The Watering Hole, Monday, February 2, 2015: Speaker Logan?

After the French Revolution, tensions had risen between the USA and France. Many French revolutionaries felt we had not aided them enough, and after we signed the Jay Treaty with Great Britain, France authorized the seizing of American ships and taking prisoners. In 1797 President Adams sent John Marshall, Charles C. Pinckney, and Elbridge Gerry (who would later try to redraw political districts that reminded people of a salamander in order to give him an electoral advantage, thus giving birth to the term “Gerrymander”) to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Instead, the result was what would become known as the XYZ Affair and an unsuccessful trip. After their return, a Philadelphia Quaker named Dr. George Logan decided on his own to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement. He was successful and France agreed to stop seizing ships and to release their prisoners. This did not go over well with President John Adams and he recommended that Congress pass a law to stop the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” The result was the Logan Act. As amended today, the act reads:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

The Act does grant an exception for private citizens who wish to sue a foreign government for injuries, but that’s it. And when you think about it, it makes sense. For example, would you want the Koch Brothers to be allowed to legally negotiate their own agreement with the government of Canada regarding the tar sands oil? Would you want them to then be allowed to go into court and demand that the Keystone XL Pipeline be built because they had a contract and that contract must be honored? Bad idea. Better to not let them have that negotiation in the first place, especially if our government is not in favor of the project. (The Republicans are, because they only care about businesses earning huge profits, even foreign ones. President Obama will veto it.)

In the 200+ year history of the Logan Act there has never been anyone prosecuted under it. There was a farmer who was indicted, but that was over something he had written regarding the land which eventually became the Louisiana Purchase. He was never prosecuted and the Purchase quelled the entire argument being made. (Plus, I’m not so sure he would have been prosecuted, since he only advocated in a letter to a newspaper for something. I don’t believe he actually negotiated with anyone in France.) There have been arguments made (not in court) that the Logan Act may be unconstitutional, but there have also been numerous references to it in other court decisions. And the basic idea that the President is the only one who can negotiate on behalf of the United States has been mentioned several times in court rulings. So while nobody has been prosecuted (including Rev Jesse Jackson and Jane Fonda), the law remains in effect. Which brings us to Speaker John Boehner.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said this about Iran:

Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies — including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.

But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.

Iran has made it clear that they will stop enriching uranium and negotiate with other countries about its nuclear program provided the United States does not pass any sanctions bill before the talks are concluded. So what do Republicans want to so? They want to pass a sanctions bill anyway that would take effect if the talks break down. What they seem unable to grasp is that the very act of passing a sanctions bill (even if and when it does get vetoed by Obama) could be the trigger that ends the talks. It truly makes me wonder if Republicans want Peace or not. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views Iran as an existential threat, which is just another way of saying, “Even if they don’t try to harm us today, they probably might try to tomorrow, or they might decide to help someone else harm us, so let’s go to war with them before anyone attacks us.” This is not a workable foreign policy, this is paranoia. But since Republicans want to deny Obama any kind of victory at all, on any subject at all, they decided to try to thwart Obama’s foreign policy by inviting Netanyahu to address our Congress, specifically on why we shouldn’t enter into this agreement with Iran. It’s pretty clear that this invitation, arranged and negotiated without the knowledge of the White House (until a few hours before it was publicly announced), is a violation of the Logan Act. The purpose of both the invitation and of the address is to “defeat the measures of the United States,” and it clearly violates the Logan Act. The President has already said he would not meet with Netanyahu because they have an election coming up. And we know that Netanyahu thinks it’s wrong to do something like this because he said so himself, almost 20 years ago. When then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres visited the US in 1997, just before he faced an election, opposition leader Netanyahu said, “I can’t find an example of any previous Israeli government whose prime minister, on the eve of elections, made a cynical attempt to use relations between Israel and the United States as a party advertisement.” Being so hypocritical, it’s no wonder he enjoys such support from the Republican Party (a/k/a The American Likud Party.)

This is our daily open thread. Talk about anything you want, just don’t invite any foreign heads of state to address our Congress. That would be bad.

Sunday Roast: Just say NO to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

via Ring of Fire

The TPP is another HORRIBLE trade deal for the U.S., and I don’t understand why President Obama (and in the past, President Clinton) is pushing the damn thing — while simultaneously yammering on about how concerned he is about “jobs,” “hard-working Americans,” and the suffering of the “middle class.”  Having the Republicans eager to work with the President on TPP ought to be our first giant red flag, the second is all the secrecy surrounding the issue.

To me, Robert Reich is the best guy to give an understandable thumbnail sketch of things like this — with pictures!

This is our daily open thread — Say NO to fast track!!

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 26, 2015: We Can Thank Religion For These Horrible Ideas

It is an indisputable fact that there have been people throughout history who have been motivated by their personal religious beliefs, whatever they may be, to do good things for other people, even complete strangers. It would be nice if the majority of those acts were done out of pure altruism and selflessness, but that is sadly not the case. The religious motivation was often not in the form of a reward for doing good as it was a punishment for not doing good. (Modern studies confirm what astute observers of humanity saw long ago, that conservative people tend to be motivated more by punishment than by reward, and that stupid people tended to think conservatively. So if you want them to do what you say, you make them afraid to not do what you say.) And while you may say, “What difference does it make why they’re helping their fellow humans?”, it’s important to understand that the same source (Religion) that tells them to do good things for people (at least once in a while) also gives them some very, very bad ideas. Alternet’s Valerie Tarico outlines them in more detail, but in short the horrible concepts are: Chosen People, Heretics, Holy War, Blasphemy, Glorified Suffering, Genital Mutilation, Blood Sacrifice, Hell, Karma, Eternal Life, Male Ownership of Female Fertility, and Bibliolatry (Worship of Books.) Religion may even be responsible for the Rape Culture in which we live. I’ll let you read them for yourself, I just want to talk about why a few of these concepts are contrary to the American concept of Freedom.

I worry about self-described Christian Conservatives taking political power. I consider them as dangerous to our way of life as any fundamentalist practitioner of any religion because they are making up their religious beliefs. Jesus did not preach a conservative message, so you can’t call yourself a conservative and a follower of Jesus’ teachings. There are Conservatives who have actually said our nation’s laws should be based on The Bible (though they’re usually vague about which one.) In three of his first four terms in Congress, Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL 4) introduced three versions of a bill called The Ten Commandments Defense Act. (105th, 107th, 108th.) This bill declared that displaying the Ten Commandments on state (or some lower government) controlled property is a right reserved to the States under the Tenth Amendment. The problem here is pretty obvious when you think about it. He wants Congress to declare that States don’t have to obey the First Amendment when it comes to the Ten Commandments, even though the First Amendment states that Congress shall pass no law regarding establishment of religion. The very law he tried to have passed violated the First Amendment, because it was precisely the kind of law the authors of the First didn’t want Congress to pass. And even if you tried to say it was simply “enabling legislation,” it still amounted to establishment of religion. It has nothing to do with the alleged “Judeo-Christian” values upon which this nation was founded (because it wasn’t), it has to do with the fact that the Founders knew what happened to people who didn’t follow the official religion of a nation. They were forced to convert or face imprisonment or death. And there are nations in which that still happens today. The Founders thought that was wrong and that everyone should be free from government interference to practice their chosen religion, and that the worst way to let that happen would be to let the government declare a preference of one religion over another. And a federal law declaring States were free to do that to their citizens (who are also citizens of the United States, and under the Fourteenth Amendment afforded all their federal rights to their state citizenship) would be an Act of Congress that establishes a religion that supports the Ten Commandments. What bothers me more is that back then, his bill had 118 co-sponsors, some of whom have gone on to become US Senators. (And at least one who went to prison, but not for his involvement with this bill. Too bad.)

Another group of which you should be concerned are the Christian Reconstructionists. They have this screwed up view that God does not want governments to be involved in helping the poor. This is as good place as any to start describing why the Religious Right’s (or any other religious group’s) views on government should be null and void. This is the United States of America. Our government IS “We the People.” When we decide we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves, we institute government-run programs to do so. What makes government-run programs superior to private or religious charities is that the government is prohibited from discriminating against people! Private charities can find ways to make sure only the people they think deserve their help get it. If you truly believe people should be free from government interference to practice the religion of their choice, and if you believe people should be free to express any ideas they wish, then you can’t possibly also believe that the United States should be run according to any religious text. Any! The two principles are mutually exclusive. You can’t be free to practice your own religion when the government has decided that one religion is better than another. (I think all the monotheistic ones are bad, with the polytheistic ones not that far behind.) Because many monotheistic religions ban anyone from standing up and saying four simple words, “There is no God.” You would also not be allowed to say, “The entire concept of God is a flawed and silly one. Grow up and take responsibility for your lives here on Earth today.” They would put you to death. And it would be an Eternal Death because the idea of an Eternal Life gives people (especially conservative people, who are not inclined by their nature to want to help other people) an excuse to not live for today, to not live for making a difference to your planet’s fellow inhabitants today. It also lets the government (who is now running your life once they decided that a particular religious text trumps our secular Constitution) oppress you even more because, according to them, if you live a righteous life here on Earth today, no matter how much you or anyone else suffers, you will get your reward when you’re dead. And when they’re telling you that, take careful notice of how they’re getting their rewards today. Lastly, one of the absolute WORST idea Religion has given us is that women are property who must at all times be under some male’s control. This is the driving force behind all anti-abortion viewpoints. When they say it’s just a Biblical thing, they’re wrong. Life does not begin at conception (according to their own Bibles), it begins at the baby’s first breath. This not about “protecting the innocent unborn.” (Were people like Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer innocent when they were in the womb? I’m more interested in how the religious right views things.) If you believe that all people are equal under the law (which is what our Constitution guarantees), then you cannot also believe that men have any right to control women’s bodies. Hobby Lobby’s argument came down to that – Men have the right to control women’s bodies. It had nothing to do with Christian principles, because if it did, they wouldn’t have their products made in countries notorious for their human rights abuses.

Take away these horrible ideas Religion brought us, and maybe there’s a chance Humanity can live in Peace with one another. Nobody was chosen by an imaginary Being to be Its favorite (which several different religions claim.) People who think differently should not be killed for those beliefs (which won’t kill the ideas, anyway) but should be shown in an intellectual manner why their reasoning is flawed. As Tarico points out, if War can be holy, anything can be. Blasphemy is as American as it gets in this country. Glorified Suffering is just masochism made holy. Genital Mutilation is never necessary, nor is it ever justifiable. Blood Sacrifice is just an excuse to kill. Hell is as ridiculous a concept as heaven, when you think about it. (Please do that. Think about it.) Karma is a pretty cynical concept, and a good excuse to do nothing. But if you believe Karma will get back the guy who did something horrible to little children, then you have to believe the kids he brutalized did something to deserve their fate. Are you sick? Eternal Life because Why Live For Today? Male Ownership of Female Fertility because deep down inside them, conservative men are afraid of women because the women might not give them sex if they had to give consent first. And worshiping books leads to censorship of books that don’t support the ones worshiped. None of these concepts is good for Humanity, and all of them are the result of Religion. Please, don’t try to tell me Religion is nothing but good. It is filled with horrible ideas, and the sooner we stop treating them as good ones, the sooner we’ll all be free.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Religion, Politics, the separation of the two, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 24th, 2015: “I Like Ike”

Two score, fourteen years and one week ago, on January 17th, 1961, President Dwight David Eisenhower gave his farewell address to the nation. Although made famous by Ike’s coinage of the term “military-industrial complex”, his speech also contains commentary that, IMHO, is just as relevant today about other issues, and helps to demonstrate just how far today’s Republicans have strayed from reason and responsibility. The over-religious tone of several of Ike’s comments is off-putting for many of us, but those sections reflect how Republicans have twisted the ‘in god we trust’ idea into the unrecognizable form we see today. While lengthy, here is the entire speech:

“My Fellow Americans:

Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the Nation.

My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and, finally, to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.

In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.II

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.III

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology-global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle-with liberty at stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small,there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research-these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we which to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs-balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage-balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between action of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.IV

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peace time, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been over shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system-ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.V

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we-you and I, and our government-must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose difference, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war-as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years-I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

So-in this my last good night to you as your President-I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find somethings worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

You and I-my fellow citizens-need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation’s great goals.

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing inspiration:

We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

This is today’s Open Thread. Have at it!

State of the Union speech, 2015 — live-blogging

2011_State_of_the_Union

(photo source)

It’s that time of year again — the President will paint a sunny picture of the state of this nation, and will talk about things he’d like to do this year, even though he knows this Congress isn’t going to do anything thing but keep his veto pen busy.  Fun times.

Who will heckle the President this year?  Which SCOTUS members will be present and absent?  How many times will the Dems pop up for applause, and how many times will the Repubs boo?  Which Fox “News” pundit will trash the speech before it’s even given?  How many members of Congress will be spending time on their phones, instead of giving the President the slightest bit of respect?

It’s open season, when live-blogging on TheZoo, on the Prez and Congress, which means everything is fair game:  Clothes, ties, hair-dos, hugs, praising the POTUS for good stuff, and giving him hell for bad stuff.  Knock yourselves out, Zoosters.

Make sure you stay tuned for the Repub and Tea Party responses to the SOTU, because Sen Joni Ernst, the pig castrater from Iowa, will be hollering the Repub response; and Rep Curt Clawson, the clueless they can’t be from Amurka if their skin is brown and they have funny names idiot from Florida, will confidently spew Teabagger crapola.

I’m not encouraging drinking games, but feel free to BYOB and party on.  I’ll be abstaining from the evils of drink this evening, so I’ll make sure y’all are laying on your sides, and will turn out the lights when I leave.  We don’t want a repeat of last year’s SOTU party — whatever might have happened…

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 19, 2015: Freedom to Misunderstand Free Speech and Religion

If you’re the type of person who actually gets off his couch and finds out what’s happening in the rest of the world (i.e., the places beyond the reach of your couch), you know that Free Speech and Religious Freedom have been in the news lately thanks to a bunch of murderous thugs who can’t even read their own holy books correctly. (But who can? They’re full of contradictions.) After killers who violated their own religion’s teachings falsely justified their actions by blaming the victims, the public discussion turned to whether or not people have a right to make fun of someone else’s religion. Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Why not? Do the things religions tell you to do make any sense in today’s world? I’m not talking about the general things, like to treat other people the way you would like them to treat you. You don’t need a religion to tell you that. You don’t even need a god to tell you to do it. It’s my own personal “Golden Rule.” No, I’m talking about how God is all-powerful, and he loves us all very, very much, but he lets Evil take over because he gave us all Free Will. It doesn’t quite cut it for me. You’re talking about one psychotic god there. The story as a whole just doesn’t make any damn sense. Admit it. If you’re supposed to live as they did at the time those holy books were written (more on that later), then why are we even close to where we are today technologically? Why don’t we stone people to death today? Why didn’t we back in 1787 when our Constitution was written? Why weren’t all the laws mentioned in Leviticus incorporated into our initial set of laws when the First Congress met? Could it be that we had a thriving fishing industry in New England, and the Framers thought the idea of making shell fish illegal was stupid? And speaking of religious laws, why are there three major religions all worshiping the same God, but doing it in vastly different ways? How can they all be the “One True Religion”? Why were they all started by men who wandered in a desert, where it’s hot and there isn’t enough water? Do you know what that can do to a human’s brain? Why would anybody back then think that what they said made sense? Why would anybody think it does today? But even more importantly, why shouldn’t anyone be allowed to point out how silly this, or any other, entire belief system is?

Religion is an idea. And like all ideas, it should not be accepted blindly without critical thought. If someone walks up to you and says, “You can live forever, but only if you follow these rules,” why would you just accept that without examining it carefully? Why would you believe it’s possible to live forever? I can see the appeal for some of wanting to live forever (I have depression, so no such thoughts go through my mind), but why wouldn’t you want some kind of evidence that proves what the person is saying? Why accept it on nothing but faith? Why accept the stories about the origins of the universe on faith? Wouldn’t you want people who have studied the Cosmos with scientific instruments, documented their findings, compared them with those of other scientists, and came to an intelligent understanding of what really happened to tell you how we got here, instead of just being told, “An invisible, omnipotent being willed everything into existence”? Why is that more satisfying? I simply don’t understand that. Why don’t you live in fear of that same god deciding to just do it all over again? The Covenant, you say? Sorry, God only promised never to destroy the Earth “by flood” again. He didn’t rule out other methods. And I bet this never occurred to you, either: He’s an omnipotent being. He doesn’t have to keep his promises if he doesn’t feel like it. What are you going to do, take him to court? Can I be there when you serve God with a subpoena to appear in court? Oh, and make it the Ninth Circuit Court. That should make things really fun. The point is, all ideas are subject to scrutiny and counter-argument. And reducing the other person’s argument to an absurdity (i.e., a contradiction) is a perfectly valid way of proving that the other person’s opinion is wrong. So it can no longer be used in support of the viewpoint expressed by that person, by anyone. Ever. And remember, if one of the premises of your argument is something with which I fundamentally disagree, you won’t convince me. That’s how argument works. You begin with a mutually agreed upon set of facts or premises. Then you propose what you think is a logical conclusion of those facts and premises. And this is the most important thing that some people don’t get about Free Speech: In the United States of America, the government is not allowed to abridge your freedom of Speech, meaning you can’t be jailed for what you say. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to accept it as a valid argument in support of social policy, such as, say, making our laws conform to someone’s religious text which, in case those folks haven’t noticed, directly violates the first part of that amendment they hold so dear. And something fascinating on that dear amendment later.

So when Pope Francis said, “You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it,” it’s important to understand that he was not speaking for American values. He wasn’t speaking about his own, apparently, either. If you’re going to try to tell me that God will strike me down with a bolt of lightning just for saying he doesn’t exist, then I have the right to point out that I’m still alive after typing that sentence. See? The idea that Religion should be off bounds for satire, mockery, ridicule, what have you, is a suppression of the very idea of Free Speech. Besides, what happens when you try to convert people from one religion to another (assuming you’re not doing it stupidly, like by the barrel of a gun)? You try to convince them they’re making a mistake to believe what they currently believe. (While I would also try to convince them not to believe what you believe, either.) Some people find my arguments against Religion in general to be offensive, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to make them. I find the concept of Religion offensive. It’s never made clear to its followers that they should never take what they hear as literally being true, and that leads to dangerous people going around killing because they think that’s what will please their gods.

One more thing about your dear First Amendment rights. You’ve often heard the claim made (by both sides, I’m sure, but that doesn’t matter) that our Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech were so important to the Framers (or Founding Fathers) that they were enshrined in our very First Amendment to our new Constitution, a document so revered and so loved, that it was amended almost immediately after it was ratified. (I’m joking about it, but it was a condition agreed to in order to win ratification.) Except those rights were not so important to them as you might think. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on May 7, 1992. It’s supposed to be a way to ban annual pay raises, so that newly elected Members of Congress couldn’t immediately vote to raise their own pay as soon as they took office. If they did, that law would not take effect until they faced re-election and voters had a chance to punish them for doing so. They got around it some how. But it was first proposed on Sept 25, 1789. It was the second of twelve amendments proposed that day. The First had to do with the number of Representatives guaranteed in the House in order to make sure one person wasn’t representing way more people than reasonable (like, say, 700,000.) It was never ratified, which is a good thing because if we followed the formula in it, our House of Representatives could have as many as 6,186 people in it. What about proposed Amendments Three through Twelve? What happened to them? Well, that precious right to freely practice the religion of your choice and to criticize the government and other stupid people, was actually in the third proposed amendment. It’s only the First Amendment today because neither of the two before it passed by the time it did. And one of those eventually passed to become our most recent amendment. So it’s not really as precious to the Founders as you might think. They were more concerned with making sure you mattered to your US Representative, and that he couldn’t vote himself a pay raise his first day in office. But they somehow still get annual pay raises, which seems to directly violate the precious 27th Amendment.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want. It’s your right. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you if it’s stupid.

Sunday Roast: Death, Mayhem & Gun Violence

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Moscow, Idaho — May, 2007New York Times

The police said Mr. Hamilton had been drinking at a bar with another man until about 10 p.m. Saturday. Then, they believe, he went home and fatally shot his wife in the head before setting off for the courthouse carrying two semiautomatic rifles. Around 11:30 p.m., he opened fire at the building, eventually firing some 125 shots at the courthouse and at the people who responded to the scene.

Mr. Hamilton killed one responder, Officer Lee C. Newbill of the Moscow police. Officer Bill Shields was hit in the leg by bullet fragments as he went to Officer Newbill’s aid. A sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Brannon Jordan, was shot several times but was not seriously wounded and was expected to leave the hospital on Monday.

Peter Husmann, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major at the University of Idaho, in Moscow, heard the shootings and rode his bicycle to the scene armed with a .45-caliber pistol, said his father, Sam Husmann. Peter Husmann was shot in the back, fell to the ground, and was then shot in the calf, neck and shoulder, his father said. He was in stable condition on Monday.

After the shootings at the courthouse, Mr. Hamilton entered the First Presbyterian Church, directly across the street. He had worked there as a custodian for American Building Maintenance, which had a contract with the church, and he knew the church’s sexton, Paul Bauer, Chief Duke said.

Moscow, Idaho — August, 2011, ktvb.com

July 14, 2011: UI requested Moscow Police participate in a threat assessment concerning the threatening behavior of Ernesto Bustamante. University investigators met with Benoit to review Bustamante’s response and notify her that they would be interviewing him on July 19. She was asked to stay somewhere other than her apartment. The Moscow Police tried to call Benoit several times, leaving messages. Benoit did not return the phone calls. Police told the university that she wasn’t calling back. The university indicated that Benoit had been referred to Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse and a safety plan had been discussed. The Moscow Police informed the UI that Benoit did not want police involved.

July 22, 2011: University called Benoit to ask her where she would be staying until the start of school. She said she would be in Moscow. They encouraged her to take safety precautions and contact Moscow Police Department if she felt the need.

August 19. She was warned to be vigilant and call police if she had any safety concerns.

August 22, 2011: Katy was shot outside her home at 8:40 p.m.

August 23, 2011: Moscow Police find Ernesto Bustamante dead in a hotel room at the University Inn-Best Western.

Moscow, Idaho — January 10, 2015, ktvb.com

Police say they first responded to a call of a shooting at around 2:30 p.m. at the Northwest Mutual on E. Third Street. Police say the two victims at the first reported shooting were 76-year-old David Trail and 39-year-old Michael Chin of Seattle. Trail, a Moscow businessman, was taken to Pullman Regional Hospital where he was declared dead. Chin was taken to Gritman Medical Center and is currently in critical condition.

Minutes after the first incident, police say a second shooting was reported at an Arby’s restaurant on Peterson Drive. Police say Lee entered the restaurant and asked for the manager. When the manager, 47-year-old Belinda Niebuhr, came forward Lee reportedly opened fire. Niebuhr was declared dead at Gritman Medical Center.

About a mile and a half away from the Arby’s, police say a fourth victim was found dead at a residence in the 400 block of Veatch Street. The fourth victim, 61-year-old Terri Grzebielski, is reportedly the suspect’s adoptive mother. Police say Grzebielski was a physician’s assistant at Moscow Family Medicine.

You may be asking yourself what is the significance of posting these three items about gun violence in one small town in America, so I’ll tell you:  These are stories of suicidal rage, mental illness, murder, blood, obsession, fear, and a gun sickness in this country, the “cure” for which seems to be more and more guns — and, consequently, more and more gun violence.

The significance to me is the fact that, in each of the above stories, I knew one of the dead:

Crystal Hamilton died a bloody death by gun violence by the hand of her husband.  She was the head custodian at the Latah County Courthouse, and was a lovely young woman.  She always had a smile for everyone.

Ernesto Bustamante died a bloody death by gun violence by his own hand, after having become a murderer.  He was my psych research professor — my favorite professor — and he was gorgeous, with his long, shiny black hair, devastating smile, and ironic sense of humor.  He was an occasional chatting partner in my peer advising office in the psych department, and he murdered a promising young grad student, Katy Benoit.

Yesterday, Terri Grzebielski died a bloody death by gun violence by the hand of her adopted son.  She was a physician’s assistant in the University of Idaho Student Health Department, and was my PA for the four years I attended the U of I.  She was an amazing woman:  Very tall, very thin, full of energy, ready smile, and she truly cared about her patients.

In addition to these people, a childhood friend’s sister was killed with a gun, and her murder was never solved; my former mother-in-law’s boss was murdered by his crazed daughter-in-law; and the husband of a dear friend died as a result of a gun accident.

This is fucking excessive, people!  Does everyone know this many people who’ve died by gun violence?

I don’t know the solution to the gun sickness in this country, other than collecting all the guns and melting them into plowshares, but we all know that will never happen.  One feasible solution is strict regulations placed on guns and gun owners, but that would take political integrity and honor, and that exists in very small amounts in this country.

I’m sick to death of gun violence in this country, and I’m SO fucking done with “gun rights” being more important than human lives.

This is our daily open thread — Fuck you, trolls.