Saturday, December 12, 2015

Was local government designed by a maniac who hated the residents?

In response to gun violence, two upstate New York sheriffs call for more people to walk around with guns. Let me explain why I think people who are charged with protecting public safety would advocate something that will make everyone more unsafe. "Responsible" offices does not mean "rational" policies. Not at all. Not here anyway.

First, arming people with no special training to police everyone else because they get off on walking around with a gun is irrational and counter productive, obviously. For every case where someone justifiably shoots someone (attempted break in, murder, etc.) there are 30 cases of suicide, murder, accidental shooting, etc. Here you go.

Yet, someone in authority says that more people who get into road rage situations should be armed, more depressed people should have a loaded gun nearby, etc. How can that happen?

Sheriffs are elected. Elections in the area are polarized, with Republicans tending to be people who grew up the in area and Democrats tending to be either 1) people who moved in later in life or 2) who are disenfranchised and rarely vote, with many exceptions, but in general, that's the pattern.

Local elections depend on three factors: 1) corruption (patronage, no show jobs, favoritism, such as reduced tax assessments for cronies and letting friends slide in court when accused of crimes, etc. and outright stealing of tax money); 2) demographics (more of a census than an election); 3) stirring up resentment of one group against another in order for leaders to continue to engage in corruption. So, the less qualified you are for a position, in this corrupt environment, the more likely you are to be elected.

Local elections are never rational considerations of what is the best public policy. The state has no system to arrest or otherwise remove from office flagrant thieves. The federal government is uninterested in local public corruption. Thus, in every aspect of life that has anything to do with government in this area -- schools, hospitals, roads, zoning, development, everything -- the outcomes are irrational, expensive, and worse than in other places even within the same general area of Third Worldish upstate New York. Nothing here is up to snuff when it comes to government.

This is true of law enforcement absolutely. In Columbia County, for example, we have 5 police departments for a population of 60,000. There are many police officers who serve only this county that make more than $100,000 a year.

Yet there is almost no street crime on a per capita basis. There is a lot of crime -- but that is done by the police's friends in county and town government and is not visible with the naked eye. You need to look at lists of numbers to see why they are stealing. It's not rocket science and many of the elected and appointed officials should be in jail. Yet local guys never get arrested, even as the heads of both the state senate and state assembly go to jail. Politicians getting arrested is good sign, unless the prosecution was personal or ideological.

Anyway, while the cops sit around sometimes making a lot of money with often nothing to do, they cannot target areas that do have street crime because they cannot coordinate between the various organizations -- state police, county sheriff and local police per town, village or city. We could have 50% fewer cops, making less money, and crime would fall if the system were organized rationally, with all the police in one department and the resources targeted at actual problems.

But that would be rational. If rationality broke out, taxes would drop and services would improve and elections might revolve around policy. That would be a disaster for those in charge. If the area were to improve and become more attractive, more people who are not cronies and cannot be stirred up against "them" or bought off with jobs and favors, etc. would move in and the machine would be worse off. The government authorities want conditions to be unattractive locally. Taxes high. Services bad.

So, the sheriff says walk around with guns. It's stupid, as anyone teaching criminology at a college would tell you, but the sheriff has no intention of learning how to do his job efficiently and cheaply. He would like those who vote for him to be stirred up against "them" -- those people who think walking around with a gun is unlikely to reduce gun violence. Those outsiders. Then people feel better psychologically, the sheriff is self-satisfied and feels important (he is an official after all). His voters feel better because they showed "them" who's boss, "they" can't push me around.

Meanwhile, small government Republicans preside over a government that spends more per capita by orders of magnitude than big government Democratic parts of the state. Taxes extremely high, services all mediocre at best. Corruption rampant. State Democrats won't say peep, those that are not yet in jail anyway, as they have similar arrangements with Democratic local crony machines. Local Democrats are only vaguely awake at best and/or disliked because they are tainted by crooked Democrats at the state level.

So we have 21 highways departments but not very good roads, expensive schools with brand new school buses and high tech blackboards and yet not one public high school graduate getting into any Ivy League college, some schools ranking dead last in the Hudson Valley in math, five police departments, with cops where they aren't needed, while crime is rampant in government and in a couple of unprotected hot spots, mediocre community college, overpriced mediocre hospital, ugly development that hinders economic growth, destruction of the environment, no public transport, no bike paths, no support for local agriculture, counter productive tourism campaigns, etc...

21 highway department superintendents
5 police chiefs
6 school superintendents, assistants, transportation departments, etc.
more municipals lawyers than you can shake a stick at
maybe, what, 40 judges, meeting all over the place, with cops attending hearings, assistants, etc.
population tiny: 60,000
taxes as high as anywhere
results terrible
no complaint from populous?

The state spent hundreds of thousans to prove that the county could save one million a year by consolidating all property assessments in one office.  2001 I think -- looking for link. Anyway, the officials in the county appreciated the state spending the money on an efficiency study. The cronies in Columbia County think it's inefficient for them to spend their own dollar for two rolls of toilet paper when the state can provide them the same service with a tax payer funded efficiency study.

Go figure.

But get yourself a gun. Welcome to Columbia County.

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