Thursday, February 25, 2016

Two Degrees of Emancipation Between You and a Jail Cell

Emancipation: the fact or process of being set free from legal, social, or political restrictions; liberation:
You, and every citizen in the “freest nation on earth” are two steps away from a jail cell.
No, I’m not engaging in hyperbole, you have two degrees of emancipation from the penal justice system. It’s true. It is an indisputable fact, and I can prove it.
You see, somehow we have gotten to the point that every….single….facet of American’s lives is regulated by one level of government, or more. Not only that, but transgressing any of their regulations can land you in cuffs.
You cannot even use a toilet in this country, without the toilet, the pipes, the water, the plumber, the floor it’s set on, the walls beside it, the roof over it, being regulated.
And God forbid you decide to go outside of an approved receptacle and get caught, you could end up on the sex offenders list, for life!
So, how does that equate to two degrees of emancipation? After all, they can’t throw you in jail for having an illegal toilet, or can they? This is where it gets interesting.
It has always been true, for most of my life that all facets of life were connected, however loosely, to the government’s approval of what I do.
So, what do I mean about being two steps away from a jail cell? Let me share a story. I was in a little town in Oklahoma about 10 pm a few years back. When I came into town, I hit their speed trap and got dinged for under 10 over.
So, I wrote a check and I put it in the mail, via their instructions on the back of the citation. And, I thought, reasonably, that it was over and forgot about it.
Fast forward eight months, Edmond Oklahoma at a stoplight. There was a bit of gravel on the street and as I stopped, my tires scratched, just the teeniest bit, causing my tire to roll just a bit into the crosswalk. Since I saw a cop catty corner from me, I checked my mirror and rolled back just a bit, thinking nothing.
A few seconds later, the same cop has circled back and pulled me over because he saw me roll over the stop line, and he’s only going to give me a warning. Takes my license. Five minutes later, he’s unsnapping his holster and asking me to put my hands on the car.
One speeding ticket on a clean record, Plus, One missed court date that I received no notice from the little town about, Plus, No criminal record, equals a trip to the city jail and additional fines totaling $850, including an impound of my car, although I was gone from it for less than an hour total.
So, what made it happen? A little bit of magic called “Contempt of court”.
An almost knee jerk reaction to my not knowing I was supposed to be there, and a “suspended license”, also automatic, also without notification. Had I not been able to pay my fines, and my warrant fee, they could have kept me. By the time I was extradited to the small town to see their judge it could have been days.
And this can happen for ANYTHING, literally. Parking tickets, dog tickets, an unpaid home inspection violation fine, a delayed payment for a fine for leaving your trashcan at the curb, the list goes on.
So, you say, these are nuisances, don’t engage in antisocial behavior and it won’t be a problem. Right?
Unless you live in Oklahoma and decide to:
All of these are actual laws in the state of Oklahoma, which you can be directly jailed for, or fined, then jailed if you miss court.
The United States of America has the largest percentage of citizens behind bars of any nation on earth. Although we have less than 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Not only that but it has become an industry!
Prisons can be privately owned, and in some states, they can have contracts with the department of corrections that mandate a specific number of filled beds, or huge fines to be paid by the state for not finding enough prisoners to keep the beds filled.
Prisoners are often hired out for labor and paid a small fraction of the wages they should receive, far below minimum wage, meanwhile, their prison overlords reap the profits. Oh, boo hoo, you say? Too bad, don’t break the law?
Well, in case the list above is not enough to make you question if they all belong there, this might. Of all the convicted felons in prison in the US, over 95% of them never went to trial.
That’s right! over 9 out of 10 convicted felons were convicted on a plea bargain and never stood in front of a jury. Many times it was all determined by one man or woman, not even a judge.
Why does this matter?
It matters because our legal system is based on the age old principle of the presumption of innocence. The burden of proof lies with the state. It’s hard to prove in a court of law, that a person has committed a crime, beyond a reasonable doubt.
So, prosecutors, knowing this, quote the stats of how many convictions they have earned, versus exonerations. They scare prisoners by telling them, they are virtually assured to be convicted and sent to prison for the maximum sentence.
But, only those cases that are assured “slam dunks” are ever allowed to go to trial. They will offer immunity, if they believe the prisoner is innocent, or not a danger, they will offer a reduced sentence if they think they can get it.
So prisoners are agreeing to plead guilty based on a small number of easy to win cases!
When placed in front of a jury, the accused has the chance to tell their own story. The jury has a chance to determine if the police, the prosecutor and the system have done their job. There is a great deal of accountability in it.
By shortcutting this process in the vast majority of our criminal cases, we allow the “justice system” to essentially run unchecked. Juries are not just for determining guilt or innocence, they force the system to operate by the rules.
So, that’s why it matters that you are two steps away from a jail cell at nearly every moment of every day.
And, actually, it is worse than that. In most states, the arresting officer has, as their sole discretion, the determination of what constitutes “resisting arrest”. You can literally be charged with this crime for ANY reason they determine worthwhile.
So, what can we do about it? There’s a lot, actually. We can volunteer for jury duty. We can educate our fellow citizens to the problem. We can help change laws. We can wake people up.
Want to learn something cool? Research a concept called jury nullification!
Juries can vote not to convict when they believe a law is unjust, which in turn sets legal precedence and can work to fight unjust laws. So, there is a lot of good that comes out of the jury system that we are currently missing in our society.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bringing a Dictionary to a Gunfight

There’s been something bugging me for a bit. It seems these days that our world is more malleable than it used to be. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. For instance,  the gender roles that have been etched in stone since time began are not as useful as they once were. Notice, I say gender, not sex. I speak of the idea that a family where mom wins bread and dad keeps house is somehow upside down. 

But, beyond that, there is an idea that all concepts are fluid and able to be redefined to meet the current situation. This makes me crazy. Yes, you can believe what you want to believe in each given situation. That’s your prerogative. I don’t like labels, so I tend to side with a variety of groups depending on the cause, I get that.  But, when it comes to describing these actions, it seems that too many are ready to throw out the dictionary! Here’s what I mean.
I have had several conversations lately where a person wanted to peg me as belonging to one group or another, but when a perfectly accurate term is used to describe their own stated position, they balk. Turns out the term that describes them has baggage they don’t want to carry, so instead of either finding a new term, or changing their position to one that is more palatable to their sensitivity, they inform me that I can no longer apply the traditional definition of the word. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

I'm Baaack! Some of You May Not Like It!

I have been battling the urge to return to this blog regularly for a long time. I think it’s time. Not because I think anything I have to say is terribly unique, there are others out here that feel as I do and can probably even say it better, but the voice of liberty bears repeating. It needs to be repeated as many times, and as often and as loudly as possible, especially when it is resisted in the way it is right now!

So, I am going to be throwing my thoughts out here with a few simple goals in mind, so if you want to judge my work, use whatever standard suits you, but here is what I am trying to achieve.
1.       Clarify my own thoughts and sometimes the best way for me to do that is to type them out and read them. May sound weird to you, but that’s how it works for me. I often don’t really know how I feel or think on an issue until I talk about it.
2.       Fight the decline of freedom. We are in a period that history teaches us could be the prelude to a very dark period. We are swinging into a totalitarian mentality. For the past 240 years, America has still maintained some semblance of peace for most of its citizens, but that may not be true very soon.
3.       To learn more, and please correct me when I’m wrong. Not, in that superior way that people with shallow knowledge do, but as one wisdom seeker to another, when you think you see a clearer path, share it with me.
4.       To hopefully wake up more people. I have been in a sleep walking state myself most of my adult life, engaged in artistic endeavors and attempting to ignore the political and social realm, except to comment on them from the safety of a theatrical director’s chair.
5.       To forward an agenda. What is my agenda? I am fighting for an open government. No, that is not the final solution, but transparency is what will bring about change. People have to be confronted with what is actually going on in ways they cannot deny before they start to get it.
To that end, I’m going to be sharing a ton of stuff in the near future. Yeah, you won’t agree with all of it. I don’t care, except in that you engage in the debate. You tell me what you think. Think I’m wrong as I can be? Great! Let’s talk about it, and when you prove to me that I was wrong, then I’ll write about that! The TRUTH is what matters to me, not anyone system, or team, or feelings. I want to live in a world with optimum government, whatever that ends up looking like, and I can see  a few things that it doesn’t and I am going to attack those.
What you won’t see here is me pulling punches. Too much false “civility” being paraded in politics today. If I think someone is a coward, or a thief, or a liar,  I’ll say it. I’ll say it, or to their face. I am not an idolater, so what you think of me when I speak the truth may hurt, but I’m not interested in protecting anyone’s public persona of they are dirty. Period.
As I continue with my political writing projects with other activists and grassroots groups, I am learning more and more every day and it’s just simply time for me to voice my own opinions. In short order you will either laugh every time my name is mentioned, or you’ll be angry. I’m not looking for middle ground. We have compromised and accepted less than the best for 240 years! Time for a Change!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Both Sides of Our Political Debate Could Use a Timeout

Guns. Weapons, arms, whatever term I choose, most of you had a reaction to that first word. Some of you thought, “hell yeah!”, while some of you thought, “We need to do something about them.” So, what is the answer here? Most of us think we know. We are probably convinced that either, nothing needs to be done, in fact more people need to own them, while others believe there should be fewer owned under tighter restrictions. 

Meanwhile, the debate over this issue caused gun company stocks to peak, even as Obama’s speech was broadcast to the nation. There is a divide between us. There are few that have a third opinion, but I would like to discuss this in a reasonable tone and share some thoughts I have had, so please, don’t take this post and turn it into a flame war. Be civil. Express ideas in clear, less than obscene English and let people decide. Whatever your view point, I hope you agree that all humans deserve the sanctity of their own thoughts and should not be judged based on thoughts, but deeds.
Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
This piece of legislation, known as the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, has been hotly contested in recent years, and to a lesser extent, throughout our history, especially since the last half of the twentieth century. To many, it represents a clear edict preventing congress from interfering with their rights to own weaponry privately. Others view the context of militia service as essential and would rather not have private gun ownership.
Then, there’s the debate over what arms should be included. Most sane individuals would prefer their neighbors not be allowed to hold nuclear arms, for example, but might argue in favor of nearly everything up to a heavy tank. Others feel strongly that capacity, range, velocity, rate of fire and other factors should be clearly legislated and restricted.
Here is my own take on this
I’ll keep it brief. From my own reading of history, I find it incredible that we not understand that a part of what was intended by this amendment was the right to protect one’s self from enemies foreign and domestic, including, if need be, one’s own government. After all, these men had just witnessed a bloody war to set their fellow countrymen free from a tyrannical government, and restrictions on arms had played a part in it on several occasions.
I also happen to believe in the sanctity of all human life. This does not mean I believe that self-defense is never an adequate defense for the taking of life, I do. There are times when it is necessary, or at the least, expedient. In my own life, I will strive to find other means, whenever possible, to deal with situations, rather than resorting to physical force, or violence of any kind, whether involving guns or not. This is my choice and I believe reasonable people agree with me that the taking of human life should never be a first resort. I stand by the principle of non-aggression, to the best of my understanding of it.
I believe we were intended to have the right to own personal armaments
I think the right to self-defense is an inherent human right, that ought not be abridged. I believe that the American Constitution speaks to this and prohibits congress from passing laws to prevent the keeping of arms and that the states have a responsibility to ensure this right is protected as well.
That being said, there are things that I do not agree with
1.       Many, primarily on the political right, seem to take this as a right that should be paraded and taken for granted. I do not think that it should be taken lightly, or made a joke. I think the ability to take human life represented by gun ownership should be taken seriously. I think it is a heavy responsibility that requires thought and careful consideration for each person.
2.       Many, primarily on the political left, seem to think that a gun, in and of itself, represents the worst kind of evil to be found in human society. They act as if the mere presence of the weapon puts them at great personal risk. They have an unhealthy fear that mirrors the lack of respect often shown from the right, in opposite terms.
3.       There is a context expressed in the constitution, and even during the revolution, weapons for militia use were often restricted and kept in an armory. It was common for towns to have rules regarding the use and carrying of guns. Several western towns, Dodge City Kansas, most notably, were famous for “check your guns at the door” laws that prevented the open carrying of firearms to reduce public friction. To pretend that everyone was willy nilly in favor of personal arsenals being toted through the grocery store in times gone by is incorrect.
4.       I personally do not trust the federal government to make decisions about who should and should not be armed. I think they very likely have ulterior motives for restricting the purchase, ownership and use of arms. They have proven, on regular occasions to not have the best interest of their citizens at heart, and to not be good judges of character, or even men and women of high moral character themselves.
5.       Violence begets violence and approaching this as something to be shoved in anyone’s face on either side is a less than thoughtful approach which is likely to end poorly for all of us. Gun owners should be the first to admit that a firearm is a weighty responsibility and that there is a lot of inherent risk in the handling of them. That being said, gun control supporters should probably take the time to become more familiar with the thing they claim to fight against. They can be handled responsibly and when used correctly are a tremendous deterrent to violence, or the escalation of violence.
6.       Any time one side of argument (the fed and our local and state police forces) wants to increase its own armament, while reducing the armament of those that they might be called to use their armament against, it should give us pause. In recent years, we have started a very public debate about police violence, which appears to be escalating. While I would hate to see it escalated further, at the time when a potential enemy is arming themselves, is not the time to reduce your own defenses.
7.       We cannot continue to ignore the fact that the constitution’s power has been eroded. Now, I am not one who thinks that this document provides a magic barrier to protect all liberties. It does not. It is simply an agreement, signed by men who are long dead and gone. It has served us well in many ways and failed us in others. It is not perfect. But, it is the foundation of our legal and political systems. It has stood as the final arbiter of disputes between government and people for over 200 years and as such, it needs to be respected and used properly. If we want our society to look different than it does, or has, that can be done, and done legitimately, but it needs to be done calmly, by cool heads. Simply piling unconstitutional laws and precedents on top of things, until the truth is obfuscated is not the answer, for either side.
I do not know the answer
I, like all of you, want myself, my family and my friends to live safely in a world where violence is rare. I would love to never open my browser to find that the world has been tipped on its axis by someone with guns again, especially when children are involved.
If I believed that ridding the world of guns could achieve this, I would be the first to support it. I am no fan of violence and I abhor much of what my government does in my name, for my supposed safety. If I thought we could rid the world of all weapons tomorrow that would be glorious. I don’t.
Even if it were possible to remove all of the guns from the world, I don’t think legislation could ever make it happen.
We have a serious lack of understanding regarding the nature of laws
Laws are not barriers to behavior, at all. They can serve to deter those inclined to heed them. They are better than allowing despots total control with no standard. They provide some basis of understanding between people of reason that want to live in peace. In our country, they are also supposed to provide some barriers between government regulation and the liberty of the people. As my Grandfather once told me, “Locks just keep honest people honest.” In other words, those inclined to harm, or defraud others will do so, regardless of the law.
No law provides a shield from harm. It can provide for security measures, one of which is self-defense through use of arms. It can provide a system for determining guilt or innocence and a framework for punishing those that choose to transgress them. But a law can never prevent an act, or make the repercussions of that act disappear, and they only have the force we give them by our adherence to them.
As we move into a more and more regulated society, we move away from the liberty provided to original Americans. As each piece of our personal freedom is eroded, it is added to the growing power of a state that becomes more and more distant from its people. In this setting, when so many laws are present, all of our laws lose efficacy by the simple fact that they cannot all be enforced equally all of the time.
We should be careful of reducing each other’s freedoms
With every restriction we place on another human life, we restrict ourselves in that same measure and give just a bit more of autonomy to the state. Even when we seek to do something good, such as slowing or ending violence (something I think everyone agrees is a good thing) we can have unintended consequences.
Even something as simple as jailing even one single person places a restriction on at least one other, who must now spend their time enforcing that incarceration and is not available to contribute in our community in the same way they might have if the law were never transgressed. As we make choices about what restrictions we are willing to accept and which are too onerous, we should be careful in our responses to each other.
With every instance of anger over taking our better selves and producing rage, we reinforce habits that all of us can recognize as harmful, until our nature changes to one of hate and distrust for those we disagree with. This can happen even when our motives are pure. By escalating every conversation to the point of conflict, we create a culture of distrust and hatred, of intolerance and cruelty that leads us to not just disagree, but to genuinely not care about anyone else’s point of view.
We are at a tipping point in our history
It is up to us what happens next. None of what we have done is irreconcilable, but that may not always be the case. If you read accounts of what led up to the revolution, or the civil war, it is easy to draw parallels to the years prior to military violence erupting and today. Tensions are high. History shows that one conflict can lead to the unleashing of emotions that cannot be “put back in the bottle” so to speak.
As for me, I can be just an inflammatory as the next guy. I try to aim it at people who primarily agree with me, to show them when they are not taking another’s point of view seriously. But, I am just as guilty of adding fuel to the fire as anyone. In recent days, I have begun to rethink that. I am trying to find ways to challenge lack of understanding while promoting peaceful exchange.
In most cases, we are not that far apart from each other in our understanding of what we ultimately want. We want a world where success is possible, where personal freedom is protected, where life is valued and selfish, abusive excess is rare. This can never happen as long as we see ourselves as two sides of a coin, as diametrically opposed to each other.
We need to look at desired outcomes
Rather than fighting and debating tactics, perhaps if we really started telling the story of the world we want to see, we might be surprised by how much we agree on. Right now, we operate in a very narrow window of possibilities, where oppositional thinking pits us against each other. (if you don’t agree with me, you must agree with them) But, in reality, the ways forward are limitless.
Imagine the world the way you want it to be and try letting go of the way to get there. It’s tough. We all think we know what should happen. But, if we can strive to create the circumstances we want to live in, while allowing others to create theirs, maybe we can find a new way of settling our disagreements. By sharing our dream of the world we want, and finding those common threads, maybe we can all find some ways to work together.
Let’s agree to do this
Let’s try to be kind. Everyone has a hard life. Let’s strive not to escalate conflict, whenever possible. Let’s fight for what we believe in with well-reasoned arguments and proposals of real solutions, instead of political diatribes and platitudes. Let’s think for ourselves and speak from the heart about how we can make the world a better place and let’s agree to listen and really hear someone out, then decide whether we agree or not, rather than bring all of our preconceptions into every single argument. You can always get angry later, but once you have lost your cool, it is often too late to go back.