Friday February 28, 2014
Contrary to what you may have heard, Phil Robertson's free speech rights were never in serious danger. Neither were Woody Allen's due process rights. And neither is the religious freedom of bigoted retail managers.
If we lived in a country where private media companies were legally forced to give space to unprofitably racist and homophobic blowhards in the spirit of "free speech," survivors of childhood sexual abuse were forced to stay silent in the spirit of "due process," and women who needed birth control were forced to do without it in the spirit of "religious liberty," the country we live in would be less free--not more.
The Bill of Rights begins with five powerful words: "Congress shall make no law..." Note the words "Congress" and "law." The Fourteenth Amendment expanded this policy to include the states, but there's no version of the incorporation doctrine that lets you get away with applying the Bill of Rights as if it were a criminal code regulating personal conduct.
Free speech doesn't guarantee you a job, due process doesn't guarantee you a good reputation, and religious liberty doesn't give you permission to illegally discriminate against others. These legal concepts are in place to restrict the actions of the government--not to protect you from the social consequences of your behavior.
Related: Don Imus and Free Speech
Tuesday January 28, 2014
There was a time when the American anti-abortion movement saw a distinction between first- and second-trimester abortions--a distinction that dates back to Aristotle. But that time has clearly passed.
As Andrea Grimes writes:
New "emergency" abortion regulations in Louisiana require patients to wait 30 days between blood tests and their abortion procedures, according to the state's Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) ...
[T]he new DHH regulations could decrease patient safety, putting patients at a higher risk of complications. As pregnancy advances, procedures become more involved and more costly, said Ellie Schilling.
According to a Guttmacher study, 88% of abortions are performed before week 12. If the new regulations are enforced, this will not be true of Louisiana; what would have been a week 9 abortion will be a week 13 abortion, what would have been a week 13 abortion will be a week 17 abortion, and so forth. Louisiana bans abortions past 20 weeks, but only 4% of abortions are performed from week 16 on. The most statistically significant effect of this legislation will be to turn first-trimester abortions into second-trimester abortions, at increased risk to the patient.
All of this reflects the shifting priorities of a national anti-abortion movement that has increasingly turned its attention to emergency contraception--a movement that sees no distinction between a fertilized egg and an embryo, no distinction between an embryo and a fetus, and no distinction between a fetus and a baby. When policies such as Louisiana's four-week booster are put into effect, this blurry and scientifically incomprehensible definition of human personhood comes with a very high human cost.
Related: 10 Anti-Abortion Myths Debunked
Wednesday January 22, 2014
If you're a Cracked.com reader, you've probably already read their really solid article on four limitations to the Colorado marijuana legalization initiative. The biggest complication, as you might expect, is the fact that the federal government can still arrest you for marijuana possession. And while President Obama has called off the Department of Justice, this may be giving us a false sense of security:
...[I]t's not like the policies of the president ever suddenly shift every few years, right? Wait, no, they totally do. That means that the next leader of the country could, under federal law, make a pretty gigantic example of a certain red-eyed Rocky Mountain state.
As a temporary measure, voters can choose a candidate in 2016 who agrees to continue President Obama's policy--but as long as federal laws against marijuana exist, the federal government will always be one bad presidential election away from a relapse. What is really needed is congressional passage of a bill either legalizing marijuana on a federal level, or formalizing a Department of Justice policy prohibiting enforcement of marijuana laws in states that have legalized it. Between now and the November elections, voters can take a good first step in that direction by looking at what their U.S. House and Senate candidates think about marijuana laws.
Related: History of Marijuana Laws | Why Marijuana is Illegal
Tuesday January 21, 2014
This isn't a conspiracy theory.
In November 1964, FBI agents mailed Dr. King an anonymous letter and a cassette tape containing illegally-obtained surveillance audio of alleged adultery. After threatening to release the information to the public, the letter concludes:
King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.
In 1976, a U.S. House of Representatives report acknowledged that the letter "clearly implied that suicide would be a suitable course of action." And they also acknowledged that the letter wasn't the FBI's first illegal attempt to harm Dr. King:
From October 24, 1963, to June 21, 1966, the FBI also engaged in an extensive program of electronic surveillance of Dr. King. The committee found it was conducted in a particularly abusive fashion. FBI agents who monitored the devices, although they were initially instructed to be especially alert for contacts between Dr. King and Communist connections, exercised little discretion in deciding what to overhear and record. Private and personal conversations were recorded, as were conversations between Dr. King and Government officials. In fact, the development of personal information that, might be derogatory to Dr. King became a major objective of the surveillance effort. The committee found that the Department of Justice shared responsibility for the surveillance, since it was initially authorized by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
In other words: we know that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, which were responsible for passing the majority of the signature policies associated with the civil rights movement, engaged in a systematic, deadly, and highly illegal three-year campaign to destroy the life of the movement's most visible organizer and advocate by using a mix of propaganda, blackmail, and state-of-the-art surveillance technology. He had a wife, four children, and millions who loved him. And that didn't matter, not even to two of the most progressive presidential administrations of the past century.
We need to talk about this more often than we do.
Related: Government Surveillance Timeline