Monthly Archives: June 2013

If it don’t fit, get a bigger hammer

We as a society are not very rational.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  Not really.  We are fractured along so many lines that the best image of us might be Frankenstein’s monster.  It has always been thus from our very founding.  I have explained to people before that if you want to understand America think about this: our founding fathers and mothers were made up primarily of three groups – Religious zealots that were so sanctimonious their own society kicked them out, Adventurous types either interested in exploring or getting away from the rest of society, and criminals sent to those penal colonies.

It was this mixture that has made up our cultural DNA.  To that, through the years has been added regular and consistent injections of immigrants.  Immigrants tend to, as a rule, not exactly be timid or lacking in adventurousness.  After all, if they did, they would have stayed at home.

Is it any wonder then, that we are not exactly a rational society?  That we say we want one thing, and then take steps to achieve precisely the opposite?  We say, for example, that we want freedom and democracy not only at home but around the world, and then we subvert it at home and support brutal dictators around the world, today and in the past.

This manifests in many ways, of course.  Our drug policy is just one of these.  For most of the last century, we have been attempting a policy of prohibition.  We know from our experience with alcohol prohibition that this approach does not work.  Even some of the farthest right, most repressive groups in America know that this policy doesn’t work.  In theory, we as a society want to reduce drug abuse and the associated societal ills – violence and theft, for example.  In practice, the policies that we have in place create or exacerbate these very problems.

Who is it that wants to continue the prohibition policy?  Primarily it is three groups.  It is the inertia group, the police-industrial complex, and the drug cartels.  One at a time.  The inertia group is made up of a variety of people.  It is those who haven’t taken the time to actually think for themselves or have simply not been educated beyond the propaganda that has been spewed out.  They are also those who are of the, “Well, it’s always been this way” variety.  They are those who may have seen people in their lives who have been abusers of drugs and have expanded this out to a belief that the specific drugs the government has labeled as illegal can only be abused.  They are generally unaware that prior to the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act 1914, there was no legal control on narcotics, and they were used openly.  They were, of course, subject to abuse, and that was frowned on, but they were also used in the same way that alcohol was, responsibly by respected members of the community without disdain or other social sanction.  Certainly abuse was not approved of, but that was true whether the substance was alcohol or any other drug.

There is a lot of money to be made from illegal drugs.  Any item that is sold on the black market raises the prices.  The risk involved, and the lack of regulation or tax drives the profit through the roof!  Take as an analogy, if you will, the situation after a disaster such as a major hurricane or tornado.  Those who are lacking in ethics may well raise the prices on the most basic of commodities because they can.  Food, gas, ice, and more may see their prices triple or quadruple.  We have laws in place to prevent this type of price gouging.  However, this is simply “supply and demand” according to the right wing, and it is what happens in the “free market”.  It is what happens in the black market where there are no controls to prevent it, because the black market is the only true free market.-1-  Where is there any incentive for the drug cartels to want drugs to be legalized?  Why would they want to give up their profits?  There is no more incentive for them to do this, than there is for major legal companies to give up their profits through tax breaks and shelters without a fight.

There is also a great deal of money to be made for the police-industrial complex.  Between 2001 and 2010, we arrested over 8 million people in the US for marijuana alone, and 88% of those were for simple possession.  We spend $3.6 billion a year enforcing marijuana laws.  That’s billion with a b, and that is, again, only marijuana. It does not take into account any of the other drugs.  We spend between $20 and $25 billion a year on the “War on Drugs”.  That should worry you.  The private prison industry is a billion dollar a year business, and the vast majority of those prisoners are in for drug related crimes.  We spend huge amounts of money on equipment to outfit the police who are now often as armed and armored, if not more so, than many of the military personnel we have in war zones.  All of that equipment also costs billions of dollars every year.

Fearing No Shots Across The Bow

It is very likely that in the next week, either on Monday or Thursday, the SCOTUS will release two important decisions relating to marriage equality in this country.  We are facing many crises of freedom right now, from Orwellian privacy invasion of individuals, to infringements on the press freedoms we like to believe exist in this country, to killing of American citizens without trial (or even charges), and so on, but much of America simply doesn’t care about those issues.

Marriage equality though, it seems some people still care about.  Enough that 30 states took the extraordinary steps over the last few years to actually prohibit same-gender marriages, and another 7 prohibit them by law.  Additionally, of course, we still have the “Defense of Marriage Act” on the books at the federal level.

I have written about this before, and I am not going to get deeply into the reasoning here.  (Cliff notes version: There is no moral or constitutional justification to deny a marriage to any consenting adult to any other consenting adult.  No religious authority should be required to give their sanction to it, but that is an entirely separate matter.)

What is of interest right now is that the right is, again, mouthing off about how they are above the law.  As is so often the case, they’re already screaming that no matter what the decision from the Supreme Court, they’re not going to be bound by it, unless they like it.

Now, let’s stop for a moment, because to a small degree, they have a fair point.  That is how a democracy, or even a representative republic, which we are supposed to be, is theoretically supposed to work.  If we do not like the laws, then we can work to change them.  So, that part would be reasonable.  However, what they’re saying is not, “If the decision is against us, then we must change the law.” which is essentially what many said following the ridiculous Citizens United decision.  (Not that it has led to a successful change, but that is still what many are saying today.)  No, what they are saying is quite flatly,

As Christians united together in defense of marriage, we pray that this will not happen. But, make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.

As I, and many others, are reading this, it is both a veiled threat of the kind that is common from the right, that alludes to a revolution, and a statement that “we” will not enforce your ruling.  It is true, as they point out in their letter, that the courts have no enforcement mechanism, but instead must rely on the executive branch for that.  If they are more than just talk this time around, we may be forced into a situation where we find out if more people are in support of what is right and the rule of law, which in this case are the same thing, or in support of hate and bigotry.

The rest of the letter is the same standard tripe that these people have been trotting out over and over again.  It lacks any more merit this time around than it had the last half a million times that it was paraded around.  It is full of fallacies and bigotry.  Half-truths and bald-faced lies.

I suspect that as with most utterances from the right, it is a lot of hot air.  They talk a lot and have almost no spine to actually back it up.  Except that lately, they seem to be starting to feast on themselves.  We will see what the SCOTUS rules, and then we will proceed from there.  Because yes, no matter how they rule, this issue will not be over.  I know that, and everyone should.  If the SCOTUS rules correctly in favor of equality, then the right will be weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth and then trying to find ways to overturn it.  If they do not, then the equal rights movement will continue to fight for ways to fix that error.  The Dred Scott decision had to be reversed, and it took time.  I hope this is not a similar situation, but if it is, we will eventually do it.

Because that is what is right and good.

This may well end up like Roe v Wade, though.  Producing another cause for the right to protest for the next half-century.  We may wind up with picket lines at weddings, and counter protestors in front of churches to protect the wedding party.  And, sadly, I wouldn’t put it past a few extremists on the right to start killing ministers and pastors performing weddings, because that is what history has shown us the right wing in this country is capable of producing, despite the vast majority of them being a bunch of blow-hards with no real intellects.  We already have too many in the LGBQT community that are suffering violence for no reason other than who they are, or more accurately, the insecurity and bigotry of who others are.

Apathetic After Shock

There has been a lot of talk recently, of course, about Edward Snowden and traitors.  There has been a great deal of public gnashing of teeth and wailing by our elected leaders over his release of the snazzy Micro$oft PowerPoint slideshow that was not meant for public consumption.  There was a really well done piece explaining how, under the definitions given in the US Constitution, Snowden has not committed treason.  Not going to talk about that today.  Not directly.

Instead, what I find bothersome is just how much acceptance there is about this from the vast majority of people.  I really shouldn’t be surprised, and I suppose I’m not really.  Still, I am disappointed.  When it broke, I had hoped that perhaps this would be sufficient to bring about a ground swell of anger and activity.  There was certainly an initial outburst of shock.  And, yet, very quickly since then …

There has been some small amount of noise at the fringes.  Reddit has been one place where a little activity has taken place.  The Daily Kos, EFF, and a lot of other organizations have quietly come out in opposition.  Note the key word being quietly.  These organizations sent out emails to their members.  I know.  I got some of them.  I certainly didn’t get all of them.  I’m not on all of their mailing lists.  There was some activity on the right.  Again, I know.  I saw some of it.  I heard about other, and I went looking to see if there was any in other places.  At the fringes, yes.  In the heart, in the mainstream?  No.  Not really. was set up to collect signatures.  I want to share with you a screen shot taken from that site on the morning of June 16, 2013.  It is a compilation that shows their “Selected Signatories.”  I’ve compiled the 4 categories that they have on four separate tabs – Organizations, Individuals, Businesses, and Members of US Congress – together for you to take in all at once.

Combined Selected Signatories

As of this morning, they have collected 178,350 signatures.  Please read that again.  That’s a sad number.

No one cares.  The majority of the country is so used to the intrusions of the PATRIOT Act, warrantless searches, surrendering our civil liberties in the name of security, and the concept that “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear,”  that this kind of “revelation” is blasé.  No worries, mate.

According to one poll (as reliable as that may be), 54% of Americans think that Snowden did the right thing in exposing PRISM, but 53% still think he should be prosecuted.  A vast majority of people say they’re following the story closely.  My theory as to why?  Because to most people this is just the next episode in the Bourne Chronicles.  Most people are likely watching to see which scenario happens next.  Will he be subjected to “extraordinary rendition”?  Will he be found dead “by his own hand”?  Will he be mundanely arrested and extradited back to the US?  Will he become an “asset” of the Chinese or some other foreign government that would like access to the information he may still have not released yet?

They are not paying attention because they are interested in or concerned about the actual issues.  I see in both left of center and right of center blogs, as well as the main stream media the over-whelming theme of “Who cares?” about the program itself.  I actually read the words, “I am not sure I care if the government is reading my email or listening in on my phone calls as long as it keeps me safe.”  The majority of the coverage of this case is about who is Edward Snowden?  (My Google search for the term, “Who is edward snowden” returned 1,180,000,000 results)  What is Booz Allen Hamilton?  (A firm most of us had never heard of before.)  Should we be privatizing “national security”?  (A question that probably should have been asked 40 years ago, but which was answered as an inevitable part of the supply-side, conservative domination of the government over that time period.  What did y’all really expect?)  And, so on.  Very little about the intrusiveness of this program which in all likelihood has accomplished nothing in terms of actual security, despite claims to the contrary.

Surprised? No. Outraged? Yes!

Let me begin with a question.  It is a simple question.  We’ll come back to the context in a moment.  In all seriousness.

Why are you surprised?  Or, perhaps, better, why would anyone be surprised?

The Guardian newspaper this week, using leaked documents, “revealed” the existence of “PRISM” – a broad program to collect “so-called meta data on your telephone calls.”  The article goes further to claim that the NSA also has direct backdoor access to the servers of major tech companies (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple) which between them own the vast majority of all online communications between e-mail, video, and chat.

Again, why would anyone be surprised?  This is really not news.  The specifics of it might be new, but we have known about the existence of this program for years.  I don’t think the public knew the name of the program, or had seen that nifty logo.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court was set up in the mid-1970s.  The PATRIOT Act was approved by near unanimous consent (357 to 66 in the House and 98 to 1 in the Senate) and signed into law by George W Bush on 10/25/2001.  It was introduced on 10/23.  So, in less than 48 hours it went from concept to law.  It was then renewed in 2006, and again in 2011 by the current POTUS.  It is these two laws which provide the broad foundations for the program, however, there are many, many other laws which have been passed that have aided and abetted the development of these programs.

Again, why are you surprised?  In 1979, the Supreme Court upheld this kind of invasion of privacy.  They found in the Smith v Maryland case, that collecting, what was called at the time the “pen register” (that is the time equivalent of the meta data), was legal.  This is the modern, technologically equivalent program.  When it goes further into the courts, they will uphold it.

The NSA has been involved in this kind of snooping and has been caught at it before.  We know this.  It isn’t new.  In 2005, the EFF filed a lawsuit against AT&T for illegally cooperating with the NSA to facilitate these actions.  If you read this article, or remember from the time period, you will note that the defense from the administration is almost precisely the same.

In 2006, one of the sitting FISA judges quit the appointment and others urged congress to give the FISA court a direct role in overseeing the wiretapping program.

“The administration defends the eavesdropping program, saying it is only targeting communications to and from suspected terrorists, that government lawyers review the program every 45 days and that Congress authorized the president to track down 9/11 co-conspirators, thereby giving the president the ability to bypass wiretapping laws.”

In 2009, the director of the National Cybersecurity Center resigned, and blamed the NSA’s “pwer grab” as a threat to “our democratic process.

In 2001, William Binney resigned from the NSA  after more than 30 years, including time as director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, and started blowing the whistle, warning about the size and scope of the NSA’s surveillance program.

This is not tin foil hat conspiracy theory territory.  This is you can only be surprised if you weren’t paying attention.  This is, “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention” territory.

For most of the last 60 years there has been talk of Project ECHELON.  Not just in tin foil hat, conspiracist circles where we can laugh at it, but also in the halls of government, with official investigations.  There have been actual investigations and acknowledgements of its existence with accompanying refusals to discuss its full expanse.  Sound familiar?

Many in our governments, around the world, took Orwell’s 1984 not as a warning, but as a guidebook, just as many right wingers took Ayn Rand’s work not as a poorly written morality play, but as the writings of a prophetess.

Now, as I said, there is no reason that anyone should be surprised.  However, that does not mean that we should not be outraged, nor does it suggest that we should accept it.  I hope that this will be the moment that people will awake and arise.  I do not expect it, but I do hope for it.  Perhaps we will remember and live up to the words of at least one of the “Founding Fatherstm


Just the Bare Minimum?

I am not picking on Nicholas Ruiz.  He is a good man, and I hope that he does succeed in his efforts to unseat John Mica in 2014.  However, it was Nick’s recent post, and the ensuing conversation we had, which has actually formed the spark and starting point for today’s epistle.  In particular, these words:

My politics are progressive. I aim to raise the minimum wage.

First, I am not opposed to raising the minimum wage.  I agree that it needs to be raised.  Let me be clear about that.  No one can live on the minimum wage at its current level and as it currently exists.  I have a conservative friend who argues that the minimum wage was never intended as a livable wage.  It is his contention that the minimum wage was intended only for kids that were getting their first jobs, interns learning a craft, and the like.  That is, quite simply horse puckey and shows either that he is completely ignorant of history, which would be very typical of most people, or that he has been brainwashed by the right, which would also be very typical.

A very brief history lesson on the minimum wage, and if you are interested in more, then I will trust that you know how to use either the library or the internet.  The minimum wage was first enacted in Australia.  It traveled from there to the UK, and did not finally make its way to the US nationally until 1938.  In 1907, a legal decision was rendered in Australia that clarified the intent of the minimum wage.  This was known as the Harvester case, and it made it clear that the minimum wage “means that the wages shall be sufficient to provide these things, and clothing and a condition of frugal comfort estimated by current human standards.”  In America, it was specifically summarized as being intended to achieve the “elimination of labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standards of living necessary for health, efficiency and well being of workers.

A wholly different concept has been at various times discussed and even implemented, and that is a training wage.  Perhaps it is this which my friend has confused for the minimum wage.  That’s possible.  (Conservatives are often easily confused.)  A training wage is still often used at a new position.  An employer will pay a new employee a lower amount during training, and at the completion of that training period, a raise will go into effect.  Again, though, that is an entirely different animal and should not be confused with a minimum wage, which is intended to provide at least sufficient wage to live upon.  According to research done recently, one can not live on the minimum wages we are paying.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in West Virginia, a worker earning minimum wage has to work 63 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent.  That is the fewest hours in the country, and the highest is in Hawaii at 175 hours per week.  Ponder that for a moment.  At minimum wage in Hawaii, you have to work more hours in a week than there are just to afford rent on a standard two bedroom unit.

From their 2013 report, another way to look at it, in order to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at fair market value without paying more than 30% of one’s income, one would have to earn $19.14 an hour.  The lowest in the 2013 report, is in West Virginia at $12.35.  (Not counting Puerto Rico at $10.41)  The highest is still Hawaii at $32.14 an hour.  These are not wages to live extravagant lifestyles.  These are just to be able to afford a two-bedroom home.  Family friendly.

We are a long way from providing a minimum wage that would allow for even living in “frugal comfort.”

So then, what do we do?  Certainly, the minimum wage should rise.  The cost of living has gone up.  Inflation affects everything, and the minimum wage is no exception.  However, all wages, except at the top have been stagnant.  And, there is a question that has been bugging me about this.  One that I will tell you right up front that I do not have an answer to.  If we raise the minimum wage to where it really should be, say somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 to $18, then what happens to the rest of our wages?  Those would necessarily need to be raised as well, yes?  If not, then is the effect not to have brought everyone’s wages down?  Rather than the “rising tide that lifts all boats”, have we not, instead, sunk all but the biggest ships?  And, that is what the right has been doing to us for years.


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