Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

George Floyd and the Costs of Racial Capitalism

George Floyd and the Costs of Racial Capitalism, LAWCHA, Ken Estey, June 10, 2020

Some History

A little bit about LAWCHA. The “Labor and Working Class History Association” is an organization of scholars, teachers, students, labor educators, and activists who seek to promote public and scholarly awareness of labor and working-class history through research, writing, and organizing. It grew out of the conversations among labor historians over the course of a couple of years between 1996 and 1998 about the importance of giving labor history greater visibility nationally in both academic circles and public arenas.


With all the news on the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, little is being said about George other than his demise at the hands of the police. Ken Etsey writes on George’s background as a person and why so many other Black Americans like George arrive at a similar point in time where they can lose their lives over so minor as a “supposed” counterfeit 20 dollar bill. Many others like George struggle in what is described as a Racial Capitalist economy which values flexibility to “hire and fire” and profit over Labor stability and good pay. It is a good read. James McElroy at  LAWCHA gave AB the go-ahead to post Ken Etsey’s commentary about George and a May economy in which there are gains in white employment while black and Latinx unemployment still rises.

George Floyd’s Story

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SCOTUS Blocks Census Citizenship Question

Writing for the Majority (5-4):  Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the explanation offered by the Trump administration for adding the question “appears to have been contrived.” Justice John Roberts did leave open the possibility of change if the Administration could provide an adequate answer.

Executive branch officials must “offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.”


USA Today has a good version of the SCOTUS decision. John Roberts and the liberal block rule against 2020 census citizenship question (for now) handing Trump administration a major defeat. Others have said there will probably not be another submission to SCOTUS on the Citizenship question. The only one who might change their “yea” vote would be Roberts if a reasonable answer was supplied by the Administration.

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Another Look

Another Look


Ken Melvin

In the wake of riots following the Police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other Black Americans, and Trump’s earlier installation  the likes of Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr as Attorney General; let US Cities find now to be a particularly good time to look anew at what they, the people, think should be the proper role of Police in America. It is time and time to rethink Policing in America. Any and all changes made need be made nationwide, else we would wind up forever dragging around this same Policing Model, a model purportedly somewhat based on some interpretation of the Old Testament of the Bible, a Model with ties to Slavery and Servitude. It is time and time that Policing in America broadly reflects current American values and thinking.

Police being an inclusive term; including all law enforcement agencies.

Much of what we now have was brought forward from 17th Century English Laws premised on protecting the property of the landed gentry, including the Monarch, since modified as required to allow for the added responsibility for public safety, … Today, many Police and Sheriff Departments are Economic and Political Fiefdoms. In December 2019, Barr said, “They have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves, … And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need.” Safe to assume that Sessions would have agreed. Here we are two generations into the Age of Technology with an Administration out of the 1960s and before. Taking off from Albert Camus’ Absurdism, we past Absurd quite a long ways back. Houston, we have hit bottom.

In times like these, the question must be: 

What should be the role of the Police?


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Using insurance to improve policing

There are two insurance-related police reform ideas being discussed.

One approach focuses on municipal liability insurance.  Many municipalities do not purchase liability insurance to cover lawsuits against officers, instead choosing to self-insure.  This is potentially a problem because insurers actually play an important role in loss control.  They provide information and services related to procedures, training, the risks posed by individual officers, etc.

The second proposal would require individual police officers to purchase professional liability insurance, in the same way that doctors and other professionals do today:

In response, we propose an innovative, market-based solution – mandatory professional liability insurance for police officers. Much the way that drivers with terrible records may be forced off the roads by high premiums, officers with the most dangerous histories, tendencies, and indicators might be “priced-out” of policing by premiums that reflect their actual risk of unjustified violence. Potential reductions or increases in premiums would create systemic effects by incentivizing both departments and individual officers to adopt policies, trainings, and procedures that are proven to lower risk.  Insurance companies, an outside third-party removed from local politics, would be in an ideal position to assess indicators of risk actuarially and set premiums accordingly.

My sense is that neither of these proposals are magic bullets, but they may be worth trying.

Under the first proposal, municipalities that buy insurance would have less of an incentive to prevent lawsuits than they do when they self-insure.  The loss control expertise of insurance companies may offset this, but municipalities that self-insure can (I assume) purchase loss control services today.  They may choose not to do so, presumably because of pressures from police officers and unions, because “loss control” includes things like getting rid of problem officers.  This is the heart of the political problem, and insurance will not make it go away, though it may help create pressure for reform if it makes better information about the costs of poor policing available.

Forcing municipalities to purchase insurance may also help if municipal governments that self-insure do not put aside adequate funds (“reserves”) to pay for wrongdoing by police officers that occurs today.  By under-reserving for today’s wrongful behavior by police, city officials can pass the costs of poor policing practices on to future officials and taxpayers.  If municipalities purchase reasonably full insurance, the expected costs of lawsuits from current policing practices will be reflected in the current insurance premium.  This will increase the incentive of city officials to reduce behavior that leads to lawsuits.  It seems to me that this may be the main advantage of both proposals.

The same problems would arise under the second proposal.  In addition, the prices charged to individual officers would quickly be politicized, just as they are in many other areas of insurance.  More subtly, full experience rating of officers may not be desirable because it exposes officers to too much risk.


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Pure Coincidence


Protecting Your Business From Legal Liability During Reopening
May 15 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

In this brief 30-minute webinar, we will step business owners through the liability concerns when reopening following the COVID-19 shutdown. Bobbi Berkhof will inform entrepreneurs why following local, state, and federal recommendations may help protect the business from lawsuits, potentially stemming from employees and customers.


Or, in table form:

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Marine General James Mattis Denounces Trump

No sorry here, I refuse to call Trump President. It is time for this bum to leave.

Breaking his silence  .   .   .

General Mattis denounces the president for dividing the nation, and accused him of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.

General Mattis: “I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand – one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values – our values as people and our values as a nation.  We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.’”

James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution The Atlantic

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen (Chairman Joint Chief of Staff).

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More On “Obamagate!”

More On “Obamagate!”

Just three items.

1) Today (or yesterday late?) AG William Barr appointed yet another Special Counsel to investigate “Obamagate!” John Bash of the Texas Western District of the DOJ. He has been assigned to investigate the various unmaskings of Michael Flynn that happened between the election of 2016 and Flynn’s interrogation by the FBI after Trump became president in January, 2017. The full absurdity of this is that even Barr in making this assignment recognized that there is nothing illegal about unmasking, not even anything improper.  Nevertheless, he thinks this particular set of unmaskings needs further investigation by the Department of Justice.

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Meanwhile the US Supreme Court is still working

Via Truthout is a reminder the US Supreme Court has rulings to make:

On May 12, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to rebuke or endorse Trump’s pretensions to monarchical grandeur when it hears oral arguments in three cases that have the potential to redefine the nature and scope of presidential power.

The cases before the court are Trump v. Mazars USA, LLPTrump v. Deutsche Bank AG; and Trump v. Vance. In the first two, the president is trying to block congressional subpoenas seeking access to his personal financial records. In the third, he’s asking the court to block a subpoena issued by a New York City grand jury, and to accord him unprecedented “absolute immunity” from state criminal investigations.

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Are capitalism and democracy compatible?

by Ken Melvin

Are capitalism and democracy compatible?

 Both Capitalism and Democracy are complicated, complex concepts with varying interpretations.

Beginning with a working definition of democracy:

Democracy — A government formed of representatives popularly elected by the enfranchised citizenry of the governed entity.

    • Webster’s a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

In a true democracy, with as few exceptions as possible, every citizen over a certain age would be eligible to vote, all eligible would vote, and all of their votes would be equal. In the 2016 election only 61.4% of adult U.S. citizens (137.5 million) cast ballots, Trump won the electoral college vote 304 (57%) to 227 (43%) even though he received slightly less than half (46% to 48% for Clinton) of the votes cast. So, by any measure, it wasn’t even close to being a democratic result. This wasn’t by accident.

Putting aside for a while: all the unscrupulous things done in the 2016 election to sway opinion, all efforts to make voting inordinately difficult for some, all the hacking into computers by Russia, all the involvement of the likes of Wikileaks and Cambridge Analytica, the nefarious role of Facebook and other social media, the tons of dark and not so dark money, … ; it was the extremely skewed electoral college vote that determined the winner. How can you have a democratic outcome when South Dakota with less than one-million citizens has 3 electoral votes and California with almost forty-million (40 times SD’s population) has 55 (only 18 times as many electoral votes)? SD residents have one electoral vote per 300,000 resident and CA one vote per 727,000; a 2.2 to 1 ratio of inequality. Essentially the same could be said of ND, ID, WY, MT, AK, NM, KS, NB, NV, AR, MS, NH, VT, ME, and WV; their votes for president are worth more than the votes of voters in populous states and twice as much as the votes of the voters in the more populous states. States electors are allotted per Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the US constitution.

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Judges, Ideologues, Dogmatics, and Bad Decisions

by Ken Melvin

Judges, Ideologues, Dogmatics, and Bad Decisions

A judge should be wise enough to look to the possible consequences of his or her decisions. A judge should be wise enough to change his or her mind.  A judge should generally accord these qualities to the decisions of his or her predecessors. And, given that judges pass judgment on others, a judge should be law-abiding, of good moral character, … above reproach.

At the present time we have three, maybe four or five, supreme court justices: Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch*, and perhaps Kavanaugh*, and Roberts, who feel that they, more than anyone before them or now on the court, know how the constitution should be interpreted; would impose their interpretation on the nation no matter the consequences.  Some consequences of this sort of thinking of late include:  District of Columbia v. Heller, McDonald v. City of Chicago, Shelby County v. Holder, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and, most recently, Rucho v. Common Cause; all decisions with horrendous consequences.

Columbia v. Heller:

The Second Amendment to the Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,

the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In 2008, in the Heller decision, the Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 margin, affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling that a citizen had the constitutional right to possess a firearm separate the militia clause.

The Supreme Court held:

(a) The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms.  

(1) The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

In writing the majority decision, Justice Scalia invoked his theory of original intent based on his review of colonial history and the early years of the republic and concluded that the Constitution’s Second Amendment meant, not what others before had said it meant, but whatever he said it meant some 230 years later. Scalia said that the second part, not the first part, was the operative clause. Scalia, not the second amendment, said, “ … to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Scalia was joined in the majority by Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito.  Justice Stevens, who wrote the dissent, recently called Heller, “… the worst decision of my tenure.”

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