How does the killing of a 17-year old become a partisan issue? I have thought for some time that the hyper-partisanship that infects our nation’s politics is the biggest problem facing our country, and I am not exempting either the Democrats or the Republicans from this assessment. As I understand the Trayvon Martin killing, the following facts are not in dispute:
- Trayvon Martin was not armed
- Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, telephoned the police to report that Trayvon was a suspicious person
- Zimmerman did not inform the police that Martin was engaged in illegal behavior
- The 911 operator directed Zimmerman to not follow Martin
- Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon
- Zimmerman killed Martin with a handgun that he was licensed to carry
- Zimmerman claims that Martin surprised him by jumping out from a concealed location and assaulted him
So what we have is someone being followed at night and, if we accept Zimmerman’s explanation, assaulting his follower. Florida has a “Stand Your Ground” law which does not require, as many states do, that if someone feels threatened they must retreat if they can do so safely. Rather, they are permitted to use force. Again, accepting Zimmerman’s account, is that not what Trayvon Martin was doing?
Has Florida become a state where it is permissible to provoke a confrontation and then use deadly force to end it? More significantly, why would Republicans want to turn this tragedy into a partisan issue? Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have criticized Barack Obama’s comments on this even though any reasonable person would see Obama’s response as that of a parent?
And what in the name of God was Spike Lee thinking? He tweeted the address of what he thought was George Zimmerman to his 250,000 followers. It was not Zimmerman’s address and the elderly couple subsequently barraged with news people and threats were forced to leave their home. While Lee apologized for transmitting the wrong address, he said nothing about the act of encouraging vigilantes to enact their own version of justice. What a nitwit.
How bad was the defense of Obamacare in the Supreme Court? The immediate (and continuing) reaction of the punditocracy has been that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli completely blew the opportunity to explain the individual mandate to the nine justices. They cite his opening remarks and the “necessity” of liberal justices bailing him out. Verrilli’s opening has actually been made into a Republican campaign ad. I listened to the early part of his presentation (courtesy of WGBH in Boston) and thought the opening was not the result of utter incompetence, but possibly one of those moments when we have trouble speaking because of a minor throat issue. I was embarrassed as he recovered and began to respond to questions from the justices. But it was the Court for whom I felt the embarrassment. One of the most significant pieces of legislation in our nation’s recent history was reduced to whether the government could require citizens to buy cell phones, burial insurance, automobiles and broccoli. Yes, broccoli. The justices asking such inane hypotheticals were from the conservative end of the spectrum. I thought Verrilli answered such foolishness as best he could and kept to his main arguments.
Speaking of WGBH… GBH has the strongest NPR signal emanating from Boston and is to be commended for carrying the recording of the entire argument before the Supreme Court with insightful commentary from a law professor at Suffolk University. They also have a noontime program hosted by Emily Rooney, who has to be one of the dimmest bulbs in the public radio universe. Two of her guests following one day of argument were authors of amicus curiae briefs. Her assessment? The briefs were “cute” and “a little bigger than Readers Digest.” Now that’s the elite media we heard about from Republican candidates. Rooney reminds one of the Fred Willard character from Best in Show.
Sinking even deeper into the mundane … I am a big fan of March Madness and watch as many games as I can. When I say “I can,” I lack the stamina to stay up late and watch all 16 games on each of the first two days and limit myself to 8 games [sic] each day. My observations from this year’s tournament:
- It has been one of the least interesting ones in memory. Aside from two 15-seeds beating 2-seeds and the referees robbing UNC-Asheville of a much-deserved victory over 1-seed Syracuse, there isn’t much to commend this year’s version.
- My enjoyment of the tournament has increased significantly since I stopped doing brackets. I have actually won these in the past, but hate to be in a position to be rooting for Duke over Lehigh because I have them going to the final four.
- Why do the major programs have at least as many coaches as players on the court? Five appears to be de riguer, but I have seen some sixes.
Speaking of basketball, how about that Barack Obama? One of many lowlights in covering the Republican debates was one of the Saturday night ones where the question to the candidates was what they would be doing that night if not debating. Rick Perry said he would be on the shooting range — on a Saturday night. One said he would be watching the basketball championship. Since the debate was on January 7 and the basketball championship will be next Monday, that would be quite a feat. Two others said they would be watching the football championship. At least they had the right month, but these regular guys, as they tried to appear, were not aware that the game would not be until two nights later. Now one of the only things this group of candidates cannot say about the President is that he doesn’t legitimately follow sports — which is not to say that Mitt Romney will not try to make that case. Obama was interviewed by Bill Simmons at the White House. The interview, for which there is a podcast as well as a transcript was quite entertaining.
What is it about housing authorities? Two of my favorite cities have recently dealt with significant problems with local housing authorities. In the Boston area, the Chelsea Housing Authority had an Executive Director who was secretly paid an exorbitant amount of money ($360K), wrote himself an exorbitant “vacation and sick leave buyout” (over $200K) after quickly resigning, gave much-desired apartments to staff members, and took frequent business trips with a female assistant even though he is (or perhaps was) married. In Saratoga Springs, the Executive Director was paid an exorbitant amount of money ($152K), and hired family members. The Board “overseeing” his contract signed a five-year contract that renews automatically every year unless the automatic extension is terminated. While they terminated the automatic extension following reports in The Saratogian, it appears to mean he has four years to go on his contract. The SSHA gained fame most recently because they down-played a bedbug infestation that turned out to be as serious as residents claimed. Yesterday’s Saratogian reports that a board meeting was just conducted in apparent contravention of the Open Meeting law. Homelessness is, obviously, one of our society’s most significant problems and, in Massachusetts at least, one of its more intractable. These housing authority issues indicate that a government model in which there is federal, state (or, in Saratoga’s case, city) and local housing authority is not a model that serves either residents or taxpayers.