Quotulatiousness

August 28, 2017

“Convicting Arpaio of contempt of court was like busting Al Capone on tax evasion”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jon Gabriel on Il Donalduce‘s pardon of the world-class authoritarian scumbag and all-around thug, ex-Sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio:

President Trump asked the crowd last week at his Phoenix rally, “Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Had the hall been filled with an accurate cross-section of Arpaio’s former constituents, the answer would have been a resounding “no.”

Nevertheless, Trump pardoned the ex-sheriff on Friday, though he had not yet been sentenced and had shown zero remorse for his crime.

America’s self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” was convicted of criminal contempt of court last month after refusing to obey court orders. This most recent legal battle involved numerous federal attempts to get Arpaio to stop racially profiling residents of Maricopa County.

Not only did Arpaio refuse, he bragged about it. “Nobody is higher than me,” he said. “I am the elected sheriff by the people. I don’t serve any governor or the president.”

Many conservatives outside of Arizona celebrated his headline-grabbing antics, but they don’t know the real story. I’m a conservative Maricopa County resident who has lived under Arpaio throughout his decades-long reign. Arpaio was never a conservative; he just played one on TV.

I saw his love of racial profiling firsthand, especially on my daily commutes through the tiny Hispanic community of Guadalupe, Ariz. When conducting these “sweeps,” helicopters buzzed houses, an 18-wheeler marked “Mobile Command Center” was planted in the center of town, and countless sheriff’s deputies stood on the roadsides, peering into the cars rolling by. Being Caucasian, I was always waved through. The drivers ahead and behind me weren’t so lucky.

Washington’s laxity in border enforcement led many right-of-center Americans to appreciate more robust enforcement, even when it regularly included authoritarian scenes like the one in Guadalupe. But even if you turn a blind eye to the human cost of such race-based enforcement, Arpaio’s other misdeeds are legion.

August 1, 2017

QotD: NFL preseason game passion and intensity

Filed under: Football, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The NFL pre-season is getting underway, with teams using their matchups to assess the rookies and free agents who all hope to make the team. The Vikings played the Arizona Cardinals in Minnesota on Saturday night. The new coach of the Cardinals was formerly the head coach of the Vikings. The Cardinals had a last-second, fourth-down, desperation play in the last regular season game which knocked the Vikings out of the playoff race. There was thought to be plenty of incipient drama to this game. This article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press talks about the lack of excitement in the game:

    Last and best sign it’s the preseason: The Vikings were offside on a fourth-quarter kickoff. Twice. In succession.

Reposted from the old blog (no longer online), 2004-08-15.

November 21, 2016

Vikings beat visiting Cardinals 30-24

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:48

With the CFL’s Eastern and Western conference finals being played, there was no Canadian broadcast coverage of the Arizona Cardinals visiting Minnesota that I could access, so I had to follow the course of the game on Twitter. Many Vikings bloggers were billing this game as a make-or-break for the Vikings season after enduring a four-game losing streak and yet more injuries on the offensive line. It would be especially important because the team is playing again on Thursday in Detroit. Another loss and a short week before facing the Lions at home was probably going to be too steep a hill to climb.

During the pre-game introductions, a Fox sound technician had an unwelcome encounter with the Vikings defence:

Despite the violence of the collision, he was able to continue working after the hit, and had a brief cameo during the halftime coverage.

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September 22, 2016

Arizona’s law to effectively criminalize parenting survives state supreme court scrutiny

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

If anything could symbolize the Crazy Years, this (insane) Arizona law certainly qualifies:

The Legislature passed laws ostensibly designed to punish child molesters, but apparently forgot to make sexual intent a requisite element of molestation.

As Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern notes, the laws prohibit any person from “intentionally or knowingly” touching “any part of the genitals, anus or female breast” for anyone under 15. That’s it:

    Indeed, read literally, the statutes would seem to prohibit parents from changing their child’s diaper. And the measures forbid both “direct and indirect touching,” meaning parents cannot even bathe their child without becoming sexual abusers under the law.

In response to a legal challenge by a man convicted of molestation because of the Legislature’s idiocy, three of five judges ruled there was no ambiguity in the law. They declined to

    rewrite the statutes to require the state to prove sexual motivation, when the statutes clearly contain no such requirement.

There’s some interesting discussion between the majority and minority over whether the law is nonetheless unconstitutional, even if it’s not ambiguous. The minority, per Stern:

    No one thinks that the legislature really intended to criminalize every knowing or intentional act of touching a child in the prohibited areas. Reading the statutes as doing so creates a constitutional vagueness problem, as it would mean both that people do not have fair notice of what is actually prohibited and that the laws do not adequately constrain prosecutorial discretion.

This terrible bit of legislative farce is actually a symptom of a much wider problem:

Let’s not forget, however, that if the Legislature had taken its job seriously and crafted legislative language that passed the laugh test, Arizona parents wouldn’t be in this position.

Lawmakers have gotten a little too comfortable in trusting that they can pass any idiotic law – perhaps to sate their rabid, ignorant constituents – and judges will save them from the consequences.

Then they can rail against “judicial activism” and get re-elected. It’s a perfect scheme.

If more judges were to let lawmakers suffer the consequences of their foolishness, perhaps voters would sober up and stop demanding the most draconian, unjust, utterly pointless measures against sexual offenses, real or perceived.

December 11, 2015

Vikings lose 23-20 in Arizona

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Before the game started, even the most fanatical fans were looking at this as a likely loss: the team got eight wins this season primarily due to the stout defence and the running of Adrian Peterson. On Wednesday, the team had already declared that their three best defenders were out (each ranked in the top 3 in the NFL by Pro Football Focus), and might even start a newly signed street free agent and a player just called up from the practice squad as their safeties for the game. On Thursday morning, Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan explained why a loss to the Arizona Cardinals might not be the end of the world for the Vikings:

It’s time like these that cause overreaction. Here’s the right way to react to three key issues:

1. Losing to Arizona won’t be disastrous, unless injuries mount.

If the Vikings lose tonight, they’ll be 8-5 with two winnable home game between now and their season finale at Lambeau Field. That’s about where any optimistic realist would have projected them to be before the season began. They still can reach 10 victories and make the playoffs for only the second time since 2009, and they might be better off finishing second in the division if that means a chance to play against the NFC East champion instead of Seattle.

In a theoretical world, you could argue that the Vikings would be best off resting as many important players as possible against Arizona and preparing for the final three games. In the real world, you can’t expect the Vikings not to try. For at least two or three quarters. Then they need to save their most important bodies.

2. Adrian Peterson is the kid who won’t eat his spinach.

Just as the Vikings are bound to try to win against ridiculous odds on Thursday night, Peterson will want to carry the ball 25 times. And like trying to beat Arizona, that’s a fine plan going in, but if this game turns into a blowout the Vikings would be right to again put him on the sideline.

Peterson hated missing 15 games last year, but that rest probably led to his remarkable performance this season. He hated getting only eight carries against Seattle, but that game became unwinnable and he and the Vikings might benefit if he’s fresh going into the last three games and the playoffs.

This might be a good time to develop Jerick McKinnon, who has played well and might be a bigger help than Peterson to the passing game.

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July 26, 2015

The problems when you try to resolve complicated discrimination problems with laws

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Warren Meyer explains why he — who organized and lead an effort to legalize gay marriage in Arizona — is not reflexively in favour of using the blunt force of the law to “solve” problems of discrimination:

There are multiple problems with non-discrimination law as currently implemented and enforced in the US. Larger companies, for example, struggle with disparate impact lawsuits from the EEOC, where statistical metrics that may have nothing to do with past discrimination are never-the-less used to justify discrimination penalties.

Smaller companies like mine tend to have a different problem. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the employees who do the worst job and/or break the rules the most frequently tend to be the same ones with the least self-awareness. As a result, no one wants to believe their termination is “fair”, no matter how well documented or justified (I wrote yesterday that I have personally struggled with the same thing in my past employment).

Most folks grumble and walk away. But what if one is in a “protected group” under discrimination law? Now, not only is this person personally convinced that their firing was unfair, but there is a whole body of law geared to the assumption that their group may be treated unfairly. There are also many lawyers and activists who will tell them that they were almost certainly treated unfairly.

So a fair percentage of people in protected groups whom we fire for cause will file complaints with the government or outright sue us for discrimination. I will begin by saying that we have never lost a single one of these cases. In one or two we paid someone a nominal amount just to save legal costs of pursuing the case to the bitter end, but none of these cases were even close.

[…]

To make all this worse, many employees have discovered a legal dodge to enhance their post-employment lawsuits (I know that several advocacy groups in California recommend this tactic). If the employee suspects he or she is about to be fired, they will, before getting fired, claim all sorts of past discrimination. Now, when terminated, they can claim they where a whistle blower that that their termination was not for cause but really was retaliation against them for being a whistle-blower.

I remember one employee in California taking just this tactic, claiming discrimination just ahead of his termination, though he never presented any evidence beyond the vague claim. We wasted weeks with an outside investigator checking into his claims, all while customer complaints about the employee continued to come in. Eventually, we found nothing and fired him. And got sued. The case was so weak it was eventually dropped but it cost us — you guessed it — about $20,000 to defend. Given that this was more than the entire amount this operation had made over five years, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to us walking about from that particular operation and over half of our other California business.

March 6, 2015

Politicians spend your money and hope some of the glamour attaches to them

Filed under: Business, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer wonders why so many states and cities are so eager to throw taxpayer money at movie and TV productions:

I am always amazed that the media will credulously run stories against “corporate welfare” for oil companies (which usually mostly includes things like LIFO accounting and investment tax credits that are not oil industry specific) but then beg and plead for us taxpayers to subsidize movie producers.

I wish I understood the reason for the proliferation of government subsidies for film production. Is it as simple as politicians wanting to hobnob with Hollywood types? Our local papers often go into full sales mode for sports team subsidies, but that is understandable from a bottom-line perspective — sports are about the only thing that sells dead-tree papers any more, and so more local sports has a direct benefit on local newspapers. Is it the same reasoning for proposed subsidies for Hollywood moguls?

Whatever the reason, our local paper made yet another pitch for throwing tax dollars at movie producers

    Notwithstanding a recent flurry of Super Bowl-related documentaries and commercials that got 2015 off to a good start, Arizona appears to be falling behind in a competitive and lucrative business. The entertainment industry pays well, supports considerable indirect employment and offers the chance for cities and states to shine on a global stage.

Seriously? I am sure setting up the craft table pays better than catering a party at my home, but it is a job that lasts 2 months and is then gone. Ditto everything else on the production. And I am sick of the “shines on the world stage thing.” Who cares? And is this really even true? The movie Chicago was filmed in Toronto — did everyone who watched Chicago suddenly want to go to Toronto? The TV animated series Archer gets a big subsidy from the state of Georgia. Have they even mentioned Georgia in the series? Given the tone of the show, would they even want to be mentioned?

When government subsidizes an industry, it is explicitly saying that resources are better and more productively invested in the subsidized industry than in other industries in which the money would have been spent in a free market. Does the author really have evidence that the money I would have spent to improve the campgrounds we operate in Arizona is better taken from me and spent to get a Hollywood movie shot here instead? Which investment will still be here 6 months from now?

March 2, 2015

Who “saw” that coming?

Filed under: Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

J.D. Tuccille talks about what it takes to turn off the 21st century at least temporarily:

CBS 5 screen capture

CBS 5 screen capture

Some asshole turned off the 21st century in northern Arizona yesterday. The hardest part was probably the hike. The modern world flows to northern Arizona in a cable that runs hundreds of miles through the desert. That cable was cut in an isolated river bed near New River, north of Phoenix. Once the vandals were there, doing damage wasn’t that big a challenge. The cable is about as thick through as a man’s leg, so the right tool in a backpack was all it took. And there went the 21st century, and maybe a few illusions some of us (**cough**) may have about the extent of our independence.

What went with that cable was most cell phone service (every company but Verizon was down), the Internet (multiple ISPs run through the same pipe), the 911 system, and pretty much any digital communications connection you can imagine. Northern Arizona businesses largely became cash only—including the roadside stops vending gas to cross-country travelers. Trucks lined up waiting for the stations to get back online so they could process company credit cards to fill their tanks. It’s not like the drivers could just take out cash — ATMs were down, too.

My wife’s pediatric office was able to examine kids and patch them up. But checking on test results, getting reads on x-rays, scheduling appointments with specialists, and electronically sending prescriptions to pharmacies were all out. Old-fashioned landlines worked, but medical facilities are part of the modern world. Thoroughly digitized and electronic, hospitals, labs, and clinics were reduced to sending couriers back and forth.

There’s a lot to like about the interconnected, digitized modern world. I wouldn’t be telecommuting from a rural area if I didn’t have an electronic link to the world beyond. People like me now have the historical luxury of living where we want while doing work that, not so long ago, required an actual presence in a major population center.

October 23, 2014

A lesson the Republican Party still needs to learn

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:12

Warren Meyer explains why Republicans are still seen as the Evil Party by younger Americans:

Good: A judge has ruled that Arizona’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. I suppose I am a little torn over judicial overreach here, but enough freedom-robbing stuff happens through judicial overreach that I will accept it here in my favor.

Republicans should rejoice this, at least in private. From my interactions with young people, there is nothing killing the R’s more than the gay marriage issue. Young people don’t understand squat about economics, but they are pretty sure that people fighting gay marriage are misguided (they would probably use harsher language). Given that R’s hold a position they are sure is evil (anti-gay-marriage) they assume that Progressive attacks that R’s are evil on economics must be right too, without actually understanding the issue. In short, young people reject the free market because its proponents hold what they believe to be demonstratively bad opinions on social issues.

August 17, 2014

Vikings beat Cardinals 30-28 in second preseason game

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:39

The second preseason game for an NFL team tends to be a pretty pedestrian affair, as neither team likely has figured out their first and second strings completely, they’re still trying to integrate new draft picks and undrafted free agents, and they don’t game plan for the opponent. Despite that, you can occasionally get an entertaining, competitive game this early, and last night’s Vikings-Cardinals matchup at the University of Minnesota was quite entertaining.

The Star Tribune‘s Jim Souhan says one thing that has been settled for the Vikings is that Matt Cassel has won the starting quarterback job over first round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater:

Saturday night, Matt Cassel made the Arizona Cardinals defense look about as effective as the security team at 400 Soundbar.

Cassel hit Kyle Rudolph in stride on a 51-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. He threw a pass from the Arizona 3-yard line that Rudolph should have caught in the back of the end zone. He even ran effectively, picking up 23 yards on one play in what might have been homage to Joe Webb.

Saturday, Cassel completed 12 of 16 passes for 153 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, and ran for 30 yards in a 30-28 Vikings victory. For the preseason, he is 17-for-22 for 215 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

For this, he received golf claps. When Teddy Bridgewater completed a few passes in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead score with 18 seconds left, against a defense comprised of future baristas, he received the full “Teddy! Teddy!” chant.

Despite public opinion, the competition that was never really a competition is now over: Cassel will begin the regular season as the Vikings starter, and Bridgewater will enjoy being one Cassel interception from becoming the most popular man in Minnesota.

Footnote: the joke about 400 Soundbar refers to the nightclub where Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph was slightly wounded as a bystander after the first preseason game.

(more…)

May 5, 2014

The Constitution-free zone near the US border

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:48

A recent decision by a federal appeal court expands the already very broad opportunities for police and border agents to stop and search travellers near the US border:

A federal appeals court just ruled that the police have a legal right to stop, search and arrest you for innocent behavior including driving with your hands at the ten-and-two position on the steering wheel at 7:45 p.m., taking a scenic route and having acne.

To the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, these factors added up to fit the profile of a person smuggling undocumented immigrants and drugs. The court said, “Although the factors, in isolation, may be consistent with innocent travel … taken together they may amount to reasonable suspicion.”

In other words, the police can now stop you for no reason at all. Law enforcement just needs to add a sinister context to your behavior, and off you go to jail. The court endorsed this expansion of aggressive police behavior in USA v. Cindy Lee Westhoven, No. 13-2065.

[…]

Incredibly the court found that this scenario created a reasonable suspicion for an “investigative stop.” By inserting a context that would make every driver guilty, the court upheld this belligerent law enforcement:

The officer said he spotted the car because “her arms were ‘straight and locked out’ at a ‘ten-and-two position on the steering wheel,’ — as everyone is taught in driver’s ed in high school. He was also suspicious because the road was used primarily by locals in New Mexico, and Westhoven had Arizona plates. She had acne scarring, “indicating to him she might be a methamphetamine user.” He also thought the shopping was better in Tucson than Douglas, so this was also “suspicious.”

“The dark tinted windows on Ms. Westhoven’s truck raised Agent Semmerling’s suspicion that she might be concealing something or someone in the back of her truck,” the court added.

The time happened to be between a 6-to-8 p.m. border patrol shift change, and the cop inferred that Westhoven was a smuggler trying to exploit that two-hour window. Westhoven was nervous, taking long pauses and shaking — which apparently signaled criminality.

The final nail for Westhoven was that she had two cell phones visible in the car. The cop said this was a common practice for drug smugglers. It is also common for people who have a business phone and a personal phone.

February 28, 2014

Baked-in prejudice and freedom of religion

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:48

Jonah Goldberg assures us that he’s not against gay marriage, but that the Arizona baker’s case isn’t quite what it seems:

Speaking of unreasonableness, according to ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, if Arizona allows bakers to refuse to bake cakes for gay couples, gays may have to wear “yellow stars” like the Jews of Nazi Germany. It would be Jim Crow for gays according to, well, too many people to list.

Now lest you get the wrong impression, I am no opponent of gay marriage. I would have preferred a compromise on civil unions, but that ship sailed. The country, never mind the institution of marriage, has far bigger problems than gays settling down, filing joint tax returns, and arguing about whose turn it is to do the dishes. By my lights it’s progress that gay activists and left-wingers are celebrating the institution of marriage as essential. Though I do wish they’d say that more often about heterosexual marriage, too.

But I find the idea that government can force people to violate their conscience without a compelling reason repugnant. I agree with my friend, columnist Deroy Murdock. He thinks private businesses should be allowed to serve whomever they want. Must a gay baker make a cake for the hateful idiots of the Westboro Baptist Church? Must he write “God hates fags!” in the icing?

The ridiculous invocations of Jim Crow are utterly ahistorical, by the way. Jim Crow was state-enforced, and businesses that wanted to serve blacks could be prosecuted. Let the market work and the same social forces that have made homosexuality mainstream will make refusing service to gays a horrible business decision — particularly in the wedding industry!

January 12, 2014

Vikings schedule second interviews with two head coach candidates

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:53

The Minnesota Vikings have moved on to setting up second interviews for at least two of the head coaching candidates they’ve talked to:

Numerous sources are reporting that both Todd Bowles, defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, and Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, will be getting second interviews with the team this week. Zimmer’s interview is reportedly going to be “early next week,” according to our friends from Cincy Jungle, while no date … firm or otherwise … has been floated for Bowles’ potential second interview.

The third finalist is presumed to be San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Rick Spielman and company were in Charlotte today to interview him, the last day they could do so. If the Niners defeat the Carolina Panthers and advance in the post-season, the Vikings wouldn’t be able to interview him again until the week before the Super Bowl. If the Niners lose, one would assume that Roman’s second interview would be sometime next week.

Arif Hasan has a compendium of information on all the known head coach candidates the Vikings have interviewed. This is from the section on Todd Bowles:

Currently the defensive coordinator for one of the league’s top defenses, Todd Bowles is quickly gaining buzz among fans and within coaching circles as a potential head coach and like few candidates was actually a fairly fine player in the NFL. The Cardinals are doing well with Bowles for now, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to keep him for long.

[…]

Bowles is not particularly married to a specific type of front, whether 3-4 or 4-3 and has operated in multiple types of defenses with different gap concepts, from one-gap, to hybrids, to pure two-gap defenses. He’s shown a slight preference for tight man coverage, though focuses less on using the coverage to disrupt timing and more on finding ways to prevent outlet passes from appearing for opposing offenses.

This is in part due to the small amount of data that people have about the types of schemes he prefers—he hasn’t been a DC recently for very long.

From what seems evident, Bowles strives to create situations favorable to the player instead of maintaining scheme integrity, but doesn’t fully embrace the “adapt the scheme to the talent” mantra that has been so popular for fans and sportswriters (notably, neither did the other top DVOA defenses this year: Seattle, Carolina, Buffalo and Cincinnati), in that he prefers schematic soundness to maximizing success for every individual player.

There’s little doubt, however, that Bowles prefers to be aggressive more than anything else and seems to employ more one-gap principles than two-gap principles in his defenses.

This is from the section on Mike Zimmer:

Mike Zimmer has recently become a hot name in coaching searches, and it’s easy to see why: even with a defense missing its two best players (Geno Atkins and Leon Hall), Cincinnati had a top five defense and entered the playoffs despite spotty quarterback play.

[…]

Zimmer’s teams have been marked by an ability to recognize talent no matter the source and putting them in positions to perform, from first-round draft picks like Leon Hall, to undrafted free agents like Vontaze Burfict — both of whom are at the top of their position. Players like Vincent Rey (UDFA), Geno Atkins (4th-round pick) and others from nearly every round have made key contributions for Zimmer over the years.

The belief that Zimmer is an excellent defensive coordinator is very true, although I think overstated (I would put more stock in Wade Phillips or Rob Ryan, for example). Zimmer is considered a 4-3 specialist, but that probably pigeonholes him.

This year, he’s used more players in the same base formation to do different things. It would be correct to call Zimmer vanilla in his personnel deployments (the Bengals barely, if at all, used personnel outside of 4-3-4 or 4-2-5) but incorrect to say he doesn’t use situational players, rotate or find creative uses of his personnel. Interestingly, he was forced to run a 3-4 with the Cowboys, and that likely influenced how exactly he runs his defense.

October 1, 2013

No mistakes were made, no problems uncovered, but 19 firefighters died

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Environment, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

The official report on the Yarnell Hill fire which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters has managed to find no issues whatsoever with the incident. Apparently no mistakes were made by any of the firefighters or their leadership, and there are no lessons to be learned from this tragedy.

Nothing went wrong in the Yarnell Hill Fire, which killed 19 wildland firefighters in June.

This according to the “Serious Accident Investigation Report” into the fire, released this weekend by federal, state, and local firefighting officials in Prescott.

“The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol,” the report states.

It certainly seems that something must have gone wrong when 19 men, most of them young men, are dead.

In fact, certain fire officials who now say everything went according to protocol had been among those assessing blame and pointing out mistakes leading up to the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Arizona Deputy State Forester Jerry Payne previously said it looked like Eric Marsh, superintendent of the hotshot crew, had violated basic wildfire-safety rules, although Payne added that many decisions made by those leading wildfire-fighting crews are calculated risks, rather than strictly rule-book decisions.

Prescott Wildland Division Chief Darrell Willis suggested in an interview with ABC News that the crew “could have made it” had the U.S. Forest Service delivered all the air-tankers that were requested for the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Neither of these findings was included in the report, despite Payne and Willis’ prescence among fire officials presenting investigators’ conclusions at Prescott High School on Saturday.

Not everyone is convinced, however:

Here is my analysis of what is going on with this report: Substantial mistakes were made by both the fire team and by their leaders. Their leaders wrote the report, and certainly were not going to incriminate themselves, particularly given that they likely face years of litigation. They could have perhaps outlined the mistakes the team made, but the families and supporters of the dead men would have raised a howl if the dead firefighters were blamed for mistakes while the leadership let themselves off the hook, and surely would have pushed back on the culpability of the firefighting effort’s management.

So this report represents an implicit deal being offered to the families — we will let your dead rest in peace by not highlighting the mistakes they made if you will lay off of us and the mistakes we made. We will just blame it on God (I kid you not, see Prescott chief’s statements here). Most Arizonans I know seem willing to have these folks die as heroes who succumbed to the inherent risks of the profession, rather than stupid errors, so we may never have an honest assessment of what happened. And yet again the opportunity to do a major housecleaning of wildland firefighting is missed.

September 26, 2013

Crony Capitalism and prison privatization

I’m generally in favour of moving economic activities out of the government sphere and into the competitive marketplace, but the privatization of prisons is a great example not of free enterprise but of crony capitalism run amok:

Private prisons are antithetical to a free people. Of all the functions a civilized society should relegate to the public sector, it’s abundantly clear incarceration should be at the very top of the list. Jailing individuals is a public cost that a society takes on in order to ensure there are consequences to breaking certain rules that have been deemed dangerous to the happiness and quality of life within a given population. However, the end goal of any civilized culture must be to try to keep these cost as low possible. This should be achieved by having as few people as possible incarcerated, which is most optimally achieved by reducing incidents of criminality within the population. Given incarceration is an undesirable (albeit necessary) part of any society, the idea is certainly not to incentivize increased incarceration by making it extremely profitable. This is a perverse incentive, and one that is strongly encouraged by the private prison industry to the detriment of society.

[…]

In the Public Interest describes itself as:

    A comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. It is committed to equipping citizens, public officials, advocacy groups, and researchers with the information, ideas, and other resources they need to ensure that public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities.

Their report explains how private prison companies insist that states embed “occupancy guarantees” into their contracts with the public sector. They estimate that at least 65% of all private prison contracts have such guarantees, and in some states, like Arizona, the guarantee is a shockingly high 100%. This leads to overcrowding in many instances, and sometimes violent offenders are placed in prisons set up for nonviolent offenses just to fill the quotas. In the event that the beds can’t be filled, the taxpayer makes up the difference to the private prison company. They win no matter what. It’s just more crony capitalism. Below are some highlights from this excellent report.

Major Findings

  • 65 percent of the private prison contracts ITPI received and analyzed included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells (a “low-crime tax”). These quotas and low-crime taxes put taxpayers on the hook for guaranteeing profits for private prison corporations.
  • Occupancy guarantee clauses in private prison contracts range between 80% and 100%, with 90% as the most frequent occupancy guarantee requirement.
  • Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia are locked in contracts with the highest occupancy guarantee requirements, with all quotas requiring between 95% and 100% occupancy.

Update: On the topic of prison abuse, there’s an interesting post at Reason talking about the hidden-yet-pervasive practice of locking up children in solitary confinement “for their own protection”:

Solitary confinement was once a punishment reserved for the most-hardened, incorrigible criminals. Today, it is standard practice for tens of thousands of juveniles in prisons and jails across America. Far from being limited to the most violent offenders, solitary confinement is now used against perpetrators of minor crimes and children who are forced to await their trials in total isolation. Often, these stays are prolonged, lasting months or even years at a time.

Widely condemned as cruel and unusual punishment, long-term isolation for juveniles continues because it’s effectively hidden from the public. Research efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition have struggled to uncover even the most basic facts about how the United States punishes its most vulnerable inmates.

How can a practice be both widespread and hidden? State and federal governments have two effective ways to prevent the public from knowing how deep the problem goes.

The first has to do with the way prisons operate. Sealed off from most public scrutiny, and steeped in an insular culture of unaccountability, prisons are, by their very nature, excellent places to keep secrets. Even more concealed are the solitary-confinement cells, described by inmates as “prisons within prisons.” With loose record-keeping and different standards used by different states, it’s almost impossible to gather reliable nation-wide statistics.

The second method is to give the old, horrific punishment a new, unobjectionable name. Make the torture sound friendly, with fewer syllables and pleasant language. This way, even when abuse is discovered, it appears well-intentioned and humane.

So American prisons rarely punish children with prolonged solitary confinement. Instead, they administer seclusion and protective custody. Prison authorities don’t have to admit that “administrative segregation” is used to discipline children. Just the opposite, actually. It’s all being done “for their own protection.”

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