Aug 20, 2014

Stop the Militarization of Law Enforcement and the Brutalization of our Society.

There's a saying, the treatment or medicine should not be worse than the disease. We don't have to go to extremes to find safety and establish a decent, pluralistic, open, democratic society. We don't need to carry guns everywhere to guard against someone who's armed with bad intent. We don't need to be locked up, or locked down to be secure. The safety of the solitary confinement is undesirable. 

America the home of the brave should not be a militarized zone. America the land of the free should allow free speech even if it's part of a demonstration. Yes, liberal democracy can be inconvenient at times. It's the price we pay for such. Same with free speech--you will be offended; you will be exposed to stuff you don't like, you don't agree with, or even to hate speech. But, there are huge advantages to a liberal society...

The following video contains graphic violence. The police shot dead a man who's apparently distraught. What makes it appalling is that the police first lied about what actually happened, and secondly they were very trigger happy. This is what I call very excessive violence that many police are prone to. This must change. We should not allow our society to be militarized and brutalized!

As far as the recent events whereas the police have shot or mistreated people that led to protests, there's a justified outrage. I want to believe that most police are decent human beings, but there are many who are just tools; many that need lots of training--in sensitivity and skills. These law enforcement tools need to be taught that their job is protecting the public, our institutions, people's liberties, and our civil rights. They're hired to do a job that does not include combat duty. They should be dressed for the job they have not the job they may want. What's up with the military camo outfits? This is not the jungle or the desert! This is not warfare. Isolate the violent elements and deal with them appropriately, like police do in any country that wants to be civil and democratic.

What's up with the tanks, mine-resistant vehicles, machine guns, snipers, and use of brutal often lethal force? It's abhorrent. I resent going to a block party, a county fair, 4th of July fireworks, and other public event only to be greeted by military police with all sorts of heavy equipment. Why small peaceful towns all over the country that have a few dozen police officers need SWAT teams and military equipment? The Homeland Security Dpt [by the way, what an awful name this is] was the creation of a hysterical nation, a belligerent neocon administration and a immature Congress. I doubt more than a handful of people actually read the Patriot Act which was voted and signed summarily into law.

When a person is being watched and loses a sense of privacy, he is changed; he does not behave as a free person. When people demonstrate and are treated like criminals by law enforcement, democracy suffers. When the whole society is militarized and brutalized civil liberties/rights wither.

I was asked by a reporter recently to comment on the events in St Luis. I reiterated the points I'm making here in this post, plus I added that many people don't seem to separate events. Robbing a store is a thuggish act, a criminal behavior, but as long as it's no life-threatening there is not need to use lethal force to a) protect or recover property and b) to stop the perp by killing them.  Apparently the idiotic leaders in MO thought that by releasing a video of a person stealing stuff from a convenience store makes it easier to pull the trigger! Watch the video above, from another recent incident, and tell me why the trigger-happy police had to kill that person.

I also don't approve of the looting. Undoubtedly there are some individuals who thrive in mayhem and exhibit unlawful if not violent behavior. Some find the opportunity to personally profit. But, I can understand the rage when confronted by military force or brutalized by the police. I've seen it and experienced it first hand during the Occupy movement. There's no shortage of tools, poorly trained, and/or psychologically unfit law enforcement that sadly are allowed to do what they want not what their job is. This has to stop now.


Aug 12, 2014

Religion Guides Conflict in the Middle East. Solutions are Better Achieved when Religion is Put Aside!

Why people take important actions or why they choose to believe certain myths is fascinating to me. Often it's not about evidence and reason, but it's about culture, purpose, and wishful thinking. If it were about reason and ascertainable facts, there would be lots more consensus on reality!

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about the role of religion in the many conflicts in the Middle East. I argue that religious beliefs dictate to a great extent what's been happening there. This is not to say that there aren't other causes and factors, but if the participants were not religious, I bet they'd behave much differently. There wouldn't be a Jewish state or dreams of a caliphate or that God clearly has taken sides in the conflict and rewards his believers. 

More traditional societies are more affected by religion. Modern states, especially the ones that have adopted liberalism, have been increasingly separating church-state; not so the regimes in the Middle East, though Israel is the only state that has strong elements of a secular democracy. Unfortunately, the Israeli government caters too much to the conservative Orthodox, who are motivated by strong religious dogmas. But, the vast majority of Jews don't take their Bible too literally. Like most Xtians have already done so. It would be reprehensible, and immoral--according to our modern sensibilities--to act as the Bible prescribes, especially in the Old Testament. Apparently many Muslims are still very fundamentalists and are in favor of theocracy.

As to the latest conflict, there's no easy or agreeable timeline of responsibility. Several peoples live in small contested land for thousands of years. The Balkans used to be like this, but it was easier to form countries with fixed borders. There were wars, exchange of populations, genocides, and religious conflict. But also there was more room to move and adjust the borders. Palestinians, Jews, and Christians all lay claim to this relatively small parcel of land in the Middle East.  Hamas began to fire rockets into Israeli civilian territory a few weeks ago. We have to ask, why did Hamas do so and what did they hope to achieve?

Those rockets couldn't seriously hurt Israel but certainly did provoke a violent reaction. Hamas knew that lots of innocent Palestinians would die if Israel retaliated--which it did. Are we closer to a solution today? I wonder. I am not excusing Israel's heavy hand, before and during the war. Let's say, however, that Hamas was in charge--with a big military force--and there was a Jewish minority. I don't think it'd take much guessing as to how Hamas would deal with the problem. 

I took the trouble to pour through Hamas' Chapter (Covenant). There isn't one paragraph that doesn't mention religion. The whole point of it is to eradicate the Jewish population from Palestine and establish a strict theocracy! A few days ago, NPR had a story about a young Hamas fighter who was killed. His mother kept saying “praise God” and that her son asked her to “pray for him” (before any mission). He had saved a few thousands of dollars “to get a bride” and if he was killed before that he asked his mother to spend the money on a hadj to Mecca! Praise God. This is a motivating factor for so many people. If they’re convinced that God is on their side and they’re going to heaven, especially as martyrs, even if it means killing infidels or fellow Muslims who don't have the correct version of God….

ISIS--the fanatics from Syria who have spread in Iraq is a prime example of religious lunacy. ISIS' public executions, the practice of a barbaric understanding of religion, and the fanaticism of its fighters is so extreme that even Al Qaeda rejected them. ISIS rose because those crazies are well armed, and financed, so such people tend to do well against corrupt, inefficient states, armies, etc.  If ISIS were smarter, they should copy Hezbollah, go into territories and instead of absolute terror they would improve the lives of citizens by providing needed services the Syrian or Iraqi state hadn’t. Now the US is using air strikes to push them back.

There are stark differences between those who recognize no limits to their armed struggle--anything goes at any price--and those who have the power but recognize restraints. For me at least this is important. Furthermore, I do not like theocracies of any kind. Humanity deserves better. Like I. Kant said sometime ago, this can be an age of enlightenment.... but only if we want it, because we choose to leave our immaturity behind.