Acknowledging History

Original image at https://www.nps.gov/jela/images-barataria-preserve.htm
Bald cypress trees along the Bayou Coquille Trail at the Barataria Preserve. Credit: National Park Service.

On Friday, May 19, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans gave a speech marking the removal of Confederate leaders’ statues from prominent city sites. His words strike me as the sort of thoughtful, nuanced words of persuasion that the United States needs. I’m not a Southerner, but I hope I could ‘take in’ analogous words on the issues where I have blind spots. 

The text of Mayor Landrieu’s speech, below, is from the Times-Picayune newspaper’s website.

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USA-Pakistan Diplomacy Jaw Drop

This morning I read a Washington Post article, shared by a friend, entitled “Pakistan’s surprisingly candid readout of Trump’s phone call with prime minister“. The article features a  sort-of transcript of a call this week between President-elect Trump and Pakistan’s Prime Minister.

Based on the readout’s tone and style, I thought it might be a hoax because it’s almost hammy in reproducing Mr. Trump’s speech patterns:

“President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long.”

Still, the New York Times is now reporting that the readout seems to be real.

President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy.

The NYT article notes that the White House and State Department are concerned about Mr. Trump speaking off the cuff to foreign heads of state, etc.; not so surprising. Then, smack in the middle, the NYT reports the following, and my jaw drops again:

“Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said his government’s decision to release a rough transcript of Mr. Trump’s remarks was a breach of protocol that demonstrated how easily Pakistani leaders misread signals from their American counterparts.”

It seems strange, doesn’t it, for a former ambassador to go on record saying his government breached protocol? In fact, it sounds like he’s siding with the US, warning us not to be dumb. I am intrigued. I shall poke around a little more.

July 2016 Shootings

The shooting deaths this week, first of more black men by police, then of Dallas police officers, feel particularly bleak. I want to say we’re at a breaking point, but I fear we may not be. The headlines on the New York Times’s digital front page, below, describe the past, present, and specter of the future. It’s a sort of poetry of horror:

Violence Divides a Nation Torn by Race

Here’s what we know about the shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota

Ambush in Dallas: 5 Officers Die in Sniper Attack at Protest

Gunman Said to Be Army Veteran; Police Kill Him with Robot

Study Confirms That Use of Force Is More Likely on Blacks

Announcing GovRank.org

I am one happy project manager! Last week, US Common Sense launched our public finance sustainability website, GovRank.org. We’ve been sweating it out for months and now we’re live. Here’s hoping the site will foster good research, debate about our methods, and more public awareness of the state of local finances!

GovRank-Frontpage

About GovRank: We want all citizens, journalists, and public officials to have greater access to information about their governments’ finances. Recognizing the challenges of data availability, comparability, and transparency, US Common Sense compiled data for over 13,000 local governments and all 50 states dating back to 2008-09… We collected more than 97,000 financial reports and nearly 70,000 budgets; extracted “top line” financial figures; and ranked local and state governments’ relative performance.

And a personal reflection: Several friends have remarked that the site’s data gives ammunition to folks who want to cut public employee pensions and benefits. I firmly believe the data can equally well be used to argue for responsible funding of such benefits. As a humanist, I have to believe making information visible eventually makes the world a better place and act accordingly.

5 Minutes to Make Oakland Safer

In thinking about the recent events in Ferguson, MO and the militarization of the police response, I want to share a survey that my company recently put out and which I took the lead in writing. The Oakland Police Department (OPD) has a problematic history (click here to read a lot of the details), and my company currently holds the contract to evaluate their community policing efforts. If you live in Oakland, please take — and share — the survey!


Do you have 5 Minutes to Make Oakland Safer?

Please take an online survey (English/Español)

Your voice can influence change.Your feedback—positive or negative—helps the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and community stakeholders understand OPD’s activities & relationships with diverse Oakland communities. 
OMY-Logo
* Survey by RDA and Bright Research Group on behalf of the City of Oakland/Measure Y Evaluation.

AB 109 Public Safety Realignment

In my professional life, I spend a lot of time thinking about Realignment, which is a policy that reconfigures California’s correctional system. The briefest way to describe it is that since October 2011, individuals who commit relatively low-level crimes are sent to jail (a county-level institution) rather than to state prison, where many would have gone in the past. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation describes Realignment this way:

In 2011, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed Assembly Bill (AB) 109 and AB 117, historic legislation to enable California to close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons. It is the cornerstone of California’s solution to the U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons to 137.5 percent of original design capacity.

I’ll leave aside the remarkable fact that we’re aiming for 137.5% (!) of designed capacity and skip ahead to the part that I’m working on: The result of AB109 Realignment (“AB109” for short) is that California counties are having to plan for incarcerating, and later reintegrating, a new population of folks. They’re having to get all sorts of county departments and offices to talk to each other and to community organizations to plan for pre-release and reentry services because they have a mandate to prevent recidivism. They’re also having to create plans for tracking their successes and shortcomings in providing reentry services, which requires data system planning and sharing. It’s incredibly complicated, and still in its early stages, and yet in many ways hopeful because AB109 is challenging counties to figure out whether and how recidivsm can be prevented through services like job and housing placement assistance and access to mental health and substance abuse preventions services. I feel lucky to be consulting for a local county, helping all the players figure out whether they’re adhering to the plan they set out for themselves. There are many challenges, but all the participants seem to be aiming at improving outcomes for people who are leaving jail. Tomorrow I’m running a focus group for recently-release probationers. I’m very curious to hear what they think of the new reentry system and whether they think it’s on the right track. So far all my exposure is on the provider (public and private) side.

The Dangers of Certainty

The New York Times forum The Stone recently ran a moving piece about the evil things people can do when they are certain they are right. In the essay, philosopher Simon Critchley reflects on an episode of The Ascent of Man, in which presenter Jacob Bronowski delivers a haunting critique of dogma while standing in a pond at Auschwitz. Critchley writes this about Bronowski’s speech:

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