JPBlog

A Weblog of The Jackson Progressive

Forget the Deficit; It's Private Debt That Will Do Us In

Economist Steve Keen predicted the crash of 2008. Now he’s predicting another crash, based not on public debt but the incredible run-up in private debt. Listen to a video on The Guardion website.
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Possible Remedies For the Crisis in Law Enforcement vs. Citizens

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City have uncovered a festering antagonism between citizens (especially minorities and the poor) and law enforcement personnel that are charged with protecting them (and us). Moreover, it is increasingly becoming obvious that the police and others in law enforcement work in a culture of impunity in which citizens unlawfully harmed by the cops have no means of redress. The police (which I am using to mean law enforcement in general) have an unspoken code almost as rigid as the Mafia that forbids them to testify against a brother officer. My experience is that the police will perjure themselves shamelessly, hide or destroy evidence unfavorable to officers accused of criminal brutality, and threaten eyewitnesses with arrest and prosecution if they talk.

Even more insidious, the average prosecutor works closely with the police on a daily basis. He cannot afford to alienate law enforcement, as they have ways of retaliation that can make it impossible for him to do his job. It has jokingly been remarked that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor asks them to. Likewise, the prosecutor, by not introducing strong evidence against the charged officer, can easily sway the grand jury to return a no bill. Keep in mind that only the prosecutor is in the room with the grand jury. The defendant’s lawyer sits outside to advise the defendant if he testifies, but he doesn’t hear the testimony or what the prosecutor tells the jury.

Is it a really a mystery, then, that prosecutors are pressured to present cases against policemen using evidence so incomplete, so unconvincing and so lacking in substance that grand juries have little choice but to not indict? Add to that the prosecutor’s non-verbal messages—facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and dismissive attitude towards witnesses testifying against the officer—all of which subtly encourage the jury to return a no bill. It is amazing indeed when a policeman is indicted.

The latest news from Ferguson, Missouri, is that the prosecutor that presented the the case against police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown has admitted that he used perjured testimony in Wilson’s favor.

There are some things that can be done. The single most effective change would be to require that whenever an officer kills or severely maims a person, no matter the circumstances, a special prosecutor from another district, preferably distant, must be appointed to present the case before a grand jury. Prosecutors could even be from another state. Further, the ideal special prosecutor would be chosen at random from a roster of former state and federal prosecutors. That way, the prosecutor would avoid pressure from even the local police in his home district.

A special prosecutor would be charged with the same duties as the district attorney, except that he would have no discretion in presenting the case to a grand jury, even when the facts are incontrovertibly in favor of the officer.

A mandatory special prosecutor, while not a perfect solution, would serve as a powerful deterrent to police overreaction and criminal brutality.
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Drones Can Save Lives.

Drones don’t have to be an indiscriminate angels of death; they can also be the saver of lives.

SafariScreenSnapz004

Click here for a deeply moving video on work being done right now to use drones for emergency medical response. (Scroll down to see the video) Think of what we could accomplish if we diverted just a small part of our military budget to saving rather than destroying lives with technology.

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Two Ideas to Help Jackson Public Schools - I

Fitness Training


Almost everyone agrees that JPS in in bad shape. It suffers from inadequate resources, insufficiently trained teachers and a student body drawn from a community mired for the most part in poverty, crime and instability. Students coming from that environment already have two strikes against them. The way we currently organize and run our schools, both public and private, requires healthy, motivated and responsible children, the very characteristics that poor children lack. For education to be successful under those conditions requires a completely different approach. Schools must start attending to environmental factors that improve their students’ mental and physical health, increase their motivation to learn, and foster a sense of responsibility, all of which are not part of the traditional curriculum. It is futile to teach academic subjects to students distracted by what happens elsewhere.

Although the writer has taught mathematics in a major university and legal writing in law school, he does not consider himself an expert on education, especially elementary education. From practical experience, however, he suspects that the breakthroughs in modern linguistics and cognitive science over the last thirty years have not yet influenced the teaching profession, which is a pity, since much could probably be done to improve pedagogy in K-12. The suggestions I am going to make, however, are practices outside the academic curriculum that are very likely to aid students in coping with different kinds of problems. The first article is today; the second will appear in a few days.

The first suggestion comes from John J. Ratey’s book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

Ratey’s thesis is that recent scientific studies -- almost conclusive in their findings -- show that the human brain works significantly better when its owner engages in heavy exercise. Chapter one (and this is the chapter I would like to see members of the JPS School Board read) recounts the experience of Central High School in Naperville, Illinois when it started an exercise program, entitled Zero Hour PE, that required all students to run a mile in the hour before classes one day a week. To measure the intensity of the workout each student wore a heart rate monitor on their wrist that could record the heart rate for each lap around the track. Students’ grades were based on effort, measured by heart rate, rather than achievement or ranking. In addition to the 1-mile run, for regular PE classes the staff replaced games in which the students spent most of their time standing around with games that required constant motion. Again, the heart rate monitors insured that the students were engaging in cardiovascular- strengthening activities during their PE class. The emphasis was on fitness, not athletic ability.

The results: Instead of a 30% obesity rate, Naperville had a 3% rate. The students consistently outperformed other schools with greater resources and reputations. The eighth graders (97% of them, in fact) came in first in science on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), competing with some of finest schools in the world, and sixth in math, behind Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. The school had far fewer discipline problems. The students reported that they were more focused on their studies after exercising. Given the evidence from Naperville and other towns mentioned in Ratey’s book, it is hard not to conclude that fitness exercise contributed to the excellence of the school and the lives of its students in many different ways.

Because of the irrational obsessions of politicians with high-stakes testing, many schools have dropped physical education from their curriculums to add more instruction time. This is almost certainly counter-productive. To force students to sit in desks 5 and a half or six hours a day is not only cruel, it likely lowers their test grades and makes them far more prone to obesity. The long-range effects of such inactivity are not so certain, but researchers are discovering that sedentary work shortens the lives of adults to a significant degree.

A serious fitness program for every school in the district would undoubtedly cost money, but it is an improvement that would pay for itself many times over in reduced discipline problems, better student health, higher grades, and, not to be forgotten, better scores on high-stakes tests.

Next: Suggestion II: Mindfulness training


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Why We Were So Ill-Prepared For Ebola

Clearly, this nation was not prepared for the probability that, sooner or later, Ebola would make its way here. Previously, the strains of Ebola that appeared in Africa killed off its victims before the disease travelled very far, but this variant has gotten smarter, and, probably because it incubates a little longer before symptoms appear, is able to travel further than its predecessors.

Considering that very few medical personnel throughout the nation had adequate training or equipment to treat and isolate Ebola patients, it is significant that we have had very few identified cases. Texas Health Presbyterian, whose emergency room received the first Ebola patient, sent Thomas Eric Duncan home. He was later brought in by ambulance under suspicion that he had contracted Ebola. Texas Health Presbyterian was not prepared for an Ebola patient, as recounted by the involved nurses in a statement to National Nurses United.

The statement shows staggering incompetence on the part of hospital personnel. Duncan was initially taken to an area where he was in proximity to other patients and left for several hours. No one at the hospital knew how to protect themselves and others from contracting Ebola. There was no training. They did not know what kind of protective clothing had to be used or how it was used. A nurse supervisor eventually arrived and ordered them to place Duncan into isolation, but was resisted by other hospital authorities, presumably management bean-counters.

Lab specimens not specially sealed and decontaminated were sent through the hospital’s tube system, potentially contaminating the entire tube system.

Even worse, hospital officials allowed nurses who had cared for Duncan to interact with regular patients, even though they had not worn the proper protective clothing while caring for him.

In short, it is a wonder that many patients and nurses didn’t contract Ebola, given the ineptness of the hospital, from the bottom to the top.

On the other hand, I will borrow an example from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. Taleb invited us to imagine that in the ‘90s an FAA official concluded that for safety reasons all cockpit doors were to be made of steel and had to be locked during flight and consequently promulgated a regulation requiring steel doors to be installed and locked during flight. Had this happened, there would have been no 9/11, because the hijackers would not have been able to commandeer the aircraft in the air and fly them into large buildings.

Since the alterations to thousands of planes would have been very expensive, costing many millions of dollars, our FAA official would have been reviled by the airlines and undoubtedly used as an example by conservative critics of a bureaucracy gone crazy with regulation. How would our official defend himself? That he averted one of the most traumatic air disasters of modern times? It would be hard to prove that he was responsible for averting a disaster that didn’t happen.

In a similar mode, imagine that ten years ago, the CDC persuaded Congress to appropriate an extra $200 million to develop an Ebola vaccine. Likewise, there would be a hue and cry from the deficit hawks and other assorted cranks that the CDC was wasting money on an “African” problem, and tax cuts were far more needed than a vaccine for a non-existent medical emergency. And guess what would have happened? Assuming that a vaccine was indeed created, which seems reasonable in light of what we have already seen recently, the Ebola plague would have been controlled and the national scare (mainly the product of the media) would have never existed. Again, the CDC couldn’t take credit for a disaster averted because there is hardly any way to prove a negative. Critics would have replied that there was no evidence that the virus would ever even occur in the United States and that the money had been wasted.

And it is true that all contingencies cannot be prepared for; it is impossible to provide for every possible medical emergency that the mind can imagine. The MBA types that typically run our private hospitals must use a cost-benefit analysis that does not spend money to prepare for situations with a very low probability of happening. Or as Taleb would say, for black swans.

There is a good argument, however, that in a nation as populous and rich as ours, somebody should be preparing for medical black swans, because those kinds of events, rare as they are, have the potential to infect and even kill millions of people. Of course, there are an infinite number of black swans, so a heuristic of black swans would have to be developed to chose the ones we should attend to. And we would miss some and hope that they don’t wipe us out.

The advent of Ebola in the United States was not really a black swan, though. Numerous outbreaks in Africa made it almost certain in these days of international air travel that sooner or later the virus would make its way to somewhere in the U.S. It happened to be Texas, and the untrained and unequipped staff of Texas Health Presbyterian had no hot line for Ebola.
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Charter Schools are Mostly Scams

The stated purpose of establishing charter schools that take money from public school budgets is to improve the education of children.

The real purpose of charter schools is to funnel public money into private hands, mostly corporate hands.

The JP has run several articles critical of charter schools here and here.

As more and more reports come in from the field it is becoming crystal clear that charter schools almost invariably cheat children and their parents of a decent education and siphon public money into the owners’ pockets.

A recent article from Salon relates what has happened. The great charter school rip-off: Finally, the truth catches up to education “reform” phonies.

Here’s a taste of the article:



In a real “bargaining process,” those who bear the consequences of the deal have some say-so on the terms, the deal-makers have to represent themselves honestly (or the deal is off and the negotiating ends), and there are measures in place to ensure everyone involved is held accountable after the deal has been struck.


But that’s not what’s happening in the great charter industry rollout transpiring across the country. Rather than a negotiation over terms, charters are being imposed on communities – either by legislative fiat or well-engineered public policy campaigns. Many charter school operators keep their practices hidden or have been found to be blatantly corrupt. And no one seems to be doing anything to ensure real accountability for these rapidly expanding school operations.



And it appears that our own Mississippi Legislature, without much thought (or sanity), has bought into this fraud. And we are being played the fool.

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My Book on Civil Discovery for New Lawyers

My new book is now on Amazon in ebook and paperback versions.

final-JumpStartYourDiscoveryPractice

Click here to see the ebook version.

Click here to see the printed version.

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Trolly Rails on Capital Street

I wish we still had a light rail system in Jackson. These rails are at least 100 years old and they sustained an urban light rail system that was, well, civilized, to say the least. Now, there’s nothing left but some buried rails.

IMG_1763


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Working in Downtown Jackson

After eight years, I am back downtown in Jackson, and it is a very different place, not just because Capitol Street is torn up, but because the overall atmosphere is one of negative resignation. Downtown has lost at least half of the people that worked here eight years ago. At lunch, the crowds are thin, even when it’s overcast and not too hot to go out. I am told that office space is at a huge discount, because everyone is moving north.

Clearly, the city is not doing something right, in spite of all the things that are going right. The International Ballet Competition ended last week and was a huge success for the city and the state. We have a new Federal courthouse and a commodious convention center. Capitol street is graced with an abundance of attractive buildings, some of them with a notable history.

But Jackson is economically on the ropes, and it’s always hard to pull oneself up when one is so far down. Part of our human nature is to move when things get bad, not stay and make them better. So very many people that ought to be leading the city have moved away and their business has followed them. Redoing Capitol street will do very little for the economic life of downtown; there’s no point in driving down Capital street both ways if there is no point in driving down Capitol Street, anyway.

Some of what needs to be done can’t be done here in Jackson. Forty years ago we had a number of factories in the Jackson metro area, but they are gone, the result of a deliberate policy of the Reagan administration to de-industrialize the nation and ship our jobs overseas. Mississippi competed with the rest of the nation by fighting unions and keeping wages low, but the technique backfired when it turned out that Mexicans, Chinese and other workers in undeveloped nations would work (or could be compelled to work) for much less. Fixing this will require changes in national policy, like making the dollar cheaper and requiring our trading partners to adhere to decent labor standarts. There are huge, politically-powerful forces, however that will resist real change, and right now they probably have the power to thwart reform.

There are a few things we can do for ourselves, however. Lumumba’s plan to encourage cooperatives shows a great deal of promise. We could at least partially implement a Georgist tax plan by raising property taxes on land and lowering them on improvements. We could begin a dialogue on education by discussing and debating just what our children ought to learn during their 12 years of public schooling. I vote for at least a year of economics and a year of probability and statistics the senior year.

Most of all, we need a common vision, a shared mental picture of what we want our city to be. It does appear to me that we are gravitating towards that goal, but it will happen faster if we do it consciously and deliberately. Let us begin.


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The Star-Spangled Banner

Amusing article on the national anthem from Slate Magazine:

Proudly Hailed

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