Media should give Singapore Summit a chance

David Webber. Columbia Missourian, June 17, 2018

Having spent 25 months of the past decade in South Korea, I intently watched American cable news coverage of the Kim-Trump summit in Singapore on Tuesday. While I have no idea why President Trump acted the way he did at the G7 in Canada, I saw no alternative but to hope Trump would have a positive summit with Kim Jong-Un. The summit was historic with the potential to change the U.S.‘ relationship with several Asian nations.

To be sure, North Korea has more than a 50-year history of atrocities and enslavement of its own people. Yes, it appears that economic sanctions and recent U.S. communications with China have pushed North Korea to find a way to change the path it is on.

I have come to believe that the most promising route to a peaceful Northeast Asia is the grassroots development of North Korean citizens, neighborhoods, churches, community groups, schools and other social institutions. International inspections are not going to improve the lives of the North Korean people, many of whom are living in dire conditions.

CNN, MSNBC, and several reputable print media on which I rely were disappointing in their coverage. They were largely a parade of nay-sayers, not only looking backward, but using their narrow personal experience as to how things should be.

The reporters, political commentators and interviewed experts were full of reasons why the summit would undoubtedly fail. Some viewers may have seen it as “ideological bias,” but I sense it is the occupational hazard of arrogance and self-importance.

A question asked several times was “What is the absolute minimum that Trump can get out of this summit for it to be considered a success?” The answer approximated “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” — the goal stated in U.S. law and United Nations resolutions.

Yes, that is the goal, but if the Singapore Summit results in a series of productive meetings involving the Secretary of State and his North Korean counterpart, the summit was a good use of the president’s time.

Summit coverage displayed a more general problem with cable TV, namely, live coverage has replaced in-depth, edited reporting. Apparently, it is less expensive, therefore “better,” to have a generalist TV host interview supposedly expert panelists about the topic of the day.

The host usually quickly recites the panelists’ impressive sounding title and projects a tone of fraternity rather than analytical acumen. Often, the panelists talk over each other and stir up live, on-the-air tension — I guess that is good television.

One commentator did observe “The Singapore Summit is spring training. It is not the World Series.” The topic of the night should have been, “How do we develop this fledgling team?” rather than, “What are all the ways we could have another losing season?”

The first reactions of South Koreans to the Singapore Summit was very positive, as indicated by the success of President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party of Korea local government elections the day after the summit.

Koreans have a long list of dates they use as shorthand for landmark events.

Let’s hope June 12 becomes a landmark date in Korean history.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Singapore Summit–first reaction, news link

Having spent 25 months of the past decade in South Korea, I’ve been intently watching US cable news coverage of the Kim-Trump summit in Singapore. I have no idea why President Trump acted the way he did at the G7 in Canada but I am hopeful, maybe even grateful, that he motivated the Singapore Summit. The cable news coverage of the summit was largely nay-sayers, looking backwards. We have to learn from the past and look to the future. Reducing US-South Korea “war games” is a good thing, as North Korea opens up. I’m hoping June 12, 2018 joins the list of many dates Koreans use as short-hand to mark significant dates.
Below is a link to the English-language Korea Times that I wish I was now reading sitting in a coffee shop in Seoul.

Race difference in traffic stops must be examined, reduced

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, June 8, 2018

The Missouri Attorney General’s annual report once again documents black-white differences in the Columbia Police Department’s traffic stops. Blacks are more than three times as likely than whites to be the driver in a traffic stop. Officially, Columbia’s disparity index is 3.28 for Blacks, .76 for whites, and about .60 for Hispanics and Asians.

For comparison, in Independence, MO, the disparity index is 3.96 for blacks and .76 for whites; for Springfield it is 2.61 for blacks and .97 for whites; for Jefferson City it is 2.6 for Blacks and .83 for whites.
I believe there is a “school to prison pipeline” that has imposed large-scale destruction on the Black community and a heavy cost on American society. Sadly, a phrase I first heard in 1968 still pretty much describes race in America: Blacks are last hired, first fired.

On any given day, blacks make up nearly half of Boone County jail inmates. National studies find that blacks are incarcerated at a high rate and for longer periods than whites.

However, placing simplistic attention on overall traffic stops is likely to further reduce trust in police and the criminal justice system and to increase calls for fewer traffic stops all around.
CPD reports last summer that overall traffic patrol has declined, in part due to budget constraints. As I have written about previously, there appears to be more traffic chaos such as illegal U-turns.Less traffic enforcement to avoid racial profiling controversies would be a bad idea.

“Racial profiling” conveys the idea that drivers are stopped due solely to their race. It suggests that blacks are intentionally selected by police officers to be stopped. An alternative explanation is that due to historical inequities in housing, jobs, and education, blacks are more likely to live in high crime areas.

City officials need to report traffic stops and other police actions at a more detailed level than for the city at large. City ward or beat data would shed more light on any patterns of racial difference. Without indications of racially biased police attitudes and behaviors, we should be slow in calling for the resignation of any public official, but persistent in proposing fundamental social change to reduce current wide racial disparities in arrests and incarceration rates.

Data from the Attorney General’s report that has not been reported in the media, is that the citation rate for stopped whites and blacks is virtually the same—11.9 for whites and 11.5 for blacks. If the CPD had many racist officers, the citation rate would be vastly higher for black drivers. Additionally, Hispanic and Asian drivers are stopped at a lower rate than whites, so it is not likely that people of color generally are targeted to be stopped.

Compared with white drivers, blacks are disproportionately less likely to be stopped for moving violations but more likely to be stopped for equipment and license problems. The actual number of stops for investigative reasons are 138 for whites and 156 for blacks—certainly unequal but together they are only a fraction of the 12,437 traffic stops in the city of Columbia.
Blacks are more than half of the 502 stopped drivers who are detected to have outstanding warrants. Because police officers have lists of outstanding warrants, and look for these offenders, I suspect this contributes to racial differences in traffic stops.

My personal experience with low income citizens is that outstanding warrants are not uncommon. Frequent reason for such a warrant are probation violations or “failure to appear” due to forgetfulness, distrust of the system, or desire not to face legal consequences for a crime with which they are charged.
When apprehended, such offenders routinely go to jail waiting for several months for a public defender to process a plea to a less serious crime. Reducing outstanding warrants may be a promising path to reducing traffic stop disparities.

The criminal justice system is not very just. Expanding and funding the public defender system, reducing bail, insuring equal sanctioning, using alternative sentencing are effective, ways to reduce outstanding warrants.
Furthermore, reducing joblessness and poverty, will reduce inequities in vehicle quality and license compliance.

Disparities in traffic stops are just the tip of an iceberg of racial injustice that public officials need to address and reduce. Meanwhile, local police departments need to enforce the law as equitably and just as they can.

Let Greitens’ legacy be a step toward campaign and election reform

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN June 1, 2018

Last week, I wrote about how President Donald Trump’s and then governor Eric Greitens’ outsider status, while helpful in getting them elected, failed to prepare them for governing.This week I will dream big and sketch out a reformed electoral system for state-wide offices. State legislative and local offices should have campaign processes designed for plenty of opportunity for new faces and new blood, but state-wide offices, certainly the top spot, should attract experienced officeholders.

Campaigns and elections are overly ripe, some would say rotten, for reform. There are court-imposed obstacles and political interests that can block any significant reform, but the starting point is for party leaders to visualize their ideal selection process, and then seek the advice of election lawyers.

Political parties have always been a murky institution in American politics. We never have clearly decided what they are and whether we even like them, but there needs to be some kind of winnowing process before voters make the final choice among candidates. Missouri political parties need to be more visible, and more central to individual candidates. For almost 50 years now, “running against the party” can earn a candidate a substantial level of support. Many candidates choose to downplay, or even avoid, their party label. Similarly, most voters have no meaningful connection to a political party.

Political parties need to do more than just candidate recruitment. They need to set standards for conducting good campaigns such as expectations about negative advertising, sharing voter information, and disseminating party platforms and positions. It is unlikely that state party committees will judge a candidate’s fitness for office, but voters need help in enforcing expectations of candidates.

As far as term limited elected officials are concerned, with fewer print state-focused political reporters, and an almost infinite array of internet outlets of unknown veracity, there is an empty hole in need of credible, institutional memory.

Political parties can contribute to filling this hole by establishing high quality quarterly policy forums, complete with streaming and podcasts, that aim to elevate the level of public discourse. Otherwise, citizens see no purpose for political parties other than bickering during another campaign cycle.
Greitens’ downfall and resignation serve to highlight three of the major flaws and pitfalls in the American campaign and election system. Greitens is not unique but his rapid rise and steep fall shines a bright light on needed changes.

First, Greitens won 40 percent of the vote in the 2016 Republican primary. About a quarter million votes in a state of more than 6 million people. Certainly a strong showing in a four-candidate race, especially for someone who was not a life-long Republican, but Greitens’ victory that day was short of a majority of voters and far shorter of a consensus.

We need to adopt election rules that require a majority, or even a super-majority, rather than just “the most votes.” A simple method of ranking all candidates or requiring a runoff will expose candidates to more of the electorate. An approval voting method is better than the present “first past the post” method because it encourages multiple candidates, but assures that a candidate with only a sliver of support is not the winner. Keep an eye on Maine’s recent adoption of instant runoff voting.

Secondly, Greitens, like most candidates nowadays, was largely independent of his own party. He raised his own money, a lot of it from unknown sources outside of Missouri, and ran his own campaign.

Greitens was heavily critical of Missouri legislative and political leaders and they apparently had little influence over him. There is just too much money coming and going, some of it delivered in cash for payment of legal services, for citizens to have confidence that the public interest is being pursued.
Public funding, spending caps, and centralized party funding all need to be considered. State-wide candidates need party funding or ambition and dark money will rule.

My most specific suggestion that would revolutionize American politics is as follows: let’s restore citizenship and federalism and limit campaign contributions to state residents. Why are residents from California, Massachusetts, Texas, or other states contributing to Missouri campaigns?
Third, voters are largely unengaged and uninformed. There were media reports of Greitens’ questionable campaign donors before the November 2016 election but it was not a campaign issue. It is likely that if it had not been for the Governor’s sex saga, probably not an impeachable offense, that Grietens’ alleged campaign violations would have been ignored.

Few voters understand, or need to understand, Missouri campaign reporting requirements, dark money, or provisions of the state’s sunshine law. Most candidates don’t either. Unfortunately, universities and the media have done little to serve Missourians’ civic information needs.
Democracy, a political system that converts citizen preferences into public policy decisions, is hard to achieve and maintain but can easily be imitated and distorted for personal political gain.

Inscribed around the top of the dome of the Missouri state capitol are the words from George Washington’s Farewell Address: In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.