Archives for: March 2012
As the Trayvon Martin controversy splinters into a debate about self-defense, a central question remains: Who was heard crying for help on a 911 call in the moments before the teen was shot?
A leading expert in the field of forensic voice identification sought to answer that question by analyzing the recordings for the Orlando Sentinel.
His result: It was not George Zimmerman who called for help.
The initial milquetoast official response to the Treyvon Martin slaying has provoked national outrage and some isolated grossly irresponsible actions. Did Spike Lee actually apologize for publicizing the wrong address? His reputation is that of a thoughtful director and sometime actor. Surely he doesn't think his moral culpability is limited to a factual error. Tommy Christopher of Mediaite fame explores a dark corner of the irresponsible edges of conservatism. He calls out a right wing aggregation contained in "a one-stop shop by Human Events‘ John Hayward" and diligently chases down one conspiracy theory after another. What I like about Tommy Christopher is that he reports, as do most journalists, the he-said-she-said. But then he goes past much of contemporary journalism to document whatever turns out to be the facts - what journalism once was all about. You know. The truth.
At the heart of the far-edge campaign against the slain teen is a theory that accepts an unusual way of looking at the world. They reject the commonly held explanation as an absurdity: that an armed adult notices a stranger, assumes that evil is color coded, that a young black teen on his way home to watch a football game is actually a desperate criminal, confronts the young man, and kills him. They instead adopt an alternate theory. The teenager, rushing home to a basketball game, in a strange coincidence, notices the same older, heavier adult, impulsively attacks him, and is killed. Both happened to notice each other at the same time. Each is motivated to confront the other. One is armed with a gun. The other with skittles. Extreme conservative FUNGAZI.COM comes out of several months dormancy to accept that theory as fact. Young Treyvon's death is a tragedy, but, now that the truth is out, we know he pretty much had it coming.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster is kind of down at President Obama's halfhearted response to the killing of Treyvon Martin. I'm thinking it could be a caution about a fair trial. A lesson may be learned from President Nixon.
Conservative Chuck at Chuck Thinks Right is plenty upset at Spike Lee for publishing a wrong address of the man who killed Treyvon Miller. This was before a public apology. I sometimes wonder if it occurs to anyone that Lee would have been flat out wrong if he had posted the correct address.
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot calculates the odds of Mitt Romney becoming the GOP nominee. I'm less precise, using the quarter and shoe rule. I'd be willing to bet twenty five cents cash money on Rick Santorum, but I wouldn't bet my shoes.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST, continues with his series considering the bumper sticker version of popular conservative beliefs about President Obama. If he isn't a socialist or a fascist, just what is President Obama?,
Michael John Scott of Mad Mike's America suggests the possibility that Rick Santorum barely stopped himself from publicly using a racial slur in describing President Obama. I'm skeptical. The video Michael shows is strongly suggestive, but candidates do make a lot of stumbles. Some are bound to sound like something they aren't.
Ryan (I'm almost positive) at Secular Ethics presents as alternate options, a series of possible arguments for Obamacare. My own minor objection to his approach is that the options are not all mutually exclusive. Good analysis. Clear, instructive, well written.
Kent Pittman, writing from Open Salon is not making a rigid legal argument. He points out that if the Supreme Court kills Obamacare, it will take the form of a murder case for some folks who will not have medical care. Some will die.
The Heathen Republican presents the conservative case against the United Nations. I'm following his reasoning until he gets to an implicit argument that mutual defense treaties like those setting up NATO are unconstitutional, as are treaties establishing agencies like the IMF to advance the economies of impoverished countries. I've always thought the pre-Cain 222 plan of the founders: Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, was pretty clear about treaties.
In some part of the world, Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims regard each other as Ireland's protestants and Catholics once did, with extremists spawning violence. Slant Right's John Houk continues to take shortcuts, declaring that Islam is the enemy of Western culture and that only "Left Wing Multiculturalists" are "in denial of this fact." He reprints an anti-Islamic rant from FrontPage Magazine as evidence. Sigh.
gil mann at Rumproast is more than a little irritated at Jimmy Carter. Partly it's President Carter's opinion on abortion. But this eloquent rant leads off with Carter's speculation that religion indirectly informs the morality of atheists. In the face of all that, I almost hate to say it, but I would probably drive gil to the dark side. Sorry, gil.
Years ago, as a new employee, I was subjected to the unwanted attention of the office atheist. He had discovered in casual conversation that I was a committed Christian and he was looking for a good argument. I was up for it, but not during office hours. Lunch or after-hours coffee was rejected by my co-worker. I eventually left under a bit of a cloud, but quickly found other employment. PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, is a bit dismissive of a former computer analyst at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The analyst alleges he was dismissed because of his creationist views. Strangely, he introduced in court a fictional screenplay to illustrate his case. NASA says the guy insisted on haranging his coworkers during working hours and defied directives that he take it to his lunchtime or after hours. If that is true, and the coverage seems to indicate it is, the case ought to go against the former employee. Hard for me to go along with Pharyngula, though, who seems to me to imply that the guy is right in that he was fired for his religious beliefs and that NASA was right to do it for that reason. Or my interpretation of Pharyngula could be wrong. He is a bit ambiguous on the merits of the case, although not in his contempt for the fellow's brand of Christianity.
Vincent of A wayfarer's notes reviews a good movie about Zen Buddhism, and finds himself thinking about Zen, another movie from the 1960s (as I recall), writings by John Muir, and a painting, a representation of which he produces. He composes all this, he says, while taking a walk. I believe him because he is a genius. Fascinating.
- Wow. My daughter once met a Music director who played on the piano several songs for us in the middle of of a St. Louis Nordstrom department store. She remarked to me that I have a talent for knowing really cool people. Here is another bit of evidence that she is right. Conservative James Wigderson in Wisconsin has received a prestigious award from the state newspaper association. Congratulations to James.
I was on my way home night before last when I heard it on the radio. Mitt Romney was telling a humorous story. It was during a "town hall" meeting by telephone conference. He was speaking with Wisconsin voters.
We all gather stories as we move through life. Most of us hold close our fondest memories. I remember debates with my father about politics, religion, and philosophy. He encouraged debate and he seemed to enjoy the twists of logic he could provoke. And it made us, his kids, feel like grown ups. My most precious memories come from a little later. I remember holding my newborn daughter for the first time. I still smile at incidents from her progress and eventual graduation to adulthood. My store of memories grows each time she and I talk by telephone about our adventures at work or about church or the latest news story. Life is good.
It was good for Mitt Romney as well. He reminisced fondly about the stories of his own youth. "One of the most humorous, I think, relates to my father.
As I listened to the radio and drove, I was in the mood for a fond memory. It had been a sad but hopeful evening. I had attended an informational public meeting hosted by a young woman from the office of Missouri's Attorney General, Chris Koster. Forty nine state attorneys general had joined with the US Department of Justice in a successful negotiation with the 5 largest mortgage lenders in the country.
- Bank of America
- JP Morgan Chase
- Wells Fargo
- Ally Financial (GMAC)
A consent agreement had been signed by the five banks, settling civil claims by the state and federal governments. 155 million dollars would go to Missouri families, victims of unethical behavior.
She gave a hotline number to the Missouri Attorney General's Office that citizens of the state can call to get information, file complaints, or give information:
So it was a joyful meeting, right? Well, not quite. As one participant after another asked whether specific situations would be covered, a dismal picture of corporate bullying, flim flam, and banking arrogance emerged.
The principle owed on a couple's house had just jumped way above what they had agreed to. Not the interest, the principle. They had telephoned a dozen times without getting an answer. Would the settlement cover that? No, but they could file a separate complaint and someone would help them get the accounting they are legally due.
A woman told of how she and her husband had signed an agreement with their bank for a loan modification. They had kept up the payments, diligently paying every month on time. The bank, while processing the paperwork, had put their regular monthly payments into an escrow account pending finalization, delayed processing for several months, then applied penalties and started foreclosure for non-payment. Would the settlement cover that? Same answer. She could file a separate complaint and they would look into it.
One outrageous story after another was delivered with little indignation. Folks were just worn down. Many carried folders and manila envelopes with letters, notices, copies, and documentation. A woman had found out about foreclosure against her almost by accident. Nobody had told her. It was during a loan modification that was supposed to put her in the clear. Weren't they supposed to notify her? A man had gotten a loan modification and later found his interest rate going back up each month. Representatives on the telephone transferred him to one another and said they could not give him his information. A woman whose bank lost her paperwork repeatedly and having her re-fill out the paperwork, finally told her she was disqualified for applying too many times for the same lower interest rate. As far as she knew, she had applied only once. The stories went on and on. The audience dwindled as questions about the settlement were answered and folks left.
The actual list of practices prohibited and other services mandated went to over 300 pages. A hotline phone number was provided and the documents themselves could be viewed on line.
Still, the fact that such practices had gone on for so many years was depressing. Corporations have no heart, no soul. They aren't supposed to have feelings or morals beyond what is required for profitable operation. Doing "the right thing" at the expense of stockholders is a form of corporate theft, unless there is some payoff later on.
That's why laws are necessary, to put limits on behavior that the market does not impose. Lawbreaking is supposed to be beyond the limit. Even at that, heartbreaking decisions are sometimes what is required from corporate executives. That's why factories are closed down.
In the 1950s, the decision was made by American Motors to close down a Michigan auto manufacturing plant. Operations were consolidated in Wisconsin. Workers in Kenosha got new opportunities as the plant there expanded. Thousands in Michigan were thrown out of work as the Hudson plant became an empty shell. In that area, it was human tragedy on a scale that was not seen again until the Bush years half a century later. George Romney was the executive who made the decision.
It is part of the early memory of the then young Mitt, one of the stories he talked about to his Wisconsin audience. "One of the most humorous, I think, relates to my father.
Mitt talked about how his dad later ran for office. A high school band at a parade his candidate father attended had learned the Wisconsin state song. Every time they played it, "my dad's political people would jump up and down and try to get them to stop because they didn't want people in Michigan to be reminded that my dad had moved production to Wisconsin."
On the radio, as I drove home from that sobering meeting, I could hear Mitt pausing to chuckle before he finished his story.
The story of his father throwing thousands out of work, then worrying about the election if constituents were reminded of the human tragedy involved.
"One of the most humorous, I think, relates to my father. He had to pause for a second to finish laughing as he got to the end of the story.
It's not easy for me to listen to Al Sharpton. To some extent that is as superficial as some of my unfair personal difficulty with the last President Bush.
With the former President, it is partly a strutting chest-thrust-out sort of posture that reminds me of teenage bravado. It is partly his very careful slowing of speech on certain words, as if patiently enunciating for a small child, making sure an unfamiliar concept is comprehensible for a weak minded audience. See? Unfair and superficial. I try to compensate, objecting to policy and practice. I tried to focus on personality only when I believed it impacted on his performance in office.
With Reverend Sharpton, it is partly that he shouts at me. When he is talking with a guest on his MSNBC program, PoliticsNation, or as a guest on other programs, it's a lot easier. That's when he talks. I suspect his career as a Baptist preacher and his experience in front of large crowds has a lot to do with it. We who have not yet retired often take unconscious cues from the workplace. United States Senators say things like "I was for it before I was against it." Successful Baptist preachers may project a lot so they can be heard by large groups of congregants or political followers. On a television or news program, it puts me off. Unfair and superficial. Sorry, Reverend Al.
Part of it is his 25 year old libel against a very surprised Prosecutor in Dutchess County, New York. A young teenaged girl, smeared with human excrement and charcoal burns, told Al Sharpton she had been kidnapped by police officers and others, brutalized, and raped. An investigation, medical experts, and a grand jury concluded that she had made the story up to avoid severe punishment at home for getting home late. Al Sharpton made specific accusations against surprising people and has never backed off or apologized.
So it's hard for me to see him as other than a bit of a rhetorical thug.
Still, he has come a long way in some areas. So have we all. He was once a homophobic bigot, judging by his language, and he is now devoted to combating such bigotry in Christian churches.
And after the killing of Treyvon Martin in Florida, he has accomplished some good, although my feelings are mixed. To be sure, it is likely the case itself would have been buried and forgotten had it not been for Al Sharpton.
Still, I am uncomfortable with any large organized public outcry aimed at the prosecution of a potential defendant in the middle of a criminal investigation. If such a campaign is successful, it leaves the possibility of a criminal process moved, not by evidence, but by pressure. That is not how our justice system is supposed to work.
But it is hard to see that the system worked to begin with. In any altercation resulting from one participant with a gun seeking out another, with the gunman surviving and claiming self-defense, it is impossible to avoid initial reactions that go way past suspicion.
It is easier, at least for me, to leapfrog from that to a critique of officialdom. The question in the first instance is how an investigation could possibly result in such an improbable conclusion. The supposition seemed to have been that a slightly built young man running home with a bag of skittles and a can of iced tea suddenly assaulted a man pursuing him with a gun. The pursuing gunman claims to have feared for his life.
For what purpose would the young man have jumped the older, heavier, armed man? To avoid endangering his skittles? It is possible, I suppose. It seems more likely, at least on the surface, that space aliens had abducted both of them. The question, for me, is less about the guilt or innocence of the gunman, than this: In what way could police have avoided some skepticism of such a story? How could such an incident not have resulted in an arrest pending investigation?
Of course, this week's revelation compounds the questioning of officialdom. The lead investigator reportedly wanted the gunman arrested and prosecuted for manslaughter, but was overruled. He went so far in the then obscure case as to file an affidavit recording his objection.
The history of the geographic area itself raises some flags. Lynchings may have been years ago but they were a pattern. Suspicious killings of motorists by police are more recent. But we do not have to go even to recent past to wonder what presumptions colored the case.
A cell phone was in use by the victim during the fatal altercation and was in police custody as soon as officers arrived. The young man was talking with a friend, a girl he knew. The telephone contact and the time of that call were discovered by a television network. A television network? Why did police not examine the cell phone and find what would seem to be a critical piece of evidence? Reports say that the gunman was not tested for drugs or alcohol, but the body of the teenager was tested. What sort of assumptions were made? The young man's body lay in custody for three days before anyone thought to contact the family. How could that be?
And then there is the public, there-is-always-guilt-on-both-sides, statement by the police chief. We are sure the killer wishes he had acted differently, and so would the deceased.
So, yeah, I'm fine with the protests. They have, for the most part, been directed at public officials.
It is a good sign that so many across the political spectrum, from every age and ethnic and racial group, have expressed the same combination of frustration at officials and sympathy toward the family. President Obama struck the right note. The young man could well have been the son of the President. If I had a biological son, he could have looked like the young man we lost in Florida.
A few on the fringes of the extreme right have departed from most conservatives I have read. We can't really nail conservatives as a group, can we? For the most part, they join in common voice with anger at the incident.
The fringes contrive political outrage at the President's extraordinary expression of empathy for the family because he speculated that a son might have looked like the young man. The extreme, and only the extreme, complain that the press has shown bias in publishing photos of the killer in a disheveled state. They complain at the contrasting photos showing the dead youngster as an innocent looking teenage. One posted a more "realistic" photo considered more menacing. It turned out to be another teen with a similar name. Tommy Christopher does a good job of isolating and demolishing such reprehensible reflexive rhetorical vandalism.
For the rest of us, so far, the combination of grief and anger has been constructive and unifying.
The grief is well shared.
The anger is well directed.
Today the Supreme Court got to the part about Obamacare that everyone hates. It's the main principle invented by the conservative Heritage Foundation, supported by every national Republican office holder until President Obama endorsed it, and put into practical effect in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney.
Most folks believe the ever silent Justice Clarence Thomas will vote against it. He's written against everything remotely similar so that's a safe bet. So will Justice Samuel Alito, who is most adamant in his verbal questioning.
A lot of folks have thought that Antonin Scalia might support constitutionality, since he has supported executive powers to the point of absurdity. Now they have their doubts based on his seemingly skeptical approach. I write him off. The key point in the past has been absurdity. I have a harsh opinion of the good Justice. He has a brilliant mind and devotes it to whatever mental acrobatics are needed to arrive at his prejudices. If that involves broad police powers, for example, he will insist that there is no Constitutional protection against torture prior to charges being filed. That is because the protection is against "cruel and unusual punishment" and there is no punishment if there is nothing legally established to be punished for. Uh huh. Look to his legal reasoning in Bush v Gore, which he insisted should not be looked to as precedent for anything at all.
The other Justices look to be undecided. The middle vote is thought to be Justice Anthony Kennedy. And his issue is what most of us would call the slippery slope.
The legal theory behind the Constitutionality of Obamacare lies with the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. If Health Care is interstate commerce, it can be regulated by Congress. If that regulation has to involve an insurance mandate in order to work, the mandate is Necessary and Proper. The Constitution says the feds can pass a law regulating interstate commerce. And it is explicit in that anything else is constitutional if it is necessary and proper to get it done.
So if health insurance is not interstate commerce, Obamacare will be tossed out. And if Obamacare is constitutional, but the insurance mandate is not Necessary and Proper to make it work, then the insurance mandate will be thrown out.
There is a reason Republicans used to like the mandate. It's the same reason Congress included it in Obamacare. It has to do with pre-existing conditions. The Obamacare law says insurance companies can't deny insurance coverage to you or your family because of a medical condition. The most expensive medical cost, the cost that might wipe out a family financially, involves something catastrophic. If you can buy insurance whenever that happens, it means you can get insured on your way to the hospital.
That means nobody has any reason to buy health insurance until they become very, very ill. Sooooo nobody will buy insurance ahead of time. The reason insurance has to be mandatory is insurance companies will all go out of business, everyone of them. Having to pay for medical costs without anyone paying premiums ahead of time means insurance executives have to start jumping out of very high windows, thus posing a public hazard.
One part of the court debate yesterday was Justice Kennedy's slippery slope. It's the Nancy Grace call-in question that happens every other show. "Where will it all end?" The more practical way the Supreme Court asks it is this: What is the limit? That's what Chief Justice Roberts posed when he started it off. If the mandate goes through, he said, there is no effective limit. Congress can justify anything at all. "All bests are off." So much for the Roberts vote.
Justice Kennedy put the proposition only a little more mildly, saying there is a "very heavy burden of justification" on the Obamacare side to show there is, in fact, still some limit on Congressional authority if Obamacare is allowed to stand. For example, can the government force people to buy goods and services in order to stimulate the economy? The administration folks said no. How about ordering everyone to eat vegetables?
Justice Scalia made a sort of flippant remark near the end of the proceedings. Citizens aren't stupid, he said. They'll buy insurance later, when it's needed. Which is kind of the point, isn't it? Justice Kennedy seemed a little impatient with that point of view. He does not feel that healthy people are necessarily beyond the jurisdiction of health insurance regulation. He acknowledges that it is an unusual market situation. But he does want to know the limits.
I suspect the administration is secretly tempted to go along with that. Insurance companies have been funneling loads of money into hiring organizers, then financing activity against Obamacare. It's been under the table, but the money has been apparent. A let-them-stew-in-their-juices approach has a certain feel of justice.
If the Supreme Court were to rule that health insurance is interstate commerce, but that an insurance mandate is not necessary and proper, then agrees to throw out only the mandated insurance part, the insurance companies would reap what they have sown.
As Justice Scalia points out, US mamas don't raise fools, so nobody will buy insurance before an emergency erupts. Pre-existing conditions will be covered. Nobody can be turned down. Insurance corporations will have a ton of medical expense and almost no income.
Health insurance Companies will go out of business. The government will have to step in, providing medical care by extending Medicare to cover everybody. That's the public mandate that candidate Obama campaigned on in 2008, the same public mandate conservatives hate almost as much as they hate that Obama is President Obama.
Everyone will have coverage and all will be right in Health care.
Then we can focus on tracking down bin Laden and saving General Motors. Oh wait!
You never know for sure until a decision is made, what a Supreme Court decision will be. Oral arguments are not a completely reliable predictor. But they are an indicator, sometimes a strong indicator.
The first day of arguments were a sort of clearing of the brush, disposing of an argument nobody wanted to make and nobody agrees with. Seems as if the Justices should have been secretly playing tic-tac-toe. How bored to you have to be to consider an argument nobody wants to win?
The first day's argument was whether the insurance mandate, the Obama facist, socialist, left wing, Hitlerian, trample on our rights, proposal first invented by the conservative Heritage foundation, and embraced by pretty much every Republican in office until Obama agreed with it, yeah that insurance mandate, was a tax.
Well, the penalty part of it is administered by the IRS on a tax form. So it is a reasonable (yawn) proposition. But here's the thing. Just after the Civil War, Congress passed a law that the courts consider binding. It says nobody can sue about, and the courts can't consider, a case involving a tax until somebody actually pays the tax or is hit with a penalty for not paying the tax. So when your local government decides to put an annual tax beginning in 2020 on red baseball caps, and you happen to own a wide collection of them, it can make you mad, but you can't sue the village until the tax comes due. After you pay the tax you can sue. If you don't pay the tax and they arrest you and put you in jail, you can sue. But you can't sue in advance.
The section of Obamacare that says everyone has to have health insurance, the part that Mitt Romney has defended so often and so well, until he changed his mind (did I mention that pretty much every national Republican argued for it until Obama agreed with them?), won't go into effect until 2015. So if it's a tax, that means something.
It means we all take a very long weekend, take a lot of naps, mow a lot of lawns, go to a lot of baseball games wearing red caps, and, for the truly self-loathing, watch a lot of Nancy Grace. Then we all come back in three years and start over.
Opponents didn't want that. That's because enough other parts of the law would go into effect so people would get used to not having preconditions, and not having a neighborhood kid die for lack of care, and not having kids dropped off insurance before they are 26 years old. Stuff like that. Strike while the iron's hot and lots and lots of folks are against Obamacare. If the law isn't overturned in court, they can use it as a hammer to beat up Democrats in 2012. That's cause people will forget or not care who thought up the insurance mandate or who backed it (the Heritage Foundation and pretty much all Republicans - Did I mention Mitt Romney?).
The Obama administration didn't want to wait until 2015 either. They don't want all the uncertainty, conservative state legislatures and Governors dragging their feet because the law might be declared unconstitutional in 2015.
So nobody wanted to make the argument that the Insurance Mandate (the one Mitt Romney invented in Massachusetts) is a tax. They want a decision now. Sooner if possible.
But the Supreme Court wanted to consider the argument nobody wanted to make.
So they hired a guy. Robert A. Long is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He was a Rhodes Scholar and a Supreme Court law clerk. He was the Assistant to the Solicitor General of the United States for the first Bush Administration (the one before Clinton) and has argued a lot of cases before the Supreme Court. Pretty impressive guy.
So he argued that the insurance mandate is a kind of tax. The administration said he is wrong. The opponents of Obamacare said he is wrong. The Justices argued with him. Nobody spoke up for him. So it seems all God's lawyer children were against him.
It was like they hired the poor fellow, said nobody likes the argument, everybody hates the argument, we're not impressed with the argument, so convince us. So he argued about it and the Supreme Court essentially told him: Nobody likes you, everybody hates you, we despise everything you stand for, and we'll give you our decision later on.
That was yesterday.
Thing is, the tax idea is a pretty powerful argument. Congress has taxing authority and it is broad to the point of being invulnerable. Nobody, not even someone specially hired, would be willing to say that Congress has no Constitutional authority to levy a tax, no matter what the form might be. That's because nobody arguing before the Supreme Court and nobody on the court wears a tinfoil hat. They all have opposable thumbs. If the insurance mandate HAD been a tax, then the game would have been over for sure, although not until 2015.
So today, the Obamacare people, the administration guys, the ones who said yesterday that the insurance mandate is not a tax, will say today that Congress has the power to legislate the insurance mandate under its taxing authority. Once everyone stops laughing they'll consider that position though a glass darkly.
The argument will be kind of like legal quantum mechanics. A sort of Heisenlaw. It's not a tax until you look at it. Then it's a tax and not a tax at the same time, until the Geiger Counter clicks and you look in the box to see.
Next week, in a surprise development, the Supreme Court will take the unusual step of directly determining whether the Schrödinger cat was murdered. Details of the case are here. Graphic illustration is here.
The New Hanover County debate in North Carolina over contraception for women turns on whether women who take contraceptives are irresponsible.
One site, The Maddow Blog, has provided a partial transcript. Here is the operative segment. Most of the rest is composed of varying degrees of agreement.
Chairman Ted Davis: I just think, personally, it’s a sad day when the taxpayers are asked to pay money to buy – for contraceptives to keep young women who should not be having sex but are having sex from becoming pregnant. And if these young women were responsible people and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this situation.
The discussion combines a sort of 1950s anti-sex view with the idea that it is a normal part of public discourse for women to have such decisions subject to the judgement of government officials.
This seems to be a growing, possibly predominant, position of Republican office holders. It is augmented by the idea that women are not capable of making informed medical decisions without the guidance of state legislators.
Pennsylvania's bill requiring that women be shown a video produced by ultrasound, and sometimes vaginal probe, before being allowed an abortion produced headlines when the governor defended the viewing: "You just have to close your eyes." The resemblance to crude jokes about rape or the Victorian idea of "close your eyes and think of England" was superficial. It was not politically incidental. More basic was the idea that women make basic choices on the basis of feminine whim and need to be protected, through forced education, from their natural ignorance.
The same state government intervention is required in other medical information.
The World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society have explored as many links to cancer as most of us can imagine. One has been abortion. One myth circulated in anti-abortion circles ("My cousin's husband told me that he heard from his friend...") is that cancer is caused by abortion. Fortunately, both organizations rely on numerous studies that show there is no link. So the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Pretty strong medical consensus that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer.
So Republicans in New Hampshire are advancing a new law to require physicians to tell women that abortion causes breast cancer. If you are a woman and you live in New Hampshire, your doctor will be required by law to lie to you.
The medical expertise of Republican politicians extends beyond abortion. Pennsylvania has found a new medical danger. In some cases, the still developing technique called fracking for extracting oil and gas has harmful effects. If you get sick, nothing can prevent an enterprising doctor from asking for information from a nearby company about the chemicals it uses for fracking. Debra Dickerson reports on new Pennsylvania legislation that says the company can refuse to give your doctor this important information. If it does, the corporation can prohibit your doctor from telling you about it.
Republicans are against governmental regulation with certain exceptions. For example, they feel compelled to protect medical patients from harmful knowledge. Doctors must be prosecuted for telling you too much.
As a patient, you can't handle the truth.
Introduction, Traditional Service, March 18, 2012
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Jesus was not only fulfilling an ancient Psalm.
He was suffering the pain and despair
of the darkest part of the human soul.
When we feel abandoned, Jesus has been there.
When we feel alone,
he has walked our path before us.
When nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Jesus knows more than pain. He knows despair.
When we feel alone,
the hand on our shoulder is real.
God came to us, walked among us,
and lived as a man.
He experienced our hopelessness,
and became our hope.
Jesus has lived our weakness.
We can live in his strength.
Found on Line:
Debra Dickerson considers the Treyvon Martin killing from a different perspective, with a 911 call from an elderly witness to a horrible crisis in which a dispatcher leaves cool police professionalism to exhibit warm police humanity. Most gentle kindness goes unrecognized. This writer makes sure one instance does not.
Most folks take common sense steps to stay out of trouble. We've had conversations with our children. But if we, or a member of our families, are assaulted, most of us would not assign blame to anyone but the perpetrator. Vixen Strangely at Rumproast expresses the case well, taking on Geraldo Rivera of Fox who has an alternate theory of the Treyvon Miller gun-vs-skittles slaying. The hoodie was as much responsible as the killer. Kids should be more careful what they wear.
The Heathen Republican summarizes the latest administration economic report with such subheadings as "We don’t ask the poor to pay their fair share", "Yet another straw man", and "The root word of communism". A nuanced review.
Conservative James Wigderson led a group which made an election-time mailing 15 years ago that was little more than a Be-Sure-And-Vote Reminder, and ended up fighting a protracted legal battle before winning complete vindication. Folks still bring it up as a negative, but its hard to see good citizenship as a negative. OH - and be sure to vote in November.
PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, brings us the story of Michael Pipkin. Pipkin flirted with stories of evolution, then encountered a Christian minister who explained the theory was completely against God. Pipkin was convinced, and has spent the rest of his life, so far, convinced there is no God. It is a warning to those of us in the faith that insistence on absurdity tends to put folks off.
Our favorite John Myste at Mysterious Things presents a satiric account of a fellow guilty of the most horrible things who achieves salvation by dying at exactly the right time.
- Ryan (I'm pretty sure) at Secular Ethics examines conflicting ideas of free will, justice, and predestination. It's a good discussion, but I think of Isaac Bashevis Singer who, a generation ago, remarked "We have to believe in free will. We've got no choice."
Comments by President Obama:
In response to Burr Deming's
Balanced Approaches and the Right to Vote
Actually, at some point, the issue of access becomes one of denial of rights.
It would be more accurate to say: At some point, the issue of access effectively becomes one of denial of rights. We agree that legal freedoms and rights don't mean much when people can't exercise them. Furthermore, a society only flourishes when its people have freedoms outside of the law as well. This is a core reason for my liberal leanings.
In this case, we really have two tasks:
Identify the point at which difficulty of access becomes an effective denial of the right to vote.
- Develop a voter identification law that does not reach this point.
Of course, if one believes that anything stricter than the current system does excessive harm or is unjustified, task #2 is irrelevant. I am inclined to think otherwise, but I also agree that Republicans want to go too far. So, when I call for compromise, I'm looking for something creative. If we can't come up with something that improves the integrity of the process (including vote tallying and reporting) without effectively denying people their right to vote, then I side with Democrats in their resistance to new voter ID laws.
We are pleased to welcome Ryan, a noted, and noteworthy, internet writer. He writes for a site devoted to the application of reason to the task of Ethical living.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
At what point does inconvenience in exercising a right become a denial of a right? Most people would agree that circumstance and compelling interest would play a part in making a distinction.
Beginning in 1890, literacy tests were required in states that all happened to have been part of the old Confederacy. There was nothing in law which said that only black people had to take the tests. It was all very balanced.
Everyone had to take a literacy test, unless they qualified for certain specific exemptions. For example, if they, or their parents, or their grandparents, had already had any history of exercising a right to vote, they were exempted from further testing. If two or more people certified that an applicant was qualified, and those two or more were themselves registered voters, an applicant was exempted. The penalty for making any false statement in that certification was harsh, however.
The questions varied from one test to the next, rotated in and out of use. A sample with past questions was used in underground training for black people who braved the obstacles to voting. Some of the questions were routine. Others were a little tricky:
Part B in Alabama was composed of 4 questions. These were on the sample.
What body can try impeachments of the President of the United States?
Check the applicable definition for "responsibility"
_ a duty
_ a speech
Name the Attorney General of the United States.
Women may now serve on juries in Alabama State courts. True or False
Part C had questions such as these:
If a person charged with treason denies guilt, how many persons must testify against him before he can be convicted?
At what time of day on January 20 each four years does the term of the President of the United States end?
If the President does not wish to sign a bill, how many days is he allowed in which to return it to Congress for reconsideration?
If a bill is passed by Congress and the President refuses to sign it and does not send it back to Congress in session within the specified period of time, is the bill defeated or does it become law?
That last is a bit cute. Those studying were warned about trick either/or questions for which both choices were wrong.
A 4 page application was required for those not qualifying for an exemption. The application, which required a list of current and past employers was a matter of public record. It was often forwarded routinely to the neighborhood White Citizens Council. The WCC was considered a moderate alternative to the KKK. It was often described as the "Thinking Man's Klan." It was a non-violent organization, using polite contact with employers and neighbors to achieve its ends.
A poll tax was also required. It wasn't a lot, although $1.50 was substantially more in 1900 than it is today. It was enough, when combined with literacy tests, to keep poor black workers from voting.
Registration offices were often open only during traditional working hours. Employers could be expected to take a dim view of any person of color who took part of a workday to register. Those employers who did not frown on voting registration would be contacted by someone from the local White Citizen's Council. The chats were friendly but firm.
In 1964, the US Voting Rights Act abolished literacy tests. Two years later, the Supreme Court said the Poll Tax was unconstitutional. The reaction was harsh at times. The appeal by segregationists to fairness was vigorous. After all, why shouldn't voters be required to show literacy? A tax that was applied to everyone would cover election expenses.
The most emotional objection was to the extension of federal supervision. 16 states that had a history of racial discrimination in voting were required to submit any changes in voting requirements for federal review. They had to demonstrate the lack of ethnic or racial bias in any new rules.
This year, Texas law was challenged by the Department of Justice under that same Voting Rights act. Texas wants to require all voters to show a photo ID. IDs such as college identification are disqualified. Texas officials are pretty upset with the unreasonable approach of the US Justice Department. After all, a Photo ID would preserve the integrity of the electoral process. Why would anyone be against that? A spokesperson for Governor Rick Perry briefly outlined the case:
By applying to voting the same standard that is commonly applied in cashing a check or applying for a library card, Voter ID can ensure an accurate reflection of the will of the voters.
So the Justice Department released the results of its own investigation. It seems the new law targets a growing, and sometimes despised, minority. And the effort, on the surface, is hard to characterize as anything other than deliberate.
As the law was being passed, Texas began closing offices at which alternative photo identification could be gotten. 81 of the state's 254 counties have no offices at all for those photo IDs. Some non-drivers "could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip" to obtain a photo ID. Those who could drive the distance presumably would already have a driver's license and would not need to make the trip. A substantial number of Hispanic families do not own a vehicle.
Halfhearted efforts were made to be partway accommodating. Those efforts were defeated by Texas conservatives. A proposal to increase the hours of operation of some offices until 7 pm one day a week was voted down. Although Photo IDs would be free, the number of documents required to prove identity would be an expense and would require additional travel. A proposal to reimburse or make available for free such documentation was pretty much laughed down.
First-time applicants will be required to furnish various supplemental documents and undergo an application process that includes fingerprinting and traveling to a driver's license office. An applicant for an election identification certificate will be required to provide two pieces of secondary identification, or one piece of secondary identification and two supporting documents. If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter's birth certificate. There is a statistically significant correlation between the Hispanic population percentage of a county and the percentage of a county's population that lives below the poverty line. The legislature tabled amendments that would have prohibited state agencies from charging for any underlying documents needed to obtain an acceptable form of photographic identification.
The letter quoted the population figures on distance and lack of transportation.
At some point, inconvenience is no longer inconvenience.
I know of no one involved in the national debate who disputes that some government ID should be required. In fact, I know of nobody at all who has made that argument. Pretty much anyone should be able to produce utility bills, bank statements, or other legitimate IDs. But Texas was just plain making it hard.
Part of the response of Texas is to challenge the legality of the 1964 Voting Rights Act itself. They will argue in court that the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Conservatives have been after the Voting Rights Act for a while, but only one Supreme Court Justice is on record as being skeptical of its constitutionality. Justice Thomas was the only member of the court to vote in a previous against Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision that requires those 16 states to submit changes in voting laws to federal approval. The logic proposed by the Justice is embraced by conservatives in the Texas case.
"The lack of sufficient evidence that the covered jurisdictions currently engage in the type of discrimination that underlay the enactment of §5 undermines any basis for retaining it."
Justice Thomas stated as fact that "a prophylactic law as broad as §5 is no longer constitutionally justified based on current evidence of discrimination" During the initial debate on the Photo ID law, demands were made for any instance of voter fraud. A few cases were produced that involved mistakes in registration or absentee ballots. No instance, none at all, was produced of a case of multiple voting or an illegal vote that would have been affected by a photo ID. Some conservatives argued that a prophylactic law is justified to keep any future instance from happening.
If conservatives would apply the logic of Justice Thomas to the voting requirement they argue in favor of, the issue would vanish.
I am not against balance. In most cases, it is a plausible conclusion. A reasonable case can usually be made for a position that is somewhere between two opposing sides.
I am against balance as a premise. It is as a premise that it strikes me as an easy substitute for critical thought. We should be open to the possibility that one side is right and one side is wrong, until logic and evidence show a plausible middle ground.
When current measures are working, as they seem to be, and harsh new measures would abrogate rights by extending inconvenience past the breaking point, we should be able to draw a conclusion without bartering the rights of others for the sake of a wishful premise.
In this one case, I do not see a plausible middle ground.
Unless one adopts that position as a premise.
In response to Burr Deming's Balanced Approaches and the Right to Vote
The real enemy of freedom comes from the balanced onlookers, the ones who start with the premise that the solution must come from the middle. If there is no actual problem, we must act to prevent the perception of a problem. Each side has a completely noble cause.
Shall we compromise, casting away only a portion of those 5 million voters? If we extend the hours of the additional offices that must be visited, perhaps only 4 million will be discouraged from completing the task? If the expense of the additional documentation is reduced, perhaps only 3,500,000? Would only 2,500,000 people turned away from voting be acceptable? 2,000,000? More?
The alternative of confronting falsehood, not with compromise, but with truth is ... well ... unbalanced.
After all, what is reasonable must always be somewhere between any two sides. Right?
- Burr Deming, March 21, 2012
The Right to Vote is a huge National concern now that we have those on one side of the debate who vigorously defend the right of ALL American citizens to cast one vote per election, while those on the other side of the debate simultaneously agree. The dispute has been brutally aggressive with neither side giving in, with both sides challenging the logic, and secretly the intelligence, of the other.
It would seem that there are as many as 5,000,030 votes at stake, or 5,000,060 depending on how you crunch the numbers.
In an effort to be balanced, I am going to change my stance on this issue for a second time. At first, I thought it was reasonable that proof of identity in the form of a photo ID be required. Even though I did not personally care for the suggested rule, I had to acknowledge that such a requirement has accepted precedent and that it makes some sense.
Later, when I learned that the national debate was not even about photo IDs, I changed my stance. With the help of an esteemed ally, I decided that it was completely unreasonable to require proof of identity in this unduly harsh form, because it disenfranchised those who were unwilling to get the identity. I suddenly realized that this was the topic of the national debate, which has nothing whatsoever to do with photo IDs, as I once presumed. The national debate is about whether or not to deny some citizens the right to vote. (Many thanks to Burr Deming).
I learned that it is all some folks can do to muster the energy to cast a ballot in the first place. Some people, approximately five million, are all but mindless skeletons, hobbling to the melody of their own disjointed and crackling bones, as they trudge their way to the voting booths. There they pray for guidance, lest, in their confusion, they expel the wrong chad, or circle the wrong circle or pull the wrong lever or push the wrong button and vote for the very tyrant who wants them to show their ID, as if they were in Communist China or something, in the first place. Not to mention those who forget where they went or why they are there before they can complete the task. We are now going to add pulling out an ID to their hassles? (or something like that. He explains it more eloquently).
After learning that the national debate was really about requiring an ID that we will deny to over five million people, I could no longer, in good conscious, remain sympathetic to the idea of Voter IDs. Like a rabid pendulum, I swung hard to the other side. I decided we MUST not allow the GOP to enact its two laws: 1. A voter ID is required. 2. Some people cannot have them.
However, after reading today’s current argument, I realize that this extreme swing is not really fair to the GOP.
Therefore, my new stance, my balanced stance, my wise stance, is this: I have to find one, and only one, of the two proposed laws to be reasonable. Let’s see. My balanced approach says that this law would be, hmmm. A state-issued picture ID is required to vote.
Now, if I were going to be reasonable, instead of balanced, I would change my stance to this:
Hmmm. Let’s see: a state-issued picture ID is required to vote.
However, I have no interest in reason. I choose balance. Therefore, I reject the second idea, the reasonable idea, in favor of the first, balance-driven idea.
Additionally, in an effort to be balanced, I declare my motivation to be both the stated liberal goal: every person gets vote per election / issue / candidate and simultaneously to the stated conservative goal: every person get one vote per election / issue / candidate.
I know what you are thinking: “John, you cannot side with both the liberals and the conservatives on this national debate. Despite the symmetry, it is a contradiction!” Yes, I used to think that too, but I have been where you are. In fact, I used to think just like you, back when I took sides. I was not balanced and therefore, not right. To know my wisdom, you must trace my steps, get tutored by those who study this; learn what the national debate is really about, and get the idea that it has anything to do with picture IDs out of your head: abandon your straw man.
Also learn that you are not interested in reason, but balance. You know this, because were it not true, you would have Burr Deming’s opinion, just as he does. Like him, you would be teeming with pride. You would be so proud that you would compose an article backhandedly renouncing balance, even when it is backed up by reasonable explanations, because when two sides disagree on something like this, it’s not about balance or reason. It’s just like slavery, one side is right and the other side is dead wrong, regardless of reason. “Reasons got nothing to do with it,” as Clint Eastwood never said.
John Myste also writes for his own site. Please visit John Myste Responds
The national debate rages over the killing of a young black teenager on his way home with skittles for his brother and a can of AriZona brand iced tea. The neighborhood watch guy who pursued and killed him had been warned off by a police dispatcher who spoken with him on the telephone. "Are you following him?" "Yeah." "We don't need you to do that."
The 911 calls are haunting, with the voices of horrified neighbors mingled with a high pitched scream begging for mercy cut off by sounds of a gunshot.
Some focus of the voice of the pursuer with the gun, the man complaining to police, "These a--holes always get away."
We try to reserve judgment. We do not know the complete story of the killing of the teenager hurrying home with candy to finish watching the NBA All Star game with his brother. It doesn't look good, but we have only media stories, and we can't yet trust that the picture is complete. Trial by media can be a dicey affair. Still, each new detail makes the armed pursuer look a little worse.
Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic Monthly calls attention to a statement by Police Chief Bill Lee. Lee complains about media coverage of the tragedy then, unwittingly, reveals the bias that botched the investigation and kept it botched. From the Miami Herald:
“We are taking a beating over this,” said Lee, who defends the investigation. “This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too.”
It is that last balanced sentence that ought to strike hard. The hidden presumption, what Coates calls "passive maliciousness for the victim and his family" is more understandable, although sometimes as destructive, when it comes from an ordinary citizen. It is professionally compromising, dangerous, when it comes from police authorities."I’m sure Trayvon would, too." Really?
The effort to be balanced can come at the expense of truth when balance is the beginning point. If we start with the assumption that every disagreement involves wrong on both sides, every tragedy contains enough blame to go around, we can commit to more than blaming the blameless. We can become passive accomplices in horrible events. "I’m sure Trayvon would, too."
Trayvon Martin and his brother had watched the first half of the game and his brother asked if he could have some candy. Martin was racing home with the skittles during halftime. Reports say he was speaking with another teen on his cell phone as he walked. He mentioned that a large menacing looking man was coming his way. "Run" the girl told him by cell phone. "Run." Those are his last confirmed words before the shooting. But, says the Police Chief, the shooter would probably do something differently if given the chance. "I’m sure Trayvon would, too."
That all sides have a point, the truth is between them, everyone has a valid viewpoint, are all expressions of a completely valid point of view, when that view is a conclusion. When it is a starting point, watch out. Satan is peering from behind the mental clouds. That "I’m sure Trayvon would, too." is a bias.
Just after the American Civil War, the defeated Confederacy experienced a terrible blow. The victorious Union, dominated by Republicans, insisted that former slaves be given the right to vote, and that the right to vote had to be protected. By troops if necessary. Freedmen's Bureaus were established to protect former slaves. Contracts were enforced. Violence was quelled.
But the perception by Southerners that equality for former slaves was postwar punishment was a concern for those interested in balance. The Southerners had a point, after all. Didn't everyone have a point? Rutherford B. Hayes became President after the disputed election of 1876, largely on the promise to restore promise. Thadeus Stevens and the Republicans became "Radical Republicans." And so they remained for a century. The history books of my youth still branded them as radicals, bent on punishing the south, with their uncompromising attitude toward black rights.
After the election of Hayes, troops and federal protection were withdrawn from the South. Almost immediately, the "strange fruit" of bodies decorated trees, the right to vote vanished for former slaves, and the kidnappings began. The level of bogus arrests rose and fell with the demands of corporations willing to pay for ownership of black labor, a practice that did not begin to vanish until the 1940s and existed to some extent into the 1950s.
The main challenge against the right to vote today comes, not from hard core racists, but from those concerned with today's form of balance, those willing to barter with the rights of others in order to achieve a preconceived idea that what is reasonable must come in the middle.
People who commute to and from work by bus, high school seniors, college students, the elderly who no longer drive, are told they must produce additional proof of identity beyond what has worked for generations. Photo IDs seem so reasonable, such a balanced approach to preserving the integrity of the vote. Taking time from work under the often unfriendly glare of employers, multiple bus trips, an enforced lack of cooperation from public workers, and the expense and research needed to obtain additional documents, all combine to mean that as many as 5,000,000 million legitimate voters may have that right taken away from them.
There is vote fraud in this country. It is occasionally a problem. It happens in the dark rooms outside of the glare of public light. Tallies are changed. Totals are hidden. Boxes are stuffed. In primaries, precincts are left out.
Lots of vote fraud.
Not voter fraud though. Traditional identification combined with a public declaration of identity have made it too likely that a false voter will be caught. Harsh penalties make the deterrence nearly perfect. That is why, when President Bush ordered a commission to investigate elections across the country over several years, ordered them to find instances of voter fraud, they were able to come up with 24 to 30 fraudulent voters, depending on how you count them. That is 24 to 30 nationwide over years.
The motive, when a harsh solution looks for a problem, seems transparent enough. The real enemy of freedom comes from the balanced onlookers, the ones who start with the premise that the solution must come from the middle. If there is no actual problem, we must act to prevent the perception of a problem. Each side has a completely noble cause.
Shall we compromise, casting away only a portion of those 5 million voters? If we extend the hours of the additional offices that must be visited, perhaps only 4 million will be discouraged from completing the task? If the expense of the additional documentation is reduced, perhaps only 3,500,000? Would only 2,500,000 people turned away from voting be acceptable? 2,000,000? More?
The alternative of confronting falsehood, not with compromise, but with truth is ... well ... unbalanced.
After all, what is reasonable must always be somewhere between any two sides. Right?