Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Hate Crimes"

While I haven’t followed the Trayvon Martin killing as closely as some I’m certainly interested and, from what I’ve heard, it doesn’t look good for the police. However I prefer waiting for the final returns before getting enthusiastic. One obvious conclusion is that there’s something very wrong with Florida’s “stand your ground” law. It’s worth knowing that it was enacted by the Florida legislature with aggressive promotion by the Governor Jeb Bush.

An ancillary argument has developed on which I have a firm opinion. That is the place of separate legal treatment for “hate” crimes. The following was written five years ago when I was learning the advantage of the computer over the electric typewriter and hadn’t got to email. I consider it equally relevant today. I don’t expect complete agreement on this one.

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While I accept the legitimacy of arguments of those who want a special category for “hate crimes” I disagree with their conclusion. For openers, the word “hate” in this context takes in too much territory. There are many hate induced violent crimes that don’t affect homosexuals, ethnic or religious minorities such as acts between any combination of jealous husbands, wives or lovers. At the risk of seeming homophobic, I have only begrudgingly accepted the loss of two perfectly good words that have been part of the English language for centuries, queer and gay. I can get by with synonyms. But hate is too big a word to be co-opted by any group to support its agenda.

As a practical matter, our ability to determine intent in the commission of crimes is inexact. Then there is the possibility that courts in homophobic or racist communities might use this tool against the people it was meant to protect.

Most important, I believe that murder is murder and armed robbery is just that, nothing more or less. I grant the need for a federal statute against murder. It was incongruous for O.J. Simpson to be acquitted of that crime in California and convicted in Federal Court for depriving people of their civil rights by murdering them. But I’d be as upset by a violent act committed against me for the contents of my wallet as I would by the same act committed because my parents were Jewish. When it comes to violent crime, I am an equal opportunity hater.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Point Spread

On the subject of gambling my attitude is libertarian. I do criticize state lotteries as essentially taxes on the poor. Still the libertarian wins out over the Good Samaritan and I say let them have at it, a view consistent with the hours I’ve spent at blackjack tables.
In legal gambling, as we tend to think of it, the rules are an open book. We know they favor the house or state, not necessarily to the same degree. The last I heard, the return on  state lotteries was a fourth of casino slot machines, information available to any interested bettor. It’s my understanding these rules of the game are well enforced. If foul play were discovered, either at private or state owned facilities, it would work to the financial detriment of the state.
But there are games going on in lower Manhattan that leave the aggregate of these games of chance in the dust. They take place in virtual secrecy with considerably less policing. They provide a breeding ground for foul play compounded by the fact that the big guys get to keep their winnings and pay for their losses with other peoples’ money, ours.  
I don’t fault Bush’s TARP or Obama’s Stimulus. I place a higher value on survival than on propriety. But a system that allows a select part of the private sector to inflict this cost on the nation is in need of major revision. It seems unthinkable that, horror of horrors, less regulation is in order. Clearly the opposite is the case. The two major financial collapses of the past century followed extended periods of deregulation.
We’ve heard some of the unpleasant details of avarice by the big players that has caused this country such harm. It’s unfair to paint all of Wall Street with the same brush. But the stereotype does exist. We know what these people take from the country. There are times when I get to wondering what even the decent folks down there give back. Then I realize that there is a legitimate need for honest bookies.
The price paid by the N.Y. Mets for Willie Mays to end his career with them was the promise of a place in the organization on his retirement from the game. He lost the position after taking a second job as a greeter at Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City. Pity he didn’t take up with a respectable outfit like Goldman Sachs!

Saturday, March 17, 2012


No I haven’t  ceased sending emails to the usual victims. My recent silence has nothing to do with a lack of material, but because I have little to add to the coverage I’ve heard from the media. As I see it the actions of Republicans, in tandem with the right wing in general , have done nothing in this period to enhance the party’s approval among women.
The Fat Man was in full bloom for a few days with his less than flattering description of a law school student who didn’t see things his way, as a “slut.” There are numerous synonyms for this word, but no euphemisms, so his excuse of bad word choice doesn’t pass muster. I sense a general agreement on both sides of the spectrum, a bit more begrudging on the right, that it isn’t cricket to impugn the character of someone with whom one disagrees. The old battle cry “they all do it” is the next thing to admitting that your guy was naughty too, but only because “they” made him.
When it comes to misogyny the Fat Man is small potatoes compared to the Virginia legislature. Most of us have sufficiently considered and condemned the male chauvinistic nature of this law with its pre abortion rituals. What has been largely overlooked is that this is an attempt to effectively nullify a Constitutional right specified by the United States Supreme Court in Roe v Wade in 1973. 
The purpose of this law is purely and simply to penalize abortion. The penalty is not a fine or prison, but shame. Not embarrassment involving others, but shame directed at one’s self. This sort of thing is not unheard of in our history. But then the Scarlet Letter was set in 1642 America, nearly a hundred and fifty years before our Constitution.
Of course if Hester had access to proper contraceptive coverage she wouldn’t have earned her “A” and Nathaniel Hawthorne would have had one less story to his credit.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Energy Independence

Republicans are having serious problems these days. Much of the damage was self inflicted by the slapstick performances in their presidential field, testimony that all comedy is not intentional. Party brass must regret having staged these debates. In addition the war on contraception isn’t going too well, the Fat Man is doing his utmost and there are signs of a mild recovery, something that the party has been unabashedly trying to prevent.
The best straw for these folks to grab at the moment is the price of gasoline. In criticizing Obama for delaying some controversial facilities such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, they ignore the axiom that the price of gasoline at the pump is a direct consequence of the world price of petroleum. Without specifying, they strongly suggest that there is something a United States President can do to influence this price.
This reasoning grossly overestimates influence of the United States on the price of a barrel of oil. Whatever chips we have to play are all on the demand side of the equation. Until now we’ve continued to devour this product at any price. On the supply side were small fry compared to Saudi Arabia and quite a few others. Our military eminence can’t help. There aren’t ripe fruit like Iraq around for picking these days. Our “exceptionalism” doesn’t travel as far as the oil market. If we doubled our output the effect on world market price would be negligible.
Republicans argue that Obama is keeping us from “energy independence.” Independence from whom? It may be old fashioned, but I refuse to regard what is the legal property of Exxon Mobil or any entity other than the United States Government, as “ours.” We don’t have any control over it as we do utilities. For a nation to become energy independent by producing more oil it would first have to nationalize its own reserve, and that’s not about to happen here.
None of these corporations are “one of ours” in the lingo in World War II films. They are multi-national corporations that allegedly work in the interest of shareholders, although my guess is the profits go disproportionally to management. As business people they are expected to seek the maximum price for their product and aren’t about to give American consumers a discount.
I see the matter of gas prices differently than most Americans. I think they should be considerably higher as they are in other industrialized nations. We produce two percent of the world’s oil and consume twenty percent. The choice of the vehicles we drive is one sign of our profligacy, an analogy only scratches the surface.
To those who disagree with the preceding paragraph, and I expect a few, don’t worry. I doubt if there’s a politician in the country who would admit agreeing with me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

First Things First

How many Tea Party Democratic members of Congress can you name? The answer is probably none.  I only pose this question because I’m about to contrast the roles of Tea Party and establishment Republicans and want to acknowledge at least one thing they have in  common, they vote the same.
As to differences, the Republican establishment is the reason for the party’s being and has traditionally been driven primarily by financial concerns, taxes in particular. The Tea Party people, throwbacks to the John Birchers, are more concerned with cultural considerations such as public prayer, homosexuality and abortion.
The establishment consists mainly of Wall Street and “country club” Republicans. The two often overlap because of a common interest in accumulating great wealth and belonging to country clubs. These are the people who in the final analysis call the shots, in Willie Sutton’s words “because that’s where the money is.” But they can’t ignore Tea Party concerns because they need those votes, so Republican verbiage is replete with lip service to some outlandish cultural causes.
Lip service is as far as it goes. When push comes to shove these issues get the short end of the stick. The preservation of the Bush tax cuts and whatever allows Warren Buffet’s income to be taxed at a lower rate than his secretary’s, are more important to the people who count than anything on the Tea Party agenda. This is where the party’s full attention and resources are directed.
A case in point is the Party’s vocal opposition to anything abortion related. Roe v Wade could be overturned by another Supreme Court decision as Plessy v Ferguson in 1896 was by Brown v Board of Ed in 1954. Today’s Court is more sympathetic to right wing causes today than it was for Roe in 1973. But the last thing Karl Rove and company want is a reversal of Roe v Wade which has been a blessing to Republicans in firing up their base. Talking the talk has sufficed for the worker bees so far.
So if you hear Mitt Romney speak far righteously on evolution you can figure he probably doesn’t mean it. But when he speaks on fiscal matters pay attention because he’s true blue, purebred, every inch Republican establishment. And on the way out check your wallet.