[Note: Earlier that day Mara basically verbally kicked an abuser in the balls, saying “I am only sexually attracted to men. Too bad you’ll never be one.” One of the abuser’s friends has now tracked down Mara and is trying to convince her to go easier on his friend. Mara is still 15 and this is in the school cafeteria.]

“I live two houses down from him. We’ve been friends since we were little. But when he got to high school… he’s not… smart. He got angry. He started doing things he shouldn’t do and taking it out on people around him like his little sister. He’s not a bad person, really, he’s just….”
“Weak,” Mara said.
Will looked down at his own tray. “Yeah.”
Mara ate another mouthful of food and Will picked at his.
Mara continued. “He models his behavior after his father, who is also weak and scared that someone will discover that. They abuse that girl to make themselves feel powerful. That is evil.”
“Evil is a strong word,” Will said. He didn’t look like he disagreed. Just having trouble stomaching it.
Mara shrugged. “Every day, we make a decision about how we will live life that day. Every day we choose. He has made his choices. So be it. He is what he is and nothing you or I say or do will change that, in my experience.”
“You’re not talking like a Russian anymore,” Will noted. “You’re talking like someone from Southern California.”
Mara replied in Russian, “I am Mara Kramarov from Moscow, Russia.” Will, of course, did not understand a word, though he may have picked up her name and the word “Rosiya”. Mara continued in English. “English is not my native language, so I try to imitate whatever seems to be an appropriate accent. Unless I am being very formal and Russian. I sound very Russian then.”
“What… what were you in Russia?”
“I was a child of course,” Mara replied. “What, you think every Russian child comes out of the womb as a KGB agent with a dozen ways of killing people? No. My mother is a police agent and she hired me as an interpreter to translate for some bad people, so I have seen bad people. I have conversed with bad people. None of them turned good. It may happen, I suppose, but not in my experience. Once someone has made the choice to be evil they do not choose otherwise.”
“But Todd didn’t really choose, it was sort of chosen for him…”
“He could have chosen otherwise. You, you are not evil. You are concerned about your friend, that is not the act of an evil person. He could have modeled himself upon you rather than upon his father. There are likely others in the community that he could have chosen as his role model. He did not. He chose. He continues to choose. If you feel otherwise feel free to prove me wrong and convince him to not do evil. I will admit I am wrong then. But only then.”
“You are very cynical,” Will complained.
“I am Russian,” Mara said. “If our winters are not trying to kill us, our government is trying to kill us. Cynicism is our national sport. But as I say, feel free to prove me wrong. If so, I will admit I am wrong.” She glanced at her watch, realized lunch period was almost over, and started eating faster.
Will was picking at his food. “I don’t know what to do,” he said. Pointlessly, Mara thought.
Mara swallowed the last of the mixed vegetables, then slurped down the applesauce. Her tray was empty. She looked for where to take the empty trays and spotted it. But before she stood up she gave Will some advice.
“You do what you can. You do what you must. You do what is right. You make that choice, every day, to do what is right. That is what you do.”
“You make it sound easy,” Will complained.
“No. Never easy. But every day you choose what kind of person you will be. Will you choose the way of good and stand up and do what is right, or will you choose evil? That is your choice, every day. Choose.” And Mara stood up and took up her tray. She saw Will looking troubled. But there was no more advice she could give him.


She is brilliant

Regina Spektor, “Grand Hotel”, off her brilliant 2016 album Remember Us To Life.

Check out the whole session, including the bit at the end where she talks about life after she arrived in America as a child, and how the whole neighborhood in the Bronx rallied around the family to feed her musical ambitions including taking up a collection to buy a piano for her family and a brilliant classical piano teacher and performer who lived in the neighborhood giving her free lessons because they were so poor they couldn’t afford any, and how lucky she feels to have experienced this in her life when there is so much negativity around. She knows just how lucky she is, unlike the people who were born on 3rd base and thought they hit a triple, like Dim Shrub Son and Dimmer Orange Son.

— Badtux the Music Penguin

I’m one of those people whose life has spanned the transition from the paper era to the digital era. When I went to college, researching any topic required going to the library and using the card catalog and microfiche indexes to locate material. If I wanted government statistics, they were on paper in what was basically 1/4th of the bottom floor of our college library and I had to use a big paper index to find them. Making a copy for later was 5 cents per page. So basically, there was an excuse back then for someone to say something stupid — the information just wasn’t easily available.

But today? If you want to look up tort costs in healthcare, you can look up the total amount spent on medical liability insurance (approximately 0.3% of total healthcare spending), then look up tort limits and healthcare costs by state, and easily see that a) the amount spent defending and paying out on lawsuits is trivial, and b) defensive medicine isn’t really a “thing”, states with strict tort limits don’t have lower healthcare costs on average than those without. Then you can go look for the real causes of high healthcare costs, which isn’t lawsuits. Despite access to every bit of information needed to prove or disprove the assertion “tort costs causes high healthcare costs”, virtually nobody does the few mouse strokes needed to do so.

Instead, we seem to have weaponized ignorance. Ignorant memes that can easily be disproved by a few mouse strokes use social media to sweep the nation within hours of their release by Russian troll factories. Despite the fact that so much information is available, most of the American public seems disinterested in looking it up. And that surprises some people.

But not me. Because I’ve studied American history (hell, I’ve lived half a century of it). Ignorance has always been the preferred state of the average American. Few regardless of the era have cared about education. There’s a *reason* why the atom bomb was built mostly by European immigrants. Even today, close to half of our STEM workforce is foreign-born or the children of immigrants. All that technology has managed to do is allow the ignorant to confirm with each other that their ignorance is truth and anything that doesn’t agree with their ignorant opinions is fake. Science textbooks? Fake. Government statistics? Fake. Scientists? Elitist fakes. By allowing them to confirm with each other that anybody who actually knows anything is a fake, their ignorance is not only confirmed, but weaponized.

The fact that immigrants have contributed much of the intellectual advancement of America in the past century is also why the ignorant are so anti-immigrant. The last thing they want is for people smarter and harder working than they are to render them obsolete. Even if they are.

– Badtux the Ignorance-spottin’ Penguin

(Natalie and Mara are backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, occasionally doing some climbing. Mara is between her freshman and sophomore years in high school, Natalie is between her freshman and sophomore years in college and is loud and bold and in-your-face with bright green hair slowly growing out to black. The trip was arranged by Mara’s mother, who decided that Mara needed a female role model in her life with similar interests. Note that Mara’s dream job is backcountry ranger.)

They met forest rangers from time to time. About half the time they were asked for permits and bear canisters. Permits were easy, but bear canisters were buried underneath climbing gear and it always took thirty minutes of unpacking and then re-packing to get them out, show them to the ranger, and put them back away and putting the climbing gear back on top. Mara understood the necessity of the bear canisters, bears habituated to human food had to be killed as a danger to humans so the best way to keep the bears alive was to keep the food away from them in bear-proof containers, but they’d had to show their bear canisters to get their permits. Surely that was enough?

Mara asked that question of one of the rangers finally, and the ranger just smiled and shook his head. “Some people think bear canisters are too heavy, so they dump their food out of the canister as soon as they get out of the permit station.”

“That’s so irresponsible!” Mara exclaimed, and Natalie grinned and said “Kiddo, keep that dewy-eyed naïveté as long as you can, because you’ll find out soon enough that people suck and they’ll do stupid irresponsible things just to do them. Stupid fuckers. Seen any of those asswipes today, Mr. Ranger?”

The ranger pulled out his ticket book and showed them a few pages.

Mara’s faith in humanity was dashed even further than it’d already been.

Virtually all of the rangers they encountered in their months of travel were men. The women rangers were mostly in the visiter centers or interpretive centers. Mara was somewhat surprised when they were stopped in the back country one afternoon by a woman ranger. While they were unpacking their backpacks to show the ranger their bear canisters, Mara started grilling the lady ranger on what it took to become a ranger, and the lady ranger replied with the details of how she became a ranger — the college degree, the law enforcement training, the years of seasonal work, and finally a permanent job. It was a nomadic life, the lady ranger explained, where she could be moved to a different national forest at any time based on the needs of the Forest Service.

And then Mara brought the elephant into the room that everybody had been tiptoeing around. “You’re the only lady backcountry ranger that we’ve seen. Knowing what you know, would you recommend that I try to become a backcountry ranger?”

The ranger almost deflated at that, and was silent for long seconds. Finally she said, “the lawsuits speak for themselves.”

“The lawsuits?” Mara asked, baffled.

Natalie intervened there. “Yeah, the Forest Service got sued by dozens of women who claim that they were discriminated against and treated badly by their supervisors for the crime of being women. It fucking sucks.”

“You have to want it a lot,” the lady ranger said. “If you don’t, you won’t last.”

“I see,” Mara said. She showed the ranger her bear canister full of food and other smelly items, then put it away and re-packed in silence.

People suck, Natalie had said. Mara had known that intellectually, but this lesson in how much they sucked hit closer to home than Mara liked.

An administrative offense is something like a OHSA violation, where you are violating rules and regulations. When you are cited for an administrative offense and are penalized with a fine or other administrative action, you appear before a hearing officer and argue your case that you should not have to pay the fine or comply with the administrative action. You are never convicted of a crime as part of this, and you never have a criminal record as a result of this.

Immigration removal of those without a valid visa, here in the United States, is an administrative action. Those who have overstayed their visas or entered without a visa appear before an administrative law judge, who then either orders them to be released, or orders them to be administratively removed. These people are not convicted of a crime as part of this administrative action, and do not have a criminal record as a result of this administrative action. Because, as I’ve previously pointed out, if it were charged as a crime, then the Constitution requires a grand jury to indict, requires providing a lawyer, and requires a jury for conviction. Thus ICE deliberately does not charge immigrants slated for deportation with any crime, because that would trigger civil rights protections that they don’t want triggered.

So anyhow: In 2016 the NYPD received 80 “administrative detainer” requests from ICE of prisoners slated for release who they claimed had criminal records. The NYPD investigated those claims, and in those cases where prisoners had a felony record, released the prisoners into ICE custody. This was done as a favor to ICE, which in turn has done favors in the past for the NYPD such as deporting a felon they really don’t want released back to the streets. It is not the job of the NYPD to spend significant resources dealing with administrative actions associated with another agency altogether and they have no obligation under the Constitution or under New York law to do so.

In 2017, however, after Trump unleashed them for an overall war on immigrants, ICE sent a whopping 1,526 detainer requests to the NYPD claiming that immigrants were felons who needed to be deported upon release — or basically one for every single immigrant slated for release. After the first few dozen didn’t pan out as being felons, the NYPD basically started waste-binning these requests. The NYPD investigated the first few, and after a few dozen proved to not have criminal records the NYPD started returning the detainer requests wholesale rubber stamped “Unable to verify criminal record.” Because really, if ICE lies to you a dozen times, why bother validating that they lied to you the other 1,500 times?!

Police officers are not immigration agents. Their job is to maintain public order and arrest people who commit crimes in order to prosecute them as criminals in a court of law. Note that undocumented immigrant are never prosecuted for being undocumented. That would give them rights, such as the right to an attorney and trial by jury. Instead, they are removed from the United States via an administrative action that requires only an administrative hearing with far fewer rights. This administrative action does not result in a criminal record for the immigrant, because it is an administrative action, not a criminal action. Requiring police officers to treat people as criminals who have never been convicted of any crime in the United States and never *will* be convicted of any crime in the United States is un-American and utterly ridiculous, and attempting to use police officers in order to enforce administrative actions rather than to enforce criminal law is a complete and total waste of their resources.

In short, it is not surprising to me that the NYPD started wholesale refusing these detainer requests. Once you want them to be enforcing administrative actions rather than enforcing criminal law, you’re no longer an ally — you’re the enemy. Because their sole reason for existing is to enforce criminal law. End of story. Asking them to do something outside their reason for existing is okay for a few times a year as a favor, but if you’re demanding massive use of their resources that they should be using to chase and prosecute criminals, you are their enemy.

– Badtux the Law Penguin

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, under the Constitution, is charged with judging what the Constitution actually says, states cannot be forced to enforce Federal law, nor forced to pass laws. This is because of the 10th Amendment, which reserves those powers to the states. This is backed up not only by significant historical precedent dating back to the 1840’s Fugitive Slave Act, but by two modern decisions in cases brought by right wing groups: Printz v. United States (1997), which held that the U.S. government could not commandeer sheriffs to enforce provisions of the Brady Gun Control Act, and Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), which held that the Federal government could not compel states to pass legislation expanding Medicaid.

In short, the United States Government is prohibited by the Constitution and the 10th Amendment specifically from forcing local law enforcement agencies to enforce Federal law. This is not controversial except amongst fascists who want to overthrow the Constitution. And Jeff Sessions. But I repeat myself.

I am talking about Jeff Sessions suing California for exercising its 10th Amendment rights under the Constitution, of course. The 10th Amendment is clear: The Federal Government may neither commandeer local law enforcement to enforce Federal laws as ICE wants to do, nor is the Federal Government allowed to dictate to states what laws they can or cannot pass, as long as those laws do not violate rights guaranteed by the Constitution or assume powers reserved to the Federal government under the Constitution.

So now here comes Sessions, booming that he should be able to force local law enforcement and governments to enforce Federal immigration law, in contravention of the 10th Amendment. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that someone from Alabama doesn’t care much for the Constitution, especially that whole 14th and 15th Amendment part (they’re still upset there that Lincoln “stole” their slaves — no, I’m serious, it’s even taught in schools in Alabama) — it’s just weird that he’s going against two right-wing Supreme Court decisions to do it.

But then, I guess IOKIYR.

– Badtux the Baffled Law Penguin

There was no back.

“And what will happen to…” Carlos waved towards the chained man beyond the one-way glass window.

“It is not our place to ask,” Mara said. “They will take him back to jail and file charges against him, or a predator will go finish the job of reducing him to nothing that I started then he will be killed, or he will simply be killed and disappeared. I don’t know what will happen to him and I do not want to know. Sometimes not knowing is best, yes?”

“I don’t think I can live like this,” Carlos said softly.

“I know,” Mara said. “But what choice do we have? The world is what it is. I was raped. For a few minutes, I got to live out every rape victim’s private fantasy of making the rapist feel that terror and helplessness. It changes nothing, but it is done. Now we live our lives, and what happens to the rapist… that is between him and people who are not us, people whose job is to protect us from people like that. That is life. We live the life we have, because it is the only one there is.”

“So bleak…”

Mara smiled. “I’m Russian. If I’m not being bad-ass I’m brooding. That’s how we are.” She turned to her mother. “Carlos needs a ride home. For that matter, I need a ride home too.” Mara took Carlos’s hand, and turned towards the door.

Behind her, two large men approached the chained man in the next room. One unlocked his chains from the floor while the other controlled him with huge hands attached to arms the size of small trees. The chained man was then jerked out of the chair and dragged out of the room. Mara did not look back. There was no back. There was only forward, one day at a time, until there wasn’t.
Yes, I am writing my Russian novel.
Mara is fourteen years old in this passage. Her mother is a high ranking official in some agency that is so confidential that even Mara does not know who her mother actually works for. Her mother is not exactly warm and cuddly. Her notion of helping her daughter cope with being raped was to allow her daughter to terrorize the rapist for a few minutes. Here is the photo I use to represent Mara’s mother in my head.