Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Valley girls take New York

No, this isn't about some old 1980's B-movie featuring dim-witted denizens of San Fernando Valley heading off to make it big in New York City. Or maybe it is.

A blast from the past (from 1982, to be exact):

Fer shur, fer shur, right? Like, totally.

Vapidity, the unrestrained usage of certain words and phrases, and an incredibly ironic superiority complex, these were signature traits of the Valley Girls, a cultural phenomenon so ably mocked by Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit (who was definitely not a real member of that class) in the above song. And predictably, when the song came out, high school girls who had adopted the "Valley Girl" persona misread the song as being largely complimentary, not critical.

While this general persona has faded into memory by and large, elements of it remain, particularly with regard to valleyspeak. "Ohmygod" for instance is going strong, aided by the OMG of the texting and social media world. Even more prevalent is the usage of "like" as a place-holder in conversation (a habit my very intelligent teenager has picked up and I am trying to help her break). But at least such habits are largely confined to young people, who have the time to undo such tendencies. Right?

Not so fast. A former intern for the Weiner Campaign (sounds like the National Hot Dog Association's new ad program), one Olivia Nuzzi, has published something of a tell-all about the Campaign's hiring practices. While it makes Weiner look bad, it's hardly earth-shattering stuff. Nonentheless, the Campaign's communications director--Barbara Morgan--saw fit to respond to the piece in a TPM interview. Some of what she said about Ms. Nuzzi (my boldface):
I’m dealing with like stupid fucking interns who make it on to the cover of the Daily News even though they signed NDAs and/or they proceeded to trash me...And by the way, I tried to fire her, but she begged to come back and I gave her a second chance...

Fucking slutbag. Nice fucking glamour shot on the cover of the Daily News. Man, see if you ever get a job in this town again...

It’s all bullshit.I mean, it’s such bullshit. She could fucking — fucking twat...

I have no idea, but I can tell you she … like accosted me at like our petitioning thing to be able to become my intern, begged me to be my intern, sent me something within like 20 minutes of meeting her and then proceeded to — she came in the next day and was like, basically, 'I want to be your bitch all summer long, that's all I want to do is be your righthand person.' I was like, 'OK, well, it’s not really glamorous, like, you’re going to do clips, and you’re going to do media catching, and you’re going to do x, y, and z and maybe I’ll get you to the point where you’re like doing some other stuff'...

She sucked. She like wasn't good at setting up events. She was clearly there because she wanted to be seen. Like it was, like, terrible and I had to like - she would like, she would just not show up for work. For the four weeks she worked there — she didn't work weekends, so twenty days total. Of those twenty days, she missed probably five because she would just like not show up and not tell me she wasn't going to be there. So, yeah, so there’s that...

And then like she had the fucking balls to like trash me in the paper. And be like, ‘His communications director was last the press secretary of the Department of Education in New Jersey. You know what? Fuck you, you little cunt. I’m not joking, I am going to sue her...
Like wow. The name-calling and needless profanity is bad enough, coming from someone who is supposed to be in charge of communications, but come on. Like, like, like, like, like. From an adult PR professional. Fifth paragraph, fourth sentence: thirteen words in and four of them are "like." Is such stupidity acceptable at this level? At any level? Weiner's campaign is a mess, dignity went out the window ages ago. And Morgan's name-calling only makes things worse. But is it too much to ask for some proper spoken language, for actual linguistic skills from people hired under the "communications" umbrella? Before coming on board the Weiner Campaign, Morgan was employed as a spokesperson for both the New York City Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Education. Like, really? It's a sad day for the human race.

Cheers, all.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Left's commitment to a race-based narrative

Detroit and New Orleans, two famous--of not legendary--American cities that each spawned unique cultural phenomenons, that were both major hubs of industry and commerce. The Motown sound came out of Detroit, while New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz and, really, of the blues as well. These musical developments were a reflection of the multiculturalism both cities were known for, particularly with regards to the African American communities in each. At the same time, both cities went through massive periods of economic growth, boom times really, that played a role in the way such music developed and became nationally and internationally recognized and accepted.

Andrew O'Hehir at Salon discusses these two cities, their cultural and economic contributions, and their downfall, then offers up an admittedly nonsensical conspiracy theory in this regard (my boldface):
Is it pure coincidence that these two landmark cities, known around the world as fountainheads of the most vibrant and creative aspects of American culture, have become our two direst examples of urban failure and collapse? If so, it’s an awfully strange one. I’m tempted to propose a conspiracy theory: As centers of African-American cultural and political power and engines of a worldwide multiracial pop culture that was egalitarian, hedonistic and anti-authoritarian, these cities posed a psychic threat to the most reactionary and racist strains in American life. I mean the strain represented by Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” (imagine what he’d have to say about New Orleans jazz) or by the slightly more coded racism of Sean Hannity today. As payback for the worldwide revolution symbolized by hot jazz, Smokey Robinson dancin’ to keep from cryin’ and Eminem trading verses with Rihanna, New Orleans and Detroit had to be punished. Specifically, they had to be isolated, impoverished and almost literally destroyed, so they could be held up as examples of what happens when black people are allowed to govern themselves.
While he seemingly admits this theory is basically nonsense, he nonetheless allows that some--on the Right--would be more than happy if it wasn't nonsense, are willing in fact to entertain the narrative as more or less accurate:
I do, however, think that narrative has some validity on a psychological level, and that some right-wingers in America are so delusional, so short-sighted and, frankly, so unpatriotic and culturally backward that they were delighted to see those cities fail and did everything possible to help them along.
He further argues that the failures of both cities have been framed by "many mainstream commentators" (his words) as "black stories." He offers no examples, no evidence for these claims, mind you, he just puts his opinion out there as consistent with the facts. And even as he allows that the problems besetting both cities can be attributed to the failures of local government leaders, he minimizes these actual facts in favor of his own unsupported narrative. He concludes the piece--which is entitled "Why the Right Hates Detroit," by the way--thusly:
I think the collapse of Detroit makes us look the way we looked after the national humiliation of Katrina: like a bitter, miserly and dying empire where the deluded rich cling to their McMansions and mock the suffering of the poor while everyone else fights over the scraps, and where the slow-acting poison of racism continues to work its bad magic.
But the facts are still the facts. Let's review a few of them.

With regard to New Orleans and Katrina, the local levee boards misspent millions upon millions of dollars across decades, dollars that were supposed to go to levee repair and improvement and instead went to fund things like golf courses and casinos or went simply into the back pockets of local leaders. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans was not a dying city in the way Detroit was and is, at all. But the destruction and aftermath of the hurricane laid bare just how deep the corruption ran in New Orleans, corruption that was always known to exist but was often ignored or romanticized by people like Mr. O'Hehir. Propped up by tourism dollars and the State and Federal governments, New Orleans was not an example of failed black leadership, it was an example of failed liberal leadership.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Howard Zinn is good for the soul

In Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon (playing the part of "Will") utters a famous line about the now-deceased historian Howard Zinn to Sean (the psychiatrist played by Robin Williams):
You wanna read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. That book’ll fuckin’ knock you on your ass.
I vividly remember that scene, since at the time--in 1997--I had just decided to go back to college to complete an undergraduate degree in history. I had already read A People's History, though, some eight or nine years previously (for fun, not for any sort of school requirement). Still, I enjoyed hearing the book being mentioned in the movie, as it was a favorite of mine then and remains so to this day.

But there was another history-related scene in the movie that has also stuck with me. It was the exchange in the bar between Will and the obnoxious, self-important grad student named Clark. Will's friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) and Clark are competing for the attentions of Skylar (Minnie Driver). Clark attempts to embarrass Chuckie by ridiculing his lack of education. And it works, until Will steps in. Watch it for yourself:

The critical (for me) exchange between Will and Clark:
Clark (to Chuckie): No, no, no, no! There's no problem here. I was just hoping you might give me some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the southern colonies. My contention is that prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the southern colonies, could be most aptly described as agrarian pre-capitalist.  
Will (jumping in): Of course that's your contention. You're a first-year grad student; you just got finished reading some Marxian historian, Pete Garrison probably. You're gonna be convinced of that 'till next month when you get to James Lemon. Then you're going to be talking about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That's gonna last until next year; you're gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin' about, you know, the pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.  
Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won't, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social...  
Will: "Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth"? You got that from Vickers' "Work in Essex County," page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you, is that your thing, you come into a bar, read some obscure passage and then pretend - you pawn it off as your own, as your own idea just to impress some girls, embarrass my friend?
Now I'm no card-carrying genius like the character played by Damon, but this scene still struck a chord with me, because despite my lack of degrees--at the time--I knew what Damon was saying, I understood all the general points he was making, even with the introduction of the fictional historian "Pete Garrison" and the made-up quote from Vickers' real (and significant) treatise. In this brief exchange, Will reveals himself to be something of a radical, when it comes to history and historians. So it's no wonder that later in the movie, he has high praise for the unavowed leader of the New Left Historians, Howard Zinn.

Friday, July 26, 2013

City Council fiddles while Detroit burns

From Robert Laurie at the Detroit News:
Detroit City Council has finally proven its worth. Not content with their image as a gaggle of worthless, backbiting has-beens, it members have stepped up to the plate and done. . . something. Let the record show that, when the chips were down, the Council was there – ready to make the tough calls. 
On Tuesday, with a unanimous vote, they supported a resolution supporting an NAACP petition demanding that federal civil rights charges be filed against George Zimmerman.

Sure, the city’s in bankruptcy. Detroit is flat broke. Pensioners are about to lose their livelihoods, and Southeast Michigan has sailed over the precipice of financial ruin. All of this happened while the Council continued, for decades, to squawk at each other.
It's mind-boggling. As Laurie points out in his piece, the politicians running Detroit are the masters of the blame game. Every problem faced by the city has--for decades--been blamed on someone else, on outside forces beyond the control of the local leaders.

With Kevyn Orr now largely running the show in Detroit, it's true that the City Council doesn't have a great deal to do. But its nine members are all still drawing a salary (of around $74,000 a year) and Orr is prepared to let them help, even wants them to help bring the city back from financial ruin.

And how do they help? By spending the week talking about the Zimmerman trial and--finally--unanimously agreeing to support a Federal investigation into the Zimmerman/Martin incident, an investigation based on the idea of retrying Zimmerman for violating Martin's civil rights. Nevermind that most legal experts see no path forward for such a case, the Detroit City Council still found the issue important enough to discuss and support. Because after all, these folks clearly know what they are doing, as evidenced by how awesomely they have led the City of Detroit. Right?

In the first six months of this year, Detroit had 153 murders. That's only one fewer than New York City, despite Detroit having a population equal to less than 10% of New York City's population. In 2012, Detroit had the second highest murder rate in the nation, trailing only its neighbor, the also-close-to-bankruptcy-and-equally-decaying Flint, Michigan. Yet, the Detroit City Council finds it important to deal with a legal situation in a distant State by jumping on a bandwagon that has no chance of going anywhere and has no impact on the City of Detroit, whatsoever.

And why? I don't have an answer, other than resorting to name-calling. But if the citizens of Detroit want to blame someone for the mess the city is in, they should start with their own leadership...and the people who voted these clowns into office. Harsh medicine, I know.

Cheers, all.

The lurkers support Obama in e-mail

It's a tried and true technique in messageboard-land since the days of Usenet: when you're backed into a corner in an argument, cite "real" (imaginary) support from those unwilling to engage publicly in the argument. For those unfamiliar with messageboard lingo, these are called lurkers, people who are following a particular online discussion (usually one that has become a fierce argument), but are not publicly siding with any of the actual participants, are not publicly saying anything at all. However, on many messageboards, there are ways to tell someone what you think of their opinions (or of them, perosnally). There are things like "reputation points," short messages that can be attached to a particular post showing approval and readable only by the poster. There are "private messages" or "PM's," which are simply direct messages to another member in a given forum. And there are old-fashioned e-mails, Facebook messages, and tweets one can send from links on a given user's profile.

So, picture this: an argument is taking place on a board that is mostly about politics. Let's say it's an argument about the consequences of extending unemployment benefits indefinitely. Most participants are claiming that such a move will not increase employment, but will tend to decrease it (because of the incentives such a move creates). They cite all kinds of evidence to buttress this position. But a few--wrapped up in ideological cloaks of stupidity--are insisting just the opposite, that extending benefits represents some sort of "financial stimulus" and will actually create jobs.

Needless to say, these few are getting pounded in the debate, as they are unable to offer any actual evidence to make their case. But they won't give in, won't admit defeat. Some try to deflect by introducing other issues or making the argument about "caring" or the like. Others resort to personal insults and name-calling. And still others just abandon the argument without having the courage to admit they were wrong. All of these responses are, of course, intellectually dishonest.

But there is another possible choice, equally dishonest though largely unprovable. It is, again, the "lurkers support me in e-mail/rep points/tweets/PM's" gambit. The idea is simple, the person who is getting their ass handed to them in the world of evidence-based argumentation declares that many nameless people support his or her position, though such support is clandestine or private for one reason or another. Since such supposed support is not public, the person using this argument believes it is effective, as no one can prove their claim of support is false. But veterans of messageboard wars scoff and mock this technique; not only is it intellectually and rhetorically dishonest, it's also sophomoric in the extreme and is indicative of a small mind that--in a given argument--is clearly way out of its depth.

Which brings us to President Obama and his remarks Tuesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. From those remarks:
It’s interesting, in the run-up to this speech, a lot of reporters say that, well, Mr. President, these are all good ideas, but some of you’ve said before; some of them sound great, but you can't get those through Congress. Republicans won’t agree with you. And I say, look, the fact is there are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on a lot of the ideas I’ll be proposing. I know because they’ve said so. But they worry they’ll face swift political retaliation for cooperating with me.
Not content with citing just one group of lurkers, the President claims support from two: "a lot of reporters" and "Republicans in Congress right now." And how can this be challenged? If surveyed, some reporters might very well agree with the President's ideas, but which ones did the President speak to in "the run-up to this speech" (whatever that nebulous phrase is supposed to mean)? Who can say, besides the President himself and any reporters who deign to step forward?

The "Republicans in Congress" is even more difficult to verify, for Obama is claiming that the discussions with these unnamed members were private and that all fear the political repercussions for voicing their opinions on this matter. If we were to survey every Republican in Congress and every one refused to back the President's claims, this would theoretically prove nothing, as Obama could simply reiterate: "they're too afraid to agree with me in public." What is an honest rhetorician to do? Simple, note that if we accept Obama's claims, then by definition he is implying all those who agree with him are liars. Thus, we can rightly say that only dishonest people support Obama...

That is, of course, an unfair construct. But it is no more unfair than the one offered by the President. We're five plus years into his Presidency and he's still making empty-headed campaign-style speeches in which his apparent goal is to merely zing his political opponents, nothing more. That's not leadership. It's not even good debating. It's small-minded, vapid rhetoric from a defensive and petty politician more concerned with political capital than with anything else.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The politicians we get, we deserve

Anthony Weiner is back in the news, apart from just his candidacy for the mayorship of New York City. And why? Apparently, when Weiner was forced to resign from his Congressional seat in disgrace for his internet "sexting" activities, when he insisted that the behavior was behind him, was over, he was lying. He resigned in June of 2011, but his sexting habits continued well into 2012, when Anthony and his wife Huma Abedin appeared in a People Magazine fluff piece and expressed how happy they were, how they had worked through the supposedly now non-existent problems that had cost Weiner his job. From the magazine article:
"Anthony has spent every day since [the scandal] trying to be the best dad and husband he can be," she says of her husband, who does all the laundry. "I'm proud to be married to him."
The dates make it clear that at the time of the People Magazine interview, Weiner was still screwing around on the internet, exchanging lewd messages and pictures with women who were not his wife. And in the press conference Weiner held yesterday, both Weiner and Abedin claimed these new revelations were in the past and were things they had already worked through.

But there's the rub: in the People Magazine piece, they claimed the problems were already in the past too, but as we now know they obviously weren't. So...Weiner and Abedin were either lying in that magazine article (which was timed for release after Weiner announced his candidacy) or they were lying at yesterday's press conference. Any way you slice it, they're liars. Both of them.

Many pundits, many people opining on the situation, are cutting Abedin a lot of slack. They're expressing sympathy for her and her situation. And I'm inclined to feel the same way at first blush. Her husband's betrayals initially came to light when she was pregnant with their first child. That's pretty rough. After he was caught, after he promised to change, he didn't and continued his behavior with the new baby in the house, a period in which Abedin apparently continued to work (for Hillary Clinton), get a lot of therapy (her words), and raise her child. That's even worse.

Or at least it would be, if Abedin hadn't basically sacrificed her self-respect for the prospect of being the wife of New York City's next mayor. Because this is exactly what she did.

Weiner himself is obviously a low-life, a pig of a human being, who deserves the heat he is getting, who--if there was true justice in this world--should simply dry up, blow away, and never be heard from again. But Abedin--whatever the initial situation was--is standing by that low-life, is publicly lying to help him. And necessarily, she went along with his choice to run for office again, despite knowing the negative press that would likely be coming down on both of them.

Then there's the child in the middle of all of this. Very young now, that child will one day learn about all of these things. I can't bring myself to imagine how hard it will be for the boy, when he first discovers some of this information.

But in the minds of Weiner, Abedin, and those who still support them none of this matters a whit. All that matters is the election, the pursuit of political power for the sake of that power, nothing more. Because let's face it, Weiner is nothing special. He has no great vision, no unique platform, no special point of view to suggests New York City--or the nation at large--is in need of his services. Why did he bother to run for office again? Why did Abedin go along with such a plan? Why did people support his choice and fund his candidacy?

In a word, they're fools. And they think everyone else are fools, as well. We can do so much better.

Cheers, all.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Detroit: the Mines of Moria in Michigan

"Speak Friend And Enter." So it was written above the western gates to Moria--the Doors of Durin--across from the Mirrormere, whose fabled crystal-clear waters would eventually become unclean and murky. Built in the Second Age of Middle Earth, the doors were not meant as protection, for the the words above it were quite literal: all one needed to do was say "friend" (mellon in the Elvish tongue) and the doors would open, allowing entrance to all.

Moria itself--named Khazad-dûm in the Dwarvish tongue--was founded by the dwarf-lord Durin before the First Age and the awakening of the Elves. Over time, it became the wealthiest of all Dwarven strongholds, largely because it was the sole source of mithril (a fabulously valuable metal, stronger than steel but more beautiful than silver), along with many other metals and precious stones. It was, in a real sense, the industrial center of Middle Earth. Elves and men freely journeyed to and from the region. The Dwarfs of Moria traded with all and the influence of their wealth reached far and wide. Still, during the Third Age, the Dwarfs became steadily more distrustful of outsiders, men and Elves alike, and relations between the groups were strained as the Dwarfs grew protective of their wealth and success.

Moria came to an abrupt end when the Dwarfs--eager, if not greedy, for more and more wealth--mined too deeply and uncovered and ancient evil, a Balrog, deep below the Halls of Moria. The Balrog proved too powerful for the Dwarfs and the remnants of the population--after their battles with the creature--were forced to flee Moria forever. Many, many years later, several attempts were made to return to Moria by the ancestors of those who fled, but these attempts all failed. It was not until after Gandalf the Grey vanquished the Balrog at the end of the Third Age that Moria could be repopulated by the Dwafes.

Those aficionados of J.R.R. Tolkien out there know this story backwards and forwards, I am sure. For it is a critical bit of history, of backstory, both for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. But the tale cries out as a more general cautionary one as well. Due to the wealth created by the mining of the Dwarfs, by their industry, Moria achieved an unparalleled level of success in all of Middle Earth. Yet, the Dwarfs learned a costly lesson from that success: nothing lasts for ever. Not content with what they had achieved, they forever wanted more and more. And when the veins of mithril began to run dry, they dug deeper and deeper, ultimately leading to the destruction of all they had achieved thanks to Durin's Bane, the Balrog.

Nothing lasts forever. A hard lesson, to be sure, but one that bears repeating.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The return of Obama, the 2008 version

In 2008, I cast my vote in the Presidential Election for Barack Obama. Not because I thought he would be a great President, not because I agreed with his platform or ideology, but because I believed he was a better choice than Senator McCain. A mere three months later, I regretted my choice, mostly because of the way the Stimulus Bill had been cobbled together and rammed through Congress under the direction of the President and the Democratic leadership. And because of the blatant fear-mongering employed by Obama before and after the passage of that bill.

Some might rightly wonder why I could have ever imagined Obama would have been something different. Chalk it up to my own naivete, to a degree, my general tendency--despite my Hobbesian views--to hope for the best from people.

I payed careful attention to the Democratic primaries leading up to the 2008 Election because I believed the winner of the primaries would ultimately be the next President (a belief shared by the vast majority of astute political commentators, I should add). And feared--and still fear--a Hillary Clinton presidency, since I distrust her deeply. In a McCain-Clinton contest, I most surely would have held my nose and voted McCain.

At the same time, I was genuinely impressed with Obama's campaign, both in the primaries and later in the general election. I marveled at his willingness to buck the status quo in the Democratic Party and take on the tainted views of the race merchants, to actually speak the plain truth about the failures of the black community to embrace education and to continue to justify disabling social constructs. This willingness on the part of Obama is what led Jesse Jackson to consider cutting Obama's nuts off. Obama was--at the time--speaking plainly and honestly; it was refreshing. Rather than yanking emotional chains, he was pointing out the consequences of failure, with regard to raising children and the like, and how the responsibility for such failure could not be laid wholly--if at all--in the laps of others.

I didn't agree with him in all he said, but then given his very different basis--ideologically and intellectually speaking--from mine for his views, that's to be expected. Given that I assumed the next President would be a Democrat, Obama's apparent rationality was the best I could hope for, comparatively speaking (his chief opponent--Clinton--was busy dumbing herself down for votes).

Unfortunately, the Obama of 2007 and 2008 proved to be nothing but an apparent mirage, as President Obama quickly abandoned logic and rationality in favor of emotional rhetoric, fear-mongering, and pettiness (culminating quickly in the public mocking of the Tea Party crowd).

Time and time again, President Obama has turned to exactly the kind of race-based nonsense he avoided before becoming President, like when he interjected himself into the local matter of Henry Louis Gates (saying the police "acted stupidly" in the case, despite not having all the facts). Most recently, he offered up a sound bite about the Zimmerman case, saying "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon" and pretty much leaving it at that, a rather stupid and passion-inflaming thing to do.

But now, the President has made a lengthy statement about the Zimmerman case and about the African American community in general. Here it is in full:
I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session. The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues -- immigration, economics, et cetera -- we'll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions. 
The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week -- the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday. But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit. 
First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it. 
The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case -- I'll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Post-trial exploitation

It's now a time-honored tradition in media-land: after a trial with national interest has concluded, spend the next week or so putting those participants from it who are willing in front of a camera or microphone, no matter what they have to say. And frankly, the more stupid their opinions are in this regard, the better.

First, we have "Juror B37," who did an interview the other day with the most vapid man on television, Anderson Cooper:

People are now fairly questioning how she ended up on the jury, how she survived voir dire by both the prosecution and the defense, for this interview demonstrates quite clearly in my opinion that Juror B37 wanted very badly to be on the jury because she believed it represented a chance for her to be famous, in one way or another. And people like that are bad news in a jury trial, for both sides, since they likely have no interest in the specifics of the case or the controlling laws under consideration.

Many sites and pundits have jumped on the interview to eviscerate Juror B37 since she comes across as something of a moron. One site is as good as another, in this regard. Here is ThinkProgress on her responses. Aside from demonstrating her lack of intellectual prowess, such pieces also demonstrate Cooper's lack of interviewing skills, but that is neither here nor there.

After the interview aired, four of the remaining five jurors were quick to distance themselves from the inane blather of Juror B37:
"The opinions of Juror B37, expressed on the Anderson Cooper show were her own, and not in any way representative of the jurors listed below," said the statement, signed by Jurors B51, B76, E6 and E40... 
"Serving on this jury has been a highly emotional and physically draining experience for each of us," the statement said. "The death of a teenager weighed heavily on our hearts but in the end we did what the law required us to do." 
They also made a request for privacy.
A more than fair response. Here's hoping the media vultures respect their request for privacy. But we still have to ask why she--Juror B37--was given any airtime at all. Surely she was vetted before the interview; if it was clear she was way out of her depth, why put her on TV when there's nothing significant to be gleaned from her words? Why proceed with the interview--why air it--when it had to be obvious that she would be subjected to massive amounts of ridicule?

Easy, most of the media just doesn't care, as long as what they are doing gets them ratings or creates a little controversy.

Consider example number two, the prosecution's "star" witness Rachel Jeantel. She's on TV, she's on the radio, she's everywhere. And why? Because she's willing to do so and because she comes across as both clueless and easily used. Her time on the stand in the actual trial was painful to watch; she is one of the chief reasons the prosecution failed to make its case.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The post-Zimmerman world

As I'm sure everyone throughout the land is aware, George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of second degree murder and of manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is responsible for shooting Martin dead--there has never been any doubt about this--but apparently the jury accepted Zimmerman's claim of it being done in self-defense or (and far more likely, in my opinion) it decided that the prosecution had simply failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not self-defense.

I talked about this case once before, with regard to the invocation of Florida's Stand Your Ground law. As I noted then, that law had no relevance to this case and Zimmerman's defense would ultimately have no basis for invoking it. At the same time, I also noted the initial failures of local authorities to properly investigate the cases and place Zimmerman under arrest. And even with the verdict in, I maintain that Zimmerman should have been arrested and ultimately charged for Martin's death. But not for second degree murder, only manslaughter, because that is the only charge the available facts can support.

In that regard, I believe the prosecution overreached in charging Zimmerman with second degree murder, put on a shoddy case, and basically undermined both the murder charge and the manslaughter one. Many of the witnesses it put on the stand helped the defense, particularly the medical examiner and Martin's friend/girlfriend. So the not guilty verdicts came as no surprise to me, even if I believe Zimmerman should probably be in jail for manslaughter (which I do).

But I'm not looking to retry the case, tear apart the verdict, or even justify it. I simply accept it as a fair outcome of our jury system. Because make no mistake, none of the people outraged by the verdict can offer a rational, logically coherent argument as to why the verdict was unfair, why the jury somehow did something wrong. Or if they can, I have yet to see it articulated.

Instead, I see articles like this one, long on emotional rhetoric an short on facts. Entitled "Open season on black boys," the author claims:
Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn't like the look of him.
That's nonsense, as is much of the rest of the article. The author has no command of the facts and precious little understanding of the law and of how the justice system works.

Beyond such editorials (and there are a lot of them), I also see comment after comment on social media sites, messageboards, and news article comment trails declaring how the verdict was "a travesty of justice," "an outrage," or "disgusting." I see one person after another making hyperbolic statements about how there is no justice in Florida, about how everyone's children are now in danger of being shot, and the like.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Obamacare: a technocratic nightmare

The Obamacare chickens are coming home to roost in earnest now. With each passing month, as more elements of the Affordable Care Act come into play, the problems inherent in the legislation become ever more apparent. The requirement for businesses of more than fifty employees to offer health insurance to their employees was due to take effect at the start of 2014. It has now been delayed--by executive fiat--until 2015 at the earliest. Why? Because the rules are too confusing, because some small businesses are prepared to cut their workforce rather than face the requirement, and because implementation of the requirement looks more like an economic drag than anything else.

The state insurance exchanges are mostly behind schedule as well, though the Administration still insists they will be open on October 1st. And of course, there is the growing list of companies and states who have been allowed to opt-out of key requirements in the ACA.

But the across-the-board delay on the business requirement, it cuts deeply into the mechanisms envisioned by the Administration with regard to funding the legislation, at least as it was sold to the American public. The CBO's analysis of the legislation's effects on the Federal Budget assumed this requirement would generate some ten to twenty billion dollars in revenue from fines on non-complying businesses per year (Table 2). That money--counted on to reduce the cost of the ACA--now has to come out of Federal coffers until the requirement is actually implemented. But what's another $10 billion or more between friends, right?

The ridiculousness of this all, of various elements in the ACA being ignored, delayed, or changed by fiat point to the underlying problem with it, a problem shared by the Stimulus Bill and other huge pieces of legislation: technocrats are running the show in Washington, D.C.

I've talked about the technocracy movement before. As I noted then, the fundamental assumption of the technocrat is the following:
The driving idea behind it is that things are too complicated, too diversified when it comes to government policies and laws for typical people to understand, thus decisions should be left in the hands of the experts in a given field.
Now couple this with an agenda, an expectation of specific results from government policy and what you get are things like the Stimulus Bill and Obamacare, massive pieces of legislation designed to achieve specific results and based on the ideas of so-called experts in fields like economics, healthcare, and of course the federal budget.

As I also noted previously, the movement is--at its core--Platonian in character. There is a built in assumption that those who know better should lead, though the technocrat bows to experts in specific fields, as opposed to a more general "philosopher-king." Still, it is not much of a step to see that philosopher-king as being the director of the technocrats. Yet the technocracy movement also draws inspiration from Marx, insofar as it is based on "theories" of labor, of value, and of how the economy actually functions.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Coup, coup, ca-choo

Morsi is out as President of Egypt. Elected to the office in June of 2012, following months of military rule after the revolution of 2011 that saw the end of Mubarak's own authoritarian rule, Morsi had begun amassing more and more power via fiat, angering much of the Egyptian population who feared he was returning Egypt to the Mubarak era, though under the guise of democracy. The military has once again assumed control of the nation.

And interestingly enough, the military has pledged to allow the head of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court--one Adly Mansour--to act as interim President, though the Egyptian constitution has been suspended indefinitely.

Who is Adly Mansour? Few in the West have a clue, I'll wager, including many of the "experts" in the media. Al Jazeera has a short biography on him, which seems to be accurate though lacking in specifics. Mansour has served in the Egyptian court system since 1992, though he became head of the Supreme Constitutional Court just a few days ago, having been appointed to the post back in May by Morsi himself. And that, in and of itself, should give us pause. Mansour served under Mubarak before the revolution and managed to remain in his position afterwards. This suggests either a fair man who doesn't make waves or one capable of currying favor. Or both.

The question is, what will he do?

There is hope that he will immediately dissolve Egypt's Shura Council, the upper house of the legislature, which had been stacked with Islamists by Morsi. Many non-Islamist members of the council have already resigned. But as the Al Jazeera piece notes, Mansour has served in the religious courts in Egypt, as well as the legislative and criminal ones. And again Morsi elevated him to the top position of the SCC just recently, suggesting he shared Morsi's fundamental beliefs--when it came to the future of Egypt--at the very least. And make no mistake, he may be the interim  president, but the Egyptian military is still holding all of the cards.

Which in a way makes the question kind of moot. Mansour will do what the military wants him to do. After the 2011 revolution, the Egyptian military actually did something uncommon, when it comes to military coups: it surrendered power willingly in just the manner its leadership claimed it would. And maybe it will do the same thing again. Maybe.

Or maybe not.

Even if another democratically elected government is installed in Egypt in the near future, even if the military surrenders control and pledges allegiance to the new leadership, what does this mean in the long term? Not much, for Egypt's future remains tied to its armed forces. If the new government disappoints like the previous one, it seems almost a given that the military will repeat its actions. A new government every two or three years, maybe a new constitution too, that looks to be Egypt's future.

Meanwhile, Egypt's economy remains in turmoil. It is being kept afloat by loans from other nations, it's total debt is growing exponentially, and the ranks of the poor have increased drastically since the ousting of Mubarak in 2011. What does Mansour and the Egyptian military bring to the table in this regard? Very little. The IMF may be conned into floating Egypt another loan, but that's a mere band-aid.

Egyptian food and energy costs are heavily subsidized, a common practice in authoritarian regimes but not so much in democratic ones, and this is the underlying problem with the Egyptian economy: it remains as it was under Mubarak and before, there has been no change where change is truly needed.

I visited Egypt in 2008, years before the Arab Spring. And the mandated calm of Mubarak's rule served the nation well, when it came to tourist monies and foreign investment. But Egypt is no longer benefiting from such things as it was under Mubarak. There is too much uncertainty. Mubarak's ouster may have been a good thing, Morsi may have been going in the wrong direction, but the military is exacerbating the problem of uncertainty by arbitrarily dismantling the government, based on popular opinion. The new iteration of the Egyptian government will have an even deeper hole--economically speaking--to climb out of than did Morsi's government. And there's no reason to suspect it will be able to make the climb.

More turmoil awaits.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tea Parties, Occupy movements, and Arab Springs

Revolution. It's a big word. When used in earnest, it means something, it signifies at the very least the potential for serious change, if not actual change itself. And revolutionaries, those are the ones asking for, demanding, or forcing change on a government, nation, or society.

In just the last five years or so, there have been two pseudo-revolutionary movements in the United States, alone: the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement. Because of their proximity in time, the two movements--and their respective adherents--have been compared again and again and again, particularly during the period of the Occupy movement's apogee. I've addressed such comparisons previously. From both directions.

From the first bit:
But the point is, the two movements--despite the overlap and the above similarity--are fundamentally different, with regard to purpose. The Tea Party movement is about taking back: taking back government from corrupt and entrenched politicians, taking back daily life from government control and/or interference, taking back freedom. The Occupy movement is about taking, period: taking from the rich, taking from government, taking from anyone that has.
From the second:
But my point here is not to discount the Occupy movement. I find interesting, if somewhat misguided and uninspiring, and I would never discount the potential that exists within it. My point is that the tea party movement was a response to very specific things--the Bailout and the Stimulus--and to the entitlement mindset, yet few pundits and politicians seem to remember and/or understand this.
Now, the lessons of history are already clear, when it comes to both movements. The Tea Party movement, whose genesis predates the Occupy movement by nearly three years, had a profound and measurable impact on American politics in the 2010 mid-term elections, at national, state, and local levels. The Occupy movement, whose potential for such an electoral impact would have been in 2012, more or less fizzled in this regard (Elizabeth Warren's success being the exception, no doubt). Despite the constant fawning over the Occupy movements by various pundits and academics, the lack of a meaningful agenda and other factors served to de-fang the movement, politically speaking.

One of those "other factors" was the negative press garnered by the less-than-civil behavior of many Occupiers, the destruction of property, the disruption of public life, along with some serious allegations of even worse behavior. National Review Online actually kept a running blotter of criminal activity at Occupy sites and by self-described adherents to the movement. From public masturbation to assault to, yes, even rape.

These activities stand in stark contrast to Tea Party events, where protesters were mostly criticized for poor spelling on some signs and the admittedly heinous racist lingo (which was far less common than the media coverage would lead one to believe) on other ones. In fact, where the Occupy protesters (some, not all) were defecating all over public and private properties, their Tea Party counterparts were cleaning up the sites they used after events were over.

And this contrast is, itself, a fascinating thing, given the very common assumption among the political left that politically-motivated violence and bad behavior is more common on the political right, more common by far. Yet, it was (and still is) the case that of the two movements, the Tea Party crowd presented the safer, family-friendly environment.

Which brings us to the much-vaunted Arab Spring and the locus of protests in Egypt, Tahrir Square.