Sunday, March 31, 2013
After the ugliness of Good Friday - the demands for punishment, for penalty, for paying for one’s crime, real or imagined - Easter has arrived.
And yet, scrolling through my Facebook pages, or the comments on news stories, I am struck by what a punitive, mean-spirited society we are. How similar we are, in fact, to the society that clamored for crucifixion. It is not unusual to read comments – even from friends – that are shocking for the sheer delight they seem to get from others' misery.
One poster wrote about a teenager convicted as a juvenile of sexual assault against a friend while they were both drunk,
“He should be getting life in prison…I hope he rots in jail…I cant wait for that to happen to him now, every day.”
Really? Is that really what you want?
Another posts about immigrants, and insists that every “illegal” be deported immediately, including kids who grew up their whole lives in this country. Another righteous person quotes Scripture to prove that gays “get what’s coming to them when they die from AIDs.” And still another blames “Welfare Queens” for the nation’s financial woes, insisting on drug tests and sterilization and all sorts of punitive measures meant to hurt those who are already at the bottom of the social ladder.
Meanwhile, in Kansas, the legislature has actually passed a bill permitting those with communicable diseases to be rounded up and quarantined, while Iowa continues to actively enforce a law that punishes HIV positive people who have sex with jail terms longer than those imposed for manslaughter (even when the HIV is disclosed, or under control and non-transmissible).
A few months ago, sports writers responded with pure glee that they had taken down Lance Armstrong. The notion that we should all “pay” for our “crimes” absolutely saturates American society… It goes back to Puritans who thought it appropriate to shame people by placing them in stocks on the public town common, or to make them wear a Scarlet Letter to show the world they were evil.
Parents humiliate children in public, and this is called “teaching them a lesson.” But what is that lesson…that humans exist to hurt and control other humans, and receive satisfaction from it?
When Jesus stood in the synagogue, he loosely quoted the Prophet Isaiah:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)
He was not about jailing people, but releasing them. Not about punishment, but forgiveness. Not about judgment, but mercy. Not about crushing the unfortunate, but lifting them up. Not about punitive measures, but bringing about wholeness. Not about finger-wagging at the poor, but about insisting on help for the poor, the widow, the alien, and the orphan.
The Resurrection is about the triumph of good, of truth, of mercy, of gentleness, of kindness, and of Love over a historic human tendency to divide, to hate, to ostracize, to marginalize, and to punish.
In an era when religion is frowned upon by the elite, but culture adored...I encourage you to go watch Les Misérables again. Or better yet, read the book. You'll find the same message embedded in Hugo's opus.
Jesus, my friends, was a Liberal. An Extreme Liberal.
A Bleeding-heart Liberal.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
By most standards, I’m liberal: I’m gay (and support GLBT equality), and support progressive taxation, breaking up the Mega-banks, alternative energy, a social safety net, legalized cannabis and compassionate immigration laws. I’m the president of my local teacher’s union, believe in mandatory profit-sharing, and a national health insurance plan. Most of my friends – both “Facebook” friends and flesh-and-blood friends generally agree with my positions.
But when it comes to the Second Amendment – well, I am going to stand apart from the crowd. I do not support the current efforts to curtail firearm ownership. And I hope my otherwise liberal friends will at least give me the benefit of reading why I am not on the bandwagon.
1) This nation should NEVER adopt legislation as a response to a crisis. Our track record in every area is awful, because we let emotion and politics and a blind desire to “do something!” drive the program…and we often make big, big mistakes.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, the nation demanded that government do ‘something’ in the name of security.
That ‘something’ was one of the most shameful chapters in American history, as our government rounded up 110,000 Japanese-Americans, sent them to concentration camps, and confiscated their property. President Franklin D Roosevelt did this through an Executive Order, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones," from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona. It took until 1988 for a formal Presidential Proclamation apologizing, blaming the actions on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
And yet, we did it. And it was clearly unconstitutional. But we did it in response to a perceived crisis.
Fast Forward to 9/11…and we did the same thing. The Patriot Act, NDAA, the right of Government to spy on library and bank accounts without search warrants, actual public hearings seeking to deny Muslims the right to open up mosques, the suspension of habeus corpus, the indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial, and the ongoing tragedy of Guantanamo Bay show that we are still all too willing to engage in overtly unconstitutional acts when we respond to a perceived crisis. Every time you remove your shoes to get on a plane, and every time a TSA agent strip searches someone’s grandmother, you continue to see these effects.
We even do it in legal areas unrelated to security: In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that a government must show a compelling state interest to prohibit gay marriage; the emotional howling of conservatives – who feared that conservative states would have to accept same-sex marriage – led to an emotional passage of DOMA, the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” which has been ruled unconstitutional in no fewer than eight federal courts, including both the first and second Circuit Courts of Appeal.
Whenever we say, “We must act now!,” and act based on emotion, we do a historically terrible job of complying with our own Constitution.
I have read a number of very strong opinions lately, and am struck by how little people actually know about firearms. Raised on a generation of Matrix and shoot-em-up movies, much of the public believes that semi-automatic rifles simply let loose with a burst of bullets. Very few seems to understand that a semi-automatic does no such thing – it’s one trigger pull, one bullet – but in the heat of emotion, facts don’t seem to matter.
2) Making something illegal – or harder to obtain – does not make it go away. Rather, it drives the good or service underground where it is controlled by criminal elements – the very thing we do not want to do.
Once again, we can look at actual, objective history:
We outlawed alcohol, and it didn’t go away. Instead, it went underground, and its distribution was controlled by crime families. Violence increased significantly as these families battled for territory. The same is true of today’s Drug cartels. We outlawed gambling, only to see it driven underground. As expected, the openness of offshore internet gambling accounts has actually increased the visibility of the ‘service,’ and reduced criminal violence. Until 1965, birth control was illegal in Connecticut, and until 1972, abortion was illegal in the majority of US states. Do you think that no one in Connecticut used birth control, and no one obtained abortions? Rather, both were relegated to unsafe, shady operations that resulted in tracking difficulty and more crime. And finally, thirteen states enforced laws outlawing sodomy…do we really believe that gay men lived celibate lives until The Supreme Court overturned these laws in 2003 (Lawrence vs. Texas)?
Outlawing human activity, goods, or services has *never* eliminated the market for those goods and services. It has only served to drive them underground, off the radar, and into the hands of criminal and shadowy elements.
Is that what you want for firearms?
In the wake of Newtown, I wish people would be honest and admit that the guns used at the Newtown massacre WERE STOLEN. They were ILLEGALLY OBTAINED. No amount of registration, background check, or prohibition stops this activity. There is an irrational disconnect between most of the proposals being floated and what actually happened at Newtown.
3) Please, in the name of all that is Honest, I am asking all of our politicians to cease parroting the mantra that goes, “Oh, I fully support the 2nd Amendment, but we need restrictions/controls/limitations…blah blah blah”
Let me lay some Constitutional Law on you folks: the Second Amendment is NOT about hunting or sports. It’s about personal protection – and that includes protection against the police power of the State. You don’t have to like it or agree with it, but that is our legal history.
Some have recently developed some twisted interpretations, suggesting that the Second Amendment is too obsolete, or only applies to rural hunting situations, or is only meant for state militias (not average citizens).
Enter District of Columbia vs. Heller, the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case, which held,
“The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
Not militia use – any individual.
Not hunting and sport - Personal Defense.
In so doing, the Court invalidated a hand-gun ban and a trigger-lock requirement.
The Second Amendment was drafted and adopted in order to allow every-day citizens to protect themselves against government tyranny. It is a defense against both criminal elements and the police state - a defense denied to Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and, tragically, to Matthew Shepherd, the iconic gay youth who was beaten and tied to a Wyoming fence a decade ago.
On an all-too-frequent basis, we read of gay men beaten with tire irons and baseball bats and left as bleeding pulps in the streets of our urban centers. In 2004, the FBI reported that 1,482 gays were violently assaulted – some killed, some permanently disfigured and crippled.
This gay man will not be at the mercy of criminals, nor will he wait for the police to arrive.
Do I wish each of these guys carried a pistol? Damn Straight. But cities – notably New York City and Chicago – make it near impossible for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves or carry, even if they are walking through high-crime areas late at night.
When seconds count, knowing that the police can be 5 minutes away offers no solace.
4) Constitutional Rights are not ‘contingent’ upon licensing, approval, background checks, or government permission. You have a Right to speak, without the government deciding you are stable. You have a right to form and engage in a religion, even if the government doesn't like it. You have a right against self-incrimination, even if you are the most vile criminal. You have a right to be compensated if your property is taken by eminent domain, without a public vote on whether we like you or not. And you have a Constitutional Right to defend yourself with firearms, without government ‘permission.’
People are clamoring for ‘background checks.’
Can someone tell me what you are looking for in this background check? Mental stability? Criminal records? How about a credit check?
Do I think that convicted felons should be able to carry firearms?
Yes, I do.
[WHAT?! OK, Thom, you went too far here….!]
Hear me out: 1 in 6 black men in this country has been jailed. It is a societal embarrassment that our so-called “War on Drugs” has decimated the minority community and made ‘criminals’ out of people who never hurt anyone. In some states, young men are branded ‘sexual offenders’ for ‘crimes’ as innocuous as peeing in public when drunk. People involved in one-time violent crimes, who have paid their debt to society and have reestablished themselves in their community wear a Scarlet A on their chest for the rest of their lives.
Should we disqualify anyone with a criminal record?
Better be careful: it may not be long before we all have some ‘stain’ on our background, either because of an innocuous crime, or a credit rating that says we are a ‘danger,’ or songs downloaded from the internet, or because we had the audacity to support a group on a Facebook post that the government has branded a “terrorist” organization.
The clamoring for "background checks' is not being accompanied by an explanation of what we are actually looking for - and what is fair.
After all, it is the government against which the Second Amendment is meant to protect me that would be performing the background checks.
I will not give up any of my Constitutional Rights without a fight to the end. That includes:
Speech (whether you agree or not, and whether you find it ‘hateful’ or not.)
Assembly and Protest (whether I have a ‘permit’ or not, even when the cops come armed with tazers and pepper spray.)
Religion (whether its ‘mainstream’ or not.)
Press (Whether I have a ‘press pass’ or not. I will use my phone as a camera to film police activity. It is my RIGHT.)
Right to Remain Silent (even when a cop pulls me over and asks me where I’ve been. I do NOT have to answer.)
And yes, the Right to Bear Arms….even when the State or the public prefer to render me defenseless.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
I believe in "Liberty, and Justice, for All." YOU decide to what Political Party I truly belong...
That Racism, Sexism, and Homophobia have no rightful place in American Society. That who I marry is my business, and no one elses; and the only state role should be that of a 'recorder,' not a definer, of legal relationships.
That the United States must never, ever, under any circumstances, torture suspected terrorists or engage in the same tactics that they do.
That immigration has been a source of constant strenth, genius, and rejuvenation of the American Ideal, and that English is no more sacrosanct than any other language.
That no one should be prosecuted or jailed for a "crime" where there is no victim. That marijuana should not just be decriminalised, but legalized.
That America is held captive to the taboos of a Puritanical past. Public breast Feeding, nude sunbathing, consensual sexual activity between adults, and polyamorous and homosexual relationships are just as valid as any other consentual human expression of love, life and caring, and should not be criminalized or stigmatized.
That if I choose to smoke cigarettes, gamble on a sports event, wear a helmet when I ride my bike or wear seatbelts when I drive, it is MY business, and no one elses.
That I have a right to bear firearms and defend myself, my property, and others without anyone's permission.
That my right to Free Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly and Association, Right Against self-incrimination, and Freedom of Religion are INVIOLABLE. That there *is* an implied Right to Privacy in the US Constitution, and that ALL federal rights must be guaranteed by the States as well.
That we are a Federal Republic, not a Democracy. That the Federal Government must not usurp the rights reserved to the States, and that neither the federal nor state governments may usurp the rights reserved to individuals.
That I have a right to order my own property my own way, without neighbors deciding how high my house should be, whether my mom can live in an adjacent apartment, whether I can fix cars in my garage or whether my dumpster should be allowed to be in "public view."
That I have the right to choose the best educational format for my child, whether in public, private, or a home education setting, without second-guessing by bureaucrats and other vested interests.
That I have the right to join a union if I choose, or to negotiate my own compensation if I choose.
That no one has a right to tell me how to run my business, what to pay my employees, what to offer for sale, or how much to charge.
That it *is* appropriate for government to provide for a common defense, maintain roads and essential services, and to charge me for the benefits I receive.
That it *is* appropriate for society to help those in medical, housing, or other distress, with a view towards helping them achieve independence where possible and on-going assistance where necessary.
That individuals should be encouraged and assisted in the achievement of their own independence and security wherever possible.
That whether you are black, white, asian, Native American, Latino, or mixed race; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist or of another faith; hetero, homo, bi, or asexual; male, female, transgender or hermaphriditic; native-born or immigrant; employed, unemployed, retired, or disabled; English, Spanish, French, Lakhota, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese, German, or Portuguese-speaking: if you are HERE and you are HUMAN, then you have a right to your life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.
That *NO ONE* - no government official, no clergyman, no law, no insurance company, no FDA or federal agency - has a right to stand between a physician and their patient in matters of medical treatment.
That voluntary business transactions between willing individuals should not be obstructed by government. That freedom and liberty requires the free movement of capital, products, and labor across state and international borders.
That pollution of the environment that results in an act of toxic trespass against all is an appropriate subject of government regulation.
That Police Officers are the servants, not the Superiors, of the citizenry.
That the military must be subject to, and not independent of, the Civil Authorities in all matters.
That the primary goals of a criminal justice system should be restitution for the Victim and reform of the criminal, not vengeance or punishment.
That wherever possible, taxes and fees should be realistically tied to the costs that my actions are incurring, and earmarked for appropriate remedial uses.
That since businesses retain profits when successful, they must never transfer losses to the public, and that bailouts, subsidies, and corporate grants are immoral transfers of wealth.
That Government Deficit Spending likewise effectuates a transfer of wealth from citizens to wealthy bondholders who lend funds to the US Government, and is therefore opporessive, regressive, and confiscatory by design.
I love America so much that I cry when reading the The New Colossus, singing the Star Spangled Banner, or watching the US Olympian Team...but also know we have a lot of growing up to do, and yes, we can even learn from more mature nations like France, England, and Germany.
So....Am I a Republican? Democrat? Libertarian? Independent? Loonie? Plain ol' frustrated American?
Saturday, March 07, 2009
This afternoon, Republicans in Cheshire County, NH were invited to an open meeting in Keene to voice their opinions about the future of the Republican Party. To be sure, there were many opinions.
Jennifer Horn, last year's unsuccessful candidate for Congress, served as the MC. Those who attended were quickly divided into groups to discuss issues such as voter outreach, party logistics, ranking issues by importance, media relations, etc. Oddly, attendees were not invited to join the work sessions of their choice, but were assigned topics haphazardly depending on their seats. Your truly, of course, defied the established order and participated in two groups: Voter Outreach and Issues. At the end of the hour or so meeting, summations were offered, and some short general discussion ensued.
The results were mixed, I think. Some members clearly understood the need to be technologicaly adept. Others were stuck in the 1950s, believing that phone trees were important, and that telling College students that Republicans supported Civil Rights in the 60s (over 40 years ago!) would somehow win them over...
I spoke up, of course. I believe that the Republican Party needs to do some real soul-searching. Unfortunately, the Elephants appear to be terrified of The Elephant in the Room: the stranglehold on the party by Religious Conservatives.
In spite of Jennifer Horn's stated belief that the GOP does not need to rebrand itself, she is terribly, terribly wrong.
An entire generation of new voters came to the polls believing that the Bush administration and Rush Limbaugh represent Republican ideals. Republicans spent eight years defending sickening deficits, exploding budgets, and “big-government” programs that they would have railed against had they been proposed by a Democratic Administration. We were inexcusably silent as America, the great hope of the world, became represented by images of torture and Guantanamo Bay. Republicans should have been outraged…but instead, we defended “our guy” in the white house, and earned the public’s disdain. They grew tired of the Bush administration’s vision of America.
The GOP must articulate in clear terms positive, pro-active solutions for the problems and concerns that the American people have. Access to health care and secure retirement provisions are national concerns: We cannot simply be ‘against’ universal health care or social security, we must present clear, pragmatic, appealing alternatives.
As these proposals are formulated, we must be careful not to fall prey to the idea that we must choose to side with either the “moderates” or the “conservatives” within the Party. A lukewarm, “me-too” version of the Democrats is not a solution, but neither is cliché-ridden pandering to a shrill religious right. Rather, Republicans must forge a new path, a path that is consistent with both the Republican philosophy and the American spirit, and which resonates with voters of all stripes: we must combine fiscal conservatism and responsibility with social tolerance and liberalism. The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government and maximum personal freedom. It’s about time we reclaimed that heritage in a consistent manner.
As we present our alternatives, we must eradicate the mean-spiritedness, the innuendos, the mud-slinging, and the anger from our speech. We must offer vision, hope, and a future to all. If we want young people, minorities, and immigrants in the party, then we need to really want them, not just tolerate them and accept their contributions.
At the gathering, numerous snide remarks were made about the 'liberal media,' lawyers, teachers, and liberals in general. "Immigration" - a complete non-issue to anybody in Cheshire County, New Hampshire - somehow emerged as an important 'issue' to address. At my table, one religious conservative insisted that gay marriage and abortion were leading us to Socialism (I can't even begin to explain the twisted logic here...) On a positive note, I would say the majority at my table was tired of being the reloigious rights bludgeon.
I stated openly that we need to stop blaming immigrants, young people, gays, and the 'liberal media' for our problems, and was cut off by Horn, who insisted that the party does not 'blame' those groups for anything. And yet, that appears to be more of a political 'talking position' (the media was present) than the reality, as understood by the millions of Independents - and Republicans - who abandonned the GOP in the last election.
To be sure, there was a definite contingency present who agreed enthusiastically with me. We will not go away. But it will be a long hard fight - a fight that the GOP leadership seems very, very eager to avoid at all costs. But if they do not address it, one of those costs will be their own electoral success.