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Imbalance

July 15th, 2016 No comments

Today, I read a writing which essentially said, “Most law enforcement people are good people! Don’t lump them all in with the bad ones.” It is pretty much the umpteenth time I have heard that sentiment repeated. I have repeated it myself several times—because it is very much true.

You know what I’ve never heard? Anyone on the side critical of BLM and the cause of protest saying, “the majority of black people and of the membership of BLM are peaceful, non-violent, law-abiding citizens fighting for their rights; it’s just the few bad people on the margins making the rest look worse.” We pretty much *never* hear that stated aloud. Quite the reverse: the Dallas shooter was not BLM, but he discredited the entire movement just by being black—something that is supposed to be avoided at all costs when regarding the police.

Why is that?

This is one of the central issues, in fact: cops are automatically afforded respect, society demanding that we give them the benefit of the doubt even when they commit a crime; the reverse is true for people of color in this country.

When the five cops is Dallas were killed, *everyone* hailed them as heroes and decried the villain who shot them. If any of them had a blemish on their record, bringing it up after their deaths would be unforgivable; it would quite rightly be pointed out that such a thing would be irrelevant, and trying to make it relevant would be crass and indecent. Suggesting that the shooter was anything but the worst of criminals would be literally unimaginable, and any fate they suffer would be justly deserved.

When an innocent black person is killed by a police officer, however, the exact opposite happens: that victim is instantly demonized, every blemish on their record is instantly released to the public so as to define who they were, and their names are dragged through the mud—while the person who killed them is shielded, excused, defended, and in almost every case, exonerated.

In short, we treat black people as if their lives don’t matter.

Ergo the movement.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

July 10th, 2016 3 comments

DeputiesI agree that when rogue police officers kill an unarmed black person, it does not and should not reflect on the million-plus law enforcement officers who are doing their jobs well. The problem is, though a million do their jobs as expected, thousands of others are corrupt and violent, and some of them commit murder. The majority of the good cops do not make the minority irrelevant or excusable.

When black people on the periphery of a Black Lives Matter protest commit wrongs, it is blamed directly on all of the non-violent, law-abiding Black Lives Matter protesters, who are castigated for not instantly condemning such acts—even when they do exactly that.

You see the disconnect: one group is not shamed for failing to condemn their brothers who commit crimes, the other is shamed even when they do.

Those million good cops are said to be protecting the people on any given day, which is true. They work hard for little pay, they face danger, they protect us, and they sacrifice. No one questions that.

However, there is an exception to the duty of protection. It is called the Blue Wall of Silence. Cops defend other cops. Along with a legal system inclined to not prosecute cops, a serious fault emerges. As asked by the Roman poet Juvenal, “Who will guard the guards themselves?” Because even the good ones are shielding the bad ones. It’s the code.

Can we really say that the police are in fact protecting the public when they defend their own who harm the public?

We did not accept that from the Catholic Church, when otherwise good clergy defended child molesters, allowing them to molest more children still—all in the name of defending the order.

CastileWhy should we accept it from the police? This is far from a victimless crime. Just the deaths alone are in the hundreds each year. The beatings, tasings, stops based on race, and false arrests not ending in deaths number far greater than that.

If the police are truly committed to defending the public, they must not shield those who violate that trust.

That is not happening, however. They do shield their brethren.

And that is a legitimate and powerful objection to the “good cops” point. They are supposed to be held to a higher standard; in fact, they are held to a much lower one.

The same can be said of prosecutors and judges who, even when the victim of a police shooting is known to not be a criminal, the word of the police officer is given every benefit of the doubt—even when video evidence directly contradicts their statements—while any blemish on the record of the accused robs them of any credibility, and it takes only the most egregious and blatant of crimes to result in a prosecution.

This is not justice. So long as this happens, the police are indeed failing in their duty to protect the public. Nor should you accept this as “the way it is” or “the way it has to be” simply because the job is difficult, or (hopefully not for this reason) you are not the one likely to be tased, beaten, shot, or killed at a traffic stop.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? It is a valid and important question, as it is rather clear that, at this time, the police are not policing themselves.

There is a term for that: being above the law.

Categories: Law, Social Issues Tags:

We’re the Civilized Ones Here

June 16th, 2016 7 comments

Rudy Giuliani said on CNN just yesterday (emphasis mine):

Well, look, we argue about gay marriage in the United States. There’s nobody in the United States who argues for death for homosexuals in the United States. So this is a very, very different culture. And we’re at a very different level of civilization. And somebody should point out the superiority of our civilization to the barbarians that we’re facing.

Well, aren’t we the superior ones? All we do is debate over how much gays should be discriminated against! We don’t have anyone who calls for gay people to be killed!

Except, how about this guy, Theodore Shoebat, an evangelical Christian:

I don’t believe in vigilantism, but I do believe in the government killing the sodomites. I do believe in the government arresting the sodomites and executing them for homosexuality. Under my rule, that sodomite club in Orlando, it would have been destroyed, it would have been demolished, bulldozed and all the bastards in there would have been arrested, tried, found guilty for homosexuality and executed.

But hey, that’s just one guy.

How about Yosef Edery, an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn, who believes that the Bible commands us to kill gays?

The Old Testament is a book that is respected by all faiths, and everybody knows that God says, “A man that will lie with another man, both of them shall be killed.”

… Gay club? I mean, they deserve to die.

But hey, these are just a few extremists! True—but Giuliani said that no one in our culture calls for gays to be put to death.

You want someone more mainstream? How about Pastor Kevin Swanson, director of Generations with Vision, who has a radio show in Colorado. He not only advocated death for gay people, but he did it on the stage at a conference he hosted, which Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal all attended:

There are instances in which both the Old and New Testament speak to the matter with unbelievable clarity. There’s not to be any debate about it. You know what that sin is – it’s the sin of homosexuality. In fact in Romans 1 Paul affirms that this particular sin is worthy of death. The Old and New Testament, I believe both speak with authority and we outta receive it.

Granted, in that speech, he suggested that gays should be “given time to repent” before being killed, so it’s not as if they should be put to death immediately. Because this is a loving guy.

Want more? How about Arizona pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church?

“The Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death, in Leviticus 20:13. Obviously, it’s not right for somebody to just, you know, shoot up the place, because that’s not going through the proper channels. But these people all should have been killed, anyway, but they should have been killed through the proper channels, as in they should have been executed by a righteous government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them executed.”

So, Mateen was not wrong about killing gays, he just didn’t follow the proper channels.

California has got people like this too, like Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento:

“Here’s the problem with that. It’s like the equivalent of asking me — what if you asked me: ​’Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today?’ Um, no, I think that’s great. I think that helps society. You know, I think Orlando, Fla., is a little safer tonight. … The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!”

Jimenez claimed later that “there are many people out there who agree with what I’m saying.”

Hey, while we’re at it, how about the Westboro Baptist Church? Just do a Google search on them, you’ll find enough. Nor are they the only ones. Search long enough, you’ll find a very long list of people in these United States calling for gays to be killed, and a lot more people who agree with them but remain silent (though less and less so, it seems).

What was Giuliani’s claim again?

“There’s nobody in the United States who argues for death for homosexuals in the United States.”

So, not exactly true.

Not to mention that virtually half the entire country, while not calling for gays to be killed outright, do call for them to be made second-class citizens, who can be discriminated against, fired from their jobs, prevented from holding office or taking on certain professions, or who can be singled out for various punishments short of death. Imprisoned for having sex, harassed and beaten by random members of society, and in general simply despised and mistreated and called every hateful name in the book.

But hey, we’re so civilized that most of us don’t actively call for them to be put to death by law.

That’s gotta be worth something. Surely enough to tout our cultural superiority against those other guys, who are just barbarians.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies, Social Issues Tags:

Obama’s Answer to the Gun Question: The Necessary Addenda

June 5th, 2016 No comments

Obama got the gun question at a town hall meeting:

Knowing that we apply common sense to other issues in our society, specifically like holding irresponsible people accountable for their actions when they drink and drive and kill somebody, and we do that without restricting control of cars and cells phones to the rest of us, the good guys, why then do you and Hillary want to control and restrict and limit gun manufacturers, gun owners and responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions?

And Mr. President if I may, I would like to use Chicago your hometown, a city that has the strictest gun laws in the nation, a city that for decades and still is under Democratic control, a city that has an outrageous and even embarrassing murder rate, as my first example. Why can’t we round up these thugs, these drug dealers, and gang members, and hold them accountable for their actions, or allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms to protect themselves?

If you watch the video below, you’ll see Obama’s reaction, and it’s a good one—he makes several points about gun control which are very reasonable—but he does not answer some of the key right-wing lies about guns and gun control in the United States.

Let’s review this question from top to bottom.

Knowing that we apply common sense to other issues in our society, specifically like holding irresponsible people accountable for their actions when they drink and drive and kill somebody, and we do that without restricting control of cars…

The argument he is giving is a common one amongst gun advocates: for everything else, we punish people for improper actions; we do not restrict prior to that improper action.

We don’t have car control, so why do we have gun control?

However, the fact is, there are far more controls and restrictions to cars than there are to guns.

With a car, you often have to go through extensive training and testing, especially if you are a teen; not so for guns in most places in the U.S.

With a car, you have to get a license and maintain it for your lifetime, something most people don’t have to do with guns—less and less often, in fact, as concealed-carry gun laws are relaxed more often than not.

With a car, you have to register the vehicle and maintain that registration—rarely so with guns.

In addition to that, both cars and guns are treated in the same way in terms of “holding irresponsible people accountable for their actions.” You drive drunk, you get arrested; you discharge a weapon irresponsibly, you get arrested.

So really, the primary difference between guns and cars is that cars have far more prior restraint laws than guns—something which the questioner calls “common sense.” Hmm.

Most gun control advocates would love to see guns treated exactly the same way cars are. No hope of that in the near future, however.

Secondly, the speaker says:

…why then do you and Hillary want to control and restrict and limit gun manufacturers, gun owners and responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions?

First of all, gun control is aimed at everyone, not just the “good guys,” as this man claims, and more at the bad guys than the good.

Training and safety laws are for everyone (just like they are with cars). But background checks and registration, in addition to laws that prohibit mass purchases of weapons, are aimed at stopping the bad guys in particular.

Next, since when does anyone not “[hold] the bad guys accountable for their actions”? The suggestion is ludicrous. Of course we do.

The whole idea of gun control, aside from basic safety and competency, is to limit the access criminals and the mentally unstable have to weapons—and, as Obama pointed out, the NRA and so many gun advocates, like the questioner, are the people who are tying their hands, preventing us from keeping guns out of the hands of the irresponsible and the criminal. Obama answers it in greater length in his reply, which you can watch below.

Finally, the speaker moves on to an egregiously specious right-wing talking point: that gun control doesn’t work, and Chicago is a perfect example of why not. Conservatives love this, because it allows them to attack Democrats, black people, and gun control all at once.

I would like to use Chicago your hometown, a city that has the strictest gun laws in the nation, a city that for decades and still is under Democratic control, a city that has an outrageous and even embarrassing murder rate, as my first example. Why can’t we round up these thugs, these drug dealers, and gang members, and hold them accountable for their actions, or allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms to protect themselves?

First, there’s the suggestion that “these thugs, these drug dealers, and gang members” (gee, I wonder who he’s talking about?) are not being hunted or prosecuted for gun violence—an astonishingly incorrect assertion, one which, I believe, the Chicago PD would vigorously disagree with.

Second, he mentions that Chicago has been under Democratic control (at least he didn’t say “Democrat” control), as if somehow Democratic leaders somehow encourage gang violence.

People in urban areas tend to vote Democratic, and urban areas have more gun crime—but neither is the cause or the effect of the other, any more than meth use is caused by Republicans because it happens a lot in rural areas. Why doesn’t he try asking the Republican leaders in those areas why the meth dealers aren’t all “rounded up” and “held responsible”? Maybe it has to do with the fact that law enforcement is not quite as simple as that.

Third, he asks Obama why we shouldn’t “allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms to protect themselves.”

Wait—are drug dealers and gang members breaking into homes in such a way that armed citizens could repel them? Obviously not. The only connection between the two is ambiguous at best—people armed in their homes could not really do anything to affect gun violence on the streets. I don’t know if he understands exactly how gang violence works.

That’s what happens when you regurgitate random memes—you stop making much sense. Like, “There’s a problem with too many shootings, so why don’t we add more guns to the equation?” It’s like suggesting that we have too many explosions happening, so let’s get more sticks of dynamite and more matches, that ought to solve the problem.“


But wait, the questioner is directly stating that law-abiding people cannot have weapons in Chicago: ”Why can’t we… allow the good people in Chicago access to firearms…?“

Is there a gun ban in Chicago? Exactly how hard is it to get a gun there?

Turns out, this guy is dead wrong: in Chicago, you can absolutely get a gun to protect yourself. And it’s easier to do so than it is to get a car.

Illinois requires an ”FOID,“ a kind of ID card, to get a gun for the home. It’s called a ”license,“ but it’s not really—it’s more like a certification that you have undergone background checks. No training or testing is required just for that. In fact, many red states require the same or more for voter ID, and they claim it is not a difficulty at all, even when they shut down most offices which provide such ID.

In Chicago proper, you need to get a ”Chicago Firearms Permit.“ It costs about $150 and requires 5 hours of training. That’s less than the the minimum possible requirement for getting a driver’s license. Getting a driver’s license also requires a behind-the-wheel test, which requires a great deal more practice, making getting a gun far easier.

In Chicago, within 5 days of a gun purchase, you have to register your gun—a much cheaper and less involved process than registering a car.

Concealed carry is also legal in Chicago, you just need 16 hours of training, another $175 or so.

So, although the questioner suggests that law-abiding citizens somehow aren’t allowed to get guns in Chicago, it turns out that it’s actually not that hard. Get an ID card, pay some fees, take a few hours of training, and bam, you have your gun. Another few days of classes, and you can do concealed carry. Even going so far as to get concealed-carry is less effort and expense than getting a driver’s license.

In Chicago, the laws which, the main restriction is against assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons. However, it is perfectly legal to purchase and own weapons in the city and county.

So, exactly what is it that is ”not allowing“ the ”good people“ from owning guns?

Nothing—except in his imagination.


But then there’s the final, and biggest canard: that gun control doesn’t work. Obama only peripherally responded to this, by noting that one can buy as many guns as you like somewhere else, and even ISIL sympathizers can’t be stopped.

That’s a good reply, but he missed a golden opportunity in regards to the ”patchwork quilt“ and his own home state of Hawaii.

The reason why we have a gun problem is not because gun control laws don’t work, it’s because gun control laws are not allowed to work. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and in terms of gun control, the country is riddled with weak links: cities, counties, and entire states with weak and permissive gun laws.

If you have a boat and want to stay afloat, you can’t have any leaks. Even if this part of the hull is sound, and that part of the hull is sound, if there are leaks elsewhere, the boat sinks.

The United States is like a boat in this respect. It doesn’t matter if Chicago has strong gun control laws, and New York has strong gun control laws; if there are leaks—cities, counties, and states with weak gun control—the boat sinks. But not because of the places with strong gun control. The boat does not sink because of the places where the hull is strong, it sinks because of the leaks and the weak spots.

And yet people point to the strong parts of the boat, then point to all the water leaking in, and then claim that the leaking is because of the strong parts. Their solution: create more holes and let in more water.

I suppose it makes sense: if you’re at the bottom of the lake, you don’t have to worry about leaks any more!

This is the ”patchwork quilt“ problem: gun control in one area is compromised by no gun control in a nearby area.

Ironically, conservatives have been caught making this exact argument: Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit again Colorado because of Colorado’s permissive marijuana laws. Their argument: because you can get pot legally in Colorado, residents of Nebraska and Oklahoma have been going to Colorado, buying pot, and bringing it back to their home states.

Which is exactly why gun control doesn’t work. Apparently, conservatives only see this as a problem when it’s a mild recreational drug, and not an epidemic of deadly weapons causing the deaths of thousands of people.


The fact that states with strong gun control laws find that the vast majority of guns used for crime come from out of state helps prove this point; if gun control doesn’t work, then why are almost all the guns coming from places without gun control?

Hawaii is the best proof of gun control working: it’s an island state far from the mainland. You cannot simply drive to another state to buy a gun. In this way, Hawaii is it’s own boat; weak gun control in other states won’t affect the state.

Hawaii does have good gun control laws. In addition to assault weapon bans, there is state-wide gun registration required. Home ownership requires at least 6 hours of training. There is a 2-week waiting period. Background checks are required. Concealed-carry and open-carry are technically legal, but heavily restricted, only issued in ”exceptional“ cases.

In all, Hawaii has stronger gun control than Chicago. And guess what? Hawaii has the lowest gun death rate in the country, and has one of the lowest gun crime rates in the nation.

Is it only because people in Hawaii are stripped of their guns? Hardly. There are still more guns than people in Hawaii. 400,000 have been registered in the last 15 years, and an estimated 1,000,000 guns exist in private hands since before then.

So we have (a) strong gun control laws, (b) lots of guns in responsible hands, (c) few criminals with guns, and (d) a low gun crime and death rate.

Gun control does work. The problem is places without gun control, not places with it.


More complete video on PBS’s Facebook page here.

Categories: Security, Social Issues Tags:

Immigration, Boiled Down

March 20th, 2016 Comments off

LibertyThe first thing we need to realize about immigration is that any problem which exists does not lie with the people who come to this country without documentation.

Immigrants do not “take” jobs. They are offered jobs. They are sought out for jobs. No immigrant ever came to the United States, pointed a gun at someone, and said “give me that job.”

Rather, the problem is with businesses who draw them in and take advantage of them, and because of certain economic and political realities which make it easy for them to do so.

Here are the facts.

No immigrants looking for work would come to America if no jobs were being offered.

No working immigrants would be here illegally if we offered them a legal recourse which matched the jobs being offered.

The conclusion is simple. They are not the problem. We are.

We have millions of immigrants coming to work in this country for three basic reasons. In no particular order:

The first reason is that there are many jobs which Americans generally will not do. You hear about Americans complaining about immigrants stealing their jobs, but it is a sure bet that none of those people want to be migrant farm workers. We need these people—but in most cases, we do not give them a legal avenue to come.

The second reason is that there are many jobs which Americans will not do for the amount of money that the job can pay, given consumer demand. Americans do not want to pay more for food, clothes, or labor in a variety of categories, prices which would be necessary if we did not employ immigrant labor.

The third reason is simply greed. Employers want more profit. They could hire American workers, and they could make a profit and sell at a price that American consumers would accept, but they want to keep more and more of that money for themselves—so they hire immigrants. And since it is cheaper to do so if the immigrants are illegal, they lobby against change.

Therefore:

Part of this is the consumer’s fault: we want cheaper goods and services. You don’t want so many immigrants? Fine. Be prepared to pay a lot more for many of the goods and services you consume. It’s a stark choice; you cannot have it both ways. Part of this is consumers of general goods, such as food and clothing, who support industries who use immigrant or overseas labor. Part of this is people who hire immigrants directly, for jobs such as child care or other labor in or around the house.

Part of this is the country’s fault, the fault of voters and politicians: we clearly call for these people to come and work, but we steadfastly refuse to create a visa system which would accommodate them. They come illegally because we give them little choice. And if you think that one choice is to simply not come, then I invite you to go to the countries where these people come from and live in the conditions from which they come. You will be clamoring to come back to America immediately.

The greatest fault in all of this is the fault of business, and our tolerance of their greed and maltreatment of the workforce. These are the people who take advantage, these are the people who spread fear and doubt, these are the people who most directly influence the laws which maintain the current system. For the jobs Americans do not want or would not pay for, Americans would otherwise be happy to allow the system of immigration to allow these people in legally—but that would cut into profits. For the other jobs, there are many Americans who would be happy to pick up the jobs in fields from construction to high tech, but the companies involved reject these workers and either hire people without documentation, or even specifically import them with valid visas, obtained by fraudulently claiming that American workers cannot be found.


There is one more reason that illegal immigration is rampant: we could stop it, but we do not.

The solution would actually be simple. Trying to arrest and deport immigrants is pointless, as they are not only mobile and have every incentive to return, but they are not the root cause—they’re just people trying to live.

The definitive and simple solution is to police and punish the real offenders: employers. They are the ones asking for immigrants to come in the first place. They are not mobile, and they would respond quite strongly to being caught and punished.

We don’t even come close to doing this. In 2004, a grand total of three—yes, three—businesses were cited for hiring undocumented workers. Nor is the reason for this a surprise. From the New York Times in 2006:

Employers have long been the main driver of immigration policy…. Not surprisingly, they tend to dislike the provision in current immigration law for penalties against employers.

That may explain why fines for hiring illegal immigrants can be as low as $275 a worker, and immigration officials acknowledge that businesses often negotiate fines downward. And why, after the I.N.S. raided onion fields in Georgia during the 1998 harvest, a senator and four members of the House of Representatives from the state sharply criticized the agency for hurting Georgia farmers.

So we make laws: first offense, a warning; second offense, a hefty fine; third offense, a major fine and prison time. And then we set the people we now have chasing immigrants and guarding the borders, and set them to police the employers.

I guarantee you: illegal immigration would halt, and immigrants here without a visa would leave soon after.

But this is what it boils down to: we don’t want to send these immigrants packing. These people do not drain our resources, they enrich us. They do not cause an increase in crime; in fact, they commit fewer crimes than the native population. These people do not sap the economy; they make it robust.

The solution is simple:

  • create a guest worker visa program for jobs we really need filled by immigrants
  • create strict laws against employing illegally
  • crack down on businesses that violate these laws
  • stop allowing companies to import workers for jobs that citizens are trying to fill
  • set up tax and tariff laws which penalize companies that use cheap labor abroad

If we do this, we won’t have immigrants coming in to the country against the law. We will maintain all the benefits that we now have. It’s good for everyone. Everyone honest and fair, that is.

Why don’t we do this? Because businesses don’t want it; businesses want their workforce to be here illegally because it profits the businesses, makes the immigrant workforce easy to manipulate, and disempowers citizen workers. And we have bought into the fear and frenzy that people who profit from the current system, people like Donald Trump, have whipped up to make us believe that it is all the fault of the impoverished, powerless, and mostly law-abiding people who these people of wealth and power take advantage of.

Agree? Then do something about it.

A good start: don’t vote for Donald Trump. Do vote for politicians who espouse the right thing to do. Write and agitate for the correct solution for the issue. Write your current representatives. Make a stink.

And vote. Vote. Vote.

Police: Our Privacy Was Violated When We Didn’t Smash All the Cameras

March 16th, 2016 1 comment

Some Santa Ana, CA police officers were charged recently after a raid on a pot dispensary last year. The raid was carried out because the shop apparently did not have a permit to operate. This matter is dodgy because the city issues permits based on a lottery which appears to be rigged.

That wasn’t what concerned me about the raid, however.

After the police broke in with a battering ram, three wearing ski masks and most of them pointing guns as if they expected armed resistance, the officers’ behavior was less than exemplary. One of the main charges is that the officers helped themselves to the snacks owned by the shop and intended for the staff, and may have even eaten some products that were edibles.

While that’s illegal, that’s not what concerned me about the raid, either.

The person running the shop that day was a wheelchair-bound amputee, with whom the officers had words. After showing her out, one police officer complained that she wanted to “kick her in her fucking nub.”

While unprofessional, no physical abuse took place, so that’s not what concerned me about the raid, either.

This is what concerned me: the shop had a conspicuous and operating 16-camera surveillance system monitoring the shop, and the first thing the cops did was to disable it. They took large wire-cutters to the cables, and one officer even disabled five of the cameras by smashing them against the counter and the register. What they didn’t know was that there was a second security system of four more cameras which were hidden from view. That’s how we know about all the stuff the officers did—stuff they usually deny because, well, they had successfully disabled 16 different security cameras.

The officers then claimed, in their defense, that the evidence against them should be dismissed because—get this—the shop violated the privacy of the police officers.

Yep. In their legal filing, the attorneys for the police charged that the dispensary “secretly recorded the officers in a clear violation of California’s Invasion of Privacy Act, which criminalizes the non-consensual recording of confidential communications.”

I have to wonder, is that even possible? Can the police actually raid a shop, smash an extensive security system, and then charge the shop owners with invasion of privacy because the police didn’t find and smash a second camera system?

Beyond that, however, is the initial question: how is it legal for the police to destroy the main surveillance system in the first place? What was their justification, not just for damaging the equipment, but for disabling it at all?

Aren’t we supposed to be in an age where such footage is supposed to help us trust the police? And what does it say about that trust when, after thinking that they disabled all the cameras, the cops suddenly start stealing food, playing darts, and generally acting like asshats?

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Tradition Is Not Always a Good Thing

September 13th, 2015 2 comments

I’m still hearing conservatives argue that one-man-one-woman is the “traditional” form of marriage, presented as logic as to why gay marriage should not be allowed. The accuracy of that dubious statement aside, my question is—and I’m sure it has been asked many times before, but is worth pointing out again—why is tradition a reason for not changing something? Slavery is a tradition as old as marriage; does that mean we should fight to preserve it? “Slavery has always been about one master and many servants! These new laws redefining slavery as unjust are an abomination!”

Clearly, just because something is traditional does not mean it is virtuous or good, just as “the Bible says so” is not a good reason to make civil statute—which is ironically relevant, as the Bible also records and sometimes supports the tradition of slavery as well, an argument used against abolitionists of the day.

Some traditions should be changed in the light of modern—and more rational and compassionate—understanding.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

A Matter of Perspective

September 3rd, 2015 1 comment

According to reports, in an isolated incident, a single worker at an Arby’s in South Florida refused to serve a police officer who ordered a meal. The manager then personally served the officer, saying that if the employee didn’t want to serve them, they did not have to. Now, police officers in that town are calling for a nationwide boycott of the restaurant until the worker and the manager are terminated.

“I am offended and appalled that an individual within our community would treat a police officer in such a manner. It is unacceptable,” stated PPPD Chief Dan Giustino.

The incident prompted wives of officers to stage a protest at the restaurant.

“I wanna cry. My husband spent 25 years. My son is an officer,” said protester Wendy Sorrell. …

“It is beyond comprehension and deeply troubling that a business would deny service to a law enforcement officer just for being a law enforcement officer. … This is yet another example of the hostile treatment of our brave men and women simply because they wear a badge. It is unacceptable and warrants much more than an apology. …” said Florida and Dade County PBA president John Rivera.

Look. Clearly, this was not good customer service. No denying that.

However, let’s get a little perspective here. A single police officer was temporarily delayed because when they ordered a sandwich, one person did not feel like they wanted to serve them. That is the totality of what happened here. A single act of disrespect. The manager personally served them, and tried to make light of it. That’s it.

And now, you have an entire department, including family members, picketing and staging protests, literally weeping in rage, over how one of their kind was not served a sandwich with respect.

To all of those Broward County police officers and their families now in such terrible pain and suffering, let me ask you this question:

Did it occur to you that perhaps the server in question might have been a friend, colleague, or family member of someone who was stopped by a police officer, arrested for not being respectful enough or because of their race, tased, beaten, humiliated, or even shot and killed?

Because, you see, when a police officer, charged with serving the public, commits acts of violence and even murder like that, police officers in general seem to expect us to brush that off and simply accept it. Only rarely does the officer pay any price for such conduct. And cases in which people are unjustly killed by police officers happen hundreds of times a year, all over the nation. Probably thousands of beatings.

You people all break down in rage over a fucking Arby’s sandwich. Consider how it might feel if that officer, instead of not getting a fast food meal served with the proper respect, had a gun pulled on them by a screaming Arby’s employee, who then shoved them to the ground, beat them, and killed them—and then was cleared of wrongdoing by the store’s manager and was allowed to go on serving people at the restaurant.

Now, that would be a good reason to be apoplectic.

But not being served once, possibly by someone who had been personally scarred by police misconduct?

Here’s the deal: if you expect us to simply accept police officers killing so many unarmed people and not be upset about it, I think you can deal with not being served with respect from time to time.

You know the family of the police officer in Texas who was killed by a man just because he was a police officer? Or that of the one in Illinois? Those people deserve to be angry, they deserve to be weeping in rage. As do the families of people beaten and killed unjustly by police. Their tearful protests I will respect and feel the deepest sympathy for.

But not being served a sandwich?

Get over yourselves.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Doing More, Just with Less Flash

August 27th, 2015 Comments off

One of the difficulties of several liberal vs. conservative policies is that the liberal ones are often at a disadvantage in apparent terms.

For example, racism exists in most part silently, whereas Affirmative Action and quotas are out in broad daylight; as a result, AA and quotas are very high-profile, whereas most racism, despite being far more prevalent and influential, hides from view.

This was brought to mind when a Facebook friend shared the story of a man whose life was very clearly saved by gun control. A woman had her gun confiscated by police because she did not have a license (something not required most of the time); the next day, the woman had a psychotic break, and used a knife to attack the writer of the post. He was stabbed twice, but was not seriously injured. Had there not been a requirement for a license, the police would have not been allowed to take her gun away, and the man would be dead. Luckily, this was in a state where a license is required; there are only 5 such states, and 40 have no requirement for permits or licenses whatsoever.

However, this is a rare case: the woman just happened to have been deprived of her weapon very recently, and the police happened to tell the victim about it.

In the vast majority of cases, gun control works in a way in which it can rarely if ever be definitively found to have saved any specific lives. As a result, anecdotes such as the ones above are extremely difficult to find.

On the other hand, when a person with a gun even suspects that their gun helped them, it gets trumpeted all over the Internet. There are endless anecdotes to be found; pro-gun sentiment and venomous spewing against gun control is incredibly pervasive over that medium.

The problem is, most of these are cases where there is an assumption that the firearm saved them, termed DGU, or “defensive gun use.” “That guy looked like trouble,” you will read, “but when I flashed my handgun under my jacket, he got scared and took off!” In such a case, there is no evidence that the gun stopped any actual event—just a feeling. Studies like those done by Gary Kleck include even the weakest data—such as, a man hears a sound outside his house, fires a warning shot, he sees nothing and nothing happens—as evidence of “defensive gun use,” which is then extrapolated to ridiculous effect. Furthermore, you know that most of these anecdotal reports are embellished to make the teller sound more heroic, and that cases in which firearms escalated situations and caused problems, you never hear people report that. This is the kind of “data” which is collected and used by gun advocacy groups to make “studies” which purportedly show that owning and carrying guns saves huge numbers of lives.

The thing is, no such report ever survived peer review intact; most if not all such studies are highly biased with severely flawed methodologies. However, it gets repeated, and strongly punctuated by anecdotal stories like the 83-year-old grandmother who fends off a street gang with a shotgun, or whatever.

It is unlikely that many will be able to report the specific effectiveness of gun control, despite its efficacy; it’s reporting about the dog that didn’t bark. Some criminal with a record for aggravated assault and murder tries to buy a gun, but gets arrested due to a background check. He goes to jail and never kills anyone again. How do the people who don’t get killed by this guy ever know they were saved? They don’t. And therefore, no anecdotal evidence. Or, at least, it is extremely rare, with only scattered stories like the one linked to above.

Despite the lack of persuasive anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of gun control, the figures supporting it are significant and convincing.

Between 1994 and 2010, at least 118,000 gun sales to wanted criminals have been stopped by background checks; during the same time, 1,034,000 convicted felons and 291,000 people with histories of domestic abuse tried to buy guns and were blocked by background checks. In total, over 2,000,000 illicit gun purchases have been stopped, an average of more than 62,000 per year—and that is with many weaknesses built into the program, weaknesses demanded by the NRA and other gun advocates.

The number of criminals trying to buy guns who were arrested because background checks does not seem to be available, but some figures are. For example, a background check instituted in Virginia has caused 1355 fugitives to be caught and arrested over a 20-year period; extrapolated to the population of the entire country, that would be the equivalent of 52,000 fugitives arrested over a 20-year period, about 2600 per year. In addition, the same state, in 2009 alone, arrested 856 individuals for violations related to background checks, which would amount to 32,000 per year nationwide.

So, with checks, every year, 62,000 illicit gun sales stopped, 32,000 arrests for illicit purchase attempts, 2600 wanted fugitives put in jail.

You want to argue that this does not/would not result in thousands of lives saved every year?

The problem is, since it works preventively—and because conservatives have fought hard to suppress any such research or reporting of numbers—it is impossible to say how many have been saved by the relatively weak, loophole-ridden process that we currently have.

Imagine what we could do if we have actual gun control—nationwide, closed loopholes, emphasis on availability to legal owners but with added requirements for safety and proficiency training… not to mention measures to help track down people who actually committed gun crimes.

Categories: Law, Social Issues Tags:

No, That’s Not the Way

May 11th, 2015 1 comment

I am getting tired of people saying that so long as there are Muslims who threaten violence for drawing images of Muhammed, the proper—even necessary—response is to do it more and more, to shove it in their faces to show that they cannot intimidate us.

You’ll have to forgive me, but that is such an unforgivably shallow and narrow-sighted reaction that it is rather startling to me that so many people seem to agree with it. That is absolutely not the way to react.

First, let’s not forget that most Muslims who would be gravely offended by drawings of Muhammed do not approve of killing people who offend them. These are the people you want to have on your side—so what the hell do you think is so brilliant about pissing them off?

Imagine a comedian is performing in front of an audience. Most of the people are into the act, enjoying the show. However, a few jerks in the audience are heckling and generally trying to derail everyone’s enjoyment. How should the comedian react? Is the proper response to insult the entire audience? Maybe say, “So this is the kind of idiot who typifies this city? Boy, everyone who lives in this town seems to be a flaming moron!”

Of course the comedian won’t do that—because it is eminently stupid. All it would accomplish would be to offend the very people you want to have on your side. All it will do is drive away the people who want to support you, and put many of them into the company of those you were trying to put down.

With this so plainly evident, why is the reaction of “champions of free speech” to do exactly the wrong thing? Why is the “necessary” reaction to the jerks and the extremists somehow inevitably the one course of action that will offend the good people the most, and only help the jerks and the extremists?

The reaction to violence against those who draw comics about Muhammed should not be to draw more comics about Muhammed. The reaction should instead be to draw comics featuring the schmucks who react violently to cartoons of Muhammed. Draw a cartoon of that person holding a piece of paper marked “Drawing of Muhammed,” and have the schmuck be wetting his pants and crying like an infant, shouting “KILL, KILL, KILL!!” while some reasonable Muslims stand by commenting, “What a dick.”

Why isn’t that evident?

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Shut Down the F**k Barrel

March 23rd, 2015 7 comments

John Oliver:

Watching this, something occurred to me: when explaining how those terribly oppressed rich people should have their taxes cut, conservatives love to harp on the 47%, about how poor people get away with “not paying taxes.” What they mean, of course, is that poor people don’t pay income taxes. Well, federal income taxes. Well, in that one year where so many people lost their jobs. Usually it’s been more like 40%. Although most of that 40% do pay federal payroll taxes—typically only 14% of households don’t pay payroll taxes. And in fact, the poorest 20% of households pay more than 12% of their incomes in state and local taxes, and about 16% of their total income in taxes altogether. While Mitt Romney, who is worth more than $200 million and apparently works little enough to enjoy equestrian dressage, only paid 14% on his $13.69 million income, and that’s the only year he let us see, meaning he usually pays less than that.

But I digress. Suffice it to say, people who claim poor people “don’t pay taxes” have their heads up their asses. Let’s leave it at that.

But the video above, along with Oliver’s piece on civil forfeiture, made me realize that there are even more hidden “taxes,” and they’re not just lottery tickets. The heinous system of cities and their police forces shaking down citizens for as much cash as possible is perhaps one of the more significant overlooked taxes paid almost exclusively by poor people.

These videos also made me realize something else. Remember how, a few decades ago, we shook our heads at the kinds of countries—and we usually envisioned Latin American countries—where policemen typically shook down citizens for bribes and protection money?

Yeah, that’s right: we’re that kind of country now.

Congratulations, everyone who decided it was a good idea to cut taxes. This is so much better.

Descending In Open Bigotry

March 21st, 2015 1 comment

There is a high school in New York which, as part of a National Foreign Language Week activity, read the pledge of allegiance over the school loudspeakers in a different language every day. The choice for the first language to try—Arabic—was almost certainly a mistake. Not because Arabic isn’t a proper objective choice, but because we have by now been long primed to act aggressively against anything that smacks of the Arab world.

Predictably, the reading of the pledge in Arabic sparked outrage. That outrage was almost certainly racist or born of religious intolerance, but of course that was not the reason claimed by the angry respondents. Many families complained that they had lost family members in Afghanistan, for example. The problem: Arabic is not spoken in Afghanistan. The two official languages are Dari and Pashto; Dari is effectively Farsi. Many other languages and dialects are spoken there, but Arabic is not one of them. Other complaints came from Jewish families; I fail to see, however, why they should have any more right to object than anyone else whose nationality has a beef with a country that speaks a certain language. Should Spanish be banned because a British family resented the Falklands war? A general language is not emblematic of a specific political conflict, and it should not be prohibited simply because some people make a general connection between something they hate and that language. Why? Same reason it’s not okay to hate all Arabs, or Persians, or all of any race. It’s the exact same principle.

No, the reaction to the reading of the pledge was, if not entirely racist, then mostly so, with general bigotry and ignorance blended in. Many people claimed it was just an aversion to the pledge being recited in a language other than English—in other words, run-of-the-mill xenophobia rather than outright anti-Arab sentiment—but that doesn’t wash, either. As the principal of the school pointed out, “Had it been done in Spanish first or Japanese first, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.” Indeed: had it been read in one of those languages, there would have been no protest—or at least so little that it would have been negligible. If such had been done first and nobody objected, then reading it in Arabic would have been much more difficult to protest. I do think that the principal was in error, however, in that people still would have complained—they simply would have had to be a little more honest about the reason for their protest.

Back in 2001, in the days after 9/11, Bush made it clear that we were not fighting against Islam, and warned against a backlash against Arab-Americans. It was one of the few stances he took which I admired.

Well, so much for that. America is now firmly bigoted against not just Islam, not just Arabic peoples and languages, but anything that reminds us of any of that.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

I Demand My Right to Take Yours Away

February 23rd, 2015 4 comments

If I’m not allowed to deny you your rights, that’s an infringement on my rights.

Does that make sense? No? Didn’t think so.

However, that’s how conservatives are trying to paint civil rights issues today. Take this reaction to a judge’s decision that a business cannot discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation:

Conservatives criticized the judge’s ruling because it infringes on a business owner’s right to refuse service.

Todd Starnes, host of Fox News and Commentary, said he thinks the court’s ruling shows how the government singles out Christian business owners for their religious beliefs.

“And it appears the courts are consistently ruling that gay rights trump everyone else’s rights,” Starnes said.

It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to figure out how ridiculous that is. Yes, businesses have the right to refuse service on an individual basis. Businesses, however, do not have a right to discriminate against a class of people based on an innate characteristic. You cannot run a business and refuse to serve black people, or poor people, or disabled people. You can turn away someone if they are behaving badly, or are not wearing a shirt, or for some other individual grounds. But not because they are gay. Remember how lunch counters used to be whites-only? Yeah, that was based on “a business owner’s right to refuse service” too.

Second, if Christian-owned businesses are being “singled out,” it is only because Christian-owned businesses are the ones violating the civil rights of others. It kinda works out that way—but it’s not the fault of the government, it’s the fault of the Christian-owned businesses for breaking the law.

As for “gay rights trump everyone else’s rights,” it is everyone’s right to not be discriminated against, while it is no one’s right to discriminate. So, yes, in that standoff, gay rights trump the right to discriminate. How terrible it is to be you, you poor oppressed soul.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Fair Is Fair

December 20th, 2014 5 comments

Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing Colorado for legalizing marijuana:

Colorado voters in 2012 passed Amendment 64, which allows the personal use of marijuana for recreation and creates a system of marijuana growing and marketing across the state, which is taxed and is supposedly regulated closely.

While this scheme is confined within the boundaries of the state, its two neighbors argued that Colorado-sourced marijuana is showing up increasingly in their states, in violation of their anti-drug laws.

Does this mean that California, with the strictest gun laws in the country, can sue Arizona and Utah, which have the most lax? I would think that guns from those two states have done infinitely more damage in California than pot could ever do in Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Categories: Law, Social Issues Tags:

Process of a Smear

December 10th, 2014 6 comments

Recently, I’ve heard more than a few people in media express wonder at why people in general have such an adverse reaction to the word “feminist.” Considering that the word simply expresses the idea of equality between men and women, why is there such a negative sense to the word?

The answer is easy: feminists are a liberal constituency. And if you’re a liberal constituency or issue, there is a process of denigration that is rather consistently carried out.

Here’s how it goes:

Step One: Find the most extreme, worst example of that issue or group.

Step Two: Assume all the worst imaginable motives for the worst possible intentions.

Step Three: Subtract or diminish any redeeming qualities.

Step Four: Exaggerate what remains.

Step Five: Add imaginary negative qualities to it to suit common fears and build scapegoats.

Step Six: Claim that this is wholly representative of the issue or group.

Step Seven: Popularize and reinforce as much as possible in the media.

This happens for pretty much any liberal constituency that you can imagine. Feminists? Arrogant, aggressive, ugly, butch, man-hating lesbians intent on dominating men because they were never admired by them.

Minorities? Shiftless, aggressive, uneducated, drug-using incipient criminals with a sense of entitlement enabled by feeble-minded liberals, looking to get free government handouts paid for with taxes taken from hard-working conservative whites. Ignore and whitewash the centuries of relentless discrimination which has kept so many minorities in poverty and/or jail.

Unions? Corrupt thugs who command high salary and benefits only for those in their lodge; union workers are under-qualified oafs demanding constant breaks, more concerned with union rules than efficiency, demanding union fees like a protection racket while stifling efficiency and production at the cost of the taxpayer, their padded paychecks causing American companies to fail and be less competitive. Ignore and whitewash the endless accomplishments of unions to create universal standards for strong, well-paid jobs with safe working conditions.

The poor? Welfare queens, the indigent 47%, either unemployed by choice or stuck in low-end jobs because they refuse to work hard, always on the make for another government handout—food stamps, welfare checks, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security—while living in taxpayer-funded government housing with all the modern conveniences (they have refrigerators!), always ready to convert food stamps into liquor and fine dining or welfare checks into big-screen teevees and nice cars. Ignore and whitewash the fact that these people do the lion’s share of the most difficult and necessary work to keep our society functioning, and pay a great deal in taxes to earn their fair share.

Educators? Lazy ivory-tower socialists unable to get a real job in the free market who opt for a job with banker’s hours and three full months off in summer while demanding tenure so they can never be fired no matter how inept or harmfully incompetent they are—because of union protection. Ignore and whitewash how overworked and underpaid these well-trained professionals are in doing one of the most important tasks in society.

Same thing with issues. Abortion? Late-term abortion, happens all the time, bloody fetuses resembling newborns, used frequently and callously by feminists as an alternative to virtuous self-control.

Affirmative Action? Reverse racism, allowing any and every unqualified minority to grab a college slot they do not deserve or demand a job that would have gone to a better-qualified white person, after which they are bulletproof and exempt from the same requirements and standards whites must satisfy.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Think of any liberal constituency or issue and you’ll find the same laundry list of extreme, exaggerated, irredeemable, negative qualities applied to the entire interest. This has grown to include cities (San Francisco, Hollywood, Chicago, Boston, etc.) and any professions where liberalism is considered dominant.

If a group or issue begins to lean liberal where it did not before, or becomes more significant than it previously was, it is added to the list and put through the same process. Scientists were not one of the constituencies until evolution and climate change started to become bigger issues; when that happened, we started hearing about scientists whoring for government grants and so forth. If, say, nurses or farmers begin to emerge as a group supporting liberals, we’ll begin to see similar stereotypes begin to form.

So, no, I am not surprised that feminism has gotten a bad name. That constituency was smeared a long time ago.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies, Social Issues Tags:

I Want My Country Back

November 30th, 2014 2 comments

We’ve heard conservatives saying “I want my country back” nowadays, a refrain begun soon after Obama took office, a cry marked by the fact that what they claim they lost never went away—except for what they won’t admit, that being a white or Republican president.

Well, you know what? I want my country back. The one I was born and raised in. Not in terms of which political party runs things or what race the president is, but the principles and ideals we were all taught were the foundations of our country.

I want back a country where torture is reviled, not a widely condoned or even a reluctantly accepted practice.

I want back a country where civil rights were things we gained, not lost.

I want back a country where you don’t have to half undress before getting on a plane, and we weren’t so willing to surrender our liberty for the flimsy perception of safety.

I want back a country where a strong education is universally seen as vital and desirable, and a college education does not break you financially.

I want back a country where if a politician says something so outrageously stupid or untrue that anyone could tell, that politician would be hounded out of office, not cheered. Or that most of the nation could actually tell.

I want back a country where the social priority was to fight poverty, not to pander to billionaires.

I want back a country where the press gives us news, not propaganda.

I want back a country where at least most people felt it was a good thing to sacrifice for the common good.

I want back a country where corporations are not people and money is not free speech.

I want back a country where unwieldily corporate conglomerates were broken up, not where entire markets—especially media—are dominated by fewer and fewer controlling entities.

I’m not saying we should have a perfect society or any other unreasonable expectation; I am not pining for a political or social ideal. I’m not asking for anything we never had but thought we did. These are all things that actually used to be real for us, but are gone now.

Can I have that back?

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Making the Pledge Meaningful

October 12th, 2014 1 comment

When I was a kid, I remember saying the pledge, and for years, I thought the pledge had the words, “one nation, under god, invisible….” True story—never having heard the word “indivisible,” I didn’t hear it, and instead filled in the word I knew which was closest. For years, I was pledging my allegiance to an invisible country. Which I thought was kind of cool.

For that matter, in the first grade, I really didn’t know what the words “pledge,” “allegiance,” or “republic” meant, and was fuzzy on concepts like “liberty” and “justice.” Come to think of it, kids that age usually have a very sketchy idea of what “God” and “the United States of America” are as well.

Let’s face it: kids do not understand what they’re doing when we have them recite the pledge. To them, it’s just one of those things they do because grown-ups tell them to. But they have no clue as to what they are saying.

That, in my opinion, is why we should never have the pledge recited in schools.

Think about it: what is a pledge? It is a “solemn promise or undertaking,” committing one’s self to an organization, a cause, or a course of action.

When we testify in court, we take an oath to only tell the truth. However, when we have children testify, they don’t take that oath—precisely because we know that they do not understand the concept we would be asking them to swear to.

So why do we make kids, incapable of understanding what they are doing, take the pledge, especially if we take the idea of the pledge so seriously?

The answer is, we don’t take the pledge so seriously. We take it mindlessly. Because, sad as it may seem, most adults are still fuzzy on the concepts in the pledge. Go ahead, try to get most of them to accurately define what a “Republic” is. Most would have difficulty making a distinction between “freedom” and “liberty.” And if you ask them what the consequences of the pledge are, they would probably have to compose such a list on the spot, never having done so before.

To me, having kids recite the pledge is not just nonsense, it’s bad civics. If a pledge is to mean anything, it must be made solemnly, with full and clear understanding of both the meaning and the consequences of the action. Having it be a forced, rote recital voids it of actual meaning and makes it at best a pro-forma ritual, and at the worst, indoctrination. As a result, most Americans do not understand the very country they live in, but think that they do. They have been trained to accept without thinking, while being weak in the fundamentals of good citizenship.

I would say that we make the taking of the pledge a serious event, making it clear what the pledge means in full, and what the person is actually promising to do. Don’t have it be a mass recital, but instead a personal statement.

This could not be done early or quickly, but over many years of time. Include the concepts involved in classes throughout school. Have kids take various pledges—not to steal, not to bully, not to get into fights, for example—and have consequences if they break those pledges, so they understand what a “pledge” is.

Have students engage in exercises to demonstrate allegiance, but throw in the ethical permutations. Should allegiance trump morality? If a kid has pledged his allegiance to a team, does that mean he should not point out cheating by his teammates? If the group they pledged allegiance to asks them to do something wrong, should they do it?

Make students aware of what the flag is: a representation of the nation, which is defined by its constitution. How well do you know the constitution? If you’re like most people, you don’t know it very well, just the vague outlines. So, we’re pledging our allegiance to something we don’t understand? Hmm. How about, instead of pledging allegiance, we bring back Civics as a required course, and learn what we would be pledging to first.

That would help cover the understanding of what a “Republic” is—and how it differs from a Democracy. I think you should probably understand the distinction if you want to make a solemn pledge to one of them. The same with “liberty” as opposed to “freedom,” and even “justice” as opposed to what most people really think that is, which is vengeance. Making all of these terms clear to young people would also be required for the pledge to be meaningful.

Then we should cover the consequences of such a pledge. Most people, like politicians, say the words without really meaning it, as if it were some lodge ritual, except they don’t have to sweat what the actual meaning is. If you asked most American adults what they have to do as a result of taking the pledge, you would probably just get blank looks.

I would say that taking the pledge means taking the republic seriously. I would say voting in all elections is the absolute minimum required for that. Availing one’s self of the free press and all other resources to become responsibly aware of the issues, so as to vote responsibly. Paying your taxes, not dodging jury duty, following the law—I would assume all of these would be concomitant with the pledge. Not just cheering for the country in the Olympics and taking our side in any international disputes, but to actively work to make the country a better place. Public service of some kind would not be a bad means, either.

When a child reaches some level of maturity, we should put them to a test, to see if they truly understand the terms of the pledge—the meanings of the words and the responsibilities implied. If they agree, fully understanding everything, then they take the pledge. Each person could, without fear of repercussions, decide to add or subtract the “under God” phrase. The oath would not be taken ceremonially, not ritually—that could be turned into a compulsory action—but meaningfully, as one takes a citizenship pledge.

This would not be required by law, one’s rights would not depend upon it to be realized. Instead, it would simply be what the pledge is purported to be: an oath of allegiance. Except fully realized, not mindlessly recited.

Then the pledge would have some sort of meaning. Then it would be worthwhile to ask our kids to take it. Then it would be a positive force in our society.

But now, it’s carried out in a way that is devoid of meaning, and unsurprisingly, used as a political weapon to boot. It is, as currently carried out, probably more detrimental than it is patriotic in any way.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Wrongful Birth

October 10th, 2014 Comments off

Astonishing. There are doctors out there who, upon discovering a crippling or fatal condition in the fetus of a pregnant patient, would deliberately withhold that information. Why? Because the doctor’s personal beliefs make them pro-life, and passing on that information would probably lead to an abortion.

Not so surprisingly, there are Republican-controlled states out there which have passed laws which prohibit lawsuits against these doctors.

This brings us back to the whole Hobby Lobby debacle: those with a peripheral interest in a situation put their own religious beliefs before the rights of the people centrally involved. As if only the people who are on the sidelines of a situation have rights, and the people directly impacted have none.

I understand the concern: the doctor, having given the information, will feel complicit in the abortion. The problem: that’s not how it works. He has a duty, one he has professionally sworn to. I know he probably feels like he just told the Nazis that the little Jewish girl is hiding in the attic, but that’s the case only if his beliefs are true and no one else is correct in theirs.

Let’s call this doctor “Dr. Smith.” After having salved his own conscience by forcing a couple to have a child with Tay-Sachs to go to term, Dr. Smith goes to his own physician, Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones performs Smith’s annual exam, and finds evidence of cancer—a highly treatable, easily curable form, if the patient gets early treatment. However, unbeknownst to Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones is a Christian Scientist, and believes the cancer treatment to be prohibited by God. So he withholds the diagnosis and lets Dr. Smith leave his office. Smith’s cancer, of course, worsens, and before Smith finds out about it, progresses to an incurable stage.

Would Dr. Smith feel that Dr. Jones acted appropriately? Hell, no—he would be furious. And rightly so.

Now, you might say that Dr. Smith shouldn’t have chosen a Christian Scientist doctor—but how many doctors that withhold medical information from pregnant couples warn them in advance that they are pro-life? And any argument about a Christian Scientist becoming a mainstream doctor would only highlight the impropriety of any doctor allowing their religious beliefs to affect the treatment they offer their patients.

If a state allows doctors to do this kind of thing, then there must be a companion law that doctors must warn their patients beforehand of their religious beliefs and how that might affect their treatment—otherwise, what you have is no better than malpractice and fraud.

Bet you any amount you like that these states, which pass laws requiring that doctors lecture inform women seeking an abortion about all the dangers, real and imagined, of the procedure, to the point of showing them horrific images and so on, see no need to force doctors to inform patients about what kind of treatment they can expect to receive…

An article on NPR which recounts several cases, and shines light on the situation:

In Suffern, N.Y., Sharon and Steven Hoffman’s son, Jake, was born with Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease that mainly affects Jewish families and is usually fatal by age 4 or 5.

“There’s no treatment. There’s no cure. There’s nothing,” Sharon says.

She says her doctor did not test for the disease. At six months, Jake was diagnosed with it. The couple says he lost control of his muscles and had constant seizures. He died two years later before reaching his third birthday. Sharon says she would have had an abortion if she had known.

“There is no quality of life,” Sharon says. “The only thing that you would be bringing this child into the world to do is to suffer. And die.”

This couple sued their doctor for wrongful birth and settled for an undisclosed amount.

In most states, parents can sue for negligence or if doctors fail to provide information about the condition of a fetus. But more than a half-dozen states have adopted laws that ban those lawsuits, and several others have been debating the idea this year.

Categories: Health Issues, Social Issues Tags:

It Was 100% the Violator’s Fault AND You Were Incautious

September 13th, 2014 1 comment

Ricky Gervais caught hell for tweeting this:

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This brings up an incongruity which has always kind of bugged me: the idea that somehow pointing out incautious behavior must be interpreted as “victim blaming.”

I understand the principle involved. Women have been blamed for being raped since time immemorial, that blame often being linked to even the slightest or even imagined provocation; as a result, there is great objection to any indication that a woman who was raped was somehow doing anything that, if avoided, could have prevented the rape.

Women should be able to wear whatever they like, should be able to go to any party, drink any amount of alcohol, and should be able to expect not to be raped. Just like any person of color should be able to wear anything they like, walk down any street and into any shop, do any legal behavior, and not get stopped, frisked, arrested, beat up, or shot by police.

The problem is, that doesn’t fully represent reality. This is not to say that the people who are in fact in the wrong should not be 100% blamed, nor does it mean that we should not focus strongly on fixing those societal ills. It also does not mean that victims brought any injustice down upon themselves. However, until what is unjust is eliminated from our society, it is stupid to ignore the fact that such injustices exist and that people should be aware of them and try to protect themselves against them.

Let me give you an example. This will be an extreme example, so, please don’t immediately assume I’m one of those people who blame women for rape. Perhaps it would help if I mentioned beforehand that I agree wholeheartedly that not just rape, but any crime is 100% the fault of the perpetrator. With that in mind, consider the following:

I drive downtown in my nice, brand-new Infiniti G37 Coupe. It’s a really hot day, so when I run into a shop to get a frappuccino, I leave the keys in the car and the engine running so the air conditioning can keep the car cool. When I come out a few minutes later, the car is gone.

Keep in mind: in the above scenario, the person who stole the car was 100% at fault. I don’t care if I literally had shouted before going into the shop, “I’m leaving my keys in my car, no one take it, okay?” There is no excuse for anyone to steal from me.

Does that mean that no one should warn me against incautious behavior? Upon hearing what I did, would you really say nothing about my behavior?

Again, to ward off indignant fury, (a) this was an extreme example, (b) was not meant to mean that women are ever responsible for being raped, no matter how incautious their behavior, and (c) does not even imply that many or even most rapes or other crimes of a sexual nature involve any incautious behavior at all.

Nevertheless, this is not a perfect world; there are dangers out there; and there are times when people do things that open them to some kind of assault by those dangers. And by “open them to dangers,” I am not saying “it was their fault.”

Sometimes the lack of caution, despite the lack of blame, nonetheless can be of a type that honestly could, and even should, be pointed out.

Let me give an example of something much closer to what happened to the people in the recent hacked-photo incident.

Let’s say I purchase a Windows computer as my main computing device. Such computers often come with antivirus software, but only as a demo or trial. After the trial ends, maybe after 90 days, a few pop-ups appear, but I dismiss them as just being ads. I might even take steps to just get rid of them—and I don’t install any anti-malware application in the process. I surf the web without thought to where I am going, feeling that somehow I am safe—maybe I am simply unaware that just visiting a web site can trigger an infection, or maybe I believe that if that should happen, I will notice what’s happening. As a result, a hacker is able to insert malware onto my computer, and then has the ability to hurt me in any one of several ways. One way would be take photos of me in a compromising position with my own webcam, and then distribute those photos over the web.

This is actually a situation where I would have been less incautious than those celebrities, as I did not take nude photos of myself, nor did I store them on my computer, or on any cloud account, or send them to anyone.

In this case, like all other violations, the perpetrator is 100% at fault.

However, it is still fully true that my own actions made it possible for that perpetrator to do what they did. I shouldn’t have to install software to protect me from criminals. I shouldn’t have to worry about whether just visiting a web site could get my computer infected. However, in the world we live in, these are dangers which we should all know about and take steps to protect ourselves. It’s not my fault that the hacker did what he did, I’m not to blame for any of this. And I didn’t take precautions to keep it from happening.

Tell me, if someone knew all the facts, and then told me that I really should have installed antivirus software on my computer, would it really be reasonable for me to flare up in anger and accuse that person of victim blaming?

Not at all. I have a feeling that you would agree. What happened to me would be horrible, the responsibility lies completely with the hacker—and I failed to make my computer secure.

I would even go so far as to say that if we shied away from warning people against their lack of caution, we are simply making them even more vulnerable to attack.

The key point: there is a distinction between “blaming the victim” and pointing out incautious behavior.

Gervais was 100% correct: none of those people should have put nude photos of themselves on their computers. Especially not in a cloud account, or in email or any kind of message to others.

Yes, that sucks: we should be able to do anything we want, and expect privacy. And yes, the fault lies wholly with the asshats who hacked the accounts and stole and distributed the images.

That said, if I were a celebrity, the last thing I would do would be to have naked photos of myself on a publicly-accessible network anywhere, security or no security. Basic truth: no security is 100%. Any security, Mac or Windows, local bank or Vegas casino, can be hacked. If I had to have nude photos, I would store them on a USB drive kept in a safe. If I felt the need to take them and send them to someone, I would simply quash that impulse, knowing that I was a prime target of people who would intercept those images and make them public.

Celebrities, in general, already know that they are targets; they know that they are more vulnerable to such crimes. And they regularly modify their behavior to avoid such violations of privacy and decency. They know that if they do things in public that most people can get away with unnoticed, it will get plastered all over the Internet. Again, that sucks, but Celebrity 101 mandates caution about such things. The nude photos on a networked computer fall into that category.

Gervais wasn’t blaming the celebrities for being victimized. He was pointing out, with stinging irony, that they did something which was rather obviously incautious. Yes, it was insensitive, but it was also true.

We simply have to expand our understanding to make clear that doing something incautious, or even downright stupid, does not in any way excuse someone else from taking advantage of it. Nor is anyone who points out the lack of caution necessarily a villain for doing so.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Question What You Agree With

September 8th, 2014 Comments off

The Dish just cited a recent survey which says that 34% of Americans support removing “under God” from the pledge. I have always supported this point of view, so of course I want to check if this is a legit survey, or somehow slanted. You always have to do that: check the legitimacy of any fact you hear, but especially those that agree with your worldview. Not to mention that one-third sounds a bit high for such an idea in the United States as it is right now.

Sure enough, the survey was commissioned by a Humanist organization—not enough to negate it, but enough to arouse suspicion. Interestingly, the report begins by citing another such survey, in which an “evangelical research firm” found only 8% support for the same idea. That survey reportedly only asked the question about removing the words “under God” without context.

In contrast, the poll commissioned by the Humanist organization had the question presented within a fairly specific context:

For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God.” During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase “one nation indivisible” was changed to read “one nation, under God, indivisible.” Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.

And that got the 34% positive response.

Both polls were clearly biased. The first poll, by the religious organization, asked the stark question without context, “if they believed ‘under God’ should be removed from the Pledge.” Given without context, it has the sense of asking the respondent to make a choice against religion. Otherwise, it is up to the listener to apply a context, and many, having heard so much of the “war on Christianity” in the media, doubtlessly allowed that to influence their answer.

The Humanist take on it, however, was even more biased. It provided not only a very specific context, but a justification as well. It noted that the original pledge did not have the words “under God,” and that pressures from the now-defunct Cold War caused the new inclusion (thus providing the justification for removal), and then set the context for removal as one which promotes national unity. Essentially, it became a question about whether or not you support unity.

So it would appear that both are not accurate, and the actual range of support is somewhere between the two.

A context does need to be provided, but the tricky part is, what context? If people are asked if they approve of the “new health care law,” about 50% don’t like it; if asked about “Obamacare,” the disapproval is likely to be higher. However, if you ask people about the specific contents of the law, supports increases dramatically.

So, what context to provide for removing “under God” from the pledge? Probably one which presents the two primary arguments for and against. For example:

Many believe that the words ‘under God’ should remain in the pledge to demonstrate the religious nature of the country; others believe that the words, added during the Cold War, violate the separation of church and state and actively exclude non-theists. Do you believe the words should be removed from the pledge?

When polling, the two views should be swapped in order of presentation half the time, and the question should also be worded, “should be kept in the pledge” half the time.

I’d like to see what that wording gets in response. My guess would be about 20% in favor of removing it—about the number of non-theists in the country, give or take fence-crossers on either side.

Of course, the response should be 100% for removal; I believe strongly in the principle that any inclusion of religion, especially in a pledge so closely associated with citizenship and national fealty, is a threat to the freedom of belief—and indeed, Supreme Court “Justice” Antonin Scalia has used exactly this camel’s nose to justify the negation of separation and church—in his words, “manifesting a purpose to favor . . . adherence to religion generally.”

Nevertheless, when I see evidence presented which supports my point of view, my first reaction is to embrace it—but my considered response is to question it.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags: