Saturday, March 31, 2012

George Zimmerman is 2012's Willie Horton

[Willie Horton, less-than-model citizen]

I observed in a blog a few days ago that the coming election would hinge on whether the Republicans would be able to get evangelicals to turn out to vote for an unwelcome Mitt Romney in larger numbers than the Democrats will be able to get blacks to turn out to vote for a President who hasn't done much for them.  

I observed that I did not expect that the Republicans would play the race card.  My theory was that the GOP would not play the race card out of fear that, if they did, it would lead to massive voter turnout of black and liberal voters who would vote for Barack Obama.

But try as I might, I was not cynical enough.  I did not recognize that it would be the Democrats who would play the race card.  They realized the same thing I did, that if race could be made an issue in the election, that it would benefit Barack Obama, perhaps decisively.  

It had not occurred to me that the Democrats would not wait for the Republicans to play the race card, but would play it themselves.  

I had not heard of the Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman controversy when I wrote that blog.  When I did learn of it, I was confused about how a garden-variety altercation-homicide could morph into a national cause celebre.  

According to the US Census there are around 13,000 murders in the United States every year.  What makes this one so special?  Nothing about the Martin-Zimmerman case suggests that it was anything but two thugs getting into a fight in the course of which one of them was killed.  Nothing could be more ordinary.  The common-ness and ordinariness of such events are precisely why people work so hard to accumulate enough money to move out of the neighborhoods where such things regularly happen.  What makes this particular homicide more newsworthy than the other 12,999 that will happen this year?

Earlier this week there was a multiple homicide in San Francisco in which 5 people were brutally murdered.  That case has already faded to a conventional crime blotter story.  Why has the Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman case not similarly faded into the same obscurity as the San Francisco murders?  That there is a layer of crime and sordid nastiness in our society is scarcely news.  Why are the networks all over this story as though it were the outbreak of war?   What accounts for the difference?  Why is this homicide different than all the other homicides?

There is no end to the blather and the pointless trial in the press, the endless testifying by people with no first hand knowledge, the heated discussion by partisans of one side or the other, none of it mediated by the rules of evidence, none of it leading to a charge or conviction.  I have seen journalists openly insult one another on the air (Piers Morgan of CNN and Toure Something of MSNBC) because of it.  It is all just pointless chatter since none of it can lead to a conviction nor a sentence.  Or is it?

One of those quoted on the subject was a political official who observed that, if he had had a son, that that son would look a lot like Trayvon Martin.  That political official was the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Could the playing of the race card have been any more explicit?  "I am black like you." is the import of the President's remark to black voters.   "And those damned crackers are still shooting blacks - and (sotto voce) you ought to turn out to vote for me because otherwise the George Zimmermans of the world will continue to shoot people like you and Trayvon Martin - and me."

The appeal to racial grievances and animosity implicit in the magnification of a dime-a-dozen homicide into a national debate could not be more explicit.  Who is responsible for this pretense that something has happened, when in fact nothing has happened? 

The question that appears is, "Why have the networks decided that the Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman case is a huge news  story when everything about it suggests that it is in no way distinguishable from the other 12,999 homicides that will happen this year?"  

It would be an insult to everyone's intelligence to suggest that the government called up the CEO's of the various networks and ordered them to devote endless hours of air time to the case. That did not happen.   The network chiefs, partisan to the bone, jumped on it on their own. 

Whoever discovered the case realized early on that a case of someone shooting a black under murky circumstances is perfect for inflaming black racial feelings.  The only thing that could make it more perfect would be to find a way to avoid alienating whites while stirring up blacks.  What would make it perfect would be for the shooter to be neither black nor white.  Enter George Zimmerman, a Spanish-speaking half Peruvian Hispanic.

What we are seeing is the Democrats making a national issue of a trashy homicide between two specimens of trailer trash, two petty criminals.   By inflaming blacks about racism, they are mobilizing their base.

If I may speak personally here, and why shouldn't I, it is my blog after all?  I make a point of being cynical to  protect myself from the pain and depression in how cynical and corrupt the system and everyone in power in it are.  I am cynical also because it is the most consistent theory of explanation of how and why people and things work the way they do.  

But try as I might, I was not cynical enough to foresee that it would be the Democrats rather than the Republicans who would play the race card.  It is to their advantage to mobilize the black vote and increase black voter turnout.  They have not been slow to seek what is to their advantage.  It apparently does not matter a whit to them that they will damage the fabric of the nation, that it will  increase racial polarization after two generations of people of good will trying to reduce it.  It had not occurred to me that the Democrats, the party of FDR and John Kennedy, would be the sleazier and more anti-national of our two crappy parties.

My only excuse for being naive even into old age is that I was raised in the country.  In spite of fifty years in the city, I am still a bumpkin at heart.  But I don't need to apologize to you for my naivete.  It takes professional political cynics to come up with something as sleazy as publicizing the Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman case.  It takes full-time professional political strategists. 

In 1988 Republican sleazeballs gave whites Willie Horton to play on their fear of blacks to elect George Herbert Walker Bush.  In 2012 Democrats have given blacks George Zimmerman to play on their fear of whites to re-elect Barack Obama.  No matter how cynical one tries to be, one can never be cynical enough.

My rule about American politics is confirmed yet again.  My rule is that the Republicans are cynical selfish despicable bastards, and the Democrats are cynical selfish despicable bastards.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thoughts on Reconstruction

There is a thirty year gap between the Emancipation in 1863 and the passage of Jim Crow laws in the 1890's and thereafter. Even allowing for the occupation of the South by the US Army until 1877, on the shaky theory that white Southerners were somehow overawed by the presence of a Union Army that had recently kicked their butts, that still leaves almost twenty years before Jim Crow laws began to be passed.

What happened in between? In the years immediately after the war freed blacks were frequently in power in Southern state governments because they were the only ones eligible to vote. All the whites failed the voter test of not having participated in nor supported the rebellion. By 1877, all the black governments had been replaced by white governments which were then re-admitted to the Union. So, even allowing for the black state governments period, the twenty year gap remains. 

Two theories come to mind. One is that their was no need for formal segregation because the Reconstruction South had so few public services, public or private, that there was not much to segregate. And most of life was governed by custom rather than law so, again, there was no need for segregation laws. This would have been reinforced by the fact the generation emancipated from slavery were generally both grindingly poor and illiterate. Their poverty and illiteracy segregated them more effectively than law could have.  

By the 1890's there had just started to be a black business and professional class. It would have been this nascent educated class which would have begun to demand equality of treatment by public authorities. The Jim Crow Laws can be seen as responding to these demands by suppressing them.

Another possible theory is that in the decades immediately after the war, suppression of black communities was handled informally and ruthlessly by the omnipresent Ku Klux Klan. By the 1890's the rise of a white business and professional class would have made such tactics seem both primitive and juvenile. Prosperous burghers were not inclined to ride horses at night while wearing hoods and personally committing violence. Respectable people do not do that. They arrange for their legislatures and police forces to do it for them. 

To the white rural poor of the 1870's, blacks were potential social rivals who had to be kept in their place. To the white middle class of the 1890's, blacks were employees who had to be kept at a distance. KKK terrorism was personal, often committed against people whose names one knew. Jim Crow segregation was impersonal and institutional.

If I had to put the change in one place in particular, I would say the Jim Crow laws were a product of Southern urbanization. It is hard to say which was worse, the personal violence and hatred of one's neighbors, or the impersonal faceless racist segregation of the cities

The urbanization hypothesis is reinforced by the fact that the Jim Crow laws were not passed in single bunch but continued to be enacted in a continuing dribble of nastinesses every decade up to and throughout the 1930's, just as the South continued to urbanize through the same period.

 With the coming of the Second World War in the 1940's, blacks began to vote out segregation laws by voting with their feet. Vast numbers of people left the Charm and Hospitality of the Old South for war industry jobs in the cities of the north and west.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

What Will Happen....

Here's what will happen this year: 

Just as the Romney campaign has predicted, Romney will continue to win primaries in states that do not have large numbers of evangelicals. Evangelicals are not a majority anywhere but they are almost all Republicans and they vote in large numbers. Contrary to what the media talking heads commentariat would have us believe, the election results are not a poll of public opinion. They are a count of the opinions of those who showed up to vote. In a country with as little voter participation as this one has, that is a substantial difference. 

By all accounts, evangelicals have a high turnout percentage. Since on average the state electorates are roughly half Republican and half Democrats, a constituency that appears all on one side effectively doubles its influence in the party it votes for. Voter turnout in the US during the past 50 years has been just over half the of registered voters in Presidential election years, about 3/8 in midterm elections. This means that if the minority that votes all on one side also has a high rate of voter turnout, they can almost double again their influence in the party they vote in. Thus a minority like the evangelicals can effectively quadruple their voting power in their party. If the candidate or issue they support is not monolithically opposed by the rest of their party, they can be almost impossible to beat if they constitute anywhere from 8 to 10% of the electorate in their state or more. If their party goes on to win the election by 50.1% or more of the votes, their power within their party can be magnified to the whole national government. So evangelicals matter. 

They are why Rick Santorum, a politician from a northern industrial state that is typically politically centrist (e.g. longtime liberal Republican-turned-Democrat Senator Arlen Specter, a Jew whose political career was in Philadelphia. He represented Pennsylvania in the Senate for 30 years.) is winning primary after primary in states like Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, and recently Louisiana. The paucity of evangelicals in states like New Hampshire and Illinois is why Romney is winning there. The cultural demographics of the nation are such that the evangelical vote is concentrated in the South and to a lesser extent in the Midwest. The South, though large, is greatly outweighed by the northern and western states. 

BUT it is the South that is the pillar of Republican fortunes. The Republican electoral strategy since 1964 has been to win all of the South and as much as possible elsewhere and cobble the two together into an Electoral College majority. This has worked repeatedly. The consequence of it is that the Republicans must win the South if they are to have a chance in the election. Romney has yet to win a primary in any Southern state. Evangelicals don't like him for being a Mormon and for being a billionaire and for being from liberal Massachusetts and now for the Etch-a-Sketch remark by his campaign chief. Which raises the possibility that they won't vote for him in the general election. 

The Romney people, including the candidate himself, have publicly dismissed this possibility on the theory that, given a choice between even Romney and Obama, that they will be forced to vote for Romney. This is short-sighted. It omits the third choice which is to not vote. For every election that Wikipedia gave figures for, 'Did Not Vote' got almost 50% of registered voters.  It outpolled the winning candidate, who got just over half of the 50% who did vote by almost two to one, and the losing candidate by even more. If Southern and Midwestern evangelicals so much as significantly diminish their voter turnout, Romney, as the Republican nominee, could lose the South not because the evangelicals voted for Obama, but because given a choice between two evils, they stayed home. 

The same logic applies to black people. Like evangelicals, blacks all vote for one party, the Democratic Party. Unlike evangelicals, blacks have low voter turnout. Contrary to common impression, black political powerlessness is as much a product of black indifference to actually showing up to vote, as is it of nefarious white obstructionism. When they do turn out in large numbers they are just as powerful, as we saw in 2008.  

With a Democratic incumbent, the Democratic primaries are of no significance for the presidential election, so only the general election is important. But the issues have changed for blacks. In 2008, black people were flabbergasted and amazed by the possibility of a black being president for the first time in American history. This year the novelty is gone. The question is no longer how amazing it would be to have a black president, but the more familiar one of 'what have you done for me lately?' And the answer to that one has to be, "Not much." During Obama's presidency blacks have been harder hit by both unemployment and by foreclosures than the rest of the country. 

 The administration has to offer the same excuses to them that it has to offer to everyone else - "It's George Bush's fault, not ours." and "It would have been worse but for us." Four years on, those excuses have worn thin. My guess is that black voters will find those excuses as unpersuasive as the rest of the country does. So the task of the administration campaign will be to persuade black voters to turn out to vote for someone they like but feel hasn't helped them.  The task of the Romney campaign will be to persuade evangelicals to turn out to vote for someone they don't trust and don't like. Whoever does their task better will win. 

The tactic both sides will use is fear. We will see covert and not-so-covert suggestion that Obama will take away our guns, appoint Muslims to the Supreme Court, and run $4 trillion deficits.  On the other side we will see references to cracker racists taking over the government and exporting every last job in the country to China. 

My guess is that the Republicans will again refrain from playing the race card. Do not imagine that this restraint was or will be altruistic. Their reason for not playing it is that if they did, it would guarantee huge turnouts of blacks and liberals and they would be swamped at the polls. The reason they are not doing it is simply because it would backfire on them, and for no other reason.

My prediction is that the general election will be closer than anyone else is predicting.  Mitt Romney's campaign's strength in the primaries has been money and organization.  Barack Obama's campaign in the general election will have more of both than Romney will.  In addition, Barack Obama is a better speaker and debater than Mitt Romney who was unable to hold his own against even the likes of John McCain in the 2008 primaries.   

My prediction for the election is that Barack Obama will be proven to be a Kenyan-born Muslim and disqualified.  At the same time, the Etch-a-Sketch Corporation will successfully sue Romney for  patent violations, and he will be disqualified as well.   The Republicans will run Gingrich against the Democratic candidate Joe Biden.  No one will vote for either of them and the government will be forced to disband.  The judges at American Idol will appoint Ron Paul to be Philosopher-King but he will refuse to serve.  In desperation, Congress will rescind the Declaration of Independence and the eastern states will return to their prior status as British colonies.  The British, absorbed in soccer matches, hooliganism, and royal weddings, will fail to notice.  The rest of the country will be returned to France, Spain, Russia, Mexico, and the descendants of Queen Liliokulani.  The claims of the Native Americans will be ignored.




Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Meanwhile, back in California.....

[click on video for fullscreen]


Why Muslims Deserve Our Respect

[Libyans expressing their respect for the WWII Australian war dead]

Here we see the results of the Arab Spring.  One can hear several of them saying 'Allahu Akbar'.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Israel Defense Force destroys Hamas hospital, or maybe a school, No, an orphanage - yeah, that's the ticket!

                                                     [click on video for fullscreen]

This took place yesterday, March 11.  The difference the IDF attack made was that the "secondary explosions" of bombs and rockets took place in one warehouse in Gaza, not all over the towns of the south of Israel as Hamas and Islamic Jihad had intended.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Reuters Fauxtography

[I apologize for the gruesome image, but the photo itself has become a news event]

This picture is currently being circulated by the Palestinian group Al-Awda as evidence of Israeli troops having killed a little Arab girl in Gaza in the fighting over the weekend. 

The fact is that the picture was taken in 2006, not this past weekend.  The little girl's parents themselves said she was injured in an accident in Gaza, not in fighting between the IDF and Hamas.  She was treated gratis at an Israeli hospital.

Reuters, which ran the picture in 2006 with a caption claiming the girl was injured by the IDF, was forced to retract and apologize..

The Palestinians are not only bigots and aggressors, they are also liars.


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Actual Intelligent Thinking...

[Persian winged lions]

This article appeared as a New York Times opinion piece on 1 March 2012. 

by Amos Yadlin
ON June 7, 1981, I was one of eight Israeli fighter pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. As we sat in the briefing room listening to the army chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, before starting our planes’ engines, I recalled a conversation a week earlier when he’d asked us to voice any concerns about our mission. We told him about the risks we foresaw: running out of fuel, Iraqi retaliation, how a strike could harm our relationship with America, and the limited impact a successful mission might have — perhaps delaying Iraq’s nuclear quest by only a few years. 

Listening to today’s debates about Iran, we hear the same arguments and face the same difficulties, even though we understand it is not 1981. Shortly after we destroyed Osirak, the Israeli defense attaché in Washington was called into the Pentagon. He was expecting a rebuke. Instead, he was faced with a single question: How did you do it? The United States military had assumed that the F-16 aircraft they had provided to Israel had neither the range nor the ordnance to attack Iraq successfully. 

The mistake then, as now, was to underestimate Israel’s military ingenuity. We had simply maximized fuel efficiency and used experienced pilots, trained specifically for this mission. We ejected our external fuel tanks en route to Iraq and then attacked the reactor with pinpoint accuracy from so close and such a low altitude that our unguided bombs were as accurate and effective as precision-guided munitions. 

Today, Israel sees the prospect of a nuclear Iran that calls for our annihilation as an existential threat. An Israeli strike against Iran would be a last resort, if all else failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. That moment of decision will occur when Iran is on the verge of shielding its nuclear facilities from a successful attack — what Israel’s leaders have called the “zone of immunity.” 

Some experts oppose an attack because they claim that even a successful strike would, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program for only a short time. But their analysis is faulty. Today, almost any industrialized country can produce a nuclear weapon in four to five years — hence any successful strike would achieve a delay of only a few years. 

What matters more is the campaign after the attack. When we were briefed before the Osirak raid, we were told that a successful mission would delay the Iraqi nuclear program for only three to five years. But history told a different story. After the Osirak attack and the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were never fully resumed. This could be the outcome in Iran, too, if military action is followed by tough sanctions, stricter international inspections and an embargo on the sale of nuclear components to Tehran. 

Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated. Others claim that an attack on the Iranian nuclear program would destabilize the region. But a nuclear Iran could lead to far worse: a regional nuclear arms race without a red phone to defuse an escalating crisis, Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, more confident Iranian surrogates like Hezbollah and the threat of nuclear materials’ being transferred to terrorist organizations. Ensuring that Iran does not go nuclear is the best guarantee for long-term regional stability. 

A nonnuclear Iran would be infinitely easier to contain than an Iran with nuclear weapons. President Obama has said America will “use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” Israel takes him at his word. The problem, however, is one of time. Israel doesn’t have the safety of distance, nor do we have the United States Air Force’s advanced fleet of bombers and fighters. America could carry out an extensive air campaign using stealth technology and huge amounts of ammunition, dropping enormous payloads that are capable of hitting targets and penetrating to depths far beyond what Israel’s arsenal can achieve. This gives America more time than Israel in determining when the moment of decision has finally been reached. 

As that moment draws closer, differing timetables are becoming a source of tension. On Monday, Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are to meet in Washington. Of all their encounters, this could be the most critical. Asking Israel’s leaders to abide by America’s timetable, and hence allowing Israel’s window of opportunity to be closed, is to make Washington a de facto proxy for Israel’s security — a tremendous leap of faith for Israelis faced with a looming Iranian bomb. It doesn’t help when American officials warn Israel against acting without clarifying what America intends to do once its own red lines are crossed. 

Mr. Obama will therefore have to shift the Israeli defense establishment’s thinking from a focus on the “zone of immunity” to a “zone of trust.” What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity — and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest — Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so. I hope Mr. Obama will make this clear. If he does not, Israeli leaders may well choose to act while they still can. 

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, is the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

California Fish & Game Commissioner Dan Richards

[Note the sh-t eating grin]

The cat had been driven into a tree by a pack of dogs.  That ensured that it couldn't get away, couldn't defend itself, couldn't even present a moving target.  California Fish & Game commissioner Dan Richards then walked up to the tree, took aim, and shot it dead.  

Richards presumably considers himself a sportsman.  Shooting a trapped, defenseless animal at close range with a rifle is not  what I consider sportsmanship.  One can assume that the commissioner will go on to further acts of sportsmanship like shooting his neighbor's dog, shooting ranch cattle, or shooting fish in a barrel.

The president of the Fish & Game Commission seems not to take seriously the commission's mission, which is to preserve and protect fish and game.   That 11 Republicans in the Assembly have spoken in his defense does not suggest that Richards should stay, but that the 11 Republicans should go also, and for the same reasons.

Email your assemblyman today demanding Richards' removal.