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Probably Extremely Obvious Thoughts On Why "Abolition" Seems Like A Reasonable Slogan To Me

Posted by LizardBreath
on 06.12.20

I'm seeing a lot of reactions to "abolish the police" as obviously stupid because there are necessary police functions that can't just not get done. I am in no way a spokesperson for the abolition movement (try following @prisonculture on twitter for someone who is, and people should note other experts in the comments), given that I just became aware of the slogan as a serious thing in the last couple of weeks. And obviously, it's going to mean different things to different speakers, not all of whom are going to agree with each other about everything. Nonetheless, here's why it doesn't seem ludicrous to me: it seems to me that the core concept of what the job of a police officer is, to an American at least, has some fundamental problems, and that fixing them would leave a bunch of different jobs none of which, in the end, would look that much like what police officers do now.

I see two basic things inherent in the American concept of police work: first, a police officer is someone who is authorized to use violence, including deadly violence, to compel people to obey them; and second, the vast majority of the work they do is in contexts where violence is not very likely, necessary, or appropriate (traffic stops, school resource officers, patrolling in low crime areas (by which I mean pretty much anyplace that unarmed people wouldn't be afraid to leave the house)). There just aren't that many interactions, even for a police officer, where violence is necessary to do anything productive, so even though we conceptualize the authorized use of violence as a core part of the policing job, it's a small part of it (if this seems weird to you, look up stats on, e.g., how often police officers fire their guns in the course of duty).

And my understanding of the thinking behind conventional policing is that there is a giant spectrum of interactions with the public where even though violence is usually not going to be appropriate or necessary, but the possibility that it might be is high enough that the job has to be, or at least ideally should be, done by someone with a gun and the authorization to use it. Traffic stops, you're mostly not going to need to shoot anyone, but the chance that you might is high enough that you need someone with a gun doing them. Also, compliance by the public is generally important enough in these interactions that the person engaging in them is reasonably justified in first threatening and then using violence to compel obedience, including deadly violence if obedience can't be achieved with anything less.

So, if I were going to sum up the role of a conventional police officer, it's someone who's authorized to use violence, including deadly violence, improvisationally. Most of their encounters don't need to be violent, but we send them out trusting them to use their judgment about when violence is going to be necessary. And that role -- not just 'violence worker' but improvisational violence worker -- is both core, I think, to the conventional conception of policing, and kind of a terrible idea that could be eliminated without a loss of public safety. When you look at the police violence that has given rise to Black Lives Matter, it's generally about either incompetent or malicious escalation to deadly force, in the course of an encounter that didn't need to be violent at all.

The formulation of abolition that makes sense to me, is the breaking down of policing into jobs most of which do not need to be done by violence workers at all. Some of these would be dangerous jobs, which is the current rationale for having them done by the police, but people do all sorts of dangerous jobs willingly, many of them much more dangerous than currently conceived police work.

And then on the rare occasions when a non-violent first responder (people have been thinking of these jobs as being like social work, but obviously it's not going to be exactly social work as currently conceived) assesses the situation and thinks that someone authorized to use violence is necessary and appropriate, then they could call in someone from a much smaller force of violence workers. Armed men holding hostages? You probably need violence workers to respond to that. You just don't need anything like the number of violence workers we now have in the form of police.

I see a need for people to maintain public safety and do law enforcement, but I don't think they need to be police, because I don't think they need to be violence workers in the vast majority of situations. And I see a need for a certain number of violence workers, but I wouldn't think of their role as being much like police either, because I don't see their role as appropriately being primary contact with the public, or as being in a role of determining when violence is necessary at all, rather than as second-level responders once some other professional had determined that violence was plausibly necessary and appropriate. At which point no one's left doing a job that looks like conventional policing, and "abolish the police" seems like a reasonable way to describe that.


 

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Masks

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.12.20

So, Jammies' mom sent us some masks she made early on. At this point, the straps are breaking, etc, and it's time to invest in some worthy masks for the fall.

Ours are the type that seems to have fallen out of favor: horizontal pleats. Mostly what I see are the vertical mid-seam version now, without pleats. Mine also has the feature where if I'm out for a while, it can start moving in and out from my breathing, which is very unpleasant, as it presses on your nostrils on the inhale. Is this due to the pleats, as opposed to the pleat-less version with the center vertical seam?

Other options: over the ears or tie behind the head.

So: what works best for you guys? What's breathable if you're wearing it for a long stretch? What stays put? What's proving to be durable? Are you buying these off Etsy, or?


 

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Mostly*-Semi-Weekly Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 6/12

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.12.20

This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while.

Episode 24.

* Oops.


 

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Guest Post - Now I'm Pissed

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.11.20

Saucy Sarachter writes: Have the racist agents of your unjust system choked the life out of 380,000 people and counting in the year to date? These people have. Things we pretty much knew already, but excavated here in excruciating detail.

Between the day the full genome was first decoded by a government lab on Jan. 2 and the day WHO declared a global emergency on Jan. 30, the outbreak spread by a factor of 100 to 200 times
[...]
By Dec. 27, one lab, Vision Medicals, had pieced together most of the genome of a new coronavirus with striking similarities to SARS.
[...]
On Jan. 3, the National Health Commission issued a confidential notice ordering labs with the virus to either destroy their samples or send them to designated institutes for safekeeping. The notice, first reported by Caixin and seen by the AP, forbade labs from publishing about the virus without government authorization. The order barred Shi's lab from publishing the genetic sequence or warning of the potential danger.
[...]
On Jan. 5, the Shanghai Public Clinical Health Center, led by famed virologist Zhang Yongzhen, was the latest to sequence the virus. He submitted it to the GenBank database, where it sat awaiting review, and notified the National Health Commission. He warned them that the new virus was similar to SARS and likely infectious. [...] On the same day, WHO said that based on preliminary information from China, there was no evidence of significant transmission between humans, and did not recommend any specific measures for travelers.
[...]
Internally, the leadership of the Chinese CDC is plagued with fierce competition, six people familiar with the system explained. They said the agency has long promoted staff based on how many papers they can publish in prestigious journals, making scientists reluctant to share data.
[...]
Ryan, WHO's chief of emergencies, was also upset at the dearth of information. "The fact is, we're two to three weeks into an event, we don't have a laboratory diagnosis, we don't have an age, sex or geographic distribution, we don't have an epi curve,"
[...]
On Jan. 11, a team led by Zhang, from the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, finally published a sequence on virological.org, used by researchers to swap tips on pathogens. The move angered Chinese CDC officials, three people familiar with the matter said, and the next day, his laboratory was temporarily shuttered by health authorities.
[...]
Chinese CDC staff across the country began screening, isolating, and testing for cases, turning up hundreds across the country. Yet even as the Chinese CDC internally declared a level one emergency, the highest level possible [c. Jan 13], Chinese officials still said the chance of sustained transmission between humans was low.

Heebie's take: I would think there's a bright line between "contained in one primary country, and maybe a few other countries" like SARS or Ebola, and "escaped worldwide". Is it obvious that China's negligence pushed us from one category to the other?


 

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Guest Post - Minneapolis, the Anti-Semitism Capital of the U.S. (30s/40s)

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.10.20

Minivet writes: I did not know this about the past of Minneapolis! (The audio is a lot fuller than the text; unfortunately I don't see a transcript.)

I wanted to know more about what it said about Harold Stassen, who I had only thought of as a fairly decent liberal Republican with some delusions about his election prospects; it looks like his 1938 gubernatorial campaign happily distributed anti-Semitic election tracts from a different organization.


Heebie's take:

1. From the second link:

The booklet contained altered photographs that stressed the Jewishness of four of Benson's aides,

I'd kinda love to see a side-by-side of the before and after, to see what counted as photoshop in 1938. How smoothly was this accomplished?

2. At least we're leaving the world in these hands:

You do need the sound on, but it's very short.

3. So what is the Minneapolis City Council going to be able to accomplish?

I have to say, until the recent protests, I hadn't realized that police budgets were so insanely bloated, compared to the starvation of the rest of municipal departments.


 

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Third Revolution Reading Group, Chapters 1 & 2

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.09.20

Xi and the Dictator's Handbook - Summary by Ajay:

The first thing you get from The Third Revolution is a sense that you're reading something from the distant past. You aren't - it was published less than two years ago. But it's not just the lack of mentions of the pandemic that gives it that vintage feel (SARS appears once - remember SARS? - but is puzzlingly placed in the early 1990s rather than 2003). Xinjiang is barely mentioned and the Uighurs not at all - the only references are to the protests and terror attacks of the late 2000s. Chinese politics moves fast these days.

The story starts in November 2012, with Xi Jinping walking on stage as the new leader of China - his rubber-stamp election to president followed the next summer. The first two chapters tell this story, and then Economy changes gear to a thematic approach, with chapters on air pollution, the internet, innovation and so on. But there are definite themes to the first two chapters as well, even if she doesn't make them explicit - and you could use them to sum up Xi's approach to power as the three Cs of centralisation, corruption, and colonial policy.

The introduction gives a quick biography of Xi pre-2012, but it misses three things. First, it doesn't name his father, who is just "a leading revolutionary figure and former vice-premier". Xi Zhongxun is worth a bit of time. He was purged in the early 60s (which led to the young Xi being exiled to the countryside), and didn't come back into favour until 1981. As party boss in Guangdong, he wasn't important enough to qualify as one of the Eight Elders, and so maybe young Xi doesn't quite count as one of the Princelings of the Blood. But he's definitely a princeling, as Economy says.

And Xi's roots, though not his political base, are in Guangdong. Guangdong, both before and after 1997, was the economic motor of southern China, because it was next to Hong Kong (in 1997, the HK economy was 20% as big as the entire Chinese economy!) and that was Xi Zhongxun's doing - he was the driving force behind.

And this leads on to the second thing about Xi Jinping that the book doesn't mention: as Jamie Kenny points out, he had the good sense not to make his own political base in Guangdong, but to set up in Fujian and the booming Yangtse valley region, and use the family power base in Guangdong to reward supporters rather than himself.

Third thing: he is rich.

He's carefully kept all the holdings in his family's names rather than his own, but his wealth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars - as of eight years ago. Now, presumably, much more. He's at least as rich as Donald Trump, if not more so - mostly real estate, with some holdings in rare earth minerals and access-capitalist telecoms manufacturing.

You could look at this record - father digging in his heels to stop the class-war redistribution in Mongolia, then returning triumphantly to set up the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, son a product of that plus the coastal provinces, and think: this Xi is going to be a pragmatic reformer. Someone we can do business with. Not a send-in-the-tanks hardliner like his predecessor, Hu Jintao, squasher of Tibetans (and Communist Youth League boy made good).

But you'd be wrong, as the inhabitants of Hong Kong can tell you.

Anyway, centralisation. Economy's good on how he went about this, in standard Dictator's-Handbook style; he neutered the Communist Youth League, formerly the quasi-opposition to the princelings, by putting his own people in leadership positions. He's reorganised the People's Liberation Army and weakened it (at least politically) by splitting four headquarters into fifteen, improving the status of the air force and navy, and, crucially, taking the Second Artillery Corps, the army's rocket and missile forces, away from the ground force and setting them up as a separate arm. This is how you do it if you are worried about coups; it's also how you make a clear distinction between the glamorous bit that scares the country's enemies (rockets) and the grubby bit that might be tempted to do a coup.

And his huge anti-corruption campaign has allowed him to weaken potential challengers in provincial government - after all, Xi probably only got the job because of the spectacular implosion of fellow princeling Bo Xilai in his Chongqing powerbase earlier in 2012. (Remember? Bribery, loot, dead English businessmen etc?)

In firm contradiction to previous post-Mao leaders, Xi has felt no obligation to preserve rival centres of power that will give rise to future leaders or ministers, just as he felt no need to preserve the collective-leadership structures of his predecessors. Anyone coming to power now will come through an avenue that Xi controls.

And, as later chapters will no doubt make clearer, he's also paid attention to issues such as air pollution which affect the only surviving centre of power which he does not and cannot personally control: the urban Chinese population. The cities of China are too well-educated and too well-wired for government to get away with simple denial that problems exist, as the USSR could. Urban unrest might or might not be able to topple a national leader - it seems unlikely from where we sit, but that doesn't mean Xi doesn't worry about it, and he may even be right to do so. But it can certainly cause huge economic damage and national embarrassment. So the urban middle class, the engine of China's startling economic growth since 1997, are looked after fairly well. The anti-corruption policy has helped here as well in public-opinion terms - it's harmed the luxury goods and golf club industries to the point where it showed up in the GDP figures, and, Economy points out, it's probably also significantly damaged the economy by removing thousands of competent (though corrupt) officials, and terrifying the rest of them into cautious inactivity.

And then there's colonial policy.

Putting aside whatever the hell China is currently up to on the Ladakh frontier, the Chinese empire currently has three major colonies: Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Xi takes a very different view of each one.

Xi's policy in Tibet has been remarkably conciliatory, certainly compared to Hu's, and this could be a family thing. (The Dalai Lama gave his father a watch once; he was still wearing it in the 1980s.) Even aiming off for the inevitable censorship and reporting restrictions, there certainly doesn't seem to be anything there on the scale of what's happening in Xinjiang.

There, the approach has graduated from low-tech oppression under Hu to mass surveillance under Xi in his first years in power, and thence to mass imprisonment, sterilisation, cultural destruction and other abuses in the last couple of years. The trigger for this was threefold, and goes back well before Xi. Some (not many) Uighurs were involved in al-Qaeda and similar movements, and the Chinese government became duly terrified after the 9/11 attacks. Their fears seemed to be reinforced with the riots - basically, race riots between Uighur locals and Han settlers - of 2009 in Urumqi, building on the Kashgar suicide attack of the previous year. And then there are structural factors; internal revolt is one of two ways that Chinese dynasties fall, historically, and the other is aggressive central Asians, and Xinjiang pushes both buttons - not to mention that there is simply no natural domestic constituency against colonial oppression in China. What reason would there be to rein in? Who is there that matters and would care?

Hong Kong, the third great colony, is a very different matter. Economy's writing before the protests that kicked off in 2019, of course, but she does note the imprisonment of booksellers and "an increasingly hard-line stance by Beijing and additional efforts to narrow the political space between Hong Kong and the mainland". Difficult to find a mistake there. Xi's fully aware of the economic importance of Hong Kong to China, even today - and his family history has probably led him to overvalue rather than undervalue it. And, given his evident views on centralisation of power and elimination of rival power bases, we can even guess that the worst case for him is a fully legally integrated but politically and culturally distinct and prosperous Chinese Hong Kong - a real centre of opposition of the kind that would not be easy to act against or capture. A destroyed Hong Kong might be better, from Xi's point of view - and at present, and for some time to come, his point of view is the one that counts.


 

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Yet "hastening" is what reformers do.

Posted by Ben
on 06.08.20

Two pieces that you might find interesting, on peasant revolts and on the emergence of rent control.


 

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How About Never?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.08.20

I like this idea of polling a bunch of epidemiologists (shoulda included virologists, too) about when they'll resume various activities. I confess I don't understand that these are pegged to times rather than developments. If there's something you won't do now, why might you do it in three months, unless you expect something to have changed? So I just read "over a year from now" as a proxy for "when there's a vaccine" and the non-never categories as "not now, but let's see what happens."

I'm pretty risk averse, so I don't think we'll send the kids back in the Fall, even if school resumes. Also no camp this summer. I do think we'll do a road trip or two (planning one to see friends who have both already had the Rona, and maybe one rented RV trip). My basic rule is: don't be indoors with anyone other than immediate household until there's a vaccine. What's sort of amazing is that this has been totally doable (my wife did some grocery shopping for us, but lately it's all been delivery).


 

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Guest Post - Bolivia

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.08.20

Snarkout writes: We backed a coup in Bolivia because the OAS screwed up the math. (I mean, we backed a coup in Bolivia because Morales is a socialist, but a bunch of people said it was the lesser of two evils because the OAS screwed up the math.)


Heebie's take
: I'm so naive that I shouldn't write anything here, but here I go: did our backing affect the outcome? Did the OAS error affect the pretext of reasons given in Bolivia? Did it affect the outcome?

(Ok, I was embarrassed enough to read Wikipedia first to get the answers to at least the second two questions. The OAS report was instrumental in ending civil protests and instating the opposition senator Añez.)

But now I have a new question: Is the OAS known to be politically motivated? Or is this likely to be a genuine error?


 

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Found Myself In Today

Posted by Ogged
on 06.07.20


 

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