Monday, July 29, 2013

The Tragedy of Travon

The sexy issue of the day has been the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman. From the time of this murder, this incident has spark racial tensions and incited roars that this murder was a product of racial profiling. Since George Zimmerman was released with no consequential justice being enacted, the cries for further prosecution have never been louder. The questions most relevant to this issues are (roughly) as follows:

  • Was George Zimmerman's initial judgment of Trayvon Martin racially driven? Did he decide to pursue Martin simply because he was black? 
The prosecution was not out to delineate whether Zimmerman was simply a racist, but instead whether his initial suspicions of Martin where driven only by the fact that he was black - this prompting the suspicion, pursuit, and eventual killing of Martin. The answer is yes. Zimmerman had almost no information on Martin apart from the fact that he liked iced tea, skittles, hoodies, and that he was black. It is easy (an accurate) to say that the largest driver in that suspicion was the fact that Martin was black, and those other noticeable traits were irrelevant or anomalies in the situation. This instance of profiling does not mean that Zimmerman is a racist (although he is free to hold those prejudicial views), but it does mean that he used the race of Trayvon as a determining factor in whether this anonymous boy had any malicious intent (which as we know, he did not). One important note in Zimmerman's history is that in his time as a neighborhood watch enthusiast, Zimmerman has called the police over 40 times to report suspicious persons in the neighborhood... all those persons where black individuals. So was Zimmerman motivated by race in this act, most definitely, yes. 
  • Were the actions of George Zimmerman legal? 
Zimmerman (as far as we know) did not break the law in his actions. He was lawfully carrying a gun; he notified the police of suspicious behavior; he observed what he thought to be suspicious behavior; he pursued the perpetrator of that behavior; and after confronting the suspicious individual (Trayvon Martin) as an act of self defense, he shot his attacker. The major gap in this case is that no one is certain (except George and Tarayvon) about what happened between the time of pursuit and confrontation. Should Zimmerman have pursued Martin (?) probably not; he was an innocent kid getting a snack. Did he have the right to pursue (from a reasonable, un-infringing distance) someone who he thought was a neighbor up-to-no-good... yes, he did. In the event that Martin did indeed attack Zimmerman, was Zimmerman allowed to wield and discharge his firearm to protect himself... yes, he was. Killing Martin was undoubtably wrong; but (as fucked up as it is), it was within the parameters of Florida law.
  • Should Zimmerman have been convicted for this crime? 
I will admit, this is a bit of a silly question - anyone who shoots a boy should be convicted and punished (what the extent of the sentence is, well that's up to the jury). In this particular case, the evidence didn't amount to enough to convince the jury that Zimmerman's actions were outside Florida's stand your ground laws. Should he have been convicted - probably. Am I surprised he wasn't? Not really.

This case has highlighted two important deficiencies in society. First, that someone can lawfully get away from manslaughter of a minor if he feels his safety is at risk; second, that the color of someone's skin is still a determining factor in the intuition of someone. Do I think Zimmerman is a racist, or do I think Zimmerman thinks Zimmerman is a racist? No. I think that Zimmerman's conclusions that black kids are up-to-no-good is not a product of malice, but of social structures and weighted statistics that have normalized the belief of black children being prone to crime. Zimmerman couldn't escape this prejudice, and Martin couldn't escape the results of that prejudice. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Liberals Say: The Ryan Budget is not the Solution

Over the past two years, one issue that has plagued the American political system is that of budgetary negotiations. This general disagreement has caused the US to lose its perfect credit rating, it has promoted artificial spending-suicide mechanisms, and it ultimately has given the American people reason to lose faith in their elected officials. There are politicians on the right screaming apocalyptic predictions about our country's future, and those on the left demonizing Bush tax cuts. We have not reached a point of agreement for any of these dilemmas  but instead are met with budgetary proposals from the right and left which appear quite foreign to each other.

One of the most recent proposals up for approval is the "Ryan Budget." (As the chairman to the House Budgetary Committee, Congressman Ryan's name is adopted into every proposal pumped out of the House.) Similar to proposals he has made in the past, this budget is filled with tax breaks, program cuts, and an overal reduction in spending. Republicans proudly publicize this proposal as a serious job creation and deficit reducing plan - but a closer look will show otherwise.

On the matter of spending reduction, it plans to cut $4.6 trillion over the next decade. With the simple - nearsighted and all to common - goal of Republican's to reduce expenditures, this is an accomplishment; but as a responsible plan to improve US economic health, this plan falls flat. Among the unoriginal ideas of how to cut spending, Ryan's plan looks to implement the following: turning Medicare into a voucher program; reforming food stamp and medicaid programs into block grants for states to decide to keep or cut; reducing much of the WallStreet and healthcare reforms enacted over the past five years; and chipping away at federally funded eduction, job training, and scientific research funding. In category of discretionary defense spending Ryan's plan has met Democrats in the isle and placed a cap on expenditures on this item. Concerning tax cuts, this plan looks to cut the top tax rate from 39.8% to 25%... which will most likely prompt a tax increase for middle income families.

The task to cut US expenditures, albiet nobel, is much less simple than Ryan is considering it. Since the end of the Great Recession, the US economic has experienced steady growth of 1-4%. This growth was only reversed in January of 2013, a contraction which was decidedly a result of lowered government spending. Knowing this economic reality, implementing Ryan budget cuts will undoubtably have a reverse-growth effect on the economy in the short and long term.

Concerning tax-cuts, it is amazing to continue to see Republicans purport the economic benefits of the Bush tax cuts. Looking at the growth of the deficit since Bush implemented his tax cut legislation, nearly half of the deficit spending stemmed from Bush-era tax cuts. Claiming to be serious on deficit reduction, but continuing these tax breaks is a ridiculous and hypocritical.

If we are to implement this vague and misguided Republican policy, the ramifications we be felt in short term growth, and long term deficit growth. Consensus can be met in responsible spending reduction and logical tax policy; unfortunately, this budgetary choice is neither.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

We're all Fucked.

Since I don't think many people read my blog – and since I rarely add original content – I am going to set proprieties aside for this post.

I have been reading CS Lewis' book Mere Christianity. Admittedly, I am no scholar in this field, but I have developed a few concerns with some of the arguments he has made in this manifesto... namely concerning the (according to Clive) abominable sin of PRIDE. Lewis believes this sin to be at the root of all sin, and the most unrecognized among all sins, especially among non Christians. This idea is nothing new, after all, Pride is one of the Seven Deadly sins; pride has been understood as very destructive to the human spirit; and pride runs directly counter to humility.

What bothers me most about this critique of pride, is that it is almost unavoidable. How does one defeat pride? One defeats pride, by making an effort to do so, and if successful, one cannot help but feel proud of there efforts... but then... fuck.... you're being prideful and you're back at square one. This all follows the same stem of logic in how we can never be purely altruistic, as we cannot avoid all residual sense of satisfaction for what we do or give.

Pride, I believe is a caustic element of human nature. Unfortunately however, all accomplishment is closely followed by pride; and awareness of that pride is self depreciating; and self depreciation is humility's evil twin; and even coming to the point of realizing that... will prompt some residual pride. So, in the end, pride is something we have to live with. It is not something we need to wear on our sleeves, or encourage in our actions; it is something that we should scrutinize, but not defeat.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What Liberals Say: Global Warming isn't a Hoax

I was reading an article in the NYT this morning about the rapid and record setting pace of the Arctic ice caps. These massive floating pieces of ice act as a cooling element to the earth's climate, and their absence will undoubtably have a major effect on future generations. Like many features of Earth's cyclical climate, the ice caps recede and refreeze with the season. What's significant about the receding trends of 2012 is that they have broken all records of melting, meaning that unlike years past, these caps will be unable to regain their ice mass. Many scientists predict that the ice caps may be completely ice free by the year 2020, more conservative estimates say the middle of the century. Just to reiterate that point, experts are predicting that the arctic ice caps might be completely ice free within the next 50 years...
The obvious loss of ecosystems and natural beauty notwithstanding, the permanent absence of these caps will likely set off major climatic warming trends. Here's why. Over the past billion-or-so years, plant life and fossiles have been encapsulated under these sheets of ice, along with any gases they might be holding onto. With the melting of this permafrost, trapped gasses will undoubtably be released into the atmosphere and lead to CO2 levels in the atmosphere surpassing their already alarmingly high PPM levels. And, if you buy into this whole anthroprogenic global warming business, you know that that isn't a good thing.
It is difficult to imagine the sheer mass of these melting ice caps, but with their melting comes the result of sea level rising. Remember the days when Al Gore was predicting the eventual rise of sea levels resulting from global warming, well that prediction or problem isn't going away. That ice needs to go somewhere, and the ocean is the most likely depository.
So, the question remains, why hasn't any serious reform or regulation been enacted to combat these climate shifts? Simply put, because not everyone believes these shifts are taking place. If we cannot agree on the science behind greenhouse gas emissions trapping heat, why would we be compelled to lower our emission of those gasses?

The evidence is becoming more and more clear that our environment is feeling the effects of global warming. It is unfortunate to think that the evidence might only be compelling enough for some people, once the effects are too severe for reparation. It is even more unfortunate to think theses environmental effects are, at present, too severe for restoration.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Liberals Say: You Didn't Build It

If you heard any speaker from the Republican National Convention, you will recognize a common talking point: 'Obama doesn't believe small business owners are responsible for their own success.' As with many brief, catchy political gaffes, context has been omitted. When Obama made this misinterpreted statement, his implication was that there is a role for government, community and social services.

The sexy political trend as of late, is that any government is bad government. This simplistic belief is catching on, and it creates the misconception that inefficiency is an imbedded aspect of government. What Obama meant to accomplish in making this statement was that government has a role, and can benefit economic activity. Without public schooling, infrastructure, and financial assistance, the American Dream that so many people seek might never have been achieved. Government helped entrepreneurs achieve that dream, as business cannot be built off ambition alone.

Obama statement in context is as follows:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.... So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That’s how we funded the GI Bill.  That’s how we created the middle class.  That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together."

It is my hope that voters will understand the basic role which government plays in commerce. Obama's comments were not looking to undermine the enterprise of Americans, but instead to bridge the theoretical gap between business and government.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Liberals Say: Voter ID Laws Repress More Votes Than They Protect

One of the most controversial political issues of 2012 has been the institution of voter ID laws in 30+ states. These laws vary by state, but generally require that voters show government issued identification at their polling location in order to receive a ballot, some states went so far as requiring a birth certificate or proof of citizenship, and many others prevented early voting. The Department of Justice (headed by Obama's appointee, Eric Holder) have filed injunctions in many states to prevent these laws from implementation before November; their reasoning being that it will suppress voter turn out, as many people lack the proper identification to vote. Proponents of voter ID laws explain that these basic requirements will prevent voter fraud; after all, it becomes more challenging to falsely vote on behalf of someone else when you are required to forge a picture ID. At face value, it seems that these voter prerequisites would make a positive impact in November. They indiscriminately prevent fraud and, they protect American democracy. So why are Democrats to upset about these state issued demands? In short, it suppresses voter turn out, it discourages new voters, and it disproportionately effects minority and lower-income voters.

This seemingly intuitive approach to protect the integrity of American Democracy is actually a thinly veiled attempt to deter Democratic votes. I believe that the integrity of American democracy is found in high voter turn out, not in stringent qualifications excluding Americans from participation in November. I think that these voter protection laws are put in place to repress Democratic voters, and are merely purported as protective measures. The intuitive measures to protect voting, are preventing a problem that does not exist. In the past decade, there were between 13-83 individual voter fraud cases, cases that Republicans are going to great lengths to bring down to zero. To employ the common illustration, Republicans are killing a fly with a bazooka, and discouraging democratic (small d) participation in the process. 

This discouragement is unfortunate not only for the reason of voter disenfranchisement, but for the disparity among those disenfranchised. Of the over 20 million citizens without proper voter identification, 25% are black, 18% are between the ages of 18-24, another 18% are seniors, and 15% are making below 35K a year. Come November, these people wont be voting; not because they don't want to, but because they aren't able to. They did nothing wrong, and they never had an intention of committing voter fraud, but their right to vote is being stolen from them. These laws also are restricting potential voters, as the absence of early voting in many state will undoubtably decrease participation. In 2008, over 30% of votes were cast before election day. You don't need much political wisdom to predict lower participation rates in states without early voting. 

I am upset about these Republican voter laws because they are politically motivated and are discouraging voter participation. Voter protection is not a controversial issue, nor is it a problem. Once voter fraud begins to plague our electoral process, we should deal with it. Until that time, let's not use the red haring of voter fraud to disenfranchise voters. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Koch's Wealth

I recently reviewed some of the numbers concerning the combined wealth of the Koch brothers. For those who don't know, the Kochs are oil moguls from Kansas who has accumulated approximately $103 billion in net worth over the course of their lifetimes.

Now, I don't consider myself to be too much of a radical, but I can realize injustice when I see it. The injustice of this net worth is that it is greater than the combined worth of 40.2% of American households. One might wonder what the Kochs do with that amount of money, as it is difficult to even visualize. One outlet or expenditure they have found is campaign or super pac financing. For the 2012 election cycle, the Koch brothers have pledged to spend $400 million to finance Republican candidates... an obscene amount that would not have been possible prior to the Citizens United  decision of 2009.

What bothers me most about this electoral reality is the fact that the Kochs are spending money as a benefit to their own self interests. Unfortunately, those self interests too often run against the interests of millions of Americans. If they Koch's financial backing of Republicans proves successful in November, their chosen candidates will work to overturn healthcare reform, cut important social programs, and decrease financial and environmental regulation. All these policy possibilities will hurt the 40.2% of Americans that the Kochs overpower. Because of the Koch's $103 billion net worth, the voices of 40.2% of American households are muffled, if not muted. The voices of people who may be unable to afford adequate healthcare; may be unable to put food on their dinner table; and may be in need of those government programs to survive... government programs that the Kochs would love to see disappear.

The American free market is a beautiful thing, and people who are able to ethically take full advantage of it (generally speaking) deserve their reward. The Kochs have been able to do just that, and deserve admiration for their efforts. What they do not deserve accolades for is their poisoning of American democracy... a poisoning that only stands to hurt millions of American families.