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Leaded Rioting

Violent crime started dropping precipitously in the 90s, and has continued to drop for over twenty years. It started happening during Bill Clinton’s presidency. In 1994, he passed a crime bill that did several things including putting around 100,000 more cops on the streets by issuing $200 million in grants to local police forces to help them staff up. It also included a lot of other "tough on crime" legislation that put more people in prison for longer, but I’m not going to get into the specifics because they’re not relevant to this piece. The Clinton administration naturally took credit for the decrease in violent crime, which sounds reasonable until you realize that those crime rates started dropping in 1991 and never went up for a single year since then.  

Governors all across the country also took credit since their crack downs were clearly the reason for the decreasing violent crime rates. Rudy Guiliani, the most obnoxious of all mayoral peacocks, still claims that his harassment of people of color approach (it’s called the broken windows policing) is why crime went down in New York City during his tenure as mayor. As I stated above, violent crime started declining three years before Rudy began his racially bias policing practices so no rational person would agree with his self aggrandizing assessment of his efforts.

The Freakonomics guys had an interesting theory that Roe v Wade was responsible for the decrease in violent crime. Their thinking is that legalizing abortion meant that would-be criminals weren’t being born because the mothers who weren’t equipped to raise children had access to safe and legal abortions. There seems to be a correlation in terms of the timeline. Roe was decided in 1973, about 18 years before the crime rate started dropping. Sounds pretty good, right? Not so fast. Just like the "tough on crime" thing, it doesn’t hold up to more scrutiny. This theory doesn’t work outside of the US. The UK legalized abortion in 1968. Their crime started dropping in 1995.

That was a nice try by Freakonomics. It sounded great, and relied on more data than criminologists turn to. I generally like theories from economists more than I do, those of criminologists. They don’t suffer from the curse of being a hammer, and therefore needing to turn everything else into a nail. Also, economists found the flaw in the economists’ theory. The criminologists are still clinging to their fallacies.

Criminologists have also theorized that crack was the culprit. See, the crack epidemic had increased violent crime so much, that when the crack epidemic burned itself out, crime dropped. But after crack there was meth. And during crack and meth, there’s always been heroin so that lame theory doesn’t hold up to 20 seconds of just thinking it through without having to Google anything. They also came up with the "when times are tough, crime gets worse" explanation. The problem with that is that the late 80s were a pretty good time to find a job. The much bigger problem is that crime didn’t increase from 2008 – 2012, when times were as tough as they’d been in sixty years.

So what is it? What explains the drop in violent crime. It’s looking very much like lead is the culprit. We have another economist with a theory that seems to be holding up all around the world, in a way that hasn’t yet been countered. In 1994, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (yes, the dreaded HUD) hired an economist named Rick Nevin to help them do a cost benefit analysis on removing lead paint from old homes. There had been a mountain of research at that point, demonstrating that exposure to lead can cause a laundry list of issues like lowered IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral issues, and learning disabilities. There was also a study that linked lead exposure to juvenile delinquency. This study got Nevin thinking about whether there could be a link between lead and violent crime. Remember, this was 1994 so violent crime had been decreasing for three years at that point.

Nevin found that the highest lead exposure wasn’t coming from paint, but from leaded gasoline.

Here’s a little history on the lead in the gas. In 1921, tetra-ethyl (known as TEL or ethyl) lead was developed for GM by Thomas Midgley, who discovered that adding the lead to the gas reduced the "knocking" in engines. In February, 1923, leaded gas was first sold commercially. Four months later, the US Public Health service was made aware of the leaded gas and requested safety tests (pesky big government!). By September of the same year, workers in the DuPont TEL plant were starting to die. The scene was described as, “sickening deaths and illnesses of hundreds of TEL workers… Gripped by violent bursts of insanity, the afflicted would imagine they were being persecuted by butterflies and other winged insects before expiring, their bodies having turned black and blue.” By April 1925, a Yale study (among others) concluded that "the greatest single question [whether leaded gasoline is safe] in the field of public health which has ever faced the American public.". In May 1925, the US Public Health Service held a conference to discuss both sides of the ethyl (as usual, the sides were science vs corporate profits) issue and appoint a blue ribbon committee to conduct an independent inquiry.

What followed was a now very familiar decades long period in which more and more studies around the world were sounding alarm bells about the dangers of lead, which naturally generated industry funded "studies" to counter the broader scientific community. This was the beginning of the allegations (by DuPont and GM) of "partisan science". Stop me when this starts to sound familiar to you. People are dying in the manufacturing plants, and everyone knew it was because of the "looney gas". By the late 60s, the government was starting to lay out timelines and regulations for the phasing out of lead. Here’s a fun quote from the VP of Ethyl Corp in 1971;

“The clincher by all prophets of doom is that someone started the rumor that lead was the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire… The legend always gets fuzzy — sometimes it is caused by lead-lined aqueducts, other times it is from their wine being drunk from lead-lined flasks.”

Again, just let me know when this is starting to sound familiar to you. The victimhood, the hyperbole, the fear tactics…these are all echoed by tobacco companies, the NRA, the entirety of the energy industry. Basically any corporation who needs for science not to be so sciency. And when it gets too sciency, it’s time to cook up just enough "science" to claim that there are unanswered questions. There were no unanswered questions about tobacco. There were no unanswered questions about lead. There are no unanswered questions about why our climate is changing, and there are no unanswered questions about how to reduce gun deaths and gun crime.  

In 1972, the EPA mandated that gas stations would be required to sell unleaded gasoline to protect these new fangled "catalytic converters" that the government forced the automotive industry to develop (fucking big government, all up in our business again!) It wasn’t until 1986 that all leaded gasoline was eradicated in the US. That’s over sixty fucking years from when serious questions about lead emerged. No wonder this tactic is still being used.

Okay, back to Nevin. He’s published dozens of papers on the topic of lead and its correlation to violent crime. Here’s a link to the one paper I’m primarily using. I’m just going to give you some bite sized samples of what he’s found by sharing some of his graphs.

Robbery

 

It’s impossible to imagine a more clear correlation.

 

AggAssault   

 

 

 

Murder     

You get the idea. He demonstrated a clear correlation between lead and IQ, behavioral issues and violence. All of it correlates as clearly as the graphs above.

Guess where lead paint still exists in the US? If you guessed that it exists in poor neighborhoods, you win a cookie. Wanna know where there’s likely still a decent amount of lead paint? Yep, Baltimore. Three years ago, they paid out a $3.7 million settlement to a public housing resident who suffered lead poisoning as a child in the 80s.

Maryland’s lead poisoning prevention law didn’t kick in until 1996. Nevin found a nearly precisely twenty year correlation between the elimination of lead and the reduction in crime. In other words, if Nevin is correct and all of Maryland took care of its lead paint problem (I know, I’m being hypothetical) in 1996, we should expect to see low IQ, behavioral issues, and violent tendencies until 2016.

There is an actual physiological factor at play in poor areas of America. All of the privileged people who get to say, "violence is unacceptable under any circumstances" have no idea what they’re talking about. Of course violence is unacceptable, and I’m fairly certain that a significant number of the people committing the violence would be able to agree, had they grown up in a different neighborhood. Being poor comes with innumerable hazards that don’t come with being middle class or rich. Don’t even get me started on the asthma situation.

My response to every single "this is unacceptable" comment was that this isn’t mine to judge. If you didn’t grow up under the circumstances that residents of Ferguson or Baltimore did, then you are not qualified to judge what the appropriate level of rage would be. Lead is just one of dozens of factors involved in these situations that most people aren’t aware of. Stay in your lane. Judging people in these neighborhoods is not your lane. And making an uninformed judgment says more about you than it does about the rioters. I’m just saying that realizing that you don’t know what you don’t know would be the wise thing to do sometimes.     

   

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Rand Paul’s Insane Freedom Turrets

So apparently it’s the 19th century and we’re debating whether these new fangled vaccine thingies are safe. Oh, and also FREEDOM. Here, watch Rand Paul explain (don’t worry, you can stop the suffering at 2:55):

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Sigh. This moron is going to run for president. And in my opinion, right now, at this very moment, he has a better chance than almost any of the other republican clowns who plan on running. Let me be clear: that is not a prediction. I have no fucking clue who the nominees on either side are going to be because I don’t have a functioning crystal ball, and therefore cannot accurately tell you what’s going to happen nearly two years from now. But that’s a whole other post.

This one is about Rand Paul and his simple minded, childlike view of the world. He lives in a world where he and his pet unicorn, Ayn are free to roam about the country doing as they please because FREEDOM trumps public safety. He wants to do this while enjoying all of the perks of living in a developed country, where the roads are built for him, the water is cleansed of all brain eating amoebas for him, planes aren’t crashing on his head, ebola isn’t running rampant, fires are magically being put out, buildings aren’t collapsing, and the internet just spontaneously appeared one day. Oh, and it’s all in technicolor, like The Wizard Of Oz.

You see, little Rand doesn’t care what your question is because the answer is always FREEDOM! A person who thinks that one answer applies to all (or most) questions is a child, incapable of handling complexities.

When you live in a first world country, you have entered into a social compact. That social compact provides you with millions of things you don’t even realize you’re getting, which is why I made sure to include brain eating amoebas earlier. That’s a thing that no one thinks about, is aware of, and doesn’t realize is being taken care of for them. You are not free to do as you please in that technicolor libertarian dream because you have to give up a little FREEDOM to have nice things.

Obion County Tennessee is a place with the kind of FREEDOM that Rand Paul’s underdeveloped little mind loves. They don’t have their own fire department. It’s a small town who relies on the fire department from a neighboring country to come out and deal with their fires, since they’re too small to viably create their own fire department. So a neighboring town offers them firefighting services for a voluntary fee of $75.00. It’s not a tax, so there’s no one to just take the money. Residents of Obion have to voluntarily send in a check every year if they want firefighters to come to their burning house to put out the fire. Yay FREEDOM, right? Most of you who aren’t afflicted with the libertarian suppression of emotional and intellectual growth disease can see where this is going. But let me tell the story for the unicorn owners. Four years ago, a home in Obion County caught fire. That home owner forgot to send in his voluntary (yay FREEDOM) fee so when he called 911, they told him that they couldn’t help him since he hadn’t paid the fee. The homeowner pleaded with the 911 operator, offering to pay all of the costs of putting out the fire. But that didn’t work, cause FREEDOM means "no pay, no spray". Good news though, the fire department did eventually come out to spray the house next door, who had paid their fee. So that’s awesome for the neighbors whose home was protected from burning down. Of course, they now have a burned down shell of a structure next door to them. But don’t worry, I’m sure that isn’t affecting the property values for all of the homeowners on the block.

So the same thing happened a year later in Obion. Fire…..no fee…..FREEDOM rings….no spray…..everyone watched the house burn down, and their property values with it. But hey, those neighbors should obviously just suck it up, cause [think Big Lebowski] it’s like, freeeeedom, maaaaaaan. So after two of these giant bonfire incidents, Obion county legislators, who still don’t want to raise taxes, have decided that the firefighters should be held personally responsible if:

  • someone is trapped in a deadbeat house and dies because the fire wasn’t put out or
  • the fire department makes a clerical error and refuses to put out a fire because they mistakenly had it on the deadbeat list.

So that’s awesome. Obion county legislators are problem solving while still preserving FREEDOM for their residents. Not so much for the firefighters but hey, it’s like, freeeeedom, maaaaaaan.

Wanna know what the FREEDOM killing, public interest protecting cost would be if Obion County residents paid for fire protection through their taxes? 0.13 (go to page 51 on that link) of a cent on each household. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but that’s another 0.13% of a penny of FREEDOM killing!

And we can’t have that, because Rand Paul doesn’t care what the question is because the answer is always FREEDOM. Why did I go all the way to Tennessee to make my point? Because that’s my favorite of dozens of stories that clearly depict that if you want nice, first world things, you don’t have the freedom to do anything you damned please, at the expense of public safety.

Public safety trumps freedom in the developed country 100% of the time. And that, kiddies, is why libertarians can never give me a real world example of a time or a place in history where the FREEDOM unicorn shit out a rainbow of prosperity and bestowed it upon all the people.

Yes, vaccinations should be mandatory. Your batshit crazy, scientifically devoid beliefs do not trump the interests of public safety. I cannot believe this shit needs to be explained.

Oh, but ladies should know that Rand’s FREEDOM-loving ends at your uterus’ edge. He doesn’t think you should ever be allowed to have an abortion. But good news, when you give birth to the child you may or may not have wanted, you’re FREE to cost your community, productivity, the health of others, and the profit margins of businesses who have to shut down because of the plague your unvaccinated child has bestowed upon them.

Let FREEDOM ring!      

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Civil Asset Forfeiture

If you’re not familiar with what civil asset forfeiture, let me fill you in because it’s pretty bad. Civil asset forfeiture is an Orwellian term that refers to the government taking your stuff and keeping it. This  isn’t a new thing. It’s been around for centuries, but the Reagan and Bush 2.0 administrations put it on steroids. Civil asset forfeiture is when cops of any flavor (state, or local) find your stuff during a search, and keep in. It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty of anything.

So let me walk you through it with a scenario. Your house is a suspected meth lab, and the police successfully manage to get a warrant to search your house. So the cops come in, search your house and find nothing related to meth production, or any illegal activity drug or otherwise because they got the wrong house. But they do find $50,000 in cash under the floorboard in your kitchen. There’s no more reason to believe that you obtained the cash illegally, as there is to believe you’re a paranoid survivalist who doesn’t trust the banks. But the reason for the cash being under the floorboard is irrelevant. It could have been in a safe in your bedroom. The police can just take it. This is called "civil asset forfeiture", not to be confused with "criminal asset forfeiture". Criminal asset forfeiture would be if they found the money and the meth lab in your house in which case, your stuff is clearly a product of your criminal activity, and that’s why they’re taking it. I think that the fact that they actually have a different term for when they take your stuff when you’re not a criminal is pretty telling.

We haven’t gotten to the really outrageous part yet. When cops take your stuff, you have virtually no hope of getting it back. In a civil asset forfeiture case, the state proceeds with a case against your stuff. The cases are actually against the money so United States vs. $32,820.56 is an actual case. You can read about the case here. Or there’s the comical sounding United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. Nope, I’m not making that one up either. Because the case is against the stuff, you’re a third party who is tasked with proving that your stuff is innocent of all criminal involvement. I’m not kidding. Proving that your stuff is "innocent" can be difficult and expensive. You have to spend money on a lawyer to prove that your money wasn’t gotten through criminal means.

As if all of that weren’t bad enough, the government is incentivized to take your stuff. Police forces all across the country actually add your stuff to their budgets because they want to buy nice things for themselves with it. Did I mention that they get to split the proceeds with the federal government? This is a lovely practice called, "equitable sharing". Since 9/11, local and state cops have equitably shared 2.5 billion dollars from just motorists and warantless searches. So if you get pulled over because a cop thought he smelled marijuana coming out of your car, and finds $20,000 in cash while unsuccessfully searching for the pot, the cop gets to take the cash. Let me rephrase that; the cop needs to take the cash because his police force is holding a fundraiser to buy that up armored hmmwv that they need in case peaceful protests break out in their town of 6,000 residents.

The Supreme Court actually gave their blessing on all of this in 1996 in a lovely case, Bennis v Michigan. This one is really going to steam your beans. Detroit police arrested John Bennis after observing him engaging in sexual activity in his car, with a prostitute. The state subsequently decided that they wanted to take the car that this heinous crime was committed in cause, you know, fundraiser! Anyway, Mrs Bennis challenged the forfeiture because she was a co-owner of the car and her life was already fucked up enough by learning that her husband was paying for hookers, that she didn’t need to lose a car on top of everything else. Well, Tina Bennis got to experience the joy of being reminded of her husband and the hooker for years, as the case worked its way up to the Supreme Court. The conservative Rehnquist court agreed that the state had a right to take the car. By the way, the dissenters were Ginsberg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer. You know, the liberals plus Stevens. But I digress. Why an

I writing a piece about civil asset forfeiture now? Because that fascist jack booted thug, Eric Holder has barred local and state police forces from taking your stuff except in a few cases. He carved out some exceptions for illegal firearms, ammunition, explosive devices, and property associated with child pornography. This is the only move I can think of that has ever actually reigned in government in my lifetime. If anyone can think of anyone else, please share because I can’t think of any.

The irony is that this nearly unheard of shrinking of government powers was done by a jack booted thug, appointed by an America-hating Kenyan usurper. Both democrats who did the opposite of what two republican presidents did. That’s right, Reagan and Bush 2.0 made civil forfeiture the new black during their presidencies cause, "war on drugs!" and "terrorists!"

Yes republicans, the "small government" you so cherish is being given to you, in the only form it’s ever been brought to you, by a democratic administration. The odd thing is that I haven’t seen any right wing media outlets cheering for this. Strange.               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

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No, Libertarians Have Not Fallen Victim To Brain Eating Amoebas

I’ve always maintained that the government does tens of thousands of things for you that you have no idea they do. I’m pretty on top of these things, and there are thousands of things that the government does for me that I’m not aware of so it must be in the tens of thousands for people who believe that government does nothing for them. Libertarians in particular, seem to have a difficult time with believing this. One might conclude that they simply can’t bring themselves to believe in something they can’t see, except that they cling on to their unicorn of Austrian economics like it’s the precious blankie that kept them so safe when they were (yes, I’ve generously chosen to use the past tense) infants.

But I digress. Brain eating amoebas. The government takes care of them for you so that you don’t have to worry about it. I came across this story about St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana, where a four year old died as a result of these brain eating amoebas (known by their much less fun scientific name: naegleria fowleri). The CDC (that dreaded government entity that is constantly intruding in our lives) determined that the problem was the amoebas in the water system. Apparently, someone was misreporting the chlorine levels in the water to DHH (the dreaded department of health and human services) and claiming that the required levels of chlorine were present. The actual level of chlorine in the water was zero. So a child died because government regulations weren’t being adhered to. Damned big government!

Anyway, big government in Louisiana has mandated an increase in chlorine into the water supply for the next 60 days. This should kill the amoebas completely and prevent anymore easily preventable deaths. Damned big government! 

But overall, this is good news Louisiana. We finally have an answer to one of Louisiana’s most confounding questions, "where the fuck did our idiot governor come from?"  Since we now have confirmation that he probably crawled out of your unclean water, we know how to prevent the next infection.

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