the behan school of economic theory

Let me admit up front that I understand economic theory about as well as I understand quantum field theory. I have, at best, a vague grasp of some of the concepts. This is one of the reasons I belong to the Brendan Behan School of Economic Theory. It may be simple but I find it easy to understand and support. I advocate:

“…that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”

That’s a solid foundation; start right there and build on it. We should…no, wait. I meant to write about the debt ceiling bullshit. How’d I get distracted this quickly? Okay, rewind. Hit ‘start’.

I find all of this fuss about the debt ceiling to be simultaneously offensive and boring as fuck. It’s perfectly obvious to everybody that the Republican Party is threatening to fuck up the US economy–and the global economy to some extent–unless President Uncle Joe agrees to their demands. What’s less obvious is the astonishing fact that the GOP can’t even agree amongst themselves what their demands are. They’re basically saying, “We’ll shoot your dog unless you agree to do a thing and we’ll let you know what that thing is after you agree to it.”

I’m hoping President Uncle Joe has a secret plan up his sleeve. Or tucked away in a hidden pocket. Or under his hat. He’s been pretty good at teasing the GOP along, then quietly kicking them in the nuts. So it’s a real possibility that he’s openly cooperating with the House Republicans, knowing they’ll never come up with a workable solution, at which point he can say, “I tried to be reasonable” and then just kick them in the nuts.

Personally, I’d prefer it if he just told them to go fuck themselves. He should just tell the Treasury Department to mint the platinum trillion dollar coin and deposit it in the US’s savings account. This idea has been floating in the econoverse for a few decades. Is it legal? Who knows? Do it anyway. Let the Republicans legally challenge it and take it to SCOTUS. That’ll take some time, during which the debts will be paid by the coin and the global economy will continue to totter on.

“Your Honor, justice DEMANDS that we be allowed to fuck up the world’s economy!”

And what happens if SCOTUS says, “Uncle Joe, my dude, you just can’t mint a coin and spend it like that”? Fine, at that point Uncle Joe should just issue an executive order saying the notion of a debt ceiling violates the 14th Amendment. Let the Republicans legally challenge that and take it to SCOTUS. That’ll take more time, during which the debts will be paid and the global economy will continue to totter on.

And if SCOTUS says, “Sorry Uncle Joe, but dude you’ve interpreted the 14th Amendment incorrectly”? Fine, at that point Uncle Joe should just issue an executive order saying the debt ceiling violates the Contracts Clause of the US Constitution. Let the Republicans legally challenge that as well, and take it to SCOTUS. That’ll take still more time, during which the debts will be paid and the global economy will continue to totter on.

And if SCOTUS says, “Uncle Joe, c’mon, that’s not how the Contracts Clause works”? Fine, at that point Uncle Joe should just issue coupon free bonds. I don’t have a clue what a coupon free bond is, but I’ve heard the idea offered as a wonky solution to the debt ceiling. It might be complete bullshit. I don’t care. Whatever it is, let the GOP legally challenge it and take it to SCOTUS. That’ll once again take more time, during which the debts will be paid and the global economy will yada yada yada.

You get the point. If the GOP keeps fucking with the national debt, POTUSUJ should keep fucking with the GOP. He should keep making the Republican Party AND/OR the Republican Party’s SCOTUS responsible for trying to NOT pay the debt. Keep that stupid shit up until it’s time for the 2024 election. Campaign on the GOP (and the sociopath they choose as their nominee) trying desperately to ruin the US economy.

I’ll admit, that’s a shitty way to govern a nation. But the GOP has been enshittifying the US for decades. They’ve succeeded in making the US a fairly shitty nation. But shitty is as shitty does. It’s time we make the Republican Party eat its own sociopathy.

EDITORIAL NOTE: None of this is well thought out. It’s not really a plan. This is just me on a Saturday morning rant while I’m drinking coffee. You’d have to be an idiot to take me serious when I’m talking about economics.

ADDENDUM: Well, who’d a thunk it? Less than a day later, President Uncle Joe and the Squeaker of the House have reached what they call a ‘tentative’ agreement. It fits nicely inside my earlier comment about POTUSUJ “teasing the GOP along, then quietly kicking them in the nuts” except that it appears Uncle Joe has arranged for the GOP to kick themselves in the nuts.

Biden has conceded almost nothing. McCarthy, on the other hand, obtained some small largely symbolic concessions that will make the MAGA wing (can you call it a ‘wing’ when its the majority?) of his party furious, and will likely set the House GOP fighting amongst themselves like rabid wolverines on meth.

i talk to strangers

A few years ago, on a cloudy, rainy day, I was taking an idle stroll along the riverwalk in Des Moines and I came across a guy sitting on the steps. We chatted for a bit about nothing in particular. As I was leaving, I stopped and asked if I could take his photograph. He said “You gonna make me look sad or stupid?” I said, “Are you sad or stupid?” and he snorted and said “I sure am.” That’s when I took his photo. When I asked his name, he said “I’m just a guy sitting by the river.”

Just a guy sitting by the river.

I talk to strangers. I like talking to strangers. I like meeting new people and learning something about them. Granted, most of my conversations with strangers are casually superficial, so it’s not like I’m learning anything important or meaningful about them or their lives. But the simple fact of meeting and having an idle conversation with random strangers tells me something about humanity in general.

And this is what I’ve learned: most people are pretty much okay.

Just bought a bunch of children’s science booklets from the 1960s.

This guy (points up), for example. He’d just bought a bunch of outdated science booklets for kids, and he was happy and excited about them. To me, they looked like badly illustrated pamphlets depicting decades-old information about science. But his enthusiasm was infectious, and I found myself actually interested in the best 1960s approach to dealing with prairie dog overpopulation.

Is that information useful? Nope, not even remotely. But I love knowing that somewhere out in the world is a guy who can give a logical, sincere, and passionate defense of relying on natural predation instead of poison to deal with what ranchers consider vermin.

Mickey, whose story had…flaws

Every stranger I’ve met has a story. They’re not all true, of course. I don’t think that matters. Mickey (above) told me he was a disabled veteran. And who knows, maybe he was. He had a Marine Corps emblem on his jacket but his cap said 101st Airborne, which is a division of the Army. He was using a hand-carved walking stick, which I admired–and that’s how we struck up a short conversation. It was too chilly outside to chat for very long, and as we parted I gave him a quick salute–which he returned.

Here’s a True Thing: in basic military training, they literally teach you how to salute. How to hold your hand and wrist, the proper position of your upper arm, the correct incline of your elbow. They make you practice this over and over until it becomes automatic. Mickey didn’t know how to perform a proper salute. Does that mean he was lying about himself? Maybe. Maybe not. Again, I don’t think it matters. His story didn’t have to be true; it still told me something about what he believed and who he’d like to be and what he finds important.

James, sitting under a bridge

I met James on a hot summer day, sitting under a bridge. I was riding my bike, he was sitting in the cool shade drinking something in a brown paper bag. I stopped to get a drink from my water bottle. We discussed the heat, of course, but James also told me he worked at a nearby theme park; he liked to get away from the noise and the people, and the bridge was within walking distance. It was relatively quiet, cool, and it gave him a bit of what he called “down time.” You could tell James had been around a long, hard block–probably more than once–but he had a weird sort of muted raffish elegance about him. The careful way he trimmed his facial hair, his necklace, his sunglasses, his ornate tattoos–it’s as much about who he wants to be as who he is. And who knows–maybe he actually is who he wants to be.

Guy pushing his bike

Meeting strangers is easy; they’re everywhere. But it’s getting a wee bit more difficult to get them to talk. People are increasingly suspicious of strangers. I guess I can’t blame the guy in the photo above for being suspicious. It was a cold, foggy morning. I was riding my bike; he was walking a bike. So I stopped to ask him if he was okay, if he needed help with his bike. He hesitated, then said, “I’m okay; I live nearby.” I told him I had a small tool kit in my bike bag and I’d be happy to help if I could. He shook his head. He was clearly uneasy, so I let it go. Instead, I asked if I could take his photo. He asked, “Why?” I said something about his yellow hoodie and the fog, which probably didn’t make any sense to him. But he said, “Okay.” I took his photo, wished him good luck, and went on my way.

I wondered later if maybe the guy didn’t want me reaching into my bike bag. Maybe he thought I carried a gun there. Some people do. On one cycling forum I follow, there are lots of discussions about self-protection on bikes. People are afraid they’ll be attacked as they ride or when they stop, afraid they’ll maybe get bike-jacked. A lot of those fearful people have opted to bike armed.

Scared people are the last people who should be carrying firearms. But we now live in a world in which wrong-place shootings take place on an alarmingly regular basis. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that somebody will get shot for being on a bike in the wrong place at the wrong time (assuming it hasn’t already happened somewhere). The fact that a term like ‘wrong-place shooting‘ even exists is an indictment against our society. I’d argue one of the reasons we have wrong-place shootings is because fewer people are willing to talk to strangers. All day every day there’s a ‘news’ station that injects fear porn directly into the veins of its viewers. They tell folks that ‘others’ are out to get them, to take their stuff, to molest their children, to break into their homes, to take away their rights, to destroy their religion, to confiscate their guns. Of course, they’re frightened.

Kent, keeping the streets clean.

This is Kent. I met him on a cold, foggy morning too. He was walking the streets, sweeping up the trash other people (and their dogs) left behind. He’d been keeping the city streets clean for nearly three years. I asked him about his work. He said, “It’s not a bad job. I like being outside. I get to meet people, walk around, don’t have to stay in one place.” He’d learned which business owners were nice, which ones ignored him like he wasn’t there, which ones were rude. He wouldn’t identify any of the rude ones. Kent said there were about a dozen people who worked cleaning up the downtown area. He thought most of his co-workers were okay; a couple were lazy and some complained about the weather, but basically they were good, decent people. He knew most of the people he met on the street didn’t appreciate his work, but he said clean streets sidewalks make the city a better place. He wouldn’t say his job was important, but it was clear he felt he was doing something worthwhile.

These are just a half dozen of the many strangers I’ve talked to in recent years. All of them have been interesting in some way. All of them are connected in some way, if only by a shared community or a shared humanity. And I like to feel I’m connected to them as well. A guy feeling sad and stupid sitting by the river, a guy excited about science for kids, a guy who maybe lied about his past, a guy sitting quietly under a bridge, a nervous guy afraid to ask for or accept help, and a guy who gets up every morning and tries to make city life a little bit better. These people–these strangers–have enriched my life.

We don’t have to live in fear and isolation. We don’t have to be afraid of strangers. At the risk of sounding hopelessly like a Pollyanna, I truly believe the world would be a lot better place–and we’d all be a lot more relaxed–if we’d just take a few moments and talk to a stranger.

in a new york minute

Look, even the question is stupid. But I keep hearing it. “Could being indicted and arrested actually HELP Trump?”


It’s really that simple. Sure, assuming it happens (and yes, I am assuming it will–and it’s to be hoped it’ll be today because I’ve got my money on today, 22 March, as Indictment Day), it’ll piss off people who already support Trump. Will it suddenly make other voters slap their foreheads and exclaim, “I can NOT believe the government indicted a former president for paying hush money to a moderately successful porn actress to prevent her from talking about their sexual liaison, so now I will absolutely vote for Trump!”

No, it won’t.

Comrade Former-President Donald J. Trump behaving as expected.

There will undoubtedly be some protests by MAGA-hat wearing dolts. There will be an absurd number of news media filming these protests as if the protests are the important story, and they’ll interview the same dozen or so TrumpFlag-wrapped tuna-heads, who’ll repeat the same rancid bullshit. They may even find some guy so desperate for attention that he’ll proclaim he’d give his life for a man who cheated on his third wife shortly after she’d given birth to his fifth child by three different women. But will that translate into more votes in the 2024 election?


Trump, of course, has encouraged his followers to protest his arrest (when it happens). He wants his people out on the streets being loud and aggressive. Not necessarily loud and aggressive toward anybody or anything in particular–just loud and aggressive in a generally intimidating way. My guess is he’s hoping there will be some sort of assault on some US institution, just as there was against the US Capitol on January 6th. Because that was an indication of his power. Trump is probably feeling weak right now, and I suspect he’d happily have his people set fire to a courthouse just for that boost in his own self-importance. But his people have seen what happened to the 1/6 insurrectionists. Are there many people willing to act out and risk going to prison just to protest Trump’s right to privacy about an extramarital relationship with porn star?


To me, this seems pretty obvious. And yet the New York Times is still reporting idiotic shit like this: “[H]ow he responds to this moment could determine whether he continues to stabilize his standing as the Republican presidential front-runner.” We KNOW how he’ll respond to this. Everybody knows how he’ll respond. He’ll respond to this the same way he responds to everything. He’ll lie. He’ll throw a tantrum. He’ll blame everybody but himself. He’ll threaten. He’ll try to get his supporters to terrorize his detractors. He’ll insult everybody who doesn’t support him. He’ll be the same Comrade Donald Fucking Trump he’s always been. Will it make a difference in his standing in the GOP?

No. No, it won’t.

The Republican Party has fucked itself. They’ve demonstrated they no longer stand for anything, they no longer believe in anything, they no longer respect anything but power. They’ve doused themselves in gasoline and given Trump a cheap-ass BIC lighter. Now they can only hope he won’t burn them all down. Will he?

Yes. Yes, he will. In a fucking New York minute.

reasoned debate

MAGA Fuckwit: If you indict and arrest Trump, we will burn this motherfucker down!
America: Well, we’re still going to indict and arrest him.
MAGA Fuckwit: He did nothing wrong!
America: Sorry, disagree.
MAGA Fuckwit: The call to Georgia was perfect!
America: No, but that’s not what we’re arresting him for.
MAGA Fuckwit: The election was stolen!
America: No, but that’s not what we’re arresting him for.
MAGA Fuckwit: January 6th was a peaceful protest!
America: No, but that’s not what we’re arresting him for.
MAGA Fuckwit: As president he had the power to declassify top secret documents just by thinking about it!
America: No, but that’s not what we’re arresting him for.

Defending the Constitutional Right to Pay Hush Money to Porn Stars!

MAGA Fuckwit: He…he…whatever you say he did, he didn’t do it! Or he was right to do it!
America: We’re arresting him for illegally paying hush money to a porn star.
MAGA Fuckwit: We…that’s…you can’t…we will burn this…c’mon!
America: Yeah, that’s it. Hush money, porn star.
MAGA Fuckwit: That’s not illegal!
America: Yeah, it is if you try to pass it off as a campaign contribution.
MAGA Fuckwit: He did it to protect his wife and kids!
America: Yeah, no.
MAGA Fuckwit: Real men cheat on their wives!
America: Seriously? That’s your argument?
MAGA Fuckwit: Goddamnit!
America: [shrugs]
MAGA Fuckwit: Can’t you indict and arrest him for the other crimes?!
America: Sure. Just wait.
MAGA Fuckwit: Okay, good, then we will burn this motherfucker down!
America: We’ll let you know when we’re ready.

balloons and the threat to national security.

Jesus suffering fuck. Republicans are terrified of everything but guns–the one thing we KNOW kills thousands of Americans every goddamn year. They’re terrified of gay folks, terrified of the entire concept of gender that’s not based on a toggle switch, terrified of people of color, terrified of beliefs that don’t fall within their wildly idiotic interpretation of Christianity, terrified government agents will break into their homes and seize their gas stoves, terrified of books they haven’t read, terrified of surgical masks, and now they’re terrified by a Chinese balloon.

“My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?”

This was no ordinary fucking idiot who said this. This was a special fucking idiot. This fucking idiot was Congressman James Corner, the Republican Chair of the House Oversight Committee. And he said it on FOX News, of course, the primary venue for fucking idiots. This fucking idiot has access to a massive amount of information; he’s a fucking idiot with a staff whose job includes researching issues of national concern and informing him so he won’t come across to the public like a fucking idiot.

I’m not a member of Congress. I don’t have a staff. But I have a Chromebook (I could have just used my cell phone, but the display is smaller and my eyes get tired). So let’s see if we can answer Corner’s concerns.

Did the balloon take off from Wuhan? Nope. Okay, first–because words matter–it’s a goddamn balloon. Balloons don’t “take off.” Balloons are inflated and released. It’s not a fucking missile. Beyond that, we can with a certain level of accuracy backtrack the balloon’s path based on its current height and known patterns of wind currents. And hey, a whole bunch of meteorologists did just that, and we can say with confidence it was released somewhere in west central China. Wuhan is in east central China. So, nope.

Do we know what’s in the balloon? Yes and no. I mean, yes we know what’s IN the balloon, since all high altitude balloons are filled with some lighter-than-air gas, like helium or hydrogen. But he’s talking about the payload. The stuff the balloon is carrying. And no, we don’t know what the payload is. However…

Is the payload a bioweapon? We don’t know, but almost certainly nope. First off, it would be massively stupid for China to attack the US. Secondly, even if China was stupid enough to attack the US, a localized bioweapon attack would be an incredibly weak opening salvo of a war. Thirdly, even if China was that stupid, a high altitude balloon would be a really inefficient and ineffective delivery system for a bioweapon attack.

Here’s a question this particular fucking idiot didn’t ask, but is being asked by lots of other fucking idiots: A) Could the balloon be carrying surveillance technology? Sure. But why? China launches a lot of rockets capable of carrying sophisticated surveillance technology–and by ‘a lot’ I mean they’re second only to the US in the number of rocket launches. If China wants to conduct surveillance of troops/bases/deployments, they have the capability to do it without resorting to a balloon.

The thing about balloons is they’re at the mercy of the wind. And yeah, we know general wind patterns at different altitudes, so while it’s possible (by changing the altitude of the balloon) to generally guide a balloon, they can’t be sent to spy on a specific target location. In addition to the wind, high altitude balloons are sensitive to the weight of the payload, to the amount of helium/hydrogen used for inflation, and even the air temperature at the time of release. Balloon guidance is largely a crap shoot; you know the odds, but you don’t know the outcome. To attach surveillance tech to a balloon and hope it drifts by something worth seeing is a really dumb surveillance approach.

Another thing. People keep saying “This balloon is the size of two (sometimes three) school busses,” as if that’s somehow threatening. The balloon IS A BALLOON. Even a really big balloon is just a latex membrane surrounding a lighter-than-air gas. The balloon may be really big, but that doesn’t mean the payload is really big. If the payload was the size of a couple of school busses, then the balloon carrying it would probably be the size of a football stadium.

But but but the military says they won’t shoot it down because of the risk of “debris could land on people or homes“. So doesn’t that mean the payload must be big? Nope. It means if you shoot a missile up in the air, the missile will come back down. That’s how gravity works. Could the US military shoot down the balloon over a rural area to minimize the risk? Sure. But the least expensive air-to-air missile (AIM-9X Sidewinder) costs US$430,818. Add in the cost of jet fuel (and that shit ain’t cheap) and we’re talking about spending maybe half a million dollars to take down a balloon. A balloon, for fuck’s sake.

So just what in the popcorn fuck IS the balloon and what’s it real purpose? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be just an underinflated weather balloon. Underinflated because a properly inflated weather balloon is designed that as the balloon gains in elevation the gas inside it expands to a volume larger than the balloon’s capacity to expand, at which point it…pops. The payload then returns to earth on a parachute. An underinflated balloon won’t reach that height and so won’t expand beyond its tolerance. It can just wander along until the elevated UV light at that height degrades the latex and it pops on its own.

Is this situation a violation of US air space? Yes. It may be accidental, but yes. But it seems highly improbable that the balloon or its payload, whatever it is, is a threat to US national security.

The actual threat to US national security is the Republican Party.

UPDATE: Well, it seems I was wrong. Apparently this balloon (which has now been shot down) actually was some sort of low tech surveillance device. So far, the best possible explanation for deploying such a random pattern easily detectable surveillance balloon is that it allowed China to gather information on what kind of signal technology the US uses to track it. Knowing what sorts of tech the US uses could possibly help China to find ways to thwart that technology, which would come in handy if they ever decide to actually launch an attack on Taiwan.

Yeah, this is the balloon in question.

It still seems to me to be a phenomenally stupid use of resources, but there it is. At least I was right about the missile used to take down the balloon. Which means we spent at least half a million dollars to destroy what may be around ten thousand dollars of Chinese technology.

And the threat to national security remains the Republican Party.

how we got here

It’s Sunday, and this morning there are a LOT of quick, simplistic, really bad takes on the police murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. I’m actually pretty much okay with that. This is a situation that calls for immediate outrage, and that inevitably lead to quick, simplistic, bad takes. Right now, outrage first is a valid response.

The good thing about almost all of these quick, simplistic, bad takes is they do actually focus on the source of the problem: police culture. People are asking, “How did we get here?” Which is a good question. A complex question with a really complex answer. Because we’re talking about the intersection of multiple areas of concern.

I’m going to talk about four of them: 1) The wrong sorts of people are joining the police, and they’re joining for the wrong reasons. 2) Police officers are trained to assume guilt and danger. 3) Police officers aren’t bound by a duty of care. 3) The doctrine of qualified immunity protects bad police officers and undermines community trust in the police.

(photo by Erik McGregor)

The wrong sorts of people are joining the police, and they’re joining for the wrong reasons. Occupational studies suggest that until around the late 1960s and early 1970s, most of the people who joined the police did so for three pretty basic reasons. It was 1) an interesting job that offered a lot of diverse activities in a non-office/shop/factory setting, 2) it was a good union job that offered decent pay, excellent benefits, opportunities for advancement, and a reliable retirement plan, and 3) it was a way to help people and serve the community.

That last reason seems hard to believe now, but it was generally true. People joined the police because they liked the idea of helping people.

Why did that change? Lots of inter-related reasons, including the social upheaval of the late 1960s, which was the fallout from recreational drug use, the war in Vietnam, and growing alienation with consumer culture. One of the less obvious reasons was this: television.

Early cop shows (like Dragnet, Naked City, Highway Patrol, M Squad) showed police officers and detectives dutifully doing their job and–and this is key–doing it within the confines of the law. Television cops rarely lied (to suspects, to judges, to their superiors), rarely fabricated evidence, rarely threatened or intimidated people to get information, and they almost never shot anybody. They just followed the evidence and caught the bad guy.

In the 1970s, cop shows changed. The ‘rogue’ cop became fashionable. Shows like Baretta, Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, NYPD Blue, The Shield featured police officers–usually detectives–who bent the law to get ‘bad guys’ off the street. There were crazy-ass car chases, cops kicking in doors, cops making threats, cops harassing and intimidating bad guys (and sometimes ordinary citizens who got in the way), cops lying to get around the law, cops committing crimes to catch criminals, a LOTS of cops shooting and killing LOTS of bad guys.

The new shows were more exciting. An unintended consequence of those shows is that they attracted a different sort of police candidate. Fewer people joined because it was a good union job, more people joined because they wanted to kick in doors; fewer people joined because of the excellent benefits, more joined because they thought car chases were cool; fewer people joined because they wanted to help the community, more joined because they wanted excitement. These are NOT the qualities you want in a police force.

Police officers are trained to assume guilt and danger. The operative assumption of guilt is baked into police training. For their own protection, police officers are trained to assume the people they interact with are probably guilty of something. This keeps the officers alert, which is a good thing. It also keeps them suspicious and anxious, which isn’t. It leads officers to perceive danger where no danger actually exists. This also applies to situations as well as people. If you chase somebody into an alley or behind a house, you have to assume that every shadow could hide somebody who wants to hurt you. Being surrounded by presumably guilty people in presumably dangerous places shapes the way you see and interact with the world–and not just when you’re on duty.

Because of the proliferation of guns in the US, the operative assumption of guilt and danger is heightened. It’s more real. Police officers are more at risk now. They respond to that risk by being more aggressive and more suspicious, which leads to more resentment from the populace, which leads to more risk for the police officers, which leads to…well, you see where this is going.

Police officers aren’t bound by a duty of care. All those early cop shows? They emphasized what’s known as a duty of care. Basically, a duty of care simply means being responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of other people. There’s a legal definition of that phrase, and like all legal definitions, it’s deliberately narrow and primarily involves liability for injuries to others. You know, like if you leave a bunch of power tools lying around in a day care center where curious kids could hurt themselves or other kids. You have a legal duty of care not to do shit like that.

In many nations, policing agencies have a duty of care explicitly spelled out as part of the job. The police have a positive ethical obligation to avoid acts that could foreseeably harm others. That means putting the safety of the public before everything else, including the safety of the police officers. The public, by the way, includes people suspected or accused of crimes.

In the US, police have NO formal duty of care to protect members of the public (unless they’re in custody). Seriously, neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individuals from harm, even if they know the harm will occur. As a result, police officers often put their own safety above the safety of others. We saw that in Uvalde, Texas.

The absence of a duty of care also means police officers are more inclined to shoot early in situations, and to shoot a lot. That inclination is encouraged by the next issue.

The doctrine of qualified immunity protects bad police officers and undermines community trust in the police. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine granting police officers (well, all government officials) immunity from civil suits UNLESS the officer violated “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

What in the popcorn fuck does that mean? It means police officers who do awful stuff are protected from civil and criminal prosecution IF 1) they can testify they believed in good faith that the awful stuff was lawful and objectively reasonable, and 2) they’re unaware of a “clearly established” law saying that specific awful stuff was illegal. Only one of those factors has to hold in order for qualified immunity to apply.

Here’s an example: back in 2014, in Coffee County, Georgia, a deputy sheriff named Michael Vickers was searching for a robbery suspect. He and other officers found the suspect, Christopher Barnett, talking to a woman in her yard. Half a dozen kids were also in the yard. The officers demanded they all get on the ground, including the kids. Everyone immediately complied. At that point, Bruce, the family dog, came into the yard to see what the fuss was. Although the dog wasn’t threatening anybody, Vickers fired at him…and missed. Bruce ran away. Moments later, Bruce returned, the way dogs do. Vickers fired at him again. And missed again. But this time the bullet struck a ten-year-old child in the leg. The kid’s family sued Vickers. The court ruled he was immune from the suit.

Why? Because 1) Vickers thought he was behaving within the limits of the law by shooting at the dog, and 2) even if shooting at an innocent dog WAS illegal, there was no “clearly established” law STATING shooting at a dog and missing, thereby accidentally shooting a kid was illegal. In fact, Vickers could theoretically shoot at another dog and miss and accidentally wound another kid and get by with it because there’s no law specifically stating that’s against the law. I’m not making this up; this is how this shit really works.

When the wrong people enter policing for the wrong reasons, and they’re taught to be suspicious and aggressive, and they’re not required to consider the safety of the people they’re sworn to protect, and they’re rarely held personally accountable for their bad behavior, you create a policing culture that encourages pre-emptive, sustained violence.

We need to change every deeply ingrained aspect of that culture. Sadly, even if the US has the commitment to do that (and I rather doubt we do), it will take time. But we can start by taking three small common sense steps. Radically modify qualified immunity (it would be better to eliminate it from policing, but you know…baby steps). Codify a duty of care into policing. Reduce police officers to a subordinate support role in mental health situations, and create more mental health response teams staffed by trained mental health professionals. It would also help to present sensible firearm legislation as being pro-police.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Obviously, race plays a huge role in police violence. Huge. Why didn’t I address that? Because lots of other folks are addressing it, and this is already a really really long blog post.

Santos Clause

Is anybody surprised? No, of course not.

Sure, Republican George Santos ran for Congress and blatantly lied about almost every aspect of his life and career. Sure, he lied about his employment, his education, his charitable work. Sure, he lied about his family, his ethnicity, probably his name, possibly his nationality. And sure, he got away with it because nobody bothered to check. He got away with it and he got elected.

After he was elected, he was exposed as a liar. Santos denied being a liar, because why start telling the truth at that point? He tried to deflect attention away from his lies, but it didn’t work. So what the hell, he admitted being a liar. He said he was elected based on his policy positions, not his resume. So what if he lied? He fully intends to serve his term in Congress.

This guy, whoever the fuck he really is.

Nobody in the GOP seems at all concerned about this. And why should they? I mean, they openly abandoned traditional conservative values when they chose Comrade Trump as their presidential candidate in 2016. Hell, they didn’t just abandon traditional conservative values, they abandoned the very idea of Truth as a valued commodity. They abandoned Science and a consistent, coherent political ideology. They abandoned the whole concept of representative democracy. They even abandoned religion as a practice, though they’ve retained the illusion of it as a tool.

George Santos doesn’t believe in anything but holding political office. He doesn’t stand for anything but holding political office. He doesn’t care for anything except holding political office. He doesn’t respect anything except…no, he doesn’t even respect the political office he wants to hold.

George Santos is the distillation of the Republican Party. A vacant husk, a soulless golem, a mindless and purposeless corruption driven by an unreasoned desire to hold power over other people, animated by rage and resentment and bitterness over the possibility of losing privilege.

Let me turn it over to Tommy Eliot.

We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men
    Leaning together
    Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
    Our dried voices, when
    We whisper together
    Are quiet and meaningless
    As wind in dry grass
    Or rats’ feet over broken glass
    In our dry cellar