I’m sure there are more than a few problems with the President’s budget proposal, depending on one's point of view, but I'd like to comment on three that I think particularly egregious.  What we think of most issues depends, of course, on whose ox is being gored, and I’m not immune to that problem.  However, here are three provisions that I think are pushing our society as a whole in a decidedly wrong direction.

  1. Not indexing Social Security benefits to inflation, but to another index that rises more slowly.  While most people are upset because this would significantly reduce benefits (how else can it significantly help the budget?), and of course this matters to me as well, because we’re reaching the age where we’ll be depending to some degree on those checks.  But that’s not my primary concern, which is that it would reduce the incentive for the government to curb inflation.  We’re already in the precarious position where inflation benefits the government in the short term—as it does most debtors.  This provision would make inflating our currency still more attractive, as the more the money inflates, the less retirees will receive in real income.
  2. Limiting retirement savings.  Most importantly, this discourages saving.  Americans are already very bad at saving money; despite what the advertisers will tell you, this bodes ill for achieving a stable, healthy economy.  IRAs and other tax-deferred savings plans have been a good incentive in the right direction.  Note:  these accounts are not tax-protected or tax-free, as some articles are suggesting.  The tax is merely deferred until the money is withdrawn.  Under the President’s proposal,  "[s]uch accounts would be capped at $3 million in 2013 dollars—which officials say is enough to finance a $205,000-a-year income."  Do you believe that?  I don’t.  As my husband said, "I’d like the person who made that calculation to sell me a 30-year annuity backing up his words.  I dare him to guarantee a 6% return."  I doubt there’s anyone who would take that bet, unless he’s pretty sure we’ll have either a very strong economy or rampant inflation (see #1 above).
  3. Limiting charitable tax deductions.  Capping the charitable deduction at 28%, while increasing the top tax rate to nearly 40%, will without a doubt decrease charitable giving in an age when it is increasingly needed.  Insist all you want that "real philanthropists" will give to charity no matter what, the truth is that the charitable tax deduction is more than just an incentive:  it means we have more money to give.  And as the Forbes article (link above) points out, "the Obama charity tax increase implicitly assumes, under cover of 'fairness,' that Washington will do a better job spending the money than private donors will.  But by encouraging philanthropy, we encourage imagination and innovation—in ways the political process, more likely to be constrained by conventional wisdom, will not."  What's more, the charitable tax deduction is a great investment for the government:  At the margin, forgoing $40,000 in tax revenue generates $100,000 in charitable donations.  Perhaps most worrisome of all is that encouraging citizens to turn over their charitable responsibilities to the government hinders the development of a just and caring society.

While it is clear that we need both spending cuts and tax increases to tackle our financial problems, not all cuts, and not all taxes, are equally valuable.  Put another way, some are more harmful than others.  These three proposals are a threat to the long-term health of our country.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 6:23 am | Edit
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Two years ago, Stephan wrote an excellent summary of why Americans overseas bear an unfair and disproportionate tax burden.  It's still true, and you can help by e-mailing the House Ways and Means Committee by April 15—if you don't need all that time to prepare your own taxes, that is.  You could also, of course, e-mail them with your own thoughts about tax reform in general.  That's too much for me to contemplate at the moment, so I settled for writing on this subject.  Here's one of my two letters, minus a few details.  You'll note I cribbed a good deal from Stephan's post.

I am writing to ask that the International Taxation Committee of the Ways & Means Committee for Tax Reform seriously consider the proposal of the American Citizens Abroad (ACA) for reform to residency-based taxation (RBT).  (http://americansabroad.org/files/6513/6370/3681/finalsubrbtmarch2013.pdf)

The current policy of citizenship-based taxation is unique among developed countries:  all others levy taxes based on residence alone.  As I understand it, this taxation by citizenship is intended to prevent very wealthy Americans from avoiding taxes in the USA by moving abroad.  But do you remember when tuna fishing nets inadvertently caught and killed porpoises as well?  There are several unintended, unfair consequences of this tax policy for ordinary, non-wealthy US citizens abroad  Here are a few examples:

  • The USA taxes its citizens abroad based on their income converted into US dollars. You might earn the same salary in year one as in year two, but be forced to declare an increase in income of several thousand US dollars because the dollar was devalued in that period
  • If you are hired as an expatriate by a large company, you cost the company more in expenses and tax attorney fees, which makes you less attractive for hiring.   This competitive disadvantage of its citizens is damaging to the US economy, particularly in this climate of globalization.
  • US citizens abroad run the risk of unintentionally becoming criminals because of the complex tax laws and agreements. The US tax code is complicated for US residents; it is worse as a citizen abroad. Additionally, IRS personnel rarely are able to answer questions you might have, so even if you try your best you run a very real risk of unintentionally running afoul of the IRS.
  • US citizens abroad are being denied basic local banking services. Many local banks altogether refuse dealings with anyone liable to taxation by the IRS rather than running the risk of being sued.
  • Because “any United States person who has a financial interest in or signature authority or other authority over any financial account in a foreign country, if the aggregate value of these accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year,” must file an FBAR, an American overseas may be denied employment or promotion since US tax law could require disclosure of the company account to the IRS.

Even though I, myself, reside in the United States, I am affected by this unjust form of taxation.  My American daughter and her American family are currently living overseas and thus are hurt by the problems above.  Furthermore, I have been unable to open a simple bank account in her town in which to keep a small amount of funds to use while visiting them.  The banks will not open accounts for Americans because IRS rules require them to break their own rules to do so.

A move towards a residence-based system would it be simpler and fairer for Americans living abroad, and would strengthen America’s global competitiveness.

Please consider the RBT proposal submitted by American Citizens Abroad (ACA).  (http://americansabroad.org/files/6513/6370/3681/finalsubrbtmarch2013.pdf)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Edit
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Why wrestle with how to express this story when thduggie has already done it so well?

Back in 2010, a German family was granted political asylum in Tennessee, because they had been homeschooling their children in a country that prosecutes, fines, and removes children from homeschooling parents. This immigration judge sent a strong message to the world: America is still a country where Liberty is writ large.  Today, the same family stands in danger of being deported back to Germany. Whether the appeal stems from a fear of offending an ally, or a fear of having immigration offices overrun (by legal immigrants), the message is the same: “We’re scared of our Liberty.”

The Romeike family's plight should be of concern to every American, because a threat to liberty, even—or maybe especially—on the part of an ally, is a threat to us all.  American homeschoolers, even though they currently enjoy educational freedom in every state, should be very concerned:  if our courts rule that educating one's own children is not one of the most basic human rights and responsibilities, that precedent could (and probably will) be used to attack our own hard-won liberty.

This is not, however, just a homeschooling issue.  If the forced removal of children from stable, loving families is not considered by the United States to be a heinous act, no one dare consider his family safe.

Even Al Jazeera has noticed the case.  Their article is actually the best summary I've seen of the situation.

I'm not, in general, a petition signer.  But today I registered with whitehouse.gov (a simple process) so that I could sign this petition to allow the Romeikes to remain in the United States, where they can education their children without fear of unthinkable reprisals.

Here is the text of the petition:

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the Obama Administration grant full and permanent legal status to Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their children. The Romeikes, a homeschooling family represented by HSLDA, were granted asylum in 2010 because Germany persecutes homeschoolers with fines, criminal prosecution, and forcible removal of children from their families. Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to homeschool, and the U.S. has the world’s largest and most vibrant homeschool community. Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany. The Romeikes hope for the same freedom our forefathers sought. Please grant the privilege of liberty to the Romeike family.

If 100,000 people sign a petition within 30 days of its creation, the Obama Administration will officially respond.  As of today, almost 60,000 more signatures are needed by April 18 in order to reach that threshold.

Please consider signing the petition, writing President Obama and/or your representatives, or otherwise publicizing the Romeikes' dire situation and this opportunity to set a precedent for or against not only our basic educational freedom, but even more, our commitment to Liberty itself.

Update 5 April:  Here's a brief chronology (full article) for those who want more information but don't want to sift through the articles.  (Emphasis mine.)

German law mandates that children attend a public or state-approved school. The local mayor informed the family that they would face fines and could lose the custody of their children if they did not attend school. The parents also faced potential jail time.

The government fined the family heavily and at one point seized the children to force them to attend school.

After trying to secure an exemption from the law, the Romeikes fled the country and immigrated to Tennessee in 2008. They had been fined well over $10,000 by the time they fled and faced escalating fines if they continued to homeschool their children.

The family applied for asylum in the United States and an immigration judge granted it to them, citing a well-founded fear of persecution if they returned to Germany.

However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), appealed the ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

The board overturned the original judge’s ruling and ordered the Romeikes deported to Germany. The Romeikes appealed their case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where their case will be heard April 23.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Edit
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Most of those who know me also know that I don’t like the government being involved in our health care, for too many reasons than I can go into now.  More than once I’ve asked, “Do you really want to trust your health to the same folks who are mangling public education?” 

Important note:  I support the public school system, much as I find fault with it.  There are many teachers among our family and friends.  Our own children attended the local schools for a number of years.  We pay school taxes, and have voted in favor of most requested tax increases, including last year’s. Everyone in the family has put countless hours into (public) school volunteer work.

Another important note:  I agree that our health care system is in a big mess, and big messes invite government interference whether we like it or not.  Personal experience of family and friends has shown me that public health care can work very well (France, Switzerland) and very badly (UK, Canada).  (I know there are readers of this blog who are happy with Canada’s health care, but I’m going by the experiences of those I know personally, which, alas, are negative.)  I don’t like the way in which our government is approaching health care reform, but that’s not the point here.

The point is consistency.

In the battle over health care, the faction I will loosely designate as “pro-government-social-program” (PSGP) wins for consistency:  The same people who are pushing national health insurance are ardent advocates of public education.  Viewing education as a fundamental, essential right of every child, they make it not only available but compulsory, and not only for the poor but for everyone, and expect everyone to participate.  They frequently oppose anything (private schools, home education, vouchers) that would allow students to opt out of monopoly government schooling.

Having concluded that the cost of a (possibly large) uneducated segment of the population is greater than the cost of providing “free” education to all, they are consistent in applying the same logic to health care.

I, on the other hand, am not consistent, and neither, it seems, are many with better conservative credentials than mine.  How can I support public education for all and not health care?  Why is it considered acceptable, even admirable, for everyone—including the rich—to take government assistance in the form of public education, but lower-class, even shameful to be on Medicaid, accept Food Stamps, or live in public housing?  What makes education so much more important than health care, food, or housing?

And maybe the PGSP’s are not as consistent as I thought, because I don’t see them pushing for compulsory soup-kitchen and housing project attendance.

Although … when our kids were in school, the school breakfast/lunch program, which served a useful purpose for poor children who otherwise would not eat, was pushed on everyone.  It wasn’t exactly mandatory, but the schools used plenty of promotions and advertisers’ tricks to get children to pressure their parents to send money for their lunches rather than pack them better food from home.  In the case of breakfast, they actually kept the other students trapped on the school bus until the breakfast-eaters were finished.  So who knows what's next in the minds of the PSGP's?

I don’t know where we’re going and what we’re in for with all this, and I don’t know how I’m going to rethink my attitude in regard to public education and/or health care.  But it certainly was a revelation to discover my own inconsistency.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:48 am | Edit
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Extra!  Extra!  Congressman cuts his own budget!

I know there are those among my readers who are inclined to disbelieve anything that comes from Fox News, but this story is confirmed by the left-leaning Orlando Sentinel as well.  U.S. Representative Daniel Webster has done what all politicians should do until the country is back on sound financial ground:  cut his own salary, and slashed his office budget, returning $360,000 to the Treasury.  And this isn't the first year he's done that.

“I learned as a father of six children and a small business owner how to live within my means by prioritizing my spending and doing more with less during tough times,” said Webster in a statement. “Washington needs to embrace the same approach by spending less rather than simply borrowing more, and I believe that starts with me.”

"If we're going to fix government it's going to have to start in our own house," he said.

Congressman Webster said if all 435 members of Congress would be a hawk about each dollar, it would save tens of millions of dollars each year.

"If it's appropriated, the rule is spend it. I don't believe that. I believe we ought to look at it as every dollar is important."

I've liked Dan Webster since my first contact with his office back in 1990.  It was he who was largely responsible for the bill that clearly legalized homeschooling in Florida, so I'm forever grateful, even if we have some points of disagreement.  He also eschews negative campaigning, and has a reputation for statesmanship, civility, and true bipartisanship.

Granted, his pay cut of $4700 is only 2.7% of his $174,000 annual salary, but would you voluntarily pay an extra 3% in taxes?  Anyone who considers that a triviality is welcome to try to out-do him.

It turns out that our own representative, John Mica, also returned appropriated money ($150,000 in the last two years), and another Florida congressman, Bill Posey, has given back money and also held his own salary to the level he earned when he was elected in 2008.  This kind of action ought to be bigger news than it is.  No, it's not going to solve our problems, but it's a step, and more than that, it's an important symbol.

If Americans must suffer to bring about a sane and stable economy, then those who have taken on the mantle of leadership, be they politicians or business leaders or entertainers, should ... LEAD!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Edit
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No, it's not serious, and it's not an invitation for some wild-eyed idiot to try to change the election results by violent means.  Reggie Jackson wants us to stop fighting and start working together for the good of the country.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was elated with the re-election of President Obama on Tuesday, but if he had his way, Mitt Romney would be part of the administration, too.

"Just because President Obama is back in power is not as important as all of us pulling together, ''Jackson told USA TODAY Sports. "The best would be for Obama to be president and Romney to be vice-president. We need everyone to come together.

"I get so disappointed when I hear all of the negativity from Republicans against the Democrats and Democrats against Republicans. We need to come together as a nation. Black. White. Hispanics. Jewish. Native Americans.

"We need to have the resolve to work together. It's like when the Yankees have a great team, it helps baseball. When the Knicks and Lakers are great teams, it helps basketball. If the Republicans and Democrats can get together, it will make our country a strong, better place, for everyone.''

Amen and amen.

(Except maybe the part about the Yankees....)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 6:26 am | Edit
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On this day in 1989 the gates opened, and the German people themselves answered President Reagan's famous call.

Porter, who more than two decades before had crossed over to East Berlin (and back) at the terrifying Checkpoint Charlie, understands best the wonder and glory of the day, but our kids each have a souvenir piece of the Wall, thanks to friends who were living in Germany at the time.

Thanks be to God.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:48 am | Edit
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No one I know wrote this letter, but it was posted on Facebook by a friend I respect, who called it thought-provoking.  I agree.  I'd never heard of Steve Elliott, nor his Grassfire Nation organization, and a quick glance tells me he's a little too far to the political right for my comfort.  But no matter.  He's written a very wise letter, one that people of all political persuasions would do well to consider when events don't go their way.  The whole letter is worth reading, but here's the heart of it.  (Elliott openly invites sharing via Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, so I'm hoping he won't mind my extensive quotations.)

I'm writing to you to explain why, even after a late and discouraging evening that stretched past 1:00 a.m. on the East Coast, I was back at the office before 8:00 a.m. this morning.

And why the sinking feeling I felt last night has already been replaced with a deep determination.

And why I'm going out to buy equipment for our new office this afternoon. 

And why we are going to build, build, build -- despite a stunning and, for me, unexpected defeat.

I want to share with you a letter that, although 2,500 years old, it could have been written this morning. For us. For faithful patriots who feel like they just discovered they will have to live at least the next four years in exile.

This letter was written to Jewish exiles who had been pushed out of Jerusalem and forced to live under a tyrannical ruler named Nebuchadnezzar.

The exiles wanted one thing: they wanted to be re-established back in Israel. They even had a prophet named Hananiah come to them and tell them that their time of exile would only last two years.

You can read about it in Jeremiah 28.

Hananiah was a false prophet. He died.

And so Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles. You've probably heard a part of that letter recited many times. It's one of the most commonly quoted passages in the entire Bible. Unfortunately, this passage is mostly taken out of its proper context and delivered as a "feel good" word that everything is going to be O.K.

One of my friends was quoting this verse yesterday morning:

 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Those words sound so good. The future is bright. God has a plan for prosperity, for a real hope and a real future. On the eve of the election, it must have meant a Romney win, the GOP takes the Senate and we start the rollback of the Obama regime, right?

Not exactly.

Here's the shocking context of Jeremiah 29 (and I offer to you, the context for November 6, 2012): the plan was exile.

That was the "plan" Jeremiah's letter was talking about. I encourage you to go read all of Jeremiah 29. Here is the immediate context:

This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you ..."

The plan was 70 years of exile. Keep that in mind the next time someone quotes Jeremiah 29:11 to encourage you that your time of trouble will soon end. Not only was the exile going to last 70 years, the exile WAS the plan!

If you don't believe me, go back and read the beginning of the letter, from Jeremiah 29:4. Here you'll see the Lord (through Jeremiah) giving the Jewish exiles specific instructions on how to conduct themselves in exile:

--Build houses and settle down.

--Plan gardens and eat what they produce.

--Marry and have sons and daughters.

--Marry off your sons and daughters so they can have children.

--Increase in number; do not decrease.

Again, remember the context. A false prophet had just come and said the time of exile would only last two years. That prophet died. The truth is, the people will be in exile for 70 years. And the directive is to build families, grow businesses, think trans-generationally and increase.

It gets better. Because Jeremiah's letter makes it clear that building and marrying is not enough. People in exile must do something else -- they must be a blessing to the land.

"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

So let's review. First, the plan is exile. Second, build. Third, bless. Simple, clear instructions.

But why was this important? Why a "plan" for exile with specific instructions on how to act in exile?

Historians tell us it was during the Babylonian captivity that the Israelites moved from a Temple/Jerusalem focused society to a synagogue and community focused society. Simply put ...

It was the lessons learned during their time in exile which enabled the Jews to survive 2,500 years in exile. But not just survive -- but to thrive and become the most prosperous, most successful and most innovative people group in the history of civilization.

Exile was the plan.

So that's why, today, I'm going to build. And I'm going to plant. I'm going to bless. And I'm going to pray.

For that is the final piece to the puzzle ...

"Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

So let's get building. Let's get planting. And let's get praying. And let's bless this land. There are lessons to be learned in exile.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 9, 2012 at 6:13 am | Edit
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Actually, it was a private letter, from Porter to the President.  But I liked it so much I begged permission to post it.

Mr. President,

Congratulations on your re-election.  I believe you now have 80 days to establish your legacy.  Just as it took a “conservative” Nixon to open the door to Red China and a “liberal” DemocratClintonto establish welfare reform and NAFTA so, I believe, it will take the “champion of the 47%” to effectively reform (which is to say cut) Social Security and Medicare.

This coming lame duck session is your best hope to get this started.  With Joe Lieberman and others retiring they have a chance to do what is right for the country as opposed to what will get them elected in the next cycle. I believe these next 80 days will establish your legacy—as the President who courageously faced the “fiscal cliff” with meaningful reformor as the President who muddled along relying on QE3, 4, 5 ad infinitum to inflate away the national debt and the national greatness.  Please take on the challenge.

Respectfully yours,

It can happen.  If President Obama has the will, the strength, and the courage he can lead his party to make the difficult but necessary choices that they would never have agreed to under a Republican president.  The Republicans will do well to support and encourage him in this, verbally and by making their own painful compromises.  The object is not to "win," not to score points, it's not even to get (re)-elected.  The object is to climb out of this economic pit and leave for our children an economy that is strong, sane, stable, and just.  The blame for this pit is well spread among Democrat and Republican; rich and poor; financial institution, big business, and average American.  The sooner we admit that, the sooner we can make progress.  If there is a fair solution to be found, it will succeed only insofar as it inspires everyone to participate—and yes, to sacrifice—beginning with those who by running for office made the choice to assume the responsibilities of leadership.

The American Dream was never about getting rich, nor about security, but about a country where hard work and thrift were rewarded by opportunity, and about parents whose goal was not their own comfort but the well-being of their children and grandchildren.

Dare to dream, Mr. President.  Dare to be a leader!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Edit
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  • If your candidate loses, the next four years will not be as bad as you fear.
  • If your candidate wins, the next four years will not be as good as you hope.

So, winners, please do not be downcast tonight, but do your best in the next four years to support a president who will need all the encouragement and prayers he can get. Losers, please do not gloat tonight, but do your best in the next four years to support a president who will need all the encouragement and prayers he can get.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Edit
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It's not easy to offer a prayer in such a diverse, public setting, but Jena Lee Nardella, founder and executive director of of Blood:Water Mission did an awesome job with the benediction yesterday at the Democratic National Convention. 

That's it, right there.  That's what we need.  I'd vote for her for president, except that her work in Africa is too important.

Thanks to Carolyn Custis James for posting this on Facebook, because I sure am not watching this convention any more than I did the other one.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Edit
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Until June of 2010, homeschooling was legal in Sweden, albeit within some onerous regulations.  But with the passage of a comprehensive revision of the education system, the right of parents to direct the education of their own children has been virtually abolished, in apparent violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2:

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

If you want to become depressed learn more, there are many stories, often heart-wrenching, at the Home School Legal Defense Association site.  (I may have some quarrels with the HSLDA's approach, left over from the early days of homeschooling, but that doesn't negate their importance as a source of homeschooling advocacy and information.)

As part of an effort to raise awareness of their plight, Swedish homeschoolers are staging a Walk to Freedom from Askö, Sweden to the Finnish island of Åland, to which many Swedish homeschooling refugee families have fled.  (No, they're not walking on water, but plan to secure the help of a ferry for the last leg.)  Their adventure begins tomorrow.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Edit
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Given that the events occurred not far from home, yet have become international news, I'll say a few words about the Trayvon Martin case.  Not many (by my standards), because, frankly, no one knows enough to say anything definitive, though that's not stopping everyone and his sisters and his cousins and his aunts from speaking out.

I won't say, "it's not about race," because it may very well have been—who knows what was going on in the mind of George Zimmerman.  Or Trayvon Martin, for that matter.  But from where I sit, it's about a lot more than race.  "Walking while black" was only one of three strikes against him, though it may have been the fatal one.  He was also walking while male, and walking while young.

I've written before of the frightening, and abusive, encounter that a young friend had with the police, a young man whose only "crime" was biking while young, and male, and (legitimately) in his own neighborhood at a time when the deputy thought he should have been sitting in a school classroom.  Certainly it was wrong of Zimmerman to consider Martin to be suspicious based on race, if those were indeed his thoughts, but it is equally wrong to suspect someone of ill intent based on sex or age, and I believe that happens frequently, insidiously, under the public radar, and without going viral on social media.

In Travon Martin's case—as in O.J. Simpson's, and Casey Anthony's—it's the public uproar that has me the most concerned, however.  We the People believe we know better than those who have seen the evidence and heard the arguments, and want "justice" done without any respect for or patience with the due process guaranteed every one of us.  Yes, the system sometimes fails, sometimes makes mistakes; I've seen it fail our own family.  But vigilante "justice" is a terrifying prospect.  Remember A Man for All Seasons?

What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide ... the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast ... and if you cut them down—and you're just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Without implying comment one way or another on the Second Amendment issue, I'll end with a quotation from Robert Heinlein's science fiction book, Tunnel in the Sky, in which a seasoned military officer expounds on the dangers of guns in the hands of the untrained:

One time in a hundred a gun might save your life; the other ninety-nine it will just tempt you into folly. ... I know how good a gun feels.  It makes you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, three meters tall and covered with hair.  You're ready for anything and kind of hoping you'll find it.  Which is exactly what is dangerous about it.

Such folly took away Trayvon Martin's life, and destroyed George Zimmerman's.  There's a reason police officers receive intensive training—and even so they occasionally make fatal mistakes when threatened.  That our young friend was merely abused, rather than shot, may have had less to do with his not being black than with being accosted by a real sheriff's deputy rather than a wannabe.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Edit
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We are the Folk Song Army
Everyone of us cares.
We all hate poverty, war and injustice,
Unlike the rest of you squares.
(Tom Lehrer, 1965 or earlier)

With all the publicity given to the Kony 2012 social media campaign, this looks like a good time to bring back Tom Lehrer's wonderful Folk Song Army. (Brief, mild, visual grandchild warning at the very beginning.)

Seriously, there is good reason to worry that this popular campaign will do more harm than good.  As this Guardian article explains,

There is no question that the LRA has been one of the most horrifying armed forces in the past half century. But while the video urges spreading the word, signing a pledge, buying an action kit of Kony 2012 bracelets and posters, and of course donating to [advocacy group] Invisible Children, it's hard to understand how this will aid the current slow chase of Kony and his forces through some of the most intractable terrain in the world.

US military advisers have been helping the Ugandan army track the LRA since October, and Invisible Children wants to keep pressure on the US to maintain or improve that assistance. But as there has not been a whisper of possibly withdrawing this support, raising it as the reason for urgency seems slightly odd.


The arc of the video tells you that before, no one cared but, thanks to technology and Invisible Children, everyone can now take the necessary action to earn Kony the infamy and arrest or death he deserves.

But since Invisible Children as an organisation began with a few north Americans stumbling into a conflict they didn't know existed and then resolving to help the child victims by making a movie, the base level of great white saviourdom is already high. Implying that finally now, by getting the word out about Kony via celebrities, bracelets and social media, can the LRA be ended plays into this narrative of white rescuers coming to help poor Africans and totally ignores the efforts, good and bad, by Ugandans to fight the LRA for 25 years. I belong to a discussion group of hundreds of Ugandan journalists, and so far only one has been willing to stand up and say this campaign is a good thing (and mainly because it might help more people find Uganda on a map). Nearly everyone else finds Kony 2012 self-aggrandising, patronising and oversimplified.

Remember the war against Franco,
That's the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs!

So join in the Folk Song Army,
Guitars are the weapons we bring
To the fight against poverty, war, and injustice.
Ready, aim, sing!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 9, 2012 at 8:56 am | Edit
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Way to make everyone mad, Susan G. Koman folks.  Either make a decision, or don't.  If you're thinking about an action as inflammatory as appearing to attack an American idol like Planned Parenthood, be sure you have the guts to stick it out—or don't even start.

Frankly, it never occurred to me that you would be taking money donated to help find a cure for breast cancer and giving it to such a controversial organization.  Now I know that for me to support Susan G. Koman for the Cure makes about as much sense as for a PETA member to invest in Big Meat.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Edit
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