Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Municipal Violations
March 23, 2015 12:45 PM - Season 2, Episode 7 - Subscribe

This week: Elections in Israel go again to PM Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. --- Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz asks employees to discuss race matters with customers. --- 4th Graders in New Hampshire draft a bill to declare the Red-Tailed Hawk the official state raptor and travel to the state capital only to watch it get (metaphorically) shot down in flames. To make it up to the kids, LWT declares it the show's official bird, brings one into the studio, and airs a short promotional video. --- And Now: People On TV Honoring St. Patrick's Day In The Most Offensive Way Possible. --- Main story: Municipal violations in the US and how grievously they punish the poor. (YouTube 18m) LWT produced a short video piece against the practice, using hashtag #shutdownthefuckbarrel.
posted by JHarris (9 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
this was a pretty good ep, you know, something we've all been talking about a lot lately. I wonder what the process is for discovering what my local municipality brings in from municipal violations?
posted by rebent at 3:17 PM on March 23, 2015

I wonder what the process is...

FOI request (pdf) maybe?

The great thing about this show is that, on one hand, it's easy hashtag activism, but on topics that are substantive. On the other, the research is deep enough that you can say "Hey, what if I did an FOI request, since he's pointed out these data points to look for, then forwarded the results of that to local media, plus a group of like-minded friends and got them to go apeshit on our local elected officals?"

The tools are there, and he's proving that these things don't need to seem as hopeless or out of reach as they might when looked at in their totality.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:21 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know this really wasn't the point of the episode, but I was delighted by how uncomfortable John was standing next to that red tailed hawk.
posted by twoporedomain at 10:57 AM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

The whole RaceTogether thing is made so much worse by the fact that it starts off with some really good, really essential realizations. Like, one: Schultz recognizes that racism is Still A Thing. Two: He recognizes that it's not THEIR problem, it's OUR problem, like, all of ours. Three: He recognizes that this is a problem that needs to be solved by communities, not just by individuals or by academic or political institutions. Four: He recognizes that Starbucks is, at this point, a presence in many people's daily lives, and that therefore it may represent an unusually influential avenue for this kind of conversation. These are all really excellent things! Like, REALLY excellent!

But where he falls down is on Five: reach out to organizations who have decades of experience in this kind of work, with many trained experts who know how to best take advantage of this opportunity. No, instead he chose option Five A, so popular amongst well-meaning white guys: Decide that as he already had all these realizations, he must be endowed with all the capacities and skills necessary to solve this problem on his own, and incidentally not ask one single solitary person who is empowered to say "the FUCK have you been smoking?!" what they think of his plan.
posted by KathrynT at 9:17 PM on March 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

Damn, watching this and Vice back-to-back is really depressing.
posted by homunculus at 5:15 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

mandolin conspiracy: “The tools are there, and he's proving that these things don't need to seem as hopeless or out of reach as they might when looked at in their totality”
I glad you feel that way, because the fuckbarrel just about sucked the last drop of hope out of me. It's so basically, intrinsically wrong and immoral, but none of the magistrates and noblemen in charge of our so-called justice system seem to see that. Or worse, as you can see in the Supermax thread, people just say "Fuck 'em. They're pieces of shit anyway."
posted by ob1quixote at 12:02 AM on March 27, 2015

#notallmagistrates, though. My county runs a recognized advanced alternative sentencing program that includes not just Huber (work-release) sentences, but "weekend" Huber options, and other programs for drug addicts and other non-violent offenders, including people who've just racked up a bunch of fines for one reason or another. They help out the county with parks and roadside yardwork and the like, as well as the possibility of being seconded, as it were, to a non-profit where they not only work off fines, but often make community connections that can help them get jobs and other stability-enhancing factors. And I know we're not even at the forefront of that. I'm not sure what, if any, alternative sentencing may be extant in places like St. Louis County, but it's pretty clear that having that in the mix means that judges and cops are taken out of the loop in deciding how much money may be collected, so fines are significantly blunted in terms of being just a "fuckbarrel".

As a specific example, there was an outcry this year over cars blocking snowplows following a big wallop (one of the same storms that hit the East, but after picking up a lot more moisture in the Great Lakes). Our police chief responded that yes, proactive ticketing could be done, but he was very aware that the people who tend to leave their cars on the street are low-income as it is and live where they do, without off-street parking options, because of that.

Yet on the flip side of that, there need to be some kinds of incentive regimes in place. The drunks who live down the street and kept the block awake with their yelling, whooping, and occasional fighting eventually racked up disorderly conduct fines in four figures, and nothing (not even SIX SIMULTANEOUS d.o. cases) changed their behavior an iota. All it got us was the opportunity after months of disruption to get them finally evicted. Some people gotta get the pointy end of the stick sometimes.

And that goes, more mildly of course, for all sorts of things that a lopsided incentive system were lumped in the #fuckbarrel column, from license tags to nuisance violations. The privatized Alabama payday-loan-style fine collection scheme is particularly Kafkaesque, and Ferguson was ramping up disproportionate civil fines in the face of an apparently pit-bull-sharp competition among neighboring suburbs for keeping property and other taxes as low as possible. Like a sin tax, it's hard not to be able to gin up support for creating more punishment for people who mostly don't vote or pay attention to politics. But I don't see that civil fines themselves can or should go away, even though that's an apparent takeaway.
posted by dhartung at 1:08 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

dhartung, Last Week Tonight is able to bring more nuance to an issue than many shows, but it's still only half an hour long. They found a real problem, they publicized it. Of course it's possible it's not like that everywhere. But it's like that in many places.

I would say, however, that civil fines are not a good overall solution, not just because they provide direct incentives to abuse, but because if you're poor they can be life-ruining, and if you're rich they can easily become a way to pay for extra privilege. What millionaire is going to think twice about speeding if the fee is $200?


Just a reminder to everyone, LWT is off this week.
posted by JHarris at 12:46 PM on March 30, 2015

But there is a web exclusive on April Fools' Day.
posted by Gary at 6:11 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking: Looking for Home ...   |  Podcast: My Brother, My Brothe... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments