Posts Tagged ‘america’

Not being Americish (Americese? Americian? I forget what the right adjective is) myself, I sometimes forget quite what a big deal many of Americaland’s inhabitants make out of the national flag, and allegiance pledged thereto.

I mean, they’re making serious efforts to pass a national law against “desecrating” the flag in any form, even if it’s something you own and you’re not doing anything to it that would be remotely controversial if there were any other pattern on it. Nothing to do with safety, they just think burning the flag is a bad thing and you shouldn’t do it – and, more to the point, they think they should be able to force you not to do it. A majority of US politicians seem to want this to happen.

And something that’s already on the lawbooks is a requirement for students to “show proper respect” to the flag. Schools regularly make children stand and recite a mantra of dogmatic subservience to the very concept of the flag – and, by extension, anyone claiming to represent what the flag stands for.

They used to get them to do something called a “Bellamy salute” in the flag’s direction as well, but for some unknown reason this fell out of fashion in the early 1940s.



Anyway, as per the above-linked Friendly Atheist article, a 19-year-old student recently fought a legal battle for the right not to have to stand up and make a promise she doesn’t sincerely mean.

It sounds like, in this particular case, things were resolved for the sane without much hassle. The superintendent decided she was right, and the code of conduct that requires everyone to stand for the pledge may well be altered in the near future.

But why the hell was this even a legal battle in the first place? Of all the rules schools might be expected to have in place to try and make sure students behave appropriately and the teachers can actually get some teaching done, why is acting out an arcane ritual to “show proper respect” to a flag something they insist is required by New Jersey law?

Laws are serious things. There’s a social agreement that, if you break a law, those charged with running the country get to infringe on your rights in ways they wouldn’t normally be allowed to. Often, this means you get put in prison. It’s highly unlikely it’d come to that in a case like this, of course, but even in the case of a less severe penalty, like the levying of a fine, you’re obliged to go along with it if you don’t want the punishment to escalate. If you don’t pay a fine, they’ll chase you for it. If you resist, you really will get thrown in jail.

They didn’t stand up and make empty promises to a flag when you think they ought to have?

Funny reason to think you’re entitled to lock someone in a cage.

Given my burgeoning interest in social justice and the increasing extremism of my libertarian stance on social issues, I can see that line becoming something of a catchphrase round here.

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Oh, Santorum. The liberal media never seem to cut you a break, do they?

Maybe because of shit like this.

Well, I’m not going to whole-heartedly leap on him for this one. I don’t know what he was trying to say about Obama. It wasn’t necessarily racist. Santorum’s not a flawless public speaker. Maybe he was going for something else and flubbed it. It’s not like “government nigger” is a common phrase, that I’m aware of, so I can’t think why he’d have had any inclination to use it here.

Maybe he did that thing where his brain prepared two different ways to go with the sentence, and hadn’t decided which one to use by the time his mouth got there, so he uttered a weird amalgam of both. I’ve done that. Like, telling someone “I’m doing gate”, when you meant to say either “good” or “great” and fumble it. It happens.

Here’s what pisses me off though:

Give me a break. That’s unbelievable. What does it say about those that are running with this story that that’s where their mind goes. You know, I’m not going to dignify that with [a response].

That is absolutely ridiculous.

That’s a quote from Santorum’s spokesman. It’s pretty desperate.

You think the problem is with the people running the story and “where their mind goes” when they hear your guy talking? He calls Obama a “government nig”, then says “uh” immediately after as he hesitates and mumbles his way out of the sentence. Even if he didn’t barely avoid using a racial slur, don’t act like people are getting crazy over nothing. It may well not be the case that Santorum only just caught himself before being seriously racist in public, but it’s not comically ridiculous to suggest that might be what happened.

Whatever it was he meant, and whatever he personally feels and believes about Barack Obama or black people in general, what he actually said sounded really bad. And you sound pitiful trying to pretend otherwise. Attribute it to an unfortunate slip of the tongue, and fucking apologise for how it came out.

(Yes, I’m back right after saying I’m going to be posting less often. Sue me. The point is, I’m working to my own schedule now.)

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Here’s an article about targeted drone strikes.

Here are a few choice phrases from the article, presented largely without comment, which make my head hurt.

In this new age of drone warfare, probing the constitutional legitimacy of targeted killings has never been more vital

There are contested legal issues surrounding drone strikes

Awlaki’s killing and others like it have solid legal support and are embedded in an unprecedentedly robust system of legal and political accountability

Whatever else the term “force” may mean, it clearly includes authorization from Congress to kill enemy soldiers

Congress as a whole is well aware of the president’s targeted killing program

The Supreme Court has ruled in many contexts that due process does not always demand judicial scrutiny

There is simply no way to wring all potential error from the system and still carry on a war

While the Obama administration can improve its public explanations for targeted killing, its critics have wildly overstated the legal concerns about the practice

There is every reason to think that the government was super careful

Super careful, you guys.

And finally:

President Harry Truman, for example, received a great deal of advice about whether and how to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it didn’t come from lawyers advising him on the laws of war.

Thank Christ we’ve come so far from those horrible days, when world leaders didn’t have the reassuring presence of legal experts there to assure them that killing millions of foreigners was technically fine as far as the paperwork was concerned.

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I’ve not got a lengthy piece of my own for you about the “rogue US soldier” who recently massacred sixteen people in Kandahar. But here are some things I’ve read which I think you should also read, and which should give you a flavour of my own feelings on the matter.

Farzana Versey
Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
Center for a Stateless Society
Practical Doubt

Also, Mitchell and Webb bring up an awkward question that perhaps America would do well to start asking themselves:


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– An interesting take on Godwin’s Law: the Nazis weren’t that special. And nor are Americans.

– Wow. Some state representatives have a lot of spare time in which to write people angry, incoherent, idiotic, hand-written letters.

– The Governor of Ohio wants to make it illegal for your car to have a “secret compartment”. There doesn’t even have to be anything in it. You’re probably only going to fill it with drugs, so you can’t be trusted with the responsibility.

– Read this. “Bullying is about as valid a rite of passage as female circumcision, and no less its spiritual equivalent.” Read it now.

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Ah, America. Sweet land of liberty. Home to so many rights and freedoms. Speech, religion, suffrage, ownership of property, dressing your pets up in people clothes and making them dance. Those USAnians have it all.

Of course, it’s not always been such a bastion of equality and fairness. It took a while before the above rights were extended to women or the insufficiently pale, after all. And there’s still a long way to go.

Today we’re saddened by the prevalence of racism in generations past. But how will our children’s children view our own callous refusal to grant all basic human rights to all human or potentially human beings, from the very moment of conception? For the love of God, won’t somebody please think of the just-fertilised eggs??

Yes, this was a real bill, really being considered by lawmakers in Oklahoma recently. But don’t worry: Sarcasm to the rescue!

However, any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.

That was an amendment put forward by a State Senator rather effectively trying to make fun of the bill’s content. It was withdrawn fairly swiftly after making its intended point, and before making any significant impact. (No, that’s not what she said. Stop that. This is serious political news.)

Anyway, I’m in something of a quandary over this.

Am I glad that there are lawmakers out there with a sense of humour, who have the nerve to take a comical stand against the kind of ridiculous ideological nonsense that some of their colleagues are trying to push through?

Or am I even more depressed that this is what constitutes a constructive work-day for the people who run the world and decide what rules are imposed on the rest of us?

In even less cheery news, Typhonblue points out another aspect of how messed up a lot of the laws about parental obligation already are, and how liable they are to seriously screw over men as well as women. Whether it’s technically legally true that men are always “strictly liable for where their sperm ends up”, I don’t know, but it doesn’t look like there are many cases around where it goes their way, even when they allege rape or simply theft.

Here’s a worrying-sounding sentence from one case in New York (emphasis mine):

But respondent’s constitutional entitlement to avoid procreation does not encompass a right to avoid a child support obligation simply because another private person has not fully respected his desires in this regard. However unfairly respondent may have been treated by petitioner’s failure to allow him an equal voice in the decision to conceive a child, such a wrong does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

Which seems to indicate that your sperm are your own liability, even if you don’t consent to or cooperate with their use in any given way. If you’re the father of a child, it doesn’t matter whether you had careless or deliberate unprotected sex, or you were kidnapped and milked for your precious bodily fluids. Once it’s biologically your kid, it’s your financial burden whatever your level of involvement.

The whole thing’s screwy in too many ways to count.

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You know when Irish rock band U2 released an album titled How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb?

You remember how they were then arrested and spent several years in Guantanamo Bay under suspicion of possessing illegal fissile material and intent to tamper with restricted government nuclear facilities?

No, you probably don’t. One reason why you don’t remember this is that nobody ever really suspected them of any kind of dangerous or unlawful activities relating to weapons of mass destruction.

It may have been possible that this album title was a surprisingly overt expression of a malicious intent to commit a terrorist act, made by individuals whom nobody has ever had any other reason to suspect.

But it’s more likely that they had their own, more benign reasons for using that particular combination of words, in a way that wasn’t quite literal.

In fact it’s a lot more likely. It probably never even occurred to anyone to weigh up the respective probabilities. They didn’t even waste time investigating the potential nuclear threat, because it was so vanishingly remote.

Unfortunately, that wisdom is something we seem to have lost in recent years.

Otherwise, when a British guy called Leigh joked on Twitter about “diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up” and his plans to “destroy America”, he and the friend he was travelling with wouldn’t have been handcuffed and detained overnight on arrival in the US before being denied entry and sent back home.

Even after five hours of questioning (and a night sharing a cell with Mexican drug dealers), they had still failed to explain the notion of “humour” to airport officials. Their interrogators didn’t find any grave-digging shovels in the tourists’ possession (and yes, apparently they checked), or anything else to suggest that they might have been doing anything other than hyperbolically discussing their party plans. But it was still deemed safest not to let them in.

The phrase I’ve heard that most pithily sums up the problem here, to my mind, is “Suspicion Fail“. The criteria for valid suspicion outlined in that post make sense: you should only view a person’s behaviour as suspicious if it is consistent with “bad” behaviour (such as intent to commit a crime), and inconsistent with innocent behaviour.

In the case of the “destroy America” tweets, these guidelines were not followed with any competence. Anyone who understands anything at all about the way people talk in casual conversation, and the flippancy and inconsequentiality that characterises a significant proportion of Twitter usage, could tell you that this guy’s tweets were entirely consistent with someone innocent of any terrorist intent.

If you are determined to take things that literally, all the time, regardless of the context, in the hope of catching the very occasional terrorist, then if you cast your net widely enough you are inevitably going to achieve a false positive rate which does more damage to society than any atrocity you manage to prevent.

And by the way, if you think what happened is made slightly less unconscionable because the joke tweet in question “wasn’t funny”, then congratulations, you don’t understand anything about anything.

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Almost every debate in American politics, about the law and what things it should or should not allow, brings up the issue of constitutionality.

The US Constitution, drawn up in the late 1700s when little ol’ America was just starting to cut loose of the apron strings and make its own way in the world, has formed the bedrock of its legal system ever since, and provided vital and unassailable decisions on how hundreds of millions of people’s lives should be run.

I’m not really a fan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s got some good ideas. It’s just weird how reverentially it’s treated sometimes. A lot of major political players and law-makers seem to act like it’s the unquestionable be-all and end-all of every legal dispute that can be imagined. If what you want to do is unconstitutional, no dice, end of.

And I don’t get it. If you share the values it espouses, then by all means embrace it for that, but… You do know that whether or not something matches up with what some guys 250 years ago had in mind isn’t as important as whether it’s actually a good idea, right?

I’ve seen this a number of times with regard to gun control. People who like their guns point to the “right to bear arms” guaranteed by the Constitution, while those on the left often claim that this was only intended to refer to the 18th century weaponry that existed at the time it was written. The country’s founders couldn’t have predicted the range of pistols, assault rifles, and the like available today, and wouldn’t have condoned their unchecked possession.

It’s hard to imagine what could be less useful to the gun control conversation that the imagined and hypothetical opinions of some people two centuries dead on the subject of modern technologies of which they had absolutely no knowledge. Can’t we try to be smart and figure out how it makes sense to act, based on what we know now?

Actually, you don’t even have to go as far as the Second Amendment to find a good example:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is generally about the government staying out of people’s way, which is largely a good thing. But the question of exactly what constitutes “freedom of speech”, against which no law shall be made, is a notoriously knotty one. There’s no mention of fraud, libel, or shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre anywhere in the clause. There have been numerous legal decisions since the Constitution regarding these subjects, as well as on things like obscenity and campaign finance, and the law itself acknowledges a good deal of nuance to an obviously complex issue.

But it still tends to be framed around whether certain harmful or undesirable forms of speech or expression are “constitutional”. It always seems to be about whether something “counts” under that part of the Constitution. Surely a decision to restrict or punish certain types of behaviour should stand on its own?

In practice, I imagine it usually does. The law is trying to reflect what behaviours are actually desirable or should be punished, and it probably doesn’t make a lot of difference that technically this takes the form of contrivances and qualifications being continually added to those important, constitutional principles. It just seems a strange obeisance to continue making.

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You may recall that yesterday I explained to some five-year-olds how the economy works.

Today, the over-simplified political discourse continues.

The opposition to raising taxes on the extremely wealthy generally comes down the value of their status as “job creators”. People and corporations with incomes well into the millions or billions of dollars provide employment for numerous workers across the country, the argument goes, and raising their taxes will cripple their ability to stimulate the economy in this vital way.

The implicit claim, then, is that making sure super-rich people don’t pay too much tax is good for everyone. The country as a whole benefits from their existence, and it will actually hurt more than just the fat cats at the top if you stifle their growth by raising their taxes.

Whether this is true in any given situation depends on too many factors for me to competently consider. But here’s one thought that should maybe temper our concern for the billionaires and all the good they do us:

With a debt of, as I keep hearing, around $14,000,000,000,000 to be paid off, some decisions may come down to either adding to the burden of the mega-rich – which, by the reasoning mentioned earlier, could possibly have negative repercussions for even the most socially disadvantaged Americans down the line – or simply placing the burden directly on those most socially disadvantaged by cutting welfare programs and the like.

This isn’t to say there are no savings to be made in the realm of social welfare spending. But telling us that not raising income tax on billionaires is the best thing for society as a whole is going to ring hollow when you have to take away people’s food stamps to do it.

The people who’d love the chance to work a 40-hour week at minimum wage to stop their family going hungry are society. For all that politicians claim to want what’s best for them, I worry about how they’re actually doing.

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So, Reason magazine. Any thoughts?

I’ve been following their online presence for a while. For some reason, I had the preconception that they were mostly focused on religion, secularism, and rationality, but I may have been thinking of someone else. Reason predominantly cover politics, and they’re an interesting crowd. Even when I’m not entirely on board with their message, disagreeing with them tends to feel more worthwhile than it does with a lot of other commentators, who are often just boringly wrong.

Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com who may or may not be played by Bill Hader, was recently on Bill Maher’s talk show:

I take issue with a number of things he said, but in a way that’s more fun to unravel than when someone like Rush Limbaugh says something obviously stupid and cruel.

Among the generally liberal panel on liberal Bill Maher’s liberal show, Nick seems to be kind of on his own in suggesting that America’s economic problems should be primarily solved through spending cuts. Here’s something he said that was received with particular agitation:

We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.

I’m not so interested in whether this statement instantly proves Nick Gillespie to be a Republican, as Bill Maher reckons it does. But I do think it misstates the problem.

Actually, I suppose it’s possible that the problem only lies in one area, but the situation of “being in debt” depends on the relationship between two factors: how much money you acquire, and how much money you spend. (Stop me if the Micawber-esque economics is getting too technical.) Given only that the US is spending more money than it makes, there are clearly two methods available for getting out of the red:

  1. Increase the amount of money made (while avoiding a corresponding increase in money spent),
  2. Decrease the amount of money spent (while avoiding a corresponding decrease in money made).

America doesn’t just have a spending problem. It has a problem with the money, and the money both comes and goes.

If we’re spending money in ways that aren’t worth the trouble of raising the funds, we should cut that spending. But if we’re spending money on things important enough that raising more funds (which generally seems to mean taxes) is the less harmful option, we should do that.

Given just how many $1,000,000,000,000s are being talked about, it seems unlikely that enough spending can be cut to clear the debt, without increasing revenues at all. Nick Gillespie does actually have some suggestions that would make this a more practical idea, such as ending America’s engagement in the wars with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Drugs (the scariest foreign land of all), but none of this seems to be remotely on the table for any of the country’s actual politicians, even the purportedly “small government” supporters on the right.

So it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, given this massive amount of money that’s already been spent which needs to actually be paid, to wonder whether the super-duper rich folks could be chipping in any more than they are now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting enterprise. I don’t want to punish people for working hard and becoming wealthy. I’m not saying we go crazy with this.

But I’m pretty sure the US economy was coping with income tax rates being what they were in the 1990s, before the Bush tax cuts came into play in 2001 and 2003. Those cuts were set to expire in 2010, but were extended. Business wasn’t being crippled and major corporations weren’t moving daily overseas to more liberal climes. And, presumably, tax revenues were significantly higher than they are now. So, maybe we could look at some things going back to how they were before?

I’m not saying that’s definitely the way to go. Someone who actually understands economics would surely see many ramifications to something like this which would never occur to me. But shouldn’t it at least be on the table? Or am I a socialist line-toeing democrat for even bringing it up?

So, that was a bit of a ramble which rather got caught up on one particular point made during the above clip. A lot of interesting stuff comes out in the rest of it, though, so have a look if you’ve got time.

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