Monday, March 10, 2014
We pretend to believe that retaliation is the law of our being, whereas in every scripture we find that retaliation is nowhere obligatory but only permissible. It is restraint that is obligatory. Retaliation is indulgence requiring elaborate regulating. Restraint is the law of our being.
- MK Gandhi, Young India, March 9, 1922
One way to refuse cooperation with a regime is to engage in Method 122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance:
In many situations, the making of speeches and the publication and distribution of literature which call on people to undertake some form of nonviolent noncooperation or nonviolent intervention themselves become acts of defiance and resistance. This is especially so in those countries where any call for resistance, especially for illegals acts of resistance, is itself illegal or seditious.
Now sedition is a rather subjective thing, and often used too loosely to describe a variety of acts. I think colloquially it is taken to mean "advocating stuff that upsets the status quo." Sometimes it's criminal.
We in the US have had a long history, from the Alien and Sedition Acts passed in during John Adams' tenure in 1798 to the Sedition Act of 1918 under Woodrow Wilson to the Smith Act that was signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt (and remains on the books to this day). Sadly, there are plenty of examples of trying to suppress dissent in the recent past, too.
You most likely know where I'm headed with this. On the same date that Gandhi wrote in Young India about non-violence, he also instructed people what to do in case he was arrested:
The rumour has been revived that my arrest is imminent. It is said to be regarded as a mistake by some officials that I was not arrested when I was to be...It is said, too, that it is now no longer possible for the Government to withstand the ever-rising agitation in London for my arrest and deportation. I myself cannot see how the Government can avoid arresting me if they want a permanent abandonment of civil disobedience, whether individual or mass.
I advised the Working Committee to suspend mass civil disobedience...becauae that disobedience would not have been civil, and if I am now advising all provincial workers to suspend even individual civil disobedience, it is because I know that any disobedience at the present stage will be not civil but criminal. A tranquil atmosphere is an indispensable condition of civil disobedience. It is humiliating for me to discover that there is a spirit of violence abroad and that the Government of the United Provinces has been obliged to enlist additional police...
He also admonished his followers to not engage in any demonstrations or hartal upon his arrest, nor should they revive mass civil disobedience, and they should strictly adhere to the principles of non-violence.
Gandhi was, in fact, arrested at Ahmedabad late at night on March 10, under Section 124, Indian Penal Code. His parting words were that "all who bore patriotism and love for India should strain every nerve to propagate peace and goodwill all over India, among all communities."
The authorities charged Gandhi with sedition for writing three articles in Young India:
- Tampering with Loyalty (September 27, 1921)
- A Puzzle and its Solution (December 15, 1921)
- Shaking the Manes (February 22, 1922)
I know that I was playing with fire. I ran the risk, and if I were set free I would still do the same. Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also last article of my creed. I know that my people have sometimes gone mad. I am sorry for it. Their crime consisted in the love of their country.
I am here to submit not to a light penalty but to the highest Penalty. In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good Nonviolence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be the inflected upon me for what in law is a deliberated crime and what appears to me be the highest duty of a citizen.
The only cause open to, judge, is either to resign post and thus dissociate yourself from evil if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is evil and that I am innocent or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country and that my activity is therefore injurious to the public weal.
He was sentenced to six years in prison, though he was released early because of illness (he was 53 at that point and had an appendectomy two years into his prison term). Wonder if the CEO of Hobby Lobby would be willing to demand the harshest penalty of law to defend his principles and effect change...
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Friday, February 28, 2014
Because God Knows We Don't Want Any New Nonviolent Citizens
A California resident applying for U.S. citizenship has had her application denied because immigration officials did not accept as valid a conscientious objector, declaration to “bear arms” in defense of the U.S. because it is secular in nature. The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center is representing Adriana Ramirez in her appeal.
In a letter dated Feb. 27, 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials in San Diego, CA were informed that their decision is not supported by the law and should immediately be reversed. “Given the Supreme Court’s unequivocal instruction that, to be consistent with the Constitution, the government must interpret a statute permitting conscientious objection on the basis of ‘religious’ belief to include comparable secular moral views,” the letter states, “denying Ms. Ramirez’s citizenship on the grounds that her secular moral beliefs are not ‘religious’ is unconstitutional.”
“There is no legal basis to deny a citizenship application because one’s ethical values are secular,” said Appignani Legal Center attorney Monica Miller. “The letter is meant to clarify the mistake being made by officials at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’s San Diego office so that the application process can move forward.”
In June 2013, the American Humanist Association was successful in a nearly identical case. On behalf of Margaret Doughty, a similar letter was sent by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials in Texas outlining the Supreme Court rulings that require the government to treat secular and religious conscientious objectors alike. Shortly after the letter was received, Ms. Doughty’s citizenship application was approved.
During the citizenship process, applicants are allowed to express moral, ethical, or religious objections to warfare, making the promise to “bear arms” an optional part of the oath of loyalty taken by those approved for citizenship.
We want people to become citizens who will contribute to society, and yes, even defend it. But there are myriad ways to contribute and defend, which includes stuff that is both secular and nonviolent. One hopes AHA will be successful again in this pursuit.
As an aside, Madison's original proposal for what eventually became the Second Amendment included a clause regarding conscientious objection. Worry not, even though Vermont's constitution (New Hampshire's, too!) still have such a provision, not everybody will turn into Quakers.
I think we can afford to let a few fellow travellers become an American, if only because they could help us find tools other than violence to make our country and the world a better place.
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Timecop Takes Place In The Past...Or Did It?
Funny line in Timecop:
We need someone rich in the White House who doesn't have to listen to anybody...When I'm in office, it's gonna be like the 80s. Top 10% will get richer, the rest can emigrate to Mexico, live a better life.
It was way more prescient than it's given credit for.
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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
No Taxpayer Funding For Killing!
Echidne looks at HR7 (The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act):
Why is it worth a closer look? Because the Republicans, when elected, seldom run on the promise to spend most of their time on abortion but that's what happens once they are in office. Because there is no real movement to have an act called No Taxpayer Funding For Killing Innocent People Abroad With Drones, say, and we don't even really question why that is the case.
When Quakers get exemptions for war taxes, perhaps I'll take anti-choicers more seriously. Then again, if that happened I suspect we'd be mourning our Republic...
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Monday, January 27, 2014
One of the advantages of having a little-trafficked blog is that I can find interesting things in the stats. Yesterday there was a referral from the following search terms: quaker fuck new conscience exemption. Naturally, a post of mine came up second, right after the Wikipedia entry for 'conscientious objector' (which presumably didn't have a lot of references to 'fuck' in it).
Third was an op-ed in the NYTimes on August 27, 1862:
The Evening Post raises a question as to the propriety of exempting Quakers from military duty. This is done in this State by law, and the law of Congress exempts all who are exempted by State laws. We concur with the Post in doubting the justice or wisdom of such exemption. The ground on which it is granted is that the Quakers have conscientious scruples against fighting. But a legal concession to such scruples is, in fact, an acknowledgment that the laws requiring military service are fairly open to objection on moral grounds, -- in other words, that it is or may be immoral to require a citizen to fight for his country; and such a concession as this, it is not right for any Government to make.
Quakers receive all the benefits of the Government in common with all other classes of citizens, and they should be held to the performance of the same duties. There is no reason why a Quaker should not be required to defend the Government which protects him in the enjoyment of life, liberty and prosperity, any more than any other citizen. If for any reason of conscience or constitution, he is unwilling to fight in person, let him hire a substitute.
Gee, wouldn't hiring a substitute merely be transferring the sin to another agent, thus violating our First Amendment rights? But I digress.
Quakers certainly have fought throughout American history, right back to the Revolution itself. In debating the Bill of Rights there was some discussion about exempting people with religious scruples from service in the Militia, but that was shot down in committee. And, of course, Friends did heed the Union's call, and have served in other dark times.
Takes all kinds...
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Sunday, December 15, 2013
This magnificent book [Countrymen] states its central argument in its title. Danish Jews survived Hitler’s rule in World War II, when other European Jews did not, because Danes regarded their Jewish neighbors as countrymen. There was no “us” and “them;” there was just us.
When, in October 1943, the Gestapo came to round up the 7,500 Jews of Copenhagen, the Danish police did not help them to smash down the doors. The churches read letters of protest to their congregations. Neighbors helped families to flee to villages on the Baltic coast, where local people gave them shelter in churches, basements, and holiday houses and local fishermen loaded up their boats and landed them safely in neutral Sweden. Bo Lidegaard, the editor of the leading Danish newspaper Politiken, has retold this story using astonishingly vivid unpublished material from families who escaped, and the testimony of contemporary eyewitnesses, senior Danish leaders (including the king himself), and even the Germans who ordered the roundups. The result is an intensely human account of one episode in the persecution of European Jews that ended in survival.
The story may have ended well, but it is a complex tale. The central ambiguity is that the Germans warned the Jews and let most of them escape. Lidegaard claims this was because the Danes refused to help the Germans, but the causation might also have worked in the other direction. It was when the Danes realized that the Germans were letting some Jews go that they found the courage to help the rest of their Jewish community escape. Countrymen is a fascinating study in the ambiguity of virtue.
The Danes knew long before the war that their army could not resist a German invasion. Instead of overtly criticizing Hitler, the Social Democratic governments of the 1930s sought to inoculate their populations against the racist ideology next door. It was in those ominous years that the shared identity of all Danes as democratic citizens was drummed into the political culture, just in time to render most Danes deeply resistant to the Nazi claim that there existed a “Jewish problem” in Denmark. Lidegaard’s central insight is that human solidarity in crisis depended on the prior consolidation of a decent politics, on the creation of a shared political imagination. Some Danes did harbor anti-Semitic feelings, but even they understood the Jews to be members of a political community, and so any attack on them was an attack on the Danish nation as such.
Brought to mind A Force More Powerful:
War contorts the history of the nations it touches, but it also exhibits the greatness of their peoples. The Danes, the Dutch, and even dissident Germans challenged the most barbaric regime of the modern period and did so not with troops or tanks but with singing, leafleting, going home to garden, and standing in public squares. Yet the power they brought to bear in resisting the Nazis did not come only from these things. It came first from the essential decision that tens of thousands of them made, to refuse the terms they were offered by their tormentors - and it came from the movements they built and the strategy they used, to fling that decision in the face of their enemy and constrict his ability to fight.
The Danes learned how to separate the Germans from the spoils of taking Denmark. The Dutch would not be taken meekly off to Germany. The Rosenstrasse wives kept coming back, until they got their husbands. The moment and the means of refusing to be overcome are never out of reach.
Having yet again become embroiled in a long discussion about non-violence and how it couldn't have worked against the Nazis, I hope more of these examples are taught so people can see we do have more choices than war and other forms of violence to "solve" problems.
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Saturday, October 19, 2013
Is Truth Unchanging Law?
[T]he general disadvantage which these poor Africans lie under in an enlightened Christian country having often filled me with real sadness, and been like undigested matter on my mind, I now think it my duty, through divine aid, to offer some thoughts thereon to the consideration of others.
- John Woolman, Considerations on the keeping of Negroes (1754)
When John Woolman died just shy of his 52nd birthday in 1772, the Leeds Mercury wrote:
[He was] an eminent preacher among the people called Quakers. His life exhibited a very singular and striking example of humility and self-denial, adorned with an amiable sweetness of disposition, and affectionate good will toward mankind universally. His feelings for the bondage and oppression of the poor enslaved negroes were so exquisite, that he conscientiously refused every accommodation, both in diet and apparel, which was produced by their labor. He was upon a religious visit to his friends in this nation, and has left a wife and family in America.
It is true that he wore simple clothes--Gandhian in a way, if I might be anachronistic, possibly inspired by the Nicholites--and was one of the first abolitionists. As John Whittier wrote in his "appreciation" a century later:
The annual assemblage of the Yearly Meeting in 1758 at Philadelphia must ever be regarded as one of the most important religious convocations in the history of the Christian Church. The labours of Woolman and his few but earnest associates had not been in vain.
A deep and tender interest had been awakened; and this meeting was looked forward to with varied feelings of solicitude by all parties. All felt that the time had come for some definite action; conservative and reformer stood face to face in the Valley of Decision. John Woolman, of course, was present, a man humble and poor in outward appearance, his simple dress of undyed homespun cloth contrasting strongly with the plain but rich apparel of the representatives of the commerce of the city and of the large slave-stocked plantations of the country. Bowed down by the weight of his concern for the poor slaves and for the well-being and purity of the Society, he sat silent during the whole meeting, while other matters were under discussion...
When the important subject came up for consideration, many faithful Friends spoke with weight and earnestness. No one openly justified slavery as a system, although some expressed a concern lest the meeting should go into measures calculated to cause uneasiness to many members of the Society. It was also urged that Friends should wait patiently until the Lord in His own time should open a way for the deliverance of the slave. This was replied to by John Woolman. "My mind," he said, "is led to consider the purity of the divine Being, and the justice of His judgments; and herein my soul is covered with awfulness."
This solemn and weighty appeal was responded to by many in the assembly, in a spirit of sympathy and unity...At length, the truth in a great measure triumphed over all opposition; and, without any public dissent, the meeting agreed that the injunction of our Lord and Saviour to do to others as we would that others should do to us, should induce Friends who held slaves "to set them at liberty, making a Christian provision for them..."
Indeed, in his Journal from 1761:
In visiting people of note in the Society who had slaves, and labouring with them in brotherly love on that account, I have seen, and the sight has affected me, that a conformity to some customs distinguishable from pure wisdom has entangled many, and that the desire of gain to support these customs has greatly opposed the work of truth...
I believe He hath provided that so much labour shall be necessary for men's support in this world as would, being rightly divided, be a suitable employment of their time; and that we cannot go into superfluities, or grasp after wealth in a way contrary to His wisdom, without having connection with some degree of oppression, and with that spirit which leads to self-exaltation and strife, and which frequently brings calamities on countries by parties contending about their claims.
Being thus fully convinced, and feeling an increasing desire to live in the spirit of peace, I have often been sorrowfully affected with thinking on the unquiet spirit in which wars are generally carried on, and with the miseries of many of my fellow-creatures engaged therein; some suddenly destroyed; some wounded, and after much pain remaining cripples; some deprived of all their outward substance and reduced to want; and some carried into captivity. Thinking often on these things, the use of hats and garments dyed with a dye hurtful to them, and wearing more clothes in summer than are useful, grew more uneasy to me, believing them to be customs which have not their foundation in pure wisdom.
And as an anonymous observer wrote in 1772:
[H]e said the cause why he appeared so, was that he beIieve[d] it to be his duty to bear a testimony not in words only, but to be a sign to the people, to testify against the pride and extravagancy of those days, which greatly abounded with superﬂuities.
So it's not entirely clear to me: was the Truth about Woolman that he did everything--wearing undyed cloth, foregoing sugar--with an eye toward abolishing slavery, or was that merely a component of his person and passion to be a better, more spiritual man as well as an example for others to follow him in Faith? Did the Mercury and others view his abhorrence of slavery as more important than his concern over "superfluities" because that's what they valued most?
I guess it doesn't matter so much now. He did live as a sign to the people, and he convinced a lot of Quakers and others about the evils of slavery through his Witness. Something I always keep in the back of my head as I hear people misuse our history of slavery to justify their political agendas.
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Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Gandhi Is My Homeboy
I believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil.
Shifting gears away from the dysfunctional US government and disappointing wildcard game, let us remember that half-naked fakir, MK Gandhi on his birthday.
- Start here if you want to (re)learn about the man and the myths about nonviolence.
- Then perhaps here to see how Charlie Chaplin and the Mahatma got on.
- You might also enjoy some stoner humor about Gandhi.
- And perhaps a cute little boy protesting in a Code Pink shirt?
- Or maybe said boy a little older, still protesting!
Be the change, bitches!
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Friday, September 20, 2013
Speaking On Constitutional Rights
Just looking at Madison's original proposal for what became Amendments I & II:
- The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.
- The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Of course, neither of those made it through committee without a bit of mangling, but look how much more forceful and explicit the bar against infringement was for the 1st compared to the 2nd. If I were a mind reader like Scalia, I'd say it fits well with Madison's views in Federalist 46 in that he appeared to believe our greatest guarantor of liberty was free engagement in the political process, not being armed.
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Yelling 'Religion!' In A Crowded Fire
House Bill Introduced To Exempt Fundamentalists From Laws They Don’t Like
It's not an unfair hed for a post about the proposed anti-gay “Marriage And Religious Freedom Act”. Then there's the I'm Just Exercising Free Speech Get Out Of Jail Card. I've written before:
As has been observed myriad times...we cannot libel or slander somebody, or as Justice Holmes wrote in Schenck v US (1919):
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.
His Clear and Present Danger Test was rightfully moderated somewhat by SCOTUS later on and replaced by the Brandenburg Test in 1969:
[C]onstitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.
Regardless which formulation you use, the fundamental concept remains that a specific, reasonable limit to speech is not repugnant to the Constitution. Similarly, 1st Amendment protections of religious conscience don't allow you to do anything you want in the name of faith:
- Reynolds v US (1878): A party's religious belief cannot be accepted as a justification for his committing an overt act, made criminal by the law of the land.
- Minersville Sch District v Board of Education (1940): The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities. The necessity for this adjustment has again and again been recognized. In a number of situations, the exertion of political authority has been sustained, while basic considerations of religious freedom have been left inviolate.
- Employment Division v Smith (1990): [P]recisely because we value and protect that religious divergence, we cannot afford the luxury of deeming presumptively invalid, as applied to the religious objector, every regulation of conduct that does not protect an interest of the highest order.
Then there's a post-RFRA case near and dear to my Quaker WTR heart:
Although Adams's beliefs may be unusual as compared to the general population, the very body of case law relating to war tax protesters indicates that in the realm of tax litigation, she is one of many. As a result, her “compulsion” argument affords her no excuse, as the prior plaintiffs were also compelled by religious belief, but, like Adams, made the difficult decision to act in a manner contrary to law. Moreover, Adams is asking this court to draw a distinction between holding sincerely felt political and religious beliefs and facing the consequences of those beliefs; we have been and continue to be reluctant to make such a distinction. We have noted, in slightly different contexts, that plaintiffs engaging in civil disobedience through tax protests must pay the penalties incurred as a result of engaging in such disobedience.
Protecting a right does not allow it to be above all scrutiny in a diverse political society, nor allow one to exercise it with impunity to the detriment of others.
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Friday, July 12, 2013
"I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do."
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance...
I...had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?
Happy birthday, Mr Thoreau.
PS--Here's my great-uncle's Walden-esque story.NToddcast RSS Feed
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Adam Vs The Man
Police searched the Northern Virginia home of libertarian activist Adam Kokesh Tuesday evening and took him into custody, according to a news release posted on Kokesh’s Web site.
Kokesh, a former Marine, was held overnight at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, charged with possession of schedule I or II drugs while in possession of a firearm, said Lt. Steve Elbert, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office.
The search warrant was served by U.S. Park Police, a federal agency that is responsible for policing Freedom Plaza, the concrete park on Pennsylvania Avenue NW where in a video Kokesh appears to load a shotgun, in violation of D.C. gun laws. The video was posted to YouTube on July 4.
“We will not be silent. We will not obey,” Kokesh says in the video. “We will not allow our government to destroy our humanity. We are the final American Revolution. See you next Independence Day.”
He reports great violence. I'm so torn on who to believe: the jack-booted thugs or the dude who courted arrest?
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Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Dear Snowden: Get Over Yourself
[P]assport revocation does not qualify Snowden as stateless as claimed in his statement, as he still remains an American citizen and retains all the rights under U.S. law that status grants him. That makes him quite different from the the peoples around the world who are truly denied similar rights in the states they inhabit, even if their family has been present for generations. According to the United Nations, there are currently an estimated 12 million people around the world who actually qualify as stateless.
Snowden's problem is he very much has a state, exercising state authority over his passport. It ain't extralegal.
I support what he did, but geez, he's not a fucking martyr.
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Sunday, June 23, 2013
Man On The Run
U.S. lawmakers on Sunday said former national security contractor Edward Snowden's reported flight to Russia with a plan to flee onward to Cuba or Venezuela undermined his whistle blower claims and they slammed Moscow for helping a fugitive.
They're just pissed Russia's never helped us with extraordinary rendition and insists on acting like a sovereign nation.
That said, I do agree that Snowden's continued refusal to accept consequences does undermine his cause somewhat. I think DoJ is overcharging him, but you gotta face the music, get it all out in open instead of skulking around. That's a significant component to civil disobedience and acts of conscience.
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The study by Jared Piazza of the University of Pennsylvania and Paulo Sousa of Queen’s University Belfast, which included a total of 688 participants, found religious individuals and political conservatives consistently invoked deontological ethics. In other words, they judged the morality of actions based on a universal rule such as, “You should not kill.” Political liberals, on the other hand, consistently invoked consequentialist ethics, meaning they judged the morality of actions based on their positive or negative outcomes.
Wonder how that matches up to moral development in children (e.g., whether it;s wrong for a poor person to steal bread)?
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Saturday, June 22, 2013
Wait, Pelosi Was Heckled At Netroots Nation?
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Friday, June 14, 2013
Douche Moves As Protest
Down there in sunny wingnutty Florida, a judge recently decided that Christian groups could “passively” distribute Bibles in public schools — that is, they could leave them on tables and allow students to pick them up. Mary Elizabeth Williams thinks that’s a bad idea, and I agree — it’s a decision that opens the door to “passive” proselytization.
The Central Florida Freethought Community decided to make a reasonable response, by passively distributing some literature of their own. And now Williams decides that atheists are just as obnoxious as Christians.
But after “1,700 students left school with Bibles” in the wake of one of those “passive” distributions in 11 schools last winter, the atheist groups decided to make a point. They asked for permission to distribute some materials of their own, including books and pamphlets with titles including “An X-Rated Book,” “Jesus Is Dead” and “Why I Am Not a Muslim.” Which if I’m not mistaken is a douche move.
Ms. Williams is mistaken. It is not a douche move. It is a responsible protest. Is the only protest that she won’t regard as a “douche move” one that is completely unobjectionable and does not annoy anyone in any way? Because that isn’t any kind of protest action at all.
I'm sure if Mary Elizabeth Williams had read this, she would've called for her faiting couch:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths...
Save it for a #slatepitch, MEW...
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Seest Thou These Stones In This Parched And Barren Wilderness?
Just a few more thoughts on Snowden:
- Is he a hero? Maybe, but that remains to be seen--history will judge.
- Was the leak illegal. Probably, but it also remain to be seen--the judicial system will judge.
- Was the program legal? Seems like it, but constitutionality is up in the air--the political system will judge.
While the information collected was arguably innocuous on its face--certainly that's the argument being made by defenders in Congress and the Administration--a clever person or government entity can still determine identity from disparate bits of data, meta or otherwise. And again, let's flip the equation: does our safety rest only on secrecy and is it so fragile that the mere outlines of our security will give away the game? If so, we're doing it wrong.
I always tell my infosec students--who are part of an NSA-certified curriculum, mind you--that they should steer clear of any products and services that claim some special secret algorithm or mechanism makes their stuff unique. No, you want to use open standards whose details are published and dissected by the community at large.
Similarly, in a free and open society, our polices must be out in the open. Not just to vet them for effectiveness, but because in the end we all have a responsibility to determine what our nation does to provide for the common defense and general welfare. Not necessarily all the details, just the broad strokes are generally enough.
I don't need to know evertyhing about the F-35's stealth, avionics and weapons capabilities, let alone how the DoD plans to use its 2400 fighters to decide whether it's worth spending $200M a pop. I know enough to have the plane's existence disclosed, as well as its costs, maybe some other general info about it.
Similarly, I don't care what specific protocols are used to capture Internet traffic or obtain phone records--I know enough that the NSA is not supposed to gather intel on Americans, is collecting much more than I'm comfortable with, and the oversight is less than I'd prefer. I've always assumed they've done things like this, yet we need to see it out in the daylight to discuss just what we should do to balance civil liberties and general security.
And finally, I don't care about Snowden as a person. He could be a left-handed anarcho-fascist with 30 dicks who jerks it to Maria in Metropolis on alternate Tuesdays whilst eating puppy pate. Our public debate should be about what is being done for and to us, not the perfection of the messenger.
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Monday, June 10, 2013
One Way To Create Space
I have to admit: when a friend at church yesterday suggested Obama might be about to conduct a high-profile pivot and call for the repeal or radical revision of the Patriot Act as a follow-up to his NDU speech declaring the GWOT at an end, I was very hopeful he was right.
Sadly, I doubt that will be the case, but I'm happy to be wrong.
This does have the potential, however remote, to be a good example of constructive tension and creating the space for Obama to do the right thing. When you force the issue by making such things public, it can foster the environment where changes have to be made. At the very least, it's a catalyst for debating some old, bad policies and perhaps finally mobilizing against them when official denials and excuses ring hollow to Americans of all political stripes.
On a more extreme level, what Snowden did could be considered something in the same vein as Method 194 (Disclosing identities of secret agents). No particular human agents were burned, of course, but a significant program and threat to civil liberties was exposed in a form of political intervention that could make the status quo untenable, all because of one person's act of conscience. We should seize the opportunity we've been given.
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Who Is Responsible?
Some civil libertarians have hailed leakers such as Snowden and Bradley Manning for their “courage” in leaking information about these programs. Snowden said that he did it because he believed that it was the public’s place to decide whether these are good program or not. But what makes him think that it is his place to decide to publicize those programs.
His conscience, being a sovereign member of our Republic.
Bush and Cheney were bad elected officials, but they were at least accountable to the public. Snowden and Manning are accountable to no one.
They sure are accountable to us: heard of the criminal justice system? Whether I agree with the leaking or not, it is most likely illegal and people who disobey, regardless of their intentions or moral rightness, must be prepared and willing to suffer the consequences of their actions. And if at some point later in this unfolding drama we as a society determine that what they did was on balance a Good Thing, there are presidential pardons to be had and other support mechanisms that can help them after they've put some skin in the game.
Nor could I imagine that either of them have anything other than a very narrow view of national security programs, and where each of these fit into a broader scheme of national security.
Going Godwin here: does a guard at Treblinka know the whole Final Solution, and does that matter when he's tasked with killing people on his watch? What if you knew about efforts to cover up My Lai? Or bad things at Abu Ghraib? The point is that when you see something wrong, whether you see the whole picture or not is irrelevent.
Surely, there are senior officers in the national security or intelligence community who are questioners, and they have not leaked the information. That has to at least give me second thoughts about the wisdom of making the program public.
That has to at least give me second thoughts about the wisdom of going through channels, which would appear to be counterproductive.
The other issue is to whom this information is leaked. The government has intentionally set up an infrastructure to foster leaking...there are a number of elected officials who champion libertarian principles, so why did Snowden not seek out Mark Udall or Chuck Grassley (famously solicitous of government leakers), or Rand Paul or Bernie Sanders? Instead, these programs were leaked to Wikileaks and the Guardian—if going to the press, why not at least go to the New York Times?
And why not blast this out there so everybody can assess the information without establishment filters? You're already violating laws and norms for ostensibly a moral purpose, and this clearly puts the greatest pressure on those in power.
All this focus on whether leakers should leak misses the real point: if there's something being done to us (or others) in the name of protecting our liberties, we have a right and an obligation to make informed decisions about how such things should work. The fact that there's no nice, clean way to allow that to happen is simply a part of maintaining a free and open society.
Our job now is to take the information we've been given and debate its merits. Is the NSA being reasonable in its zealous acquisition of fairly innocuous data, or is their execution of USA PATRIOT going too far and repugnant to the Constitution? Legality of the leaks is not really our concern; that's for judges, prosecutors and the defense to grapple with.
Let's turn the old canard on its ear: if the government has nothing to hide, it has nothing to fear from exposure. If it does fear leaks, then perhaps it's doing something wrong, for which we are all responsible in the end.