Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the Trayvon Martin Shooting

For the past several weeks, I have looked on, with some degree of horror, at the investigation of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and all the circus that this tragedy has become.

And let's say very, very clearly, that this whole episode is a tragedy, first and foremost.  Whatever the circumstances of what happened that night, let's be clear on one thing - there was no reason whatsoever for Trayvon Martin to die.  He was walking home from a convenience store, armed with an iced tea in one hand, and a bag of Skiddles in the other, and spent at least some time talking on his cellphone with his girlfriend.

Now, it is the circumstances of his death, and how they came about, that drives this whole event.  We do know that the shooter, George Zimmerman, took it upon himself to be the neighborhood watch (even though there was a neighborhood watch in place, and that Zimmerman was not a member of that group, and that neighborhood watch members don't carry guns).  We know that Zimmerman thought that Trayvon Martin looked suspicious, and that, despite explicit instructions from the 9-11 dispatcher, Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin. We also know that Zimmerman called 9-11 quite often about suspicious-looking characters in his neighborhood (not surprising given that he was acting as a neighborhood watchman), and that more than a few of said suspicious-looking individuals reported by Zimmerman were African-American.  These "suspicious-looking" individuals included a 7-9 year old boy.

Here's what we don't know - we don't know how the shooting happened.  Did Zimmerman stalk down and kill Trayvon Martin?  Or, did Trayvon Martin, filled with testosterone-laden confidence of a 17 year old, confront and/or attack Zimmerman for following him?  Zimmerman, of course, says that he was attacked by Trayvon Martin, and that he used his pistol in self-defense.  A video of Zimmerman made shortly after the Trayvon Martin's death doesn't appear to show any wounds.  But, of course, Zimmerman could have cleaned himself up in the intervening minutes between the shooting and the video.  At the same time, Trayvon Martin never had a history of violence, and Zimmerman outweighed Martin by over a hundred pounds (Zimmerman is 250 lbs, to Martin's 140 lbs.).  So if there was a fight, Zimmerman should have been able to overpower Martin.

Unfortunately, this means that the scenarios for this case are: 1) Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin in cold blood; 2)  Trayvon Martin, reacting to what he perceived to be threatening behavior, confronted Zimmerman, and Zimmerman shot Martin during a heated argument/fight; or 3) Martin, reacting to what he perceived to be threatening behavior, sucker-punched Zimmerman, and in self-defense, Zimmerman shot Martin.  Of the three, the second, which would result in Zimmerman committing manslaughter, seems the most likely.   

Now, with that said, the behavior of the people outside of this incident has been pretty crappy.  It appears that several elements of the Sanford Police Department took Zimmerman's side from the beginning (although the lead investigator apparently did not), and the State's Attorney refused to prosecute despite the recommendation of the lead investigator.  Then there are the idiots - conservative blogs like the Daily Caller who are currently smearing Trayvon Martin as a thug, the New Black Panthers putting a bounty on George Zimmerman, Spike Lee retweeting what he thought was George Zimmerman's address (and it wasn't), Geraldo Rivera (a long-time resident of the idiot list) blaming Martin's sweatshirt, and on and on. 

So, for the idiots out there - stop it.  Please, please stop it.  Yes, there was a time when it appeared that the Sanford Police Department (or the State's Attorney) was going to find a reason to not arrest George Zimmerman - a time that has passed.  And certainly, railroading Zimmerman (if he really was attacked by Martin) would be a bad thing too.  But neither is likely to now happen.  So please shut up.  Stop hacking Trayvon Martin's email account, stop stalking George Zimmerman, stop all of it. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Assorted Thoughts Blogging

Its been awhile since I've addressed more than one topic in a blog post, and today was as good as a day as ever.  If you follow sports and politics (like me), you have to comment on a few of the following:

The NFL blows out the Saints: In the past few weeks, it was discovered that the Saints had a coach-run bounty program, whereby defensive players were paid extra money to take out and injure opposing offensive players.  In response, the NFL suspended the defensive coach (who started the bounty program) indefinitely, the head coach of the Saints for a year, the GM for half a season, fined the Saints and the GM $500K each, and took away two 2nd round draft picks.

There are a lot of issues at play here.  For one, the NFL is currently under the gun on player concussions.  As it turns out, playing in the NFL is, most likely, really, really bad for a player's brain.  Like Alzheimers bad.  And former players (and their families) are suing the NFL for not doing enough to prevent concussions.  So, having a coach-run bounty program where players are encouraged by their organizations to give other players concussions (and probably getting concussed themselves) is exactly what the NFL does not need.

Additionally, the amount of money on the line for the players who are hurt (and the franchises who employ them) is huge - multimillion dollar huge.  And if the NFL can't police behavior, then an organization like the Cardinals, who lost millions of dollars when the Saints purposefully injured Kurt Warner (and ended his career, btw), may take other recourse, like suing the Saints.  The only way to keep those sort of lawsuits at bay was for the NFL to come down so hard that the victims of this bounty program feel they got their pound of flesh. And it looks like they have done so.

The Continuing GOP Primary: You know, every time it looks like Romney has wrapped this thing up, either he, or someone from his campaign, does something to screw up.  The latest gaffe, where one of Romney's campaign advisor states that Romney will take an "etch-a-sketch" to his policy positions once the nomination is won, confirmed the worst suspicions of conservatives.  Now, it might be too late for Santorum and Gingrich to overtake Romney, but they could still get enough delegates to prevent Romney from getting the nomination outright.  And if that happens, Romney has himself to blame.

Seriously, the number of unforced errors by the Romney camp is nothing short of ridiculous.  Santorum and Gingrich are not A-listers by any stretch of the imagination - both are literally GOP castaways.  In fact, the only A-list opponents that Romney faced - John Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry - were either too boring or too unprepared to make Romney sweat.  With Romney's money advantage, he should have locked up this nomination a long, long time ago.

Even when he does lock up the nomination, Romney is going to have problems.  For one, and as Santorum clearly notes, the voters who make up Romney's base are Republican voters who live in Democratic areas (in cities and in the Northeast).  If Romney is going to beat Obama, he has to perform better in the Red/purple States than McCain did in 2008.  If the South isn't sure of Romney (and they aren't), they'll stay home.

Tebow to the Jets, Manning to the Broncos: As a Chargers fan, I am not entirely pleased with Peyton Manning joining the Denver Broncos.  Now, that's not necessarily because I fear Peyton Manning (though I respect his work), but because getting Manning was the right thing for Denver to do.  That means that John Elway is a much, much more competent personnel guy than Josh McDaniels, and so the Broncos have a shot a being good again.  Nuts.

As far as Tebow going to New York. . .I'm a bit confused.  That's all I can say.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thoughts on "Game Change"

After thinking I had avoided the HBO Movie "Game Change," about the 2008 Presidential Election (and particularly the aftermath of Sarah Palin's entry into the race), I was flipping through the channels on Sunday got sucked into the replay.  Damn.

Now, for those of you who aren't political or TV junkies, the story of "Game Change" is thus - desperate McCain and his staff pick Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate, and Palin is such a disaster that even McCain's high level staffers won't vote for the ticket (for fear of putting the former Alaska Governor anywhere near the White House).  McCain loses to Obama.

As far as a movie goes, I think some of the criticisms of the writing and the character development are fair - few if any of the characters show any development movie-wise. That said, some of the performances were dead-on.  Julianne Moore's portrayal of Sarah Palin felt much deeper than Tina Fey's impersonation (obviously), and I was left somewhat understanding why so many people were (and still are) absolutely entralled with the Governor, despite her obvious foibles.

That said, and I hate to defend Sarah Palin (who's acceptance speech at the GOP National Convention inspired me to give money to the Obama campaign), but the movie does her some disservice.  As horrific as a VP choice as she was, the selection of Sarah Palin was not the reason John McCain lost the Presidency.  Rather, her selection, and the ensuing aftermath, were symptomatic of McCain's dysfunctional campaign.

Look, every campaign, no matter what level, is about a core message, the central campaign narrative.  It can be as simple as "Vote for Me!" or, it can be a dominant theme or themes.  Think of Obama's 2008 campaign, and one word comes to mind - Change.  All presidential campaigns need some kind of narrative, but McCain could never find out what his narrative should be.  First he attacked Obama's lack of experience (probably the most dangerous attack, as Obama had to put Biden on the ticket), and then undermined his attack when he picked Sarah Palin (who had less experience than Obama and is about half as smart).  Then McCain practically worshipped "Joe the Plumber" (who is neither a plumber, nor named Joe), and then suspended his campaign to deal with the economic crisis, and lurched one way to another, and another, trying to find some kind of talisman to defeat Obama.

Now, the McCain campaign dysfunction may have been partially the result of Obama's stunning rise.  After all, few DC insiders thought Obama had a shot at winning the nomination.  And so, McCain's strategy was largely designed around running against Hillary Clinton.  Who better to be McCain's running mate than the first Democrat to condemn Bill Clinton for the Lewinsky matter?  When Obama took the nomination instead, McCain and his campaign had no idea how to beat him.

Sarah Palin's selection was a symptom of that desperation.  Not only did her selection completely tank a very strong attack on Obama, but the campaign never looked into her background, and never spent the time preparing her for the role. As a result, everything was done haphazardly on the fly.  Of course, the campaign had no idea that Palin needed the level of hand-holding that she did, but that was something they should have known well before selecting her.  To their detriment, they also had no idea that she would be as good as she was on the stump either.  If Palin wasn't as charismatic, McCain would've lost by an even larger margin.

I also see reverberations of the 2008 campaign in the 2012 campaign.  Like 2008, Republicans and conservatives tend to be utterly focused on Obama's strangeness - he's an African American with a Muslim-sounding name - to stick with Palin's "paling around with terrorists" line.  The other weird attack is something about teleprompters - as if a guy who graduated at the top of his class from Harvard Law School is an idiot.  Those attacks are complete duds.  

No, if I was the GOP nominee, I wouldn't attack Obama's intelligence (really, really high), or his strangeness, but I would attack his normalcy.  He's a 50 year old man who's obsessed with sports (probably more so than any other recent President), plays poker, and loves to golf.  In other words, he is completely and utterly normal.  That is where I would attack - because he is so normal, he is infected with the conventional way of doing things, and failed to go hard enough against the banks, or cut taxes or whatever.  Attack him for failing to think outside the box.  Luckily, I don't see any Republican, save maybe Newt Gingrich, being able to pull off this attack.  

And, I think if you look at the last few Presidents - Obama, Clinton and Bush - you see the opponents going for the obvious attack rather than the best attack.  This was especially true with Democrats and Bush - we kept pushing the Bush-as-idiot line when we should have pushed the Bush-is-an-uncaring-asshole line.  Anyway, when you look at the story of "Game Change," yes, Sarah Palin was a disaster of a VP candidate, but she probably helped McCain more than she hurt him. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

There Is No Big Dog In the GOP Anymore

I've been thinking about the obnoxious filth that Rush Limbaugh has been spreading lately, and wondering if this sort of thing would've gone down during the Bush Administration. . .

And, I don't think it would. If Rush had decided to smear a woman (who, by the way, was testifying about a friend's experience in needing birth control for something other than contraception), someone from the Bush Administration would have, ever so politely, told Rush to shut the fuck up front door.  And then Cheney would get on the phone with Rush, and his producers and would tell them that 1) Rush needs to "apologize" (the infamous, "I'm sorry if I offended you with my totally reasonable remarks" apology), and 2) Rush would shut the fuck up front door about any woman in the future.  And Rush and his producers would politely thank Cheney for informing them of what to do, and then do it.  And Bush would get away with this because he (and Cheney) were the unquestioned leaders of the GOP.

The current debate over birth control is a clear example of the lack of a big dog.  Oral contraceptive, or the pill, is popular, and has been in constant use since 1960.  Think about it - that's 52 years.  So, if women started using the pill at around twenty, then virtually every woman under the age of 72 has used the pill.  Throw in women who started taking the pill in their thirties during the 1960's, their daughters, sisters, friends, cousins, etc., and virtually every woman in the country knows multiple women who take, or who have taken the pill.  Throw in the fact that the pill is not just used as a contraceptive, but used as hormone therapy for women in their 20's to their 50's, and we're talking about something that is common to American life.
So, when the Obama Administration mandated that all employers cover the pill, most women probably thought, "about time."  The only way, and I mean the only way,  for the GOP to win this issue is to couch the fight in terms of religious liberty, and not in terms of anti-woman.   If the Bush Administration had been running things, you would've seen a lineup in Congress of all religious women, constant talk about religious liberty, and maybe (and just maybe) you would hear a woman like Laura Ingraham or Michelle Malkin slam feminists as sluts.

What you would not have is an all-male lineup at a Congressional hearing.  You would not have Rush Limbaugh attacking a witness - who was going to testify about the use of the pill for hormone therapy, not contraception - as a slut.  Now, its pretty clear that the GOP isn't defending religious liberty, but attacking women's rights.  But since the Bush Administration more or less decimated the legitimacy of the GOP leadership, no one controls the message.

The other interesting thing is that there are four candidates for President on the GOP side right now, and about 10-15 other guys who think they could run for President, and yet, the only person to denounce Rush's comments was Boehner, who did it weakly.  If any one of the Presidentials (candidates for 2012, or presumed candidates in 2016) came out and strongly denounced Rush's remarks, the press would be very, very favorable.  But they don't because Rush is as close to the big dog as it gets.