09 March 2012

More stories that do not matter?

1) Kony viral video. More or less Kony has been irrelevant in Uganda itself over the last several years (there are obviously refugee issues from years of conflict, which would have been a better use of the time and energy involved in the "get Kony" type advocacy). He, or rather his fractured and decentralised bands of marauders, are still relevant in even less effective neighbouring African states (DRC, CAR, and the new country of South Sudan, among others). Basically this video is about ten years too late to be relevant and important, even for the cause of "raising awareness". I also don't quite get what advocacy will accomplish at this point. Kony was already indicted at the ICC. He is already a wanted man. The US has already backed campaigns to try to get/kill him, and failed, with the "success" being that instead of being in an unstable part of a relatively stable East Africa state, he's probably in one of several totally unstable parts of very unstable countries in Central Africa instead. This means that neither humanitarian nor counter-insurgency campaigns are very useful means to do anything about him as a problem.

It also means that he, as a person, is mostly symbolic, the way bin Laden had largely become to al Qaeda, and that eliminating him through legal or violent efforts will amount to almost nothing in real terms. Neither man commanded a nation-state with powerful resources at their behest for the means of achieving violent ends and for which his elimination might mean the re-appropriation of that state's resources toward more peaceful ends under a new regime (note: this is not the case in Iraq or Libya either as neither state had much in the way of resources marshaled for institutional ends other than those of their leaders. Replacing a leader in those cases means a power vacuum, and not a regime change). Symbolic politics are fun for the whole family, but they are a complete waste of time and money in foreign affairs. They would have done much better to highlight the refugee and disrupted infrastructure and societal bonds in northern Uganda left in his wake than worrying about the man who caused it at this point. He is a chapter in the book, or a key character, but he's not the book topic. The real problem, the topic, is the damage he did. That we can then do something about.

2) Arapaio (Sheriff Joe to people of Arizona or regular Faux news viewers) is back in the news for his embrace of the absurd birther movement (which is actually old news for people familiar with him, but whatever). The disturbing part to me is that this is what has won him disfavor from conservatives, and not his various civil liberties violations for inmates and detained persons under his care, rising crime rates in his jurisdiction and relative indifference to them as a sheriff, acquisition of heavy weapons and APCs through misuse of civil forfeiture laws, and aggressive attempts to silence and harass critics in media and activists with legal pressure, and so on. 
None of that is apparently disturbing? This is usually a firm dividing line with libertarians. If someone claimed to be "libertarian" and then liked this guy and all his tactics, or were at least not rendered highly uncomfortable with them, I knew the label had lost meaning and that they were not someone who I would find much common cause and ground with which to work on libertarian causes. They were, rather, a garden variety conservative xenophobe. With whom I would have little to nothing in common.

3) Whatever that is that Breitbart thought in his final days was a major sting versus Obama. I'm not entirely sure what makes that professor highly radical either. What exactly did he suggest doing as a matter of policy or cultural effect that was controversial? That America was a racist society? That's controversial? Further, do we just get to assert that people are "controversial" now and not actually demonstrate it by presenting whatever their uncomfortable views and statements are? Frankly, there are numerous far more easily cataloged errors or problems within the Obama administration than to dig up speeches from 20 years that don't appear very controversial or radical, or racially charged, or whatever it is that makes them supposedly excellent tinder. Inventing (meaningless) controversy is something Breitbart was good at, and it is a prominent reason why he was rendered, or should have been rendered, irrelevant in media circles after the Sherrod flap that he contrived with numerous inaccuracies and some sloppy editing. It is also not surprising that his last act was more of the same I suppose.

Like his other "big scoops" in ACORN or NPR, this was not exactly a hidden archival moment creating some sort of "gotcha" and it's basically editing combined with the immodest proposal that "this guy" is un-American, and that anyone who liked or associated with him must be likewise. If that proposal were true and accepted as given, there's no evidence being given to support the first part and thus make a convincing case to anyone who looks upon the video themselves without the context of "controversial professor" plastered all over it. Besides which the feature of guilt by association is generally false on its face. It is quite possible to respect, understand, and associate freely with people who you disagree with. Perhaps it is not pleasant at all times, but it is certainly quite possible and quite common. It is not substantive evidence of some sort of guilt, nor is it a presentation of someone's actual views to present their appearances among others. It's mostly more of the same weird team-signaling of the sort that has rendered independents irrelevant in the American political landscape.

4) Addendum. The most interesting story right now for someone like me is the weird Cato-Koch war. Cato, like many libertarian leaning interests, doesn't much like Obama. But it did just have a headline story about gas prices and what little connection they might or would have to Obama (or the government as a whole, with the implicit suggestion being that a Republican led administration could do no better). Cato may be unreliable on some issues, but they're very likely to be less partisan in their filtering by expending talking points like "gas prices". They also do waste an awful lot of time talking about civil liberties, the drug war, opposing military engagements, and so on. Things which you would expect a libertarian leaning think tank to do. This is apparently (and not surprisingly) not very useful in the cause of supporting mostly conservative leaning political figures into office.

The main reason to oppose the weird coverage of the Kochtopus story over the last couple years was that it spent a lot of money on organisations like Cato or Reason that quite obviously weren't being influenced by those dollars in a directed manner as the story would have supposed. If that is changing now, that's the story I worry about as it impacts how information would need to be filtered moving forward and reduces the quality of reporting on issues that I care about deeply (by reducing the number of outlets for them).
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