Archive for the ‘Generic Post’ Category

The Myth of American Tolerance   Leave a comment

The other day my wife and I were talking with an Iranian-American woman. We mentioned that we might teach English in order to finance travelling abroad. She asked why we didn’t become missionaries if we wanted to travel abroad.

I think that question caught us both off guard. Becoming missionaries wasn’t really something my wife and I had ever talked seriously about doing. For me personally, given my Catholic background, that kind of evangelism is deeply counter intuitive. Evangelism happens in the context of a other ministries to the under-served. But even more  than that, it just seems rude to me now. I have been abroad and I am shallowly aware of how little I know of other countries’ contexts and experiences. Going to another country, any other country, with the message “I know what you need,” just seems presumptuous and arrogant at this point in my life.

But my wife responded a bit more simply, “We have more respect for other religions than that.”

And that’s when it happened. It’s only happened a few other times in my life, but every time it does I get a few warm fuzzies and my heart almost breaks with sorrow.

Our Iranian-American friend looked overjoyed and relieved at the same time. She asked if she could hug my wife and looked as if she might cry.

And so the myth of American tolerance died for me all over again. This woman, this person who had come to my country years ago and started to raise a son here, had found it notable that my wife and I did not want to go to her country and tell them all the ways they were wrong. And not just notable, she had found it moving that my wife and I did not feel comfortable being missionaries.

I have never felt like that. I have never felt like that because the people of America have accepted me in a way they never accepted this woman. I have never felt like that because the people of Morocco accepted me too. I never had to ask my mother not to wear a headscarf when she dropped my son off at school so he wouldn’t be bullied, the way this woman had.

As a white Christian male citizen of the country with the world’s most expensive army, sometimes I’m glad that I don’t know the extent of my own privilege. Because even the glimpses of the unprivilege of others  shake my soul.

Posted 02/28/2013 by reluctantliberal in Generic Post

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Election Results   Leave a comment

Content Note: Government Corruption, Civil Rights Abuses, Drone Strikes, Police Militarization, Incarceration, the Drug War, Homophobia, the War on Terror

So here’s my reaction to what happened yesterday.

Obama Won

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, in terms of judicial appointments, the direction of federal leadership, and the future of health care in this country, we are significantly better off with Obama than we would have been with Romney. Overall, I think the country chose the lesser of two evils.

On the other hand, those two evils probably weren’t very far apart in almost any other respect. Under either Romney or Obama, our fiscal policy will print money and give it to the banks, our foreign policy will consist far more of bombs than development aid, and rampant corruption will continue with federal agencies cheering it on.

And while I do ultimately prefer Obama to Romney, I have to admit I’m curious how the Democrats in congress, who have cheered on Obama’s augmentation of executive power, would have reacted to a Republican president with the power to detain and kill anyone political expediency allow. Ah well, it looks like the mainstream left will ignore civil rights abuses for another four years.

The Democrats Still Control the Senate

This has most of the same tension contained in my reaction to Obama remaining president. Granted that the Democrats in congress are mostly cheering on rampant corruption and the erosion of civil liberties, they’re still a far preferable bunch to the likes of Akin, Mourdock, and Brown, who all lost.

But while I’m ambivalent about the Democrats retaining control of the senate, I am ecstatic that the Republicans were mostly rebuffed. Akin and Mourdock lost in parts of the country that they should have won in, and it is a sign to me that the US isn’t hopelessly mired in destructive conservative ideology.

The Republicans Still Control the House of Representatives

Which was expected. Actually the near inevitability of Republican control of the House (along with terrible filibuster rules in the senate) added to my ambivalence about the presidential elections. No matter who won the presidency, congress was going to make any major legislative agenda impossible.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY!!!

This is the election result I’m most excited about. Marriage Equality was affirmed in one form or another in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. I knew three years ago the demographics spelled the end of “Traditional” marriage, but I am thrilled that things are moving so quickly.

Marijuana Legalization

Several states voted to legalize marijuana, which I am praying is the beginning of the end of the Drug War. For those who don’t know much about our War on Drugs, it is arguably even more destructive than the War on Terror (even in foreign policy terms, if you consider its impact on Colombia and Mexico). The War on Drugs militarized our police force, drove gang violence, and gave the US the largest prison population in the world. It has torn apart families, and I’m hoping that these legalizations will be the first major step to end it.

For those of you considering moving to Colorado to open a pot shop, you should know that the DEA still considers Mary Jane illegal under federal law, and would be happy to prosecute you. Local police will leave you alone (at least, they should) but Uncle Sam won’t.

Monsanto’s GMO Victory

No good here. GMO’s will not be labeled in California. Monsanto and other big ag groups came in, outspent their opponents 4 to 1, and defeated an initiative that had more the 70% support a few months ago.

Overall

I’m far more excited about the election results than I expected to be. We’re still running our country into the ground in terms of corruption, infrastructure, education, non-lethal R&D, labor law, and general quality of life. But marriage equality and the rejection of reactionary Republicans gives me hope.

Repost: The Worst Civil Liberties Abuser in American History   Leave a comment

Content Note: Slavery, Government Harrasment, Civil Liberties Violations

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent article here about the topic. Hooray for history!

After all, owning human beings as chattel is the supreme civil liberties violation, by far the gravest civil liberties abuse in US history. That goes without saying. It is sui generis.

That’s why it was so bizarre to see that the very same Matt Yglesias, just moments later, pronounced Woodrow Wilson – a president who never owned any slaves and never presided over slavery – to be the “worst-ever president on civil liberties”, even suggesting that Wilson has no “serious competition” for that ignominious title. It was when I pointed out the irony of Yglesias’ selection of a non-slave-owning president in light of his tweet that the interesting question arose of who should be considered the worst civil liberties president in US history.

If one were simply to consider specific acts which constituted grave assaults on civil liberties – narrowly defined as the core political rights explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights: free speech, freedom from deprivation of life and liberty without due process, etc. – one could make a strong argument for several presidents. John Adamssigned The Alien and Sedition Acts, which essentially criminalized certain forms of government criticism in preparation for a war with France, a radical assault on the First Amendment.

Abraham Lincoln illegally suspended the core liberty of habeas corpus without Congressional approval. Wilson’sattacks on basic free speech in the name of national security were indeed legion and probably unparalleled. Franklin Roosevelt oversaw the due-process-free internment of more than 100,000 law-abiding Japanese-Americans into concentration camps.

 

Posted 11/05/2012 by reluctantliberal in Generic Post

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Vote Anyone Else   Leave a comment

If I were in the battleground state, I’m not sure what I would do.  I don’t like Obama.  As a matter of fact, I think he’s a war criminal.  And I think the things he couldn’t be convicted of are far worse than the things I think he should be convicted of.  He’s accomplished almost nothing in four years, and there’s hardly a campaign promise that he hasn’t broken.

But for all that, president Obama would still be infinitely better than a Romney presidency.  There are some states where the election could be decided by a few hundred votes.  As much as I despise Obama as a president, he’s far preferable than the alternative.  I don’t know, but if I were in a battleground state, I just might vote for the war criminal.

But I’m not in battle ground state.  All of my state’s electoral votes are going to go to Mitt Romney.  There’s nothing I can do about that.  As sometimes happens, conventional wisdom is wrong about voting.  Voting for either of the two major parties in my state would be throwing my vote away.  It would change nothing.  It would say nothing.  It would be pointless.

Voting for an independent candidate, on the Other hand, might say something. It wouldn’t change the outcome. My state is red. We established that. But it might just send a message of discontent with the two party non-choice that we’re given every four years. No, my candidate won’t win. My candidate was never going to win. But it might change our backwards conventional wisdom just a little bit. Right now, it looks like a few thousand votes in Ohio will decide the election. Every other vote is pointless.  California, for all its votes the electoral college, has no power in this election.  California is blue.  Everyone knows that California is blue.  Every vote cast for major party in California is a wasted vote.  It changes nothing and it says nothing. But every vote cast for a third party candidate is a registration of discontent.

I want the less evil presidency. I would take Obama over Romney. If I lived in a swing state, I might even vote for Obama. But I don’t live in a swing state. I live in a safe state. So given that my vote won’t change anything, I’m going to use it to register my discontent. If you live in a safe state, if your vote is as meaningless and useless as mine, you might try doing the same. Probably nothing will come of it, but it still has better odds of changing something than voting for either of the major parties.

Why I Don’t Trust the Police   Leave a comment

Content Note: Rape, Sexual Harassment, Protests, Police Abuse of Power, Religious Discrimination

There have been a few different news stories in the past week or so that have thrown this into relief for me.

First, there was the news of protests around the Muslim world. Most of the reporting I saw made these protests difficult to understand, which usually indicates bad or incomplete coverage. Any story that covers these protests without mentioning the fact that the United States has been invading, occupying, and bombing multiple Muslim countries for more than a decade now is not doing justice to the protesters complaints.

Anyway, I keep seeing these headlines like, “26 Killed in Pakistani Protests.” Notice the use of passive voice. It’s as if dying is just the natural result of participating in a protest. Maybe some of the dead got that way because of the actions of protesters, but if I had to guess, I’d guess most of those casualties were the result of police actions (police who are probably equipped at least in part with American made and American subsidized gear, if the police are from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, or any of the gulf states. Why are people protesting us again?). And that dynamic is repeated all over the place, including the United States. It’s doesn’t happen in the same degree in the United States, but it’s the same dynamic.

When Occupy Wall Street protesters crossed the Brooklyn bridge, it was police actions that forced the closure of the bridge for as long as it was closed (and there are reports that it was police operatives who got protesters to go on the traffic portion of the bridge in the first place). The protesters were all arrested, a process that took far longer than if they had simply been allowed to cross. Yet protesters received all the blame. And then again, reports of police using sexual harassment, excessive force, and illegal arrest are incredibly common from Occupy Wall Street protesters. And these complaints aren’t taken seriously despite the fact that we know the police have a long history of harassing and attempting to discredit protest movements. Seth Rosenfeld came out with a book a few weeks ago that showed the FBI actively trying to undermine Berkeley’s free speech movement. It not only investigated nonviolent protest groups, it attempted to get teachers who were too leftist fired.

And the media conspires to hide all this. Maybe they don’t do it consciously, but that “26 Killed” line is too common to be accidental. Violence between police and protesters is frequently blamed on the protesters, almost never on the police, and that just simply isn’t an accurate reflection of reality.

The second news story I heard was a radio interview about another gift the War on Drugs has given us: confidential informants. I guess there was a piece in The Atlantic about their use. Basically what happens is the police will get someone on a minor charge and then coerce them into becoming informants in more serious investigations. Frequently, all the promises made by the police are verbal, and sometimes not nearly enough is done to ensure the safety of the informant. And informants can be minors. In one case, the police threatened a sixteen year old with assault charges (for punching his teacher) unless he became an informant for them. They had this sixteen year make drug buys, and then they had him testify in open court. He was killed.

But police won’t be halting the practice of using minors as informants anytime soon. They’re needed. For the Drug War. After all, drugs are in schools. Who else will ensure that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. How can we maintain that kind of prestige unless we start young?

It reminded me of an episode of This American Life from a month or so ago. About the case where the FBI sent an informant into a California Mosque to look for terrorists, and members of the mosque wound up reporting that informant of being a suspected terrorist. I heard about that part of the story a while ago. What I hadn’t heard was that one of the two men who reported the informant was then brought up on charges of suspected terrorist activity. The FBI said they would drop the charges if the man would work for them… in Afghanistan. The man ultimately refused, and after a good deal more harassment, public embarrassment, and a few searches of his home, the charges were dropped anyway.

And that’s why I don’t trust the police. They use threats and harassment, both physical and legal, to get what they want. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of listening to a police officer speak about how they handled rape cases. It was unnerving for me. When the officer talked about going after perpetrators, trying to prove a case against them, he got a glint in his eye and a little bit of a smile on his face. He talked about how the police tried to get rapists. Apparently, at least where I live, police will harass a suspect until they can get him (and it’s almost always a him) to take a lie detector test. The test itself is inadmissible in court, but if it turns something up, the police can use that to further badger the suspect. They try to trip him up, get him to contradict himself. And when he does, they try to convince him how much better off he’ll be if he just confesses. And that’s how the police go after rapists.

And I won’t trust an organization that works like that. If that’s the best way to catch rapists (which I doubt), I still don’t have to trust the people who do it. A system that relies so heavily on tricks and threats and lies is not a trustworthy organization. Any system that places so much scrutiny on minority religions and nonviolent protest movements is not one that should be given much trust by what is supposed to a free and open society.

The Eleventh Anniversary   Leave a comment

Content Note: State Violence, Terrorism

Today, I want to commemorate a few people. I want to commemorate all the people who died in the World Trade Center Buildings. I want to commemorate the first responders, the families and friends of the victims, and all the people who suffered or will suffer health problems due to the toxic mix of chemicals that was created that day.

I also want to commemorate all the 9/11 victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Far more people died abroad in the name of 9/11 than died in the United States on the day itself. The low estimate of casualties in Iraq is 100,000 people. More than half of Afghans have PTSD type stress or anxiety disorders. Pakastani children have been killed by drone strikes at weddings and funerals. These too, deserve to be commemorated as victims of 9/11.

Update on the Reluctant Liberal   Leave a comment

Hi all,

I just started a new job. I hope to be blogging as much or more than I have in the past, but that won’t be happening until I settle in a bit. Probably early October would be a good guess, since I’ll be studying to take the LSAT until then. So, until further notice, expect fewer, shorter posts written by me, and expect most of those to be reposts. My GKC deconstructions will be put on hold until further notice (cruel, I know, since we were just getting to a really good part, but it’s necessary). I’m thinking about tinkering with them anyway. Since I’m new to writing deconstructions, it might be a better idea for me to start with fiction. But we’ll see.

In the meantime, I continue to grow even more stereotypically liberal every day. A few days ago, for example, my wife and I decided not to buy any more beef products. It’s not so much an issue of animal rights (though those are irrelevant) so much as it is an issue of resources. It takes about twenty times more land to feed people with animal products as it does to feed them with plant products. There’s a pretty irrefutable case that cattle production is leading to deforestation in South America, water depletion in the midwest and western portions of the United States, and starvation and poverty in developing countries that find it more profitable to produce beef (or animal feed) than they do to feed local people. (And that production is often controlled by foreign companies, so local communities that used to grow their own food don’t even see the profits that come from raising cattle or producing feed.) So yeah, eating beef isn’t so much an animal rights issue as it is a human rights issue.

I’m on the fence about chickens. I don’t think chickens are such a strain on the environment, and it helps that they’re dumber than cows as well. With chickens I’m mostly trying to figure out what companies are good to buy from, but I’m having trouble finding information I trust. (Actually, I’m in favor of individuals raising their own chickens. It’s just factoring farm practices that give me concerns. When chickens are allowed to scratch around a yard, they have positive impacts.)

In other news, it seems likely that police in New York shot bystanders in a shootout with a gunman in front of the Empire State Building. I don’t really blame the police (at this point). For all I know, their quick action saved lives. The people I blame are the ones that argue that mass shootings wouldn’t happen if everyone was armed. If trained police officers can’t control their fire in a crowded situation, what hope does the casual gun owner have? More guns would just lead to more suicides and accidental shootings. (And it needs to be pointed out that it’s only the fact that so many people have guns that our officers need to be armed at all. British police do not normally carry firearms, and they have much better crime rates (especially their murder rate) than we do.

Hopefully you’ll hear from me again soon.