressed to address the alleged offenses of Mr. Trump, the defense is apparently prepared to argue that the president was simply exercising his First Amendment rights in urging the Georgia Attorney General to “find” more than 11,000 votes and instructing his obviously armed followers he had gathered in D.C. to be strong, lest they lose their country. Under the circumstances, this argument is laughable. Mr. Trump clearly suborned election fraud in Georgia and, along with other speakers at his January 6 rally, encouraged the sack of the Capitol, even if he didn’t exactly say “interrupt the Congress and kill the vice president.” Remember that calling “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire is not an application of one’s free speech right. It is criminal.

Of course, the bar for conviction being so high, a not guilty verdict in the closely divided Senate is more than likely. This clearly will send the wrong message to future presidents. This miscarriage of justice can be compensated for by the charging of Donald Trump with federal crimes by the Biden Department of Justice. Indictments from the Attorney General of New York will simply be icing on the poetic justice cake.

February 1, 2021

President Biden: Go Big

I understand President Biden’s desire to bring the country together. “Unity” is an attractive concept, but it can be a slippery one. Sometimes, the best path toward a goal is not the most obvious and direct one.

The president has a long list of policy objectives that were, in part, responsible for his election. (Admittedly, not being Donald Trump may have been his biggest asset in the 2020 election.) Unfortunately, there is every reason to believe that Mitch McConnell and his minions are intent on seeing that Mr. Biden achieves as few of those objectives as possible.

If the Democrats are to build a lasting working majority and defeat decisively the anti-democratic, power-hungry elements of the GOP, they cannot do it with rhetoric, whether about “unity” or anything else. They can only do it by passing landmark legislation that will appeal to those voters who have felt that the government has done nothing for them. The Biden program can do that and can contribute to the defeat of the GOP’s rule-of-minority strategy.

A group of Republican senators is trying to get the president to scale back his relief bill, thereby giving the GOP credit for “fiscal responsibility” and minimizing a potentially significant Democratic victory. This is a trap; the president should simply say, “No thank you.”

President Biden may be able to accomplish some of his goals through reconciliation, but certainly not all of them. Instead, he needs a Senate that can pass whatever Democrats want to enact. This includes such objectives as achieving D.C, statehood.

To reach such a happy state, the filibuster, at least as it’s currently implemented, must go, and go soon. (Let Republicans talk forever if they are up to it.) If eliminating the filibuster requires squeezing sensitive parts of Democratic senators’ anatomy, then so be it. Having a true governing majority will be worth the effort.

If Mr. Biden’s program is enacted, the country, despite a small number of “conservative” crazies, will follow. Joe Biden has an opportunity to become the next FDR. Or, he can follow President Obama’s path of having one big accomplishment and being blocked from obtaining others by unyielding Republicans.

There are many possible definitions of “unity.” Getting along with GOP politicians is not a useful one. Uniting the voters in their appreciation of compassionate and effective governing is.

January 29, 2021

The Horrors of Movies on Television

 I am a big movie fan, and much of my movie watching is done on the television. (Particularly so in the current circumstances, of course!) I prefer to watch movies on HBO, Showtime, Netflix, or TCM. since I can see the movies without commercial interruptions and more or less in their original form.

The Silence of the Lambs Poster
If there is a movie I really want to see on another network, I usually record it, so I can fast-forward through the commercials when I actually watch. Even if I intend to watch this way, I am discouraged by the occasional announcements that the format of the movie has been altered or that the movie has been edited for time or content. Whenever I see such a notice, I stop watching and delete the recording. I have no desire to see movies butchered by a rapacious or cowardly network.

The other day I recorded The Silence of the Lambs on BBC America. I had seen this movie a long time ago and thought it time to see it again. The movie is quite good, though it strains credulity at times. (Hannibal Lector’s escape from incarceration is a bit hard to believe, for instance, as is Clarice Starling’s being assigned to the case at all.) I enjoyed watching the movie, though the density of commercials at the end of the film—the most exciting few minutes—was especially annoying. I was surprised, however, that BBC America deleted the end credits! This was unforgivable and was done without any warning that the movie had been edited for length. I suspect that I will no longer watch movies on BBC America.

Of course, BBC America is not the only network that seems to assume that no viewers care about credits. An indignity often visited on films shown on television is the compression of credits at the bottom of the screen to allow a commercial or promo to shown above them. Of course, if you don’t have a wall-sized TV screen, the credits are unreadable. If the film is speeded up to show the credits, even your big-screen TV won’t help.

Clearly, some networks don’t show movies to appeal to real movie lovers. Pity. 

January 25, 2021

Really, SCOTUS?

I was surprised to learn today that the Supreme Court instructed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss two suits alleging that President Donald Trump violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his Washington hotel. (See news stories here and here. The Summary Dispositions of the high court can be found here—see cases 20-330 and 20-331.) The court ruled that the lawsuits were moot, since Mr. Trump is no longer in office and no more infractions can occur. The court cited United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., a decision from 1950. 

To the casual observer, the dismissal of these suits  seems akin to dismissing a murder charge because, after all, the decedent is dead and can no longer be killed by the defendant. Was the president guilty or was he not? Surely, the charges brought against the ex-president, if brought by the House of Representatives during his term of office, could have resulted in impeachment and potential conviction and removal from office. Apparently, however, the Emoluments Clause lacks enforcement provisions in ordinary law making the prohibited action illegal and subject to particular penalties.

The action of the Supreme Court is outrageous, but the court could perhaps do nothing more than it did. Apparently, actual legislation backing up the Emoluments Clause is needed.

On the Upcoming Trial of Donald Trump

 Donald Trump is to be tried once again by the Senate. There is much confusion—some of it intentionally generated by Trump partisans—about the legitimacy and consequences of such a trial. I hope to clear up a few matters here.

Impeachment and trial are authorized by the Constitution. For our purposes, the most important passage occurs in Article I, Section 3:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Article II, Section 4 provides that:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The above section enumerates offenses that may trigger impeachment and specifies that a person impeached and convicted is necessarily removed from office. (Donald Trump’s impeachments have both been enacted under the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” provision.) Removal from office is the only obligatory penalty, but the punishments of Article I (“disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States”) may be imposed. It is almost certain that, were Mr. Trump to be convicted by the Senate, his ability to hold (presumably federal) office would be restricted, as the certainty of not running against him in the 2024 presidential race is an incentive to convict for at least some Republican senators. The ex-president could also have his pension, allowances, and Secret Service protection terminated, but a separate vote would be required to impose such penalties.

Under the circumstances, Mr. Trump will not be removed from office, as he is already out of office. He would not be the first federal official to be impeached and tried after having left office, however. Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached minutes after his 1876 resignation and tried by the Senate. The vote for conviction was 35–25. The Senate had voted 37–29 that a trial could be held, but arguments that such a trial was unconstitutional contributed to a not guilty verdict. In any case, the Belknap affair offers a precedent for trying a former officeholder. Prominent Republicans are arguing that a trial of Donald Trump is unconstitutional, and this argument will undoubtedly affect the Senate vote in the current instance.

It has been widely reported that conviction of the ex-president will require the votes of at least 17 Republican senators. It is assumed that all 50 Democrats and independents will vote for conviction, and that 17 Republican votes will be needed to reach the 67 votes required for conviction in the 100-person Senate. This is not quite true, however. Article I, Section 3 requires “Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present” [emphasis added] for conviction. Certain Republican senators may choose to be absent for the vote to convict.

Finally, whether or not the ex-president is convicted by the Senate, Article I, Section 3 indicates that he may still “be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.” In fact, the post-presidential career of Donald Trump may be consumed with fending off indictments and avoiding prison, activities that may minimize the time he can devote to political mischief.

January 24, 2021

How to Run Mass Vaccinations Redux

 NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday led off today with a story titled “Unpacking The Biden Administration's Coronavirus Strategy.” Dr. Carlos del Rio, Rollins Professor and chair of the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University, was interviewed by Lulu Garcia-Navarro. He reported on having just taken a turn inoculating people for the coronavirus. Some people were excited to get the vaccination, he said, but others were nervous. Apparently because he had conversations with the people being injected, Dr. del Rio was only able to vaccinate four or five people per hour.

Whereas we can all appreciate the doctor’s caring bedside manner, we should be appalled at the throughput he was able to achieve. A reasonable concern for efficiency would suggest that the person giving injections should not have to chitchat with patients. Giving injections does not require an epidemiologist.

Earlier this month, I suggested in a post—see “How to Run Mass Vaccinations”—that sites intent on maximizing the rate at which vaccinations can be given should use personnel wisely. Injections should not be given by doctors but by lower-level professionals skilled in the task. (My experience suggests that nurses, for example, are better at giving injections than are doctors simply because they are called upon to do it more often.) Less skilled people, likely not even medical personnel, should be checking people in and answering their questions, which are likely to be quite repetitive. Enough people should be doing this so that the queue of persons ready to be vaccinated is never empty. It may even be helpful to have a person whose only job is to fill syringes for the person actually delivering doses. There is no reason for the actual task of giving a vaccination to take as long as one minute. Medical personnel can be standing by to handle unusual questions or concerns and to respond to any unexpected reactions to being vaccinated.

Judging from the pictures I see on television, I have concluded that we are being less than smart about designing procedures for mass vaccination. Especially appalling are the long lines of automobiles queuing up for vaccinations. This is a waste of time and resources, and it seems to be driving some people crazy.

Here is a suggestion for delivering vaccine in many circumstances: In locations where there are many and conveniently located voting sites, why not use them for vaccinations? Certainly, in many cities—those run by Democrats, in any case—there are many polling locations, none of which serves an inordinate number of voters. In each on, on an announced, rotating basis, set up a vaccination group as I suggested in my earlier essay. Non-voters in the area served by a given site can be accommodated. People from outside the voting district can be served only if time and demand allow. This system may not be perfect, but it surely would be better than what is often being done.

With any luck, the Biden Administration will come to conclusions similar to my own. Someday, I hope to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Moreover, I hope it is this year!

January 18, 2021

Donald Trump’s Future

 Many of the insurrectionists who sacked the Capitol on January 6 are claiming, in their defense, that the president told them to do what they did. Fine. If Donald Trump does not pardon himself (and probably even if he does), he should be indicted as the fomenter of the insurrection against the United States of America and should be arrested at Mar-a-Lago at the earliest opportunity.

Perhaps U.S. Marshals should be waiting at Mar-a-Lago for the former president when he arrives on Wednesday.

January 15, 2021

Slavery Revisited

 The latest addition to the politically correct lexicon is the use of the phrase enslaved person for the more succinct slave. Supposedly, this practice is intended to emphasize that those held in bondage are, first and foremost, human beings.

Slavery, in antebellum America in any case, sought to eradicate the personhood of the enslaved as much as possible. To Southern planters, slaves were not people at all; they were property that, ideally, behaved as automatons. (I know, domestic slaves became, in a limited sense, part of the owning family. But most slaves were field hands who were simply interchangeable parts of the plantation machinery.) Slave personhood was rather a nuisance. Instead of celebrating their personhood, calling slaves enslaved persons minimizes the dehumanizing and cruel conditions under which they labored. It substitutes for the terse, harsh, one-syllable locution, a milder-sounding four-syllable phrase that softens the horrors of the peculiar institution.

It is true that no one is properly characterized only by one’s occupation. We all understand this. To say that someone is a manager, for example, does not suggest that he or she is not fully a human being, a citizen, perhaps a spouse and parent, a lover of food, etc. There is no need to speak of such a person as a person who manages. Likewise, we speak of a baseball player without feeling any need to speak of a person who plays basketball. Friends would think it strange were we to refer to a politician as a person who engages in politics, though, admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to discern the humanity of such a person. Yet, we have converted homeless people into people who are experiencing homelessness.

Substituting phrases reputed to emphasize the personhood of actors of one sort of another merely serves unnecessarily to increase the word count of our writing and utterances. No one needs to be reminded that a politician, or even a slave, is actually a person. Neologisms such as enslaved person are simply silly and should be avoided.

January 14, 2021

Essays on Ranked-Choice Voting: Chapter 1

With another election behind us, I have been planning to write one or more essays promoting and analyzing ranked choice voting. I have long been an advocate of this method of conducting elections—see The People’s Choice (Round Two), originally written November 11, 2000—and there seems to be increased interest in it of late. By no means does the essay below start at the beginning, but I start here in response to an interview heard recently on NPR.

WAMU’s public affairs show1A presented a program titled “The Future and Feasibility of Ranked-Choice Voting.” Readers who have never heard of ranked-choice voting (RCV) should first read my essay mentioned above. More comprehensive information about RCV can be found on the FairVote Web site. (Fair Vote offers a concise description of RCV here.)

What most interested me on the 1A episode was the criticisms made of RCV by one of the guests, Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University. Professor McDaniel’s role seemed to be that of naysayer invited to balance the opinions of RCV advocates. His fundamental criticism of RCV is that ballots are complex—more complex than the usual ballots, at any rate—which leads to two basic problems. First, some people are discouraged from voting because they do not understand the system. McDaniel claims to have empirical evidence of lower turnout due to ballot complexity, though he admits that the effect—if it exists at all—is small. Second, McDaniel asserts that RCV produces more ballot errors.

I believe that the benefits of RCV are substantial and remain so even in light of McDaniel’s criticisms. I do not intend to argue for those benefits here but merely to address McDaniel’s objections.

It is undoubtedly true that the ballots for RCV are more complicated than those of conventional American elections. Rather than marking a vote for one’s favorite candidate, it is possible, though not necessary, to indicate candidate preferences in order: first choice, second choice, etc. RCV ballots may be structured in various ways, and some may be more confusing than others. Typically, however, ballots include clear instructions as to how to cast one’s vote. And the changeover to RCV voting needs to be publicized and explained to the voting public. Will some people still misunderstand how to fill out a ballot? Surely, but people ruin ballots using conventional, “simpler” voting schemes—they mark their vote for two opposing candidates, they skip races by mistake, and they fail to follow instructions for mail-in ballots.

The instructions on an RCV ballot should make it clear that one can vote for a single candidate, i.e., treat the ballot as for a conventional election. If we believe even this is too confusing for some folks, we can offer alternative ballots, one that allows voting only for a single candidate in each race, and one that allows for ranking voter preferences. Let the default ballot be the conventional one, and let people confident in the use of the RCV ballot request such a ballot. The conventional ballots are then treated as if they were RCV ballots with only the most preferred candidate chosen.

As I mentioned, voters already have ways of spoiling their ballots. RCV provides more ways to cast an incorrect vote, but many errors can be “cured” by applying some straightforward rules:

  • If two or more candidates are given the same rank (e.g., second choice), the votes for those candidates are disregarded.
  • If the ballot requires the voter to indicate rank by entering numbers, rather than, say, filling in bubbles, marks other than numbers are disregarded. Likewise, illegible entries are disregarded.
  • Candidates ranked without duplication have their preferences renumbered, if necessary, to maintain the indicated ordering. The candidate with the lowest indicated rank (i.e., the most desirable rank) is considered the voter’s first choice, the candidate given the next higher rank is considered the voter’s second choice, etc. This re-ranking can be done by computer before ballots are tabulated.
These rules do the best job possible of capturing the intention of the voter, even in cases where the voter has marked a ballot improperly. Is not this the goal we would like to achieve?

Some ballot formats are susceptible to a greater range of errors than others. Paper ballots requiring the voter to enter numbers are most susceptible to errors and should be avoided. From the point of view of catching errors at the source, a computer-based voting system is most desirable. Given the need for hardcopy voting records that can be audited, however, computer-based systems need also to generate a paper copy of the voter’s choices. The costs of such a system must be weighed against the cost of spoiled ballots and possible extra costs to “cure” ballots (if desired) as described above.

January 11, 2021

Choosing a Name for September 6, 2021

 On September 16, 2001, I wrote an essay titled “What’s in a Name.” That essay considered the meaning of the events of September 11, 2001. But it also raised the question of how we would refer to those events in the future. As it happens, none of the names I suggested stuck. We will instead forever speak of “9/11.”

We now must consider how we will refer to the events of January 6, 2021, when, encouraged by President Donald Trump and others, an angry mob sacked the United States Capitol. It is to be hoped that this barbarism will have less historical significance than 9/11, but that remains to be seen. It is nevertheless an experience we will need to talk about, and we need to give it a name.

My first thought is that the name we use for the recent events should somehow reference Trump or Trumpism, but this may not be necessary. Here are some possibilities:

Trump Insurrection
Trump Coup
Trump Failed Coup
1/6
MAGA Coup
MAGA Failed Coup
MAGA Catastrophe
MAGA Implosion
Sack of the Capitol
Trump Putsch
Epiphany Putsch

Some of these suggestions seem a bit too abstract (“MAGA Implosion”), although I should add that “9/11” is itself somewhat indirect. “1/6” seems too derivative and, in any case, is not euphonious. “Sack of the Capitol” is quite literal, on the other hand, though it fails to name an instigator. One hopes this sack of the Capitol will not later be confused with other Capitol sacks.

I rather like the word “putsch,” defined as “a plotted revolt or attempt to overthrow a government, especially one that depends upon suddenness and speed,” according to Dictionary.com. “Trump Putsch” makes sense, though it almost gives Donald Trump too much credit. He clearly incited the actions taken by the mob he addressed, but, although he said he would march to the Capitol with them, he instead retreated to the White House.

Despite the fact that the name fails to mention Trump, I rather like “Epiphany Putsch.” January 6, of course, is the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the manifestation of the Christ child to the Gentiles. The ragtag army that marched on the Capitol had no thoughts of the Christian celebration, but the sack of the Capitol was an epiphany of sorts—it manifested, for all to see, the logical consequences of the error of Trumpism. That epiphany has been powerful enough to remove the blinders from the eyes even of some Republicans who have hitherto been unshakable Trump sycophants.

Are there other suggestions? What name shall we (and the historians) choose?

January 6, 2021

Thoughts on the Recent Insurrection

 Where should I start? Today held much promise. It seemed likely that two Democrats had won senatorial elections in Georgia, thereby giving Democrats control of the Senate. And Congress was supposed to officially count the Electoral College votes that would definitively make Joe Biden the next president. Republican lawmakers were expected to object to some of the votes, but those objections could only delay the inevitable, not change the outcome in any way.

Earlier in the day, however, President Donald Trump, addressing the crowds he had encouraged to come to Washington for this momentous day, sent an angry mob off the Capitol to use force to, if not change the result of the election, at least dramatically dramatize their displeasure. To the surprise of many—and apparently to D.C. law enforcement—the Trump-enraged mob stormed the Capitol. As I watched the television coverage, I was distressed as the angry Trumpists mounted the steps of the Capitol. Surely, they won’t be allowed to enter the building, I thought. But soon enough, they were in the building, breaking windows, breaching the Senate chamber, and invading the offices of lawmakers.

I had always thought that this sort of thing never happened in the United States. We are not a banana republic subject to periodic coups. But it was happening. In a sense, I felt personally violated; the Capitol is the people’s house as much as is the White House. Those animals who had broken in claiming it was their house, thereby relinquished their right to claim it,

Throughout the day, the president ignored pleas to call off his insurrectionists. Only late in the day did he advise them to “go home with love & peace.” But he did so while still asserting that victory had been “so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away” from him and his partisans.

As I write this, the Congress apparently intends to reconvene in a few minutes to complete the task that was interrupted earlier this afternoon. Police and national guard troops have apparently cleared the Capitol and are creating a widening perimeter around the Capitol complex. A six o’clock curfew is in effect. It isn’t clear if the insurrection is over. Apparently, only one person was killed.

I will need time to process the events of the day. For now, all I can do is ask questions:

  • Why was the mob allow to enter the Capitol? The large, angry gathering was not a surprise—the president had been encouraging it. Why was there not a larger law-enforcement presence?
  • Who was responsible for the light law enforcement presence?
  • Why were not thousands of people arrested?
  • I saw Capitol police with nightsticks being chased by the mob inside the Capitol. Why were the insurrectionists not met with assault rifles?
  • What mayhem will happen tonight or tomorrow?
  • Should not we impeach the president for encouraging insurrection or remove him from office via the Twenty-fifth Amendment? Trump still has two weeks in office the destroy the Republic.

January 5, 2021

How to Run Mass Vaccinations

 I listened to an NPR report this morning about the difficulty of providing COVID-19 vaccines. Of course, different localities are encountering different problems. An underlying fact, however, is that vaccinating against the current pandemic is more complex than providing the annual flu vaccine. Because the vaccine(s) are scarce and valuable, it is important that mass vaccinations proceed as efficiently as possible.

The NPR story suggested that it may take half an hour to vaccinate a single patient. First, there are a number of intake questions to be answered, and the recipient may have additional personal questions. Although the actual injection is quick, the patient must be kept under observation for 15 minutes to assure that he or she has no immediate adverse reaction. Vaccine shortages aside, it is easy to see why the vaccination process often proceeds slowly.

Another problem, of course, is building the queue of patients awaiting treatment. Television news reports are showing hundreds of people standing in line outdoors or lined up in their cars, so this problem is being handled differently from place to place and is often not being handled well. There likely is not any universally ideal recruiting scheme, but, clearly, we need to collect vaccine recipients without creating an undue burden on them or, heaven forbid, exposing them to possible contagion by virtue of their proximity.

Recruiting is likely not much of a problem in nursing homes or hospitals. We need to think harder about how to recruit from the population at large. Having people call in for appointments is frustrating them with busy signals. There needs to be a better way. Probably, recruiting in urban areas will need to be handled differently from how it is in rural ones.

On the other hand, delivering the vaccine efficiently can be done expeditiously with a little planning. My model for this is the typical blood drive. Like the vaccination process, giving blood necessarily includes intake questions and a brief stay after donation to assure no ill effects on the donor. In this case, the main process takes a good deal of time. Therefore, there are multiple tables on which the actual blood draw takes place. Ideally, when someone has completed the intake form, a table will be available. Although the actual donation is time-consuming, the system is designed for acceptable throughput.

Applied to mass vaccinations, the procedure looks like this: Only one person need be performing the vaccinations, although the person will need to be relieved from time to time. Intake, on the other hand, is slow and needs to be performed by multiple questioners to assure that, as soon as one injection is given, another person is ready to the next one. One or more other workers can monitor the group of patients awaiting the all-clear after vaccination.

This system requires perhaps four or five workers not involved in an actual medical procedure. Crowd control might need other people. These people need not be medical personnel, although some training may be in order. I suggest that recruiting such people would not be difficult. Simply offer them their own vaccination in compensation. Perhaps they should be paid as well, but this may not be necessary.

The procedure outlined above is, I suggest, the “obvious” way of handling mass vaccinations. Why is it not being used?

January 1, 2021

A Very Happy New Year


Today is the first day of a new year—2021. The greeting “Happy New Year” carries more meaning now than in most years. We leave behind what was decidedly an unhappy old year. We anticipate not simply a new beginning—realizing, of course, that the transition from one year to the next is arbitrary—but also a justifiable hope for a better quality of life in 2021.

We can expect a new, more competent, and more humane administration in Washington. Its advent is less than three weeks away. Equally significant, we await widespread vaccination to protect against COVID-19, and the eventual, though not immediate, return to community life at least somewhat as we once knew it.

There are clouds on the horizon. If the Senate continues to be controlled by Republicans, the Biden administration will find it difficult to achieve many of its objectives. But much of the work of undoing the depredations of Donald Trump and his minions can be effected through executive action, so the righting of the ship of state can proceed even with Mitch McConnell continuing in the role of Senate majority leader.

One can even hope that, with Trump out of the White House, his malign influence on many of our citizens will be diminished. An administration with very different policies, inclinations, and normal procedures may cause some of Trump’s followers to reconsider their wants, loyalties, and misconceptions. Racism, resentment, and hostility are not easily overcome, however, especially in the face of social media that facilitate their intensity. But it is not a vain hope that benign administration will have at least some positive effect.

Another cloud over 2021 is the irrational fear, even hostility, toward vaccination. To the degree that vaccination protects individuals, the refusal to accept it is an act of self-abuse. Unfortunately, it also harms the community, as protection against the continuing spread of the  SARS-CoV-2 virus requires widespread immunity conferred by the various vaccines available or becoming so. As vaccination becomes more universal, perhaps the aversion to it will decrease sufficiently to allow so-called herd immunity to develop.

As we slowly emerge from the twin distractions of the pandemic and the Trump maladministration, we will, I think, be changed. One can hope that that change will largely be for the better. We should recognize that our civilization has vulnerabilities and that we have an opportunity to ameliorate them. More people will continue to work from home, thereby reducing energy consumption and air pollution. Other changes, some disruptive though necessary, will also be required. We should have learned what government can accomplish and what happens when we refuse to employ it. Finally, it is to be hoped that we, at long last, will change our bizarre and dangerous method of electing our president and vice president.

Two thousand twenty-one will surely be happier than its predecessor. May it truly be a happy new year for you and yours and for the United States of America!