Morning Report, July 28

1.  A just-released study showed that the risk of an accident, while text-messaging, was 23 times greater than when not texting. Although the study focused on truck drivers, it found that those who texted just before accidents typically took their eyes off the road for 5 seconds, long enough at ordinary highway speeds to traverse 300 feet.  Think of that the next time you send your teenager away in the car with her cell phone.

2.  California has an 11.6% unemployment rate, and nearly a million workers have lost their jobs since the beginning of the recession at the end of 2007.  The Governator and the state legislature reached a budget compromise, but many say it’s mostly smoke and mirrors.  It was once said that “as goes California, so goes America” (or something to that effect).  Where that was once a promise, a note of hope for progress and growth, it is now a threat, a fear.  Having grown up in California, I have a special concern for the Golden State.  And California is constrained by certain political rules (including several propositions restricting the way in which the state can raise funds and spend them) that do not constrain other states or the federal government.  Yet California presents a troubling spectacle: a democratic government that seems to have become so dysfunctional that it cannot effectively adapt to changes.  Sacramento had become a feeding trough for so many politicians and special interest groups that the legislature spent and spent as though there were no tomorrow, larding up its bills with so much pork and so much waste that some sort of fiscal reckoning become inevitable.

It’s worth asking: what was it about California that made its legislature so spectacularly unsuccessful at managing its fiscal affairs responsibly?  And what might the church have done to encourage better stewardship, or at least to hold politicians accountable?  It may have been possible once to wave one’s hand and say, “It’s only politics.”  But now there will be severe cuts in education, health care, welfare and hundreds of lesser social services.  These may not all be to the negative; sometimes a cut in funding is just what an organization needs to restore fiscal discipline.  But it will be largely to the negative, especially given the swiftness of the change.

3.  The health care reform debate rages on.  Ezra Klein, commentary wunderkind at the Washington Post, has a rather ordinary blog entry about framing the debate less in terms of market technicalities (i.e., whether we can afford it) and more in terms of the moral imperative of universal coverage.  Yet the comments that follow show how badly Klein misses the point.  The first response, from “onestring,” begins by repeating Klein’s question: “What happened to the moral case for reform?  Republican lobbyists, and talk-show personalities are immoral, unethical, sociopaths who believe that what they personally benefit from is what is morally acceptable.”  This is typical partisan blather; the other side disagrees, therefore they are evil, uncaring, selfish.

Yet a later response says that “the moral case…is as strong as ever,” but we must question what we mean by “reform.”  Government-run health care is not true reform, argues Steven Hsieh, M.D., and true reform would be market-based.  “Rights are freedoms of action, not automatic entitlements to goods or services that must be produced by another…Doctors, patients and insurers all have the right to contract according to their best interests without compulsion.  Free market reforms would respect those rights.”  Or, as another respondent writers, “Who is arguing against universal health care?  It seems the debate is over how to cover everyone.”

The specifics of this particular argument are not the point.  The point is to illustrate that what partisans often portray as a with-us-or-against-us dichotomy (sound familiar?) is usually more a question of method than of purpose.  Most conservatives also believe that the poor should be able to receive quality health care, but differ from liberals on the best way in which to make this happen.

So repeat to yourself over and over: neither party has a monopoly on good ideas and good intentions…or, for that matter, bad ideas and bad intentions.  Democrats and Republicans are all human beings, who are more or less the same: some are selfish, some deluded, some downright nuts, but most are more or less reasonable and want to see other people live successful and happy lives.  The question is generally about the best way to do that.

4.  Michael Scherer at Swampland reminds us that while we talk about Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin and Henry Louis Gates, the “slow boil” of tensions within Iran rises higher.  The entire “republic” knows that the election was rigged; Moussavi refuses to back down, while Ahmadinejad feuds with Khamenei and both feud with other clerics.

Scherer blames this on “America’s Adderall-addled attention span,” yet there is a chicken-and-the-egg problem here.  Which came first: MTV and hyper-edited news, or the MTV generation and its inability to handle lengthy discussions of complicated subjects?  I blame the media…and lack of prayer, but not in the way you might suspect.  For prior generations, prayer both within and without of the confines of the church was the training ground for attention–the ability to harness one’s mental powers and focus them on a single subject for an extended period of time.  In the pagan cultures of Greece and Rome, recitations of epics and speeches could serve a similar purpose, yet in Christian culture we have abandoned long-form prayer and lost the ability to train our attentions on complex subject matters.

5.  Just when you thought a consensus was emerging–poof! and it’s gone.  As more information emerged about the Crowley v. Gates encounter, it was beginning to seem as though it was Gates and not Crowley who had made a judgment on another human being on the basis of the color of his skin.  Gates probably assumed that profiling was involved in bringing the officer to his door–whether by the officer himself, or by another person who had seen black men trying to force open a door–and this upset him.  As we now know, the 911 caller could not see the skin color of the two men, was concerned due to a recent spate of break-ins, and made no mention of race in her call.  Officer Crowley has served an exemplary career, and was chosen by an African-American police commissioner to teach a racial profiling class to other policemen.  Gates was galled, for instance, that Crowley asked him to step outside, yet this is standard operating procedure for officers who do not want to step into an environment where they might find themselves surrounded.  (And to those who object that Gates was obviously not a criminal because he did not dress like one, well, firstly you would not make much of a cop, and secondly you are now asserting that policemen should profile.)  Gates was also galled that Crowley, once inside, followed him into the kitchen, as though a policeman, faced with a potential burglar, is supposed to let him wander through the house and out of view.  In other words, for reasons that make no sense in retrospect, Gates assumed that Crowley had come to his door because of racial profiling and was continuing to harass him for racial reasons.

It was still, arguably, excessive of Crowley to arrest Gates for haranguing him (cursing, accusing him of racism, insulting his mother, etc.)  Yet there’s no reason to believe that it was racism rather than personal pique that led Crowley to arrest him.  Some have bent over backwards to exonerate Gates; of course one would be upset after returning from a very long flight only to find the door jammed, and then to be disturbed when at last one is ready to rest, etc.  Yet why do we not also give Crowley the benefit of the doubt?  Perhaps he too was having a difficult day, or never reacts well to mother insults, or had long ago decided not to establish a precedent of putting up with harassment of police officers and those who made public spectacles of their scorn for them.

Well, enter Eugene Robinson.  Since Robinson lived in Cambridge “for a year,” he claims to have it figured out: “Apparently, there was something about the power relationship involved — uppity, jet-setting black professor vs. regular-guy, working-class white cop — that Crowley couldn’t abide.”  Hmm.

I know what was not going through officer Crowley’s mind as he approached the yellow-paneled home on Ware Street near where I used to live, because Crowley did not know that an African-American was involved.  Yet I don’t know what was going through Crowley’s mind when he decided to arrest Gates–and neither do you–and neither does Eugene Robinson.  This too is a part of the stain of America’s racism, that racism is imputed even where it may not exist.  Who is the one casting judgment on an individual on the basis of his belonging to a particular racial (and class) group?  Isn’t it now Eugene Robinson?

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~ by tddalrymple on July 28, 2009.

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