Tag Archives: Rights

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is…


I have written before on the purpose that fairy tales served in our not too distant past before they were sanitized and Disneyfied.  In short, they were very useful for keeping children in line.  Fear.  Our first method of discipline as children is often fear.  It is typically the same method that many western religions use.  It is the reason that the phrase “god-fearing Christian” still exists in our lexicon.  (That, and it is baked into the Judeo-Christian religion at a fundamental level.)  As we grow and mature, we can develop into more complex and reasonable ways to discipline and learn.  Fear need not be the way we teach our children the difference between right and wrong, nor should it be the way we govern ourselves, or our society.

Decisions made on the basis of fear are almost always knee-jerk reactions, and more often than not, short of truly critical individually life threatening emergency situations, they are wrong.  Fight or flight responses are almost never appropriate for a society.

This is precisely what we do though.  We elect people more often than not based on fear.  Fear of “the other guy”.  Fear of what will happen if we act on the courage of our convictions.  Fear that “this election is too important to take a chance”.  Fear that we are “at war” with al Qaeda, on drugs, on poverty, on women, on ________ .

All too often, those we elect, and worse yet, those we do not elect, but that are in positions of extraordinary power, are more than happy to use this fear to manipulate and control the populace in the ways that they see fit.  In fairness, some of them are dong so because they sincerely believe that it is necessary.  They truly believe that “the world is a dangerous place” and that “the ends justifies the means”.  These are the people that I most feel sorry for.  They fail to understand that they are actually creating or exacerbating the problems that they are seeking to protect us against.

Yes, there are bad people in the world, and yes, we do have to take steps to protect ourselves against them.  We do not, however, have to go overboard with that.  We do not have to start sacrificing our liberties and our minds in that pursuit.  With complete honesty and not the least bit of hyperbole, it is these people, the ones that are supposed to be protecting us, that scare me far more than the al Qaedas, the M-13s, or the Somali pirates of the world.  I literally have no fear of walking through Chicago’s Auburn Gresham or Shanghai at 2:00 am (which I have done), but these people at the NSA, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the other nearly 1,300 other governmental organizations plus 2,000 private companies?  Yeah, they cause me a great deal of alarm.  Read those numbers again, and stop to think about that.  That is a security apparatus that is not transparent.  It is not even fully known how widely it stretches.  You will not find anyone, any where, who can eve tell you how much money is being spent on these operations.  You will find estimates, but no accurate totals.

And, it is, by its very nature based on fear.  What do animals that are fearful do?  Have you ever seen a cornered dog or cat?  One that is afraid?  That is a dangerous animal!

Then, there are the other types of people who are involved in this community.  Those are the people who should be removed from their positions, stripped of their wealth and prosecuted for a variety of crimes.  In many cases, crimes against humanity.  These are the people who have used fear to manipulate and control simply to enrich themselves and their friends.  They have used fear to maintain positions of power, wealth and prestige.  These people are rightfully called terrorists.  For they use terrorism, and the dictionary definition of terrorism is clear:

terrorism

1.   the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

2.   the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.

3.   a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Osama bin Laden was “on the run” for more than a decade after having been identified and claiming responsibility for the attacks on America on 9/11/2001.  During that time we launched three wars – The War on Terrorism, the War in Iraq, and the War in Afghanistan.  (Though the right has tried to revise history, the Bush cabal clearly made an effort to tie the War in Iraq to al Qaeda and sold it as part of the War on Terrorism.)  All three of these wars were to have two purposes.  First, to defeat al Qaeda, and by extension, any and all terrorists who would attack the US, and by extension, any Western interests anywhere around the world.  Second, to find and capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
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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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Into the Looking Glass


I watched a video this week that I think was very powerful.  I would really like you to take the 7 minutes 37 seconds of your life to watch it, and then let us have an intimate little chat, shall we?

Let me start by saying, I am one of either the lucky ones or the strong ones.  Take your pick.  Either way, I have been through my share, and I do not need anyone’s pity or even sympathy.  At this point, I will give at least as good as I get, and I don’t necessarily say that with any pride.  I simply state it as fact. To be honest, I recognize that sometimes, I can go overboard and tend to escalate the situation, because I simply refuse to back down.  As my father said, I didn’t learn to duck, even when I should.

Understand?

So, yeah, that’s me now.  It wasn’t always so.  In elementary school and all the way up until about half way through the 8th grade even, I was the target of the neighborhood bullies.  Yep.  I was beaten and verbally abused.  I was the nerd.  And, I took it.  I did; I did.  Something happened one day out on the track field, and I am only vaguely aware of the specifics of the events.  It isn’t the haze of time.  I wasn’t entirely certain what happened even on that day.  I remember leaning on the fence out at the track field, and the little shit, neighborhood bully, Marcel, came up behind me.  He grabbed me in a “full Nelson”, locking his arms through mine and behind my head.  From there, I am not sure how, but I got out and the next thing I know, I have him down on the track. I’m using the asphalt as a grater for his face.  A few moments later, after some screaming from the crowd, the coaches were separating us.  I’m not sure who was more shocked – Marcel or I.  I went over and sat under a tree.  And, that, was the end of that shit.

A lot of other kids haven’t found it in themselves to do the same.  That certainly isn’t to say that I haven’t dealt with other situations.  Other people who thought they were going to bully or intimidate me, or others, into control of a situation.  It is only to say, that was the last time that was going to have any effect on me.

Do you grok?

Martin Niemöller

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,    First they came for

habe ich geschwiegen,                                   the communists,

ich war ja kein Kommunist.                         and I didn’t speak out

.                                                                           because I wasn’t a

.                                                                          communist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, Then they came for the

habe ich geschwiegen,                                     socialists,

ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.                    and I didn’t speak out

.                                                                             because I wasn’t a

.                                                                             socialist.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,                Then they came for the

habe ich geschwiegen,                                     trade unionists,

ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.                     and I didn’t speak out

.                                                                             because I wasn’t a trade

.                                                                             unionist.

Als sie mich holten,                                            Then they came for me,

gab es keinen mehr,                                            and there was no one left

der protestieren konnte.                                   to speak for me.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

When I was 12 in 1984, a full 20 years after the voting rights act that the SCOTUS so injudiciously recently gutted, I was playing in my yard with my brother who was 11.  We lived in a predominately black neighborhood, and we were the minority.  A black family had just moved in next door, with a young daughter.  She was maybe 9 or so.  She came up to the fence tentatively.  Almost fearfully, and asked, “Are you allowed to play with black children?”  Did you read that?!  It brings tears to my eyes as I type it now 28 years later.  “Are you allowed to play with black children?”  That child should never have had that thought much less have had to ask it, and yet, she already knew that in some places, that would have caused problems.  Problems not only for her, but for her family.

How deep does the rabbit hole go?
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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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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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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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Land of the free and home of the brave?


Land of the free and home of the brave?  No.  Actually, we have turned mostly into the land of the whiners and the home of the cowards.

Oh, my.  Not a good way to start off if I want people to read, is it?  No, probably not, but I am angry.  Very, very angry.  I am angry that I watch people complain and whine about how bad off our country has become, and yet, how little anyone from any political stripe is willing to actually do about it.  I understand that we all have our lives that we have to deal with, our mundane issues that must be addressed on a daily basis, but we must each realize that if we do not face up to the challenges that we face and take responsibility for making the changes that we want and need, then we will only have ourselves to blame when things not only do not improve, but continue to get worse.

I am not talking about the type of courage exhibited by children and adults in desperate situations.  That type of bravery, which is one and the same, is in plentiful supply.  This is the type of courage that leads people to want, or need, to solve arguments with violence, because they know no other solution.  That’s the 4 year-old who hits his or her playmate because he or she wants the toy the other child has.  We have that aplenty.  We have that in so many adults that it’s pathetic.

It is the type of “bravery” that leads to our elected officials invading countries that we previously supported, and then cries of “My president, right or wrong” from segments of the populace.  (Of course, for that same segment, it only applies when it is their guy in office, because they are hypocrites.)  It is the type of courage that leads young men and women to join the military less because that is the path that they believe in, and more because they see no other way to escape the desperate economic poverty that they are in.  Or, from the large segment of the populace that is too busy with bread and circuses to notice the strings just off stage.

There are times in this world when violence is the appropriate answer and solution to a situation.  Yes, I do, in fact, acknowledge that.  I am not saying that it isn’t.  I do not like it.  As I have said for years, I wish I lived in a world where a military was not necessary.  Sadly, I do not live in that world.  However, I also do not live in a world where it is necessary for the military that we do have needs to be running the School of the Americas now Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (the best training ground for Latin American and Caribbean dictators, thank you right wing America!)  I do not live in a world where it is necessary or appropriate for that military to take action in a country on the pretext that it is committing human rights violations (such as Iraq, Serbia, even Germany in World War II was largely justified on the basis of the final solution though our immediate entry was obviously prompted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), while simultaneously ignoring other countries committing human rights abuses of equal or larger degree (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria, China, Mali, and others listed by Freedom House as the Worst of the Worst in 2012).  This simply shows that our military is being used as a tool of policy and business, not as a tool of either necessity or of principle.

However, the cowardice that I am talking about that has taken over is the fear of taking actual responsibility for our actions in our country.  If we actually acknowledge that our government is us then we have to acknowledge that we are responsible, as a group, for all those horrible things that we have done.  We also get to take credit for the wonderful, positive things that we have done, and everyone wants to do that part!  Most people are in favor of taking their rights, but most people are also deft at avoiding their responsibilities.  There are reasons why we have the stereotypes of the “deadbeat dad” and the “welfare mom”, for example.
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