Tag Archives: law

You can’t play by the rules with the government

14 Jul

I’ve been thinking about laws a lot lately. Laws have been in the news quite a bit recently. Laws about gun control, laws about leaking government documents, heck, when I took a flight on a plane earlier this week I was told about laws prohibiting me from tampering with the smoke detectors.  I think it’s funny how some people think and act with regards to laws. One group of people who really make me laugh are those who think laws somehow stop something from happening; as if laws were some mystical force, or an invisible wall like in a video game. Don’t want something to happen? Make it against the law! Yeah, that’ll stop ’em! Sure that might deter some people from some activities, but if someone is really determined, or just simply doesn’t care, they’re going to do whatever it is you’ve made against the law. Yet here I’m just referring to law and its relation to everyday life in society. What’s really got me thinking about law lately is how it relates to the government.

When I think back to my early days of political activism in high school one memory sticks out. It’s the memory of my US Government teacher. He was once asked what he admired most about America. His responded that what he admired most was the fact that a single ordinary citizen was able to bring the most powerful government on earth to a screeching halt through the use of law. I think in his mind he imagined someone exercising their rights to refuse a search or to keep their home when the government wanted to build a highway. This memory has become one of my sorest and most poisoned points of cynicism.

I feel there are two realms to the law. There is the law as it affects everyday people and their daily lives. For example, laws regarding driving, civil contracts, or when the bars close reside in this realm. The second realm revolves around laws and how they relate to the government. Usually people say things like “Well the government can’t do X because it’s against the law” or “I’d like to Y in order to comply with the law.”  As a specific example, I was in an online forum discussing Julian Assange and his captivity in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The police there are spending $16,000 a day to make sure he doesn’t leave the embassy. Someone in the forum was asking if there was any legal way for Assange to escape.

When people talk about law in relation to the government I get the impression that they think of it as a kind of game. The government and the person interacting with the government are both players in this game. The law governs what actions the players can and cannot take. The players then try to win the game by using the law to out maneuver their opponent. This could be in the form of a person attempting to avoid jail time or secure the ability to do something the government has tried to stop them from doing. Conversely, the government could use the law to prosecute someone or prevent a group of people from doing something.

I imagine most people conceptualize the law this way. Unfortunately there is a major flaw in this understanding of the law that undermines any chance of fair play:

The government writes the laws.

Imagine you’re trying to play a soccer game where you make your best effort to stay within the lines on the field and not commit any fouls. Now imagine that your opponent is not constricted by those lines and can commit whatever foul they want. The game would seem fixed and it would be extremely difficult to play. Now take it a step further. What if your opponent could actively redefine the lines on the field and what constituted a foul to their advantage? Any chance of a fair play would be impossible! There is no way you could win against that opponent. They have god-mode enabled.

That’s exactly the situation we’re faced with when using the law to interact with the government. Because of this, I can’t help but laugh whenever I overhear someone talking about trying to play by the rules with the government. I feel a lot of people fail to see this because it’s rare that this truth is so nakedly apparent, however, it’s rapidly becoming more apparent every day.

Everything the government does is governed by a cost/benefit ratio. The government can break its own laws at the cost of public disapproval. Historically, the bigger the breach, the bigger the public backlash, yet everything in life is governed by economics.  This ratio, like a currency, is not a fixed value. It fluctuates over time. At some points in time it might be more costly for a government to do a particular thing than at other points in time. For example: In the 1970’s, Nixon was involved in wiretapping the Democratic National Committee headquarters in DC. He was caught and the publish outcry eventually lead him to resign. Nowadays, Obama wiretaps the entire country along with many of our allies oversees and nothing really happens. The cost/benefit ratio of such actions has shifted.

Historically, public backlash against the government has been the force to keep the government in check. Lately, however, I feel this force has been losing its market value. What is causing the devaluation of public outcry? Several factors: public apathy and distraction is the cliche, but nonetheless still a major factor. (On a related side note, Portlandia did an amazing skit here demonstrating this.) Technology is another often overlooked factor. Technology allows the government to be more precise, efficient, and quick in applying its force. Wire-tapping everybody and monitoring everything gives the government better situational awareness and lets them effectively single out potential trouble makers and deal with them quickly. Governments are, after all, self-preserving organisms just like any other. The first law any government always passes is to make it illegal to overthrow the government.

So back to people failing to see this truth because of it rarely being apparent. Why is it rarely apparent and what are some examples of when it is apparent?

What is the difference between a “civil” society with laws and a society where the ruling party often and arbitrarily does whatever it wants? Stability.

Instability is bad for business, and again, everything is about economics. The government could start ruling with an iron fist and start imprisoning people and breaking laws en masse, but the cost of doing that is very high. It quickly lowers the threshold for open rebellion and we often see the outbreak of civil war quite quickly in regimes that resort to these tactics. For the most part, the government might allow itself to be constricted by its own laws for the sake of stability, but the whole point of laws is that, like rights, they’re supposed to be absolute.

If a right is not absolute then it is, by definition, not a right. It’s a privilege allowed to you by some other party, at risk of being revoked should the sentiments of that party change. A law is not a law if it is at risk of being ignored or broken by the government.

Nowadays, there are increasingly times when the government deems the cost of disregarding its own laws tolerable enough to do something that would otherwise be illegal. One example I’ve quoted on here before is the case of Megaupload. Megaupload was a file sharing site that the government, at the behest of powerful Hollywood lobyists, illegally shut down. They were waiting for SOPA, a bill giving them a legal pretense for exercising more control over the internet, to pass before they took down the site. When the bill failed due to public outcry, the government went ahead and took down the website anyways. Your average citizen didn’t know what Megaupload was, nor would they care, so the cost of taking it down illegal was very small. A much more high profile example lately is the government ease dropping on all communications. The NSA records all your phone calls, collects your e-mails, browser history, bank transactions, you name it. This information is collected automatically so it can be examined should you become a person of interest in the future.  The NSA is currently constructing a facility 5 times larger than Washington DC where they will store all this illegally gained information.  Another example is the targeted killings of Americans. (How can you read that sentence and keep a straight face?) There was seriously a discussion in this country a little while back about when it was ok for the president to extra-judicially execute an American citizen. No trial. No jury. No due process. Before that there was a discussion in this country about when the president could torture someone and lock them away in prison for years without a trial. How did the government get around the illegality of this?

Simple. They just rewrote the laws to make it legal.

 

The passage of “Obamacare” highlights republican disconnect with reality.

30 Jun

Last week Obama’s healthcare reform legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court. CNN and Fox, showed just how little facts matter to them in their rush to be first to break the story by neglecting to read the whole document before declaring the legislation dead. Meanwhile, republicans showed just how little facts matter to them by promptly exploding upon hearing that the legislation passed.

Some republicans hilariously threatened to move to Canada as a result of this ruling. Little do they know, Canada has universal healthcare much stronger than anything passed in Obama’s legislation.

Romney promptly came out and denounced the legislation, vowing to repeal it on his first day in office.

Which is hilarious because in 2006 it was his idea:

In fact, the whole notion of an individual mandate, the government forcing you to buy something against your will, was originally the brain-child of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation.

You see, the anti-free market notion of being forced to buy health insurance was developed by conservatives. Obama’s legislation was crafted by the health insurance industry. It spoon feeds them 30 million new customers who are required by law to buy from them.  Back in 2009, when all this was starting, 77% of the country supported having a public (government) option to generate competition and help keep prices down. Competition would have been bad for health insurance industry profits, so they made sure to take that option off the table. Instead we got this watered down legislation. Yes, it’s better than nothing at all, assuming it lives to take full effect, but what we needed was real systemic reform and this is not it.

But you see, conservatives are masters of compartmentalization and ignoring cognitive dissonance brought on by hypocrisy. None of the above mentioned facts will have an effect on them. They will continue to scream about the evils of making sure everyone has access to health care, and how this whole thing is liberal big government taking over their lives. This just goes to further highlight what I’ve been saying is the rosetta stone to understanding conservatives:

Objective reality and facts don’t matter. Narrative does.

In other news, republicans ban scientists and city planners from discussing sea level rise.

Laws are NOT based off the 10 Commandments

10 Dec

The good Christian congressman from the proud state of Texas, Dan Flynn, has introduced a bill aiming to place “the” 10 Commandments in public schools. Let’s cut the bullshit and drop the pretensions people. We all know this is an attempt to erect a monument to the Christian religion on public school property. There is no sense trying to cover it up by saying “Oh, but “the” 10 Commandments are the basis for all of Western law! It’s just honoring the importance that they played in forming our legal system!”

First of all, “the” 10 Commandments was given to Jews in the Middle East, not twinkling blue eyed Englishmen.  Pagan Rome and their legal code, which was spread all over the West for a thousand years, had a hell of a lot more influence in our modern “Western” legal system.

Secondly, which 10 Commandments? That’s right, in case you haven’t read the bible (which is likely since very few who claim to believe in it have actually done so) there are two sets of 10 Commandments and they say different things.

(Click to enlarge)


The funny thing is that the first set of stone tables, the ones most people imagine of when they think “the” 10 Commandments, was smashed by Moses. God made a second set and changed the Commandments around after the first were destroyed. (But nobody remembers this or brings it up because it’s not convenient for their agenda, or they’re just plain ignorant)

So, ignoring this inconvenient fact, lets look at what exactly the laws are in “the” 10 Commandments.

  1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You Shall not make for yourself a graven image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.

Ok, the first 4 of “the” 10 Commandments are explicit religious commands about the nature of this particular god and how you are to serve him. Now please kindly tell me what this has to do with the US Constitution, the 1st amendment separating church and state, and which of our thousands of secular laws are based on these 4 religious commands pertaining to this one particular religion? (Here’s a hint: nothing.)

5. Honor your father and your mother.

Simple enough, listen to your parents. We don’t have any laws about this, except if you are under the age of 18, so again this is largly irrelevant to our legal system.

6. You shall not kill.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet.

Finally, something sort of related to our laws, but here’s the catch: these are universal concepts. I often hear Christians say “The 10 Commandments are the basis for morality!” to which I respond “Murder, stealing, and perjury were wrong before they were ever written down in stone.” Those are really the only three commandments that have any bearing on our legal system, 6,8, and 9. Three! Three out of ten! Adultery is not a crime in our legal system. (And thank goodness because it’s human nature to cheat (unfortunately) and in the countries that do have it as a crime, they often stone the women to death and let the men go)

As for #10, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that our good congressman Dan Flynn, being a republican, is a big fan of free market capitalism. Capitalism, the economy, everything would fall apart if people did not covet other people’s possessions. Do you want to destroy capitalism Mr. republican congressman? Didn’t think so.

So now that we’ve established that 40% of this document is comprised of religious edicts, 10% on how to treat your parents, 10% on sexual conduct, 10% on destroying capitalism, and only 30% on concepts that are universal in morality, does this religious document (if it ever existed at all since we don’t have the originals and there are no mentions of it outside of the myth that mentions it) belong in public schools or on public property as a monument to one particular faith? No. If you’re going to erect a monument to one faith on government property, then you must erect a monument to all faiths on government property. To not do so would be to favor one religion over another, and the constitution (which I’m sure Mr. Flynn claims to adore, just like so many other conservatives) strictly forbids such action in the very first line of the very first amendment.

 

Infringing on religious freedom of speech

6 Jul

Paying attention to religious news lately has made me aware of an unsettling notion some people have about free speech when it comes to religion. There seem to be some people in this country who believe that since America was founded by fundamentalist christians (according to them and not actual history), christianity is the default setting for government and thus it is only natural to have christian monuments and symbols on government property and christian language in laws. Ergo, any attempt to prevent them from putting their religious symbols and language on government property or into laws is a violation of their free speech and freedom of religion. I had a civics teacher in middle school who used to always say “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”, in essence, one person’s rights  ends when it starts to infringe on another person’s rights. For instance, it might be some Mormon fundamentalist’s religion to marry and rape multiple young girls, but his right to freedom of religion ends when he violates those  girls’ rights.

You have the right to practice your religion any time, any place you want, as long as you do not infringe on other people’s rights. You have the right to build houses of worship on private property and put up whatever signs you want on that property. You have a right to pray to yourself in school any time you want. You have the right to stand on public property and protest, holding religious signs. The government has no right to stop you from any of these activities, as long as you are not infringing on the rights of others. You do not, however, have the right to force your beliefs onto the government that is supposed to represent everyone equally. Erecting a cross on a public land, putting the 10 commandments in a public courthouse, or trying to brand the government with your faith is not one of your rights.

If you defends terrorists, you are one.

9 Mar

So recently Liz Cheney has come out with a group “Keep America Safe” which ran this ad:

They want to know the identities of the other defense attorneys assigned to defend accused terrorists. Why don’t they just look? It’s not like the government is hiding it.

Whose values do they share? Seriously? Well aparently they have American values because they are defending people they most likely have a loathing for because the constitution says they must!

The sixth amendment to the constitution states:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

The defense attorneys are assigned cases. Just because they defend a client because the constitution requires it does not mean they agree with the client’s alleged actions.

“Oh, but the terrorists don’t get the protection guaranteed by the constitution because they are not Americans!”

Wrong!

First off, until they are convicted in a trial by jury they are “alleged” terrorists. Sorry, but “innocent until proven guilty” still applies, even when you don’t want it to.

Secondly, the constitution applies to all people, not just citizens.

The fifth amendment to the constitution:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The idea of “citizens” doesn’t even enter the constitution until the 14th amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Notice how after the amendment defines citizen, it switches back to using “person” instead of citizen. The constitution applies to all people when they are interacting with the government.

But no, Liz Cheney, ever as raving mad and paranoid as her father, wants to just skip the constitution and execute anyone they deem a terrorist. Don’t give them a trial. If you do and someone defends them, their defender is a terrorist themselves. Why not just shoot them in the head and save time? Glenn Beck advocates doing that. So ideally, Liz and Beck would skip trials and shoot suspected terrorists right then and there. But I thought conservatives believed the government can never do anything right. And now they want to trust the government to execute people without a trial just because they suspect them of being terrorists?

He’s not white and he has a beard! Kill him!!!!

I cannot convey the utter disgust I have for Liz Cheney and Glenn Beck on this. Their views are the very definition of anti-American. They run directly counter to what is explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution.

Cheney’s “Keep America Safe” group is also pro-torture, which is not only horrendously illegal, but morally bankrupt. Oh yes, let us throw away any moral high ground we have, and ignore all the laws that make us a civilized society, so we can cater to your rabid paranoia. HELL NO!

Do you speak for god?

16 Feb

While conducting research on my senior thesis in history, I came across this speech given by Emperor Wilhelm to his troops in 1914:

“Remember that you are the chosen people! The spirit of the Lord has descended upon me, because I am Emperor of the Germans! I am the instrument of the Most High. I am His sword, His representative….May all the enemies of the German people perish! God demands their destruction, God, who through my mouth, commands you to execute His will!”

Why is it god always speaks through man, and never directly?

One of the milestones on my road to deconversion was when I realized that everything I had been told about religion, god, Jesus, etc, was told to me by another human being.

I thought to myself:  “Now wait a second….human beings are fallible. They make mistakes. They lie. They have agendas, sometimes hidden ones. They care about power. They are not perfect. So why would an all perfect god always use such biased, self interested agents as humans to spread his word? Those people claim to speak for god, and we have only their word. We just have to trust them. These people often lie and take advantage of that blind trust… What if they are not speaking for god? What if they are just claiming to speak for god? Or what if they think they are speaking for god but it is just all in their head? We have no way of knowing…. But why would someone pretend to be talking for god? Simple. Power, money, prestige….”

Look at these two big examples. Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell. Both of them made millions of dollars claiming to speak for god. Both of them set up “schools” where they make even more money telling people they speak for god. Televangelists have been doing this for ages.

But ok, those are big examples. What about your average pastor/priest/imam/rabbi? Well, I would argue that most of them are just spouting the old stuff that someone else once claimed was god’s word. They read from the bible/koran/torah and say “this is god’s word!” They don’t have too much to gain (if their operation is still small) accept the prestige (among believers) of knowing the god’s will. The people who wrote what they’re saying, however, had a lot to gain.

These “holy texts” ordered entire cultures! The people who wrote them, claiming themselves (men) as the holy instruments of god crafted these texts to secure their power. “Women should be subservient” is an excellent example. If you read or watch “Misquoting Jesus” you can see how early Christian scribes altered the bible to secure contemporary power bases throughout the middle ages.

You can have a lot of power over someone who believes that you and you alone know the path to salvation. Just look around at modern and ancient cults! People commit suicide for their cult leaders! The only thing that is different between a cult and organized religion is size. The smaller it is, the more intense control you can exercise over your followers. (It’s easier to brainwash 30 people who you see every day than it is to brainwash 30 million that you speak to once a week, though there are those among the 30 million that will be fanatically devoted to you or the cause)

Imagine for a second there was a mad man on the corner claiming to know the will of the stop sign. Say he was shouting at people that they must live their lives according to a book written by those divinely inspired by the stop sign. Imagine he asked for contributions or a tithe to help fun the work of the holy stop sign. Imagine if he had millions of followers who likewise believed the will of the stop sign was known through a book. Imagine if he made lots of money and lived lavish lifestyles off of the contribution on stop sign believers.Now imagine if those millions of stop sign believers tried to change the laws in your country to favor those who accept the stop sign. They want to affect how you live your life and what freedoms you have based off of what somebody claims is the will of the stop sign, and you have only their word. There is no way to see if they are actually right. You just have to take it on faith.

I bed you’d be pretty pissed off. I bet you’d try and point out that the guy on the corner is mad, and he does not really speak for the stop sign. I bet you’d try to get proof that he spoke for the stop sign, or that the stop sign even had a will in the first place! I bet you’d fight to stop them from telling you how to live your life, what freedoms you had, all because of what they think a stop sign is telling them. Sounds pretty insane right?

That is how Atheists feel about you. (You being if you are in fact a believer in a higher power who also believes that the will of said power can be known, and that it is your duty to tell others how to live and enact laws if need be)

What if your truth doesn’t match reality?

24 Jan

Theists, if there was a clear discrepancy between what your “absolute truth” says and what reality shows you, would you admit that your “absolute truth” is wrong, and thus not absolute?

I feel most theists would admit they don’t have all the answers, but what about those who would still hold onto ideas that can clearly be shown not to fit with reality? How do you argue with them? I figure you can’t really argue with them. If you play by the rules of “reality is impartial and final” like the rest of the world, and they don’t, then there is no point.

How do you deal with these people? Usually you just walk away and ignore them, but what do you do when people like this rise to positions of power? How do you combat them when they don’t care if reality says they’re nuts, and killing them only makes them martyrs?