Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Burning Down The House

I watched the riot in Ferguson, Missouri Monday night. Channel flipping between CNN, FOX and MSNBC to get the middle, right and left sides of the story. Before the riot, I watched and listened to the County Prosecutor’s announcement. I was not surprised with the grand jury’s decision. The law in Missouri is very clear as it is in most states. Right or wrong, law enforcement officers are given a lot of leeway in using deadly force. A good thing to remember, by the way, if you’re ever tempted to challenge or threaten a police officer.

As I watched cars burn and store windows being broken and looters hauling off armfuls of snacks, beer and liquor from the store where Michael Brown’s last day took a very wrong turn; I thought about a line from an old movie where a young Marlon Brando is asked “What are you rebelling against?” and his character coolly replies, “Whada ya got?”

I get the feeling that the protestors/rioters in places like Ferguson have that same attitude most of the time. What are you protesting? Whatever “you got”. And right now “they got” Michael Brown. But this is not about Michael Brown. The shooting of Michael Brown was legal. Some may even consider it justified. If I am in Officer Darren Wilson’s shoes that day, it was a necessity.

But there are a lot of folks who don’t see it that way. They see Michael Brown and, most of all, themselves as victims. Victims of racism and injustice. They get the short end of the stick when it comes to educational and employment opportunities. They are arrested and incarcerated and, yes sometimes, shot and killed disproportionately. How much of it is their own fault can be debated. That it is so, cannot. And when it comes to how they are treated by some members of law enforcement and how they “think” they are treated by most members of law enforcement; they once again get the short end of the stick; sometimes up against the side of their heads. Is this treatment fair? No. Does it makes sense? Sometimes. Have they earned it? Yes, in some ways. Are they really victims? Yes, in some ways.

How do we fix it? Indicting Darren Wilson does not fix it. Even if he had been tried and found guilty and given a death sentence it would not have fixed the problem. In this nation, we have a very complex set of social, political and economic challenges which have existed for a long, long time. They are not new, but they are becoming more unmanageable. The “victims” have found their voice and their numbers are growing. We did not get into this mess overnight and we’ll not be getting out of it overnight. We are at the point where we cannot legislate our way out and we’ve proven that we cannot “welfare” our way out. Hearts and minds must change. That takes time and a lot of help from above.

Watch out, you might get what you're after
Cool baby, strange but not a stranger
I'm an ordinary guy
Burning down the house
-lyrics from the Talking Heads song “Burning Down The House”

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The One-Eyed Man

There is an old saying about “holding your nose” when you vote because all of the candidates stink. That’s pretty much my take on this week’s elections. While I am happy with the outcome, I really see it as the lesser of two evils. I hope that our leaders can get some things done, but I don’t expect it. Campaigning for 2016 has already begun and the focus of these career politicians is always on the next election. Doing their jobs is of secondary importance.

What I find most interesting is that the Number One objective for the two parties is to just find something they can agree on. It’s like a couple in a bad marriage who agree to stay together for the sake of the kids. It may be the best option at the moment, but in the long-run it seldom works out well for the couple or the kids. So our leaders point to immigration reform and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure as two issues where they might be able to find common ground. Don’t count on it. Almost immediately the conversation on immigration has become contentious. The Republicans can’t give up too much ground without alienating the far right and the Democrats must hang on to the Hispanic vote. Any compromise weakens both parties. Hopefully, repairing and upgrading the nation’s infrastructure might get some traction if it does not get linked to other issues such as Obamacare.

The one area where I expect a lot of agreement will be National Security. Both parties know that they must look strong against Islamic extremism and Russian expansionism. While I don’t expect them to agree on how to handle either issue, I do expect them to do a lot of talking and spend a lot of money. That’s what politicians do. And neither party wants to go into 2016 looking soft.

The sad truth is that the biggest threat to our National Security has not changed and is not likely to change. That would be our Debt Crisis. We have reached unsustainable levels of debt and it is unlikely that we can grow our way out of the problem. Reducing debt by aggressive spending cuts would hurt the economy in the short run and certainly have a negative impact on certain groups of voters. Then there are the special interests and their lobbyists who have paid for protection. No politician is going to kill their golden goose. I doubt that any of the conservatives who rail about government spending would cut much of it if they actually were empowered to do so. So we’ll keep printing money and whistling in the dark until our money isn’t worth much. Our only saving grace may be that the rest of the world is more screwed up than we are.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” - Erasmus