Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On "States Rights" and "We're Just Enforcing the Law"

There are weasel words and there are weasel phrases.  Today's news events bring to mind the weasel phrases  "State's Rights" and "We're Just Enforcing the Law".

The Civil War and Jim Crow bring to mind the weasel phrase "State's Rights."  The weasel concept of "State's Rights" was used to defend slavery and later on racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws that were used to deny the civil rights of minorities.  This excuse was used because tide of history was working against these last racist holdouts so they invoked the magical rights of "States" to deny the real-life rights of actual living breathing human beings.

The rights of actual living breathing human beings  should never be subordinated to the rights of states and particularly  never because of the irrational, ideologically or religiously based dogmatic beliefs of people who, finding themselves in a minority, seek to reduce their sphere of influence to a level where they finally find themselves in a majority.  Quite often, this is a State.  If they have to go down to the level of a county or city or even neighborhood, they would do so if it allowed them to deny those human rights to others.  There really is no reason why "County Rights" is illegitimate while "States Rights" is legitimate; the truth is that neither is legitimate when it comes to limiting human rights.  Human rights should not disappear when you cross state or county or city lines.

Today, 2/22/17, citing "States Rights," the Trump administration at the behest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will now allow States to force transgender children to use the restroom that the state demands that they use, if that is what the State chooses to do while exercising their rights.  Yes, transgender children who present as male but who were born with a body typical of a female will be forced to use the girls rooms in some states, while children who present and identify as female but were born with the body of male will be forced to use the boys room.

Transgender persons have a suicide attempt rate of over 40% in some studies while the rest of the population has a rate in the low single digits.  However, when a transgender has the support of their family and community and are able to have the associated surgeries if they so desire, their suicide rate plunges to near the population average.  Apparently, in my opinion, this does not concern the likes of Jeff Sessions.  Go to: .  This is the kind of thing that "States Rights" is typically used for.

The other "weasel phrase" for today is "We're Just Enforcing the Law".  The Trump Administration has changed the guidelines for enforcing immigration laws.  They New York Times does a good job of describing the changes:  "President Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes...  Documents released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.

The new enforcement policies put into practice language that Mr. Trump used on the campaign trail, vastly expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” and warning that such unauthorized immigrants “routinely victimize Americans,” disregard the “rule of law and pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.

Despite those assertions in the new documents, research shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans." Go to .

Now of course, everyone supports the deportation of those here illegally if they are criminals.  Who needs them?  But is it really in the nation's best interest to go after even those who have not committed crimes? The government does not go after every infraction unmercifully after all.  What if the government punished every person who ever smoked pot?  Or punished every person who violated any archaic law regarding sexual relations (not including child abusers of course)?  Or every jaywalker?  Or every copyright violator?  Or any lawbreaker of  any law, period?  Who'd be left?  No one!  It is hard to never go over 55MPH on any highway, or 65MPH where it is allowed.  Who'd be left?  No one!!

And that is why guidelines are so important.  But never mind that; they'll just say, "We're Just Enforcing the Law."  Weasels.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Writing New Songs!

As a songwriter, I am always working on something. After completing the songs for "birth, love, hate, death" I started considering what I should write about for the next CD. Typically I like to have a focus or theme for my collection of tunes. For example, our first CD, "My Name is Thomas..." was a rock opera totally about faith and reason, meaning and purpose. Our second CD, "mostly True Stories" was a collection of songs about dogma, religion and ideology. Our next CD, "Out of Many, One" was more political in nature. These were the things that were on my mind when I wrote those songs and albums. Our upcoming release, "birth, love, hate, death" is another rock opera and this time the focus is love. Yes, it took me 4 albums to get the subject most bands start with and never leave! One reason I waited that long was because, in many ways, love is a far more complex a subject than, faith, reason, politics, religion and ideology; I was not previously ready or qualified to write an album dedicated to love. I may still not be ready or qualified, but I could no longer put it off when I came to the key understanding that love is more than a feeling - it's a behavior. Anyone can claim to "feel" love for another and then behave miserably. This was a key understanding and led me to write a story where the characters clearly come to understand that if they love someone they must sacrifice if necessary for that someone; that is what they must do. It's what you do for love that matters, and what you do better be the right thing, not the selfish thing, not the controlling thing, not the jealous thing and not the vengeful thing. THE RIGHT THING, the thing that is good for the person you love even if it is not thing you want selfishly. No one owes you love after all. My favorite lyrics always express doubt or some tragic sentiment; in this album the lines that are central (to me) are "I love you so much, I'd risk losing you; I can't do nothing except what's right by you..." (From "Better Man") Also, in "Honestly," the character declares "I don't know what love is" and "I don't know what I'm doing." Exactly. This is my attempt at telling the truth, the best that I know it. I will be writing more about the songs I've written in the past but I did want to mention that the next CD will be different, though related; the focus will be family, as if I know anything useful on the subject.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

You don't have to like Islam to oppose "the Travel Ban"

One of the more difficult-to-understand concepts involved in maintaining a free country is granting equal and full rights to those with whom you disagree.  Far too many citizens in the U.S. (and elsewhere) believe that in a democracy, the majority get their way, period.  Not so in the United States, thank goodness.

There are certain rights that are NOT subject to majority whim and these are the rights enumerated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  As the key example is the First Amendment which reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  Please note the very first mandate of this Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..." 

The author of the First Amendment, James Madison, was clear in his intent.  He wrote, “It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points.  The tendency to usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against. by an entire abstinence of the Govt. from interference in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.  [Letter to the Reverend Jasper Adams, January 1, 1832]”  ― James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison Volume 3"

Just to further demonstrate Madison's intent to limit the power of the majority, he also wrote “Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.”  ― James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison Volume 3"

Now I understand that just because it's in the Constitution and James Madison made his intent clear, it does not mean it is the best policy for us to follow.  However, after over 200 years of experience it has become clear that Madison's First Amendment has served us well.  In fact one could make the argument that no sentence in the history of humanity has served humanity better than the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America: it is perhaps the greatest sentence ever written.  It IS the greatest sentence ever written!  Thank you James Madison.

What does this have to do with the current travel ban proposed by executive order of President Trump?  Clearly Trump campaigned and gained tremendous support on the basis of his proposed ban on all Muslims attempting to travel to the U.S.  He clearly sought advice, from Rudy Giuliani for example, on how to achieve his previously stated goal while passing legal muster.  This is a ban intended to target Muslims and the "carve out" exemptions in the ban for Christians and other non-Muslims proves this.  His "travel" ban is fooling no one; it is the beginning of  a process to ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S.  The fact that he did not ban travel from a number of countries that have actually had its citizens travel to the U.S. to kill Americans would be confounding until you realize they are countries he has business interests within!  If a President Hillary Clinton had done something similar there would be calls for impeachment, probably justifiably.

It is obvious to many, except Trump and his supporters, that many Muslims are persecuted within these and other countries, not just for being the "wrong" kind of Muslim, but for being moderate, reasonable and in fact, freedom loving Muslims.  To Trump, it seems, all Muslims are the same.

The above all being said, I am not a Muslim, and you can bet your last dollar, I will never become a Muslim.  I cringe when I hear someone say "Islam is a religion of peace".  I also cringe when someone says "God is love" or whatever anyone else claims about their chosen religion or ideology.  I know these claims are not true by the results, by history.

Some critics of Islam claim that up to 51% of Muslims in the U.S. believe that they should be allowed to live under sharia law in the U.S.  I have not verified this claim from a reliable pollster, only from less reliable pollsters, but the claim is widely repeated.  If you parse this concept carefully, it does not necessarily mean that U.S. Muslims  believe that everyone would have to live under such law, but instead only those who choose to governed this way, but this distinction is still unacceptable.  All Americans of all religions are to be governed under the same law and treated equally.  The government should never be placed in a position to enforce a religious law even if the citizen wants to be governed in this manner.

But please note that while the above unverified claim about American Muslims is disturbing, it is not that much different from what reliable pollsters such as Pew  Research found in October 2006 about American Christians. "When asked which should have more influence over the laws of the country, ­ the Bible or the will of the people, even when it conflicts with the Bible ­ most Americans (63%) say the people’s will should have more sway. A significant minority (32%), however, believes the Bible should be more important." ( This is not that incredibly different from the claim about Muslims except that in this case you can be sure the 32% meant imposing law on ALL Americans.  If you were to poll Trump supporters ONLY, I suspect that the percentage would exceed 51%.

You don't have to like ANY religion or ideology (such as liberalism, conservatism, fascism, communism, socialism, libertarianism, etc.) to allow those that hold those beliefs to retain their rights under the Constitution.  You don't have to like Islam to oppose the travel ban - you need to love justice and equality under the law.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

There are two ways to protest

Yes, there are two ways to protest - the effective way and the ineffective way.  The first way moves you closer to your actual goals, the other way does not move you to your goal and may, in fact, move you away from your goal - that is unless your goal is to not actually to achieve anything positive but is instead to give oneself a feeling of righteousness and a false sense of moral superiority.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow activists certainly were effective in their method of protest - it was their protests that lead to actual legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  That law and others led to a gradual improvement in the lives of many minority citizens and, in fact, all Americans.  The achievements are undeniable and we are lucky to have had a Martin Luther King Jr. in our midst.

For me, the hallmark of MLK's method of protest was that it was actually peaceful and the only laws that might be broken were the very laws that were unjust. Laws against blocking traffic, rioting and so on are not unjust laws and he did not encourage any of this kind of lawbreaking. Also, he advocated boycotts of the offending systems of discrimination and this was also an elegant tool in the toolbox of this great American.

MLK did not promote the breaking of windows of storefronts or throwing rocks at police even though the stores may have discriminated against them and the police forces were pawns of white supremacists.  He and other civil rights leaders and marchers took their lumps and spent time in jail but they did not engage in criminal mischief and did not victimize others in retaliation for the massive injustices perpetrated against them.  They and their co-protesters were the bravest of the brave.

On the other hand there were many protesters in that same period who did throw rocks at police and burned down businesses that they resented.  They also harmed the lives of innocent bystanders as well.  Did they get the results they desired?  If you are talking about improving the lives of the oppressed, it is doubtful.  This kind of behavior is not likely to move someone to your side if they are currently on the fence.  Lawmakers similarly do not like being coerced by the threat of violence.  However, if you believe the goal of violent protesters was retribution and a selfish goal of self-righteousness, they probably succeeded in achieving those empty gestures.

That little bit of background brings us quickly to today where we have the example of two kinds of protests that occurred in the last week.  The first and largest protests were the well organized and properly permitted Women's Marches that occurred all over the U.S.  I attended the march in Manhattan and it was an amazing event.  The general theme was a protest against President Trump's apparent misogyny epitomized by his bragging about his own pattern of sexual assault, later confirmed by alleged actual victims.  It was an amazing chain of events; Trump had confessed (via video of an old TV show) followed by over 10 women claiming to having been his victims, to his denial of ever doing what he bragged about doing followed by his incredibly insulting rants against his accusers!  All was forgiven by Trump's supporters as he predicted - he had said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and they would still vote for him.  He was pretty much correct.

Obviously the protest was peaceful - supposedly 1,000,000 people participated around the country and only about 4 arrests were reported.  A week or so later the marches had an approval rating of about 60% which is pretty good considering 40% or so of the country supports the President.  This is how you conduct a protest.  There is hope that a movement was begun with these marches.

In contrast, on 2/1/17, "protests that erupted at UC Berkeley ahead of a planned Wednesday appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus, the school said Thursday.  The university blamed "150 masked agitators" for the unrest, saying they had come to campus to disturb an otherwise peaceful protest.  Two Berkeley College Republicans "were attacked while conducting an interview" on the campus on Thursday, UC Berkeley also said in a prepared statement. The attackers, who were not affiliated with the university, were taken into custody by UC Berkeley police."  (Go to  The appearance was canceled.

If you wanted to promote Milo Yiannopolous (a Breitbart contributor) and increase his popularity, this was the absolute best way to do it.  Imagine the mileage Milo will get out of this incident!  He will look like the free speech champion and those who object to his misogynistic and race baiting style will become associated with censorship and violence by those looking on from afar.  This outcome is far better for Yiannopolous than actually giving the speech.

The protesters got it all wrong; they should have boycotted the event or held an alternative event.  What they should not have done, above all other things, is perpetrate violence and prevent free speech even by a loathsome individual.  That is the wrong way to protest - the ineffective way.

Here is my message to those who are not happy with the President or his apologists: Do not give the administration ammunition to drum up popular support to effectively prohibit dissent.  I personally do not care whether you do feel morally superior or self righteous or not.  I care about the results.