Grab Bag: October 2017

On this month’s news update, we have 2 notes on criminal justice, violent crime rises nationwide (thanks to about six cities), Salon wants to give up on identity politics, and how Russia is making the outrage culture a national security issue.

There is also a remarkably depressing amount of news regarding both the NRA and Congressional Republicans caving to calls for “common sense” gun laws in the wake of the Vegas shooting.

1.) Felons and voting rights. An appeals court in Louisiana is looking at a case that could lead to released felons getting the right to vote in the state. The argument is that the ban on felons voting goes against the state’s 1974 constitution. The previous judge who heard the case, Tim Kelly, said that the law was unfair, but constitutional. (Which is an interesting choice of words.)

2.) Due Process. Believe it or not, a new poll suggests that Americans still believe in the idea of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty.” While social media outrage mobs might see it differently (where every news story is followed with extremely violent and creative “punishments”), across the political specturm, we see broad support for the idea of due process. It is a bit concerning that almost 1/4 of Americans polled do not believe in due process rights, but for the moment this is a good thing to see.

By the way, this does not mean that respondents didn’t see sexual assault as a problem, but rather that due process is part of solving that problem in a way that is fair to both sides of a case.

3.) FBI UCRs. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2016 is out, and it does show an increase in overall violent crime for the second year running. However, despite the increase, those who follow the statistics noted that crime is still fairly low, and that the idea of an epidemic simply doesn’t exist. However, a Fordham Law professor cautioned against sweeping generalizations based on this one report, as Reason states:

John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham University Law School, cautioned that crime is a complex, geographically concentrated phenomena, and that it can’t simply be attributed to how many people are or aren’t being sent to prison.

He noted that Chicago, which has been experiencing an unprecedented spike in murders over the past several years, was responsible for about 20 percent of the national net increase in homicides. However, half of Chicago’s rise in murders were confined to five neighborhoods with 9 percent of the city’s population. “So in other words,” Pfaff said, “five neighborhoods in Chicago explain 10 percent of the national increase in homicide rates.”

4.) Identity politics. Salon, a major leftist publication, says it is time to stop using identity politics. This (rather shocking) column is based around the idea that the overuse of identity politics is dragging down the entire left-wing agenda. The argument being that it is only serving at best to shut down debate, and at worst to give rise to an opposing force of white nationalism.

But above all else, the author positions identity politics as something that is “not winnable”:

Since the self-esteem of liberals has flourished on the basis of the constant calling out of offenses among liberal stalwarts who had strayed from the politically correct parameters of discourse, the right has decided — and this really explains so much about the alt-right and its allies — to keep liberals occupied full-time. They did that first with right-wing talk radio, with its barrage of offenses, starting at the same time as identity politics among liberals took hold, i.e., around 1990. Then came Fox News and the many internet venues that flourished in the 2000s, and finally there was Donald Trump as constant outrage machine.
Liberals can’t have a moment of peace, because they all but desired this interminable reality of having to put out discursive fires, and now they can do so to their heart’s content for the duration of the Trump presidency. Has anyone noticed how the calling-out of liberals by liberals has suddenly ceased? Wayward liberals have not ceased offending, but Trump fits the bill just as well; after all, he too used to be a “liberal” of sorts, he is a renegade to his class, to New York elite norms, to the way wealth and privilege are supposed to behave themselves.

5.) Russia. But, you know who is loving identity politics, and the inherently volatile nature of our outrage culture? The Russians. A new story emerged on September 28th stating that the Russians used social media to play both sides of any number of issues, basically by serving as state-run trolls.

And that’s basically all there is to that story. The Russians have been absolutely loving seeing our country tear each other apart via Internet arguments, and they’ve decided that our division is their gain. So make a bad situation worse.

They weren’t merely meddling with the election, but they were meddling with us. And we apparently couldn’t have been more receptive.

6.) Vegas Aftermath. As is expected post-mass shooting, there have been calls for gun control. But perhaps the most surprising aspects this time around are both the NRA’s carefully-worded support of new gun control, and that a Republican is leading the effort.

Of course, Democrats are hoping that a ban on so-called “bump stocks” is just the beginning, and are eager to pursue other gun control measures.

It will start with bump stocks, and then gun controllers will see how far they can push a supposedly pro-gun Congress, and how far the NRA will bend.

Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.