Thursday, January 03, 2013

What could go wrong?

From Think Progress:
‘Armed Teacher Training Program’ Launches In 15 States

By Annie-Rose Strasser on Jan 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm

An Ohio gun owners’ group is launching an “Armed Teacher Training Program” to instruct teachers and school staff on how to shoot off firearms in the classroom. 
OK.  I actually don't have a problem with this.  If we're going to have guns around anyway it makes sense for people to be familiar with them.  Knowledge is power, and knowing exactly what you're dealing with when it comes to firearms as opposed to only scare stories or video games or cop shows on TV is a good thing.  I think it would make for a more effective advocate for gun control, if only because the person won't be subject to casual dismissal as someone who doesn't know anything about guns.  Also, if the training is done properly (and I know that's a big "if") it should be pretty clear to the trainees just how dangerous it is to be shooting guns in a crowded space like a classroom; even if your intent is to protect the kids, those bullets go somewhere and it might not be where you intended.

So I think gun training is a good thing.  This quote from the "Chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Foundation" is just deluded, though:

"The strategy is the same as ordinary concealed carry. No one will ever know who is or is not armed. Those who seek to do harm in schools should be met with armed resistance, even before law enforcement shows up. Over time, schools will no longer be considered easy, risk-free targets.
Give me a break.  People don't shoot up a school because it's an easy, risk-free target.  People shoot up a school because they're nuts and want to burn out instead of fading away.  They don't plan to come out alive.  Knowing that others might have a gun to shoot back with will only heighten the thrill and the fantasy of going out in a blaze of glory.  It won't be any kind of a deterrent.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

On Tyranny of the Minority

David Atkins over at Digby's blog has had enough of lunatic Republicans gumming up the machinery of government:

If we want a future in which we do more than simply determine which hostages to save and which ones to shoot, the American People will need to figure out how to make these and other reforms to our broken political system that disempowers rational majorities in favor of extremist ideological minorities with nothing to lose.

 I sympathize with the sentiment; one of the most frustrating things about the past 4 years has been the Senate Republicans' ability to stymie almost every progressive/liberal policy initiative the President has put forward (and those have been few enough as it is) despite always being in the minority.  It seems to be the rule that when a Democrat is in the White House the Senate requires 60 votes to pass anything; when a Republican is President it only requires 50 (with the VP providing the tiebreaker).  That simply doesn't seem right.  Similarly the Senate filibuster rules currently allow any Senator to declare a filibuster and it magically occurs without anyone having to take to the Senate floor and say a single word; it is simply accepted that they have done so implicitly, and absent a successful cloture vote (60 votes, again) the "filibuster" succeeds in blocking passage of the measure under consideration.

So Atkins (and he is hardly alone) suggests that we need to dump the filibuster or at least return it to its original procedure, with Senators forced to maintain a quorum in the Senate and the filibusterer(s) to hold the floor physically by speaking at great length.  He also suggests other reforms such as eliminating the gerrymandering of Congressional districts, instituting proportional representation in the Senate, and a number of campaign finance changes.

My problem with some of these suggestions is that we are proposing tinkering with the fundamental structure of the government in ways that should give us pause.  It is true that there is a "tyranny of the minority" situation in which we find ourselves and it is very frustrating.  But that was the express intent of the Founders when they wrote the Constitution.  From Federalist #10:

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.
 The Founders were far more concerned with the prospect of a tyranny of the majority running roughshod over the rights of minorities (and I think they were right to do so).  It may be (or at least seem to us) that our proposals are in the best interests of society as a whole, and the objections and obstructionism of the minority irrational and counterproductive; but that should not mean that we should then explicitly disempower that minority and force our programs through.  Because next time around it may be the irrational and counterproductive who find themselves in the majority, and we would dearly regret our inability to prevent their proposals from going forward.

Happy New Year 2013

Still alive.  Still free to post, though I know I'm probably in some NSA dossier somewhere as a potential "person of interest."  Heh.  I flatter myself.

No posts in almost 4 years...I'm amazed this blog is still here.  The lack of ability to post comments at Digby's blog has inspired me to make those comments here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Torture is now a "foreseeable consequence"

And the Guantanamo detainees are not "persons."

Via digby:

Today, the United States Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s dismissal of a case brought by four British former detainees against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse at Guantánamo.
[...]
By refusing to hear the case, the Court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all “persons” did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. The lower court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that “torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants.”

Good god.

In WWII, we were shocked and dismayed at reports that Japanese soldiers would fight to the death, resorting to banzai charges when all hope of further resistance was lost. Part of the reasons the relatively few prisoners we did capture gave for this behavior was the loss of face and humiliation of surrender; but another part of it was fear of their treatment at our hands after capture. Some of that fear was certainly due to their knowledge of how our own prisoners were treated in Japanese prisoner of war camps. The Bataan Death March was only one of many violations of the Geneva Conventions visited on our troops who fell into enemy hands. But Japanese prisoners, though hated for their barbaric actions, were given the treatment required by the treaties to which we were signatory. Torture was unthinkable; that was what the barbaric, medieval Japanese did, what the Gestapo did. That was what we were fighting against.

That was then; this is now. Now, if you're going to fight against the United States, you'd better be wearing a uniform. Because if you're not, and we capture you, we can do anything we want to you. You have no rights whatsoever. You're not even a person; you're some indescribable thing like a piece of gum we might find on the bottom of our shoe. We can take you out of your home country and ship you off to anywhere in the world; we can waterboard you, zap your genitals with electricity, make you stand up for 36 hours straight, deprive you of sleep for days on end, cut you off from all outside contact with other human beings, strip you naked and chill your cell to 36 degrees, anything at all, and there's nothing you can do about it. It's all a "foreseeable consequence" of your being detained as a "suspected enemy combatant." You don't even have to be an actual enemy combatant; you just have to be suspected, maybe even denounced for money by your neighbor who never liked you anyway.

This is what the D.C. Circuit ruled was legal behavior (besides, "even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantanamo had any Constitutional rights;" never mind human rights). The Supreme Court declined to review the case, effectively agreeing with that ruling. This is America.

I need some stronger happy pills.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Existential

Here is what dictionary.com has for "existential:"

1. pertaining to existence.
2. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of existentialism: an existential hero.

So when you hear some Neocon bobblehead yawping about how so-and-so is "an existential threat," keep this in mind. He's saying one of two things:

1) a group of criminals who like to blow up things threatens the very existence of the United States on this planet; or

2) a group of criminals who like to blow up things are stressing the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices.

It is left as an exercise for the reader to determine whether either proposition makes any kind of rational sense whatsoever.

Time marches on

Gee, guess I should post.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gates-gate and "Democratic values"

I've gotten involved in a back-and-forth with Bob Somerby about the Gates incident. According to the police report by arresting officer Crowley, Gates was continually verbally abusive to the officer and all his carrying on about how unfairly he was being treated is what got him arrested for disturbing the peace.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a column wherein he stated that more was involved here than just racial bias:
If race were the only issue, there would be much less hyperventilation about Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s unpleasant run-in with the criminal justice system. After all, it would hardly be the first time a black man had unjustly been hauled to jail by a white police officer. The debate -- really more of a shouting match -- is also about power and entitlement.

Somerby found something odd about Robinson's theory:

Apparently, there was something Crowley couldn't abide, Robinson comically says. (Gee! What could it possibly have been, we’re apparently supposed to wonder.) But then too, we see Robinson tossing in the word “uppity,” thus slipping in the slick/slippery point he wasn’t man enough to stand up and state in plain language. In this passage, Robinson lets us know that Crowley has a racial problem (“apparently”). And he suggests that only this could possibly explain the “overheated commentary” he has heard from all those “conservatives.” As he ends, he still hasn’t managed to voice a complaint about the repellent conduct and attitudes of his imagined professor.

Sorry. Other people will be offended by the hypothetical conduct Robinson describes. They may not think it should lead to arrest. But they will be offended and appalled by such conduct, the kind of conduct which has long been directed at blacks by arrogant, officious, offensive white people—white people with “serious power.” Long ago, In the Heat of the Night presented a thrilling divergence from form because it showed an officious white person with serious power expecting to get away with such condescension—and then being challenged by Poitier/Stieger. Trust us: In 1967, that was a thrilling moment. Today, a chuckling pundit describes similar conduct with barely the bat of an eye.

That’s the way Harvard professors roll, the chuckling pundit seems to say. To his inner ear, those who find this hypothetical conduct offensive have engaged in “overheated commentary”—in “hyperventilation.”

In this way, upper-end liberals do just what they’ve always done—they throw away votes, in droves. Working-class voters see them speak and reject their values, their puzzling moral instincts.

Puzzling moral instincts? It's "morally puzzling" to point out that the police should not be arresting people for yelling at them? I responded thusly:

Once again, Gates' conduct is profoundly irrelevant. The issue is not whether Gates' conduct was offensive; the issue is whether Crowley's arrest of Gates showed racial bias. Personally I think it's pretty clear that it did.

That got me an email from Somerby (always nice to get a response!) accusing me of not being concerned with whether policemen should be accorded respect. Today's Daily Howler expanded on that theme:

But the only thing the mailer finds relevant is the way the policeman behaved. He doesn’t care about how the (imagined) professor behaved; indeed, he thinks it’s “profoundly irrelevant,” even if the cop got totally sassed and trashed. It doesn’t occur to him that he might care about how each of these people behaved. He cares about how the citizen was treated—not about the cop.

Two things can be true at one time: 1) The arrest may have been unwise, and 2) The cop may have been treated like an ass.

Why couldn’t both things be “relevant?”

A guess: Most American voters will have a different reaction to this event. They will care about how the cop was treated. As we said: For decades, liberals have signaled to American voters that we don’t care very much about cops—or about a range of other working-class people (examples below). When voters see that attitude on the part of liberals, they may vote the other way.

So here's what I have to say to that:

Here's why I say Gates' conduct was irrelevant: there was no chance that Gates would arrest Crowley and put him in jail, while Crowley is explicitly given the authority to arrest people and put them in jail. That power imbalance is why we hold the police to a much higher standard when it comes to dealing with mere citizens.
I understand where Somerby is coming from. He thinks that by accusing the police of racial and/or class bias in this case, liberals (and therefore Democrats) are driving away the votes of people who do care about how the cop was treated. To which I say, good riddance! Those people don't understand that what we're dealing with here isn't a question of respect and propriety; when the police are involved, it's a question of the application of state power against individuals; and in that situation, the ONLY power the police are given is to uphold the law. The law doesn't say, you can arrest people who mouth off to you. That's why, as Robinson said, the Gates matter is about more than just race; it's also about power. Crowley had the power, Gates didn't. Gates mouthed off, and Crowley sent him to jail. Crowley's action was not only stupid, it was unjustified, and Gates was quickly released.

Robinson was correct, and Somerby is engaging in what is known as "concern-trolling" when he says it will cost liberals votes. Standing up for individual rights is part of the liberal platform; if you think the police should be empowered to enforce codes of conduct towards the state, to demand submission and deference on threat of being jailed, you're not a liberal.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So good I decided to post it here

I decided to apply myself to write for Examiner.com, after my wingnut friend joined up and introduced me to it. As part of their application process they ask you to submit a "writing sample," 200-300 words about some topic with a local angle. So I chose to write about the Sotomayor nomination and the Supreme Court ruling reversing the Ricci decision:

Here comes another round of Sotomayor-bashing. The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling overturning the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals' decision on the New Haven firefighters' case has already resulted in a statement from our own Senator John Cornyn's office; despite the 5-4 ruling, Cornyn asserted that "all nine justices" were critical of the Court of Appeals ruling, and thus by implication of Sotomayor herself. You can be sure that this will only be the first of many such statements by Sotomayor opponents.

What these people continually leave out are inconvenient facts such as: the 2nd Circuit does not have the luxury of ruling as the Supreme Court does, setting aside black-letter law for their own interpretation- the Appeals court had to rule based on the law as written and the evidence before it; that rulings Sotomayor is associated with don't even come before the Supreme Court unless the Supremes feel that there is an actual question they need to rule on, which means that a 60% reversal rate on such cases (even if that statistic is accurate) should not really be surprising, and leaves out the many more cases they DON'T elect to review; and that Sotomayor's supposed "racism," er, "racialism" is based on taking a quote out of context.

The fact remains that Sotomayor is an outstanding jurist with extensive credentials that qualify her to be named to the Supreme Court. All of this sniping is merely an attempt to muddy the waters and confuse people, trying to somehow paint her as some kind of radical racist. Don't be misled.

Monday, June 29, 2009

American spending priorities

Deep thoughts from The Editors:

A few trillion (more actually) to kill a bunch of foreigners in a couple of wars that have yielded almost nothing but instability and suffering? It would be unpatriotic to bring up the price tag.

A couple of trillion in tax cuts for the insanely wealth heir and heiress set? Opposing them would be class warfare.

$1.8 trillion to cover American citizens who (frequently) must choose between food and medicine, their kids welfare and medical treatment, life and death…?

Well, that is a lot of money. Government needs to be more fiscally responsible. Let’s not get carried away. Looks like socialism to me. Just think of the deficits. Does David Broder think the bill is bi-partisany enough?

Bang on.

And today I see this:

Lawmakers defy veto threat on F-22 fighter

Congress on Thursday moved forward with plans to build more Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter jets, disregarding a veto threat from the Obama administration.
Billions for "defense," but not one cent for poor people.