Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It didn't happen

I don't like talking about Donald Trump, but I have to say that I understand why he believes there were mass celebrations among American Muslims when 9/11 happened. To someone with his mindset, it just feels like it might be true.  It's not surprising that people would step up to defend him, "remembering" these things that didn't happen, and desperately clinging to anything they can find, no matter how far-fetched or undocumented, that supports the position.

The conservative media are leading the charge to prove his position, going so far as to pronounce the pushback Trump has gotten to be the product of their usual bogeyman:  a conspiracy of the Liberal Media.

But let's be honest:  While there may have been very isolated examples of American Muslims (or non-American Muslims who happen to live here) celebrating what happened on 9/11, there were no mass celebrations, no swarms of thousands of Muslims dancing and celebrating in American streets.  Such activities would have been documented in a lasting fashion; it would not be necessary to comb through news reports hoping to find nuggets of support.

The reason why we know this is because in the days following 9/11, the government began detaining Muslims, mostly men, whom it deemed to pose a threat to national security.  These men were frequently held for long periods without access to family or attorneys, in undisclosed locations.  In a political climate that would permit the *government* to engage in these decidedly un-American activities, it is simply not credible to believe that thousands of American Muslims could celebrate 9/11 so openly that Donald Trump could see them doing so on television, yet no video of those activities survives even 14 years after the fact.

The American Muslims I know were horrified at what happened on 9/11, not because of what they surely knew would bring retribution heavily down on them, but because what happened on 9/11 was a crime against all humanity, including themselves.

I have said it many times:  The human brain is an amazing thing, capable of great intellect and reason, but dangerously capable of self-deception.  Memory, particularly long memory, is untrustworthy, because it can be distorted by emotion and imagination.  In one prominent example, many people remember the famous shower scene in the Hitchcock film Psycho for its vivid red blood, running down the shower drain.  It's a shocking scene, one of the greatest in cinematic history.  But the people who "remember" red blood in that scene are wrong. In reality, Psycho was filmed in black-and-white.  In reality, the filmmakers used Hershey's syrup, which of course is brown.  In reality, no one saw red blood, or red anything, in Psycho--but many people "remember" it that way.

Wanting to believe something happened makes it easier to "remember" it.

This is not a media conspiracy against Donald Trump.  He is simply wrong about what he remembers.  That's a human-enough error that can be excused on its merits.  But what we should be more vigilant about is not the "what," but the "why."  Why does it matter?  What is the importance of "knowing" that American Muslims celebrated 9/11?  If you falsely believe that they did, what are you going to do with that information?  Are you using it to feed hatred in your heart toward people who have literally done nothing to you?  That can't be a good idea.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Huddled masses

If my Facebook timeline is any indication, there is an incipient mass hysteria that President Obama is about to import thousands of terrorists into Hometown USA.

Several Republican governors have announced that they will not allow Syrian refugees to be admitted into their states.  (Sorry, but that's not a choice that governors get to make, so these pronouncements are just ineffectual drum-beating.)

There's a popular analogy going around, in response to the perfectly reasonable and factual assertion that these refugees are the victims of our enemies, not our enemies: "Would you eat grapes knowing that one might be poisoned?"

We can't accept Syrian refugees, they say, because some of them might be terrorists.

Look, I get that people are worried and fearful.  They see images from Paris last Friday night and imagine it happening to them or their loved ones.  Somehow, because Westerners were the victims there, it strikes closer to home than when the same thing (or worse) happens to, say, innocent but brown victims in Africa or southwest Asia.

There are about 2 billion Muslims in the world.  The number of them who sympathize with ISIL is less than 1%.  It's less than 0.1%.  In fact, it's probably on the order of 0.001%, or one in 100,000.  Refusing refugees because some of them might be sympathetic to ISIL is like rounding up Christians because some of them might be sympathetic to the handful of Christians who commit violence against abortion providers here in the U.S.

And the "grapes" analogy?  First of all, people aren't grapes.  They're people, with lives and hopes and dreams and potential and the desire to be free and safe.

But even if you accept the analogy, we make that choice every day.  Would you buy grapes knowing that one might be poisoned?  Yes, of course.  If you buy grapes, you make that choice every time you buy grapes, because food-borne illness is always a possibility.  Maybe it's not grapes.  Maybe it's ice cream or peanut butter.  Do you buy ice cream or peanut butter, or anything else, knowing that it might be poison? Yes, you do.  So that's not a reason to refuse refugees.

This morning, Jeb! Bush was on my TV, talking about how we should only accept Christians from Syria, as though there aren't many more innocent Muslim victims of these butchers. 

I am profoundly disgusted by the people who use one breath to call this a Christian nation and use the next to say that we should refuse these people asylum because some of them might be our enemies.  You can't claim that this is a Christian nation--in fact, you can't claim to be a Christian--and ignore what Jesus said about this very situation:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 (Luke 6:27-36.)

Of course, my favorite statement of our commitment to accept the refugees and the many more who came before them comes from a rather different source, inscribed at the base of our most recognizable monument:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
 --Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"

Mother of Exiles, indeed.  Just who did you think she was referring to, when she talked about the "wretched refuse"?  Well-to-do Europeans?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Let's see if this thing still works

Wow, the engine turned over.

Sorry for the long absence.  I'll try not to take so long with the next one.

Today's post is about abortion.  The reason why it's about abortion is because some brain surgeon, and I mean that in the literal sense in that this fellow was an actual brain surgeon, and not in the figurative sense that he's a really smart guy (he's not all that smart about stuff other than brain surgery), said over the weekend that he's against abortion in all cases, including when the conception occurred as the result of rape or incest.  I'm of course talking about Dr. Ben Carson of Maryland, candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 2016.*

* - Dr. Carson has never held elective office. So, kudos for aiming high.

This position of his is sort of controversial.  Even though most Americans can be put into one of two camps regarding abortion--"pro-choice" and "pro-life"**--it turns out you can split those two groups up into finer and finer distinctions.

** - That's the name most people use.  I find that name to be deceptively misdescriptive of their actual position, but let's not have that debate right now.

Over on the "pro-choice" side, you've got some people who think that abortion ought to be available, just sort of hard to get, and only in the first trimester.  There are others who think it ought to be more easily available.  And there are some folks who think it needs to be available at any point before actual birth, at least in some cases.

(I don't have a uterus, and I prefer to let people who do make their own choices about how those uteri are used, so I guess that puts me mostly in that latter group.  So I'd prefer that abortion be fully legal up to the point of genuinely reasonable fetal viability, which is about 6.5 months--yes, I know that some babies have survived birth at 24 weeks, but it's rare--then available only in cases of rape or incest, gross fetal deformity, to save the life or health of the mother, or, with some sort of review, when there are extenuating circumstances that prevented an earlier abortion from being obtained.)

On the "pro-life" side, you've got some people who are 100% against abortion in all cases, like Dr. Carson.  You've got some people who are against abortion almost all of the time, but will allow a woman to have an abortion to save her life.  And you've got some people who are willing to let abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest, even though some of them don't believe rape can result in pregnancy.

And let's not forget that most of the above people are OK with abortion when pregnancy interferes with their personal interests, like when they accidentally impregnate a prostitute.

But Dr. Carson's position goes well beyond even where most pro-lifers are willing to stand.

I find that to be a compellingly consistent and coherent position on his part. After all, if you are a member of the cult of the fetus, it shouldn't matter how conception occurred. A baby is a baby, even when it's not yet a baby.

But what that position really means, when you look at it carefully, is that the less militant part of the anti-abortion crowd, the ones who say abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, isn't really all that anti-abortion.  Instead, they're more interested in taking away the bodily autonomy of women. 

If you're raped or you're the victim of incest, that wasn't a choice, it was just something that happened to you and you shouldn't face the consequences. But choosing an abortion because the condom broke, or because your financial circumstances mean extreme poverty if you continue an accidental pregnancy, or because you're 15 and were unfortunate enough to grow up in a place where they teach abstinence-only--those are wrong choices. Bad choices.  Evil choices that must be punished with consequences.  Even though many if not most of those people make those same choices and don't consider them to be evil--they were just lucky enough to avoid the consequences, in some cases because we pro-choice folks took a stand.

(Yes, I know that was a bunch of sentence fragments in a row.  Send the grammar police after me.)

So Dr. Carson gets points for being honest about an extreme, if highly consistent, position.  But it also means he has no business being President of the United States.  After all, POTUS nominates Supreme Court justices.  And the right to an abortion, which most Americans openly agree is a right and should be available, and which many more Americans agree should be available (for them, if they need it), hangs by a slender thread.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Feeling the Bern

One of the really terrible things about politics is how unfair it can be.

Several months ago, I wrote a blog entry about Hillary Clinton's candidacy for President in which I expressed tepid support for her.

I grew up in an Arkansas where Hillary Clinton was a respected leader who seemed genuinely focused on moving the state forward.  I like her a lot on a personal level.  In fact, one of the reasons why the GOP opposes her because she is smart and competent and would be a very effective President.

If politics were fair, she would be our first female President.  She's spent a lifetime in service to the greater good, and she has the intelligence and judgment and charisma to be among our most effective presidents.  But politics isn't fair.

It could be that this is just the silly season in American politics.  During the summer, nobody wants to talk about serious things.  I've heard almost no substantive discussion about policy on either side.  Rather, the coverage of the presidential campaign has focused on the "horse race"--who's up, who's down--on Hillary Clinton's email server, and on how the GOP candidates are trying one-up each other with bombast and slurs.

That doesn't advance the interests of the nation.

I wonder sometimes if the media aren't doing it this way because they recognize that the electoral math for the Republicans is so bad that they have no real chance of taking the White House.  The GOP is distinctly a minority party.  They will take a majority of white men's votes; their electoral strategy must rest on either (a) minimizing turnout among minorities and women or (b) capturing votes from minorities and women who are confused about which party advances their interests.

Blacks will likely vote 90%+ for the Democrat; Hispanics will likely vote 65%+ for the Democrat.  The overt racism of the Republican candidates, especially their fascist leader Donald Trump, isn't going to make option (b) a possibility.  Trump isn't the only frightening GOP candidate; in fact, each of the GOP candidates is frightening in his or her own way.

So, returning to the main topic:  There is a lot to like about Hillary Clinton, but from a policy perspective, she just doesn't do anything for me.  Her campaign is funded primarily by those who have the least to gain (immediately, anyway) from implementing the policies I want implemented--mostly Wall Street.  There might have been a time in American politics when campaign contributions didn't carry much weight in policy, but to the extent it ever existed, it doesn't anymore.

I cannot trust Hillary Clinton to be on the right side when it comes to middle-class economic issues (the biggest of which is that 35 years of Reaganomics have left us without much of a middle class).  I'm sorry to say that, but it's true.  Goldman Sachs will still run things if she is elected.

In the same post four months ago, I knocked Bernie Sanders' candidacy using the two knocks that anyone has been able to use against him:  He's 73, and he's a socialist.  That, too, is unfair.  He seems to be in great health.  As for being a socialist, he clarifies that he's a democratic socialist, and while I respect that most American troglodytes can't figure out what that means, see Obama, Barack, there is time to define it in a way that people can relate to.  The truth is that Bernie's positions align with a majority of Americans on almost every issue.  We're not a nation of racist xenophobes who want to deport all the brown people and give more money to plutocratic billionaires; that view commands barely a fifth of the electorate, plus probably another fifth who are abortion voters.

People want the government to work better, to be a facilitator of economic growth, to give poor folks a hand up, and to be a governor on the 1% whose only care is accumulating more money than they could spend in ten lifetimes.  People want bridges to be safe, they want cheap access to high-speed internet, they want good public schools that teach kids how to think rather than just how to take tests.  They want healthcare insurance that allows them to get the treatment they need quickly and effectively.  They want responsible action on the environment and international trade.  They want an end to banks that are "too big to fail."  They want the minimum wage to be raised, and they want Social Security benefits to be increased.

Bernie Sanders is for all of those things, because that's what a democratic socialist is.  Hillary is for some of them, not for others, and on some, she won't say.

We are a long way from voting, and a lot can happen during that time.  But if the election were held today, Bernie would get my vote over Hillary.  His policies are what we need to make sure we are a great nation for generations to come.  We can have these nice things.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

One heck of a week

If you think and believe as I do, the past seven days have been a blur of excitement and of wishes fulfilled.

On Monday, the tide turned rather suddenly against the militantly defended but racist "Confederate flag"--the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the design of which inspired various flags used by the Confederate States of America.  Regular readers of this blog know that I am very much against that cause, against the reverence many people hold for the Confederacy, and against the use of that flag in public spaces.

(I do not understand how people can call themselves Americans while expressing support for an armed uprising against the United States in defense of slavery as an institution.)

Then, on Thursday, a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court upheld those portions of the Affordable Care Act relating to subsidies for health insurance in those states that did not set up their own exchanges under the ACA.  This really should not have been a close question.  Only the most partisan of partisan hacks supported the notion that Congress intended to restrict the subsidies to those who purchased insurance from state-based exchanges, and not to those who purchased from the federal exchanges set up where states declined to do so.

But the real feather in the liberal cap came on Friday, when the Supreme Court, 5-4, held that there is a constitutional right to marry and that states could not deny that right to same-sex couples.  Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a stirring opinion for the Court, which I am not ashamed to admit brought a tear to my eye at several points.  One passage that I found particularly impressive was the following:

Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises,and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.
That paragraph is beautiful not just for its plain, forceful defense of equality, but also for the subtle but stinging rebuke it delivers to those who have argued that majority rule trumps all.

It doesn't, of course.  It never has.  Rights are not subject to the vagaries of the majority.  Rights belong to all of us.  (Chief Justice Roberts, in his dissent, took time to argue that the abrupt cutoff in the argument about marriage equality, and about equal rights for sexual minorities generally, deprived those minorities of the benefits of convincing the majority of the correctness of their position.  What the Chief Justice doesn't seem to understand, or pretends not to understand, is that the nature of rights is such that no one ought to be forced to convince the majority of their existence.  He is also wrong on the facts; it's the Court, not the public, that's playing catch-up to the other.  Wide majorities now approve of marriage equality--a much wider majority than can be found in the Court's decision.)

I cannot remember a week that was so good for those who share my point of view.  When Barack Obama was first elected, that was close.  But this was a better week.

I would like to believe that this signals a turning point in our discourse, where the influence of the Teabaggers begins its long slouch toward a nadir of irrelevance.  But I am reminded of the story of the great Persian king who brought together a council of wise men and charged them to find a way to bring him joy when he was sad.  The wise men conferred, and a ring was produced and inscribed with the legend, "This too shall pass."  The king found that this solution was doubly fruitful.  In tough times, he could look at his ring and be reminded that his troubles would soon pass.  But in good times, he could look at his ring and be reminded that joy will eventualy give way to sorrow in one form or another.

As good as things are right now, these, too, will pass.  And for that reason we must never stop pushing for the good and right things we support.  There is much work to be done.

The Roman poet Quinius Horatius Flaccus, known as Horace, who lived during the time of Caesar Augustus, wrote a beautiful ode, the title of which is usually rendered "The Golden Mean"--a reference to moderation in all things.  A modern translation* by A.S. Kline appears below:

* - Used by permission.

You’ll live more virtuously, my Murena,
by not setting out to sea, while you’re in dread
of the storm, or hugging fatal shores
too closely, either.

Whoever takes delight in the golden mean,
safely avoids the squalor of a shabby house,
and, soberly, avoids the regal palace
that incites envy.

The tall pine’s more often shaken by the wind,
and it’s a high tower that falls with a louder
crash, while the mountainous summits are places
where lightning strikes.

The heart that is well prepared for any fate
hopes in adversity, fears prosperity.
Though Jupiter brings us all the unlovely
winters: he also

takes them away again. If there’s trouble now
it won’t always be so: sometimes Apollo
rouses the sleeping Muse with his lyre, when he’s
not flexing his bow.

Appear brave and resolute in difficult
times: and yet be wise and take in all your sails
when they’re swollen by too powerful
a following wind.
So, let's don't get ahead of ourselves.  It was a great week.  But, to quote another symbol of the Confederacy, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Great Charter

Nobody tell Jason Rapert, but the birthday of the actual foundation of American jurisprudence is today.

Magna Carta, the Great Charter, was signed by King John on this day 800 years ago.

I'm reminded of a great joke I heard a number of years ago.  An American, eager to see the sights of London but not quite understanding the history, is on a tour of the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library.  Upon entering the Magna Carta room, where one of the four extant copies of the original is on display, a young boy asks the guide, "When was the Magna Carta signed?"  The guide replies, "1215."  The American looks at his watch, sees that it's 12:30, and says, "Oh, damn, we've just missed it."

In the 13th century, feudal England was engulfed in a low-grade civil war.  John, the unpopular king, was struggling to hold onto power.  A decade before, he had lost his ancestral lands in France, and he had spent most of his time and money until 1214 on war in France to try to regain them.  The defeat of John's allies at the Battle of Bouvines was disastrous; forced to withdraw from France and pay reparations to King Philip II of France, John returned to England to find his vassals restless and mounting an armed resistance to his further rule.

At this time, there were conflicting views about the proper conduct of government.  Some believed in the divine right of kings to rule as they pleased, by vis et voluntas, or "force and will."  Others recognized the divine right of kings but contended that kings were restrained by custom and tradition.  John's recorded predecessors tended to fall into the second camp, valuing consistency and tradition over unquestioned authority.  John differed, however, perhaps being motivated by external considerations.  He imposed high taxes at will and used force where necessary to achieve his goals.

The barons--landed nobles who owed allegiance to the king but who controlled their own areas--became fed up with John's misrule, renounced their allegiance to the king, and began marching on London.  Seeking to avoid all-out war, Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury worked to coalesce the barons' complaints for presentation to the king and brought the two sides together for peace talks in June 1215.  For ten days, Langton mediated the dispute at Runnymede, a meadow on the side of the Thames near Windsor Castle.  On June 10, the barons presented a list of demands; under considerable pressure, John acceded to most of them and on June 15--figuratively and perhaps even literally at the point of a sword, the king signed Magna Carta.  Four days later, the barons re-pledged their fealty to the king, and war was averted.

The document itself is not apparently sweeping in its scope; it is confined to the everyday pragmatic concerns of the barons, as necessary to make peace.  And it is remarkable for its lack of longevity; three months later, with the backing of the Pope, John renounced the document, and the barons repudiated it.  The simmering civil war heated up.  In October, John died, leaving his nine-year-old son, Henry III, as the titular king as England fell to rule by regents.

But in fits and starts, the principles set forth in the original document, with some modifications, were re-instituted in subsequent charters in 1216, 1217, and 1225.  Those principles, including protection of the Church, the right to habeas corpus, limitations on taxation, the right to speedy justice, and the necessity of the consent of the governed, have persisted through the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence, and they are the embedded foundation of justice in our society and in all free societies in the world today.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I have a complicated attitude toward Arkansas's Largest Family, the Duggars, made famous by their profligate reproduction habits and their TLC "reality" show, 17 18 19 Kids and Counting.

On the one hand, I don't care how many kids people choose to have, as long as they are able to provide (with or without help) what their kids need to live happy and healthy lives.  For me, it's a matter of personal choice that should be respected even if it stands outside the mainstream.

On the other hand, I'm not sure it's a good idea to hold up people as paragons of virtue, as models to emulate, simply because they profess certain religious beliefs and are very public about how they go about practicing them.

And on the third hand--yes, there's a third hand--I can't imagine being bored enough to watch their show voluntarily. Since I'm not in the habit of complaining about television that I don't care about, and since there is no shortage of other shows, some excellent and some the same kind of dreck the Duggars are peddling, it's not like the presence of their show on television somehow makes my life less bearable.

The problem I have with the Duggars, primarily, is in the way they are revered by a certain segment of the population, to the extent that they have a certain political influence that they are willing to use to implement a programme of hatred toward those who don't make the same choices they do.

Case in point:  Last year, the Fayetteville City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of a long list of characteristics--the usual suspects, including race and religion, but some that are somewhat novel in Arkansas:  sexual orientation and gender identity.

Michelle Duggar recorded robocalls against the ordinance, making ridiculous and offensive claims that the provision about gender identity was designed to allow male child predators to dress as women to gain access to young girls in female-only locker rooms.  Never mind that behavior of that type, regardless of the gender identity of the individual involved, is a criminal act that would ordinarily* garner serious prison time for the offender.

* - More on that in a moment.

Of particular importance in Mrs. Duggar's robocall was this statement:

I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child.
The Duggars are famous for the rules they impose on their children regarding dating.  One of those rules is that unmarried persons are not allowed to touch members of the opposite sex in most of the normal ways that teenagers who are dating touch each other--no kissing, no hand-holding, and certainly nothing more aggressive than that.

In my opinion--and it's only my opinion, of course--it is unrealistic to expect teenagers not to engage in any such activities.  By 13 or 14, and in some cases earlier, most teenagers have the physical maturity (though not the emotional maturity) to engage in sex.  Forcing teens to repress their natural physical urges creates emotional problems that manifest in a variety of different ways, many of which are extremely negative.

It would be one thing if the Duggars' attitude worked to produce happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids and, eventually, adults.  If so, the argument might be made that their attitude, their policy, is one of many reasonable choices.  And until yesterday, that argument had at least some validity.

Then it came out that the Duggars' eldest son, Josh, now 27 but then 15 or so, molested at least five younger girls, at least some of whom were family members.  The molestation involved the touching of unclothed breasts and genitals.  Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were aware of the molestation and sought to cover it up.  It was only when an outsider inadvertently discovered a letter about the molestation, and reported it to the Oprah Winfrey Show (which was about to do a feature on the family), that the police became involved.  Unfortunately, the statute of limitations applicable at the time had already run by the time law enforcement was notified, so no charges were filed.

I have seen the police report, which was heavily redacted to protect the identities of the minor children involved.  Despite the redactions, it is clear that the suspect, Josh Duggar, engaged repeatedly in this sort of behavior.

Josh Duggar resigned yesterday from his position with the Family Research Council, a DC-based hate group focused on opposing equal rights for homosexuals.

I take no glee in reporting these matters.  What happened to these girls was unfortunate and likely criminal, at least to the extent that it was not consensual (which would also depend in part on the age of the girls).  I have no idea what Josh Duggar's true heart is regarding sexual activities with young girls.  This may have been a poor choice driven by sexual confusion, or it may have been part of a proclivity toward this sort of behavior.  Hopefully we'll never know--because knowing for sure would mean that there were others.

But one thing we do know is that the Duggars have no business lecturing anyone about sexual matters.  The hypocrisy of their political positions regarding the Fayetteville ordinance and other matters is apparent and appalling.  That Josh Duggar could, with a straight face, lecture and lobby against homosexuals and equal rights--against people who are far better than he is, apparently--while knowing what he had done, knowing that he was a sexual offender, would in an ideal world be simply astonishing.

Of course, we don't live in an ideal world.  And neither do the Duggars.  It's time to stop acting as though they do.

UPDATE I:  TLC has pulled 19 Kids and Counting from their schedule.  I don't know if they were making new episodes, but I'd be surprised if the show returns.

UPDATE II:  My friend and neighbor Matt Campbell, who runs the excellent blog Blue Hog Report, notes the following in a Facebook post:

Let's do some math, just to really put a spotlight on how creepy and awful this Duggar stuff is.  The police report, dated 12/7/06 says that he touched the girls "about 3.5 years ago." Taken at face value, that puts it in June of 2003. There are also references to March 2002 for some of the actions as well. The court order from yesterday says that the victim who requested destruction of the police report is still a minor. To be a minor on May 21, 2015, the absolute latest she could have been born is May 22, 1997. Which means, of course, that at least one of the girls was no older than six when this occurred, and could have been much younger. Yet...the family just conveniently waited until after the statute of limitations on all of the crimes ran out before they went and told police about it?
 Creepy, indeed. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Darling, you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I'll be there till the end of time
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

- The Clash

About three years ago, Michelle and I saw an opportunity to return to Arkansas after a 15-year absence, and we took it.  North Carolina never really was a good fit for us.  Although we enjoyed some aspects of living there, it wasn't home, so we returned to Arkansas.

Coming home has been, on balance, a good move for us.  We've grown closer to our family.  We've renewed old friendships and started new ones.  As much as we love it here, however, something's missing.

I have spent most of my adult life thinking about the concept of possibility.  I have always trusted that things would work out, even when it wasn't easy to see how they would. That has put me into difficult positions at times.  But I have always stood on the "why not?" side of the "why/why not?" dichotomy.

There are many, many people in this state who are dedicated to the possible, to dreaming and planning for a future of prosperity.  Sadly, however, there are many, many more who aren't.  I have a hard time dealing with people who don't dream or think or hope for something better, who don't believe in self-empowerment and striving, who are content with the way things are--and who perhaps even prefer them.

It has saddened me to realize how many people believe that $13 per hour is a good wage in Arkansas for a person who has a college degree, something to be grateful for, when the economic reality is that it's barely a living wage.  It's appalling to hear people who are in a position to influence children--teachers, day care workers, social workers--say that they don't like reading or that math is hard.  And this state's obsession with superstition, such that it pervades all aspects of life, is puzzling.

At the last election, a majority of those who chose to vote flipped the R lever, favoring candidates who are heavily aligned with the moneyed interests--the Kochs, the Waltons, and so forth.  I will confess to being congenitally unable to understand how it is that people who have so little can believe that their lives will be made better by giving more to those who have the most already.

It doesn't make sense.

Are they hoping to survive on crumbs?

Yesterday, voters in my hometown declined to raise the property tax by 3.8 mills to fund construction of a new middle school, teacher salaries, new vocational training programs, and new athletic facilities.  If you live in that district and your house is worth $150,000, your property taxes would have gone up by about $9.50 a month--a very small increase, all things considered--and would have resulted in first-class educational facilities and programs.  The "anti" arguments mostly boiled down to "what we already have is good enough," something that's demonstrably false.

But even if it were true, I'm tired of "good enough."  I'm tired of swimming against the tide of mediocrity.  Maybe one day I'll come back.  But for now, I need something different.  So sometime in the next couple of months, Michelle and I will pack up our house and our dogs and head to Texas, specifically Dallas.

In many ways, it won't be any better than here.  There will still be those for whom education is an afterthought at best, who are religious nuts, who are Republicans. But I've spent a lot of time in Texas in the last few months, mostly for work, and what is clear to me is that there are an awful lot of folks who believe, as I do, that we can do better.  I've spent a lifetime resenting the arrogance of Texans, but the one thing you can say about them is that they don't believe in mediocrity.

Arkansas will always be home.  I will always be from here.  But I'm no longer of here.  I don't have the time or the energy to change the attitudes of people who, for better or worse, don't believe in themselves.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ready for Hillary--sort of

Now that there are a few declared candidates, the 2016 campaign season has begun in earnest.  And I don't mind telling you that my mind is made up.

Or, at least, it is extremely unlikely that the lever I will pull on November 8, 2016, is different from what I think today it will be.  There are some people who are bothered by that, and who want me to be bothered by that.

I'm a committed Democrat because I have a very clear vision for what I want this country to be.  I want America to be a place of broad-based economic prosperity, of individual freedom, of help for those who need it, of learning and innovation and respect for knowledge and science, and of genuine justice for all.  I take a long view, and that view is based on the realization that accomplishing those things requires consistently electing people who are committed broadly to the same things.

Like it or not, we have a two-party system in this country.  There are good points and bad points to that system, but it is the system we have and changing it doesn't help me further my goals for this country. 

So I know that for the 2016 Presidential election, I'll be voting for (electors pledged to) the Democratic nominee, whoever that might be.

All signs, including her logo, point to Hillary Clinton.  I like her very much as a person.  I know that she has spent a lifetime working to better the lives of people who need an advocate--children, the uninsured, and so forth.  She is smart, well spoken, and capable of a transformational presidency not unlike her husband had.

I didn't vote for her in 2008.  As it turns out, North Carolina (where I lived at the time) has a late primary, so by the time the primary election rolled around, Barack Obama had essentially sewn up the nomination.  He got my vote, but he would have gotten my vote regardless.

It's not too late, exactly, for someone else to get in the race on the D side.  But it seems unlikely.  Will Joe Biden run?  Maybe, but I just don't see much enthusiasm for his candidacy.  Lots of people want Elizabeth Warren to run.  I think she's possibly the best Democrat in Congress, and I would be thrilled with her as President.  But she's not running, period.  Bernie Sanders...he's a great guy, and I'm solidly aligned with his views, but he would be 75 years old at his inauguration.  And he describes himself as a socialist.  Martin O'Malley, former two-term governor of Maryland, might run.  Great guy, and again, I like him a lot.  But I don't know that he has the national stature needed to knock Hillary out of it, despite being the model for Tommy Carcetti, the ambitious councilman/mayor/governor from The Wire.  (Great series, by the way.  Well worth watching.  It was available on Amazon Prime Video at last check.)

I have my issues with Hillary.  Probably the biggest one is her close ties to Wall Street.  And she voted for war in Iraq--something for which she has apologized, however.  But most of my reservations have nothing to do with her and everything to do with the reaction of the Republicans to her presidency.  They have proven that they will do ANYTHING, up to and including burning the country to the ground, to stymie progress that deprives them of power.  I am fatigued of the treatment of President Obama; it will only get worse if she's elected.

But that's not really a reason to oppose her.  I doubt that the GOP would really react any differently to any Democrat I could stand.  And I've yet to encounter a Republican I could vote for.  So I suppose I'm ready for Hillary.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A declaration of war

Forget about what the law says.

Forget about what any of the laws say.

The text doesn't matter; the intent does.

In a few days, the 90th Arkansas General Assembly, the first since Reconstruction to operate with GOP majorities in both houses and the governor's mansion, will wrap up its business and adjourn sine die.  I would call this session ignominious if I thought that more than a handful of these legislators would know what that meant without consulting Webster's.

HB 1228, the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," has been merely the most prominent in a laundry list of Tea Party-initiated or -favored acts.  (This morning, Gov. Asa! Hutchinson, sensing a disturbance in the corporate force to which he owes his major allegiance, announced that he would be asking the General Assembly to "recall" HB 1228, or at least to "fix" it.  I suspect that Asa! knows that an outright veto would be hastily overridden by this radical legislature--it only takes a simple majority to override a governor's veto, which makes the governor pretty close to impotent.)

This season in Little Rock has seen attacks on Common Core, Obamacare, California's egg laws, workers, solar energy, history classes, and sexual minorities, among other targets.  And there is a common thread to all of it.

These are all acts in a war waged against progress and the future.

We've trod this ground before.

The building on the University of Arkansas campus that houses the admissions offices is named for Silas H. Hunt.  Aside from Razorback Stadium or Bud Walton Arena, this is often the building at the University that students first encounter.  It is the University's "best foot" put forward, because of who Silas H. Hunt was.

In 1948, a full six years before Brown v. Board of Education, Silas H. Hunt was admitted to the law school at the University of Arkansas.  This was a remarkable event because Hunt was black.  In fact, he became the first black student at any all-white Southern university since Reconstruction, and the first black graduate student at any all-white Southern university at all.  Thus began the desegregation of the University of Arkansas.

I do not mean to say that Hunt's time at Arkansas was a bed of roses or that he was in any fashion accepted as an equal.  He was prevented from taking classes designated for white students; instead, he was accommodated with special segregated classes in the basement of the law school (which white students were permitted to attend, and he was in fact joined by a handful of white students), at a time when "separate but equal" was still considered a reasonable position.*

* - Sadly, Hunt died of tuberculosis, a probable consequence of wartime wounds suffered at the Battle of the Bulge, in 1949.  The University awarded him a posthumous degree a few years ago.

As happy and amazing as it is, this story and the small change it wrought are dwarfed by the ugliness of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School not a decade later.  That, too, was part of the war against progress, made worse by a gutless governor caught between his constituency and the path of righteousness.  It took nearly four decades and the election of a progressive native son as President for us to shed that terrible incident as the prime mover of the general public's consciousness of Arkansas.  Others were worse, but we were bad enough.  It was a reputation that was tough to live down.

How much money and time and effort--how much human capital--was wasted fighting the inevitable future?  And how much more will we waste as we are forced by these sorry people to fight it today?

Men like Bob Ballinger and Jason Rapert and Justin Harris exist as legislators because we let them.  This war they are waging--they wage it because we enable them to do so.  The would-be voices of reason in the General Assembly are shouted down by buffoons like these, who love to playact, and whose favorite role is that of the boy with his finger in the dike, holding back the flood of modernity that has already swept most of our great nation.

There are many great things about this state--things I love dearly.  But damn! if there aren't problems that most direly need our attention.  We live in a land where a significant number of people believe that an 11-dollar-an-hour job with no benefits is something to be grateful for, where some people believe that dial-up internet is good enough for rural school districts, where the only thing standing between us and a theocracy is a thin line of court decisions.  It is no wonder that so many have gone mad for Jesus; he's the only brand that's offering much hope in Arkansas these days; too bad you have to leave this Earth to cash in on it.

I have always been a man of unbridled optimism.  I know that the road to prosperity and liberty is long and fraught with danger, but I have always believed that the journey is worth it and that we would get there.  I believe that we are just one good election away from real change to benefit the most and the poorest Arkansans.

But, boy, are they making it difficult.

Monday, March 30, 2015

On deaf ears

I was born here, and reared here, and I stayed for college here.  For law school, I went elsewhere because of a unique and wonderful opportunity. From law school I went to work in a place that was as much like here as I could find and still have the opportunities that were otherwise available to me.

And almost three years ago, I came back here to live.  I am and always have been an Arkansan, and even when I lived elsewhere I have never considered myself anything but.

The Arkansas of my youth was different from today.  Our politicians were genuine statesmen and stateswomen, Fulbright and Clinton and Pryor (the elder) and Bumpers, and numerous others, who valued balance and progress and intelligence.  We knew we were poor, but we knew we could do better.  We had, some of us, lived through perilous, ugly times, when our eyes were blackened, and when ignorance and hatred had made us for some hick backwater.  But it seemed for a time that we had managed to put that behind us.

During my fifteen-year absence, something changed.  I'm not sure whether it was me or the prevailing tenor of our public discourse, informed as it now is by religion, not reason.  The truth is that before I left, I was political; before I left, even though I was nominally a Christian I was not guided in any of my positions by religious duty; and before I left, I don't remember any of my contemporaries being particularly driven by that, either.

Somewhere along the way, while most of my hometown contemporaries grew up, they became what I can only charitably describe as religious zealots, driven as never before by an apparently pathological need to be seen by others as the Right Kind of Christian.  I suppose I could have found that change tolerable if the philosophy they espoused looked anything like that of Jesus himself.  These folks, however, follow a bastard form of Christianity--one that is fueled by piety and purity and status and in some cases the "prosperity" gospel first popularized by Oral Roberts and taken to new heights by Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, one that seeks to inject itself into the most private affairs of others and to use the law to punish those whose actions make them disfavored.

Incredibly, these people mark themselves as persecuted, even as they control all of the levers of state and local government and most of the levers of the federal government.

Much has been written about HB1228, a so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act."  There are many reasons why this legislation is not needed.  It will foster hatred of others.  It will cause us economic damage.  It will not make anyone more free and its absence will not make anyone less free.  It is this last aspect that I'd like to focus on.

 In one sense, I am in favor of legislation that respects the rights of individual Americans to make their own religious choices and to excuse them from the general application of a law when it would genuinely burden their sincere religious practices or beliefs.  In fact, I would appreciate some protections for my own religious choices, because my own religious beliefs, being in the minority in which they stand, are under virtually constant attack from the Christians who are pushing this legislation.

But not all ends of a means are equally justifiable.  Standing in context, HB1228 is not designed to meet the laudable goal of making Arkansans more free in the general sense.  It is designed to provide cover for those who would do harm to disfavored minorities--particularly including sexual minorities including homosexuals, bisexuals, and the transgendered--out of a misguided sense that doing so somehow pleases Jesus.

Like it or not--and I like it, because I love freedom--we are living in an America today that has changed.  We are on the cusp of finally fulfilling the promise of our forefathers, that all of us are created equal, even as we are different, and that each of us meets the law and society on our own terms as Americans.  What has brought us there is not a law or a principle, but the recognition among a majority of Americans that our great nation belongs to us all, and that we must not use the instrumentalities of that nation to set apart a second, inferior class of American based on the different choices they make or characteristics that they possess.

Even in Arkansas, those who would oppose the growth of our American civilization to the mark set out at its start are in the minority.  And those of us who believe, as I do, that our great American principles mean something have, to be frank, grown tired of all of this yammering to the contrary.

The freedom of religion does not mean the right to discriminate in public accommodations or in ordinary commerce.  Freedom of religion means, in one sense, the right to confine the things that you do, or do not do, to your own conscience.  I am sick to death of this analogy, but I am compelled by the argument to comment on it:  If you are in the business of baking wedding cakes, then you can choose the conditions under which you will work based on the dictates of your individual conscience--for example, refusing to work on Sunday, if that is your sincere religious practice--but you must take all comers for the commercial transaction of cake-selling.  That is the only way that this works.  If you believe that baking a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding is a sin, then it's time to stop baking wedding cakes.

In another part of the standard analogy, the proponents of this legislation ask, why can't a Jewish deli owner be compelled to sell a ham-and-cheese sandwich to a customer who wants one?  This is a false analogy.  The deli owner (of any religion) who doesn't stock a particular meat doesn't sell that meat to anyone out of his own choice.  The more apt analogy would be a deli owner who will sell ham to customers to feed to their dogs but not to customers who want to eat it.  It is not the right of the vendor to interject himself into the customer's end of the transaction and impose his own moral views on their activities.

I have no problem with anyone for their own religious practices.  If you want to deprive yourself of something for religion's sake, that's your choice.  If you want to refrain from gambling at Oaklawn because you believe it is sinful, or if you want to want to abstain from alcohol out of religious duty, or if you want to carry on with an unwanted pregnancy because you believe abortion is wrong, then carry on.  You'll get no argument from me.

The problem isn't religious practice.  The problem is the earnest and insatiable desire of religious zealots to use the power of the government to impose their religious values on others.  That's at the root of HB1228 and of countless other pieces of legislation that have spewed forth from the 90th General Assembly.  What these people are doing and advocating might be entirely in conformity with what they believe their god calls them to do, but it is entirely at odds with what it means, fundamentally, to be an American in a free society.

Liberty is a blessing, but it comes with the caveat that if we are all free, some of us will do things that others of us don't like.  It is incumbent upon us as Americans to know where the line is drawn, between individual choices and the imperatives of civilization, and to set up our laws so as to balance the two to maximize the utility of the liberty that we all share.

I know it will fall on deaf ears, but I call on the governor to veto this piece of legislation. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Arkansas state Rep. Justin Harris (R-Northwest Wackoville) has been in the media recently.  The facts of his current fame are as follows:  Harris's day job involves running a nominally Christian day care center.  Harris and his wife adopted two young girls some time ago, in the process apparently applying pressure to the Arkansas Department of Human Services to complete the adoption.

Unfortunately, the adoption didn't work out, for reasons that have not been made clear.  Rather than getting help dealing with the situation, Harris and his wife "re-homed" the girls--in other words, abandoned them to the care of someone else--with a former employee...who proceeded to rape the older girl, 6.  The employee's now at the long end of a 40-year prison term; he pled guilty as part of an agreement that will keep him locked up for just shy of the maximum term.

Recently, some top-notch, maybe Pulitzer-worthy* reporting by the Arkansas Times's Benjamin Hardy brought these facts to light. Unsurprisingly, Harris has sought to cast himself in the role of victim, claiming that the two girls posed a danger to his older children, and that re-homing was necessary to protect his family.  He also claims that he could not go back to DHS with these problems because he was being threatened with a child abandonment charge if he did.

* - That's not hyperbole.  I hope his article series gets submitted for consideration.

At this point, I've lost my capacity for astonishment.  Whether it's Tom Cotton writing petulant letters to the Ayatollah Khamenei on Constitutional law, or the Legislature actively seeking ways to harm their constituents, I simply cannot be surprised by the depths of depravity to which the modern Republican Party has sunk.  (Maybe it's not fair to tar all Republicans with that brush, but, then again, they choose to be Republicans.)

And yet...the Harris case is world-class.  I find myself asking how this man can possibly plan to continue as a legislator.  I can't find anyone who's coming to his defense on the merits of anything he did.  The best anyone seems to be able to offer is "He made some mistakes."

Even so, I had gotten used to the idea that someone could (a) show little if any remorse for having turned over his children to a rapist, (b) continue to cash support checks provided by the State even after he had turned over this children, (c) portray himself as the victim in all of this, and (d) stay in office as a legislator.  That last bit may not be entirely up to him--he can be expelled by a two-thirds vote of the House--but it's the wanting to stay that ought to surprise us.

But then it came out yesterday that the principal reason he re-homed his children was that he thought they were possessed by demons.

Let that sink in just a bit.

I know, right?  Demons.

Now, people like Justin Harris have been hard at work trying to roll back the calendar.  The 1950s have been a popular target, aiming as they are for a time when discrimination was OK, and women were kept barefoot and pregnant, and abortion was a crime.  But Harris's reliance on the existence of demons as an explanation for behavior is more at home in the 1590s.

So, I never thought it would be necessary to say these things, but here goes:

Demons aren't real.

Nothing possessed those little girls, nor anyone else.

Perhaps they have some problems that caused them to behave poorly. Maybe they were even dangerous to themselves or to others, although it's hard to conceive of a 6-year-old doing much real damage to anyone.  And good grief, the fact that they were in the DHS system indicates that something has gone terribly wrong.

But they were not under the control of any supernatural force, because there are no supernatural forces.

I try very hard not to criticize people for believing in supernatural forces.  If you need that for your life to have meaning, or to behave the right way, or to keep yourself from abusing alcohol or drugs or whatever, or because you've been told that terrible things will happen to you after you die if you don't believe, then I'm not going to criticize you even though I don't believe in those things.  The truth is that there are a lot more people who believe (or profess to believe) in supernatural forces than who don't, especially in this state, and it is often easier to go along to get along, to believe rather than to do the hard work of living in the real world.

But mostly it's an excuse--an excuse for behaving badly, or for not doing something you should, or for doing something you shouldn't, or for general incuriousness about the world.

And when it results in the chain of events that led to this horrible outcome, enough is enough.  He's living in a dream world.

If you believe in the existence and influence of "demons" in worldly affairs, then you have no business making decisions that affect other people.  Not as a legislator especially.  If all of the other factors weren't enough, then that one ought to be. Justin Harris should resign.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

High Cotton

"Treason doth never prosper. What's the reason? Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason."
-- Sir John Harington

I led off with that quote for a couple of reasons.  First, even though he misspelled his own name, Sir John was an interesting character.  He was a courtesan during the reign of Elizabeth I, a talented and perceptive writer (as the epigram shows), and the inventor of a flush toilet (not "the" flush toilet, per se, as examples preceded him by centuries).  Second, our junior Senator has managed to fling a large turd into the Washington punch bowl, for which Sir John's invention might be of some use.

*    *    *

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) grabbed the headlines yesterday with a letter, co-signed by 46 of his Republican senate colleagues, to the government of Iran.  In the letter, he lectured Iran's government on the American constitutional system, noting that any agreement that might be signed by President Obama but not approved by the Congress could be revoked with the stroke of a pen by a future President.

Sen. Cotton no doubt imagines himself in that chair one day, and as much confidence as he has that he can get there, I am even more confident that he will be out of luck on that point.

(As a side note, I've been away from this blog for a considerable time due to work commitments, but I had to write on this subject.)

I offer a few comments on all of this.

First, I'm sure that Sen. Cotton is proud of his effort, but the letter itself strikes me as petulant and condescending.  Perhaps Sen. Cotton imagines the Iranians as uneducated camel-humpers, but Iran is a place of civilization and culture.  Many of the people in the Iranian government are well educated, almost technocratic, and certainly up to date not only on their own laws but also on ours.  The Iranian Constitution was based on that of the French Fifth Republic, with notable influences from our own Constitution in the structure and organization of government.  The Iranian government is overlaid with a clerical system that makes it an Islamic theocracy, but it is a functioning democracy that retains religious protections for non-Muslims--at least, those whose religions were established before Islam.

Second, this sort of effort is sadly typical of a certain party.  Leaving aside the cottage industry that Sen. John McCain has made of personal diplomacy of a most erroneous sort (most recently, he suggested arming Syrian rebels who later turned out to be the founders of the purported "Islamic State," also known as ISIL or ISIS), Richard Nixon's private diplomacy likely torpedoed a peace agreement with North Vietnam in 1968, and there are persistent rumors that Ronald Reagan offered a deal to the Iranians in exchange for their refusal to release the hostages in 1980.

Notwithstanding the headline in the New York Daily News, this letter does not amount to treason.  The crime of treason is defined in the Constitution:  Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.  This doesn't meet that definition.

But private diplomacy is against one of our oldest laws, the Logan Act, which provides:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.
 (18 U.S.C. § 953.)

This letter, as it is intended, almost certainly violates that act, which is a felony punishable by three years in prison.

Which brings us to the point:  Why send this letter at all?

Perhaps it was sent to grab attention, but more likely, the intent was to disrupt the sensitive negotiations among the U.S., Iran, the United Nations, and others, the goal of which is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The cynic in me wants to believe that Cotton's motivation is merely to deny the President a diplomatic triumph.  If there is any operative political rule in this country, since January 20, 2009, that rule has been that if Obama is for something, the Republicans are against it. 

But I'd really prefer to believe that they wouldn't be such children about something so important.  The problem with that is this:  They must then be genuinely stupid or malicious, and I'm not sure which is worse.

If their goal really is, as they say, to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians, then the likeliest way to do that is to support these talks.  The aim of these talks is to get Iran to give up their nuclear programme for a long period, which certainly aids the purported goal.  Undermining the talks does the opposite of what they say they want.

But maybe their goal isn't to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.  We know that the GOP has had a boner for war with Iran for a long time.  You only have to listen to this YouTube clip to know that.  The truth is that a diplomatic solution in Iran will make war far less likely, thereby undermining the GOP's goal of lining defense contractors' pockets to run the perpetual war machine.

On second thought, that's not (just) malicious.  It's depraved.

I have no confidence that Cotton will see any legal consequences from this.  And maybe the Logan Act is a very old law that doesn't serve a modern purpose.  But there should be political consequences for this depraved act.  If the media can tear themselves away from the Hillary Clinton email issue for a few moments, maybe there will be.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Those radicals

Happy New Year, everyone.

I've been wrapped up in Real Life lately, so there hasn't been much writing (here or elsewhere), and the truth is that giving this subject the treatment it deserves would take more time than I really have.  But I didn't want to let any more time pass without a few words.  As always, my stick is sharpened, ready to poke you into a different perspective.

Yesterday a truly awful thing happened in Paris.  Three men armed with assault rifles and other weapons entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper well known for skewering, well, everybody.  As it turns out, there are some very radical fundamentalist Muslims who can't take a joke, and a handful of them shot a lot of people, most of them to death, for the crime of drawing and publishing funny pictures of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

Every reasonable person in the world condemns this sort of violence, but, then again, it's sort of a tautology.  If you think it's proper and appropriate to use assault rifles to attack unarmed people in an office building because you don't like some things they said about you or your religion, then by definition, you're not a reasonable person.  Add me to the list of people who condemn this sort of violence, and this act of violence in particular.

But if that were all I had to say about it, I wouldn't have said anything at all.  You don't need me to tell you those things; you already know them.

An interesting thing happened yesterday.  Political cartoonists in particular, but lots of other people who express opinions for a living, rose up yesterday in solidarity against these extremists.  Many of them extended their ire to all Muslims.  A few people who had always been careful to separate the extremists from mainstream Muslims (who abhor this violence just as everyone else does) decided to abandon the distinction.  These acts were unspeakable and inexplicable.  When we are confronted by acts that we cannot explain through normal reason, the human tendency is to conclude that the perpetrators--and all those associated with them, even loosely--are driven into action by a mental defect.

I have no idea whether it was the motivation of those behind the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, but they managed to succeed in uniting people of many previously diverse opinions in an increasingly negative view of Islam.  (Perhaps they wish to provoke a war.  Perhaps they think a war is already raging.)  I read a report earlier that grenades had been tossed today at a Paris mosque.  This is also a terrible act, no doubt a response from people who were themselves radicalized by the violence at Charlie Hebdo.

Now, let's consider for a moment that you are a peaceful Muslim living in Iraq in 2003 or Afghanistan in 2001.  You abhor violence and terrorism.  You are focused on feeding, clothing, and housing your family.  Then, one day, you turn on your television and you see video of an American drone bombing a family wedding--a group of peaceful people, celebrating a wonderful event in their family life, which is turned to death and destruction.  Perhaps you know some of the dead.  Maybe you're related to them.  Or maybe not.  But you definitely see this act as unspeakable and inexplicable.

Doesn't that make your peace-loving self hate the America that would do these things?  Maybe you can rationalize it as a mistake.  But it probably doesn't matter; even if the Americans didn't do this intentionally, they were careless and that was intentional.

What we do, even in defense of this great nation, has consequences.  When we kill, we radicalize the survivors, just as we ourselves are radicalized when others kill our friends and allies.  We owe it to ourselves to be deliberate about what we do in our own defense, to consider the consequences of our actions, and to be certain that what we are doing is worth the real cost. 

I expect that those who murdered the satirists at Charlie Hebdo have made a grave error in judgment.  France is already uneasy with its large Muslim population, and it has a history of taking actions to crack down on what it deems non-French identity.  France is unencumbered by the constitutional guarantees that at least nominally protect Muslims in this country from such a crackdown.  This is most likely a catalyzing moment for change that will not end well for the broader Muslim population of France.