Hi, I'm not naturally drawn to politics. ( my mind usually goes the artistic route) so I make an effort to be aware of this puzzle that keeps changing. One of the things I've had in the back of my mind for quite awhile is the idea of the fair tax. The more I think about it the more it makes sense to me. I would like to know all the pros and cons of it and if there is even a possibility of it being passed. Maybe more companies would come back and base in the US,drug dealers and illegals would pay
Interesting question! Thanks for asking. I haven’t looked into the Fair Tax too much though I’ve heard the legislation and the concept behind it thrown about from time to time. I’ll try to find some time this week to look into it.
I've written an article on DeviantART, called: Zionism - Holocaust Propaganda/ Sacrificed Jews
Listen, it’s obvious from my writings that I find the tactics of Israel problematic, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give any credence to someone who talks of Holocaust “propaganda”, or disputes the death toll of the Holocaust. Some things must be treated only with sorrow and respect.
Of course. The problem is that a change of strategy requires a great deal of political will. If Israel left the tunnels intact and agreed to a ceasefire, and then there were more rocket attacks, what do you imagine would happen? I suspect the Israeli government wants to finish as much demolition as possible while they're already incurring the costs of this war.
I feel this is more a matter of politics than it is a matter of what will actually bring about lasting peace. NPR/BBC News are reporting that Netanyahu’s ratings are skyrocketing. Good for him, I suppose? To directly answer your question, I imagine there would be a great deal of fury from Israeli citizenry if after a cessation of violence the rocket attacks continued, and Netanyahu’s support would drop dramatically, something I doubt he’s willing to risk.
I debated this issue with a friend of mine - who I find it relevant to say is Jewish, and understandably supports Israel - who told me he was frustrated I was holding Israel to such a high standard. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to respond to aggression with aggression, fight fire with fire? Wouldn’t I? He’s right - I am, and I understand it’s difficult and maybe unfair. But the counterinsurgency tactics I espoused in my last big article would require Israel to be the “bigger man”, focus heavily on supporting the Palestinian people over fighting Hamas. It’s not glorious and it’s not going to boost Netanyahu’s ratings through the roof like some good old fashioned destruction, but it might actually end the conflict in the longer run.
The Descending Spiral: Why Israel's Attack on Gaza Is Wrong.
From a tactical standpoint, Israel is terribly misguided in its actions in Gaza. If the goal of Israel truly is to stop the rocket fire from Hamas and keep their citizenry secure, then the primary goal should be marginalizing Hamas, a political organization and terrorist group that runs Gaza. The best way to defeat a terrorist organization? Using the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN), as espoused by experts such as Andrew Krepenivich and David Kilcullen. However, Israel not only ignores elementary counterinsurgency methodology, but does the exact opposite. For short lived tactical gains, they sacrifice the peace that might come from long term strategy.
A ten second history lesson on Hamas: Hamas is an Islamic Sunni organization which was founded in the 1980s as an offshoot of the Muslim brotherhood. Its closely affiliated military wing has launched attacks on Israel for years. Though leadership within Hamas has vacillated over the years, the general stance is that Hamas will not recognize the existence of Israel. Hamas was indeed elected by the Palestinian people in 2006 - meaning it won a majority in the Palestinian parliament - and was meant to form a national unity government with Fatah, a more moderate political party. In 2007 this unified government failed amidst violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah, and Hamas took over Gaza. It has ruled the territory ever since. However, its approval rating is at an all time low.
Modern day COIN states that the key to defeating an insurgent group is to secure the support of the people through which it migrates. You do not make killing as many insurgents as possible your priority, as more insurgents will always replace them. The people are the medium through which the insurgents move, and if you can win them over, you will greatly marginalize the insurgents, and most important of all, cut off their source of continuous replenishment as people cease to join their cause. The absolute cornerstone of counterinsurgency is the peace and security of the civilian populace.
The war in Iraq is the most recent example of the efficacy of this strategy. Despite the painful backsliding Iraq is going through now, back in 2006-2009 this seriously worked to curtail insurgency throughout Iraq. That’s a massive story in its own right, and for more on that, I highly recommend Thomas Ricks’ book The Gamble. Suffice to say in 2006, General Petraeus and Kilcullen, his advisor, put together a counterinsurgency manual and retrained all the army leaders in its methods. Despite a bloody year, by Summer 2007 American losses began to drop sharply as the strategy began to take effect. The core was this:
The more force you use, the less secure and effective you are.
Think twice before launching a raid and consider the consequences.
Treat civilians with respect.
Do not hole up in big bases.
Do not be provoked. Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.
Do not abuse prisoners.
Do not take relatives of suspected insurgents hostage.
Gain and maintain national support for a protracted deployment.
Most importantly, establish security of the civilian populace.
It is painfully clear that Israel’s actions are a perfect opposite of COIN tactics. It is even more painful to see the effects their actions have: instead of mitigating the insurgency, they are only vitalizing it. Proof is not hard to find. This story was taken from a New York Times article written on July 24th:
The blast from the Israeli strike was so powerful that it threw an iron door clear over several neighboring houses…When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households — including 19 children — gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast together. Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target. The attack was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroy Hamas’s tunnel network.
…Of those who lived in the house, only four people survived, three men who had gone to pray, and Tawfik Abu Jameh’s toddler, shielded by the body of his mother. The children killed ranged in age from 4 months to 14 years, and included an adopted orphan whose father had been killed in an Israeli strike. One of the survivors, Bassam Abu Jameh, lay on a mat with a broken leg, his eyes rimmed with red. His wife, Yasmeen; two brothers; and three children, Batool, 5, Sohaila, 3, and Bassam, 1, had all been killed. “There is nothing left,” he said, pressing his hand to his eyes. “It is the end for us.” He closed his eyes, lying still and letting his neighbors continue the account. After a while, he opened them again and announced, in a shaky voice: “I will marry again four times, and I will have 10 sons with each wife, and they will all be in the resistance.”
This is what Israel is doing. This is what ignoring counterinsurgency tactics does. It lights a flame, a bonfire of hatred in the civilian populace. It ensures the violence will continue into the foreseeable future.
Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
I am not an expert and I do not have all the answers. How best could Israel enact the tenants of COIN to give peace and security to the Gazan people? What facilities and services could they provide to the people of Gaza, and how could they keep their people safe while doing so? These questions and dozens more would need to be meticulously addressed. But I do know this. To the letter, Israel is doing everything, that the manual of counterinsurgency says not to do.
I am not certain what Israel wants out of Gaza. They say security, yet security comes through the end of Hamas. Meanwhile, the civilian casualties of this war with Hamas create a brand new generation of terrorists that will hate Israel for the rest of their lives. Though this article focuses on Israel, do not think I don’t decry Hamas. They hide behind human shields, and the only thing that comes from their violence and refusal to recognize Israel as a nation is the continued suffering of their people. They are truly devoid of morals. But if Israel followed COIN, their already dwindling support could continue to drop. Recruitment could fall off. In the vacuum this created, new governance units and parties could come to power. A new generation of Palestinians could be born without hatred of Israel burned into their psyche through air strikes and bombings. It could take a generation - probably more than one. But peace could come to the region.
Perhaps this sounds idealistic, and it very well may be. However, it is clear that extreme violence in Gaza - and the massive civilian casualties it causes - is not ending the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis. As of today, July 25th, more than eight-hundred citizens of Gaza have been killed in the Israeli offensive. How many future insurgents have those eight hundred generated? Thousands, tens of thousands? I can only imagine. I implore the government of Israel to try something new. Try counterinsurgency. It could be the key to ending this descending spiral.
I've been writing that I don't understand why Israel isn't following elementary counterinsurgency as espoused by David Kilcullen ("The Accidental Guerilla") and General Petraeus and proven in Iraq. The key: get the people on your side with minimum force and maximum exposure and trust-building. I recognize it's a more complicated dynamic with Israel/Palestine, yet Israel is literally doing the exact opposite. Creating more insurgents through heavy force. What do you think?
If someone is doing the exact opposite of the only strategy that is known to work, what is the most reasonable conclusion to draw? … that they don’t want to achieve that which they claim to want to achieve?
A bit of background: several days ago I got into a…spirited debate on the subject of Israel and Palestine with a friend. This is rare, because though I write and discuss politics on the internet, I’m not the type to jump into one in the real world, especially not such a difficult and divisive issue as this one. But it happened. The viewpoint I gave to my friend was much the one I’ve written of previously - that both sides have legitimate grievances, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but that I find the way Israel chooses to marginalize Hamas both confusing, ineffective, and cruel in its high collateral damage.
Afterwards, my friend sent me Schwartz’s article. I found myself dumbfounded by its threadbare argument. Obviously enough, Schwartz writes that Israel’s recent actions in Gaza, beginning on July 8th with bombings of suspected Hamas militant stockpiles and quarters and continuing with a ground offensive, are morally justified. As of today (August 22nd), 25 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli civilians have died. Meanwhile, 550 Gazan citizens have perished, including at least 30 children.
For if Israel declines to fight, we live in a world where terror groups use their own civilians, and twist morality itself, to bind the hands of those who try to fight morally. In this world, cruelty is an advantage, and the moral are powerless in the face of aggression and indiscriminate attack. And make no mistake: The eyes of the world are on Hamas, and terrorist groups worldwide will—as they have for generations—learn from the tactics of Gazan terrorists and the world’s reaction. So if Israel allows Hamas’ human shields to defeat it now, we will all reap the results in the years to come.
But there is an alternative. We can say that there is a principle worth fighting and dying for: Civilians cannot be used to make just wars impossible and morality will not be used as a tool to disarm. And once we have that principle, the proportionality calculation changes. The deaths of innocents are not simply outweighed by Israelis’ right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into a kibbutz playground; but by the defense of a world in which terrorists cannot use morality to achieve victory over those who try to fight morally.
Schwartz has laced his argument in rhetoric that speaks of principles, morals, and a greater good. But when you actually spend the time to discern and summarize his argument, it is that because Hamas uses reprehensible tactics, human shields are a non-issue that must be ignored.
I was floored. How could an educated man make that argument that Israel is morally justified for no other reason than that the other side is using despicable tactics? His sole argument is this: two wrongs make a right.
That’s it. That’s all there is.
It is childish, it is petty, and it is cruel. There is no appeal to Just War Theory or any substantive argument of political science. Only the belief that we must create a precedent in which the actions of terrorists do not at all constrict our own tactics. And yet he espouses the precedent that in times of conflict, innocent human shields should be blithely ignored for the sake of achieving tactical objectives.
The tactics of the enemy influence our own. They always have and they always should. I can not imagine the slope that such a belief would take humanity down. Do we mow down the next gunman that takes a hostage, just to show future criminals that we won’t allow innocents to determine our tactics? Because this seems to be precisely what Schwartz is arguing for.
Israel is a smart nation full of very smart people, so I can’t help but wonder why they aren’t applying the most basic - and by far most critical - tenant of counterinsurgency doctrine to their relations with Gaza.
Let’s back up for just a second. Insurgents, by their nature, do not fight an open war. They fight in the shadows, attacking and then blending back into the arboreal or urban jungle from which they came. You cannot fight them like you would fight an “ordinary” war - you have to dramatically change your strategy in order to have any real effect. The United States had to learn this lesson the hard way when they invaded Iraq in 2003. For the first several years, casualties were climbing and despite our force’s best efforts, conditions were not improving. Things did not start getting better until 2006 when General Petraeus, under the tutelage of counterinsurgency master David Kilcullen, completely changed the way the military was operating.
Now, Kilcullen has a lot to say about counterinsurgency (abbreviated COIN), and it is all fascinating. But here is the keystone to it all: the way to defeat insurgency is not to attack the enemy, but to protect and win over the people.
If insurgents are fish, the people are a coral reef. If insurgents are snakes, the people are the grass. If there is no grass, no coral reef, then the inhabitants within will have no place to hide.
Back to Iraq. The number of attacks did not decline until Petraeus took command in 2007. Technology did not help. Missiles, bombs, and bullets did not make the situation more stable. Instead, General Petraeus got the troops among the people, protected them, stayed with them, and they began to talk to him and give him much needed information. Petraeus convened a meeting of experts to make a new manual, retraining army officers how to think. The manual adhered to classic tenants of COIN: Minimum firepower and force must be used. Winning over the population is the objective.
What if Israel decided to follow basic COIN in their fight with Hamas? What if instead of enraging the Palestinians and the Arab world, they sought to win over the Palestinians through education, social services, reliable utilities, etc? It has worked in the past and could work in the future. If the Israeli government focused on winning over the Palestinian people, it could do much more for their security than missile strikes ever could.
Another gratuitous self-reblog. But since everything is exactly the same as last time, as this cycle repeats itself to the letter every two to three years, I’ve little to say that I haven’t already said before. Why is Israel ignoring the most basic tenants of counterinsurgency as espoused by David Kilcullen and other experts in the field? There are better ways to defeat terrorists like Hamas - by winning over the people.
On the contrary, this is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides. The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization. That results in a series of military escalations that leave both peoples worse off.
Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings. And Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.
Both sides have plenty of good people who just want the best for their children and their communities, and also plenty of myopic zealots who preach hatred. A starting point is to put away the good vs. evil narrative and recognize this as the aching story of two peoples — each with legitimate grievances — colliding with each other.
”—The absolute gospel truth according to Nicholas Kristoff, which is admittedly very similar to what I said in my opinion article Neither is Justified. This is the article I’ve been searching for. It’s not the one Israel supporters or Palestine supporters want, but it’s the one both desperately need. Read it. Reread it. Take it to heart.
The number of people seeking sanctuary in UN shelters in Gaza rose from 22,000 to over 40,000 on Friday, said Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
"We have also launched a $60m (£35m) appeal for our emergency work," he added.
The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Gaza City says Israeli aircraft and artillery intensified strikes in the north, east and south of Gaza on Friday. Meanwhile, air raid sirens sounded in towns across southern Israel as rocket attacks from Gaza continued.
At least 48 Palestinians have been killed since the ground offensive began, officials in Gaza said. One Israeli soldier also died. The dead included three Palestinian children killed by Israeli tank fire in the north of Gaza, medics added.
At least 290 Palestinians - three-quarters of them civilians - have died since the start of the wider Israeli operation on 8 July, officials in Gaza say. One Israeli civilian has been killed by mortar fire and several Israelis have been seriously injured.
BBC News, “Gaza Conflict”.
It happened in 2008, it happened in 2012, and it’s happening again now. The situation is gross and festering and complicated and I can’t take sides, but I will admit I always find Israel’s actions extremely problematic, bordering on morbid. I recognize Israel’s right to safety, but when you look at the numbers, it becomes civilian slaughter - a far cry from self defense.
With the world and the internet blowing up with opinions on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, I feel the need to throw my own into the ring. I didn’t become a political blogger to avoid the heavy issues. I’m going to do my best to condense an opinion I carried throughout Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza four years ago; an opinion that has remained more or less constant to this day.
Let me get one thing out of the way, before I begin. The question of who is “right” and who is “wrong” in the conflict between Israel and Palestine is so impossible to answer as to be ridiculous to ask. I suppose if one studied the centuries long conflict over the disputed territories they could reasonably say who they thought was in the right. However, while I have delved into the last sixty years of conflict and the founding of Israel, I have neither the time nor the inclination to go back millennia in search of whether the Palestinians or the Israelis are “right”. With that being said, let me continue.
I was privileged to attend an extremely multicultural and international university four years ago when Israel’s last Gaza offensive occurred. I patiently listened to the opinions of Jewish classmates, former Israeli soldiers, and Palestinian supporters. While both sides had heavy-hitting, plausible arguments, there was only one thing I absolutely could not abide. The one thing I cannot stand is when a person attempts to cast either Israel or Palestine - in this case, it is actually correct to say Hamas - as morally justified in their actions. I cannot say this enough. Neither is just. Neither’s actions are justified. The actions both take are entirely reprehensible. Why?
Whether the Israeli government is right or wrong in terms of expanding settlements, blockades, etc, Hamas’s firing of rockets blindly at Israeli citizens is morally reprehensible.
Whether you have the “right to defend yourself” or not, blowing up buildings that you know innocent women, men, children, and babies reside in is morally reprehensible.
Hamas is cruel and cowardly. They hide behind the innocents and blame the Israelis for deaths that come from retaliation.
Israel is cruel and draconian. Their counterstrikes on the homes of “suspected militants” have killed far more innocents than Hamas’ cruel rockets ever have.
As far as the disputed land is concerned, whether you believe Israel is right, Palestinians is right, or this two-state solution using X year’s boundaries is the correct answer to this dispute, that is fine by me. I will listen carefully and add your justifications and arguments into those I have heard before. But do not ever have the gall to attempt to convince me that one side’s violent, murderous actions are just.
What the hell is going on in politics this week? First the Supreme Court strikes down the anti-harassment buffer zone around abortion clinics - even though the Supreme Court itself has a massive buffer zone! And now, employers can opt out of the law on providing birth control - also know as health care - to their employees due to religious beliefs. In one week? What the hell?
I seriously worry about the direction our country is headed in. That direction, coincidentally, is backwards.
The Anti-Vaccination Movement is Real, and it is Terrifying.
It had been a long day.
I sat in a coffee shop one day last week after a hectic twelve hours of work, the gym, and several errands. As usual, I drank my third or fourth cup of coffee of the day while catching up on my online life. Just another evening of a frequent routine - after an hour of emails, facebook, and a bit of writing I’d head home to inhale a quick dinner and crash, ready to do it at all again the next day. Yet when I checked Facebook, I stumbled across a strange post from a friend. This friend had given birth to her son few weeks ago - I’d attended the baby shower just last month. She wrote that she’d been reading all these terrible things about vaccines and the metals and tissues issued in them, and how could she have that given to her young son?
I was certain she was joking.
I mean, I’d listened to a story about the “anti-vaxxers” on NPR, and had seen the odd post about it on Facebook and tumblr. Still, I assumed it was a fringe of crazies, blown out of proportion by the internet. It was the 21st century - who could possibly believe such a thing? I expected a “lol, kidding” post to soon follow my friend’s post about her vaccination fears.
Half an hour later, I didn’t see an update.
Growing concerned (could she be serious?) I wrote a brief post on her wall, assuring her that the anti-vaccination movement was crazy and that vaccines were safe, healthy, and one of the best advances in modern medicine.
Note that I am not calling my friend stupid or crazy. She’s a smart, wonderful person who is already an amazing mother after just a few weeks on the job. I was sure she had stumbled across an anti-vaccination article and, having not heard about the movement and its dangerous lies, had gotten a bit worried. What I didn’t expect was for people to start angrily arguing that I was wrong, and that vaccinations were dangerous.
Oh hell no. I was not about to let some ignorant Facebook friends of my friend put her infant son in danger by promulgating lies. I hadn’t bothered to argue with strangers on the internet since I turned 14, but sometimes you’ve gotta do what you gotta. I went on the warpath.
I assumed that a couple decent points and a few links to some actually reputable sources would put her anti-vaxxer “friends” to rest. I’d forgotten an important lesson, one of the only ones that often keeps me sane.
People are stupid.
The arguments kept coming. The medical journals had to be a conspiracy, they must be “in” with the pharmacy companies, etc. And this wasn’t coming from some fringe group on the interblags! This was coming from friends of my friend, presumably in my greater sphere of peers. Fortunately, soon after several other friends of my young mother friend jumped in, defending me, and urging her to get her young son vaccinated. For a moment there, I’d been despairing.
I don’t know what my young mother friend ultimately decided about vaccines, though I’ll be sure to politely ask next I see her. What struck me as most disturbing is that anti-vaxxers aren’t some dumb small group in a dark corner of the internet. Rather - they are dumb, but they’re not small, nor are they in a tiny corner of the net. They’re real, they’re close, and they’re likely spreading. These are people that blithely eschew one of the greatest medical advances in history, and one of the primary reasons we’ve largely eliminated diseases which used to kill or cripple an untold number of people. People that proudly stand behind their stupidity and ignore the facts, and in doing so endanger their own offspring and everyone else’s. And the worst is that they infect others, like my friend the young mother, into thinking there might be truth to vicious lies and rumors.
Arguing with strangers on the internet may usually be one of the most useless pursuits on the planet, but if you encounter anti-vaxxers in your online life - and especially if you encounter them in your real life - I encourage you to fight back with words, facts, and knowledge. Educate everyone around you so that no one will fall prey to their lives.
Fight stupid people, so their stupidity will die with them.
Everyone knows about this stuff and alot more of it than wikipedia pages I love Communism I’ll romanticize it forever
I’ve never understood modern day communists. Maybe it was historically “done wrong”, but the empirical evidence is astoundingly negative. And the only thing more difficult to understand is the idealization of communist leaders responsible for mass murder.
US President Barack Obama has welcomed Ukraine’s interim prime minister to the White House and pledged to “stand with Ukraine” in its dispute with Russia. He warned Russian President Vladimir Putin the international community “will be forced to apply costs” if Russia does not remove its troops from Crimea. Earlier, leaders of the G7 group of nations issued a similar threat.
Ukraine PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaking after meeting Mr Obama, said Ukraine “will never surrender” to Russia.
"It is absolutely unacceptable to have Russian boots on the Ukrainian ground in the 21st century, violating all international deals and treaties," he said.
The diplomatic appeals to Moscow come ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, in which citizens will be asked if they want to stay with Ukraine or join Russia.
The Russian military and pro-Russian armed men moved in to seize key sites in Crimea - an autonomous region of Ukraine whose population is mainly ethnic Russian - in late February after the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych.
The interim government in Ukraine and its Western allies say the vote violates Ukraine’s constitution and will not be lawful. Russia says it will respect the outcome of the referendum.
BBC News - U.S. President Obama pledges to stand with Ukraine.
According to Clausewitz, interest is defined as power. Russia has succinctly shown that in an anarchic international system, laws are fine and good but power is the ultimate decision-maker. Let’s just Ukraine’s backbone and the international community will be enough to keep them from carving up a country simply because it didn’t behave the way they wanted it to.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted down a bid to overhaul the way the U.S. military handles cases of sexual assault by removing prosecution from the military chain of command.Senators
Disgusted. I’ve been following this on and off for a while. Many articles, a variety of awful anecdotes, and several NPR stories have convinced me we need a serious change in how military cases of sexual assault are handled.
And the Senate decided not to. Expect a breakdown in the coming weeks.
I got some positive comments and a handful of new followers off yesterday’s breakdown of the Ukrainian protests and the current invasion of Crimea by Russia. Hello to my handful of new followers! Just wanted to let you know that while I’ll post quotes and thoughts, usually of a political nature, this blog revolves around breakdowns: articles where I try to summarize the complex political issues of the day in concise, easy to understand terms. If there’s something you’ve been hearing about on the news or the radio and really want to know what’s going on, feel free to request a breakdown. Just send me an “Ask” message.
This is a breakdown article, in which I try to make sense of a complicated political issue in a fairly easy to understand manner. The point is for everyone to be educated and knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world around them.
Right now I’m attempting to explain the crisis in Ukraine: what has happened so far, how we got there, and what we can expect. You could write a book on Ukraine and what’s led up to the current situation, so this is going to be a true breakdown: an overview article meant to give you a solid idea of what’s going on and link you to resources for further reading. I’ve pieced this together in the little free time I’ve had in the last several days - please forgive any typos or grammatical errors.
Read. Educate yourselves. Let’s get started.
Can you give me a brief background on Ukraine?
Sure. Ukraine is an Eastern European country that borders Russia to the east. It was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse, and since it has been an independent nation. It is a diverse ethnic blend of ethnic Russians, Belarusians, Tatars (a muslim minority) and Belarusians. Kiev is its capital.
Why did the riots start in the first place?
On November 21st, Ukraine rejected a trade deal with the European Union in favor of keeping close ties with the Russian government. This deal, in the works for years, would have allowed Ukraine citizens to travel through the EU without visas; in exchange, Ukraine would have initiated hundreds of new laws and regulations. This choice by the Ukrainian government to side with Russia over the EU infuriated many. Thousands of Ukrainian citizens responded by taking to the streets in peaceful protest. The protestors flocked to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, known as Maidan, the central square of Kiev, capital city of Ukraine. It means Independence Square, and was named so after Ukraine declared its independence from the falling Soviet Union in 1991.
The protests continued until late February, growing increasingly violent. In late November police brutally attacked a group of protests. On the 30th of November, protestors seized Kiev City Hall. Tension held the nation.
How and why did things escalate?
What started as a peaceful protest escalated slowly over the ensuing months. News of police attacking protestors and abducting activists only fanned the flames of revolution. The first deaths occurred on January 22nd, as two protesters were shot and killed by police.
Despite the deaths, by mid February peace seemed possible. An amnesty deal was reached that would have given amnesty to arrested protesters, and new rules limiting presidential powers were being strongly considered by the Ukrainian parliament. But it was not to be.
On February 18th the Parliament rejected debate on changing the constitution to limit presidential power. This news infuriated protesters; clashes on the same day left twenty-six dead and hundreds injured. And the worst was yet to come: the protests were shocked to a higher level of full-on revolution when government snipers apparently shot protesters in two days of violence beginning on February 20th. Between the snipers and the police-protester violence, at least 77 people were killed and more than 600 were wounded, according to the health ministry of Kiev.
Let it be noted that neither the police nor the protesters are blameless. Police were part of this death toll, and no one knows who cast the first stone that began this violence.
Shortly thereafter, under extreme pressure from the EU, Yanukovych signed a deal to transfer his presidential powers to the Ukrainian parliament and hold early elections. However, by the next day he had left the capital (it was later found out that Yanukovych had fled to Russia). This dealt a death stroke to his administration, which effectively ceased to be.
One of the protest leaders, Oleksander Turchyknov, stepped into the power vacuum as interim president. Arseniy Yatsenyuk joined as the interim prime minister. On February 24th, Ukraine’s parliament voted to hold early elections on May 25th.
Sounds like things were getting better..so what’s up with Russia and Crimea? Just what happened?
Things did seem to be looking up, until Russia got involved and everything went to hell.
Crimea is an autonomous region within Ukraine. It is governed by its own constitution, but must ultimately follow Ukrainian laws. Crimea is majority ethnic Russian, and has close but extremely complicated ties to Russia. From 1921 to the fall of the Soviet Union Crimea was a part of the Soviet Union. It was the scene of famine (including the devastating Holodomor) during the 20s and 30s and of ethnic cleansing during the 1940s. In 1954 Ukraine was given the devastated region, though it meant little until the USSR fell. Upon the fall of the Soviet Union it eventually became a part of Ukraine (after briefly declaring itself independent). The extremely short version is that Crimea’s integration with Ukraine has always been tense, and its close ties with Russia have led Russia to attempt to exert its influence in Crimea in the past.
It can be factually stated the Russian government does not support the protests in Ukraine (they said so many times, and quite strongly) and does not wish to see a change of government. The Yanukovych administration is on very close terms with Russia (if you’ll recall, that’s how this whole mess started) while the more liberal nascent government of the protest is far more liberal and western-oriented. With the Russian majority in Crimea providing an excellent excuse to move militarily into the region, Russia struck.
All that background is all fine and good but just what happened??
Okay, okay. Geez. Pushy.
So if you’ll recall, by late February Yanukovych had fled, an interim government had set itself up in Ukraine, and the Parliament had scheduled elections in May. Vox Populi, right? On the 28th of February Russia moved forces into Ukraine, ostensibly to protect the Russian speaking people there. They took over two airports and much of Crimea’s infrastructure, including the regional parliament, state television, and telecommunications hubs (BBC News). Though there was some confusion at first - some Russian troops were wearing unmarked uniforms - the Russian government soon admitted to its mobilization into Crimea. Russia has stated that it has a right to protect the Russian speaking population in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Since, thousands of Russian troops have poured into the Crimean region.
Note that second part - that’s where things get exceptionally worrisome. On March 1st, the Russian parliament approved troop deployment in Ukraine. Not just Crimea, but Ukraine. There are worries Russia could move further into Ukraine. On the 3rd of March, the Russian government claimed that ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych had asked for troops to enter Ukraine, which gave them legitimacy.
Russia has alleged that there is a threat to ethnic Russians in Ukraine which forced their hand, but this is largely seen as a thinly veiled excuse. Interim President Yatsenyuk has said that ethnic Russians are not in danger; UK Ambassador Mark Grant stated that ethnic Russians were not threatened and that such claims had been fabricated for Russian justification.
Most of the international community has decried Russia’s de facto annexation of Crimea and its posturing for further action. Things aren’t entirely black and white though. Due to those close cultural ties there have been Pro-Russia rallies and demonstrations in cities near Crimea. Many of Crimea and Ukraine’s ethnic Russians support Russia’s movement into the country.
John Kerry, in a visit to Ukraine on the 4th, stated he did not believe ethnic Russians to be in danger. On the same day President Obama urged Russia to pull back.
What happens now?
Some fear the situation could boil over into all out war in the region if Russia does not leave Ukraine. Tomorrow - March 5th - there is to be a NATO member meeting that Moscow has agree to attend. Now, we wait.
Breakdown: The Controversy over Network Neutrality.
Network neutrality. This term has been flying around the internet in the past week. Petitions are making the rounds, people are raving on blogs, the radio, the TV. Just what’s going on here, and why are people so adamant, one way or the other, about network neutrality? Let’s find out.
Just what is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the belief that broadband network providers (your Internet Service Provider like Comcast, Verizon, or one distant beautiful day, Google Fiber) must treat all data equally, and cannot discriminate or prioritize one piece of data over another. The idea of net neutrality led to a set of rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010 called the Open Internet Order. The gist of the Order was this:
1. Broadband providers have to disclose information about their network management and practices. 2. They may not block lawful content, applications, or websites. 3. They may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband.
What does that mean?
This means that an ISP must provide equal internet service to all content, whether you’re reading scholarly articles, streaming por Netflix, or playing video games. Even if the ISP doesn’t like what you’re viewing or doing, they can not alter your service. Neither can they alter their service to promote their own product or dissuade you from using another.
ISP’s never liked this. Verizon sued the FCC over the 2010 rules mentioned above. They argued that this was a matter of free-enterprise, and that they should be able to decide how to deliver and charge for that service. They claim this will restrict their ability to offer innovative new services.
Back up. How did we get here?
It’s kind of a convoluted story, so bear with me.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the authority to oversee utilities and (you guessed it) communications. The FCC is granted authority through the Federal Communications Act of 1934. It has a lot of power to regulate Title I: Critical Communications (telephone, cable) services, and some authority to regulate Title II: Information Services.
Before I continue, remember: an open, network neutral internet is an internet regulated by the FCC. An internet where ISPs can do what they want is an unregulated internet (meaning there are no regulations that keep ISPs from altering service based on content). If you are for network neutrality, you are for internet regulation.
Okay, with that in mind - in the beginning the FCC and ISPs were on the same page. Both wanted the internet to be unregulated. Back in 2002, the FCC classified broadband as an information service, not a telecommunications service. In 2005, in the “Brand X” case, the Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s ruling that cable modem service is an information service. In that same year the FCC changed the classification of DSL from a common carrier service to an information service as well. It followed these decisions with a policy statement saying that the internet should be open and uncontrolled by ISPs, but this statement had zero regulatory power. So back in 2005, the FCC and cable providers were in agreement, in opposition to others who wanted cable to be required to open its network to competitors (Public Knowledge).
Now here’s where it gets tricky. In 2008, something change. The FCC decided it wanted authority to regulate internet access after all. Why’d the FCC change it’s mind? It seems to have been a number of things. For starters, there was some culture shift within the FCC. President Obama ran in 2008 on a platform of net neutrality and appointed a number of new leaders to the FCC. Secondly, Comcast pushed too far. Comcast began throttling the internet access of users using bitTorrent clients. Free Press and Public Knowledge filed a complaint, which the FCC began to investigate. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowel wrote in the Washington Post in July 2008 that collaboration with ISPs was better than regulation, but that if collaborative groups couldn’t agree, “the government could examine the situation and act accordingly”. It appears that the FCC put far too much trust in the good intentions of ISP companies. In July of 2008, the FCC issued an order commanding Comcast to stop throttling the internet of bitTorrent users.
Unfortunately, in April 2010 the D.C. Circuit court rejected the FCC’s use of Title I (Information Service) authority in punishing Comcast and said it did not have the authority to demand net neutrality. The FCC considered attempting to reclassify internet as a utility (like it should have done in 2002 and 2005), but instead issued the Open Internet Order on September 23rd, 2010. What exactly their thought process was after having their first attempt shot down, I can’t be sure of. But apparently they revised their rules, found some different method of presenting the regulation, and tried again. Unfortunately, Verizon sued the hell out of them a week later.
That takes us to the present, where after years of deliberation the courts once again decided the FCC did not have the authority to enforce the Open Internet Rules it released in 2010. The court agreed the FCC had the right to promote the promulgation of internet technology but again declared that as long as internet access is classified as a Title I Information Service, it cannot be regulated like a Title II Telecommunications service.
Will this affect me?
Possibly. The fear is that ISPs will start discriminating against content using their services; for instance, charging content providers (i.e. Netflix) extra money for their internet-clogging traffic. That extra cost may be passed on to the users. ISPs could also do more subtle yet more nefarious things, such as discriminate against competitors, limit content, or favor services that pay them better. For the record, ISPs have stated they don’t immediately intend to do so. But that may not be terribly reassuring.
What happens now?
It’s hard to say. Though it would be a political nightmare the FCC may attempt to (once and for all) reclassify internet service under a Title I Telecommunications service. Or, they may appeal the court’s decision. They’ve hinted that they may appeal, but only time will tell how the FCC will choose to respond.
Net neutrality is a big deal with very real, very possible consequences. Personally, I highly encourage you to support net neutrality and work toward its adoption. Write your congressmen. Educate your peers. The internet may be the greatest resource humans have ever created, and having it choked or controlled by service providers out for their own gain would be tragic at best, and catastrophic at worst.
The recent Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy has bled into the much larger issue of tolerance.
Let’s recap briefly. Phil Robertson is a southern conservative on a reality TV show about a family that specializes in making/selling duck hunting equipment. Robertson was interviewed by a magazine where he voiced his opinions on homosexuality, saying it was one of the things wrong with this country and setting it alongside things like crime and bestiality as bringing the country down. A firestorm ensued, and Robertson was removed from the TV show.
Now personally I don’t give a damn what Robertson thinks on the subject. He’s entitled to his opinion and entitled to voice his opinion. That’s free speech for you. However, if you make hateful comments, you’ve got to accept the consequences of your actions. In a world where so many LGBT people have been driven to suicide by such hate, I’m glad A&E chose to show they didn’t find such remarks to be acceptable.
Tolerance has arisen as a primary issue in the talk of Robertson’s removal. Some extremely liberal friends have posted their annoyance that Robertson was canned from Duck Dynasty. Several have made cogent arguments that A&E was being intolerant of Robertson’s views when they canned him. Others have gone as far to say that in modern day society tolerance has come to mean agreement with another’s views, and if one doesn’t, he/she is a hateful bigot.
Tolerance is defined as the ability to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something without interference. It has nothing to do with whether one is bigoted (def: strongly and unfairly disliking other people, ideas, etc). Yes, you can correctly be both tolerant and a bigot. I would argue that many people are indeed tolerant bigots. Tolerant in that they allow - or rather, must allow - things like homosexuality to exist, but bigoted in that they greatly dislike them and their practices. Phil Robertson is likely both tolerant and a bigot.
Was A&E being intolerant of Robertson’s beliefs? No. They were in no way interfering with his beliefs or not allowing them to exist. Canning him from the show was undoubtedly a punitive method; however, Robertson is a public figure. Public figures often lose sponsorships or deals if they say something unpopular; it happens every day. Their rights as citizens are not impinged, and they can still voice their views without fear of physical harm or any form of governmental retribution. But private businesses choosing to terminate or amend a relationship with a person or figure based on public, offensive statements is not intolerant. It is much the same as an individual choosing to not associate with someone whose views they find repugnant. Terminating a personal or professional relationships based on one party’s beliefs is not a sign of intolerance; it is simply the right to choose who one wishes to associate or be associated with. It might be a sign of disgust, or lack of respect, or a number of things. But intolerance isn’t one of them.
Phil Robertson is not intolerant of homosexuality, neither is A&E intolerant of him. However, Robertson spoke views that were largely offensive and A&E chose to amend their relationship with him based on those remarks. It happens. But both free speech and tolerance have remained untouched.
Grad school apps are in. The robot is (more or less) finished. Expect blagging to resume shortly. Thanks everyone for your patience. Here’s a robot picture for you, and if anyone is particularly good with reading data from quadrature encoders, hit me up?
You asked, I answered. I used my night off to research and write a breakdown of the Federal Government shutdown. Read, educate yourself, enjoy.
How can the government shut down?
The government is in many ways a massive business. It makes money through loans, taxes, etc, and it spends many on everything from defense, federal agencies (health, science, defense, parks, etc) and paying the millions of people that work for the federal government. Congress has to agree to fund all of these things by passing a budget.
The budget process is a mess, but here’s the short version:
In February, the President submits a budget to Congress.
There are twelve appropriation committees within the House and the Senate that put together budgets for various government functions and services. They pass their individual budget bills and send them to the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.
Both the House and Senate budget committees amend and submit their own versions of the twelve appropriation bills.
Usually a committee is needed to reconcile the differences between the two different budgets.
Once the differences are reconciled and the greater budget passes both the House and the Senate, the bill goes to the President, who signs it.
Polarization and policy gridlock have made Congress really bad at this. Each year, Congress is meant to agree on these appropriation bills that fund various federal agencies. But the Republican controlled Senate and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives haven’t, and therefore have been getting stuck on Step 4: Reconciliation. If they can’t agree on the appropriation bills, they can pass continuing resolutions to keep the government running while they bicker like children. These stopgap budgets have been keeping us afloat since 2009.
Like any business, with no budget we have no money to spend. And if we have no money to spend, the federal government enters a shutdown. This time around, Congress has not been able to even agree on a continuing resolution, so we have entered a shutdown.
Back Up. What happened? How did we get to this point?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hereafter referred to as ACA) - colloquially known as Obamacare - happened. I broke down the primary tenants of the Affordable Car Act a little while ago. A very long story short, Republicans have not let it go. To date, though doomed to fail in the democratically controlled Senate, Republicans have voted on repealing ACA nearly four dozen times. Though the law was passed, then subject to Supreme Court approval, then approved by the Supreme Court, Republicans have continued to lobby to have it either defunded or shut down.
The issue has come to a head in the last couple weeks. The Republican party initially insisted on attaching a bill to the containing resolution that would defund ACA. They then gave up on that and added a measure that would push back for one year a key tenant of ACA- The Federal Mandate (again, see the previous breakdown). President Obama refused to sign any budget that would diminish ACA, and urged Republicans to pass a “clean” bill with no provisions attached. Republicans refused. The stalemate went past the 30th, and the government shut down went into effect.
What exactly is a government shutdown?
A government shutdown is what happens when the government no longer has money to pay for the various government agencies and services it funds. Essentially, the government goes on auxiliary power, as all quintessential services continue but everything considered nonessential is shut down. All nonessential government employees are furloughed - sent home/temporarily suspended - until further notice. These nonessential services include parts of the National Institute of Health, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Justice Department, the Immigration department, the Department of Agriculture-run Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and a plethora of other government services and agencies, will go on hiatus.
Various “essential” parts of these and other agencies stay open. Most of Social Security, employees that “provide for national security”, employees that “conduct activities that protect life”, etc, remain open. The list of agencies and services that are affected (and precisely which part of said agencies/services) is exhaustive; if you’d like to delve deeper, read this Washington Post article.
So who is affected?
The effect can be devastating. Approximately 800,000 government employees are no longer receiving income. Not only is this painful for those families, it is painful for an immeasurable amount of businesses at which these people will no longer be shopping. Every single sandwich shop, toy store, gas station, grocery store, etc, where these government employees would be spending their money will feel the pinch as those employees and their families tighten their belts. Secondly, the shutdown actually costs America a huge deal of money. The time and resources it takes to shut everything down and keep it safely shut down adds up; according to the Washington Post, the government shutdowns in the ’90s cost America almost $2 billion in current dollars.
Whose fault is it?
That’s the million dollar question. Many - including President Obama - argue that it is the fault of Congress Republicans for refusing to accept the Affordable Care Act as a passed and approved law. Republicans argue that they are fighting in the interest of the American people and their constituents, and blame the president for refusing to compromise. The arguing continues, and the hundreds of thousands affected by the government shutdown continue to suffer.
Black and white does not always equal grey, though. Several polls taken by multiple news and media organizations show that Americans place more blame for the GOP on the shutdown than President Obama. According to a CNN/ORC International Poll released on Monday, most Americans blame Republicans rather than the government for the shutdown. A CBS/New York Times survey released the week before indicates the same. The Republican party has taken a hit to their public image as they are seen holding the budget ransom, demanding that the President accept the hit to Obamacare or face government shutdown. The bluff was called, and the government (partially) shut down.
President Obama has stated that the Republicans refuse to give up their ideological crusade, and are willing to drag down the country with them. “They have shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job,” said Obama. Apparently, a majority of America is inclined to agree.
What do you think?
I think it’s complicated. The full story requires going back years and delving deep into the origins of the Tea Party - a radically conservative group of Republicans within Congress - and their sway over the rest of the party. But I believe that the end result is this: The Affordable Care Act has passed. It was voted into law, it was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. It is not going anywhere, and to damage the lives of millions of Americans for the sake of hurting the law is any way possible is irresponsible and deplorable. A budget must be passed. If Congress Republicans want to fight the Affordable Care Act, that is their right. But it should be done after the government has resumed its function.
Breakdown: Does the President have the Power to Declare War?
I listened to President Obama’s speech yesterday, and the part that struck me the most was his statement that, though he had the authority to issue the military strike against Syria, he had decided to ask Congress for permission instead. This begs the question - who controls the military? Can the President declare war? Why or why not?
Well, let’s break it down.
Just who’s in charge here - Congress or The President?
The framers of the Constitution meant for Congress to have more power than the President. In the Federalist Papers (articles written by the framers of the Constitution to allay fears and convince people the Constitution was a good idea), Madison wrote “..it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates”.
Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, “The Powers of Congress”, spells out seventeen explicit powers of the legislative branch over society, the economy, foreign affairs, and the military, while Article II, Section 2, which details the power of the executive, gives only three relatively vague (though significant) powers: to command the military, make treaties and appoint ambassadors, and to fill up vacancies in the Senate during a recess.
While each branch of the government is meant to have its own place and powers, the framers of the Constitution meant for the legislature to be the predominant branch of government.
Okay..so Congress is meant to be more powerful. So who can declare war?
Congress. The President does not, because the Constitution says he doesn’t.
Others must have worried about the executive taking control of the military, because once again the framers of the constitution had to quell fears of executive dominance. In Federalist Paper 61, Hamilton writes, “the President will have only the occasional command of such part of the militia of the nation as by legislative provision which may be called into the actual service of the union…the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies..all appertain to the legislature”.
In Section 8, Congress’s power over the military is mentioned five times: the power to call forth the Militia, declare war, raise and support Armies, provide and maintain a Navy, and to organize, arm, and discipline the militia. The executive’s power is only mentioned once, that the President “shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the States…when called into the actual Service of the United States”. Though command of the military is an enormous power, it is only given to the executive when Congress has called the military to service.
Alright! Done Deal. What’s the problem?
The problem is that presidents have been finding workarounds to this since the country began. In most cases, they just blatantly disregard this provision. Presidents have been engaging in hostilities, committing troops, and utilizing the military and then running to Congress to back them up very nearly since the country began.
President Lincoln suspended habeus corpus, approved naval blockades, extenuated military enlistment, and augmented the size of the army and navy, without asking Congress before any permission.
The Korean War was not formally declared.
Neither was the Vietnam War.
Ronal Reagan invaded Grenada without Congress’s permission.
George Bush senior deployed troops to Somalia.
Bill Clinton committed troops to NATo’s action in Yugoslavia in ‘99.
You get the point. The provision that’s meant to keep the executive branch from effectively controlling the military is little more than a joke. Presidents since Abraham Lincoln have claimed that their role as Commander in Chief gives them the right to do what they feel is necessary to protect the United States. Whether they are correct or not is a question for scholars of the Constitution.
But What About the War Powers Act?
Good question. In 1973, Congress got sick of its inability to keep the president from doing what he liked with the military, and passed the War Powers Act. Fun fact: President Nixon vetoed it, but Congress was united enough to overcome his veto with a greater-than-two-thirds majority vote.The War Powers Act requires the president to inform Congress before committing troops abroad in military action. If he does, he has 60 days, with the option of a 30 day extension, to get them out (sound familiar?). In order for the campaign to continue, war must be formally declared by - you guessed it - Congress. The War Powers Act concedes that the President is going to use military force without Congress’s former consent, for good or for ill. But it constrains his ability to do so by giving him a very small window before he must seek Congress’s approval for further action.
So..he does have the authority?
Whether the President has the authority to commit military forces is a tricky question, but history has shown time and time again that he does have the ability.
The War Powers Act tacitly gives POTUSes permission to utilize military force, if only by acknowledging that they’ll do so anyway and constraining them after the fact. "Declaring war" is just a formality, and not particularly important. The most important question is, "Does the President have the ability to authorize military action?", and for better or worse the answer to that question is "yes".
As I mentioned before, whether he should have this ability is a tough question. Strict interpretation of the Constitution would lead to an answer of “no”. Recognizing that the world is complicated, Congress is a mess, and sometimes the executive may have to act quickly to ensure the safety of the United States might lead to an answer of “…maybe”.
Alright, so what about Syria?
The strike against Syria falls into a grey zone. He may not be putting “boots on the ground”, but he is still committing troops and forces to combat operations. Precedent shows that Obama’s statement during his speech was also in the grey zone between right and wrong: though he may have the ability to commit the military without Congress’s approval as other presidents have done, whether he has the authority is a question of Constitutional interpretation.
Just because presidents have always extended the power of their office doesn’t make it right. The checks and balances meant to keep the United States government in equilibrium have become so strained it is a wonder they still work at all (if, indeed, they still do).
Though Obama may have the ability to begin military action without Congress’s consent, as a Constitutional scholar he ought to know that he probably shouldn’t. His choice to go to Congress with the question of military action - though he refused to say he wouldn’t go ahead and authorize military action if Congress voted against him - shows that hey, maybe he realizes this. The Constitution has been stretched and skewed from its original balance of powers continuously for hundreds of years. If power continues to flow inexorably into the hands of the executive, I don’t know exactly where it will lead us, but I’m confident it won’t be to a good place.
The Constitution of the United States.
Rossiter, Clinton, ed. The Federalist Papers. New York: First Signet Classic, 2003.
Kernell, Samuel; Jacobson, Gary C.; Kousser, Thad. The Logic of American Politics.
What do you think we should do about Syria, and why?
Terrible things are happening over there. The government has lots its collective mind and people are dying as a result. The prospect of sitting back our haunches and watching the shoe seems repugnant to me. And yet, nobody wants “another Iraq”, as so many people are beginning to make the comparison to.
Bush was widely criticized for making America the police of the world. Yet I believe that Syria is not the next Iraq. I believe that drawing that comparison is prety goddamned stupid, and I’ll tell you why. Our purported reason for invading Iraq was that they had weapons of mass destruction. They did not. UN Specialists said they did not. Our own team of investigators came back with a report saying they did not. And yet we went in anyway.
Now, the reason for aggression against the Syrian government is that it has slaughtered tens of thousands of its citizens in a brutal civil war. Nobody is disputing this. Whether this is reason enough to attack Syrian military outposts is another question entirely; my point here is that the two situations are not the same.
If we were to attack the Syrian military, I would want UN Support. Yet terrible things are happening and the United Nations is in complete gridlock thanks to the actions of Russia and China. With the formal, official channels impossible blocked and the atrocities mouting day by day, what do we do? And why?
Your comparison between Trayvon with a white teenager in skinny jeans and a tight Hollister t-shirt is laughable. To claim that Trayvon's race was the factor by which Zimmerman profiled him, and then use that comparison shows either a lack of intellectual honesty, or intellectual clarity. You would have to make the claim that Zimmerman wouldn't have followed a white teen wearing the same clothes as Trayvon to claim that Zimmerman profiled him based on race.
Oh hey, never saw this question. You’ve a fair point in that by changing the clothing of my hypothetical subject, I introduce another variable into the equation. Eliminating the variable and putting hypothetical white kid in a hoodie, I’d still happily claim that Zimmerman wouldn’t have followed a sandy blond (or whatever hair color you’d like) white teenager wearing a hoodie with skittles and juice in his hands.
1. When I’m working on a new 3d model? No.
2. When I’m doing some basic stress analysis or sketching a new design in my notebook? No.
3. When I’m sitting cross-legged on my desk, eating a Greek yogurt and checking tumblr on my phone? Naturally.
Is it really "incontrovertible" that Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you have any evidence to show that?
Hello there! An excellent question.
Is it truly incontrovertible (def: indisputable, unable to be denied) that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin? No. However, I posit that if you deny it you are willfully ignoring the obvious. What we do know is that Zimmerman, on the police recording said.
"There’s a real suspicious guy".
"This guy looks like is up to no good".
"He looks like he is on drugs or something".
"These assholes, they always get away".
No, he does not specifically mention race. But play this little mind game, if you would. If Trayvon Martin had been Timothy Martin, and had been wearing a tight fitting Hollister t-shirt and some skinny jeans, do you really think any of the events of that night would have transpired? Now you could respond “yes, possibly”. And if you do, so be it. I won’t argue with you. But as I said before, if you really do believe the answer to that hypothetical and yes, and Trayvon’s race had nothing to do with Zimmerman’s suspicious, you are being willfully ignorant.
The Zimmerman piece is emotion-laden and unconvincing. The crux is that Martin responded "in kind". Speculation. If Zimmerman went up and talked to him, the "in kind" response is verbal. There's an a priori assumption that Zimmerman attacked first. Either that or 17-year-olds (dump the "child" epithet) are granted the right to attack because they just don't know any better. Either one makes "What I am is a rational human being, which is all it takes" a little too too bold and pompous.
False, anonymous reader. The crux has little to do with Martin’s response, and there is absolutely no assumption of who commenced the physical altercation. The crux is that Martin stalked the child (I see no reason to desist in my usage of the appellation), instigating the conflict, and that this needs to be taken into account in the law. A Stand Your Ground law that both does not require de-escalation and allows for provocation and instigation is no better than a license to kill.
The case of the death of Trayvon Martin by the self-styled neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman has been lighting the internet on fire for some time now. With the trial ended, and at request of my few and precious readers I feel the need to weigh in. Let’s get to it.
There are a plethora of minute-by-minute accounts of what happened on the night that Zimmerman shot Trayvon. While I won’t delve into that much detail, here is the broad sweep. George Zimmerman, out running errands, spotted a young man walking around a Florida neighborhood who, according to him, looked suspicious. He called the police, reported the character, and began to follow the young man. Meanwhile, Trayvon Martin, on the phone with a friend, recognized that a “creepy” man was following him. At some point, Trayvon began to run. Zimmerman left his car and followed him. The defense later claimed he was trying to find out which way he went and not follow him, though the distinction seems minimal at best. At this point, the dispatcher on the phone with Zimmerman told him “We don’t need you to do that”, to which Zimmerman responded “Okay” and continued. Here is where things get even more hazy: There was a confrontation. Words were exchanged. A scuffle ensued. Zimmerman claims Trayvon attacked him. The prosecution claimed Zimmerman confronted Martin. At some point, Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman. Zimmerman then shot Trayvon at a distance of 1 - 12 inches from his body, in the chest. Trayvon died minutes later.
The jury consisted of five white women and one hispanic woman. After a long court case and sixteen hours of deliberation, they delivered the “Not Guilty” verdict. Now, I was asked why the jury came back with this verdict. The answer is disturbingly simple: the prosecution first attempted to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, and later, manslaughter became an option to the jury. The definitions are as follows:
Second Degree Murder: Non-premeditated killing, resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility.
Manslaughter: The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.
The prosecution could not prove “without a reasonable doubt” that either of these were the case. There were a number of hazy witnesses who heard shouts, saw a scuffle, or saw the aftermath of the scuffle, but it was essentially Zimmerman’s word against that of a dead child. Without definitive evidence that Martin’s death was not a product of self-defense, and evidence that Trayvon had caused injury to Zimmerman, the jury ruled Zimmerman not guilty of the charges.
The problem is that under current laws the jury’s conclusion is correct. The jury were made familiar with the Stand Your Ground law, which under Florida State 776.013 Section 3, states:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
If you cut out surrounding context and look at the fight between Zimmerman and Martin, Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin seems justified.
The problem is that this is an incredibly stupid thing to do.
It is incontrovertible that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin, then - armed with a gun - stalked the young man on his way home, even though the police told him this was not necessary. I don’t know exactly how the physical altercation started; nobody does. I’ll be the first to admit that the bleeding nose and head lacerations Zimmerman suffered do not make young Martin look like a saint. However, if I were walking back to my apartment one night, and noticed I was being followed by a man in his car, I’d be severely disturbed. If I then attempted to run and the man got out of his car and started following me, I would progress from disturbed to incredibly fearful for my well being. I’d like to think I wouldn’t attack my stalker, but I honestly do not know for certain that, given the exact circumstances, this wouldn’t be the most logical option. Under such circumstances, flight might not seem like the best way to protect myself.
When I looked up the Stand Your Ground law, I was shocked that none of this factored in. Even if Trayvon instigated the confrontation, according to the law Zimmerman had no requirement to de-escalate the situation. In effect, if I feel threatened for my life - regardless of whether my would-be assailant has a weapon capable of ending my life, or whether I started it in the first place - I can pull out my gun and shoot someone. Professor Ari Kohen sums it up well:
A conventional Stand Your Ground law allows a person to use deadly force under threat, after having exhausting other means of defusing the situation or removing himself from it. Florida’s law, on the other hand, doesn’t place any such requirement on the person; he has no obligation to try to escape a dangerous situation before he opts to use deadly force to protect himself.
The problem is that Stand Your Ground allowed a want-to-be hero to manufacture a dangerous situation by instigating a young man, and then to kill that young man when he responded in kind. The problem is that, according to current Florida state law, this isn’t a problem.
There is still not enough evidence to prove that Zimmerman did not shoot Martin in self-defense, but the point is there shouldn’t need to be. There is a surfeit of evidence that Zimmerman instigated the conflict - by profiling and stalking - and with this in mind, self-defense should not be a viable assertion to make.
I am not a lawyer. I am not a laywer. For the last time, I am not a lawyer, and I am not going to attempt to succinctly prove that Zimmerman should have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. What I am is a rational human being, which is all it takes to know that George Zimmerman is not an innocent man. He profiled, provoked and scared a child, who he then shot when the child responded to his fear. If the law does not take into account this picture, so much larger and meaningful than the physical fight between Zimmerman and Martin, then the law needs to be changed. Immediately.
"The top judge of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmud Mansour, has been sworn in as interim leader, a day after the army ousted President Mohammed Morsi and put him under house arrest. Mr. Mansour said fresh elections were ‘the only way’ forward, but gave no indication of when they would be held.
Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, is under house arrest after what he says was a military coup. The army said he had ‘failed to meet the demands of the people’.
The upheaval comes after days of mass rallies against Mr Morsi and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement he comes from. Protesters accused them of pursuing an Islamist agenda and of failing to tackle Egypt’s economic problems.”
Over the last several days, Egypt has seen as much if not more turmoil than that which drove Mubarak out of office more than a year ago. Driving home from several hours at the parkour gym at midnight last night, I was thrilled to listen to live BBC news coverage of events in Egypt, including interviews with both Morsi supports and supporters of the army’s actions, several hours before Mansour was sworn into office. Coasting down California freeways withe the radio turned up, I almost felt like I was there. And being “there”, I felt it very important to form an opinion on the matter:
It is intensely complicated, but unlike some, I will not hesitate to call it a military coup. That is the only way to describe an event where tanks roll down the streets and the democratically elected ruler is forcibly deposed by the country’s own armed forces. The only question is whether a military coup is a bad thing. The answer should unequivocally be ‘yes’ - should being the operative word.
Politics isn’t black and white. Under most any circumstances I would decry the military coup. And yet, it is being said that more than 33 million people took to the streets to call for Morsi to step down from office. That is:
More than a third of Egypt’s total population. Assuming that the majority of the protesters were adults, it is more than half of Egypt’s adult population. (Source: Wiki)
The largest protest in history (Edit: Turns out it may be the largest in history. Jury’s still out on this one. But still. Really freaking big protest).
So large it could be seen from space. Easily.
So here’s the skinny: this clearly does not fall under “most any circumstances”. These are absolutely insane, mind-blowing, historical circumstances. The (possibly) largest protest in human history may not be cause to throw the rules out the window, but it certainly is enough to pause for deep consideration.
Do I support the military coup in Egypt? That I cannot say. I am not Egyptian, I am not well-versed enough in Morsi and the Islamic Brotherhood’s actions that led to such outcry, and I don’t want to lay down a blanket statement without knowing what I’m talking about. I will say that Vox Populi - the voice of the people - was heard in Egypt last night. Passions were stirred, anger was let out, and real change happened because of it. However, keep in mind that (likely for good reason) the American democratic system was specifically desired to account for and control the passions of the people. The Framers of the Constitution laid it out so that a temporary stir of emotion could not change the course of the entire country. But that was hundreds of years ago and these actions were taken by a bunch of old men who once you delve into it, very much wanted to keep the wealthy, aristocratic upper class in power. American democracy may not be a shining paradigm to judge all us by, but it has been incredibly stable and it has lasted, and one of the most important reasons is that angry crowds are not allowed to fundamentally alter the state of the country.
So you can see that my thoughts on the matter are a looping spiral that isn’t going much anywhere. Why? Because like I said at the very beginning, it’s complicated. Very complicated. In the end, whether this military coup is cause for celebration, or cause for horror at the tyranny of the majority, time and history shall tell.
The Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court today. Hacking and slashing from some former breakdowns and my own knowledge, I’ve tossed together a short version of what this means.
Um, I’m out of the loop. What’s DOMA again?
The Defense of Marriage act was passed in ‘96 by Clinton, and defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman at the federal level. The main parts are Section 2, which says that states may legalize gay marriage but another state that does not recognize gay marriage need not recognize that marriage. Section 3 formally defines marriage, at the federal level, as the legal union between a man and a woman.
What’s the significance of no more DOMA?
It’s huge! There are a number of federal benefits denied to same-sex couples married in states where it is legal.
Social Security Survivors benefits
Joint Tax filing benefits
Government employee benefits
Military spouse benefits
Estate tax benefits
All are denied to same-sex couples only married at the state level. By having ones’ same-sex marriage recognized federally, these will no longer be denied. Tax benefits from marriage will be granted. Green cards can now be given to spouses in a same-sex marriage. You can inherit an estate from a deceased spouse without an exorbitant tax.The list goes on.
The court only ruled on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Section 2 was not ruled on and was not struck down. What this means is that all those excellent federal benefits come to pass, but states where same-sex marriage is forbidden do not have to recognize same-sex marriages which took place in a state where it is allowed. So if you and your same-sex spouse drive from New York to Texas, you aren’t married in that state.
How soon till this goes into effect?
To the best of my knowledge, immediately. Many people already filed green card applications to get their same-sex partners into the Unite States in anticipation of the DOMA ruling, and these should begin to be processed within months. Couples are filing jointly this year - the first time anyone’s ever looked forward to doing their taxes, I’ll bet.
Thanks for all the work you do on this blog. A breakdown on the NSA and related stories would be great.
Thanks! I hate that I haven’t been posting for the last six weeks. A full time job + GRE studying saps the free time I had for blogging. I’ll do my best to break down the NSA and the privacy issue as soon as I can.
There is not a problem with Islam. For those of us who have studied it, there is no doubt about its true and peaceful nature. There is not a problem with Muslims in general. Most in Britain are horrified at Rigby’s murder.
But there is a problem within Islam, and we have to put it on the table and be honest about it. There are, of course, Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu ones. But I am afraid that the problematic strain within Islam is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view of religion – and of the relationship between religion and politics – that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies. At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the worldview goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So, by and large, we don’t admit it.
”—An undoubtedly controversial but very interesting article by Tony Blair. Well worth the read.
Breakdown: Everything about the Senate Gun Control Legislation.
Here is everything that you wanted to know - and ought to know - about the Senate gun control legislation, but probably didn’t. Bipartisan gun control legislation put forward by President Barack Obama and largely supported by the Democratic party failed in the Senate this past week, sparking a firestorm of public criticism, public support, presidential fury, and general shitstorminess. But what is going on? What did the bill say, and why and how did it fail in the midst of the seemingly unending spree of gun violence rocking the nation? That’s what I aim to answer.
What did the bill say?
On February 5th the first of the bipartisan gun control bills was unveiled in Congress, by Republican Congressmen Patrick Meehan and Scott Rigell (PA, VA, respectively) and Democratic Congressmen/women Carolyn Maloney and Elijah Cummings (NY, MD, respectively). The legislation would make firearm trafficking a federal crime, and give a hefty jail time to those who bought guns for those prohibited from buying them. Soon after, a full package of gun control measures was unveiled. In total, it included:
Requiring background checks for online sales and sales at gun shows
Substitute for background check bill that increases enforcement and reporting on mentally ill people.
Renew and strengthen a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Limit magazine sizes to ten rounds.
Make “straw purchasing” (buying a gun for someone prohibited from doing so) and trafficking a federal crime.
Reauthorize and improve mental health programs.
Impose penalties on states for releasing gun ownership data.
State reciprocity for the carrying of concealed firearms.
Allow only a judge to deem veterans mentally incompetent to own a gun.
This was the gun control legislation on the table. To me, it seemed logical and downright obvious. In fact, I was shocked some things like background checks for those attempting to buy a weapon designed to take human life did not exist in the first place.
Many of these measures were introduced jointly by Republicans and Democrats, as number five was. Out of all of these measures, of which background checks were arguably the most important, only six and seven were passed by the senate. Something as seemingly obvious as background checks was rejected, as was banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons. We are left only with improving mental health programs and the penalizing of states for releasing information on those who own guns. Nothing immediate or concrete is happening; the most vital measures all failed. On top of everything, six and seven will not be going into effect. They were attached to the bill at large, and since the bill at large did not pass, no new gun control legislation is going into effect. After Newton, after Aurora, after MIT - nothing.
Just WHY did these measures fail?
That is the million dollar question. In short, the bill did not receive enough votes. It needed more than 60 Senators’ support to avoid a filibuster; of the 55 Democrats and 45 Republican Senators, 52 Democrats supported the bill and only 4 Republicans. As is obvious, the gun control legislation received virtually no Republican support. President Obama, in a statement yesterday, accused Republican senators of falling prey to political pressure by the NRA instead of doing what was right. He went as far as accusing the NRA and Senators of willfully misleading the American public as to what the effects of the gun contra legislation would be. The NRA - National RIfle Association - put powerful pressure on the government to not increase gun control. According to the New York Times, they spent half a million dollars on Wednesday alone on advertisements criticizing the gun control legislation.
The senators who voted against the bill, of course dispute the President’s claims. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, like others, claims he followed his principles and his support of the Second Amendment - the right to bear arms. Republican Senator Jon Coryn of Texas claims he voted as his constituents would and not because of any NRA pressure. Polls do show, however, that 90% of Americans are in favor of the more stringent background checks. And the reasons given are confusing at best. Senator Flake of Arizona said it would require checks when a gun sale is posted on an office message board (false), while Senator Coburn of Oklahoma said it would raise taxes (what?). Senator Grassley of Iowa said that criminals would not submit to background checks, which apparently invalidates the idea of background checks entirely (?). As Jon Stewart so aptly pointed out, according to this logic it makes sense to not pass a law because hey, criminals are just going to break it anyway.
So what happens now?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used his power as majority leader to effectively “pause” the bill. The filibuster will not happen, which would take the bill off the table. Effectively, a “time out” was called, which gives those in support of the bill additional time to convert the critical number of senators necessary to approve the legislation. At any time a vote can be called again.
Now you now a bit about the gun control legislation that failed in the Senate. You know it’s main provisions, you know a bit about the excuses as to why it did not pass in the Senate. Do you think it should have, or should not? Now that you’re informed, the decisions is yours to make. I only encourage you to act on it once you make it.
Personal Opinion Alert: I support the gun control legislation. Why? Because gun violence is out of control. It is no longer the “other” in my life; it is a part of my life. Someone was murdered several days ago only a handful of blocks from my apartment. I have good friends at MIT, where a policeman was murdered only a few hours ago. Thank goodness my friends are okay, and I can only imagine the state that policeman’s family is in right now. This is real, and this is now. Gun violence will only skirt around us for so long. It is only a matter of time before someone we love gets hurt, and it becomes more real than we could ever imagine. Before that happens, I believe we need to take immediate, powerful action to curb it.