Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Donald Trump Suggests Revoking Citizenship of Americans Who Engage in Constitutionally Protected Free Speech

Donald Trump is still more than a month away from taking the Oath of Office to become President of the United States yet he is already suggesting new ways to shred the protections set forth in the Constitution of the United States:

Plenty of other people have already pointed out that burning an American flag is a Constitutionally protected form of free speech, so I won’t belabor that point (though if the issue remains lively, perhaps I’ll come back and address the free speech implications including the late Justice Scalia’s view that flag burning is precisely the sort of speech that the First Amendment was intended to protect). What fewer people are discussing is Trump’s suggestion that the penalty might be “loss of citizenship”. That sort of thinking may be endemic to petty dictatorships or totalitarian countries but it is not how we punish people in America, especially for the “crime” of speech.

Yes, US law permits revocation of citizenship for a naturalized citizen (such as Melania Trump) for falsifying immigration and naturalization information (such as, perhaps, Melania Trump), refusing to testify about immigration information, for joining certain “subversive groups” (like the Communist Party, but apparently not the “alt-right”)*, or for being dishonorably discharged from the military (after a court martial) when service in the military was the basis for naturalization. The law does not permit denaturalization for merely criticizing the government, a governmental policy, or an elected official; nor does the law permit denaturalization for engaging in constitutionally protected activity other than association with certain groups (and I haven’t researched how courts have interpreted that exception with the First Amendment’s right to freedom of assembly). In fact, the law does not even permit denaturalization for commission of a crime.

But here is the important thing: There is absolutely no constitutionally permissible procedure for the United States to revoke citizenship from a natural born citizen unless that citizen intentional actions steps to renounce citizenship (such as actually renouncing citizenship or swearing allegiance to a foreign power in lieu of the United States). Absent such an act by a natural born citizen, the United States can’t revoke citizenship. Think of it this way: The United States did not revoke the citizenship of Japanese-Americans interred during World War II; nor did the United States revoke the citizenship of Vietnam-era protestors or draft dodgers (hey, there, Donald!); nor did the United States revoke the citizenship of “communists” exposed during the McCarthy era or of domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, or the Unabomber). And we certainly didn’t revoke the citizenship of people who exercised their First Amendment rights to criticize the American government, American policy, or American leaders (such as, for example, Donald Trump).

The very suggestion of revocation of citizenship as a penalty for … well, for anything … should terrify Americans. If revocation of citizenship is appropriate for flag burning (presuming it wasn’t constitutionally protected free speech), then for what other activity might revocation of citizenship also be appropriate? Engaging in an illegal protest? Giving support to a group or country deemed “bad” by the United States (such as Cuba or Venezuela or … Russia)? What about refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, kneeling during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, or saying that you are “ashamed” of America or that the President “is not my President”? Are those offenses for which revocation of citizenship should be contemplated as an appropriate penalty? All of them seem similar to burning the flag, don’t they?

And what about those of us who refuse to raise our arm at the proper 45° angle while chanting “Heil Trump”? Will our citizenship be revoked? Yes, obviously, that is an extreme example, but the point remains that an elected leader who even suggests using revocation of citizenship as a penalty, especially as a penalty for engaging in core constitutionally protected free speech is just the sort of demagogue for which those sorts of remote examples are exactly appropriate. It is often said that “dissent is highest form of patriotism” (often falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson), yet Donald Trump is threatening revocation of citizenship for a certain type of dissent with which he disapproves. Of course if we only permitted “approved” forms of dissent, it wouldn’t make for very good dissent, would it?

Donald Trump will soon swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. It would help if he had some tiny glimmer of what the Constitution says, what protections it provides, and why those protections exist. In a democracy like ours, we don’t punish people for dissent; we don’t punish people for criticizing their government; and we certainly don’t punish people by revoking their citizenship. So which parts of the Constitution will Trump defend?

We need to keep pointing out just how little Trump knows or cares about our democratic institutions and how outrageous some of his discriminatory and undemocratic ideas are so that, perhaps, his supporters will understand both the mistake that they’ve made in electing him and the fear being experienced by many minority communities and other detractors.

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*The law provides that naturalization can be revoked if a person within 5 years after being naturalized becomes a member of a group that would have precluded naturalization in the first place. Those groups are defined as:

(2) who is a member of or affiliated with (A) the Communist Party of the United States; (B) any other totalitarian party of the United States; (C) the Communist Political Association; (D) the Communist or other totalitarian party of any State of the United States, of any foreign state, or of any political or geographical subdivision of any foreign state; (E) any section, subsidiary, branch, affiliate, or subdivision of any such association or party; or (F) the direct predecessors or successors of a ny [sic] such association or party, regardless of what name such group or organization may have used, may now bear, or may hereafter adopt…

Query why the Communist Party is specified but groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, or certain non-totalitarian white nationalist parties (like the KKK) are not included.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Friend Died Yesterday; Her Name Was America

It is very difficult to describe the depth of my pain and sorrow this morning. I have long thought of America as an ideal, imperfect, but always striving to be that more perfect union. A land where the petty hatreds that have torn at the fabric of humanity for millennia could finally be laid to rest as all people would be treated equally and with dignity, a land where people could choose to live according to the dictates of their faith (or lack thereof) with the respect of their neighbors, and where people of all races could mingle knowing their differing values and views, traditions and hopes, would be welcomed to the giant melting pot. Where e pluribus unum was more than just an old motto carved into monuments.

And I know that some of those who voted for Donald Trump share that ideal.

For years, beginning when I was in junior high school and continuing through the present, in one capacity or another, I have worked to help further that vision of America and to help bring about the promise of equality and an expansion of civil rights, whether with regard to religion, race, sexual orientation, or any of a host of other categories. And, since the very beginning of 2008, I’ve written this blog. I’m pretty certain that if you go back and read about the issues on which I’ve written, you’ll discover my passion for equality, dignity, and civility has been a consistent theme. I’m sure that from time-to-time, my anger or frustration, have gotten the better of me, but I’ve strived to offer people an opportunity to engage me in civil discussion over important issues, at the core of which are the rights and dignity of all Americans.

I understand that people were angry with how the system was working (or not working). I understand some people felt dislocated by the transition in the economy from manufacturing to services and tech. I understand that some people felt left out by globalization and other rapid changes in our economy. And I certainly understand that many people feel as if their voice doesn’t matter because of the influence of money and special interests in our political system. I get that. And I get that not everyone who voted for Donald Trump did so on the basis of animus for those who don’t look or think the same way that they do.

But last night, I seemed as if nearly 60 million people told me that all of the ideals that I’ve worked for, all of those ideals that I hold at the core of what our country is supposed to represent — supposed to be — didn’t matter. They told me that they don’t care about equality for the LGBT community. They told me that they don’t care about voting rights for African-Americans. They told me that they don’t care about splitting up immigrant families or the harm to undocumented immigrants for whom America is the only home they’ve ever known. They told me that they don’t care about the plight of those fleeing civil war and horrific brutality. And they told me that they don’t care that they are aligning with those who view me as a subhuman who should be led to the gas chambers with my family because I am a Jew. Excuse me, I meant to say (((Jew))).

So when I woke up this morning and reflected on the election, I had to consider something that others have told me from time-to-time: This isn't really my country. I can only wonder if some see this as only as “their country” which they have now “taken back” from “the other” while allowing those who don’t fit into the majority cohort to stay here as something … well, something less. It is a country that belongs to its white, Christian majority that has tolerated the presence of Jews, Muslims, and others, has grudgingly granted something approaching equality to people who aren’t white, and which is reluctantly grappling with the question of what to do with the fact that there are homosexuals (and transgender people) in our midst. But I now understand, more so than I have previously, that the minority communities of America are not, at least to a large swath of the population, “real Americans”.

Please understand that I'm not suggesting and don't believe that all of the people who voted for Trump are racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, misogynists, bigots, or the like. But I am extremely troubled that those people chose to ignore or forgive those traits when they cast their vote. A vote for Trump may not, in and of itself, represent racism and its associated bigotries, but it did validate Trump’s racist views and the views of the alt-right, KKK, and the like. Those votes told Trump that his use of racism and bigotry was a winning tactic and, as such, will likely persist and increase in the American political lexicon and playbook. And it emboldened those who viewed him as giving voice to what they perceive as an embattled white (and, in particular, white Christian) America.

So after this election, how do you look at your gay cousin who must now worry that his newfound equality (still a work in process) will be stripped away, his marriage nullified, his adoption of a baby reversed? How do you look at your Muslim colleague who wants nothing more than to live in peace with his neighbors now that he knows that a huge swath of his country and his President-elect think he is a terrorist who hates America and intends violence upon us? How do you look at your Latino co-worker who worries that her mother may be deported or that she cannot serve as a judge simply because of her heritage? How do you look at your African-American acquaintance who worries that her husband or child will be shot by police for driving without a broken brake light? How do you look at your Jewish friend who heard vicious anti-Semitism from Trump supporters, such as exhortations to put America's Jews into gas chambers?

Perhaps it's because far to many of you have no gay cousins, Muslim colleagues, Latino co-workers, black acquaintances, or Jewish friends, most likely because our society has become so bifurcated and polarized and “those people” live only in the “blue” urban areas that seem foreign and alien to you. Perhaps you don't see those people as being your friends, of being real Americans, of being human and entitled to the same dignity you expect for yourself. I don’t think Donald Trump’s presidency is going to make minorities feel more a part of our society or make you think of them as being more American.

But even if you don’t really care about the gay cousin, Muslim colleague, Latino co-worker, black acquaintance, or Jewish friend, how do you look at your daughter who now knows that you can forgive the admission of sexual assault, use of terms like "pig" and "bimbo", serial philandering, and pussy grabbing? And how do you explain to your son that the things that his President brags about are unacceptable … but that you voted for him anyway?

To me, America was both my country and an ideal; an ideal that I put years and years of effort into making more perfect so that all of us could live together in peace. Last night that ideal was ripped away.

Let me conclude with the hope that I expressed nearly a year ago, when I began to see the rise of Donald Trump as a serious candidate:

It’s time to recapture the idea of America from demagogues like Trump. It’s time to recapture the idea of an America in which competing ideas can be discussed civilly and in which the notion of a melting pot, of e pluribus unum, is celebrated. It’s time to put hate and fear aside in favor of efforts to make friends across barriers and to take the time to learn about others who may be different than we are. We can disagree on policies but recognize that we are all Americans who value the concept of America. We can disagree on those policies but learn to discuss them without hate or rancor, without viewing those with whom we disagree as the enemy or intent to destroy the idea of America.

But our democracy worked as designed. A minority of voters elected a racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, misogynistic, know-nothing, fascist.

I feel like a good friend died yesterday. Her name was America.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Would the “Bradley Effect” Help Clinton or Trump?

When looking at polling data and trying to extrapolate the expected results in an upcoming election, one thing that is often encountered has come to be known as the “Bradley Effect”. In 1982, former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was running for Governor of California. All of the polls showed that he was leading in the days leading up to the election. Thus, most everyone was surprised when Bradley lost. Essentially, what appears to have happened was that white voters told pollsters that they would (or had) voted for Bradley (who was African American), but when the votes were actually counted, Bradley did worse than expected due(apparently) to white voters who told pollsters one thing but did another. This phenomenon has been seen in other elections (almost always when one candidate is a minority).

So the question becomes whether the Bradley Effect might be in play in the 2016 Presidential election. And the follow-up question is, of course, who the Bradley Effect would help or hurt?

One view is that many people who plan to vote for Donald Trump don’t want to publicly admit that they will be doing so (or have already done so) because they don’t want to be labeled a “deplorable” or a racist, bigot, etc. It seems reasonable to believe that there could be many, many voters who would refuse to admit support for Trump for just this sort of reason. Similarly, I wonder about support for Trump among minorities who may be attracted to Trump’s immigration policies but who feel constrained –- by being minorities themselves -- not to be seen supporting someone who is criticized for his views about minority groups. I’m not so sure that other reasons why someone might lie about supporting Trump make as much sense or would account for too many voters. And I cannot begin to evaluate the idea that some men will proclaim support for Clinton only to decide that they really don’t want a woman as President.

Now the thing to ask yourself about these “hidden” Trump voters is whether they are telling pollsters that they are voting for Clinton, thus elevating her apparent support, voting for a third party candidate (in which case they will help Trump but not to Clinton’s direct detriment), or are included in the category of undecided voters.

Of course there is an opposite side to the Bradley Effect in the 2016 election.

Might some voters, especially women or young people, be telling pollsters that they are planning to vote for Trump because they are expected to do so based on race, locale, economics, or so forth. How many women, for example, might be planning to vote for Clinton -– either because she is a woman or because of Trump’s misogynist statements –- but don’t want to let those in their family and friend circles know because of the expected backlash they might expect? Imagine, if you will, the dinner table discussion in the home of a white, working class family, where neither the husband nor wife has a college education. In that situation, might one (or both!) of them be reticent to express support for Clinton or opposition to Trump because of concern about the spouse’s expected reaction?

It seems that passions are so high this electoral season, that it might not be surprising if people were hesitant to admit support for or opposition to one candidate out of concern about how they might be perceived by family and friends. And that hesitation might carry over in to responding to the questions of pollsters. It might even be seen in the exit polls that are reported on election night.

Two final anecdotes to add to all of this: Last night (Halloween), I sat on my driveway handing out candy to trick-or-treating kids. And I talked to parents who trailed behind their kids along the sidewalk. It was hard for them to miss the makeshift Clinton (and John Gregg for Governor) sign I’d put up in my yard (my “real” sign was stolen after being up for just five days). One man, who by application of stereotypes, I presumed would be a Trump supporter (remember, I live in a very red district), told me that he loved my sign and said that he wished that he had the “courage” (his word) to put up his own Clinton sign. What do you think he is telling pollsters, if asked? At the other end of the spectrum, another family saw my sign and told their child that she didn’t need to come up my driveway for candy. I guess they expected a Clinton supporter to try to poison their child, right?

Anyway, for two additional views on the subject, you might want to read both “GOP insiders: Polls don't capture secret Trump vote” and “How large is the “Secret Hillary Club”? Red-state women may be defying their Trump-loving husbands”.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Right to Hunt and Fish Does Not Belong in Indiana’s Constitution

Portions of this post were originally published on February 9, 2011 in a post entitled “You Have Got to (Cluck) Be Kidding Me”.

As I think I’ve previously said on an occasion or twelve, constitutions (whether that of the United States or the State of Indiana) are important documents. They represent the basic framework under which our government works and provide a broad description of rights retained by citizens. Constitutions are for the “big stuff” and aren’t the place to deal with the mundane. Thus, I want to look at one of the dumbest proposed constitutional amendments that I’ve ever seen:

(a) The right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife:

(1) is a valued part of Indiana's heritage; and
(2) shall be forever preserved for the public good.

(b) The people have a right, which includes the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to the laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly to:

(1) promote wildlife conservation and management; and
(2) preserve the future of hunting and fishing.

(c) Hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

(d) This section shall not be construed to limit the application of any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights

The proposed amendment was sponsored by eight Indiana Republican legislators and was supported by Gov. Pence. Both the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International support the amendment while The Humane Society and the Hoosier Environmental Council oppose it. If adopted, this provision would be enshrined in Indiana’s Bill of Rights.

There are so many problems with this proposed amendment that it’s hard to pick a good place to start.

First, is this really the sort of provision that needs to be added to our Constitution? And, just in case you’re not sure, here are the titles of all of the other provisions in Indiana’s Bill of Rights, to which this “right” to hunt and fish would be added:

Inherent rights · Right to worship · Freedom of religious opinions · Freedom of religion · No religious test for office · No state money for religious institutions · Religion no bar to competency of witnesses · Mode of oath administration · Freedom of thought and speech · Libal, truth as defense [sic] · Search and seizure · Openess of the courts, Speedy trial [sic] · Rights of accused, Rights of victims · Double jeopardy and self-incrimination · Rights of persons arrested · Excessive bail or fines, Cruel and unusual punishment · Bailable offenses · Penal code and reformation · Criminal cases—Jury determination · Civil cases--Right of trial by jury · Compensation for services and property · Debts—Imprisonment exemption · Equal privileges and immunities · Ex post facto laws · Laws—Taking effect · Suspension of laws · Habeas corpus · Treason defined · Treason, proof · Effect of conviction · Right of assemblage and petition · Arms—Right to bear · Military · Quartering of soldiers · Titles of nobility · Freedom of emigration · Slavery—prohibition

If you’re curious about any of those rights, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read them (I bet very few Hoosiers have ever actually read even a small part of Indiana’s Constitution).

But anyway, does the right to “hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife” belong in that list? How does it compare to things like the right to worship, freedom of religion, search and seizure, double jeopardy, right of trial by jury, and slavery? Think about how our Bill of Rights would read: “… Section 36. Freedom of emigration. Section 37. Slavery—prohibition. Section 38. Freedom to hunt and fish.” Wow, what a modern state we must be!

Query whether there is any real concern that hunting, fishing, or harvesting wildlife are in jeopardy here in Indiana. Has anyone seriously proposed prohibiting hunting, fishing, or harvesting wildlife? And other than discussions about whether we should ban “hunting” animals who are in cages, have there been any real discussions about limiting the right to hunt, fish, or harvest wildlife? If not, why do we need to protect these “rights” and why do we need to do so in the Constitution?

Think of some of the other “rights” that we all know that we have but that aren’t in the Constitution: the right to procreate, the right to name our children as we choose (not true in some European countries…), the right to marry who we want (within limits … sorry … couldn’t resist), the right to speak whatever language we want, the right to play a guitar or piano, the right to put mayonnaise on your roast beef sandwich (though, if you do so, I may never speak to you again). I could go on and on. There are plenty of things that we can do that we haven’t bothered to put into our Constitution. Why are hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife so important? There are also many things that are important parts of our heritage that aren’t enshrined in our Constitution. Where is the right to play basketball?

I’m also curious about the meaning of the phrase “shall be forever preserved for the public good”. What does that even mean? Does it mean that the right is a public good or does it mean that hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife are a public good? And how are we supposed to preserve either of those things for the public good? If someone doesn’t want to fish or hunt , must we require them to do so? And by “public good” do we mean that the product of hunting and fishing is a resource belonging to the State and its citizens? And how exactly is killing an unarmed deer in the woods or putting a hook through a fish’s gills before throwing it back into the water a “public good”? How do either of those things benefit the public, generally, or me, in particular?

The right of people to hunt and fish includes “traditional methods”. What does that mean? I suppose that shooting animals with guns or bows and using lures for fish are traditional methods. But what about setting traps in the woods or stringing nets across streams and rivers? Those seem like traditional methods, too. So does this amendment provide a constitutional right to stretch a net across the white river or place traps in your local woods? (“Oops, sorry Mrs. Smith, we didn’t mean for little Billy to get caught in our beaver trap; we’ll pay for the surgery to amputate his foot…”)

Note further that section (b) is written quite poorly. Do the limitations set forth in subparagraphs (1) and (2) apply to “laws prescribed by the General Assembly” or only to “rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly”? That sort of ambiguity is likely to lead to disagreement and litigation and could easily have been addresses before the amendment was approved by the General Assembly.

More importantly, look at those two limitations: “(1) promote wildlife conservation and management; and (2) preserve the future of hunting and fishing”. As I read section (b), the only restrictions that can be placed on hunting or fishing are ones to “promote wildlife conservation and management” or “preserve the future of hunting and fishing” (whatever that may mean). Thus, a law that limits hunting or fishing in any way that does not promote conservation (or preserve the future of hunting and fishing) will be unconstitutional. In other words, a designated hunting season would probably be unconstitutional. Prohibitions on cruelty to animals being hunted would probably be unconstitutional. Clearly a law that prohibits hunting animals trapped in cages would be unconstitutional. And I suspect that a law prohibiting the use of dynamite to kill fish en masse would also be unconstitutional. I can even see laws written to preserve safety (e.g., wear an orange vest) being deemed unconstitutional because they might infringe on the right to hunt or fish (hey, an orange vest isn’t “traditional” is it?).

And what about laws that prohibit hunting in certain areas? I suppose that a law banning hunting in a local park might pass as one promoting wildlife conservation (presuming that the legislature that passed that law remembered to identify that as the reason for the law and not, say, the safety of park goers). But what about a law that prohibits the discharge of firearms within city limits? What about a law that prohibits hunting in residential areas? What about a law that prohibits my neighbor from shooting into my yard? Hopefully, the exception for trespass and property rights would cover that. Hopefully. But what will stop my neighbor from shooting squirrels in the common area of my neighborhood at all hours of the day? Oh, and can you hunt a stray dog?

Then, think about that next provision: “Hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife”. Really? Why? Why do we want to prefer hunting and fishing over other forms of wildlife management (birth control, relocation, fencing, and other non-lethal methods, for example)? Why are we deciding today that hunting and fishing are preferred? And remember just how difficult it is to amend our Constitution. Perhaps in a few years, we’ll discover a better way to manage and control wildlife. But we may not be able to use that method so long as some people would rather use the “preferred” method of hunting and fishing. Is that really the sort of thing to put in our Constitution? Do we provide a constitutionally preferred method to treat cancer and manage diabetes? Do we provide constitutionally preferred books or religions?

Apparently, groups like the NRA believe that:

Sportsmen have been under attack for many years by well-funded, national anti-hunting groups who demonstrate a clear disregard for both the cherished traditions of many Americans as well as responsible wildlife management in their drive to eliminate hunting and fishing.

Really? Really? So we should amend our Constitution? And query whether this is a true claim or if it is the same sort of “they’re coming to take your guns” fear-mongering at which the NRA excels. Perhaps more importantly, if a majority of Hoosier legislators, in response to the wishes of their constituents, want to impose additional restrictions on hunting or fishing, why shouldn’t we allow that? Are hunting and fishing really the sort of fundamental rights (like freedom from slavery or choice of marriage) that we need to protect in the Constitution (thus requiring a minimum of 3 years and 2 elections to change)?

This proposed amendment is a bad idea that addresses a problem that does not exist. It will create new problems, limit the ability of Hoosiers to protect themselves, and restrict our ability to change the law to reflect changing attitudes or technology. It may even be used as a way to counter efforts to enact additional gun control measures (“hey, you can’t require me to undergo a background check because if I fail the background check, how will I be able to hunt?”). In short, this amendment is nothing more than a ploy by the NRA and like-minded groups to encourage a particular hobby and to sell more guns.

Please vote no.

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Back in 2011, the General Assembly passed a slightly different version of this amendment, but it was amended before being passed a second time. Here is the language of the original amendment that I wrote about:

The people have a right to hunt, fish, harvest game, or engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, or poultry, which is a valued part of our heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good, subject to laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly.

So what happened to the right to engage in agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, or poultry? Why did the legislature decide that hunting and fishing were important rights but that agriculture wasn’t? I suppose that growing kale and raising a coop full of chickens doesn’t sell many guns for the NRA.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Donald Trump and the Central Park Five

In April 1989 a brutal crime was committed in Central Park in New York City. A woman was raped and beaten nearly to death. Five teenagers, four African American and one Latino, were arrested and charged with the crime. A few weeks later, Donald Trump paid to run a full page advertisement in four New York newspapers:

Trump Central Park Five

BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY.

BRING BACK OUR POLICE!

What has happened to our City over the past ten years? What has happened to law and order, to the neighborhood cop we all trusted to safeguard our homes and families, the cop who had the power under the law to help us in times of danger, keep us safe from those who would prey on innocent lives to fulfill some distorted inner need. What has happened to the respect for authority, the fear of retribution by the courts, society and the police for those who break the law, who wantonly trespass on the rights of others? What has happened is the complete breakdown of life as we knew it.

Many New York families — White, Black, Hispanic and Asian — have had to give up the pleasure of a leisurely stroll in the Park at dusk, the Saturday visit to the playground with their families, the bike ride at dawn, or just sitting on their stoops — given them up as hostages to a world ruled by the law of the streets, as roving bands of wild criminals roam our neighborhoods, dispensing their own vicious brand of twisted hatred on whomever they encounter. At what point did we cross the line from the fine and noble pursuit of genuine civil liberties to the reckless and dangerously permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh at her family’s anguish? And why do they laugh? They laugh because they know that soon, very soon, they will be returned to the streets to rape and maim and kill once again — and yet face no great personal risk to themselves.

Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence. Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop. I recently watched a newscast trying to explain the “anger in these young men”. I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.

How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!

When I was young, I sat in a diner with my father and witnessed two young bullies cursing and threatening a very frightened waitress. Two cops rushed in, lifted up the thugs and threw them out the door, warning them never to cause trouble again. I miss the feeling of security New York’s finest once gave to citizens of this City.

Let our politicians give back our police department’s power to keep us safe. Unshackle them from the constant chant of “police brutality” which every petty criminal hurls immediately at an officer who has just risked his or her life to save another’s. We must cease our continuous pandering to the criminal population of this City. Give New York back to the citizens who have earned the right to be New Yorkers. Send a message loud and clear to those who would murder our citizens and terrorize New York — BRING BACK THE DEALTH PENALTY AND BRING BACK OUR POLICE!

Donald J. Trump

All five of the teenagers (who came to be known as the Central Park Five) eventually confessed, were tried, and convicted. The oldest (16 years old) was tried and sentenced as an adult. But because New York did not have the death penalty, the teens were spared execution.

Which is probably a good thing because all five were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

Another man eventually confessed to the crime and to other crimes that had been blamed on gangs of roving youth. His DNA matched that of the semen found in the victim and he knew details about the crime that the police had not publicized. Oh, the confessions of the teens? Right. Their confessions were obtained under duress, without counsel, without their parents (remember, they were minors), and were inconsistent. But the police, prosecutors, and jury all chose to ignore those inconsistencies and lack of DNA evidence tying the teens to the crime.

In 2014, well over a decade after the Central Park Five were finally exonerated, the New York City settled a lawsuit and agreed to pay the men $40 million dollars. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump was displeased by this and so he wrote an op-ed which was published in the New York Daily News:

My opinion on the settlement of the Central Park Jogger case is that it’s a disgrace. A detective close to the case, and who has followed it since 1989, calls it “the heist of the century.”

Settling doesn’t mean innocence, but it indicates incompetence on several levels. This case has not been dormant, and many people have asked why it took so long to settle? It is politics at its lowest and worst form.

What about the other people who were brutalized that night, in addition to the jogger?

One thing we know is that the amount of time, energy and money that has been spent on this case is unacceptable. The justice system has a lot to answer for, as does the City of New York regarding this very mishandled disaster. Information was being leaked to newspapers by someone on the case from the beginning, and the blunders were frequent and obvious.

As a long-time resident of New York City, I think it is ridiculous for this case to be settled — and I hope that has not yet taken place.

Forty million dollars is a lot of money for the taxpayers of New York to pay when we are already the highest taxed city and state in the country. The recipients must be laughing out loud at the stupidity of the city.

Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.

What about all the people who were so desperately hurt and affected? I hope it’s not too late to continue to fight and that this unfortunate event will not have a repeat episode any time soon — or ever.

As citizens and taxpayers, we deserve better than this.

So why do I bring up this incident and the aftermath? Because I think that a careful look at what Trump said (and didn’t say, I suppose) helps us understand what Trump really believes and how he might act as President.

Let’s start with is initial full page ad calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty. Not only that, though, but also calling for the death penalty against minors. First, it’s obviously a good thing that the teens weren’t executed (and that is precisely the reason that I do have serious concerns with capital punishment); after all, once a person is dead, it’s hard to say “oops, sorry” when the conviction is overturned and the person exonerated. I note, though, that in his 2014 op-ed, Trump never apologizes for demanding that the teens be executed or acknowledges what the ramifications might have been had New York met his demands.

It is also worth noting that Trump’s prediction that the teens “will be returned to the streets to rape and maim and kill once again” turned out to be wrong.

But then we get to the core of Trump’s position — and here is where Trump’s worldview really begins to get scary:

I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence. Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will.

Now I don’t really disagree with him at wanting to have negative feelings toward muggers and murderers, though I think “hate” is probably too strong a word; I’ll reserve that for other things (though of course each situation is fact dependent). But he wants them to “suffer”. Is that why we incarcerate criminals? As far as I’m aware, in many states the expressed reason for incarceration is punishment and rehabilitation, not to make the convicted criminal “suffer” (and yes, I do see a difference between punishment and suffering). Our Constitution specifically prohibits cruel and unusual punishment; I would argue that making criminals “suffer” because of our collective “hate” is precisely what the Constitution sought to prohibit.

Note further, Trump’s claim that he will “always” hate these murderers. Hmm. Does that hate continue even after they’ve been exonerated? Look closely at Trump’s 2014 op-ed where Trump continues to attack the teens: “These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.” In Trump’s world, are we supposed to be convicting, punishing (via “suffering”), executing, and hating people who don’t have “the pasts of angels”? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Are we to continue hating people who have served their time in jail or who have shown honest remorse for their actions?

And then Trump tells us that he doesn’t want to “understand their anger”:

I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop. I recently watched a newscast trying to explain the “anger in these young men”. I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.

Sadly, unless I’m mistaken, empirical studies demonstrate that punishment for certain types of crimes doesn’t act as much of a deterrent. More importantly, why did (does?) Trump not want to understand the anger being expressed via criminal act? To understand something isn’t to agree with or condone it. But to understand something may be the best way to try to counter it or prevent it. For example, if the anger is fueled by lack of opportunity or by terrible schools or by a sense of institutionalized racism, then aren’t those things that we, as a society, can and should address? If crime is an outlet when there isn’t any hope or when there aren’t any socially acceptable (and legal) activities for youth, then isn’t that something that we can try to alleviate? What if these teens had an opportunity to play in youth sports leagues, or receive good mentoring, or had schools from which they saw a path to graduation and eventual employment at a living wage? But if we’re not offering even those sorts of opportunity, should we be totally surprised at youthful anger?

Look, I don’t know what was going on in the minds of Central Park Five, whether they were guilty of other crimes, whether they were troublemakers or just kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether poverty and the like were the primary motivating factors in their behaviors, or whether they were evil. But it seems that just being angry, just wanting to punish, and not wanting to understand means that you don’t want to find ways to solve the problem at all. Punishment may be a balm for a raw nerve but it probably won’t stop the next criminal act motivated by the same underlying factors.

This point has application beyond just local crime, too. Re-read Trump’s words about not wanting to understand and wanting the criminals to be afraid. But this time, instead of thinking of a bunch of criminals in New York City, think of al-Qaeda or ISIS or even homegrown terrorists:

I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop. I recently watched a newscast trying to explain the “anger in these young men”. I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.

Again, I would argue that understanding their anger (understanding, not accepting) is likely the first step toward stopping it. We’ve been punishing terrorists with bombs and missiles and troops. And they may, in fact, be afraid. But they haven’t stopped, have they?

Trump then asks rhetorically, “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits?” While he was characterizing violent teenagers as “crazed misfits” couldn’t his accusation be equally applicable today to mass shootings in our shopping malls and movie theaters? For that matter, couldn’t his accusation also be applicable to the shooting of unarmed, often innocent civilians, by the police? Or what about the bankers who allow the housing market to collapse (or to billionaires who cheered for its collapse) or companies who pollute our air and water? Somehow I doubt that Trump 2016 would recognize those comparisons with Trump 1989.

But then we come to the most damning sentence in Trump’s op-ed and the sentence that led me to write this post in the first place:

Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!

First, the Constitution doesn’t provide that rights end when someone becomes a criminal; just the opposite, in fact. The Constitution provides for a right to a trial by jury, a right to a speedy trial, a right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and perhaps most importantly, a right against cruel and unusual punishment. In the years since the Constitution was adopted, courts have recognized that suspects have to be told their rights (Miranda warnings), have a right to an attorney, and, if I’m not mistaken, if they are minors, have a right to the presence of their parents. The need for these rights should be self-obvious, but this is Donald Trump that we’re talking about so it’s quite possible that he just doesn’t get it or just doesn’t care.

So once again, take Trump’s claim that civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins and imagine how he might put that into play as President. He’s already told us that he would reinstate the use of torture against terrorists, but of course the question of whether someone is a terrorist would not have been adjudicated at the time that the torture was being used, would it? He’s told us (including during the first debate) that he would reinstate the unconstitutional “stop & frisk” tactic and has even said that he wanted police to take guns away from “bad people” (again without any sort of prior adjudication of who is “bad”; I have to wonder if it depends on the color of their skin or the language that they speak).

When you combine the ideas of making criminals “suffer” with a claim that they lose their “civil liberties” then doesn’t Trump’s America begin to look like one of those Third World hellholes he seems to already believe America to be? The Central Park Five did have civil liberties and they were still wrongly convicted. What would happen if we didn’t grant accused criminals their civil liberties in the first place? Does Trump’s call for the reinstatement of torture only apply to terrorists or would he support torturing accused violent criminals to obtain information or confessions? How would we explain years of suffering at the hands of the state if a criminal was eventually exonerated? But that is the America that Trump was demanding in 1989 and, seemingly, still wants today.

Trump also relates a quaint tale from his youth of police roughing up a couple of bullies. This anecdote prompted me to wonder about three things: First, why didn’t Trump’s father intervene? Why didn’t he teach young Donald how to stick up for others? Did the elder Trump sit idly by while the waitress was being harassed instead of asking the bullies to stop? And if not, what kind of lesson did that teach young Donald (and was he orange as a child…)? Second, why didn’t the police arrest the “thugs”? Why put them back on the street to terrorize the waitress (or others) again? And third, why is it that Trump’s “feeling of security” only came about from the police using force? Perhaps force, along with money, are the only things that Trump really understands. We know that he seems not to object by the use of force by police; after all, witness his criticism of complaints of police brutality in the very next paragraph where he seems to be demanding that police be “unshackled” from prohibitions on the use of unnecessary force. Would the event have been less had the police simply talked to the bullies to defuse the situation or was it the use of force, even if only minor force, that made an impact upon Trump? Maybe that’s why he has been so quick to advocate violence against protestors at his rallies.

And what exactly did Trump mean when he talked about “citizens who have earned the right to be New Yorkers”? Was he suggesting that some people, oh, I don’t know, maybe those who have darker skin, haven’t “earned the right” be New Yorkers? What does one do to “earn” that right?

Moving on to Trump’s 2014 op-ed, the first thing that strikes me is his claim is that “Settling doesn’t mean innocence”. That’s true. Of course, with regard to the Central Park Five, the confession of another man who had specific knowledge of the crime and who was tied to the crime by DNA evidence probably does mean innocence. Moreover, it’s worth noting that when Trump spoke during the first debate about the lawsuit against for racial discrimination in housing, he talked about settling without an admission of guilt as if that settlement did, indeed, prove his innocence. So which is it? Does a settlement prove innocence or not? You can’t have it both ways.

It’s also interesting to see how, in 2014, Trump attributes all sorts of incompetence, political meddling, leaks, and so forth to the handling of the original case, yet way back in 1989, he didn’t seem worried about anything getting in the way of his rush to judgment and demand for the death penalty, did he?

Trump was also highly critical of the settlement, both in terms of the case being settled at all and the amount. Of course, in reaching that settlement, the City likely had access to all sorts of information relating to the likelihood of success in the litigation and the possible damages that could be assessed; perhaps a $40 million settlement seemed reasonable given the possible outcomes. Apparently, Trump knows more about this case than did New York City officials, much like he claims to know more about ISIS than our generals.

Notice, too, what Trump does not say or acknowledge in his op-ed. He doesn’t apologize for demanding that five innocent teens be subject to the death penalty. He doesn’t acknowledge that the teens were wrongly convicted or that they spent between 6 and 13 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. He doesn’t acknowledge that the police acted illegally by coercing minors into giving false confessions. And of course he doesn’t acknowledge that his own actions and accusations may have poisoned the jury pool or inflamed public sentiment in a way that pushed police and prosecutors to act in a certain way and not consider other possible perpetrators or inconsistences. But if there’s one thing that we’ve learned watching Trump’s bid for the White House, it’s that Donald J. Trump is never, never, NEVER at fault if something goes wrong. Nope. Trump was the shining light of truth and goodness when he demanded that innocent teens be executed. Let’s Make America Great Again!

Furthermore, and this is a bit afield, but I want to look at the last part of the opening paragraph of Trump’s 1989 ad. However, instead of thinking about the police and how they should respond to violent criminals, think instead about New York billionaires who engage in racial discrimination in housing and employment, who establish fake “universities” to defraud people out of their retirement, who sue and get sued at almost unprecedented rates for, among other things, refusing to pay for services rendered and goods delivered, and, when things don’t go their way in the courts, either settle the cases or argue that the system or the judges are biased, who like to plaster their names on everything, seemingly in a need to satisfy and unquenchable ego, who bribe public officials with money taken from a charity and who appropriate charitable funds to enrich themselves, and who are “smart” because they don’t pay taxes or who circumvent the law to do business with Cuba despite an embargo they claim to support. With that in mind, read Trump’s words again (emphasis added):

who had the power under the law to help us in times of danger, keep us safe from those who would prey on innocent lives to fulfill some distorted inner need. What has happened to the respect for authority, the fear of retribution by the courts, society and the police for those who break the law, who wantonly trespass on the rights of others? What has happened is the complete breakdown of life as we knew it.

Was Trump anticipating the need for the FBI and the New York Attorney General (and others) to keep Americans safe from Trump?

Finally, thinking back to Trump’s actions in the Central Park Five matter, ponder for a moment how a President Trump might respond in the event of another tragic event. Would he be calling for calm with pleas to allow the police to complete their investigation and for the justice system to work … or would he be atop the leading the howling masses with the proverbial pitchfork, stoking and inflaming the fires of revenge and retribution, facts and the rule of law be damned?

Please don’t allow Donald Trump — a racist, xenophobic, fascist — to become President. Please.

Update October 7, 2016: I just came across an article on CNN referring to a statement that Trump gave this week to a CNN reporter:

“They admitted they were guilty,” Trump said this week in a statement to CNN’s Miguel Marquez. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”

Now think about that for a moment. Trump still believes that the five teens were guilty even though another man confessed to the crime and his DNA matched the semen of the woman’s rapist. And Trump still looks to the confessions of the teens even though they were obtained under duress while the teens were deprived of certain constitutional rights. Hmm. So what does it say about Trump that he ignores exonerating evidence (maybe he doesn’t understand DNA?) and is willing to accept coerced confessions? Do we really want that sort of person to be President?

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Is the Media Really Showing a Bias for Clinton and Against Trump?

We often hear references to the “liberal media”. Donald Trump, in particular, has made accusations against the “dishonest” and “liberal” media a hallmark of his campaign rhetoric, following up on years (or even decades) of similar attacks from Republicans generally. So let me pose a few questions regarding the alleged liberal bias of the media.

First, if the media does, indeed, have a liberal bias, why isn’t Jill Stein getting more airtime and coverage? Why isn’t she being asked to participate in the debates? Stein and the Green Party are well to the left of both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, so why aren’t they the recipients of the liberal largesse of the media?

Second, if the media is, indeed, biased in favor of Clinton (and/or against Trump), why have we been hearing so much about her email “scandal” and about the Clinton Foundation? If the “liberal” media was “in the tank” for Clinton, then shouldn’t we expect to be told that these things are complete fabrications or non-issues rather than having them treated as serious issues worthy of discussion by hours and hours of talking heads and column inch after column inch of print reporting? For that matter, how many times have you heard the media refer to Clinton as being “disliked” or having “trust issues”? Again, if the “liberal media” were really trying to get her elected, then wouldn’t we be hearing the opposite?

Third, if the media was really biased against Trump (and/or for Clinton), then why haven’t we seen wall-to-wall news coverage of a scope similar to that paid to Clinton’s emails (or the Clinton Foundation or Benghazi or the Lewinsky affair, etc.) but focused, instead, on Trump’s controversies, such as:

  • the pending lawsuit against Trump alleging that he raped a 13-year-old girl;
  • that he perpetrated a fraud on thousands of people in the guise of “Trump University”;
  • that he (or his foundation) essentially bribed the Florida Attorney General to drop the investigation into Trump University;
  • that he has been linked over the years to the New York City mafia;
  • racial discrimination and tenant intimidation in his apartment projects;
  • racial discrimination in his casino employment practices;
  • hiring undocumented Polish workers to build Trump Tower, not providing them with appropriate safety gear, and paying them below minimum wage (if at all);
  • the claim by Ivana Trump, during their divorce proceedings, that he’d raped her;
  • the numerous fines that Trump had to pay when his casinos violated all sorts of laws;
  • his responsibility for causing the United States Football League to collapse (but remember, he’s a “great” businessman!);
  • other business deals that have gone bad leaving all sorts of lawsuits in their wake (not to mention the multiple bankruptcies of Trump businesses);
  • the repeated refusal to pay contractors for work that they’d performed on Trump properties;
  • Trump’s failed libel lawsuit against a reporter for, you know, reporting about the things that Trump had claimed;
  • marrying a woman who may have entered the country under false pretenses (thus making her an illegal immigrant);
  • Trump’s apparently hollow claims of charitable giving (which might be confirmed by his tax returns…); or
  • using his foundation’s charity money (given by others to the foundation, not by Trump himself) to purchase, at other charity auctions, a artwork and a collectible souvenir for Trump.

And the list goes on and on and on…

Similarly, a large part of his “appeal” is his claim to be a very successful businessman, yet how much time has the media spent really digging into and reporting upon just how “successful” he has really been and just how bad some of his business ventures were (e.g., Trump Shuttle, Trump steaks, Trump Magazine, or condo hotels, to name just a few)? How much money have investors in his projects lost? How many contractors have been stiffed? How many fines has he paid? Hoosier voters might want to remind themselves about Trump’s broken promises to Indiana investors and broken promises to provide charitable funding when he wanted a casino in Gary. Ask yourself this: What might we learn if the “liberal” media spent even 10% of the time and effort that they’ve spent investigating Clinton’s emails to investigate Trump’s scandals?

And though this is slightly off topic, I do want to take a quick look at point for which Trump is receiving criticism but for which, I suspect, Clinton would get far, far more criticism were she to make a similar comment. Over the last few months, Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin. Even many Republicans have been uncomfortable with that praise and Trump’s seeming refusal to recognize that Putin is running a repressive regime that is willingly to assassinate political opponents and invade neighboring countries. But consider what the response might be were Clinton to make a statement praising Raul Castro or … well, almost any other leader of a country with whom we have a tense relationship?. What would the reaction have been if Clinton talked about how “strong” Putin was? We’d be hearing screaming about a “weak” woman being intimidated by a strong man, wouldn’t we?

Now, I’m not suggesting that some (even many) reporters are not, themselves, liberals or Democrats. But I would argue that because of that many feel that they need to bend over backwards to prove that they are not biased and, in so doing, evidence a sort of reverse bias. In any event, don’t simply accept the narrative or accusation that the media is biased for Clinton or against Trump. Rather, consider the full scope of information being provided and think for yourself whether the candidates are being treated equally.

And please, please don’t let Donald Trump become President of the United States.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why Do I Support Hillary Clinton? The Issues!

A few days ago during an exasperating discussion on Facebook, the person with whom I was engaging said, “if you feel that Clinton is a better candidate than Trump then state your reasons.” Generally speaking, I feel that I’ve done so on this blog, over and over and over, sometimes with specific references to Clinton, sometimes with broader references to the Democratic party or to liberal or progressive ideas (or with criticisms of GOP or conservative ideas), and yet other times by my detailed posts on issues about which I’m passionate or which somehow move me to pick up my pen (or, I suppose, put fingers on keyboard).

But the request (demand?) that I “state my reasons” for thinking that Clinton is a better candidate than Trump got me thinking. I seem to recall, either in 2008 or 2012, coming across a website that offered a detailed set of issue questions for a voter to answer in order to compare the voter’s views with those of the candidates. Sadly, I couldn’t remember the address of the website; luckily, there is Google.

After finding I Side With, I decided to take the policy survey. I encourage you to do the same. See which candidate most aligns with your views and, for those issues with which you are not familiar, take some time to learn a little. I’m sure that there are some people who will find fault with the questions, whether on the basis of the issues queried or the phrasing of the questions or answers. But, for the most part, I thought that the questions were broad in scope covering a vast range of the issues. Moreover, I found that the bulk of the questions were written in a neutral tone designed to generate honest answers and opinions rather than drive results to a particular answer or candidate.

A few quick notes before I share my results: First, I answered every question. At the end of many of the sections, you can click to get more questions in that general topic area. I did so and so should you. The more questions presented, the more issues you can spend a few moments thinking about and the more opportunity to compare your views to those of the candidates. Second, most of the questions are initially presented with a binary choice of answers (yes/no, for example), but almost all of them have a third button that will present several other possible answers (usually framed as “other stances”), often more nuanced or detailed than the initial binary choices. I always clicked to see the other possible answers and so should you as that provides you an opportunity to give a more granular, detailed response when appropriate. Third, when you do ask to see other stances, you are also presented with a chance to type in your own answer. On a number of occasions, I was tempted to do so, but I wasn’t sure how the website’s algorithm could possibly interpret a free text response and score it against the views of the candidates. Thus, with one exception, I never chose to enter my own answer, choosing instead to simply pick the answer from those provided that most closely matched my own view (the exception was a question on voter ID where two possible answers were both precisely right from my view and thus I typed in my own answer which was a word-for-word combination of those two answers).

Perhaps most importantly, I did not try to “game” the system. I didn’t look at a question and ask myself, “What would Clinton answer”. Nor did I try to think about the “right” answer or the answer that someone would expect from a progressive, liberal, or Democrat, in general, or from me, in particular, to give. Rather, I thought about each question and tried to answer with my honest view (or with the answer that best approximated my honest view). I answered with the expectation that nobody would ever see my answers and that I didn’t need to try to prove anything with my answers.

The one thing that did give me some difficulty was identifying, for each issue, how strongly I felt about it. Sure, it was easy to indicate those issues about which I feel strongly or about which I don’t really care. But trying to identify how strongly I felt about many of the issues in the middle range was more difficult. So I did my best. I’m sure that if I took the test again, how strongly I felt about each issue would likely vary somewhat for many questions, but not for those about which I do feel strongly.

Anyway, with all of that in mind, I encourage you to visit I Side With and take the quiz. Give yourself some time so that you can think about the issues and answer all of the questions. When you’re done, come back and we can compare results. (It’s also worth noting that new questions are, periodically, added to the site, so it may be worth going back from time-to-time before the election.)

My results:

Snap 2016-08-30 at 12.27.15

Below is a more detailed comparison of my responses to Clinton’s positions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a better way to share this information other than in a screenshot (which was not easy to obtain given the page layout). (I believe that the distinction between the 97% above and the 96% below is that I answered a new question subsequent to generating the screen capture below.)

I Side With [2016-08-26] 1

I Side With [2016-08-26] 2I Side With [2016-08-26] 3I Side With [2016-08-26] 4I Side With [2016-08-26] 5I Side With [2016-08-26] 6I Side With [2016-08-26] 7I Side With [2016-08-26] 8I Side With [2016-08-26] 9I Side With [2016-08-26] 10I Side With [2016-08-26] 11

Any issues you’d like to discuss?

Updated August 31, 2016: The original image that I used to show the comparison of my answers to Clinton’s didn’t display properly. So I’ve deleted that giant image and replaced it with a series of smaller (oddly cropped) screen captures.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Let’s Look at Who Has Endorsed Donald Trump … and Then Ask Why

I started this post about 10 days ago, but time has been limited. Anyway, yesterday afternoon, I was able to listen to some of Hillary Clinton’s speech on the same issues that this post addresses. Part of me was thrilled that these issues were being discussed, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit that a small part of me was annoyed that she addressed these points before I could post my blog. Oh, well. I don’t feel like just throwing away the work I’ve done, so I’m posting what I have completed.

It is well worth taking the time to go and listen to Clinton’s speech on these topics:

 

I want to spend some time examining what some of Donald Trump’s supporters are saying about him, his candidacy, and the issues that he is discussing (or, perhaps to be more accurate, the issues that they hear him discussing).

I’ll start with Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (he is the successor to David Duke), pastor at the Christian Revival Center, and proponent of anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology. When Robb appeared on Alan Colmes show, he was asked, specifically about Donald Trump and “white culture” (emphasis added):

ALAN COLMES (HOST): What will Donald Trump do for white culture?

THOMAS ROBB: Well, I was going to say a wall built. You know, you say it won’t happen, maybe it won’t, I don't know. It needs to happen. I’d like to see our national debt reduced. Probably it won’t happen, but it needs to. At least he’s saying something. That’s the point. Whether he does it or doesn’t do it, whether he can accomplish it or doesn’t accomplish it, at least he’s saying things that many, many people in this country are identifying with and are saying, “Yeah, that needs to be done.” So it isn’t Donald Trump that you guys are concerned with. You’re not afraid of Donald Trump. You’re afraid of the masses of people, the millions of people supporting Donald Trump becoming awakened to what they feel to be a country that’s being taken away from them. 

For a little context for Robb’s comments, it’s worth noting that his website states (sourced from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

We believe that the Anglo Saxon, Germanic, Scandinavian, and kindred people are THE people of the Bible — God’s separated and anointed Israel.” The statement goes on to declare, “Our people must … resist the call of Satan, which the Bible says will come disguised as light and love … brotherly – interracial love

Robb also said, following the election of President Obama in 2008, that he saw a “race war … between our people, who I see as the rightful owners and leaders of this great country, and their people, the blacks.”

Charming fellow, no? You have to wonder whether he views “his people” — who he thinks of as the “rightful owners” of the country — to also be the “rightful owners” of “the blacks” to whom this country clearly does not belong (at least not in his racist worldview).

Then there is Don Black, a former KKK leader who runs the white supremacist (Nazi?) website Stormfront (to which I will not link), which was until recently often thought of as the largest hate site on the Internet and which remains very influential among white supremacists, Nazis, anti-Semites, and others who are … um … let’s just say less than welcoming of the idea of racial and religious diversity.

Don Black … said he noted a spike in visits to his site after Trump unveiled his proposed Muslim ban. Trump “has clearly been a benefit to us,” Black said, referring to his community of white supremacists.

“There's an insurgency among our people that has been seething for decades that have felt intimidated and demoralized,” he added. “The Trump candidacy has changed all that.”

(White Supremacists Are Loving Donald Trump's Presidential Campaign, Vice News, December 13, 2015.) Black also said, “Most of our people are pretty disenchanted with politics. Most of them usually don't vote, because there's no one to vote for… They will vote for Trump, though.” And:

All I know is that our people — white nationalists and white Middle America out there who would never call themselves that — are inspired and energized,” he said. “And I don't think that's going to go away. Trump is doing a great thing.”

Again, for context, here are some other things that Black has said (sourced from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

The people that visit Stormfront have a righteous indignation to the Israelization of America. Zionism unbound, that is what goes on in Washington, D.C., these days. … [T]he Jewish people demolish homes abroad and condition peoples minds with the media here in the U.S.A.

And:

I remember [the 1950s] quite well, that a lot of people were mad about blacks. They were mad about school integration and black crime…. [B]ut … it was kind of rare to find someone that really, fully understood the Jewish involvement … behind all of this promotion of the destruction of culture and our heritage, the destruction of our schools and our neighborhoods. … [W]ith the Internet — and, I think, with this involvement in the Middle East, American involvement in the Middle East — everything’s changed. I mean, we have to calm down people sometimes on Stormfront about the Jews.

And:

I get nonstop E-mails and private messages from new people who are mad as hell about the possibility of Obama being elected. White people, for a long time, have thought of our government as being for us, and Obama is the best possible evidence that we’ve lost that. This is scaring a lot of people who maybe never considered themselves racists, and it’s bringing them over to our side.

Consider this last quote in light of the quote above from Thomas Robb where he talks about “becoming awakened to what they feel to be a country that’s being taken away from them”.

Then there are these statements from Richard Spencer:

I think with Trump, you shouldn’t look at his policies. His policies aren’t important. What’s most important about Trump is the emotion. He’s awakened a sense of ‘Us’ a sense of nationalism among white people. He’s done more to awaken that nationalism than anyone in my lifetime. I love the man.”

And:

What I care about is not just about being comfortable. It’s not just about safety, or national security. White people are unique in the sense that, we are the ones who are going to explore the world. We’ll need our own state eventually, for our Faustian destiny to explore the outer universe. That is what we were put on this earth to do. We weren’t put on this earth to be nice to minorities, or to be a multiculti fun nation.

And:

When I look at Thomas Jefferson’s writings, the Declaration of Independence, it makes me want to vomit. The idea that a ‘creator’ made all human beings equal? That’s ridiculous. The idea that all human beings are equal is such an appalling sentiment. We’re here on this earth for such a short period of time. The idea that we would dedicate ourselves to something as stupid as ‘equality’ or ‘democracy’ is morally insulting to me.

And:

I think we should be pro-Russia, because Russia is the great white power that exists in the world. I’m a Slavophile! I admire Vladimir Putin. I think Trump and Putin, together, could bring about a united white world. It’s beautiful

Or these (sourced from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

Martin Luther King Jr., a fraud and degenerate in his life, has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization. We must overcome!

And:

Immigration is a kind a proxy war—and maybe a last stand—for White Americans, who are undergoing a painful recognition that, unless dramatic action is taken, their grandchildren will live in a country that is alien and hostile.

And:

Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.

Seems like a nice guy, too, don’t you think?

[All of that and I hadn’t even gotten to my discussion of David Duke!]

One might also ask why the Trump campaign has given press credentials to white supremacists while, at the same time, withholding press credentials from serious journalists? Again, seriously.

It’s also worth noting that, in some ways, there is a sort of mutual admiration between white supremacists and Trump. How else can we explain Trump retweeting, not once, but often, false statistics, images, and other memes from white supremacists on Twitter (including some with user names like “WhiteGenocideTM” and “WhiteGenocideT1” and others with Nazi-inspired avatars or profiles that praise Hitler)? Trump of course dismisses these sorts of concerns asking “Am I gonna check every statistic?” Um, yes, Donald, if you want to be President, you have an obligation not to perpetuate racist lies and to make an effort to be sure that things that you say are true. After all, if you get your “news” from the National Enquirer or the dark underbelly of white nationalist websites, then what decisions might you make as President?

0_NjUNWjNEOL1hkwBXAnd remember when Trump tweeted the anti-Semitic image meme about Hillary Clinton? Yeah, well guess where the image that he used, with her face superimposed on a pile of money next to a Star of David and the word “corrupt”, originated? Would you be surprised if it was sourced to a white supremacist message board?

So ask yourself this: Why is Donald Trump reading white supremacist message boards or the tweets of white supremacists and neo-Nazis? And if he isn’t actually reading those message boards or tweets, then who among his advisors is doing so and why does Trump just go along and tweet or retweet those people?

Of course the first of the real questions to ask yourself is: Why are racists, bigots, Nazis, white supremacists, and the like so enamored with Trump? What is it about his candidacy that attracts those holding racist views and what is it about his candidacy that seems to have emboldened people to openly express those views. Then, after pondering those queries, ask yourself this follow up: How comfortable will you be with a President who gives voice to these views and may even give them a place at his table?

Please don’t allow Donald Trump to be elected President. Please.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Still Thinking About Supporting the Green Party? Meet the Party’s Nominee for Vice President

I know that some people on the left don’t like Hillary Clinton. I’d generally argue that these people are essentially rewarding the right wing for its efforts at character assassination over the last 20 or more years and accepting as truth the vast panoply of lies and outright conspiracies directed at Clinton. That isn’t to say that she is a perfect person or perfect candidate; she isn’t. But then who is? Sadly, some people don’t want to engage in actual conversation and dialogue about Clinton and have, instead, elected to simply reject her..

However, those on the left who reject Clinton now have a choice to make. If they can’t bring themselves to vote for her, then who can they vote for? My suspicion (hope?) is that few people on the left of the political spectrum who choose not to vote for Clinton would cast a vote for Donald Trump. And I doubt that many of those people would vote for a libertarian candidate either (at least not once they learn about more about the libertarian’s positions beyond legalization of marijuana). So that leaves Jill Stein and the Green Party.

I’m going to take a slightly different approach to discussing that last option. Today, I’m not going to discuss why Jill Stein or the Green Party aren’t really viable. I’m not going to discuss how a vote for a third party can, in essence, be viewed as a vote for Trump. And I’m not going to delve into the positions advocated by Stein or the Green Party (including fears about vaccines or WiFi). Instead, I’m going to focus on one decision made by Stein to demonstrate just how bad a vote for the Green Party would be.

Ajamu BarakaIt is often said that the first important decision that a Presidential candidate makes is the selection of a running mate. After all, if the President dies or is otherwise incapable of executing the duties of President, then the Vice President takes over. One would presume that the President would select a Vice President whose judgment and advice the President would seek and value. So, with those concepts in mind, let’s meet Jill Stein’s choice to be the Green Party’s candidate for Vice President: Ajamu Baraka.

So what does Baraka have to say about certain important issues? What sort of advice might be offer President Stein? What policies would he pursue were he to become President?

As a starting point, try this paragraph from an essay of Baraka’s that can only be described as being hostile (and I’m being charitable here) to the leftist foreign policy ideas expressed by Bernie Sanders (emphasis added):

It means that if today leftists in the U.S. can find a way to reconcile the suffering of the people of Yemen and Gaza and all of occupied Palestine for the greater good of electing Sanders, tomorrow my life and the movement that I am a part of that is committed to fighting this corrupt, degenerate, white supremacist monstrosity called the United States, can be labeled as enemies of the state and subjected to brutal repression with the same level of silence from these leftists.

It’s worth noting that the essay was published in Counterpunch, a far left, anti-Israel, conspiracy-focused website that has been known to publish essays from people who are not just anti-Zionist, but also outright anti-Semites (but that is a topic for another day).* Anyway, go back and read that paragraph again. Then ask yourself if someone who thinks that the United States is a “corrupt, degenerate, white supremacist monstrosity” should really be Vice President of the United States. Ask yourself whether someone who believes that, essentially, anyone to the right of his extremely far left position on the political spectrum (from Bernie Sanders and his supporters rightward) would label Baraka and his “movement” as “enemies of the state”? Does he really believe that those who harbor opposition views in America are subject to “brutal repression”? If so, how is that he is on the ticket to be Vice President and not in jail, Guantanamo, or dead in a ditch?

Or perhaps we should consider that Baraka has an essay in the book Another French False Flag?: Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernardino edited by Kevin J. Barrett, a noted anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, and 9/11 “truther” (who also blames Israel for the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando along with virtually every other evil in the world). As you can tell from the title, Barrett’s book takes the position that many of the terrorist attacks that we’ve witnessed in recent years were not actually perpetrated by the Islamic terrorists upon whom blame has been leveled. Besides the essay from Baraka, Barrett’s book also includes essays by authors such as noted anti-Semites Gilad Atzmon and Ken O’Keefe (who once made a video called “Hitler was Right” [to which I obviously will not link]). To be fair, Baraka claims that he didn’t know which other authors or views Barrett would include in the book:

When Kevin Barrett, someone who has interviewed me in the past, contacted me to ask if he could include my piece in a compilation on the Paris Attacks, I didn’t see any problem with it,” Baraka said in a statement to Gawker in which he stridently disavowed Holocaust denial. “I didn’t inquire as to the other authors and don’t know much about some of them or their positions on various issues. I stand by everything I wrote in that article and would be happy to discuss the details.”

But… really? You agree to allow your essay to be included in a book being edited by someone you know takes controversial positions, but don’t ask what other essays will be included alongside yours? Hmm. I wonder if Baraka even bothered to learn the title of Barrett’s book; it isn’t exactly subtle. I sure hope that as Vice President, Baraka would bring that attention to detail to the job. Oh, and the essay by Baraka that was included in Barrett’s book should also give you an idea of Baraka’s worldview: The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement (originally published in Counterpunch).

Recall that Baraka claimed not to know about the positions of other authors, suggesting that Barrett was simply someone who had interviewed him in the past. Hmm. Well, given the tenor of Barrett’s radio program (on which Baraka has apparently appeared more than once) and the sorts of discussions that they’ve had, it seems unlikely that Baraka would be unaware of the point of view that Barrett and those included in his book might offer. Witness, for example, this exchange (about the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine a few years ago):

“What do you think of this plane — Malaysian plane shootdown?” Barrett asks. “The U.S. media is putting out the possibilities of this being done by the Russians or by the pro-Russian Ukrainians, but President Putin’s plane was flying through there shortly before this plane was shot down—it looks like Putin’s plane may have been targeted. If so, obviously that wouldn’t have been done by the Russians or pro-Russian separatists quote unquote, that would have been done by the Kiev Zio-Nazi government. Which is what it is—these Zionist Jewish oligarchs, billionaire criminal dons, are funding Nazi street thugs. These are the people who overthrew the legitimate democratically elected government of Ukraine and created a fascist junta, and they are the ones who would be the suspects, at least in my opinion — somebody shooting at Putin’s plane, and yet the media doesn’t even raise that as a possibility.”

Baraka immediately engages with the idea and agrees.

“And when it’s raised, it’s raised as a conspiracy,” Baraka responded. “I think that this is a — I was trying to find the citation, I remember reading, I can’t remember who it was, someone wrote about three weeks ago that we should expect false flag, a major false flag operation in eastern Ukraine that’s going to be blamed on the Russians. And that’s exactly what has happened.”

Note that not only does Baraka appear to agree with the notion of a “false flag” attack being behind the downing of the aircraft, but he doesn’t challenge Barrett’s claim that the Ukrainian government was a “Zio-Nazi” government comprised of “Zionist Jewish oligarchs … funding Nazi street thugs” who created a “fascist junta”. (For those who are blissfully unaware, the shorthand “Zio” is a epithet used mostly on the far left to describe Israelis, Zionists, and, often, Jews.) Note further that both Barrett and Baraka (like Donald Trump…) seem to be taking the side of Russia its dispute with Ukraine.

Baraka views President Obama as an “Uncle Tom President”. He described President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch as “black petit-bourgeoisie who have become the living embodiments of the partial success of the state’s attempt to colonize the consciousness of Africans/black people”. Baraka even tears into Bernie Sanders and his supporters claiming that Sanders promises “continued war crimes from the sky with drone strikes and Saudi led terror in support of the Western imperial project” and that Sander’s program is a “tacit commitment to Eurocentrism and the assumptions of normalized white supremacy”. Baraka does, at least, attempt to soften these attacks by noting that his criticisms are “not to suggest that everyone who might find a way to support Sanders is a closet racist and supporter of imperialism”. No, not everyone

Baraka is also, apparently, a Boko Haram “truther”, claiming among other things that the number of schoolgirls kidnapped by the group had been inflated and that the US didn’t have real humanitarian concerns for the plight of those schoolgirls; instead, he apparently claimed that the US was interested in Nigeria only as a means to Nigerian oil. Of course given that his entire worldview seems to come from a lens of the evil, white American empire looking for ways to subjugate or at least tolerate the destruction of people of color, then we shouldn’t be too surprised, should we?

I was also not surprised to learn that Baraka opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (the TPP). It faces strong criticism from both the far left and the far right (and pockets in between). Criticism of the TPP in the US has largely focused on whether it would be good for Americans generally and American jobs in particular. Baraka approaches the issue from a slightly different perspective (emphasis added):

The TPP is a weapon to maintain U.S. global hegemony by denying the fundamental economic, social and cultural rights of millions of people in order to benefit a parasitic white minority ruling class in the U.S. And for that fact alone, African Americans and all people of conscience should opposed [sic] it.

A “parasitic white minority ruling class in the U.S.”? Yep, this man should be Vice President, shouldn’t he?

Baraka described the “Je Suis Charlie” rallying cry that followed the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine (and a Jewish market) as “an arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy”. Really.

I’m often critical of those on the right who claim that the “real racists” are African Americans (or Latinos) who raise the issue of race. I’m sympathetic to the notion of the need to recognize so-called “white privilege”. And, while I don’t think that racism is to blame for everything, I do think that racism is an important issue that needs to be addressed. However, the way Baraka seems to see everything through race-tinged lenses only serves to feed the view from that right that racism emanates from minority communities. His racism and racist rhetoric weakens efforts by those who desire to engage in real discussion and dialogue on the problems of racism and on the problems caused by racism. In other words, Baraka’s rhetoric will not lead to lessening of racism or improve the lives African Americans or other people of color at home or abroad; he is just pouring jet fuel on the fire.

Oh, and Baraka thinks that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has legitimacy as a democratically elected leader. He also argues that the story being told about the civil war in Syria is propaganda designed to conceal the truth about the surrender of Syria’s “national sovereignty to the geo-strategic interests of the U.S. and its colonial allies in Europe and Israel.”

Finally, one last issue on which Baraka has been quite vocal. I know that many readers who are thinking about voting for the Green Party may be critics of Israel (and I’m sure you view yourselves only as anti-Zionists and not as anti-Semites, but that is a discussion for another day). So calling out some of Baraka’s views on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not matter much to you. But for my readers who do support Israel and its right to exist as a democratic Jewish state within safe and secure borders, a quick summation of Baraka’s views on Israel are worthwhile. These views can be readily summarized by the findings of the African Heritage Delegation to Palestine/Israel (from April 2015; and note that the group renamed itself Zaynah Hindi African Heritage Delegation “in recognition of and in solidarity with our delegation’s co-leader, a Palestinian American”) on which Baraka participated.** Among that group’s findings (after meeting with early leaders of the Israeli Black Panther party, which I must admit, I didn’t know existed):

  • Israeli policy of settlement expansion amounts to ethnic cleansing and 21st century colonialism.
  • We condemn the campaign Israel’s government has waged to court black religious and political support and call on the Black community to give unconditional support and solidarity to Palestinian Liberation.
  • The global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is an essential tool in the struggle for Palestinian liberation.
  • We call on activists and non-activists alike to join initiatives in their communities that support and work in solidarity with Palestinian resistance movements.

(Emphasis added.) There’s more, both from the Delegation and from Baraka in his other writings, but that should give you a good idea. Note that the phrase “resistance movements” is often used to describe … terrorists. You know, like Hamas, which is the acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”. In other words, Baraka signed a statement calling for support for and work in solidary with terrorist groups. And, if you’re curious, I did come across a statement by Baraka equating Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza as a form of genocide.

Yep, he would make a great Vice President. Before casting a ballot for the Green Party, think about Baraka’s views on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ask whether he would be good for those on either side of the issue who hope for a just and lasting peace.

In conclusion, let’s turn our attention back to Stein and the Green Party. I’m not well versed in many of the platform planks of the Green Party. I’ve heard some of the things that Stein has said, but frankly haven’t paid too much attention. But I couldn’t ignore her choice for running mate. After all, it is the first important decision made by a presidential candidate. So go back and review some of the positions that her chosen running mate has taken and then think about how well those positions reflect your own views on the issue. Ask yourself why, among all of the other possible voices on the left of the political spectrum, Jill Stein and the Green Party chose Baraka. What does that choice say about Stein? What does it say about her understanding of the positions of her supporters? Does she share Baraka’s views on these issues? In any event, it seems that by this one choice alone, Stein has demonstrated how poor her judgment is and has essentially disqualified herself as a viable candidate for President. John McCain hurt himself greatly with his choice of Sarah Palin but Stein’s choice of Baraka makes that prior blunder pale in comparison (or would if Stein was a viable candidate…).

Please recognize that Stein is not a viable candidate for President. I understand (kinda) opposition to Clinton, but please don’t cast your vote for the Stein-Baraka ticket and, perhaps, do as Ralph Nader did in 2000, and hand the Presidency to the Republicans and Donald Trump.

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*While I don’t really suggest that you waste your time looking (sadly, I did), just a quick review of the titles of the essays that Baraka has published on CounterPunch will certainly give the impression that the only issue of importance to him is the treatment of people of color and his expression of concern about that treatment is blatant racism directed against whites.

**It’s interesting to note that Baraka is identified as a signatory of the report as a member from Cali, Colombia, and not from the United States; all of the other members of the Delegation are identified as being from the United States. So, a man who wants to be Vice President serves on an international delegation but doesn’t identify himself as being from America. Good to know.

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