Why should We, the people elect highly trained lawyers, usually among the best in their profession, to be judges if we are going to tie their hands with mandatory minimum sentences for any kind of activity We deem illegal? If the defendant pleads not guilty, a jury has the primary responsibility for determining the verdict – a judge’s primary responsibilities are keeping order in the court, instructing the jury on the law, and on sentencing. As long as minimum sentences are in place, I support commutation of every non-violent drug sentence, until sentencing guidance is back in the democratically-elected hands of our judges. In the power-struggle between statutory and judicial sentencing, we see again the tendency of legislatures to become regulation-mills, churning out laws year after year, until there are so many laws that no agency in government could possibly know or enforce them all, and thus all government agents will possess the very un-democratic power of deciding which laws to enforce. We reserve legal judgment to our judges, who are trained in legal principles, and charge enforcement agents only with apprehension powers. Law needs to be based on principles, not prescriptions, and it’s about time our legislatures started seeing their jobs as identifiers and coders of those principles which reflect justice, and ensurers of statutory adherence to those principles. When legislatures try to write a statute for every little instance of perceived injustice, the aforementioned proliferation of unenforceable rules combined with the certainty that some of those laws will be based on rank politics rather than justice, undermines not only justice itself, but popular confidence in Our justice system.
Until political parties are relegated to their appropriate secondary roles in our political system, I’ll remain staunchly anti-partisan. Right now, electing a candidate to high office puts the political party she or he affiliates with into a position of power within that electoral region, and the balance of political power between the two parties that have won the vast majority of electoral posts since the American Civil War determines way too much about how political power can be exercised in our system in general, or by any particular official, depending on her/his affiliation.
Political parties should be ideological lobbies; they should endorse candidates and exert their political wills however they legally may, but it should be illegal for them to control primary elections, and for candidates for office to affiliate with them. Just as it would be unacceptable for a candidate to be affiliated with, say, a meat-industry lobby, or a bank, or any particular business or organization. The power to govern us that we delegate to office-holders is too precious for us to allow such affiliations – they make politicians beholden to less than the whole nation, and the natural trend will be for these parties to work to consolidate their king-making power, to collude to exclude smaller competing interests, and to polarize our communities into unbending ideological zombies.
Right! Many people have seen this clearly enough, but have misdiagnosed the causes, and many are still feeling their way toward some kind of diagnosis. One problem is that our economic language still doesn’t have the subtlety or precision to speak intelligently enough about it yet. Mandela had a gift of cutting through a lack like that to the broad, simple strokes everyone could understand.
The flip side of Mandela’s observation here is that the fight to eliminate poverty can be impeded by human beings, though it is typical of him that he stated the more positive form. As we ask ourselves what are the human motivations to perpetuate poverty, after casting about for the villains and scoundrels who must be to blame, we would do well to remember that the capitalists are mere boogy men, the bankers and lawyers and politicians and military-industrialist-media moguls and CEOs and such are mere symptoms of the disease within us all.
Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear me-e, Happy Birthday to me!
All last year I told people that I was born in ’57, so that makes me 57. I still feel 57 (no different from yesterday), but because I’ve now begun my 59th year, people commonly reckon that I am 58. I have never been terribly impressed with the importance of birthdays since I reached adulthood – there was a time a couple decades ago when I actually would forget my exact age – but it does provide a socially acceptable excuse for a little partying. Perhaps, at this advanced stage, it will provide the excuse for a little reflection, as well.
Like everyone else who has survived almost six decades on the planet, I have a large store of past experiences on which to reflect, but what does impress me with its importance is some of the things I’ve experienced relatively recently. Hard times seem to be especially memorable, and from what I’ve read, also especially publishable. People seem more interested in reading about hard times – maybe they’re looking to find ways to avoid hard times themselves, or maybe such tales are just more exciting. We had a sickening downturn in the economy six years ago, but as hard times go in this world, I haven’t really had any. Being nearly cut in half in a freight elevator accident forty two years ago was probably the hardest, but I had a family who loved and supported me, and a well-fed teenaged body that healed quickly and well; we were middle class Americans, too, and that made all the difference.
Middle class America is now under siege and nearly defeated. Defeat in this case means that we will have lost the fight to make America the most open and inclusive society possible. The Laws of Nature say that the strongest survive to reproduce, and the weak suffer torments and die without issue; humans have discovered, and amply demonstrated that with ingenuity, the Laws of Nature can be overridden. We override those Laws at great risk, because when Nature hands out her corrections, the consequences can be dire, but we override them anyway, because that is Nature’s gift to us: we evolved to have the compassion and ingenuity to reverse the courses of mighty rivers – even the river of Life itself.
All this high-flown rhetoric may be abstract, but that is part of our gift; the ability to abstract the general rule from many, or even a few, examples gives us the basis for our reasoning, and the ability to use abstract symbols such as words and numbers lets us communicate our reasoning to others. I reason that a grasping and materially-besotted overclass has grasped the reins of power in the developed world, and seeks to enslave all of humanity to perpetuate its power, and to promote the Doctrine of Eternal Consumption that is already beginning to bring our tubercular society gasping to its knees. That is normal and natural; they are the strongest, have the strongest drive to survive and feather their nests. It is also normal and natural that more compassionate and more reasonable people will oppose that natural tendency, and insist that we look at where we are all going, and see if we can’t figure out a more sustainable way to let more people share in the fruits of our common labor more equitably. I have seen that spirit relatively recently in the Arab Spring, Spanish Indignacio, Occupy Wall Street, Greek anti-austerity, and Move To Amend movements, and I am impressed – these are the movements that hold the hope that freedom will not wither in the face of greed and power-lust. They are the gifts of the more compassionate and reasonable among us, and since it is my birthday, I accept these gifts.
I’m glad to have lived as long as I have, and to have seen these movements and participated to whatever small degree in furthering their aims.
Things ain’t right today, and they have probably never been right – life is a gift, but there are major strings attached! If you were born into a very wealthy family, you might not benefit from this site; it is dedicated to cutting some of those “strings” attached to life.
I’d like to begin with this song I wrote in 1992:
Hey, anyone can see things ain’t right today
the problem is that everybody sees it their own way
you think it’s black and white, but I see it in living color
you think you’re living right while other folks are living in squalor
and it ain’t just ’round the world, it’s right in your city
if you don’t give a shit, man, your attitude is shitty
Hey, hey, what can I say?
Everybody wants to live their own way
Ooh, oh, what can I do?
I work hard for my living, why don’t you work hard too?
So that’s what it is, you’re the ant and they’re grasshoppers
while you store up your loot they livin’ large, they be do-woppers
it ain’t your business, just leave it to the coppers
just watch them bustin’ heads on the “crime stoppers”
the only way you know about the world’s reality
is from what the sponsors let you see on your TV
Well, well, you’re giving me hell,
what I can do for you I just can’t tell.
My, my, you want the sky,
don’t tell me all your troubles, you’re making me cry
Didn’t your mama tell you cynics never prosper?
you rig the system to keep power, working at cross-pur-
poses to the laws to spread the working people’s wealth
and the programs to guard the old folks health
which is kind of like saying if we’re good then just maybe
you’ll let us help each other – well, fuck that shit baby
it ain’t about tossing folks another welfare crust, just
want our promised legacy, some liberty and justice
you can’t say folks are free when you’re sticking them in jail
for smoking things that you don’t like, and setting a high bail
while the prosecutor lights up his cancer-stick so prissy
and the judge slips back to his chambers for another shot of whiskey