Liberty, Independence, Rights, and Patriotism

I’m not planning on writing a great deal today, because I’m going to let other writers, of whom many of you might have heard, take up most of the space of this entry.  But I do want to preface that writing with a few thoughts of my own, some of which I may have articulated previously.

Next Tuesday is the 4th of July, on which, in America, we celebrate Independence Day, with much eating, drinking, and firework firing.  It’s a wonderful holiday, an opportunity to enjoy family togetherness in the summertime, and to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the United States, a pivotal historical event.  However, it should also be, I think, a time for Americans to reflect upon the origins of our country, upon the ideas on which is was founded, and what we need to do to live up to the hopes of its founders, whose reach—as does our own—often exceeded their grasp. Continue reading

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The Idolatry of the American Flag

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The picture seen here is an edited Facebook posting by someone I know, and as you can see, it supposedly shows the face of a man who was brutally beaten – by a Marine, apparently – in response to having stepped on the American flag.  This would be bad enough in and of itself if it were an isolated incident or sentiment.  It isn’t.  It’s one of many expressions of desire by Americans (including, apparently the current President) that those who “disrespect” the flag should face consequences ranging from prosecution to out and out violence.

This is an obscenity, and an affront to the ideals upon which this nation was founded. Continue reading

In States Where They Lose Voting Rights, ex-Felons Should Not Pay Taxes

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I first learned about many of the principles behind the United States government while watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, on Schoolhouse Rock.  These cartoon shorts are available to own, and if you have kids, I strongly encourage you to make that investment.  In any case, on a particular History Rock episode about the Declaration of Independence, I first heard of the concept of taxation without representation, as one of the major complaints that led the American colonists to rebel against the government of Great Britain.  If I recall the exact quote from that cartoon, it said, “That’s called taxation without representation…and it’s not fair.”  Having learned at least a little bit more about the concept in the intervening years, I’ve decided that I agree, and I think most people in America would concur.  How can a person reasonably and ethically be forced to pay for the activities of a government in which they have no ability to participate?

Continue reading

We Need to Socialize–Fully–the Criminal Justice System!

I’m not a huge fan of socialism in most things.  Not that there aren’t social programs that are good, in principle, to protect all citizens from the unpredictable vicissitudes of fate.  In general, regrettably, governments tend to do many things poorly and inefficiently (although, as someone who grew up in the Detroit area, I know that big corporations can often be just as lacking in that area as governments, and just as immune to internal correction).  However, there is one area of life in which I think it is a complete travesty that there is anything but complete socialization, and that area is the criminal justice system.

I can tolerate the use of privately employed attorneys in civil cases–though just barely, and arguments can be made that money unfairly sways matters even in such venues (Your comments on that notion would be welcome).  However, it is utterly unconscionable that private attorneys are ever allowed in the criminal justice system.

Our court system itself is of course utterly antiquated.  It has more in common with medieval jousting matches to determine guilt or innocence than it has with any honest attempt to find the truth of any particular matter.  In a typical court proceeding, the person who has the best attorney, or team, is the one most likely to win.  And that usually means that the person with the most money wins.  It’s not true universally, of course, but it is a strongly dispositive factor.  Consider the O.J. Simpson trial:  Would O.J. likely have been acquitted had he been represented by a public defender?  I think we can all agree that the answer is “No.”  Well, why should he have had any better chance of winning than any other man charged with murdering his wife and her friend?  Why should a person’s individual wealth have any bearing on the quality of defense they receive in a criminal case?

The argument can, and probably will, be made that make all defendants rely on the public defender’s office would simply mean that even those with money will face the same ridiculous miscarriages of justice, the same hobbled defense, as a non-wealthy person does when charged with a criminal offense.  To this, I say, “Good!”  Maybe if a few of the movers and shakers of society realize just how horrible the situation is for a non-wealthy person who is charged with any crime in America, they will see to it that changes are made.  Maybe they will see to it that defendants in criminal cases get at least as many resources applied to them as the prosecutor’s office has to bring to bear (and do recall that the prosecution has not only the power of their office, but also that the resources of all pertinent police forces are more or less at their disposal…something that certainly cannot be said for any defendant).

The hallmark of our criminal justice system is supposed to be that a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Given that presumption, we must be scrupulous to err on the side of the defendant.  The state has tremendous, monolithic power, and can destroy the lives of citizens almost with impunity by means of simply bringing a criminal prosecution, whatever the outcome.  Given this fact, and the supposed basis of our criminal justice system, all biases should be in favor of the accused.  Clearly this is not the case; if it were, the United States would not have five times its share of the world’s prisoners based on population…the largest number of prisoners in absolute numbers and per capita.  This is to say nothing of the outrageous inequality in the application of criminal justice to minorities.  This would be at least partly rectified by having the wealthy receive the same defense as the poor, since minorities, in general, are less likely to be wealthy than their counterparts.

Of course, the privatization of prisons absolutely has to stop as part of this process.  It appears simply impossible for inappropriate bias not to be introduced into a system when a for-profit interest becomes involved in it (See the ACLU’s report from 2012 here).  In general, I see government itself as a necessary evil, but it is necessary, precisely because human nature has not yet reached a state of development where we can be trusted to do many things honestly and justly if our personal interests are engaged.  But when we give our governments certain powers, and those powers are then put at the disposal of private interests, who have their own monetary gain at heart rather than the achievement of actual justice, it is perfectly predictable for disaster to occur.

How comfortable would we all be if police departments were privately run?  What if the degree of one’s protection by law enforcement were overtly and explicitly dependent upon one’s financial power (as opposed to being only implicitly so, as it is now)?  How safe would you feel?  What if you had to pay a fee for services, or pay to become a member of some club in order to have the police investigate, say, your stolen car…or the murder of one of your family members?  I think we can all agree that this is not a system under which we would hope to live, where the power of law enforcement works only for the highest bidder.

So, why should the quality of a person’s defense against charges of crime be dependent upon the financial resources one can bring to bear?  Even if it were true that every person’s financial status were dependent upon the quality of their character and their personal ability, even if all fortunes were honestly and openly made in truly fair trade–a notion that veers away from mere fiction into the realm of wildest fantasy–there would still be no justification for giving the financially successful better defense against charges of criminal activity than a person who was not successful.  There is no data to demonstrate that financial success is inversely correlated with degree of criminality, and in reality, the correlation is often a positive one.

Of course, depriving individuals of the ability to hire their own criminal defense attorneys would further drain the budgets and other resources of our court systems; this would be a good thing.  It would help force us, as a society, to do a better job of prioritizing our application of police and prosecutorial (and thus also defense) resources–to decide how important it was, for example, to arrest people for possession of marijuana or even of more powerful drugs, when they have not taken any action that brings harm to any other person.  Needless to say, in applying such a policy, we must avoid the pitfall of simply increasing the use of plea bargaining to deal with such resource burdens, since that system is, by nature, biased and unjust, a criminal process in its own right (see my blog on the subject here).

The changes I call for are drastic, I know.  I don’t apologize for that, and I will likely continue to call for even more such changes as time goes by.  Our system is drastically malfunctioning, drastically inefficient, and drastically unjust.  It must be changed, overhauled, or completely replaced with something better, if we wish to have the right to continue to call America a free society.


The above post is actually a re-posting of an entry I originally posted in my other blog:  Justice the American Way, which can be found here.  I am reposting it here just be sure that those who want to read it and follow me here are aware of it.  I will only be doing this for a bit, however.  I want to try to keep my political philosphy/criminal justice postings separate from those about writing, publishing, and other generally more positive things.  That’s why I made the new blog.  If you are interested in such topics, by all means, do follow that blog.

I have an earlier post there–“In States Where They Lose the Right to Vote, ex-Felons Should Not Pay Taxes“–which I have not reposted here, but I invite you to read it, nevertheless.

On unrelated matters, Mark Red: Chapter 15 should be released next weekend, or possibly before.  Then, within a few weeks, I’m going to be releasing “Welcome to Paradox City:  Three Dark Tales.”  I’m excited about it.  I hope you’ll be excited, too.

TTFN!

An Anarchistic Thought Experiment

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In celebration of my joyous return to Florida, and my oh-so-entertaining dealings (already) with the bureaucracy of Broward County, I thought I would post something that I originally wrote some time ago…while I was “away,” in fact. It involved an invitation and discussion of a gedankenexperiment (did I get the German right?) that I considered for myself. I would like to invite all of you readers to consider it with respect either to Florida or to your own states, and tell me what you think might happen.

Ready? Here we go.

Albert Einstein famously used “thought experiments” to explore the implications of his theories of Special and General Relativity. This was necessary because actual experiments about many of the aspects of Relativity were simply not possible…and some of them may never be. After all, we can never truly get information back from inside an event horizon, at least as far as we know, so we have to consider what might happen to someone who plunged past one only in principle. In that spirit, let’s do our own thought experiment now, about what would happen if the government of Florida–at all levels, from the Governor down to the custodian who mops up the local DMV–were to disappear abruptly.

For humanitarian purposes, let’s stipulate that no harm has come to anyone in the government, but rather that–for inscrutable reasons of their own–a powerful alien race has suddenly teleported every member of every government body in the state to some other part of the country, along with their families, modifying their memories and giving them new, and better, sources of livelihood. Also, let’s imagine that an impenetrable barrier, a la Stephen King’s Under the Dome, prevents the federal government from stepping in to take any action. How would the people of Florida react once they discovered that all those in “authority” were suddenly gone?

It’s all but inevitable that, at least temporarily, a time of chaos would ensue. Some people would panic and be overwhelmed by paranoia. Others might celebrate the sudden lack of supervisory restriction by indulging in various types of crime. But the people of Florida are, to say the least, well-armed. In the ultimate spirit of “stand your ground” legislation, many citizens would defend themselves against celebrating criminals…at least the ones they deemed truly dangerous, such as thieves, rapists, murderers, trespassers, and the like. It would be silly to imagine that all such anti social miscreants would be eliminated during such a natural “purge,” but at least some of them would doubtless find that the law had protected them at least as much as it had restricted them.

Meanwhile, the average Floridian might discover that, when true, urgent needs have to be addressed, such manufactured “crises” as drug use, gambling, and even prostitution do not directly impact upon their own health, safety, and happiness. What vigilante has ever felt the urge to hunt down and kill someone who is smoking a joint in his own home, or playing a non-state-sanctioned game of poker? A new sense of perspective about such so-called offenses might very well come into being. Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s inevitable, of course, that some fundamental new social agreements would have to be made, instituting a new form of proto-government. Some type of currency would also have to be chosen, though at first old-fashioned barter might rule the day. One thing is certain: Having a great deal of money in the bank, or tied up in overseas investments, would not yield one anything like the advantages they do in our current society. Also, without government entitlement programs, the health and care of those unable to care for themselves would likely be provided only by the goodwill of their families, their friends, and their neighbors. Thankfully, history has show that, in crises and natural disasters, many Americans (and other humans) do tend to look out for those who are weaker than they. Not everyone does it, but a surprisingly large fraction of people do. However, the criteria for being considered truly “disabled” by one’s fellow citizens, would likely become much stricter, without “other people’s money” paying the bills. It would be interesting to find out of things would be more or less compassionate than they are as things stand now.

Whatever new form of government the people might institute–and there would very likely be many conflicts and upheavals in that process–at the very least, some serious reassessment of priorities would likely ensue. In order to survive and thrive, the citizens would need to make cooperation and productivity the watchwords of their lives. If they didn’t, natural selection would likely do its ruthless but even-handed job and wipe them out.

It would take a great deal of time to explore thoroughly all the possible effects and ramifications of a sudden loss of government in the state of Florida. We can be sure that there would be at least some violence, and a great deal of disorder, fear, and heartbreak. Ultimately, though, there would have to be a return to a new equilibrium, if that term makes any sense, and it could be hoped–if one were optimistic–that the new government might be less intrusive, less authoritarian, and more streamlined than that currently in existence. It’s a historical truism that governments tend to increase in power, complexity, and self-justification over time; thus, however disorderly our alien intervention might temporarily make things, it’s possible that the complete loss of the current government of Florida might, in the long run, be very good for all honest Floridians not already in the government’s employ.

What are your thoughts? What are some of the things that you think would happen if aliens eliminated the government of Florida, or of your own state, if you’re not a Floridian? Would things ultimately become better, or would they be worse? Let me know.