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Friday, May 24, 2024

Sheriffs and Their Power

Law enforcement in the United States is decentralized and fragmented.  Sometimes the system works well.  Sometimes it does not.  Sheriffs wield vast and often  unchecked power.   News deserts do not help.

E.D. Cauchi, Scott Pham at CBS:
CBS News gathered and analyzed federal law enforcement data that showed while more people died overall in encounters with city police, deaths in encounters with county sheriffs occurred at a significantly higher rate. For every 100,000 people arrested, more than 27 people died in the custody of sheriffs, while that number was fewer than 10 for police officers in 2022, the most recent year of available data.
According to CBS News' investigation, problems were more prevalent in smaller, more remote communities where deputies typically had less training, fewer resources and limited oversight. These factors allowed sheriff misconduct to continue for longer, becoming more severe and brazen before it was discovered. Even then, they rarely faced consequences.

In McCurtain County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Kevin Clardy was caught on audiotape in March of 2023 talking with other county leaders about how they might kill and discreetly bury the bodies of two local journalists who had written stories about alleged corruption inside his office, among others.


"Nothing has happened to them," said McCurtain Gazette reporter Chris Willingham. He and his father Bruce were the journalists whose murders the sheriff and others were heard contemplating. "They have to feel untouchable, they're above the law."


An estimated 72% of the U.S. is rural, where more than 3,000 sheriffs act as the primary law enforcement. Only Alaska and Connecticut don't have any sheriffs; the latter abolished the position two decades ago due to high-profile corruption scandals.

What it takes to qualify for the job of sheriff varies from state to state: some require law enforcement experience, while others allow any U.S. citizen over age 18 to wear the star. The vast majority of sheriffs are elected, making voters the ultimate check on their authority. But candidates frequently run unopposed and it's not uncommon for a sheriff to remain in power for decades.


Thursday, May 23, 2024

A "Deadly Force" Conspiracy Theory

Andrew Egger and Jim Swift at The Bulwark:
“WOW!” Donald Trump truthed. “I just came out of the Biden Witch Hunt Trial in Manhattan, the ‘Icebox,’ and was shown Reports that Crooked Joe Biden’s DOJ, in their Illegal and UnConstitutional Raid of Mar-a-Lago, AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL) FORCE. NOW WE KNOW, FOR SURE, THAT JOE BIDEN IS A SERIOUS THREAT TO DEMOCRACY.”

Trump went further in a Tuesday fundraising email: “They were authorized to shoot me!”

“You know they’re just itching to do the unthinkable,” the email blasted out to millions of the president’s fans went on. “Joe Biden was locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger.”

We hope you’re sitting down for this: It is not actually true that Biden tried to have Trump assassinated. (But would he have absolute immunity from prosecution if he did? The Supreme Court will get around to determining that, one of these days.)

This particular narrative was launched yesterday by January 6th conspiracy theorist (her words!) and friend of the show Julie Kelly, who while rummaging through filings in Trump’s classified documents case stumbled across some FBI policy statements on how the execution of its search warrant would proceed operationally. One of those documents was a “policy statement” on the “use of deadly force.”

Even a cursory read of this document makes it painfully obvious that it’s a bog-standard piece of paperwork—copied word for word from the DOJ’s policy book, the Justice Manual—limiting when armed agents are allowed to use force: “only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.” Most of the document is a series of “what ifs”: “Deadly force may not be used solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject.” “Firearms may not be fired solely to disable moving vehicles.” “Warning shots are not permitted outside the prison context.” And so on.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Stock Ownership

Jeffrey M. Jones at Gallup:

Gallup’s annual update finds that 62% of U.S. adults have money invested in the stock market, including individual stocks, a stock mutual fund or a retirement savings account. The figure is essentially unchanged from last year but reflects a return to stock ownership levels not seen since the Great Recession in 2008.

Stock ownership is highly correlated with income. The vast majority (87%) of upper-income Americans, those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more, own stock. That compares with 25% of lower-income Americans (those whose annual incomes are less than $40,000). About two-thirds of middle-income Americans, 65%, own stock.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Wielding the Executive Power, 1775-1789

  Gary J. Schmitt and Joseph M. Bessette at AEI:

The practice of executive power from the early days of the Revolution to the Constitutional Convention was complicated by the division of governance between the central authority – first the Continental Congress and then the Congress under the Articles of Confederation – and the thirteen newly-independent states. Thus, the executive power was divided between the two: Congress assumed the authority over foreign and defense matters, while state governors were largely tied, at least formally (and in the absence of delegations of extraordinary authority), to administrating measures enacted by their legislatures. Hence, the various lessons learned about the practice of executive power from this decade-plus of self-government were themselves complex. 

At the level of the Union, the major takeaway was that executive power in the hands of a plural body—be it the Congress as a whole or one of its committees—was functionally inept when it came to dealing with the demands of the war and the diplomacy necessary to secure American independence. Nor was Congress adept at day-to-day administrative tasks. Too many hands on the tiller caused delays and the blurring of responsibility for decision-making. Gradually, members came to understand that giving charge of foreign, defense, and fiscal matters to single individuals promoted coherent and effective management. If the government was to possess the qualities of dispatch, decisiveness, and secrecy—let alone administrative efficiency—the executive authority would not only have to be unified but also enjoy some level of institutional independence from the legislature.


 In fine, the practice of republican rule in the decade following the Declaration of Independence had produced a new sense among many Americans on the need for, the advantages of, a firm and energetic executive power. That change had taken place at both the state and the national level, with different emphases arising from different circumstances and distinct governing tasks. Once the decision was made to jettison the Articles of Confederation, the challenge was how to incorporate in a coherent way the various lessons learned since independence so as to create an effective and safe executive in the new national, but still republican, government. Separation of powers provided a popularly accepted template for attempting to do so. But the devil would be in the details and, not surprisingly, this explains why deliberations about the executive went virtually the whole length of the Constitutional Convention.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Digital Decay

Athena Chapekis et al. at Pew:Athena Chapekis et al. at Pew:
The internet is an unimaginably vast repository of modern life, with hundreds of billions of indexed webpages. But even as users across the world rely on the web to access books, images, news articles and other resources, this content sometimes disappears from view.
A new Pew Research Center analysis shows just how fleeting online content actually is:
  • A quarter of all webpages that existed at one point between 2013 and 2023 are no longer accessible, as of October 2023. In most cases, this is because an individual page was deleted or removed on an otherwise functional website.
  • For older content, this trend is even starker. Some 38% of webpages that existed in 2013 are not available today, compared with 8% of pages that existed in 2023.
This “digital decay” occurs in many different online spaces. We examined the links that appear on government and news websites, as well as in the “References” section of Wikipedia pages as of spring 2023. This analysis found that:
  • 23% of news webpages contain at least one broken link, as do 21% of webpages from government sites. News sites with a high level of site traffic and those with less are about equally likely to contain broken links. Local-level government webpages (those belonging to city governments) are especially likely to have broken links.
  • 54% of Wikipedia pages contain at least one link in their “References” section that points to a page that no longer exists.
To see how digital decay plays out on social media, we also collected a real-time sample of tweets during spring 2023 on the social media platform X (then known as Twitter) and followed them for three months. We found that:
  • Nearly one-in-five tweets are no longer publicly visible on the site just months after being posted. In 60% of these cases, the account that originally posted the tweet was made private, suspended or deleted entirely. In the other 40%, the account holder deleted the individual tweet, but the account itself still existed.
  • Certain types of tweets tend to go away more often than others. More than 40% of tweets written in Turkish or Arabic are no longer visible on the site within three months of being posted. And tweets from accounts with the default profile settings are especially likely to disappear from public view.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Immigration History

  Many posts have discussed immigration.

“I think that we have sufficient stock in America now for us to shut the door.”

 It was uttered by Sen. Ellison DuRant Smith, a South Carolina Democrat, on April 9, 1924. And it helped set the stage for a historic change in U.S. immigration law, which imposed strict national quotas for newcomers that would shape the United States’ ethnic makeup for decades to come.

Immigration was perceived as a problem a century ago, too. Large numbers of migrants from Eastern and Southern Europe flocked to the United States during the first two decades of the 20th century, sparking a public outcry over unfamiliar intruders who lacked the Northern and Western European blood of previous migrant cohorts.

On May 15, 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act, which would constrain immigration into the United States to preserve, in Smith’s words, America’s “pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock.”

“It is for the preservation of that splendid stock that has characterized us that I would make this not an asylum for the oppressed of all countries,” Smith continued, speaking of America not 40 years after the Statue of Liberty was erected in New York harbor, with its open arms for all humankind. Immigration, Smith noted, should be shaped “to assimilate and perfect that splendid type of manhood that has made America the foremost Nation in her progress and in her power.”


In 1910, two years after the debut of Zangwill’s play [The Melting Pot], geneticist Charles Davenport founded the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. It provided the intellectual grounding for America’s increasingly overt xenophobia.

In “Heredity in Relation to Eugenics,” Davenport wrote that Italians had a “tendency to crimes of personal violence,” that Jews were prone to “intense individualism and ideals of gain at the cost of any interest,” and that letting more of them in would make the American population “darker in pigmentation, smaller in stature, more mercurial,” as well as “more given to crimes of larceny, kidnapping, assault, murder, rape, and sex-immorality.”

Harry Laughlin, another Cold Spring Harbor researcher, told members of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee in 1922 that these new immigrants brought “inferior mental and social qualities” that couldn’t be expected “to raise above, or even to approximate,” those of Americans descended from earlier, Northern and Western European stock.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Deeming Resolutions

Many posts have discussed the federal budget. 

 Don Wolfensberger at The Hill:

In 30 of the last 49 years, Congress has not met the April 15 deadline for approving a budgetbudget resolution. The last time Congress completed action on all 12 appropriations by Oct. 1 was 1996. It has passed all 12 of the money bills only four times: in 1977, 1989, 1995 and 1997. In the last 11 of 13 years it has not enacted even one of the 12 money bills by Oct. 1.

Consequently, it has had to rely on stop-gap continuing appropriations resolutions (CRs) 131 times since 1995, averaging 4.2 times a year. The alternative to CRs are government shutdowns, which have occurred on five occasions since 1995, the longest lasting 35 days (Dec. 22, 2018 – Jan. 25, 2019). Meanwhile, Congress has piled-up increasing deficits and debt and has been forced 63 times since 1995 to rely on emergency supplemental appropriations bills.

Over the long term, the congressional budget process the congressional budget process has not been a pretty picture — more like a kindergarten class finger-painting mural than an impressionist’s landscape.

One handy device Congress has adopted to circumvent its failure to adopt a budget resolution that allows it to process spending bills has been the so-called “deeming resolution.” The House and Senate insert language containing all the requisite language of a budget resolution into a must-pass measure and deems it to be adopted with passage of the host measure.

While the two chambers have differing budget levels, that still frees-up the pending appropriations bills to move forward to the next house.

According to Congressional Research Service budget expert Megan S. Lynch, the “deeming” solution has been utilized in nine of the 13 fiscal years from 1999 to 2013 when Congress has not mutually agreed on a final budget resolution. I suspect that solution has been used ever since.