22 March 2012

Who, what, where. Things are a happening

1) Trayvon Martin case. I've been following this through the internets, rather than major media coverage, so doubtless this has skewed my impressions.

In general, it seemed to me that
a) the confessed killer at least should have been detained and a grand jury convened to assess what evidence was available. There appear to be contrary and conflicting stories being told (even within the Zimmerman camp) that make a claim of self-defence something that would need to be arbitrated in a court of law. Largely because someone is dead and their story can no longer be heard in full. This is, in effect, what happens every time someone dies. A story is destroyed. (note, I think it is possible, if unlikely, that perhaps Zimmerman's story is convincing enough that his claims of self-defence would be sufficient. I'm not convinced that this means no trial should be held, mostly because his own story seems to contradict a claim of self-defence as necessary, particularly lethal self-defence).

b) media coverage has apparently focused on the racial elements (Martin was black, Zimmerman was hispanic-white). Which is stupid. None of this need be racially focused. It is indeed possible to focus on a racial history where rights of self-defence were restricted to a white male franchise in the US (women, blacks, immigrants need not apply), and there are certainly cases or places where this is still a problem (Maricopa county?, drug law enforcement and raids?), but in general the problem is a human one first.

c) Was Zimmerman's fear a justifiable basis for the use of force? Similar claims accompany non-lethal weapons (fists, tasers, pistol-whippings, etc). "Feared for your safety" is a common police trope to justify use of force. Sometimes it is legit. Sometimes, as captured by the officer's dash cams or cell phone footage, it is not. If we shouldn't be accepting these claims at face value by appointed officers of the law, people who are supposed to have training and uphold higher moral standards of behavior in this regard, how are we to accept these claims when made by ordinary citizens?

d) The problem with a case like this is that if Zimmerman is not even charged or accused of a non-self-defensive action that he need justify to the general public, then (other) people can act in what appears to be a vigilante style way to chase down and confront people they find merely suspicious. Rather than say, someone who accosts them or breaks into their home or property (the purpose of "castle"/"stand your ground" style laws). And then, when the inevitable violence ends in the case of likely deaths where people are armed and engaged in aggressive violence, they can claim self-defence and no qualms will be had with their stories?

It would seem like this encourages the instigating of violence and the necessity of  a permanently armed citizenry rather than providing and upholding a general moral right of self-defence. I was under the apparently mistaken impression that a mark of civilisation was that men did not have a pressing need to carry arms upon them at all times to protect themselves and their property, and that this has been a noted element for centuries (ancient Rome/Athens/Istanbul, etc). Either that was wrong, or apparently the Dark Ages were a grand old time and rampant banditry is upon us. (to be sure, I make no remark regarding whether people can choose to arm themselves voluntarily. It is the feeling of necessity that rankles me here. Much as where some people propose to have compulsory purchases of firearms by all citizens).

2) The Ravi cyberbullying hate crime case.

a) As far as I can tell, Ravi was a world class asshole of the sort typical of 18 year old males. As much as I detest this variety of the human species, I know of no way to use legal power to reduce their frequency and effect. Moral repugnance is not always something we should use the law for (hence my stances on all sorts of things from adultery to drug use to civil rights for homosexuals). Some harms, of a sort inflicted like this, are difficult to properly assess. It's also possible to avoid some of them (Clementi for instance applied to change his roommate).
b) I don't see substantive evidence that it was his actions that led to the suicide attempt and death of Clementi. It can be inferred and apparently the jury did so.
c) Following that inference does not lead automatically to a conclusion that his actions were motivated by substantive animus toward Clementi for his sexual orientation, or indeed toward anyone of that orientation, the basis of a hate crimes claim. 
d) He should be guilty of something as a legal case, essentially a wiretapping violation, which is its own serious charge (and he was found guilty of such charges). But then again, there's this old case. Which I would say is a little more egregious than a college student turning on a webcam on his own laptop in his own room. Which could be viewed as illegal if its purposes are to surreptitiously spy on a roommate, particularly as it regards their more private behavior.

3) Recent discussions have highlighted the impression that "social issues" are a distraction. And that the economy should be the basis of the election. I take exception to this line of thinking, at least as it regards Presidential elections, for a variety of reasons.
a) Presidents have little impact on the economy in any fundamental sense. The last significant effects coming from Presidents were Nixon's price controls in the early 70s helping to cause stagflation or FDR's stalwart and bizarre insistence on dealing with budget and inflation fears mucking up a recovery from the Great Depression in his second term (causing a second Depression in 1937). The idea that somehow, someway installing an alternative to President Obama will magically fix the economy smells like bullshit for the most part. Few Presidential candidates offer economic platforms that either could be enacted by Congress or would substantially alter the economic landscape in such a way that it would recover faster (or, alternatively, would get much worse). Ron Paul's insane goldbug fascination aside, no Presidential candidate out there matters to the economy, much less to gas prices as insisted by Romney/Gingrich/Faux news. (I suppose one could look at actual socialist candidacies as opposed to the conservative caricature of "socialists", but they won't offer a candidate who can get even a noticeable fraction of attention and voter support, so why bother?). In general, the best that Presidents do economically is not fuck it up. "First do no harm" is about what you can offer.

b) Generally speaking, the one area of substantive difference between the two corporatist parties is on their views on various moral/social matters. This implies that shifts on these issues are possible by changing administrations where shifts in fundamental economics tend not to be. Fighting over marginal tax rates is apparently fun, but it has little to do with anything in the form of fights we are currently having (no one running from the two parties is proposing dramatic rises or falls in tax policy that stand a chance of gathering bipartisan support, nor are they proposing dramatic reforms to the way we tax, such as by removing subsidies or tax credits to useless things). There are however distinct differences in the perception of contraception or birth control and religious freedoms, and subtle differences on things like intelligence gathering (especially regarding the viability and legality of torture) or drug interdiction policies or the means and necessity of immigration enforcement. Consider that the Obamacare law, however dumb and mismanaged economically I think it is personally, is little more than a re-hashing of right-wing proposals from the 90s (or Gov Romney's law as enacted), and is to the right of proposals offered by say, Richard Nixon. What possible differences do people imagine will occur and how likely are these imaginations to be formed into a reality is the basis for these elections, and in general, people (from both sides) imagine a lot of things into existence that aren't so.

c) Generally speaking the areas where Presidential power is substantive are on foreign policy (where conservative politicians, other than Ron/Rand Paul, offer mostly stronger versions of what Obama is already doing, rather than actual alternatives, mostly they doth protest too much) and civil liberties (eg how laws are enforced and carried out, and in some cases, whether or not they are). The implication by many, from both sides, is that these social issues are "all about civil liberties". If we accept this relatively weak premise as given, and given that there ARE distinctions on these issues, however slight, between parties, it seems plausible that the only actual effects of a change in administration will be the direction of the country as it concerns these narrow moral and social issues under a nomenclature of "civil liberties and social issues", along with foreign policy as the only real matters which should concern voters when deciding Presidential votes. (Actual protection of actual enumerated civil liberties, to say nothing of basic human liberty, does not appear to be substantively different for most candidates. That is to say, it exists only in limited forms and changes will be slight, if at all).

It thus seems that the only real basis for such elections is to deal with the differences in philosophy, rhetoric, and policy regarding these issues. It should not be surprising that they have become central in media attention, because explaining highly technical distinctions on how a proposed 1.2 trillion dollar deficit is somehow significantly better than a proposed 1.3 trillion dollar deficit, as but one example, is tedious and difficult for both journalists and the general public to grasp (not to mention a waste of time, as neither budget strikes me as serious tackling of the deficit, long-term spending, and generally speaking entitlements, however stupid they are economically, are politically untouchable for their popularity. It isn't surprising that no serious budget tackling occurs as a result since entitlements account for the bulk of the problem, along with military spending). It is, by contrast, quite easy to seize upon rhetoric concerning the use and availability of birth control (or abortion), or the insistence of the death penalty for drug smugglers, or the denial of Muslims or Buddhists their right to free exercise of conscience, or the legal rights of immigrants and the desirability of their relocation to our shores, and so on, and to note that there are easy distinctions between parties and candidates contained in these issues. (note: I am still not supporting Obama. I'm voting Johnson. But mostly because I find the mainstream economic corporatism of the two parties repellent, and their views on foreign policy to be an unrealistic use of national defence resources. Obama is too Wilsonian for my tastes. I also don't find Democratic/liberal/progressive support on these social and civil liberties issues to be far enough or strong enough for me to buy into it as the appropriate alternative to the repugnant views of prominent Republican/conservative figures).
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