Saturday, October 31, 2009

I don't like Halloween

I'll wish everyone a Happy Halloween, although I'm no big fan of the holiday. It's usually harmless enough, but I don't think it celebrates anything particularly positive -- unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4th, Veterans Day, etc.
And some folks always manage to use it for an excuse to be asses.
Does this make me a Grinch? Nah, he hated Christmas!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Death of the death penalty

I think Texas Gov. Perry's antics to avoid moral accountability for the execution of a probably innocent man will do little to save his reputation and may in the long run prove to be as important to the eventual abolition of the death penalty in the United States as the Illinois moratorium was.

I think that, in the abstract, the state does have the right to execute certain individuals whose crimes are so heinous or who represent such a danger to society that they simply can't be allowed to live. This is why I am hesitant to condemn earlier societies that resorted to the measure, modern societies still undergoing development and groups that may have to resort to the measure in extremis such as military forces locked in mortal combat.

This theoretical acceptance does not, however, lead to acceptance of the death penalty in America. America is a society rich enough and robust enough to incarcerate people indefinitely and shows no compunction about doing so in shocking numbers, so there's no emergency need to do it. And the system has been demonstrated to be riddled with bias and outright errors.

As a matter of fact, the errors which have come to light have, frankly, shaken my confidence in the criminal justice system to the core. One doesn't expect perfection in any human system, but the error rate that is being revealed is unacceptable. It is, absolutely, a horrific thing when innocent people are deprived of their liberty (often for decades) let alone their lives. But law-and-order types should consider the collateral damage of wrongful convictions. Every innocent man rotting in jail means that a real criminal is free to keep preying on the community. And if errors are substantial and common enough it will destroy the public's confidence in the system. There are already substantial communities who do not trust the police and the courts and their distrust is provably rational.

Perry's actions, however, point to the corrupt nature of the system and its inability to police itself. Allowing the commission to finish its work would have been evidence that the system could recognize error and begin reforms to reduce error. Instead it provides evidence that the state cannot be trusted with this power. It not only makes mistakes, but it refuses to identify and correct those mistakes, therefore ensuring that more mistakes will inevitably occur.

Perry has provided opponents with a powerful example of why the death penalty should go.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

End of empire?

A Daily Kos diary about the plan for a new oil currency to replace the $US is interesting and not a little scary.

Americans have little aptitude for the lessons of history, but there's reason to worry that our Washington elite is not handling our imperial moment very well at all.

People forget that almost exactly 100 years ago the British Empire lorded over the Earth nearly as completely as the US does now. While the seeds for future problems were germinating, there's no doubt that every Briton and most everyone else in the world had no inkling that Britain's superpower status would disappear within the next two generations.

After a period of decline, Great Britain has recovered somewhat to be a respectable second-rank power, which isn't that uncommon, Spain has also managed to claw its way back into the ranks of substance, although it had a much longer time it the geopolitical wilderness. Being a continental power, the US has resources enough to avoid complete collapse if it plays its cards right, but history certainly has examples of Great Powers that did lose it all.

I don't think a US decline is inevitable in the near term (over the long term we're all dead and nothing is permanent) but we need to act soon. If the US dollar loses its status as the world currency we're going to have a damned hard time paying for this massive military establishment, for example. It might be wise to look for ways to cut back now, especially if those cutbacks can be tied to arms reduction treaties and other means to keep the numbers of weapons in foreign hands low.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stupid talk

There's been no shortage of stupid talk lately, but a column by John Perry discussing a military coup to solve the "Obama problem" is a prizewinner.

First off, it's a slander against the professionalism of the US military to suggest that something like that is even possible. It really represents the fevered fantasies of certain right-wing loonies rather than a real possibility. Perry's column doesn't actually indicate he has any real sources for any of this.

Secondly, it's yet another example of the extremism of the Right generally since Obama took office. Yes, it is true that Bush had some harsh things said about him, although to be fair most of that invective came later in his term after he had actually done a lot of objectionable things like invasions, warrantless wiretapping, disaster relief failures, etc. Obama's been in office just months and he's getting even more extreme talk -- and he's actually done relatively little so far.

Media Matters discusses the episode with a link to the original piece:

Slate - Encyclopedia Baracktannica