Government Legal, Laws, and Regs

Before you sign that petition

The USDA has been busy approving genetically modified crops for cultivation, including a potato and alfalfa. I’ll have much more to say on GMO later, but I wanted to focus on one aspect of the approval process—the submittal of public comments.

Before the USDA approves a new GMO crop, it opens the approval for public comments. The USDA has to address all of the comments, in one way or another, before the approval. The same holds true for all of the government agencies, and most decisions made by those agencies: the decision goes through a period of public commentary, and the agency has to read each comment and ensure any concerns in the comment are addressed. An example is the recent invitation for the public to comment on the USDA’s proposed changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program.

The GMO potato approval received exactly 308 comments. Considering how controversial genetic modification of food crops is, you might be surprised that there were so few comments, but no there were only 308 comments that the USDA addressed.

Of course, one of the comments was a consolidated document consisting of “identical or nearly identical letters, for a total of 41,475 comments.” What effect did all those 41,475 separate letters have on the USDA decision? They had the effect of one, single, submitted comment.

Frequently when a government decision is opened for public commentary, one site or another will start up a petition for people to add copy and paste comments that the organization will submit to the agency on their behalf. And in every single case, the entire collection of signatures becomes exactly one comment. For the most part, it doesn’t matter how many signatures are attached to the comment, it’s still treated like one comment. It doesn’t matter how many letters are attached if they’re identical, or nearly identical: they’re treated as one comment.

The only time the number of signatures matters, is when there’s enough publicity associated with the signatures to generate interest from the White House or Congress who will then intervene on behalf of the group of people. For the most part, you might as well spend your time knitting socks or tweeting what you had for lunch, for all the impact it will have to submit a comment through a petition.

However, if you submit a comment directly to the agency, it gets counted as one comment. The concerns you thoughtfully detail do have to be addressed. The comment does have an impact. The impact might be small, but it isn’t negligible. Signing your name to a petition is, for the most part, negligible. You’re not doing a damn thing. Not when it comes to federal rulemaking and decisions.

You’re better off focusing on issues that really matter to you and taking the time to write a detailed, thoughtful comment related to those specific issues, than you are blindly signing every petition that comes your way in Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.


Ferguson: A Benefit of the Doubt

Ferguson protestor

My father was a cop. A Washington state patrolman. I like to think he was a good cop, and have never received any indication otherwise.

When Mike Brown was shot in Ferguson, less than 25 minutes from where I live, I wanted to give the policeman who shot him the benefit of the doubt. Even when I heard that Mike Brown was not armed. Even when I heard they left his body in the street for close to five hours. After all, my Dad was a cop, and if it had been my father who did the shooting, I’d like everyone to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But then there were all the things that just didn’t feel right. Mike Brown wasn’t shot in the dark of night in a back alley. He was shot in the middle of the day—the exact middle of the day—in the middle of a street, in the middle of a city, surrounded by people. I’m the daughter of a cop and I kept asking myself, how on earth a police officer got himself into such a situation where he feared for his life from an unarmed man who was running away from him, in the middle of a bright, clear day, in the middle of a city street, and fellow officers just minutes away?

And leaving his body lying there, in the heat, in the street—the exact middle of the street; face down, blood everywhere, with distraught and shocked people all around. We were told on TV that the delay to recover Mike Brown’s body was because the Ferguson police wanted the County police to take over the investigation, and it took time to manage the transfer of authority. But then we were told a large crowd threatened, and the coroner’s van couldn’t get in. And then we were told that shots were fired, the same nebulous shots fired that seemed to happen whenever it is oddly convenient for the police.

Benefit of the doubt. I was still holding on to that benefit of the doubt.

Surely, Brown must have been involved in some heinous deed when he was shot. Perhaps kidnapping a child? Beating up on an elderly person? Biting the heads off of kittens?

Jaywalking. The cop pulled Mike Brown over because he was jaywalking. To be precise, because Mike Brown and a friend were walking down the middle of the street. And when the cop yelled at him to get out of the street, Brown didn’t and that started the chain that left a bloody dead body, still in the middle of the same damn street.

Confusion turned to anger in the city and I watched the events unfold on TV and read about them in the Post-Dispatch online site. I still held tightly on to that benefit of a doubt, even when the police brought the dogs in to manage the growing crowds. I watched the cops with the dogs and the crowds of black people, and shook with the recognition of old black and white photos of cops and dogs and black people. I wanted to slap the face of the idiot who thought bringing out dogs was a good idea, but then the police brought in the armored trucks and mounted rifles, and I wanted to kiss the idiot because the dogs were actually the good part.

There’s something about seeing a cop in camouflage and bullet proof vest, on top of an armored truck with a rifle pointed at unarmed protesters, that shakes your faith in the police promise to protect and serve.

At the end of the week, my hold on that benefit of the doubt was more a matter of habit than belief, which means when the Ferguson police chief came out with the Mike Brown video just before giving the name of the cop who shot Mike Brown, the doubt vanished instantly, poof! Yeah, just like that.

I watched that man, sweating in the sun, stumble through the words about releasing the video because people asked for it when no one asked for the video. Chief Jackson knew exactly what he was doing by releasing that video, and his actions were not those of a man secure in the belief that his officer was in the right.

At that moment, the exact moment Jackson came out with the video, I knew without a doubt that the shooting was not righteous.

Photo by Jamell Bouie CC BY 2.0


Not Voting is Not an Option

vote hell yeah

It’s going to rain on Tuesday. It’s going to rain all day long. This means water backing up because of all the leaves not collected and blocking storm sewer intakes, wet kids waiting for the bus, a run on hot coffee and chocolate, and a dismal showing at the voting booth. Of course, that last holds true even if the sun is shining, and rainbows sparkle overhead.

People are protesting and dying for the right to vote in other countries, while we can’t be bothered to show up at the polls. We’re losing our easy access to the voting booth with all the new voter restrictions, aided and abetted by our Supreme Court, but we don’t seem to care. Someday I expect we’ll wake up and found out that our right to vote has been gradually restricted until it no longer exists in many of our states…and no one will notice.

Maybe we won’t notice because we all know that it’s all a fake, a fraud, and none of them damn idiots is worth our time. After all, why vote, we ask ourselves. What’s the point? They’re all corrupt., we say, thereby ensuring that our belief becomes fact.

Negative hyperbole aside, it does seem as if there isn’t much to choose from. I’m about as lefty/progressive as you can get, but I’m not enamored with Missouri’s Democrats. We only have to look at how poorly Ferguson has been handled to see why local rap artist Tef Poe exclaimed The Democrats are Failing Us.

Too bad Tef Poe didn’t take an interest in the election before the primaries. The one person who has made most of us unhappy about how the Mike Brown shooting is being handled, our St. Louis County prosecutor-for-life, Bob McCullough, actually had a Democratic challenger: a black woman by the name of Leslie Broadnax. I have to think that Ms. Broadnax wouldn’t have been the lightning rod of distrust that McCullough has been.

If only more than 9% of Ferguson residents had showed up for the primary, we may be looking at a far different outlook related to the Mike Brown shooting today.

If elected, Broadnax says she wants to look into why some county arrest warrants can take years to process and why the county hasn’t done more with drug courts.

Strikes me that Ms. Broadnax would have been a breath of fresh air in the St. Louis area. Too bad no one showed up to vote for her.

We don’t have an “important” election in Missouri this year. We don’t have a senate seat up for grabs, or even a fight for governor. We have House of Representative elections, of course, but Missouri GOP incumbents are so sure they’ll win again, many aren’t even bothering to run an election. Heck, we even have one representative playing his own version of Where’s Waldo?

Then there’s the St. Louis County executive race, which became a little more exciting because of recent events. And our state legislature has several positions up for grabs. But who cares about state legislatures.

State politics…nothing to see here.

Jumping Jacks, anyone?

We do have more state Constitutional Amendments to vote on, but in Missouri, that’s the same as saying the sun rises in the morning and yes, that house in the woods in the Ozarks with the 500 “Do not trezpas or u’ll be Shot!” signs is a meth lab. Missouri has one of the most bloated state Constitutions, being 10 times the size of the one that seems to work for the entire United States of America. We also have one of the biggest state legislatures, third largest number of counties, and 92 separate dinky little townships in the St. Louis region, alone. Most with their own miniscule court system, police and fire departments.

I live in Shrewsbury, one of those 92 separate communities. We have a population of 6000, and the town council’s next meeting is to discuss adding a new assistant Fire Chief position, because the existing Fire Chief needs help with his 19 member department. However, the police department has 20 members, so fair’s fair. Last month the council voted to hire a chief financial officer, because the town Administrator just can’t manage all those town employees and handle all that fiscal stuff too. There’s a new Wal-Mart going up, you know. Puts us on the map.

There is no such thing as an unimportant election. Vote, and earn the right to bitch about the government. Continue to vote, and maybe someday we’ll have a government we won’t need to bitch about.