Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Check Your Privileged" is evil.

Sometime before April 2006, an autocratic idiot, possibly at came up with an incredibly  evil concept. They coined the phrase "check your privilege" in a rather inept attempt to explain to racists that the reason why blacks, latinos, women, lbgt, non-christians, etc. etc. do poorly is because of systematic biases that do not affect tall, white, straight christian male Americans.

Some people still think it is a socially acceptable way to explain things.  Let me be clear, those people are wrong.  It does not in any way explain anything to a prejudiced person.  It makes things worse.  Yes, often people that have never had their rights violated do not understand how pervasive the problem is.  But using the word privilege makes it harder, not easier, for them to understand the problem.

This is partly because it is often used as an insult, but that is a side issue.

It is NOT a 'privilege' to:

  • Walk down the street without being catcalled.
  • Not be stopped by a police officer for walking/driving/standing while black, latino, etc.
  • Wear my religious gear, including artifacts of faith - such as a kirpan blade.
  • Get a mortgage based on my financials without regard to race, gender, etc.
  • Get married to the man/women of my choice without regard to my own gender

Those are not privileges. These are Rights.  Constitutional Rights in America, Chartered Rights in Canada, Human Rights in England, etc.

When you call these things as privileges, not rights you are saying these violations are not so bad.  You are saying that certain people get the advantage of not having to deal with them.   These things do not happen to tall, white, straight christian male Americans but that is not an unearned privilege that can/should be taken away from them, putting them in the same place as minorities.

That is the idea of an autocratic, dictatorial tyrant, not a democracy.

When you talk about "privileges" in this manner, including the incredibly obnoxious phrase "Check  Your Privilege", you are being totalitarianist.  You are making the problem worse, not better.

Anyone using the words "Check Your Privilege" is worse than the racists they are talking to.    The racist may not be aware of rights being violated, but at least they know Rights exist.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

In Defense of PACs

Political Action Committees are almost universally despised.

They allow politicians to avoid responsibility for 'their' advertisements, raise ridiculous amounts of money, and have a history of poor use of the funds.  (Some of them have been accused of diverting money raised for political speech into the hands of the people that run the PAC).

While all this is true, I have recently come to see certain benefits to PACs.  I'm not entirely sure (yet) that PAC's are not evil, but here are the ideas I have been mulling over.

1) PACS, while they may increase (or at least maintain) the big money in politics, put a wall up between the politicians and the money.   Which means large donations to PACs can not hide the kind of outright corrupt bribery made famous by Boss Tweed.   While the money may still be stolen for non-political speech, it will be stolen by the people running the PAC, not the politician.  The politicians may still be corrupt, but we have cut out at least one major method of them stealing from the people.

2)  Attack ads are not anything new, they have always been around.   While the PAC's do protect the politicians from blame, it also allows truly ethical people to run.   At one point in time a saintly man could NOT win an election because he could never get down and dirty enough to beat the devilish men willing to do or say anything.   Some people think this is why McCain lost the 2000 GOP Primary (Bush's people accused him, among other things of being the father of his adopted black child, while McCain said nothing that bad about Bush).  The existence of PACs allow a saintly man to run and still win, if only because his less saintly allies can act without his knowledge or permission.  

Let's assume that PACs are here to stay.  What can we do to make our elections fair while keeping the PACs.

  1. Start actually enforcing strict "no cooperation" rules.   If you run a PAC, you can never talk to anyone connected to a political campaign you are funding.  Not on the phone, not in person.  Put in an exception for listening to public addresses (speeches, ads, etc.)
  2. Require that only US citizens election may donate to a PACs.   Foreigners, and corporations (which may be secretly owned by foreigners) are not allowed to donate to a PAC - but they may of course independently pay for their own advertisements.  
  3. Require the PAC to list on their website - WITHIN ONE DAY, any donation that exceeds $10,000 and whose name was on the check.  We can set this to some other limit, such as the cut off for the lowest possible tax bracket, currently about $9,000.  When you check your bank account on-line you see it that same day, no reason we can't do a similar rule using modern technology.  Free Speech is a legal right - but there is NO right to anonymous free speech.  
  4. Make a "No Shouting" rule.   Limit spending by any one PAC to more than 1/2 as much the second candidate raised.   Money may be speech, but we don't let one person monopolize the conversation.  Both candidate's speech should be far more important than someone that isn't running.  Similarly, no person may contribute more than that same limit to PACS - so no one can give 1 billion to two PACs that proceed to each spend the maximum allowed.
If we enact these rules, PACs lose a lot of the problems we have with them.  No more will US politics be dominated by anonymous speech from the wealthy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Obama's successes

Obama's successes are fairly well known (and despised by the GOP).

The death of Bin Laden, the passage (and sustance) of the Health Care bill, and the two Supreme Court Judges, and the destruction of DOMA

In addition, he dealt a near mortal blow to Fox News, by proving them oh so very, very wrong about his election.  

It is looking more and more to me like he will also get a win major immigration reform.

The reason he has won is that the GOP is dysfunctional.  They got caught up in the idea of beating the liberals at all costs, even at the cost of what's good for the country.

As such, they moved very far to the right, so as to avoid compromising in any way shape or form. 

The thing is, as much as this ensures that the President will be a Democrat for the foreseeable future (at least the next presidential election - the GOP continues to push candidates that have no chance of winning), it is bad for the country.

The US needs a loyal opposition, not just an opposition.  The entire concept of Democracy depends upon it.

We need a Republican Party to yell at the Democrats for letting the NSA invade privacy.  We need a Republican Party to yell at government agencies from time to time, just to keep them honest.

We need a Republican Party to ensure that we get the best possible Democratic candidate, and not just some schlub that knows the right people.

And honestly, the GOP needs us Democrats as well.  Without our shining example, they would continue to believe their favorite lies - chief among them is that Americans like the GOP's political philosophy.

But most importantly, the GOP needs as incentive to raise their game.  They need to forget about the Minor leagues (state governments) and get back into the Majors.  They need to focus upon the things that americans focus on.  

Instead of letting the Democrats steel Healthcare right out from under their presidential nominee and make it our issue, they could have made it their issue.  They failed.  They failed BIG time when it came to healthcare.

Honestly, what they really, truly need is for the GOP to take David Frum's advice.

Specifically, they need to get rid of their sacred cows, talk about income inequality, deal with environmental issues instead of deny them, accept Healthcare, and stop labeling Obama as the devil incarnate. 

Because quite frankly, at this point it is obvious to all Democrats and quite a few independents that Obama is a very good President and their attempts make them look as stupid and out of touch as a Holocaust denier.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Interesting take on China

There is an interesting speech given by Eric X Li at TED.

In it he offers five basic statements:

  1. Democracy is not for everyone
  2. China does quiet well with it's non-democratic, Bureaucracy
  3. Bureaucracy is not for everyone either
  4. Democracy has it's own problems that China doesn't.
  5. China does have some problems but it is working to solve them and will succeed.

I agree with the first three.   I don't believe Democracy is for everyone.   To have an effective Democracy you truly need many things, including but not limited to an intelligent, educated public.   You can't run a democracy with people that are too stupid and uneducated enough to sell their votes cheaply.

China has been doing well in large part because it has a path to follow, blazed by the west.  Bureaucracies don't innovate well, but they follow very well.  As long as they are behind the west, they can follow at breakneck speed.  But they can't innovate.

Which of course is why I agree with part 3.

Now for the last two.  Those I find to be laughable.   All the problmes that US democracies have, China has as well, they just don't publicize them.

Key problems that the US currently has include Congressional stagnation caused by dramatically different political views.  China has that as well, they just cover it up by letting one side win and burying their opponents.  

Other issues that the US deals with include things heavily involved with morality, of which China ignores one side completely.   Whether it's homosexuality, abortion, torture, we lead the way on issues they sweep under the rug.

Ignoring an issue is not dealing with it.  The US looks so combative because we face the major issues head on, rather than sweeping the other side under the rug.

He brags about China's leader's experience, and the lack compared to US politicians.  Experience is the enemy.  We want innovative solutions, not the same old stuff.  We want new blood, which is why terms like maverick, new blood, outside the beltway, are all positive terms.

Honestly, if we already knew the solution, then it is easy to solve the problem.  That is why bureaucracy works so well in those situations.

But the US is not following the path of another country. We are blazing the path. China is, to use a  Nascar analogy, drafting behind us.    We solve problems that NO ONE knows the solution to.   To do that, you need the innovative power of Democracy, not Bureacracy.

Mr. Li. knows a lot about China's history.  But fails to understand why it has succeeded.  He fails to recognize that it's success is on the back of the work done by the West.   Just as we taught them how to make cars, computers, etc, we also taught them how to run a country.  

He thinks China will continue it's growth.  He predicted that China will become the largest economy in the world.  That is likely - population counts.  He also predicts it will do well on a per capita basis, that is not going to happen.   When you pass the lead car, you can no longer draft, and that's the only economical technique they know how to do.  They can't get anywhere near us without the drafting.  I can see their per capita rising to about half of what the US will have, but not much more than that.

He thinks corruption will be curbed but not eliminated.   That is likely.  He also thinks they will do a good job of curbing.  I doubt that.  Their system by it's very nature lends itself to corruption.   Bureaucracy is not good about curbing it's corruption.  Their culture and system is about respect, not challenge, which lets corruption flourish.

He also thinks that economic reform will accellerate.  I disagree.  It is already near the economy they are drafting against, they have to put on the brakes to avoid cruising past the west's car.

He also thinks political reform will continue, which is a given, and the one party system will hold firm, which I also agree is likely to happen.  It takes a generation to realize your mistake, and they haven't made the mistake yet.  China has at least 40 years of one party system left to go.   

Not because their system works so well, but because they are blind to the fact that they are drafting behind the west's economies.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Surpreme Court Decisions.

There are three interesting Supreme Court decisions I want to talk about.  Two of which I agree with and one is clearly a bad decision by 5 out of 9 judges.

First the bad decision.  SCOTUS had no business tearing apart the Voting Rights Act.  (Huffington Post News story)

They specifically declared the formula in Section 4 unconstitutional. "The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

Specifically they said that our country has changed and they the formula must be updated.

This is a bad decision because they admitted that at one time the formula was good.   Roberts said  "Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions"

But you see, that is CONGRESS's decision, not the Courts.  The court is there to determine if the Congress overstepped it's bounds, NOT to determine if they did a good job or a bad job.  If Congress has the power to  make that determination, they have the right to do so poorly.

Honestly, I believe that Congress should simply say, screw it, EVERYONE has to be subject to jurisdiction for preclearance.   That is, every single state and every single county should be forced to ask the DOJ if their voting procedures are racist.

It would end a lot of vile and corrupt practices, such as gerrymandering.

Second, the good news.  SCOTUS said that the Federal Government must recognize the Marriage of Gays, done by states.  Gays are people too, and as such have the rights to obtain the legal status of married, with all the tax, medical, etc. benefits. (CBS news story)

This is fairly obvious and not that surprising.  Scalia himself predicted it would happen 10 years ago  - although he was too preejudiced to understand it is a good thing.  He was kind of like an old racist from the 1860's saying "Why if we free the slaves, they might marry our white people."  Yes, his prediction was true but he was too prejudiced, and frankly, illogical to see that it was not a bad thing.

Thirdly, the Supreme Court also confirmed a lower courts decision that said being homeless does not mean you are not allowed to own anything.  Specifically they stated that the state of California could not take the possessions of homeless people and destroy them simply because they were on 'public grounds' and the homeless people had stepped away from them (to go to the bathroom or get on a food line.)  (Death and Taxes Blog)

Note, California had previously stolen and destroyed such possessions including identification (such as driver licenses, social security cards, etc.) and cellphones (if you don't have an address, a cellphone is vitally important to stay in touch with people.)

Frankly it was a rather evil attempt by the state of California and not that surprising that the Supreme Court sided with the homeless people.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Obama Should Pardon Edward Snowden

First, for purposes of this article (and only this article), I am going to make a false assumption.

We will presume that the NSA's actions are entirely legal, appropriate and in no way an invasion of privacy or an abridgement of American rights. Edward Snowden has clearly committed a crime of treason and by all rights should go to prison.

Now, given that 'fact', I still say President Obama should pardon Edward Snowden, with certain conditions (specifically he must return to the US to answer questions in front of a closed session of congress and no longer talk tot he press about anything that happened prior to his pardon, and agree to never again reveal any information whatsoever about his work for the US government).

Why should we do this?

First, given the situation with Julian Assange, we already know the likely outcome for Snowden.  Most likely he will remain outside of US clutches, in the worst case locked up in an embassy of a foreign country. If we offer a pardon, we can at least avoid the embarrassment of having another Assange case out there.  Ending bad publicity is itself worth it.

Second, obtaining him will not end the issue, it will instead make it worse.  If we get him back it will look like we are holding a political prisoner, even if (as we presumed in this article) he is a traitor to this country and deserves no less than life in prison.

Third, capturing him will in not way discourage others from following in his footsteps.  Instead it will do the opposite.  Look, this is no man selling secrets to obtain a better life.  He had a better life and gave it up for principle.  He (and many others in this country) considers himself a patriot willing to give a six-figure job, a model girlfriend, and a home in Hawaii, all to fight the nasty evil dictatorship.  It doesn't matter that he is wrong and the US is a benevolent democracy.  He (and those that agree with him) considers himself to be Nathan Hale.  He regrets that he has but one life of pleasure to give up for his country.

You do not discourage heroes by imprisoning them.  That ENCOURAGES them to fight on.     The people that think we need to discourage copy cats are right - but trying to put Snowden in prison will not in any way discourage them. 

Fourth, the way you convince honest, honorable men to lay down arms is to offer them trust and forgiveness, not jail.  It discourages others by making them look stupid, not heroic.  What, the hero is bravely standing up to fight against the injustice of being told he is pardoned and can go on his way????

Fifth, it would stand as a beacon to other countries showing them the fair, democratic way to handle dissent.  By pursuing Snowden we give China, Iran, and other countries moral standing. See, the US is no better than they are, we have our own 'political prisoners'.   By pardoning Snowden, we show them that a truely powerful country can handle a bit of dissent - as opposed to dissenters as criminals, we forgive and forget.

Sixth, we get control of the situation back. He will have to agree to certain conditions, we get to question him and we can stop further leaks of information other countries may want.

I see little if any upside from pursuing a criminal case against Snowden.  I see huge international political capital to be generated if we pardon him.

Monday, June 17, 2013

We don't need Morphine, we have Asprin????

One in a while I see people complaining about the problems of major bulwarks of our civil defense, often using the existence of other, relatively minor legal protections as an excuse to get rid of our most important rights.  For example some claims that we don't need the fifth amendment because we have laws against torture and unreasonable punishment.

But you see, the rules against torture are actually rather weak  I would call them paper thin..  Government torture happens all the time.   I am not just talking about being water boarded by the CIA, I am talking about police officers routinely using pain on criminals.  Part of the problem is that the line between torture and other, reasonable activities is rather blurry.  Hit a guy?  Is it torture, self defense, or an accident?   Or perhaps you were trying to get him to obey a reasonable order.

The fifth amendment however is a huge giant wall, one or the strongest protections we have. Punish a guy for not answering a question, that's a fifth amendment violation.  We easily see that and know it is wrong.

Lets talk a bit more about the thin line between torture and legal activities.  Cops love Tasers and they don't restrict them to preventing violence.    In fact, the very famous line "Don't Tase me Bro."  came from such an incident.  The guy was not a danger to anyone, he simply was refusing to cooperate with the police.  He wouldn't leave an event, and wouldn't give up the microphone.  (Source)

The cops tased him not because he was a threat, but to force him to obey.  They caused him pain and physically controlled him.  Some would say that is torture.  They hurt him to convince him to obey.   They didn't put hand cuffs on him first, they made no attempt at all to control him without pain, they moved directly to pain.  

Torture is not used just to get information.  As per the US legal definition:

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

Tasers are supposed (i.e the company says their purpose is to) to be used not to obtain compliance, but to deal with dangerous situations.  As per Wikipedia:

"Tasers were introduced as non-lethal weapons to be used by police to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous people, who would have otherwise been subjected to more lethal weapons such as a firearm."

Instead, they are often used as 'pain compliance' devices.  The difference between pain compliance and torture?   If you are under the control of the cop, it is torture.  If you are not yet under their control, it is pain compliance.  Who decides if you are under their control?  The cop.  With no second judging of his decision.
Torture is a relative word.  Hence the controversy under George Bush where moronic lawyers tried to argue that water boarding is not torture.   But there are many circumstances where torture is perfectly legal.   It is easy and COMMONPLACE for cops to claim you were resisting arrest and therefore use pain compliance.

They can even make that claim if you are already arrested, in handcuffs, in prison, and on the floor crying. They just have to claim you were not complying.

The fifth amendment is the big gun.  It is the brick wall.  Other laws are the small arms, the velvet rope.  We can't depend on the rope line to hold back the cops, we need the brick wall.

In part because if we have the brick wall, as opposed to just a rope line, it lets the cops slam you up against the brick wall, without worrying about going over it by mistake.  If we have just a rope line, then cops will mistakenly cross it.

You don't demolish the brick wall because we have a velvet rope.  You don't get rid of morphine because we have aspirin.  The Fifth Amendment, which protects US citizens from self-incrimination is the strong protection and we must keep it that way.

It doesn't just stop torture, it stops many other problems caused by the police.  For example it stops the government from punishing you for not revealing something that you don't know (no matter how much they THINK you know it.  It also helps stop the government from learning things they have no right to know - such as your sexual orientation, accidentally or on purpose.  
Similarly, laws against excessive prosecution are not enough.   We need some ways to incentive criminals, some discretion by the government.   Given that we want to the cops to be able to talk to the criminals, and even bribe/punish them, we need strong laws that stop them from going too far.   If the cops won't even let you remain silent, that's going too far.  Honestly, if we really need the information, we can always offer immunity.

If immunity is not worth the trade, then don't demand they speak.