Our Problem With Public Apologies

I just had a thought, are there any similarities between Kathy Griffin’s apology for a mock beheading of Trump, and other public apologies from the right side of the isle (just reflect on what happened before the election with Trump and his treatment of women)?
Do we have a problem with public apologies as a culture (maybe as human beings), rather than just partisan problem? Do we have a problem with apologies that are designed more for PR and damage control than honestly accepting responsibility for bad behavior? Do we as Americans have problems blaming others for our transgressions rather than owning them without qualification?
What would it look like to say: I was wrong, there is no excuse for that. No one else is to blame for my choices but me. I am sorry for the damage I have caused and apologize to those I hurt. I am going to do what I can to make amends, and I accept the consequences.
 
This is really, really, hard. But I think anything less hurts everyone involved. When we are more concerned with saving face, than owning the truth we perpetuate the problem.
This is a hot topic, just google the issue of organizations, governments, law enforcement, or doctors apologizing and you will see that we have a big problem.

An Old Prediction About Trump, the Left, National Pride, And Scapegoating

Here is a fascinating, deep, albeit brief look at something unexpected: A liberal philosopher predicts of the rise of a Trump-like figure 20 years ago based on the worst elements of the left’s political  and philosophical blunders. He is not the only one to make such an observation (note the linked video from Jonathan Pie is one profound explanation of the rise of Trump, but it is NSFW- lots of bad language). Back to Rorty. He explains:

“National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals, a necessary condition for self-improvement”

My thoughts: A few things that are becoming more apparent to me:

The political left despises America, many of its historic values, and many of its citizens. They don’t want to improve America so much as bury it and create something new in its place.

The modern left, just as the neoconservative movement, has departed from it’s more historic values (liberalism).

In the article there is another insightful paragraph. In trying to remove the stigma from minorities and the underprivileged, the left has shifted it onto middle class white people. Many of them were glad to throw it back.

The lesson? Demonization doesn’t work.

“Rorty’s only issue with identity politics was that the left, having worked so hard to transfer stigmatic cruelty away from received categories like race and gender, had done too little to prevent that stigma from landing on class—and that the white working class, finding itself abandoned by both the free-market right and the identity left, would be all too eager to transfer that stigma back to minorities, immigrants, gays, and coastal élites.”

Source: Richard Rorty’s Philosophical Argument for National Pride – The New Yorker

Making of a Murderer- A Good Documentary About An Ugly Problem

making-a-murderer-1200x713

This week my wife and I watched the Netflix documentary “Making of a Murderer.”  In telling you this, I feel a little like I am at an AA meeting.  Yes we binge-watched all 10 episodes in 2 days.  That is a long documentary. But I was thoroughly engrossed in the story in spite of a several slow moments.  The account was so engaging, and even outrageous, that I experienced some of those rare and precious moments of self-forgetfulness. Those moments when a story is so gripping that you are carried to a place where you forget that you are tired, hungry, or even broke.

In short, the documentary is the story of how Steven Avery was sent to prison for 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. This conviction happened in the face of ample evidence that the real bad guy was still out on the street. Eventually Avery was released after DNA evidence revealed the real criminal.  The story highlights the antagonism between the small town sheriff’s department and the Avery family. I think “bad blood” is the proper term for all this.

Sadly, several years later during a law suit against the sheriff’s department Avery is investigated and convicted of a heinous murder. I will avoid ruining the show with spoilers. But suffice it to say the story exposes MAJOR problems with the justice system, which is on display in large screen, full color, HD, stereo surround, screw-up mode.

I would recommend watching it (not for kids as it has some graphic language and content- it involves trials for murder and rape). It felt like a crime novel unfolding in real life.  The documentary footage seemed to come from live footage of the events that were recorded for some kind of court TV special.

Here are a two thoughts.

First, Our justice system has major problems. I think it is still one of the best in the world at offering protections for the innocent. But we have big problems to solve.  The fact that once someone has entered the criminal justice system they become a target for future law enforcement harassment is disturbing and in the long run counter productive. I realize that there are many career criminals, and that law enforcement efforts will need to investigate and prosecute repeat offenders. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with a system that goes too far in this respect. And honestly I don’t know the answer. I just have a deep gut feeling that the machine needs an overhaul. I hope that some brilliant and informed minds will address this problem. We also do not have enough qualified defense attorneys.  I also don’t like the fact that prosecution decisions are made with elections in mind. The plea bargain system very often has little to do with guilt or innocence, but with an accused person making a decision to plead because they cannot mount a good legal defense. I have mentioned this elsewhere.

Second, I realized (once more) how much I HATE the way the news media exploits people and tragedy for ratings.  There is such an utter disregard for personal space, polite attempts to avoid the spotlight, and basic manners. The truth is treated with outright contempt. The intersection of our culture and the criminal justice system seems to be this huge dysfunctional mess where people in power manipulate the lurid desires of media consumers through the willing help of journalists without a passing regard for what is true or ultimately helpful. The film shows that this cancer has more than a passing impact on viewers, it has the potential to corrupt the court system and destroy the lives of innocent people. In effect, the media becomes a court room from hell. It becomes a nightmare where there are no rules, no protections, and no court of appeal. And this goes into full effect when anyone experiences a tragedy that can be turned into grist for the ratings mill.

Update 1/6/15

I should add that I am aware that this documentary only provides one side of the story. Some reports are coming out presenting additional info. I have left out my thoughts on this to avoid spoilers. But I do understand there another side to this, and still think this reveals problems in the criminal justice system. 

Medicare’s Biggest Problem is Basic Math

adding machine

Medicare has problems. A lot of problems. Some are hard to figure out. This one involves 3rd grade math.

Even if politicians weren’t siphoning money out of the barrel and then demanding more under the pretense of helping the elderly, we are still on our way to running out of money.

If you want to be scared about the intelligence of our leaders and our future, instead of watching a horror movie, read this article.

“…Medicare’s real problem is not fraud and abuse but basic math. For example, according to the left-of-center Urban Institute, a married couple with two average earners turning 65 in 2020 will have paid roughly $154,000 in Medicare payroll taxes over their lifetimes. That certainly seems like a lot of money. But, given average life expectancy, that same couple can expect to receive $479,000 in benefits (net of any Medicare premiums they pay). It’s hard to see a program that loses $325,000 per couple as “working.”

Source: Medicare’s Costs and Benefits | Cato Institute

 

Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, some rights reserved.

The Racial Reality of Policing- Beware of Simple Solutions

It is dangerously attractive look for simple solutions to complex problems. And it is tempting to cling to them even against the evidence when they are offered.  Our country seems to be divided on the issue of homocide in the black community. And this division falls in line with a love of simple ideological answers.

Liberals are quick to blame the police and describe the situation as “open season” on black men.  To be sure, they have a growing body of evidence, much of it now on Youtube, that many police departments have been abusing their authority under the purview of the indifferent eyes of the white community. The facts tell a tale that blacks are disproportionately sent to prison for even minor crimes. And sadly, the list goes on from there. And this generates a distrust that undermines even sincere attempts for justice in black neighborhoods. Read the article for some troubling accounts from detective Conlon about times when his attempts to gain convictions for crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were unsuccessful.

Conservatives are quick to blame the black community and point out the disparity of numbers. If black lives matter, why are protestors focusing on the 129 black men killed by legal intervention (the number is likely much higher), and not focusing on the 6,739 black men murdered by mostly other young black men? They ask, why is there so little discussion absence of black fathers and the erosion of families?  Many conservatives are quick to discuss personal responsibility,  and act as if the only place to find racism is in the media.

This article by retired NYPD detective Edward Conlon is interesting to me because he acknowledges problems on many sides of this issue. Further, he suggests that those problems play against each other in some tragic ways.  They not only contribute to the problem, but work to hinder any practical solutions.  I have often felt like I was in the middle on this issue.  I have found myself occasionally listening to both sides on these issues and alternately agreeing or shaking my head in frustration.  It is frustrating when when we only see what we want to see, or repeat what our chosen news outlets tell us.

Last year Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote a lengthy and moving piece in the Atlantic on “A Case For Reparations.”  His essay was powerful and worth reading, but in the end I suspect he falls into the trap of oversimplification.  In a follow up article he wrote, “There is massive, overwhelming evidence for the proposition that white supremacy is the only thing wrong with black people.” That is to say, the black community is not responsible for any of its problems.  Coates is not alone in that kind of simplistic approach. There are plenty of white conservatives that would suggest the opposite, that whites aren’t responsible for anything wrong in the black community either. The cops are the problem. Blacks are the problem. A or B. Choose.  What is worse,  both groups are at risk of viewing even factual statements made by the other side with suspicion.  If you accuse the police of racism you must hate law and justice. If you suggest that the black community has an internal epidemic of violence, you must not care about police brutality. Either you are a black racist or a white racist.

I believe that the reality is far more complex, and it will only be when both sides acknowledge their contribution to the current mess that we have any hope of finding a solution. When someone points the finger instead of accepting responsibility, they loose credibility in the discussion and undermine any motivation to deal with their own problems.

Edward Conlon makes a good point, there were 2 reports released after Ferguson, and we need to read them both to get a clear picture.

“In March, Attorney General Eric Holder released two reports on Ferguson. One covered in great detail the shooting death of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson; the other described the broader patterns of policing in the city. Partisans have tended to choose one report or the other to support their reading of events.

“No, Brown wasn’t shot in the back while attempting to surrender to a white cop, nor was he shot for jaywalking. He had just robbed a store, and he had punched Officer Wilson in the face and tried to steal his gun. In the wake of Brown’s death, Ferguson burned because people believed a lie; because many still believe it, cops have been shot there, and the threat of riot remains.

“The other report showed that Ferguson was a speed trap for people going nowhere, six square miles of mostly black people, mostly poor, with 50 cops, almost all white, who were ordered to milk them for every possible nickel by white city managers. Black people were further bled dry in a punitive cycle of fines and fees; missed court dates led to arrest warrants, which left them increasingly incapable of having a chance at a productive life.” (emphasis mine)

Ben Carson recently wrote an editorial on the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  He points to the complexity of these issues. He refuses to see this as a problem with a single cause. He points the finger at our schools, Hollywood, Washington, crack dealers, Democrats, and Republicans. I think he is on to something.

Source: The Racial Reality of Policing – WSJ

American Capitalists and Socialists Have The Same Message

Capitalists socialists green

Recently I have noticed that in America the hard core consumer capitalists and socialists are really saying the same thing.  Both groups have morphed away from their traditional roots into distorted versions of themselves.  Marketing culture has now invaded every square inch of our lives.  I was at the DMV the other day, and this government office now has TV’s running advertisements to entertain people as they wait for their appointments.  The ad war has been so successful that we no longer believe it is possible to have a good life without more and more stuff.

In order to be successful, both groups have to move us to a place of discontentment, and even fear. They have to convince us that what we already have is not enough.  Then we are ripe to believe their propaganda: They can solve our problem.

The consumer capitalists, through the ubiquity of advertising, are telling us we need new shiny gadgets to have a good life.  Happiness is not possible without this stuff. So spend your money to buy happiness. Use a high interest credit card.  After all, what is happiness worth?  We are marinating in this narrative. We can’t escape it. It’s on TV, the internet, sporting events, nonprofits, schools, etc.  Not all of this is bad, but it does fuel the worst in human nature. We end up believing that happiness comes from stuff.  And that it comes from having stuff in a  particular way: the newest, the fastest, etc. And happiness is found in its highest concentration in having more stuff than our neighbors. So when you see your neighbor with the “next big thing” you need to go out and buy it. No interest, no payments for 6 months.

The socialists are saying that in spite of unprecedented prosperity (the majority of people considered poor have a vastly higher standard of living than the middle class 40 years ago),  happiness is not possible when others have more than you do.  You cannot be allowed to forget that the rich have more than you do.  And where this problem exists (and it is universal) there must be some cosmic inequity. You are a victim.  So the government will take other people’s money AND STILL GO INTO DEBT on your behalf so you can have the good life– which basically means more stuff.

Now poverty is real, and there are far too many poor in America where we have plenty of resources. So I don’t intended to diminish that.  More needs to be done to help those truly in need.  But I have observed that the socialist agenda wants to encourage more Americans to feel like they are poor.  To believe that they need government aid to survive. I just received a letter in the mail from our school district asking us to consider if we can qualify for free school lunches in a “need based” program.  What is the threshold to qualify?  For a family of 4 it is $52K/year.  But I wonder, If you are making this much money and you’re NOT spending it on food, where is it going? I think it is noteworthy that this is not assistance for “extras” like college applications, AP tests, field trips. That much might be understandable.  But this is for food.

My sense is that in the current context, many American socialists and capitalists are saying the same thing about where you can find the good life. They just have different plans on how to fund it. And in the end the good life won’t be found in stuff, no matter who is paying for it.

So don’t believe the lie, no matter which side is telling it.

An Overlooked Area Of Criminal Justice Reform.

Colin Miller has an interesting and brief article about wrongful convictions. He writes:

“Two key statistics: 95% of disposed American criminal cases are resolved by guilty pleas, often as a result of plea bargains. And 80% of people arrested in this country are represented by public defenders. These statistics are not unrelated. Public defenders are underfunded and overworked, and often refuse to take new cases.”

This brings up an important issue in reforming our very broken justice system. Why do we allow the lawyers that defend most of the accused in America to be low paid and inexperienced public defenders? Why isn’t there a national credential required for public defenders? I am told anyone that passes the Bar exam can become a defense attorney and defend the accused unless it is a capital case. I wonder if we would accept that for our surgeons? Why don’t we spend more money so that there are an adequate number of attorneys so that the accused can be adequately represented? Wouldn’t it be both more just and cheaper to do this than to incarcerate so many innocent people?

‘Serial’: How common are wrongful convictions in the U.S.?.

The Financial Collapse and Porn

The article linked below provides a slightly different piece of the puzzle as we unravel what brought us to our current financial crisis. It seems that while crooks on Wallstreet were lying and stealing, all of the folks who were supposed to be enforcing the laws we already had were looking the other way. And they were looking the other way a whole lot….

Fight the Freedom of Choice Act

Here is a website that documents the attempts of the Obama administration and others to remove any restrictions on abortion via the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). It attempts to make abortion on demand a national right by doing the following:

  • FOCA will do away with state laws on parental involvement, on partial birth abortion, and on all other protections.
  • FOCA will compel taxpayer funding of abortions.
  • FOCA will force faith-based hospitals and healthcare facilities to perform abortions.

Check out this website for videos, information and a petition: http://www.fightfoca.com/

Perceptive Thoughts on Obama’s Inaugeration Speech

Cal Thomas, a Christian journalist who is syndicated and shows up in print all over the place writes perceptively about President Obama’s Speech. Here is a quote:

“The media coverage of the inauguration gave a preview of how they might cover the Second Coming. It was total worship. No doubts were expressed; no questions about his ability to do anything — from healing the economy to bringing peace to the Middle East. “

I didn’t think of this at first, but since reading this, I have to say that I don’t think I heard anyone challenge or be critical of his speech and agenda. That is a little scary.