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How A Bill Becomes An Ad (09/30/14)

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Deterrence, pt.2

Community. The word gets thrown around a lot. Take, for instance, the term “diplomatic community”. This particular community operates under a very particular set of rules. Diplomats abroad are afforded special rights, the most special being immunity from prosecution for breaking the laws of their host countries.

As we see from time to time, this exception (remember that word) leads to what we, in the host country, might call bad behavior. You know, like unpaid parking tickets. It is illegal for them to park where and when they should not and it is illegal not to pay tickets given for breaking the law, but because they cannot be charged for not paying diplomats find themselves succumbing to the temptation to park in loading zones during street cleaning. 

In New York and Washington D.C., as well as consulate and embassy filled cities around the world, unpaid parking tickets are a problem, although not a big enough problem that the host countries threaten to violate the sanctity of diplomatic community ettiquette and send the diplomats home. Host countries usually reserve that for espionage. Or murder.

Yes, even then, the diplomat may be immune. Sure, the diplomat’s country may wave his immunity, but odds are they won’t, not unless doing so might cost them something more valuable. With no leverage, the host country can only open the door and ask the guest to leave, and even then they can only ask nicely.

That’s the trouble with throwing words around. Calling something a community is fine, but you can’t deter bad behavior from an outsider. Deterrence requires an individual or group’s acceptance of the authority of a community, and no one on the outside wants to hear the word.

When we see what we think of as bad behavior, such as political corruption, corporate abuse, police brutality, rioting, terrorism, or military invasion, these actions are taken by men and women who do not accept that they are part of the community they are harming. This is to say, they do not accept that those they are harming could have authority, moral or otherwise, over them.

Either they feel excluded from the community - common feelings in cases of police brutality, rioting, and terrorism - and use that to justify bad behavior, or they wish to behave badly - that would be political corruption, corporate abuse, and military invasion - and attempt to exclude themselves from the community preemptively.

This latter group has a name for their choice: Exceptionalism. Like diplomats with parking tickets, these people want to believe the rules of common people simply do not apply to them. In the short term, they get away with it, like all criminals do; in the long term, they and everyone else in whatever community they’ve touched pay a very high price.

What’s happening in eastern Ukraine and in Syria and Iraq right now is rightly described as “exceptionalist” behavior. Russian President Vladimir Putin has guided his people, wherever they may live, to the belief that rules imposed by others, the United Nations and the United States in particular, do not apply to them. To hear Putin or one of his lackies speak, international opinion is just a means of keeping the Russian people down.

Likewise, the group calling itself Islamic State of [ ___________ ] has gone out of its way to violate any international sense of human decency, in great part to remove themselves from having to accept being part of a community that disapproves of their violent invasion of Iraq and the atrocities committed there and in Syria. They dress is up as a war for islamic traditions, but their cruel, taunting videos of executions show them to be outside just about every other Muslim community on Earth. And that, to be sure, is fine by them.

Both groups have committed violent, cruel atrocities, both have thumbed their noses at international outrage, and both have used identification with those atrocities and nose-thumbing as a means of tightening bonds within their own communities. This is what exceptionalism is.

And here’s the uncomfortable bit: what’s happening in Ukraine and the Middle East right now is part of the price to be paid for America’s dalliance with exceptionalism. To be clear, this is not to say that America is directly at fault for what has been done by masked people in Ukraine and Syria. Their aggression was always going to find a target, and they wear masks for the same reasons bank robbers and kidnappers do.

No, this is what happens when one country decides that the rules of a world community in which they reside, such as those regarding the invasion of another country, do not apply to them. That is what the United States did in Iraq. That is what the United States was perceived to have done elsewhere. At some point to a lot of people the United States became the biggest bully on the block. Is it any wonder that American diplomacy in dealing with Russia and ISIS (ISIL?) only seems to make things worse?

Think back to Benghazi. Think back to attacks on embassies, consulates, and diplomats in the ten years prior to that, and then the ten years prior to that. Think about the targets. Many of them weren’t even American. The people who attacked had convinced themselves that they did not belong to the same community as their victims, that embassies and consulates are spearheads of foreign invasion, that whatever community their victims belonged to they the justified and righteous attackers did not want any part of it.

The point is, we can’t deter people who choose to consider themselves outside of our community, especially when to them we are the outsiders. They more they need us to be outsiders, the harder it becomes.

A quarter century ago we had the certainty and, oddly, comfort of mutually assured destruction (aka, MAD). At any moment thousands of nuclear missiles could rain down on us all, devestating the entire planet. That kind of power made it essential that we see ourselves as being part of a world community. All we have left of that is the rhetoric and the still-dangerous weapons, ones no one seriously believes anyone will ever now use. At least, not in a missile.

What we need to deter that horrifying spectacle is to remind everyone, including ourselves, that we belong to that greater community. Having convinced ourselves, we then have to start acting like it. That means no exceptionalism. That means accepting the authority of a greater community, morally if not legally. That means the rules must always apply to us, even if we’re just parking.

- Daniel Ward

Deterrence, pt.1

They dream of glory on the field and riches off of it. They dream that one day, if they’re good enough, they might get to wear a golden blazer before a crowd of their peers as they are enshrined as immortal, or as close to it as man may get in this life.

Ray Rice could have had that. He already had the first two. He was a star running back, one of football’s glamour positions. One breakout play in a game for a running back could be a highlight seen by millions, one played and replayed for a lifetime. Rice had had dozens of those. He has a Super Bowl ring, too. Until Monday, he had a contract that would have guaranteed comfort and security for him and his family for life. Had he lasted a little longer, and had we not seen him punching a woman and calmly standing over her unconscious body, Rice might have had the golden blazer, too.

Ah, but we did see that video. The woman, now his wife, insists on defending him as though something in what millions have now seen was somehow open to interpretation. It is important for us to consider why she wants it to be so, why she needs it to be so, but the sight of the man calmly dragging the woman he had just punched out of an elevator says more about what we were seeing than anything she ever could.

However he may claim to love the mother of his children, Ray Rice calmly stood over her until the elevator doors opened and calmly dragged her out into the lobby. He did not panic. He did not kneel down to make sure she was okay. No, he pulled her limp body just far enough then dropped her on the carpet and nudged her leg with his foot in a half-assed effort to move it out of the way of the elevator doors.

This was not some momentary act. This was not "30 seconds" of an otherwise pure, exemplary life. This wasn’t something new or unexpected. This was just caught on video.

Seeing it for ourselves does something. It changes us. We can’t push it away like we want to. We need to make it stop. We need to make sure we don’t see this again. We could try to pretend things like this don’t happen and look the other way, but we’ve seen too much. It was real. So, we have to prevent it from happening again, or at least try to. But how?

Deterrence requires belief in one thing: what could be lost for doing what we as a community deem wrong must exceed whatever could be gained from doing it. This, however, requires two other things: something to lose and the belief that we are part of a community.

This, time and again, is where deterrence falls apart.

Take, for instance, the problem of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in the NFL and other professional leagues. Steroids and human growth hormone have transformed not only the athletes in just about every professional sport but the business models of how those sports are run and how they are marketed, too. For the past thirty years there’s been a lot of money to be made in selling bigger, gaudier, flashier numbers and the bigger, gaudier, flashier athletes putting them up.

In the short term, it’s a party for everyone. It’s easy for fans, team management, and the athletes themselves to look past what they don’t want to see. That’s what they short term is all about. In the long term, though, with the public footing the bigger, gaudier, flashier bills for their entertainment, the business models fall apart as assuredly as the aging athletes. Fans balking at the ever-rising costs start to connect the numbers more to the drugs and less to the athletes and they stop trusting what they’re seeing.

That’s when the money stops coming in. Or threatens to. The sports must either take action to protect their brand image - by shaming and expelling those behaving badly - or risk being tied to those publicly shamed athletes as they go down.

It was no accident that Major League Baseball’s PED testing and punishment only began in earnest after public outrage made it necessary. It was no accident that the token nature of the initial penalties had little to no effect on player behavior. There was still too much money to be made for any player when measured against what he might lose. And the players all but laughed at the authority of a league that had turned a blind eye for so long.

It was only with the Biogenesis scandal, a decade after the first widespread reports of PED use, that baseball took what might be considered serious measures. The first attempts at reform are always for show, and they always fail for that reason. That’s when the lessons are learned. That’s what it takes. The minimum suspension in baseball is now what the maximum used to be. In a ritual of contrition, big name players have been given longer sentences than normal, and those with numbers tainted by suspicion haven’t been enshined in the Hall of Fame.

We’ll see if it works. Players who used PEDs are already in baseball’s Hall of Fame. It’s something current players know all too well.

What then does this have to do with a man beating a woman in an elevator? Quite a bit. Take out PEDs, replace them with domestic violence cases and other kinds of violent behavior, and we see the same pattern of delays, avoidance, and weak attempts at deterrence.

We, the public, have learned hard lessons from the chronic failures of baseball, cycling, and, of course, football, in dealing with PEDs and other forms of cheating. With each case, we have shown less and less patience with leagues and organizations treating star athletes as above the law. We have greeted excuses, such as the NFL claiming not to have seen the Rice elevator video, with growing distrust and contempt.

And why not? Something to keep in mind is that we have lived through a lost decade (or two), one of watching an ever-wealthier upper class seeming to live by a separate set of rules. We see professional athletes as very much a part of this class. If they break rules, they often avoid any real punishment. Even if they even go to jail, the sentences somehow seem shorter. They might as well work on Wall Street.

This sense of corruption in all things is what happens when money and power are concentrated in the hands of a few. We’ve reached the long term effects of that, and our reactions to this case are a symptom. If there hadn’t been a video, perhaps it would be different, but the corruption is right there for all to see and we, insisting that professional athletes remain members of our community, want our pound of flesh.

Will we get it? Ray Rice wasn’t the first football player known to have beaten a wife or girlfriend. Not even close. Heck, he wasn’t even the last; there was even one after the first Rice video came out in July.

Only by seeing how we have failed do we as a society eventually learn. When it comes to abuse, we as a public have failed women and children. We have also, by the way, failed men - just ask Jonathan Martin. We have failed because what we had to lose as an audience wasn’t greater than what we had to gain. We have failed because we were able to keep the abuse of others at a safe distance from ourselves. We have failed because we could look at the abused and not yet see ourselves.

And that’s the key to deterrence: when we see others as we see ourselves, we find what will deter abuse. You see, it’s the community that we have to lose. If we go too far from that, we’re alone. If we’re alone, we won’t survive. We don’t survive.

- Daniel Ward

There is no question that Goodell and the Ravens did the right thing here. But it took this video to get them to do the right thing, to hit Ray Rice as hard as he deserved to be hit for hitting a woman the way he did in that elevator.


"You have a permit?"

(Reblogged from political-cartoons)