Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

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Archive for the ‘Philosophy & Spirituality’ Category

Unalienable Rights

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Spare some critical thought for this famous passage from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In order for them to be unalienable rights, they have to be endowed by God. They can’t come from human society, or else human society would have the power to revoke them. Without endowment from God, they would only be privileges that the state allowed for its own purposes and could claw back any time it was expedient.

This is what President Eisenhower was talking about when he said:

Our government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.

Here is the full quote, from a 1952 speech:

And this is how they [the Founding Fathers in 1776] explained those: ‘we hold that all men are endowed by their Creator…’ not by the accident of their birth, not by the color of their skins or by anything else, but ‘all men are endowed by their Creator.’ In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men are created equal.

He wasn’t being superficial about faith, and he wasn’t advocating being spiritual but not religious. He was encompassing all persons of faith in a Deity of revealed truth, but offering wide latitude to the varieties of belief in that Deity.

The twentieth century has exposed the fact that there is nothing self-evident about these truths. Some of us believe them; others don’t. They are fundamental and derived from faith, but hardly self-evident.

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Written by srojak

December 17, 2017 at 9:27 pm

Stories of Sex and Power

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Is American society really changing? After Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, John Conyers and all the others, are we really getting to a milestone of cultural change?

I don’t think it is the beginning of the end, but I hope it is the end of the beginning.

Principles

Here is the ideal situation: nobody has to hate going to work because she expects to be groped, fondled or otherwise intruded upon by someone whom she is afraid to confront because he has situational or institutional power. Obviously, we are not there yet.

I would like the current crop of public shamings to lead to the above ideal situation. I don’t believe we are going to wake up on 1 January 2018 and magically be in that place, but we can make substantial progress.

Establishment of Guilt

Roy Moore is our first serious test case. He is accused of making sexual advances on underage girls some decades ago. He has hunkered down and is denying the charges all the way. One America News wants him to have the benefit of due process and be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I completely understand their objection. However, since I wasn’t born yesterday, I also know that he would have been able to exempt himself from due process as a DA and a judge.

One of his accusers claims:

 “I was terrified. He was also trying to pull my shirt off. I thought he was going to rape me. I was twisting, I was struggling, and I was begging him to stop,” she said. “At some point, he gave up. He then looked at me and he told me, he said, ‘You’re just a child,’ and he said, ‘I am the district attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.'”

— Source: NBC News

Even if that didn’t actually happen, how would we ever get to the bottom of it? There have been so many predators who said, “I am ____, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.” And they have been right for all these years. This is not OK.

So a sexual predator with power and influence is not ,likely to be brought to account by normal due process. Now what are we left with? Put up with it?

I am sure that many of Moore’s defenders think he is being picked on because he is hated by both Democrats and establishment Republicans. So what? Did he do the deeds or didn’t he?

We are not going to ever get this into a court and get resolution; certainly not the same way as if a common Alabama plumber or mechanic had been accused of the same offense. Until we can, maybe persons with power and influence have to be brought down under these conditions.

If Moore really didn’t do what he is accused of, I regret the damage of the accusations. We are going to see some excesses before this is over. We are going to see people being falsely accused.

However, if there is no formal venue where such people can be brought to account, then there has to be a messy and informal venue. Allowing this behavior to continue is not acceptable.

People get wrongly accused of crimes all the time. Some of them do not have the power, influence and means to fight the accusations effectively. Take a moment to think about them.

The Appropriate Punishment

Another aspect we have to work out is what the appropriate punishment is for various offenses. In the past, the appropriate punishment was none, and we are not OK with that anymore. So we effectively have no precedent.

Is one incident of a man in a position of power forcing himself on a woman a hanging offense? If not, how many incidents establish a pattern? Does contrition matter? Does the amount of time between then and now enter into consideration?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. We will, as a society, have to answer them.

Written by srojak

November 29, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Not Following the Logic

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The whole flap over pro football players kneeling during the national anthem has gone to a new level this week. Let’s sort it out.

Thumbing Your Nose

Kneeling during the national anthem is thumbing your nose at the entire country. It is a posture, an affectation. People who do it are poseurs. Where else could they go to make this kind of money doing what they do?

A football player does not get to tell us how to interpret his disrespect to the nation. Yes, I am talking to you, Richard Sherman. Kneeling during the national anthem is an act of disrespect to the entire country, including most of us who have no influence over how the criminal justice system treats black people in the inner city. Sherman is too intelligent not to know that.

Having a Complaint

Do black people have a complaint regarding the way they are treated by the criminal justice system? Hell, yes. Many people, not just black people, have a legitimate beef. The shenanigans in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, should offend every voter in this country. Municipalities and counties using law enforcement as a revenue center should offend every voter in this country.

The number of persons under correctional supervision (in prison, on probation or on parole) is appalling. According to a 2012 article by Adam Gopnik, there were more black men under correctional supervision at that time than there were in slavery in 1850; the total population of America that is under correctional supervision was over six million and growing. Contrary to popular lore, many of the people in prison are there for drug offenses or offenses against “public order”. Since black people are in prison at a disproportionately higher rate than Americans in general, yes, there is a genuine issue.

Taking Action

So what should a politically aware black football player do? How about taking some of that large NFL salary and putting it to work in community action? How about sponsoring court appeals on behalf of people who are being exploited by municipalities? Put your money where your mouth is.

White House Invitations

Back in 2011, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup and were invited to the White House. Goalie Tim Thomas declined the invitation. This writer maintained that Tim Thomas had no business declining the invitation.  I disagree. Similarly, Stephon Curry has every right to decline an invitation to the White House, given that he disagrees with the politics of the President.

The President is the Chief Executive, the Head of State and a high profile political figure. If a person disagrees vehemently with the political viewpoint of the President, by all means, do not accept his invitation to the White House.

Donald Trump’s Statements

Yes, Donald Trump made inflammatory and provocative statements on this subject. In other news, Lindy made it!

Really, who reasonably expected that, if this issue made it to Trump’s radar at all, he would make a nuanced, empathetic statement that would uphold respect for the nation as a whole while recognizing the real problems that people have encountered at the hands of governments? Did anyone really think Trump would call for national reflection on the issues that black athletes are raising while asserting that the nation deserves respect even if specific people in positions of authority have abused their power?

And there was every reason to expect Trump to weigh in on this issue. It is red meat to his base, many of whom a) love America and b) watch football. Trump has demonstrated that he has a laser focus on his core constituency, his political “investors”.

Trump’s statements are off the table for purposes of this discussion. There is nothing new here. The themes have not changed at all during the year. There really is not anything else to say.

Donald Trump is my President, in that he was duly elected through the recognized Electoral College process, just like Barack Obama was. Trump does not represent my viewpoint, and I would have wanted a more nuanced response. However, I recognize that Trump doesn’t do nuance. There is no point in flogging this horse anymore. He is what he is, and he is not going to change.

 

Written by srojak

September 24, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Loaves and Babies

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Peter Drucker wrote describing the importance of knowing when to compromise and when not to. He compared dividing a loaf of bread to dividing a baby.  When you divide a loaf in half, you get a compromise; when you divide a baby in half, you get a corpse.

The modern western state, seeking to placate everyone and avoid conflict, does not have a conceptual category for baby. Everything is a loaf, divisible by two or 20 million, as necessary, to preserve political equilibrium and prevent disruption. Any threat can be bought off; any dissent can be co-opted. But there are some things that are not amenable to compromise.

In the rest of the world, there are many people who see the West as not only weak but morally aimless. They look at us and conclude that we think we can buy our way out of any predicament, that we won’t stand and fight for anything. The Islamic State comes to mind immediately as an example, but many people in Russia, Turkey and China also believe this about the West.

The Islamic State, in its current form, is too nihilistic to survive, but it may yet morph into something else. Whatever becomes of it, the threat it represents to Western civilization is not unique to it. This threat will be made manifest by other people and cultures.

We need to decide what about our civilization is worth defending. Other people have already decided what about our civilization is worth attacking.

Written by srojak

September 19, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Ethics, Politics

Tagged with ,

Contempt of Cop

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The BBC has posted video showing Alex Wubbels, a nurse in Salt Lake City, being arrested for refusing to turn over a blood sample of an unconscious person to police. According to reports, there are three conditions under which hospital policy allows police to have a blood sample:

  • The person in question authorizes the sample;
  • The person in question is under arrest;
  • The police have a court order to obtain the blood sample.

None of these were true. Instead, the detective ordered the nurse to procure the sample. When she refused on policy grounds, he arrested her. There is no evidence of her having copped a ‘tude or being in the detective’s face. Instead, she explained the policy in a clear, adult manner.

Absent any contradictory information, which we have not seen to date, this is an example of a contempt of cop arrest. There really are no legal grounds for arresting a person under contempt of cop. People who can’t defend themselves and don’t have a large institution behind them get treated like this all the time.

I am hopeful that this incident will make contempt of cop real to people, so that we can stamp out this practice. Watch the video so it will be real to you.

Written by srojak

September 2, 2017 at 10:04 am

Flexible Or Unprincipled?

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There are a lot of questions out there right now. I have them also. Answers are not readily forthcoming, but can we refine the questions?

Who Put the Syrian Kids on Donald Trump’s Milk Carton?

Was the missile strike on Syria on 7 April an impulsive and emotional response to video evidence of suffering children? Assembling the available evidence since the 2016 campaign, it sure looks that way. But even if this is true, what can we take away from it?

It is highly unlikely that a sudden whim from the President provoked top-down assessment of an option to use force that had not be previously considered. More probably, a course of action involving missile strikes on Syrian government assets was already on the table, and the images of children suffering the effects of sarin broke through to executive attention and resulted in this course of action being considered where it wasn’t before.

This would indicate that there will be other opportunities for a person with an agenda and the right kind of supporting materials to influence executive policy in both foreign and domestic situations.

Where Is the Boundary between Flexible and Unprincipled?

The entire Trump presidency puts this question to the nation, along with related questions, such as, “Can a policy you disagree with ever be principled?”

Certainly, Trump has given every indication of having a very limited set of operating principles. We have every reason to believe that, if someone were to take a shot at him today with a rifle, by this evening he would have a new-found interest in gun control. Everything that had been said during the campaign about Second Amendment rights would be, in the immortal words of Ron Ziegler, rendered inoperative.

However, this is nothing new. We have more antecedents than just the Nixon Administration to recall in order to gain perspective. There are obvious similarities between Trump and FDR; I mentioned these a year ago. FDR was fully capable of meeting with six people, all of whom had mutually incompatible agendas, and have each of the six walk away from the meeting fully believing that, “Roosevelt agrees with me completely.” Then FDR would follow a seventh course, or perhaps do nothing.

Nevertheless, FDR was popular with the country. You can see the newsreels of people in the street crying when he died in April, 1945. Whatever he really believed, FDR conveyed the belief that the troubles of the people in the nation really mattered to him. The principles he publicly stood for were to try anything to get out of the Depression; it just happened that anything always led to an expansion in the role of the federal government.

The principles we have seen from Trump are counterpunching, strength and bellicosity. It would be helpful if we saw more of these principles at work representing the nation, rather than in the service of Donald Trump the person. This still would not satisfy those people who don’t want America to be about counterpunching, strength and bellicosity, but it would be a step in the right direction.

I should also point out that we’ve tried other approaches. The Obama Administration had entirely consistent and predictable responses to atrocities in Syria: Do nothing. These did not lead to a satisfactory outcome.

In a position of leadership, refusal to divulge principles is not an option. People will not suspend judgment because you withhold information. They will attempt to fill in the blanks themselves, deducing your principles from the available information. It won’t do to complain about the inferences people draw from your behavior after having refused to put your own word out.

Can Congress Stop Airlines from Overbooking?

Why not? Isn’t that fraud? The airline is representing it has seats available that it doesn’t really have.

I understand that the airlines will, in turn, claim to be subject to traveler games with multiple reservations and cancellations. There is a risk involved, where the travelers don’t want to get bumped and the airlines don’t want to fly empty seats around.

When you run a business, you bear business risk. We don’t let dry cleaners evade their negligence by stamping Not responsible for losses due to negligence on the dry cleaning tickets. They can try it, but it won’t hold up in court. Similarly, it is bad public policy to let the airlines dump the risk of matching capacity to demand on the consumers.

Are We Overestimating the Ability of China to Help with North Korea?

This question was raised on the BBC’s Dateline London show this week. The idea behind the question is that the PRC may not be able to influence North Korea as much as others in the world believe possible.

At the same time, people are calling for a diplomatic solution to the problem posed by North Korea’s nuclear aspirations. Even the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has warned of a “head-on collision” between the US and North Korea. However, what a diplomatic solution would look like is unclear. North Korea expelled outside inspectors in 2003, formally withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. What can anyone reasonably offer Kim Jong Un in exchange for permanently scrapping his nuclear program?

Reviewing North Korea’s nuclear history reveals there has been little to no success in halting the country’s progress in its nuclear program. However, another detail that has not been addressed is hidden in the history: North Korea is unreliable and cannot be trusted. Every single deal that has been reached in the past has been broken by North Korea. With this in mind, North Korea’s demands for  recognition as a nuclear power and its promises to not use nuclear weapons recklessly or its ending programs in exchange for the United States and South Korea halting joint military exercises must be met with suspicion. This raises the question, how do you negotiate or make a deal with an actor you cannot trust?
— Kevin Princic, “North Korea: Navigating the ‘Land of Lousy Options'”, 20 Jan 2016 [http://blogs.shu.edu/diplomacy/2016/01/north-korea-navigating-the-land-of-lousy-options/]

China is definitely worth engaging, as China is North Korea’s windpipe. Anything China can do is a contribution. Nevertheless, the options are all rather bad at this point.

Is Kemalism Finished in Turkey?

General Mustafa Kemal took control of a national assembly that opposed the concessions required by the Allies at the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres. He defeated the Allied forces, forcing a revised settlement at the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. In 1924, Kemal abolished the Caliphate and Turkey became a one-party republic. He proclaimed a program called the Six Arrows:

  1. Republicanism;
  2. Populism, here focusing on transfer of political power from aristocrats and tribal leaders to citizens;
  3. Nationalism,
  4. Secularism, separating national law from Islamic law and enforcing only the former;
  5. Statism;
  6. Modernization.

As an instance of both populism and modernization, Kemal required Turks to have last names. He changed his name from Mustafa Kemal to Kemal Atatürk (Father of the Turks). He invited westerners including John Dewey to advise the government on how to achieve modernization.

The referendum being held today asks the country whether the executive of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should be granted constitutional changes bringing all state bureaucracy under his control. The office of prime minister would be abolished and the president would have greater powers to issue decrees and dissolve parliament. He would also have greater powers over the judiciary.

As of this writing, with over 95% of the votes counted, the BBC reports that Yes votes are leading 51.4% to 48.6% for No.

Erdoğan has sought to reverse the secularism of Kemal while expanding on nationalism and statism. He has taken a hard line with separatist Kurds. In 2016, an attempted coup d’état of uncertain origin broke out in Turkey which was defeated. The Erdoğan government claims that the coup was masterminded by a former ally, Fethullah Gülen, now living in exile in Pennsylvania.

What becomes of Kemalism? There were some roots of authoritarianism in Kemalism; all evidence indicates that Erdoğan is returning to at least this level of authoritarianism. At the same time, he always has been more Islamist than Kemalism could tolerate. Early in his life, he was jailed and banned from political office for expressing Islamist political views. This ban was annulled by his allies in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 after winning a national election victory.