Sunday, August 30, 2015

We Are Offended By The Wrong Things

And nothing illustrates that fact more than the most recent incident indicting our national obsession with arming ourselves to the teeth:  the on-air shooting of a news reporter and a cameraman in Virginia.  Here is yet another example of how nearly unrestricted access to guns enables senseless crimes of violence.  Here is, at the same time, yet another example of our unwillingness to face the problem directly, and instead focus on a distraction that allows us to ignore our own complicity with the latest round of senseless murders.

That distraction involves the New York Daily News, once the undisputed king of tabloid journalism in America and now, like all newspapers, fighting for its journalistic life in an electronic, digital media age.  The Daily News has a rich history of publishing crime photography, much of it not the sort of stuff that's easy to take when you're eating breakfast or riding the subway.  You have only to look at the work of Weegee, the most celebrated photographer of New York's Golden Age of print media, to know what I'm talking about.  (And, if you know nothing about Weegee, you owe it to yourself to get to know his work, starting here.)
Then again, nothing makes the point about the Daily News and edgy photography quite like publishing a photo of an electrocuted woman on the paper's front page.

The Daily News extended that tradition of edginess into the present in its coverage of the Virginia story, by publishing on its cover three photos derived from the video of the crime taken by the murderer and posted on his Facebook account before he committed suicide.  As a consequence, the tabloid came under fire itself for using the photos, as did the New York Post for likewise publishing stills from the video.  Both papers were accused of sensationalizing a tragedy, as compared to seemingly more responsible media outlets that chose not to use the video in any way at all.  You can read a little more about that debate here.

That link, which will take you to a New York Times article, also includes the Daily News' defense of its publication of the photos as "part of the story, however disturbing and horrific."  The paper also, through a spokesperson, expressed the hope of its editors that the images would help to build support for better, more sensible gun regulation that would prevent tragedies like the Virginia shootings.

You know what?

I think the Daily News got it right.

It's easy to take the clean-fingered, prissy approach that the media's job is to protect the public from disturbing news.  It's exactly what one would expect in an era when the news has just become another consumption commodity whose profits matter more than its truth.  It's an indictment of how we view the Fourth Estate:  as an outlet not for what the public needs to know, but for what the public's corporate masters wants the public to believe.

And the NRA, along with the gun manufactures that support it, are among those corporate masters.  You can't possibly expect them to want gun owners and potential buyers to see the actual consequences of gun ownership and use.  It's a lot more fun to twist and distort the meaning of the Second Amendment, so long as doing so helps the bottom line.

As for refusing to show the video, on the grounds that it would be some sort of publicity reward for the murderer?  Sorry, but that's a boundary you cross the minute you decide to make this a leading story.  You can't unring the bell at that point.  You can, however, show the consequences of the real story that you've chosen to ignore--our national obsession with enabling acts of violent rage.

Guns are awful.  Guns kill.  Guns destroy lives in horrible, painful ways, and leave behind the agony of survivors--many of them children--who are left to ask Why?  Maybe it's at least partly because we like to pretend that violence isn't so bad, that's it's just a way of dealing with our anger, like playing a video game.

Maybe it's time we stop pretending.  And maybe, just maybe, the Daily News' decision to publish the video stills is a step in the direction of doing just that.  Maybe seeing the consequences of a nation flooded with guns is what we need to end the flood.

The End Of The Line For The Red Line, And For Baltimore?

Baltimore enjoys many distinctions and, as we know, not all of them are good ones.  Here, however, is one of the worst, one that directly and indirectly feeds many of the city's most persistent problems: Baltimore is the largest city on the Northeastern seaboard without a comprehensive mass rail system for public transportation.  All of the regions' other large cities--Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.--have comprehensive rail systems that are the backbone of their economies, helping to make each of them not only national, but international powerhouses.

But not Charm City.  It pokes along with a single subway line, a single light-rail line, a bus system and a handful of "circulators," none of which connect to each other in the seamless, powerful manner that the various rail lines and bus routes connect in the region's other major cities.  And, with each passing year, its population and tax base shrinks, and the city is more and more an economic basket case, as well as a sociological tinder box.

How did all of this happen?  Well, institutional racism, for one.  The early city fathers of Baltimore found it convenient to use the city planning process to isolate whites and blacks in separate communities.  That use--or misuse--sowed seeds of division and resentment that led to the riots of 1968, as well as the riots of the past year.  And it explains why public transportation has always faced an uphill battle here, as opposed to elsewhere.  After all, why go to all the trouble of engaging in divide-and-conquer city planning, and then create a mass transit system that would effectively undo all of your evil work?

And, of course, cost is always the other weapon aimed at mass transit by its foes.  No one doubts that building rail systems is expensive.  That is why public spending needs to be involved--and, in fact, has been involved, ever since the westward expansion of the United States.  It's very easy for politicians with anti-public agendas to look at the short-term price tag and say "Meh, we can't afford this."  It's easy to engage in short-term thinking generally; it avoids having to think about the long-term consequences of short-term solutions.

For example, if the construction of the Washington, D.C. Metrorail system had been "derailed" (pun intended) by its admittedly enormous cost, Washington, D.C. would not be the city it is today.  For most of its history, and well into the 1960s, the nation's capital was little better off than Baltimore is today.  The building of the Metrorail system changed all of that.  It turned the city into an economic powerhouse, and a world-class center of cosmopolitan culture.  That is not to say that Washington is free of racism.  But it is to say that public transportation has helped to map out an alternative future not only for Washington, but for the entire region as well.  The money spent on Metro has more than repaid itself, and continues to help build a bright future not only for the District, but also for the two states that adjoin it, Virginia and Maryland.  Without the explosive growth of the Washington metropolitan region, thanks to Metro, both states would be economic basket cases.

Which, in an admittedly roundabout way, brings me to the tragedy of Governor Hogan's ill-informed, short-sighted decision to cancel the Red Line rail transportation project.  The Red Line, which would have created an east-west public transportation rail line through Baltimore, and connected the city's eastern and western suburbs.  It had the potential to be connected with the subway and light-rail systems, and form the backbone of a truly metropolitan rail system.  It had the potential to destroy the racism embedded in the city's history, and to have the impact on the local economy that Washington's Metro had on the District's region.  Even while the Red Line was in its planning stages, there has been evidence that the project was already beginning to have an economic impact. Take a look here. And here.

But the governor ignored all of this.  The governor who pledged to be the governor of all the people, who pledged to put Maryland ahead of party identification, the governor who pledged to be the governor of the whole state, has proved by virtue (or vice) to be a carbon copy of his mentor, Chris Christie:  a divide-and-conquer politician willing to strip funding from jurisdictions that won't vote for him and move it to jurisdictions that will.  Never mind that, in the process, he diminishes the long-term economic future of the entire state--including the regions that vote for him.  His short-term thinking is impeccable:  he understands that he stumbled into office on the back of a weak opponent, and the path to re-election depends on buying votes.

The story, however, does not have to end here.

All it would take is a gubernatorial candidate in the next election who embraced the concept of a green economy for the state, someone who could show that what Maryland, and the rest of the nation, desperately needs is an economy based upon renewable resources, such as solar and wind power, as well as a focus on renovation of private property and investment in public works such as mass transportation.  Such an economy could allow Baltimore, and Maryland, to break the cycle of racial division and economic shrinkage, and could actually raise enough revenue to pay for itself. And, ultimately, to not only pay for the Red Line, but to pay for what Baltimore ultimately really needs. Which is something like this:

(Click here for original link).

There's no reason we can't have this.  All we need to do is to reject the politics of fear.  Will we do it? We can hope and pray that we will.  And then, we can get out and work.

And, above all, vote.

Conservatives Embrace The Pope!

Eh, well, not this one, anyway.  What hypocrites.

Andy Griffith On Guns

Or rather, Sheriff Andy Taylor on guns.  Enough said.

Why Conservatives Should Embrace The Climate Change

Here are six reasons.  Here's one more:  the concept of a carbon tax embraces the idea that taxes are punitive--and, in the process, turns taxation into a public good.

And, While The Rest Of The Country Crumbles ...

... California continues to flourish.  Maybe Democrats aren't so bad at government after all.

Soil Wars?

That's what this article predicts, if we don't face how much we are connected to everything around us--and how much we need to change if we're going to preserve that connection, and ourselves.

Our Lives Depend On Bees

And, as they die off, so do we.  Can we save ourselves from ourselves?  Sometimes, I wonder.

The Party Of Hate Versus The Party Of Love

Or, to be more specific, members of the latter helping out a member of the former.

Which one would you rather have watching out for you?

Who Says Today's Liberals Have No Ideas?

We've got lots of them.  At least 37 of them, to be exact.  If Americans care about ideas, they'll vote out the party that has nothing except a fear of the future.

Mass Transit IS A Bipartisan Issue!

And here are a mayor from New York and a mayor from Oklahoma City to prove it.

Can It Really Be True ...

... that most Americans are now socialist?  It's about time.

When Conservative Causes Collide

Gun rights versus fetal rights in California.  Maybe conservatives would be OK with abortion if all abortions could be performed with guns.

Republicans Pugnante Populus

And fighting not only the people, but their own philosophy of government, when it comes to issues their well-heeled contributors care deeply about, like fracking.  It turns out that federalism, to conservatives, means that the states should be free to oppress the people, and the federal government created by "We The People" is powerless to help.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Conservatives: Taking Credit Where None Is Deserved

In my previous post,  I discussed the conservative tendency to avoid solving actual problems, because doing so would rob them of issues to exploit for the sake of expanding their power.  A related point, of course, is the fact that doing so would require collaboration with their opponents that would effectively reveal not only weaknesses in their own point of view, but also strengths in their opponents' views.  But life can be funny.  Sometimes, no matter how hard one side try to suppress the solution for the sake of its self-interest, the other side sticks to its guns, its principles, and everything else it has (i.e,, the truth), and the solution emerges whether any one opposes it or not.  Just as life finds a way in "Jurassic Park," truth finds a way in a free society, even a badly compromised one such as ours.

So, when it does, what is a good conservative to do?  Why, take credit, of course.

Remember the end of the Cold War?  It was painfully clear to liberals in the 1980s, even during the eight-year reign of the Great Dissembler, that the Soviet bloc, and the pathetic economic system that supported it, was dying, accelerated in part by the decision to invade Afghanistan (sound familiar)? It was not so clear to American conservatives, who demanded sacrifices (except for their supporters) to stare down the "unstoppable" Kremlin and its geopolitical pawns.  Even after the Berlin Wall came down, American conservatives were deeply suspicious of what was happening.  It contradicted everything that they had convinced themselves was true about the Red Menace.  It was something to be viewed not with joy, and certainly not as an inevitability, but rather as a sinister new twist in the Communist plot.

And then, when that position was clearly no longer sustainable, what did they then do?  Why, give their hero Ronald Reagan all of the credit.  Named an airport after him.  Claimed that it was due to all of the debt Ronnie piled up letting out defense contracts for his friends at General Electric ("We bring good things to life--and other things to death"), and other corporate cronies.  Demanded credit, and unlimited political power, for "ending" history.

But history marched on, and liberals--environmentalists in particular--discovered a Carbon Menace in the form of global warming.  Claimed (correctly) that it threatened the existence of our planet. Demanded that all of our resources and talent be devoted to solving the problem.  And were immediately mocked by the same conservatives who were so wrong about the Soviet bloc.  Became the victims of endless ad hominem arguments that they were simply trying to bring a about a socialist system of "rationing" economic success.  Were routinely told that what they were asking the rest of us to do was impossible.

As Rick Perry, might say, oops.  Or, as Kyle Smith argues in the New York Post, it was never really a problem, because American ingenuity would always rise to face down the problem.

Really, Kyle?  The problem that doesn't exist, according to your employer?  The problem that, if it existed, was too complicated and expensive to solve, according to your fellow-travellers in the VRWC?  The problem that was never more than a cloak for the evil Commie plan to nationalize the world's resources?

You don't devote your time, energy and other resources to raising an alarm if you don't believe in the possibility of a solution.  The people Mr. Smith so smugly castigates have been arguing for the solution--renewable energy--for literally decades, long before you were in a position to discover its "inevitability."  The fact of the matter is that environmental activists have been at the forefront of not only identifying the problem but also the solution.  It's precisely because of that truth that they've been able to convince entrepreneurs to make the solution work.  And it's precisely because of that truth that those entrepreneurs have pushed forward to the point at which the solution is working.

And, like many innovations in American history, government has had a major role to play in backing that innovation, which is why history will praise Barack Obama far more than the Saudi-loving GOP. Mr. Smith and his employer aren't big on big government, so this truth is-how shall we say--inconvenient for them (with apologies to Al Gore, who deserves many apologies from the Kyle Smiths of the world).  His market-forces argument on behalf of the growth of renewables is as honest as his evaluation of the percentage of renewables in world power consumption (in other words, not very).

Mr. Smith is oh so very desperate to want you to believe that his side are the "doers" and the other side are the "doubters."  He would very much like you to ignore the hand-wringing his side does about Middle Eastern terrorism, in particular weapons of mass destruction in a certain country we invaded.

I'm betting that, as long as there are people like me in the world, who recognize the problems and the solutions, most folks will see Mr. Smith for what he really is:  a professional hand-wringer serving an agenda that doesn't serve the rest of us.  There have been Kyle Smiths before this one, and their will be Kyle Smiths after this one.  History marches on, invariably toward the truth, leaving behind the Kyle Smiths who try to rewrite it.