Tag Archives: Constitution

Are You A Crab?


People are so easily confused.  Mathematically if a = b and b = c, then a = c, and we can say that a and c are the same.  In the real world though, being equal and being the same are not synonyms.  They are related, but that is all.

We should have settled that particular concept as a nation a long time ago, and yet, we still haven’t gotten it through our collective thick skull.  We got it wrong – very wrong – at first.  We had to have drawn out court battles in order to reach the Supreme Court and have it ruled, specifically, that “separate but equal” is not.

We see many people who want to refer to the Constitution as the authority of the land, and in many ways, that is good and true.  It should never be forgotten though that it is a horribly flawed document and subject to revision and improvement.  Even the “founding fathers” knew this and that is why they had a built in mechanism for that change.  The very first thing they did after ratifying the Constitution was to change it.  Not only was that necessary to satisfy treaty commitments (because remember that, at the time, that is precisely what the document was), but it also demonstrated clearly that the document could, and should be changed as and when necessary.

We started with a clearly defined right to own people as property and no suffrage right for women (not until August 18, 1920) or non-land owning men.  In fact, a careful reading of the US Constitution shows that we have no constitutional right to vote at all.  It is inferred, much like the right to privacy, but it is not explicitly stated.  What we do find are a series of requirements that must be met if one is to be allowed to vote, and another set of requirements on which it is impermissible to base disenfranchisement of a citizen.  No, really.  Check it for yourself.  Here is the entire constitution right here.  You will find that you are required to own land (a constitutional requirement that has never been revoked), that you must be at least 18, that you may not be prohibited from voting “on account of sex,” nor “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, but no where will you find that it specifically grants that you have the right to vote in the first place.

Understand that it is this very important distinction which allows states to do things like revoke the rights of felons to vote, and establish voting requirements such as length of residency.  In some states, the voting rights of convicted felons are automatically restored, and in some states they require an act of the governor, which requires a petition on the behalf of the convicted felon.  It is this which allowed the states to institute the Jim Crow laws that included ridiculous and impossible “literacy tests” like this one.  (Go ahead.  Try it.  You’ve got 10 minutes.  Remember, as it says in the article, if you miss 1 question then you don’t get to vote.)

-> As an aside, understand also that the lack of a right to privacy will also be used, in court, and may already have been used in the FISA court, to justify programs like PRISM as the security apparatus violates the 4th amendment to track your metadata.  It has already been encroached on to say that there is “no legitimate expectation of privacy” in a public place (thus allowing the wide spread use of surveillance cameras “for your safety”), nor even when owning a cell phone. <-

Which brings us back to where we started today.  The notion of equivalency versus sameness.  We absolutely should strive for equality in society and under the law.  However, that does not mean that we are all the same.  Nor does it mean that we are all experiencing the same things.

Men and women are not the same.  Biologically we are different.  Society drives us into different directions and cross purposes all too often.  It does not mean that individuals may not cross these gender boundaries, or that they shouldn’t feel completely free to do so, but we are different.  Regardless of those differences though, we are still equal.  Right?  We ought to be able to agree on that.  Yet, we still find many sexists, and we still have major inequalities in our society in terms of pay, for example, not to mention in protections of the law for violence.

The Zimmerman verdict last weekend has sparked much outrage this week, and rightfully so.  It was a situation and trial that has been mishandled from the very beginning and ended with a verdict which was tragic.  As I wrote last week though, we have to accept it, because that is the foundation of our justice system.  If we have an issue with the verdict, then we have to address the system, not this specific case.  We have to, as I have seen some do, call for changes to the laws, and then we have to act on those calls.

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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.
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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.

stopwatching.us 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.
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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

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Divide and Fall


Yes.  Lately this space has been more focused on the social analysis with a bit of lean towards the politics.  That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise really.  These things are tightly related, and they are important also.  But, really, what of any true importance is new in the news lately?

Are we going to rehash the gun argument?  Right now, I’m tired of arguing with those on the right who would like to pick and choose from the 2nd Amendment so that they re-write it into a new version without any intelligence or reason, and who are too ignorant (or just plain stupid) and somehow think that because I am unabashedly liberal that I am a “gun grabber”.  Those who do not listen to what I have said, or read what I have written, but somehow think they know.  These are generally people who are too blinded by their own positions to actually hear anyone else anyway.  I am equally tired of arguing with people on the other side who inveigh about the need to enact better controls, but aren’t actually willing to do anything more than bitch and moan about it.  So, no, I don’t think so.

The Benghazi incident?  There is no larger political story there, folks.  This is yet another manufactured crisis that Fox news has made up to attack the center right and try to drag things even further to the right.  Enough about that.

No, today, we’re going to talk about divisiveness.  I’ve written on this as parts of other topics.  I cannot with any real honesty say whether this is increasing or not.  It is my feeling that it is.  Yet, I also suspect that it only seems that way, and to anyone who has been paying attention, we have always been very divided.

In looking back through history, and I am not going to be teaching a history course today, we see a long line of division used as distraction.  Divide and conquer, no?  We go all the way back to our earliest, most basic pack days and we find those classic divisions of “us” and “them”.  Now, we are still dividing and classifying.  To some extent this is necessary and useful.  It aids in our survival, for example, to know who our friends and our opponents are if we are actually in a combat situation.

The problem though is that we often make too large a category.  As I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered the other day, I was struck by this again.  It was about the actor, Riz Ahmed, but it was only really about him, because of a newly released movie, Reluctant Fundamentalist.  Anyway, the point is this bit from that 5 minute story:

And it’s no surprise that Ahmed is making his American debut with a film as bold as The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It’s about the current fault lines between East and West, Muslim and American, ‘us versus them.’ Those deeper themes fueled director Mira Nair.

Did you catch that or are you so inured to this very problem that you missed it?  I’m going to let that sit for a minute.  We’ll come back.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook.  It was brief, but it was the same issue.  It was started by his posting of a meme of support for Lt Colonel Matthew Dooley.  You may or may not have heard of Lt. Col. Dooley.  To those on the far right, Dooley is being presented as a holy martyr.  (Despite the incident of his martyrdom having happened a year ago.)  He spent years in the US Army, graduating from West Point in 1994, and serving “with distinction” since, including teaching at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va from 2010 until his removal in 2012. Those are the bare facts.  What is being circulated from there by the right is that he is being persecuted by, and I quote my right-wing friend on this one, “Our pro-Jihadist President”.  He is being targeted, the lie, er, argument goes because, “The course “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism” ,which was suggested and approved by the Joint Forces Staff College, caught the attention of several Islamic Groups, and they wanted to make an example of him.  They collectively wrote a letter expressing their outrage, and the Pro-Islamic Obama Administration was all too happy to assist.”
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Put Away Childish Things


Recently I have been having an ongoing discussion wherein I have maintained that one of the most significant differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals are concerned with protecting the rights of everyone, whereas conservatives are primarily concerned only with protecting their own rights.

Let me be very clear about that, by rephrasing it, since we are talking about a spectrum.  In general, as one moves further along the spectrum from conservative to liberal then one can be expected to become less and less selfish and more concerned with the larger community, as well.  In other words, one grows up, and becomes mature enough to think beyond one’s own bedroom and toys, and capable of being responsible for the larger household and belongings of the family.

Yes, I did, in fact, just compare conservatives to children, because over the years that is precisely what they have shown themselves to be.  There may have been a time when that wasn’t the case.  I am trying to be generous by saying that, but it is not, as a general rule, true any more.

So, let’s look at some examples, shall we?  One of the “most-well known liberal” groups in America is the American Civil Liberties Organization.  What is it that makes this group liberal?  Well, primarily it is that they have consistently fought for the rights of everyone in America.  They have done so without regard to ideology, so long as those rights are within the bounds of the Constitution.  This does mean that they have not always stood as staunch supporters of the status quo.

The ACLU has provided legal counsel in support of students’ rights, minority rights, and marriage rights.  The ACLU has supported the bulwark between church and state.  The ACLU has represented the Ku Klux Klan, the Westboro Baptist Church, National Man Boy Love Association, as well as students and other private individuals.  The thing about the ACLU is that as an organization they consistently stand by their principles and will defend the rights of even those individuals and groups that are most repugnant to the members, if those rights are being violated by representatives of the state.  I personally find all of those groups offensive, and yet, I would also personally stand up for their right to speak.  Of course, I would also counter them, and speak back, because that is what free speech is.

Compare that standard to the American Civil Rights Union.  A group that most of us have probably never heard of.  It was founded in 1998 by a former Reagan lackey official, in response to the ACLU being too liberal.  Its board is stocked with former Reagan officials, and will be until they start to die off.  The ACRU is a conservative activist group that masquerades as a civil rights legal foundation.  A screenshot of their home page taken on 4/14/2013 shows that they are not discussing the court cases which they are working on.  They are not talking about the key civil rights issues that they are fighting for.  No.  They are instead hyping their political activism.  They are entitled to do so, of course.  However, in doing so, they make it clear that they are not a civil rights organization, and further illustrate my point.

What cases have they worked on?  It doesn’t appear they have actually done anything.  They have filed many briefs though.  They’ve filed briefs against the ACA, against marriage equality, and in support of the 2nd amendment in various cases.  They defended the Boy Scouts of America’s right to discriminate against gay troop leaders.  And, so on.
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