Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Choosing "Liberal" or "Conservative" Will Never Get Us Anywhere: A Manifesto

The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.”
The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:
“We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake.
The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population.
How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:
  1. Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.
  2. Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  3. Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.
  4. Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.
Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking.
- See more at: http://workerscompass.org/the-democrats-new-fake-populism/#sthash.3tTrQJs0.dpuf
The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.”
The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:
“We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake.
The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population.
How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:
  1. Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.
  2. Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  3. Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.
  4. Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.
Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking.
- See more at: http://workerscompass.org/the-democrats-new-fake-populism/#sthash.3tTrQJs0.dpuf
The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.”
The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:
“We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake.
The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population.
How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:
  1. Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.
  2. Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  3. Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.
  4. Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.
Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking.
- See more at: http://workerscompass.org/the-democrats-new-fake-populism/#sthash.3tTrQJs0.dpuf
The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.”
The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:
“We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake.
The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population.
How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:
  1. Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.
  2. Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  3. Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.
  4. Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.
Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking.
- See more at: http://workerscompass.org/the-democrats-new-fake-populism/#sthash.3tTrQJs0.dpuf
Portland has always given me a weird vibe.

When my wife and I set our sights on the Pacific Northwest, we thought we'd focus on Portland. We'd heard terrific things about it, especially in terms of its green consciousness. But first impressions are hard to shake, and some of the first things we saw were seedy neighborhoods with strip clubs galore and bars on the windows, kids urinating on lawns right in front of everybody, and some very aggressive homeless people.

Now, I have a lot of sympathy for the homeless, and I'll always go out of my way to hand someone my spare change when other people are walking right on by. But to have a young guy walk out in front of you on the sidewalk and thrust his arm in your face so you can read his tattoo about wanting beer money ... well, that's in a league all its own. I'll help people genuinely down on their luck, but if you're admitting to me that all you want is a free beer out of me, you're going to have to keep looking.

We ended up moving to the Seattle area, and I hadn't been back to Portland since that first visit. But a few months back, I decided to visit Portland State University to attend a conference on the Cascadia movement. And when I got there, I saw proof that some things never change, as there was a guy camping out on the sidewalk, smoking a joint, and holding a sign asking for "pot money."

Oh, boy. Here we go again, right?

Well, the conference would at least be a good thing. I was excited about the Cascadia movement since I first heard about it, and I was eager to meet some other people who had an interest in it. Turns out most of them were far-left green activists, which in itself wasn't a big deal. But then, in our opening ceremony, one of the organizers made a point of emphasizing that our gathering was meant to be a "safer space," and that "oppressive speech" would not be allowed or tolerated at the conference, and if anyone used such language, they would be asked to leave.

What? "Safer space"? "Oppressive speech"? What does that even mean? I didn't feel comfortable asking, since everyone else either remained silent or solemnly nodded in agreement. So that made me feel like a bit of an oddball. Clearly, I didn't speak the political language of this particular group.

I sat through several talks that focused more on the history of bioregionalism, indigenous rights, and strategies for defending the ecosystem than on anything specific to Cascadia. The subject matter was more macro than micro, more about how to set the world right than about how to work toward establishing a free and independent Cascadia, which is where my mindset was.

So I didn't really learn much about the movement, except that it didn't seem to have a unifying message of any kind. That left me disappointed. And then we got to one of the last talks of the day, when it was revealed that one indigenous panelist was disinvited from speaking at the conference, apparently because he writes for an anarchist website that promotes the concepts of "anarcho-pluralism" and "pan-secessionism" and happens to include white nationalist organizations in its discussion of groups that could splinter off and form their own regions in such a system. It seems to be not so much advocacy of such views as the simple acknowledgment that people with such views exist, and that they have a right to go off and do their own thing just like everyone else, so long as they do it peacefully.

Apparently, the pressure to disinvite this speaker came from a local group called Rose City Antifa. As in anti-fascist.

I'll let you sit and enjoy for a moment the irony of an anti-fascist group that demands someone not be allowed to speak -- especially when the target of their campaign was not a white supremacist, but an indigenous man who had come to speak about tribal rights. But he had the bad fortune of writing for a website this Antifa group doesn't like. Guilt by association if I've ever seen it.

I went home a bit disillusioned by the whole thing, especially after learning that a few of the panelists had considered not speaking at the conference after their colleague was disinvited but ultimately caved in.

There's a stall in the left lane
That seems to be the story of the American Left in a nutshell. One part extreme political rigidity, and one part capitulation when opportunities to challenge the status quo present themselves.

One recent example comes with the growing issue of student-loan debt. The Democrats could show that they're committed to helping young people throw off the crushing debt loads they're leaving college with, as a result of a higher-education system whose tuition costs are spiraling out of control as colleges spend recklessly and bloat their administrative rolls, leaving the kids stuck with the bill. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for a progressive leader to call out the greed and lack of accountability that are causing this problem, put forth proposals to reform higher education, and maybe even forgive outstanding student-loan debts -- or at least allow them to be discharged in bankruptcy. Maybe we could even start diverting our tax dollars away from war and surveillance and subsidize higher education, like other nations do, so that anyone who wanted to go to college could afford it, without taking on massive debt.

But no. Instead, we get the president expanding a program that caps repayment rates at 10% of a person's income. And we get the "progressive firebrand" Elizabeth Warren proposing a bill that would ... allow borrowers to refinance their loans with lower interest rates.

Wow, that's really radical. You show those greedheads, Liz.

Writer Shamus Cook called out the Democrats and the "fake populism" they put on display at a recent conference. Warren was there, and Cook didn't spare any words:
The "new populism" seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of "popular" ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into "populists."    

The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the "radical" populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:

— "We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we're willing to fight for it."

— "We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we're willing to fight for it."

— "We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we're willing to fight for it."

— "We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we're willing to fight for it."
It's true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren's popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations.
Among the notable alternatives Cook proposed for Warren's hollow rhetoric: "Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt."

That would be progressive, populist, radical, whatever you want to call it. But we all see the weak sauce that Warren served up instead.

So why is the Democratic Party so spineless when it comes to real change? Because, as Cook points out, the corporate interests that govern the Democrats just as much as the Republicans fear losing their power over the party. They co-opt the language of truly progressive and populist movements in a cynical effort to keep disgruntled Americans from leaving the party, and then they crush those Americans' hopes when the legislation either never comes or is so watered down as to be meaningless. That's why the Democratic Party is effectively dead as a vehicle for significant social change. Where's the antiwar movement that was so strong under Bush? (Makes you wonder if they were really antiwar or just anti-Bush.) Where's the defense of civil liberties?

In Cook's words:
The populist movement of the late 1800s was a genuine mass movement of workers and farmers, which briefly aligned in an independent political party, the People's Party, also known as the populists.
The populist movement that included strike waves and local rural rebellions had nothing to do with the lifeless politics of the Democratic Party, and threatened the very foundation of American corporate power. The Democrats are keenly aware of this type of real populist "threat," and they are willing to do anything to stop it.

For example, the Occupy movement proved that the Democrats fear real left populism much more than they fear far-right populism. We now know that the Obama administration worked with numerous Democratic Party mayors and governors across the nation to undermine and destroy the Occupy movement through mass arrests, police violence and surveillance. And because Occupy succeeded in changing the national conversation about income inequality, the Democrats were forced to engage with the rhetoric of the movement they dismembered, and now use the plagiarized language as proof of their "populism."
Even the left-wing haven MSNBC, which Bill Clinton once referred to as "our version of Fox," rolls over when it comes to challenging the status quo and taking on truly progressive stances. I always found it funny how the left constantly bashes Fox News for putting a political agenda before the facts when "their Fox" is just as bad when it comes to parroting their preferred party's agenda. I remember firsthand, for example, how quickly Phil Donahue disappeared from MSNBC after he criticized the post-9/11 war effort. 

The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.”
The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:
“We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
“We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we’re willing to fight for it.”
It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake.
The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population.
How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:
  1. Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.
  2. Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  3. Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.
  4. Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.
Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking.
- See more at: http://workerscompass.org/the-democrats-new-fake-populism/#sthash.3tTrQJs0.dpuf
This is why, as I've argued before, it's impossible to work within the system to bring about meaningful political change. The system is too corrupt, too controlled by corporate powers with pockets deep enough to always get what they want. The system, in short, protects its own. If a call for some type of incremental reform reaches a fever pitch, the system merely rewires itself around the new idea, with the end result that nothing changes. Witness the surveillance-reform bill that every civil-liberties groups ended up abandoning because the White House insisted on diluting it into irrelevance. Or a health-reform bill that was hatched in a right-wing think tank and merely added a mandate and cosmetic changes to the existing system, leaving health care expensive and millions still uninsured, while corporate insurance and pharmaceutical interests get richer and richer.

How much less evil is the lesser of two evils?
There will always be those who argue that no matter how bad things are, you still have to support your party, because the "other guy" would be so much worse. Would he, though? Obama has drone-bombed far, far more people and countries than George W. Bush did, resulting in thousands of deaths, and including the bombing of weddings and attacks on rescuers. He's made it legal to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge or trial. He's waged war on whistleblowers (see Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Barrett Brown, and John Kiriakou) and the media (see Abdulelah Shaye, James Risen, James Rosen, and the Associated Press -- and the not-coincidental drop in American press freedom), and he's even taken the unprecedented step of ordering the assassination of American citizens without due process -- including a 16-year-old child. Tell me how that's better than any warmongering, liberty-shredding Republican.

And that's not to mention debacles such as Fast and Furious, the Benghazi incident, and the apparent IRS targeting of conservative groups. It's easy to blame the persistence of stories like these on an obstructionist right wing bent on making the administration look bad, but the fact remains that there are disconcerting issues in each case that have yet to be seriously addressed. And if you don't want to go that route, you can look at how the administration is deliberately harassing legal businesses that it doesn't like, in an attempt to bully them out of business. Or how Obama is largely standing by while his FCC chairman tries to undermine net neutrality, after Obama campaigned on the promise of supporting neutrality. Or there's the growing problem of a for-profit prison system that expects to have a set number of beds occupied, which means there's no effort to reduce prison sentences and every reason to lock more and more people up for the sake of corporate profit.

The prison problem appears to be especially bad when it comes to immigration, where "illegals" who were once simply deported now sit in remote private prisons -- often for months -- while their cases are "processed." A multi-year study found that detainees are beaten, sexually abused, given inedible food to eat, and placed in solitary when there weren't enough beds to go around. All this for coming to America and trying to make a better life.

The United States, the land of the free, has the largest prison population in the world, and many of the people behind bars are there for non-violent drug offenses that carry mandatory sentences.

Granted, this is an institutional problem that's much larger than Obama, but the fact that he's sitting back and doing nothing about it speaks volumes.

"Yeah, but, what about the Supreme Court?" you may ask. What about it? Are we going to vote for lousy people based on whom they might appoint to the court? Good luck with that, considering Obama appointed David Barron, co-author of the memo that gave Obama the legal workaround to assassinate American citizens, to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. That's one step below the Supreme Court. The Senate -- including "progressives" Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders -- confirmed the nomination, and now there's a real danger that a man like Barron, someone openly hostile to our constitutional liberties, could end up sitting on the highest court in the land. And if he ended up there, it would be because Obama gave him a judgeship in the first place.

So, no, there's no evidence that things will ever change for the better by placing your hope in the Democrats. Voting for the lesser evil just gives us more evil, and it also gives the people in power no incentive to change, if they know they'll get automatic votes from people who are so desperate just to block someone else from winning.

Liberal, but not really
I bring all this up because I've been outspoken about popular leftist causes, like addressing income inequality, caring for the homeless, opposing capital punishment, cutting military spending, making secondary education universally affordable, taking health care out of the for-profit realm and guaranteeing coverage for everyone, ending corporate welfare, and closing loopholes that would force both those corporations and wealthy individuals to keep their money onshore and pay their fair share of taxes. I'm also a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I support marriage equality -- not just for same-sex couples, but for any and all configurations of consenting adults. Yet despite all that, I've also said that I don't consider myself a Democrat or a liberal.

What I've mentioned here are some of the reasons why. There are others. But while I always knew I had sharp differences of opinion with the Left, I never imagined how much I'd feel like a fish out of water when I was in their presence.

That's where the Portland experience and the Cascadia conference come into play. They both made it plain as day that I just don't think like these people do, no matter how much I may sympathize with some of their political views.

A few weeks after that conference, I pulled up the website of an anarchist coffee shop here in Seattle, as my wife and I were talking about going there with some acquaintances. One of the things I saw immediately took me back to the Portland meeting: a "Safer Space Agreement."

There was that "safer space" expression again. The coffee shop's statement reads, in part:
  • Words or actions that support oppression are not welcome.
  • Don't be a racist, a sexist, a homophobe or a transphobe.
  • Respect personal boundaries & consent.
  • Don't be a trigger.
Among the things that will get you "86ed for sure" from the shop:
  • Disrepecting consent boundaries.
  • Cooperation with police repression, or bringing police into the cafe.
  • Filming or photographing without consent.
OK, so apparently being a "safer space" means you have to tiptoe around what you say, lest you create an environment of "oppression." Odd that a group of anarchists would try to so strictly regulate what people say. I mean, it's not as if I go out of my way to insult and offend people in the first place, but if anarchism is the embracing of complete personal freedom, then what amounts to a watch-what-you-say speech code would seem to fly in the face of that ideal.

And what's a "trigger," anyway?

Well, that became my next lesson, as we peek in again at Portland and visit the scene of an anarchist conference that took place quite some time after the Cascadia event:

If you have no idea what's going on here, don't feel bad. I had to dig around online to figure out that this demonstration had to do with "calling out" one of the panelists who had written a defense of someone at a previous conference who, as far as I can tell, suggested to a group of feminist activists that maybe they shouldn't let personal attacks on specific members get in the way of the bigger picture of what they're fighting for. That apparently "triggered" a lot of people in attendance, which apparently means that certain words or actions trigger bad memories of abusive situations and therefore make these fragile people flip out, PTSD-style. The article in question also seemed to make the apparently outlandish suggestion that the ideological rigidity that doesn't allow any criticism of the activists' methods is perhaps not a healthy or constructive way of dealing with things. That, somehow, in the minds of these thin-skinned activists, amounted to blaming the victims of "patriarchal oppression" and letting the "oppressors" off the hook.

Naturally, domestic violence is no laughing matter, but it also doesn't seem terribly helpful to squelch a debate about how a group defines, discusses, and treats "victims" and "oppressors," especially when you appear to embrace a totalitarian system of thought that (1) automatically indicts men of any charges leveled against them and (2) fosters a sense of permanent "victim" and "oppressor" roles that neither side can ever hope to transcend. The oppressors will always be oppressors, and the victims will always be victims. Doesn't seem like a very empowering stance for a feminist group to take, unless they'd rather exist in a state of permanent victimhood than actually work toward positive change. But then, what can you really expect from people who so strongly champion identity politics? They'll always pit group versus group, rather than deal with people one-on-one, on an individual basis.

When someone writes an article addressing this unhealthy dynamic among the activists, it seems a bit hypersensitive and over the top, to say the least, to call it an act of "violence" and to shut down another conference because of that writer's presence there. The sad thing is that these people are all supposed to be on the same page when it comes to political ideology, but here's a group of feminists literally shutting down an entire conference because of their disagreement over this one article expressing some legitimate concerns over their tactics. They're eating their own.

The same thing happened again recently in Portland, when an alleged "right-wing blogger" showed up to quietly film a socialist conference that was supposed to critique capitalism. But rather than let the man film, the people at the conference ran to the cops to complain. The cop said the man could stay, so the conference-goers started to taunt and harass the man, before they finally gave up and canceled the gathering, as they walked down the hall chanting about how "harassment is not free speech," apparently oblivious to the irony.

Portland as a mircocosm of the left
Not only does this nonsense reinforce my impression of Portland as being inhabited by a bunch of far-far-far-left extremist crazies, but it also makes me wonder how those on the left can claim to be such noble defenders of tolerance and free speech, when they're the ones who always seem to shut down the free exchange of ideas and ostracize anyone who doesn't display complete ideological allegiance. When is the last time you saw a leftist invoking the spirit of Voltaire -- saying he or she might disagree with someone else's views but would nonetheless defend that person's right to express those views? When was the last time you heard the left complain about campus speech codes? When was the last time a leftist group embraced women or minorities who didn't toe the party line?

You can't remember any of these things, because they don't happen. Racists and gay-marriage opponents are forced to sell their properties (the NBA's Donald Sterling), resign from their jobs (Mozilla's Brendan Eich), or attend "sensitivity training" (the baker in Colorado who said he'd make anything for his gay customers except a wedding cake). Colleges abound with examples of students who complain about words that make them feel "unsafe" or demand "trigger warnings" for their textbooks and classroom environments, or events that celebrate "diversity" but ban whites and non-Democrats from participating, or the rare outspoken conservative student who speaks out against leftist curricular bias and then himself becomes the target of derision from students and faculty alike. And, of course, feminists who claim to embrace all women disparage those with different beliefs as being not "real" women, while blacks who don't follow the leftist script to the letter get smeared as Uncle Toms.

The ongoing effort to remove Rush Limbaugh from the air speaks for itself, as does the left's relentless attacks on all things Fox News. Apparently the concept of simply turning the channel if you don't like something hasn't dawned on them. Or they think it applies only when someone else criticizes something they defend.

I'm not trying to stick up for racists, or people who don't like gays, or even conservatives in general. My point is that if you claim to be tolerant, you need to back it up in your actions. Anybody can be tolerant of people and views they already agree with. No one has to like bigots, but to deny people their livelihoods or their property merely for holding unpopular views goes far beyond any reasonable type of punishment, and you just know that if the tables were turned and a leftist who held a bias against, say, conservative Christians were forced to resign from a job or sell off something he or she owns, the left would be screaming bloody murder, as they would be right to do.

It's also not as if this kind of thing doesn't happen on the right -- just ask the Dixie Chicks. But it doesn't seem to happen with the same widespread consistency that it does on the left. Besides, by claiming the mantle of "tolerance" for itself, the left automatically subjects itself to a higher standard -- and it fails to live up to that standard with shocking frequency.

And I can say with some certainty that no one on the right would ever dream of subjecting somebody to "sensitivity training." The baker in Colorado who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding said that he would have violated his religious beliefs if he had followed through. Never mind that the couple in question could have gone to any number of other bakeries that would have been happy to take their money. Never mind that the owner said he would have sold them anything else they wanted. No, instead the state is forcing him to set his conscience aside and undergo "training" to purge his mind and the minds of his employees of their "incorrect" thoughts. He also has to submit quarterly reports to the state, showing whether he turned away any business, and if so, why.

You shouldn't have to be a conservative Christian to find this type of punishment repugnant. Mental reprogramming at the hands of the state is something you normally hear about in totalitarian societies like China, with its "re-education through labor" camps, or in dystopian novels -- not in a nation that allegedly prides itself on its freedom of expression. Of course, if a Jewish bakery owner is ever asked to cater a neo-Nazi rally and he rightly refuses, I'm sure that will be just fine, and the state won't "train" the owner to become more "sensitive."

Charlie Theron,
African American.
Alfonso Soriano,
not an African American.
Please don't offend me!
Political correctness has gotten so far out of hand that we can't even communicate with each other in a sensible manner anymore. Some of the more ridiculous PC terminology, I've found, focuses on ethnicity or national/regional origin. What precisely is an African American, for example? Charlize Theron, who's about as white as a person can look, was born in South Africa but has since become an American citizen. The New York Yankees' Alfonso Soriano, meanwhile, is a black man who was born in the Dominican Republic and has never become an American citizen. So technically, Charlize Theron is an African American, but Alfonso Soriano is not.

What about "Native American"? The people to whom that designation is supposed to refer are native to a place that they never called America, so it still seems like an awfully Eurocentric term. Besides, anybody born in America is a native American, whether you're white, black, indigenous, or something else. Most indigenous people appear not to use the term, instead using "Indian" or "American Indian" (which are fraught with their own inaccuracies), or preferring to be called by the name of their tribe. Canada seems to have struck the right tone by calling their non-Inuit, non-Métis indigenous people "First Nations," which is exactly what they were.

Native Americans.
The silliest one of all may well be the term "Asian," which is supposed to refer to people from East Asia -- in other words, those we once called "Oriental." You can't just call one subset of Asian people "Asian" when Asia is such a diverse continent. Chinese and Japanese people are Asians, but so are those from India and Saudi Arabia. Even Russians who live east of the Ural Mountains are Asian.

And as we move from ethnicity to holidays, things get even more absurd. Conservatives have complained for years about a "war on Christmas," which I think is overstating the case, but there does indeed seem to be a war against the word itself. Think about all the ads you encounter from mid-November through the end of the year. They'll be filled with Christmas songs and feature kids gathered around the tree opening their gifts, while the voice-over tells you to get and buy your presents for "the holidays." So using the sights and sounds of Christmas is apparently OK, but you can't actually say the word. It doesn't make any difference that the overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas -- around 95%, and including 80% of non-Christians. It also doesn't make any difference that Christmas is the only major year-end holiday in the United States, despite the efforts of PC warriors to turn Hanukkah, historically a minor celebration, into a type of Jewish Christmas.

Moreover, the use of "happy holidays"-type greetings, despite occasional claims to the contrary, has nothing to do with incorporating New Year's Day into one's holiday wishes, because once Christmas is over, everyone simply says "Happy New Year," including the same advertisers that would only say "holiday" up to that point. (And hey, what about those who don't celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1? How offensive to not take their feelings into account!)

No, this is about one thing, and one thing only: Because a tiny minority of Americans celebrate something else besides Christmas, no one can say "Christmas," because it's not "inclusive." Using that logic, since 95% of Americans consume animal flesh but I don't, I guess I should demand that people stop saying the word "meat" in my presence. Sounds stupid, doesn't it? So does the effort to wash the word "Christmas" from everyday discourse.

And of course, we mustn't forget about the recent nonsense about how we need to replace Santa Claus because he's an old, fat white guy. The original Slate article suggested replacing him with a penguin, so that no child of an ethnic minority group will ever again have to be subjected to the horror of seeing a white Santa. Remember that part, because it's important: The author, who was black, said that while the images in her house growing up were of a black Santa, in popular culture he was always the old, fat white guy that most of us think of. We're not talking about the real-life Saint Nicholas on whom the Santa character was based -- the fourth-century Greek bishop who was probably olive-skinned. We're talking about the portly, bearded Caucasian elf in the red suit, a character whose image has cemented itself in our culture, based on illustrations from Thomas Nast, Norman Rockwell, Coca-Cola, and many others. 

Soon afterward, Fox News' Megyn Kelly weighed in on the Slate article, laughing at the politically correct absurdity of the whole thing as she simply stated that the facts are what they are, and what we all know they are: The popular depiction of the Santa Claus character that's become part of our culture and tradition is, indeed, a white guy, and it's absurd to reject the character solely on that basis.

The media and pop culture, predictably, turned on Kelly with a vengeance. Never mind that she was agreeing with the original Slate article about the popular portrayal of Santa Claus. Never mind that she was simply stating a fact. Kelly works for Fox News, so obviously she's an idiot worthy of ridicule. Of course people can think of Santa in any manner they choose, since he's a fictional character, but that was not the point of Kelly's criticism. She was criticizing the PC nonsense that tried to dispose of the popular depiction of a character just because someone doesn't like how he looks, as if seeing a white Santa is going to scar a minority child for life. This is the utter absurdity that political correctness has risen to. Not only can you not say the word "Christmas," but you can't acknowledge the popularly acknowledged physical characteristics of the fictional guy who brings Christmas gifts to all the little boys and girls. Happy Penguin-Mas, everybody.  

But then, nonsensically, all this hand-wringing political correctness about holidays seems to fly out the window at Easter time. Even though Passover -- which, unlike Hanukkah, is a major Jewish holiday -- often falls around the same time as Easter, no one insists that you say "happy holidays" in place of "Happy Easter" so as not to cause offense, even though it would make far more sense to use a generic holiday greeting then than it does at Christmastime.

The thing is, no one ever accused the PC warriors of being logical. Political correctness is all about emotion. It's a mindset that aims to settle the score of past wrongs by imposing a type of tyranny of the minority on society. Rather than seeking true equality among people with different views and backgrounds, the PC warriors simply want to turn things on their head and extol minority interests over majority ones. It's the same kind of thought process that gives us the reverse racism of affirmative action and race quotas, as if two wrongs make a right.    

Female hysteria
Seeing people as groups with defined interests, rather than as diverse individuals, is a hallmark of political correctness, and that's the reason PC has always walked hand in hand with the type of identity politics that has given rise to modern radical feminism. Not the feminism of equal rights for women, which was and always will be a noble cause. I'm talking about the mutation of the fight for equality into a grotesque movement that denigrates motherhood, parenting, and men in general, places women in a state of perpetual victimhood, and has tried to paint abortion on demand as something carrying all the moral and ethical heft of having a wart removed.

Oh, sure, their support of abortion rights is all about "the right to choose." Unless, of course, your choice is something other than abortion. Why else would feminists melt down over the Twilight movie in which the main character, Bella, chose to keep her baby, despite the insistence of so many around her to abort? She made a choice, right? Oh, maybe it wasn't the right choice. So then you're not really pro-choice at all. It's just an empty slogan.

Well, that would also explain the pro-choicers' reaction to the time the Susan G. Komen Foundation decided to pull its funding from Planned Parenthood. The Komen group was merely exercising its right to choose where its money goes, but the pro-"choicers" were in a frothing outrage, accusing Komen of hating and killing women. Same for the recent Hobby Lobby ruling: It was characterized as a war on women and a denial of basic health care, when all it did was allow a family-owned company to exclude four types of contraception from its insurance coverage. Women can still pay for them out of pocket, and they still get 16 other methods of contraception covered. And for that, the left exploded into a frothing hysteria, with some calling for Hobby Lobby stores to be burned down, and one insane feminist calling for people to have sex inside Hobby Lobby stores in protest.

Yeah, that sounds like how someone who values others' choices and beliefs would think. Sure. Just ask a "men's rights" group planning a conference in Detroit how tolerant and nonviolent these people are. Outraged feminists and other leftists were circulating a petition demanding that the conference be shut down (there's that leftist dedication to free speech again!), and others were phoning in death threats to the hotel where the conference was planned. There were even reports that protestors were going to book hotel rooms posing as guests, so that they could kill the attendees.

Why is there a "men's rights" group, you ask? Because there's no equality for men when it comes to custody of children -- the courts are wildly biased in favor of women, often regardless of circumstances. And because false rape accusations happen, and can ruin lives. Just ask Brian Banks, who had his football career stolen from him over a made-up story. He lost five years of his life in prison over a lie.

In short, the radical feminist movement has nothing to do with equality. (I might believe it is the day women have to sign up for Selective Service.) It has to do, among other things, with a seething hatred of men. These are people who seriously believe that all heterosexual penetrative sex is rape, and that all men are potential rapists and murderers.

This is how poisoned the well has become. This nonsense hit the mainstream after the Elliot Rodger shooting, as feminists lifted words from his deranged screed about how he felt entitled to the company of women and how they had no right to deny him what he wanted. As the "#yesallwomen" hashtag took off, feminists everywhere were pushing the notion that every woman on the planet lives in constant perpetual fear of every single man on the planet. I can only imagine the outcry from these same people if there had been an inner-city shooting and somebody responded by saying that all black men are violent and to be feared. The person who said it would be vilified. But feminists can paint every man in the world with a violent stereotype, and not only is that OK, but the media embraces it. 

Those who weren't busy blaming men after the Rodger tragedy were blaming guns. But no one seemed to bother placing the blame with the person who actually committed the crime. This is another glaring example of what happens when your world is informed by identity politics. You become incapable of isolating a person's actions and making it only about that person. Those actions instead always have to represent the tendencies of a larger group -- in this case, all men.

It shouldn't even need to be said, but Elliot Rodger is not a microcosm of all men. He was a narcissistic psychopath who felt entitled to whatever he wanted. He killed women who no doubt represented in his mind the kind that he wanted and never got, but he also killed men -- more men than women, in fact -- who probably represented the kind he hated for always "taking" the women from him.

That is not the thought process of a rational person, and it certainly isn't representative of all men.

If we wanted to, we could take the Elliott Rodger tragedy as an opportunity to explore why so many people resort to mass violence in America. We could take a moment to examine a culture that sends children off to be raised by strangers all day while both parents are off prioritizing their careers. We could think about how, for those kids, love often gets replaced by things, which simply strengthens the idea that things -- our pursuits of material gain -- are more important than people. We could talk about kids who are set adrift to find their own way through life and are confronted with a culture that, lacking a moral center or a sense of anything bigger than oneself, encourages a sense of narcissism by legitimizing all selfish pursuits as a means of masking the uneasy feeling of meaninglessness that eats at their lives.

And rather than blaming guns, maybe we could take a deeper look at how violence permeates our lives. Kids are entertained by violence on TV. They get spanked or smacked when they do something wrong. They play first-person shooter games where the whole goal is to kill as many people as possible. They see us using "an eye for an eye" as a means of punishment for dangerous criminals, as we kill people to show that killing people is wrong. They see a deranged foreign policy in which their nation settles every score with guns and bombs and insists that the entire world conform to what we want, lest some other nation find its way onto our list of places to be invaded, drone-bombed, and subjugated.

Violence and death surround us. They're everywhere. Combine that with a culture that feeds narcissism and entitlement, and you have a recipe for disaster. It has very little to do with patriarchy, if anything at all.

But no, instead let's just say Elliot Rodger is every man. Let's use him as an excuse to lecture all men about something the overwhelming majority of us already know: You have no right to another person's body.

Gee, thanks for clearing that up me, feminists.

Look in the mirror
But as long as we're passing blame around, can we talk for a minute about how hookup culture and sex-positive feminism aren't exactly helping when it comes to male-female relations? The feminists I remember and admire were those who were asserting their right to be treated as equals with men, whether at home or in the workplace. And they shunned the degrading culture of pornography that only perpetuated society's objectification of women. They demanded better -- both of themselves and of society.

But now we've done a complete 180, and "feminists" today are embracing the right to flaunt their bodies for a living. What was considered demeaning just a few short decades ago is now considered "empowering," because women are freely choosing these roles for themselves. The problem is, whether you or somebody else is objectifying you doesn't really make much difference, because the end result is the same. If you think society is ever going to show the same respect to a woman writhing on a stripper pole as it does to a woman who through hard work and dedication rose up through the ranks to become a company CEO, you're going to end up pretty disappointed.

Respect also goes wanting in what's become known as hook-up culture. I'm all for sexual exploration, but if you have no emotional attachment to your partner, how is what you're doing any different from masturbating? One-night stands have always been with us, but now they're being normalized as a way to blow off some sexual steam -- and if that becomes the norm, then sex becomes trivialized into something akin to a self-serving drug high, something engaged in merely for one's own immediate gratification. So not only does hook-up culture feed narcissism, but it also turns relationships on their heads, so that instead of building an emotional bond before engaging in sex, people have the sex first and worry about the emotions later, if at all. It's just another symptom of a selfish society that teaches us to get what we want right now, without regard for anyone else. There's no respect involved. How could you ever really respect anyone, male or female, who shared the most intimate act two humans can experience together after knowing that person for only a few short hours, if that?

This point is relevant to the discussion because hook-up culture has taken hold on college campuses, where reports of campus rapes are on the upswing. Do you suppose there's any correlation? If men, especially young men with raging hormones, start to get the idea that they can get sex from a woman with minimal effort, guess what some of them are going to do when they suddenly encounter a woman who actually establishes boundaries and pushes back? Obviously, men need to know they can't ever take advantage of a woman, and it's not the woman's fault if they do. But we live in a culture in which men have been conditioned to view women merely as receptacles for their physical pleasure, and hook-up culture only exacerbates that problem.

In short, we're feeding a social mindset in which men feel entitled to sex.

Puts the Elliot Rodger debate in a whole new light, doesn't it?

But hook-up culture is part and parcel of sex-positive feminism, so you can't criticize it without being labeled an enemy of women, a victim-blamer, or a "slut-shamer," whatever that's supposed to mean. (Does it mean you can't call a slutty person a slutty person, or does it mean you can't label a person as such in the first place?) Heck, you can't even suggest that women learn how to defend themselves against potential rapists, as the new Miss USA, a black belt in taekwondo, found out. Somehow, in the warped minds of these feminists, suggesting that women learn self-defense excuses and legitimizes "rape culture."

What, as if rapists will just quit being rapists if women stop learning self-defense? If that's the case, these people must be the same ones who think gun-control laws will magically make violent crime go away. Look, there are always going to be people in the world who mean to do you harm, and having the tools to ward off the bad guys is simple common sense. If a woman learned self-defense to protect herself from muggers, would that be promoting "mugger culture"? Or would it just be a smart thing to do? Should she not defend herself in that case, either, or is self-defense only bad when it threatens the feminists' political agenda? Heck, I'm apparently contributing to "robbery culture" by locking my doors at night, but I'm going to do it anyway. 
Given the hostility a lot of today's feminists obviously feel for men, this whole notion of "sex-positive feminism" doesn't even really feel so much like empowerment as it does simply throwing sex in men's faces and taunting them with it. Here are the goods, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Well, here's a crazy notion for these feminists. You want a man to act like a gentleman? It's a two-way street. Try acting like a lady. Show some respect for yourself, just as you demand the respectful behavior that every woman rightly deserves from a man. Dignity goes a long way. You can't degrade yourself and expect to be treated with dignity and respect at the same time. It just doesn't work that way.

And men? Start demanding more from yourselves and your culture. Instead of making a star out of someone like Robin Thicke for his misogynistic hit song "Blurred Lines" -- whose message, if you're not aware, is essentially "no means yes, and you know you want it" -- let's reject those ideas out of hand and show the world that we're better than that.

Culture down the tubes
Speaking of popular music, it seems that if feminists are so eager to point blame, they should be decrying things like "Blurred Lines," or any number of hip-hop artists who celebrate violence against women. I remember hearing about how crude and violent Eminem's lyrics were when his popularity took off in the '90s, and I was appalled not just at the misogyny, but at the graphic nature of his violent tirades against women and gays alike. This guy raps about rape and murder -- even about raping his own mother -- and it's being marketed to children and teens, including young men? Seriously?

People can make all the excuses they want about how he "really doesn't mean it," that it's just a persona he plays. First of all, that doesn't make it OK. Second, you can't expect kids to be able to sort out the difference between when an artist really means what he says and when he's just "pretending." Third, what kind of depraved culture thinks it's OK to market this swill to impressionable young people in the first place?

Spare me the censorship lecture. Yes, Eminem and his ilk have a Constitutional right to spew their hateful, violent garbage at children. The question is, should they? Should they not take it upon themselves to set a better example for their audience? Does any sane person think that exposure to this kind of entertainment doesn't have an ill effect on behavior? You don't thrash around and bang your head at a classical recital, and you don't sit statue-still in your seat at a metal concert: We react in kind to what we're exposed to. And whether the artist "means" what he says or not, being exposed to such messages over and over desensitizes and normalizes them, to the point that we're being entertained by something we should be appalled by.

This is an issue in popular culture in general -- not just as it pertains to violence against women, but the way in which the gutter has gone mainstream. Yes, I know, people have been "shocked" and "outraged" for generations by entertainers who push the envelope of good taste, and it's certainly quaint today to think of how seeing Elvis shaking his hips onstage could have once caused such an uproar. But we've gone far beyond that point today, now that graphic depictions of sex and violence, along with the rawest of language, have become commonplace in entertainment.

Yes, these things have always been with us in some form, but the difference is in the mainstreaming of it all. News outlets talk today about the porn industry as if it's as normal and lacking in controversy as stamp collecting. I watched a season of Game of Thrones with my wife and was embarrassed to be even witnessing some of what I saw, yet this program, brimming with in-your-face sex, violence, and crude language, is discussed in pop culture as if there's nothing remotely shocking about any of it. It might as well be the latest episode of The Cosby Show.

The same has been happening in Hollywood films, where a movie that would have gotten an NC-17 not so long ago seems as if it might now merit an R, maybe even a PG-13. Graphic subject matter of some sort is practically something you can expect now in a Hollywood movie. I imagine if Gone With the Wind had been made today, what happened between Rhett and Scarlett after he carried her up the staircase wouldn't be left to our imagination. We'd go with them into the bedroom, we'd get close-ups of bare breasts and backsides, and we'd see Rhett thrusting away on top of Scarlett. Knowing today's Hollywood, they probably would have figured out a way to turn the scene into a threesome with Melanie.

In the music industry, I think things went beyond creatively pushing the boundaries around the time Madonna came out with her "Justify My Love" video, followed by her pornographic Sex book. The things that were once alluded to with clever innuendo were now front and center and in your face, carried out not by edgy artists on the fringe but by the biggest names in the entertainment business. Now raunch is commonplace -- see Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, et al.

Again, it's not as if this type of material hasn't always been out there. The difference is that you used to have to take a trip over to the seedy side of town and pay a browsing fee to even seek out some of these things. And now that same sewage is being pumped directly into our living rooms, watched and listened to by young people, and talked about as if there's nothing shocking about any of it.

Yes, I know, if I don't like it, then I shouldn't watch it. And I don't. The problem is that it's getting harder to even change the channel to something more decent, as this stuff permeates every corner of our popular culture. At least you can turn off Rush Limbaugh or Fox News if you don't want to hear someone droning on about right-wing politics, but how do you get away from the crudeness that inundates our lives in movies, music, TV shows, advertising, and just about everywhere else? It's nearly ubiquitous, and it sure makes raising a child a challenge -- at least if you want your child to expect better of her society and not let her be desensitized to the degrading trash that passes for entertainment. How do you teach a kid to have high standards when popular culture has no standards whatsoever?

It's almost funny to think about how Madonna's "Justify My Love" video was deemed too hot to show on TV back in 1990, while a little more than a decade later, you can watch something twice as graphic in about any five-minute stretch of Game of Thrones. Even the music videos themselves put Madonna to shame these days. When I heard about the "Pour It Up" video from Rihanna, about how she tosses around wads of cash while she gets on all fours and vigorously humps the air, barely clothed, it sounded pretty much like an encapsulation of how utterly debased and vulgar our mainstream culture has become.

The empty, soulless pursuit of cash and sex. We've pretty much hit the bottom, and there's nowhere else to go. 

Kids in the crosshairs
This glorification of moral decay -- and there's nothing else you can call it -- might not bother me as much if it weren't aimed at the most impressionable members of our society. I don't think it's too harsh to say that we're raping our children's innocence with the things they see around them today. Even Annie Lennox, herself a member of the same entertainment industry that gives us bilge like Robin Thicke, Eminem, and Rihanna, thinks things have gone too far, with her primary concern being the target market:
There is absolutely nothing "wrong" about our sexuality or sensuality per se. But if a performing artist has an audience of impressionable young fans and they want to present a soft porn video or highly sexualised live performance, then it needs to qualify as such and be X-rated, for adults only. I'm talking from the perspective of the parents of those young fans. The whole thing is about their children's protection. … Boundaries need to be put in place so that young kids aren't barraged by market forces exploiting the "normalisation" of explicit sex in underage entertainment.
For some reason, when you take stances like this, people start accusing you of wanting to turn back the clock to some long-past age when women were chattel and minorities sat at their own lunch counter. But of course, that's not it at all. It's merely about seeking a balance between embracing a forward-looking world with finding a place for a little more cultural dignity -- especially, as Annie Lennox argued, when kids are involved.

The poor kids can't seem to catch a break these days. If they're not being "entertained" by sex and violence, they're being inundated with a nonsense curriculum in school that was hatched by bureaucrats, funded by a CEO, and intended to force equality of outcome, all while dumbing them down and subordinating individual talents to across-the-board conformity. Welcome to Common Core

Common Core is a federal public-education standard that purports to prepare children to compete in an international economy. The research into Common Core received massive funding from Bill Gates and was quickly foisted upon the states by way of bribing them with federal funds to accept it. (Bill Gates' kids, notably, go to a private school and therefore aren't subjected to Common Core.) The standards were never field-tested, and there is now no shortage of students coming home in tears because they can't understand the utter gobbledygook they're being taught, along with parents who see the needlessly confusing, convoluted methods being used and wonder how Common Core is supposed to make our kids any smarter.

Just a few examples for you. A math worksheet for second- and third-graders -- second- and third-graders -- asks, "How does Topic C use the array model to move the learning forward?" Here's one for Kindergratners -- see if you can follow along: "In each cube stick, color some cubes blue and the rest of the cubes red. Draw the cubes you colored in the number bond. Show the hidden partners on your fingers to an adult. Color the fingers you showed."

Another math worksheet states, "Use number bonds to help you skip-count by seven by making ten or adding to the ones." What insanely complex math problem is it asking kids to figure out, you ask? Seven plus seven.

Here's some more Common Core nonsense, and a parent's reaction:

Some of the Common Core homework even includes product placement in the questions, prompting one child to ask, "Why are they trying to sell me something during the test?"

Now that people are beginning to see what a farce this curriculum is, they're standing up against it, like this brave mom from Arkansas, who rips into the state board of education:

Unsurprisingly from an administration where I-know-better-than-you smugness runs rampant, Obama's secretary of education arrogantly dismisses concerns over Common Core as the whining of "white suburban moms" who are angry to discover that "their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were." Wow. If a Republican had said something like that, the feminists would be baring their fangs over Arne Duncan's "misogyny." Instead, not a peep.

I wonder what excuses Duncan will come up with as more students start speaking out as well. This young man rightly points out that under Common Core, teachers and students alike are suffering. While teachers are being expected to jump through hoops to please a federal bureaucracy, merely teaching to the tests they're forced to administer, with the ability to make the best teaching decisions for their classes being taken out of their hands, the joy of learning has given way to a stress-inducing curriculum that gives primacy to whether kids can properly follow confusing directions on those tests, rather than to whether they're actually learning anything.

Protests are now even coming literally to Bill Gates' doorstep, as Seattle-area activists campaigned outside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently. Teacher Juliana Dauble, who lives in the same town I do, organized the protest. Here's a bit of what Common Dreams had to say:
It's been a "test-teaching regime," Dauble said, where teachers "have been strangled."

Gates has been pushing "magical, silver bullets" to solve problems in education but leave them "unable to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and not at all certain where they fit in the world."

... Gates' approach ignores real barriers to learning like poverty and class size, she said.

... Kids learn "based on human relations," she said. But now teachers are in a situation where they feel they "don't have space to meet those relationships."

Learning requires "low class size, time to collaborate, having art," she continued, not just being alone and taking tests.
Criticism is raining down from all corners, even those whom you would expect to be Obama's allies on the left, as it becomes more obvious that there was just no thought put into any of the curriculum -- and now the slapdash nature of the entire experiment can no longer be ignored. Education historian Diane Ravitch has been very outspoken against Common Core for much the same reason, and she wants Congress to investigate how Bill Gates was essentially allowed to buy an untested national education curriculum. She rightly calls it a "national scandal."

Despite threats from the Obama administration, some states, thankfully, have had enough and are beginning to pull out of Common Core, realizing that you just can't defend a system of education in which you'll be counted wrong if you say 3 times 4 is 12 but you can't show your work, while you can be counted right for saying 3 times 4 is 11 if you can convincingly explain how you got that answer.

Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise that the evidence so far suggests that Common Core has nothing to do with actually trying to make kids smarter. Some critics, notably John Taylor Gatto, have said for years that the entire purpose of compulsory mass public education was to create dumbed-down and obedient subjects. Even Frank Zappa -- always as much of a social critic as he was an ace musician -- was saying the same thing more than 30 years ago:

If so, maybe Common Core is just accelerating the process. It's notable that even proponents of Common Core's developers has admitted that the goal of the curriculum is essentially to create laborers -- which completely validates what people like Gatto and Zappa have said all along. Common Core, the argument goes, will prepare those who want to go to a two-year community college, but it won't help prepare them for a four-year institution. In other words, it weeds kids out. It's not a coincidence that a curriculum drafted with the financial assistance of a CEO would set out to create a set of educational standards that prepare people for labor, rather than enriching them, making them well-rounded in many subjects, and teaching them to explore and question their world.

If there's any doubt about such a claim, consider that Common Core's own proponents admit that it's simply a waste of time to teach most kids advanced math skills that they'll never use in the working world. And consider that the standards mandate a reduction in the amount of literature students are exposed to, with the emphasis moving instead to "informational" text. So we're ostensibly filling our kids' heads with facts, but at the expense of teaching them very little about the arts.

What would be the purpose of such an approach to education? Greed. As university teacher Paul Horton sees it:
The global teaching profession at the school and university levels is being set up for work speed-ups with productivity gains going to management and investors. Assessment data for all teachers will be stored to determine salaries based on effectiveness as measure by student test scores. Students will also have their data collected and evaluated at each stage of their academic and professional careers. ... [D]ata analysis will be used to force white-collar employees to compete with employees around the world. Layoffs will be frequent to motivate greater productivity.
... The Common Core deskills the teaching profession by turning the teaching into a delivery machine. Relationships with students are to be ignored and replaced by the mechanical delivery of scripted lessons in a particular sequence. In effect, the teacher craftsman will be forced to work on an assembly line.
So we're not only creating legions of obedient workers; we're also creating obedient workers who will be forced to accept ever-lower salaries or else risk losing their jobs to someone who has no choice but to work for pennies an hour in China.

Can anything be done about any of this? Short of simply having states drop out of Common Core, probably not. The Common Core curriculum can only be changed at the federal level, by the private group that drafted them, and the federal government is making continued funding dependent on compliance with those standards, thus undermining the ability of local schools to tailor the curriculum to their students' individual needs. But that's deliberate, as Common Core seeks to create a homogenous, one-size-fits-all educational experience, gauged through regular student testing, on a federal level, so that a kid in Nevada leaves school having learned the same thing as a kid in Connecticut.

That might sound like a worthy goal, but it ignores the very simple fact that not every child is the same. They aren't interchangeable cogs in a machine. The problem is, that's exactly what Common Core is trying to turn kids into. It subjugates their individual gifts and talents to the goal of becoming a federal statistical point that's being trained to run a machine and not question the system.

If that sounds like a process for indoctrination, there's a reason for that. Here's a look at a Common Core textbook geared toward kids as young as age 6. Instead of emphasizing reading and grammar skills, the text teaches kids how to use emotionally charged words in their writing so they can become effective social activists. That's right: Kids' writing skills are being developed, at least in part, around how well they use words as tools of manipulation and propaganda. Instead of being taught critical, logical thinking skills, they're being taught just the opposite -- how to base their arguments purely on emotion.

That same use of loaded language is evident in the Common Core's own textbooks, such as the one being used to teach fourth-graders in Illinois that white people didn't vote for Obama because he's black, or the U.S. government book that sends kids home with a questionnaire to determine whether their parents are liberal or conservative -- not that it's anybody's business, of course -- with language that's clearly biased in favor of the liberal position and against the conservative one.

If all of this doesn't make it clear enough that Common Core is pushing an agenda, consider this third-grade worksheet on possessive nouns.

Starts off harmlessly enough, but by the time you get to question 5, you can see where this is going: "The commands of government officials must be obeyed by all." Never mind the passive voice in the "correct" answer -- apparently, getting the grammar correct isn't as important as teaching our children to be obedient little citizens who never question authority.

I'm guessing these kids will never see a homework question quoting Henry David Thoreau when he wrote:

Think this is all overstating the way things are? Well, what evidence do we have to the contrary that schools encourage free, critical thought? The school experience has become all about zero-tolerance rules, zealous overkill in reaction to harmless activities, and an absolute expectation -- sometimes implied, and sometimes explicit -- that students will be obedient at all times and will be punished for failure to comply. Whether it's the school in Florida that removed a book from students' summer reading lists in part because the book takes a "positive view of questioning authority," or the Atlanta-area school that said a plan to break the school's dress code during the last week of classes constituted a "terroristic threat" and suspended everyone who commented on or shared the Facebook post that launched the idea, the message is clear: Step out of line, even just a little bit, and you will suffer the consequences.

Just consider a sampling of the disciplinary nonsense to come out of the public schools in recent years:
  • An 11-year-old girl was suspended, arrested, and charged with possession of a weapon on school property, a third-degree felony -- for bringing a butter knife to school.
  • A 6-year-old boy was suspended and charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate.
  • A 15-year-old boy who toilet-papered the school bathroom was charged with felony vandalism, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct.
  • A 16-year-old honor student was charged with two felonies -- possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds, and discharging a destructive device -- when a small amount of smoke escaped from the chemical mixture she'd made for a volcano as a science experiment.
  • A 15-year-old boy who was tired of being bullied decided to record some of the incidents of bullying -- and the boy was charged with wiretapping and eventually convicted of disorderly conduct.
  • A 13-year-old boy was taken out of school and ordered to undergo psychological testing -- and when his father refused to take him, he received a letter from the state threatening to remove the boy from his custody. The father relented and took the boy, who then had to give blood and urine samples. The boy's heinous crime? Twirling a pencil in class. Another boy in the class, looking to cause trouble, said the twirling was a "gun motion."
  • A 7-year-old boy pretending to be a hero who was saving people, was suspended for throwing an imaginary grenade. Similarly, a 6-year-old was suspended for pointing his finger like a gun and saying "pow." The school wrote in a disciplinary letter that he made a threat "to shoot a student." With his finger.
  • Another 7-year-old was suspended for biting his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. His school offered counseling to any children who were "troubled" by the incident.
CNN ran a report a few years back on an epidemic of disciplinary overreach in America's schools. Among the incidents:
  • A 12-year-old girl in New York was arrested and handcuffed for drawing on her desk with a marker. 
  • Another New York girl, 13, was also arrested for writing on her desk. After being forced to take off her belt and turn out her pockets, she was taken to the police station and handcuffed to a pole, while her mother wasn't allowed to see her for three hours.
  • As many as 25 kids, some as young as 11, were arrested for taking part in a food fight in a Chicago school. 
  • In Los Angeles, police have been ticketing children for tardiness and truancy, with fines of up to $250.
Some of these cases are so trivial and harmless as to not warrant any type of disciplinary action in the first place. For some of the others, what ever happened to being marched down to the principal's office and sent to detention? Why are schools calling the cops over things that obviously don't warrant this type of overkill? Are schools just being run by mindless bureaucrats with no common sense? Are teachers afraid or unwilling to hand out discipline themselves?

When zero-tolerance rules are being applied to things that the rules were obviously not meant to address, why isn't anyone willing to fix the problem? Constantly invoking the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, lumps in good kids who might have been harmlessly goofing off or used poor judgment with kids who are actually setting out to cause trouble.

And if that wasn't bad enough, the punishments clearly are far exceeding the "crimes" being committed. Any fool should have the sense to know that a toilet-paper prank is not a felony, that a butter knife is not a weapon, and that a proper punishment for writing on your desk might be spending time after school scrubbing down all the desks in class -- not being put in handcuffs, getting hauled off to the police station, and having an arrest put on your record.

This is not an environment in which children will ever feel free to express themselves. If they constantly have to worry about whether a minor infraction will put them in prison, they will grow up learning to be blindly subservient and obedient to authority, no matter how ridiculous the "rules" they're expected to follow might be. The phenomenon has even been given a name -- the "school-to-prison pipeline." Things got so bad on this front a few years ago that the Justice Department accused a Mississippi school of systematically violating the civil rights of its students, who were being put into the juvenile justice system for infractions as minor as "dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect."

In another case, a young man was railroaded by a prosecutor who was running on a "zero tolerance" campaign for a judgeship. Someone tipped the school off that the young man may have had weapons in his car. Without a warrant, and denying him the right to an attorney, school officials ransacked his car and found, locked in his trunk, a 4-inch pocket knife that he used in his EMT training. He was arrested, jailed, and originally held on half a million dollars' bail, an amount that was eventually dropped to a slightly less insane $50,000. He faced up to 20 years in prison, but he eventually pleaded to a lesser misdemeanor charge. He was given two years' probation, was expelled from school, had to surrender his "weapon," and has to undergo counseling.

John Whitehead, head of civil-rights organization The Rutherford Institute, spoke with The New American about this and other similar cases, and their effects on the victims of the charges:
Whitehead has been fighting zero-tolerance battles for years. Back in February 2011 he had this to say about the long-term consequences such policies are having on schools and their students: "What we are witnessing is the inhumane treatment of young people and the criminalization of childish behavior."

After reviewing several of the more egregious examples and impacts on young lives of enforcing zero-tolerance policies, Whitehead pointed out four major implications or consequences of such policies. First, they fail completely to take into account the student's intentions or any long-term consequences the student would suffer under mindless by-the-book punishments.

Second, such rules and punishments don’t work. Wrote Whitehead: "These one-strike-and-you're-out policies have proven to be largely unsuccessful."

Third, they destroy the distinction between punishment and discipline. Explained Whitehead:

"Schools exist to educate students about their rights and the law and discipline those who need it, while prisons exist to punish criminals who have been tried and found guilty of breaking the law.

"As a result, many American schools now resemble prisons."

Finally, such zero-tolerance policies criminalize innocent behavior just as if it were intended for evil. There is no distinction, no room for tolerance, for understanding, for justice.

Whitehead then ominously points out a fifth and most important consequence of such policies: turning students into compliant, fearful robots:

"These policies ... render young people woefully ignorant of the rights they intrinsically possess as American citizens.

"... [Instead] they are being browbeaten into believing that they have no true rights and government authorities have total power and can violate constitutional rights whenever they see fit."
Unaccountable thuggery
And I can guarantee you that's exactly how the people in authority want it. In the years since 9/11, the noose has slowly been tightening around free expression as law-enforcement officers have become more aggressive and more militarized. For years we've heard the horror stories of TSA Security Theater agents groping and strip-searching infants, children, the handicapped, and the elderly, and doing ridiculous things like trying to bully one nursing mother into dumping out her breast milk, and requiring another to pump because they wouldn't let her take empty bottles in her cooler. And for all this harassment of innocent citizens, how many terrorists has TSA caught? Zero. Not a single one.

Even Border Patrol agents are out of control these days. In one recent incident, a Border Patrol agent melted down when a boy traveling with a Boy Scout troop on a field trip took a picture of him. The entire troop was escorted off the van, while the boy was told he could go to prison for 10 years and face a $10,000 fine -- for taking a picture of a Border Patrol agent. The troop leader was told not to follow the agent while he searched the entire van, because that might turn over "search techniques to the undesirables." When the agent demanded to look at all their bags, one boy offered to help the agent locate them, until the troop leader noticed that another agent had a gun aimed at the boy. This was after the same Scout group was harassed at a TSA checkpoint, when one of the boys accidentally dropped his boots. The agent threatened to arrest the child because "he dropped his boots in a threatening manner."

And then there are the police. The cops a lot of us grew up with -- the friendly public servants who protected public safety and put the bad guys in jail -- seem to have become a rare breed, replaced by overbearing thugs who easily fly off the handle, use excessive force against peaceful people, turn trivial matters into standoffs, and quickly escalate delicate situations. Some of them seem to think they're engaged in a battle, in some type of us-versus-them showdown with the public. See if this video doesn't make you think you're witnessing a scene straight out of the hills of Afghanistan:

Those men in helmets and riot gear aren't soldiers overseas. They're Albuquerque cops, who shot a homeless man in cold blood ... for illegally camping. If you listen to the guy, he's asking the cops to stand down and let him leave peacefully, as they all have their semiautomatic weapons pointed at him. As he's preparing to leave, one cop fires a flash grenade at him. The cops close in, and the stunned man appears to place a small camping knife in each of his hands. That's when the assault begins. First a spray of bullets, and then an attack by the K-9 unit and some beanbags fired at close range for good measure.

The cops killed him. Over illegal camping.

That's just one of many, many stories of brutality and death in recent years at the hands of law enforcement. In fact, the Albuquerque cops had gotten so far out of control that they became the focus of an investigation by the Justice Department, which found the department "reckless" and its officers never held accountable for their actions. In reviewing the department's 23 killings between 2010 and 2014, Justice said it often used lethal force in an "unconstitutional" manner.

Part of the report reads:
Albuquerque police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others. Instead, officers used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed. Officers also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force.
One would hope that these horrible stories are the exception and not the rule, but the disturbing frequency with which the stories come out suggests otherwise.

Cop Block is one of many sites that chronicle the ongoing abuses, and just one glance at a few of its pages as I write this gives you an idea of how serious the problem has become:
  • SWAT Team in Full Machine Gun Armor Raids Innocent Man With Parkinson's and Brutally Beat Him
  • Woman Brutally Beaten in Jail Asking Cops for a Tampon
  • Cops Smash Handcuffed Eighth-Grade Boy Through Glass Window, Puncturing His Lungs
  • Mother Claims 6-Year-Old Beaten by Police at School
  • Chicago Jailers Laughed While Fatally Tasering Mentally Ill Man 16 Times
  • DEA Retroactively Gets Warrant After Violent, Botched Raid on Wrong Address
  • Empty Home Destroyed in 4-Hour SWAT Siege; Innocent Woman Left With $100,000 in Damages
When cops can sell a T-shirt that reads "We get up early to beat the crowds," you know you're dealing with some out-of-control psychopaths with no regard for the rule of law.

Just how bad are things? More Americans have been killed by cops since 9/11 than were killed in Iraq. Around 500 citizens a year die at the hands of "law enforcement." Civilians are 29 times as likely to be killed by a cop as by a terrorist.

These are the same people who are increasingly flying drones over U.S. airspace. You think that power won't be abused?

And that's not even getting into the financial bonanza that is asset forfeiture. U.S. attorneys confiscated more than $12 billion in personal assets between 1989 and 2010 fighting the "war on drugs" alone, and local cops take full advantage of forfeiture, too. In one Texas town, where a woman had $31,000 from a real estate sale confiscated from her car on suspicion of drug usage -- even though the cops never found anything -- 89% of its 2012 gross revenue came from asset forfeiture. The woman had to sue to get her money back.

That's something not everyone can afford to do, and the cops and their municipalities count on that. They seize anything that they deem to have been used in the commission of a crime, which can include your car or even your home and all your possessions inside, and then it's up to you to prove that you did nothing wrong -- essentially, you're guilty until proven innocent -- so that you can get your own property back. Otherwise, too bad. It'll probably get sold off and you'll never see it again.

And note that you don't need to have been convicted of a crime to have your property stolen from you. Mere suspicion of a crime is enough. This isn't something that happens after a criminal conviction. That's probably why 80% of forfeiture cases result in no charges against the property owner.

Not only is the potential for abuse extremely high, but forfeiture also seems to be making cops more interested in the loot they can collect than in stopping the associated crime. When narcotics groups were observed focusing more attention on intercepting the cash in a drug deal than on actually getting the drugs off the streets or serving warrants on dealers, one officer was candid about why:
Because that would just give us a bunch of dope and the hassle of having to book him (the suspect). We've got all the dope we need in the property room; just stick to rounding up cases with big money and stay away from warrants.
Making money trumps fighting crime.

The allure of stealing somebody's property merely on the suspicion of a crime is so strong that in Hawaii, a bill was considered that would have allowed asset forfeiture for petty misdemeanors, like staying in a park after-hours or trespassing. Imagine having your car taken away because you were driving around at a park after it closed, or having your home stereo system confiscated for violating a noise ordinance. Homeless people charged with illegal camping -- if the cops didn't shoot them dead, of course -- could have their tents, clothes, or whatever other few possessions they own taken away from them. Cops would be making arrests just to rake in the money. And when budgets are tight, they're going to do just that.

But wait, you might be asking. Isn't all of this a gross violation of our Fifth Amendment rights? You know, the part that says people shall not be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, not shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"? 

Yes. Yes, it is. But good luck fighting city hall.

Besides, what's a little property theft in comparison with being beaten up or possibly even killed? Let's look at just a sampling at some of the more outrageous abuses of police power in recent years:

1. Six police officers beat Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, to death, as the man cried out for his daddy and begged for the beating to stop. The cop accused of his murder was acquitted, as was another officer charged with manslaughter.

Here's the video of the incident:

Here's what he looked like before and after the cops beat him. He died in a hospital shortly after the attack.

His crime? Nothing. A nearby bar called police to the area to check on the vandalism of some parked cars. Thomas, who was in the area when police arrived, was questioned and searched, and he appeared to get the cops agitated when his mental condition seemed to make it hard for him to follow the cops' orders. At one point the cop charged with his murder said his fists were "getting ready to fuck you up."

Thomas was unarmed.

2. A cop was caught on video punching a woman's head while she was on the ground -- all stemming from an incident in which the woman was said to be walking barefoot along a freeway and stepping into lanes of traffic. The officer allegedly arrested her for purposes of public safety, but nothing excuses the pounding he gave the woman when he already had her subdued on the ground. A clear-cut case of excessive force and police brutality.

3. A 110-pound, 47-year-old mother of two was arrested on DUI charges after she was found sleeping in her car on the side of the road. When she realized she'd had too much to drink, she did a sensible, responsible thing and took her vehicle off the road. This woman, who had never before been in trouble with the law, asks at the police station whether she can call her family to let them know she's OK. The video shows her walking out of her open cell, only to be hurled back in seconds later, by a cop who threw her so hard that she smashed her face into a concrete bench. Other officers came to her aid as she lay crumpled on the floor, lying in a pool of her own blood.

Her orbital bone was shattered, and she had to have reconstructive surgery.

4. A SWAT team busted into the home of an innocent family, forced everyone to the floor, and handcuffed them -- including three children, who were searched at gunpoint. A boy was kicked in the side, and a girl had a diabetic episode because the cops wouldn't let her have her medication. The cops also shot and killed the family dog, and the children had to lie handcuffed next to the bleeding, lifeless body of their family pet while the cops tore through the house for an hour. (Incidentally, stories of cops who kill dogs have been running rampant in recent years.)

It turned out the SWAT team was there on a drug raid, but they got the wrong house. According to the residents, the cops stayed even after they realized their mistake, combing through every corner of the house to try to justify their raid -- and they eventually found a handgun that they used to charge the head of the household with unlawful possession of a firearm, even though the gun didn't belong to him.

5. A 13-year-old boy was shot seven times, including through the heart, and killed by a cop -- for carrying a plastic toy gun. The cop will face no charges.

6. A family called for help after their paranoid schizophrenic family member locked himself in a bathroom with a knife. Instead of trying to talk him down, the cops barked at him to "Drop the knife! Drop the knife!" When he didn't comply, they tasered him. After he recovered from the shock, he walked toward the bathroom door -- and a cop unloaded 11 shots into his body in rapid succession. He fell to the floor dead.

Relatives can be heard screaming in shock. They'd called the police to help de-escalate a bad situation, and the cops did just the opposite. 

7. A father who was trying to defuse a family squabble between mother and daughter in the parking lot of a movie theater caught the attention of some nearby cops. The cops claim he became belligerent with them, while the family said he was only trying to sidestep the cops to prevent his wife from driving off. The situation quickly escalated out of control, with five cops beating the father to death in front of his family. After killing her husband, the cops then confiscated the phone the wife had been using to record the incident.

Said the man's wife: "When they flipped him over you could see all the blood on his face, it was, he was disfigured, you couldn’t recognize him."

8. A 72-year-old man was shot and killed by cops while standing in his garage. He heard a ruckus in the neighborhood and took his handgun with him to see what was happening. The disturbance was at a home across the street, as police arrived to respond to a burglar alarm. Instead, they shot the 72-year-old six times.

He left behind a wife of 46 years.

9. A 93-year-old woman with diminished mental capabilities got into an altercation with her nephew, who refused to relinquish her car keys after she failed her driver license renewal. The nephew called police after the woman brandished a handgun. She shot a bullet into the ground, and a cop responded by unloading four to five rounds into her, killing her.

10. A 95-year-old World War II veteran who needed a walker to move around was killed by a cop at an assisted-living facility, in response to a complaint that he was refusing medical treatment for an illness. In their attempt to subdue him, the cops first tried to taser him, and then they fired a beanbag round at him from point-blank range. The man soon died of internal bleeding from the injury.

11. An 11-year-old girl was walking naked down the side of a freeway. She didn't respond to a cop who arrived on the scene and told her to stop walking, but instead of doing something like chasing after her, getting a blanket for her, and putting her in the safety of his patrol car, the cop tasered her, and she fell face-first into the ground. The girl's father explained that she was autistic, with "the mind of a 3-year-old," and that she was a "very gentle and non-combative" girl.

The father asked, "If the police cannot apprehend a child who is cooperative without tasing, then what would be the alternative? Shooting her?" Probably so.

12. In what became an Internet meme, a cop at the University of California, Davis, casually walked along and pepper-sprayed a group of college students, point-blank, who were engaging in a peaceful sit-in protest as part of the Occupy movement.

The cop was later awarded $38,000 for the "psychiatric injury" that he suffered in the fallout of the incident.    

13. Cops pounded on the door of a woman whose boyfriend was wanted in connection with violating a protection order. A 10-year-old boy began recording the incident, and the police assaulted the child, breaking his leg. His mother ran downstairs, dressed only in her underwear, and one of the cops pulled her outside in the cold, where one of her breasts became exposed, revealing a pierced nipple.

What happens next is nauseating. 

"The officer flicked the piercing, he flicked the ring up with his finger on my right breast," she said. "He said, 'Is this what mothers look like these days?'"

Adding insult to injury, the mother was arrested for assaulting an officer and was released two days later on $1,500 bail. One can only assume that nothing will ever happen to the cop who sexually assaulted her.

14. As a man attempted to run into his burning house to make a heroic attempt to save his 3-year-old stepson from burning to death, police tasered and arrested him. After the fire was put out, the boy was found dead in the doorway of his bedroom.

15. A 52-year-old man paralyzed from the chest down was stopped by police for riding his scooter on the shoulder against the flow of traffic, like a pedestrian would. He said it was the same thing he'd done hundreds of times on his short trip to the local grocery store, rather than attempt to cross five lanes of traffic. A cop ordered the man -- again, paralyzed from the waist down -- to stand up. When he couldn't comply with the order, another cop picked him up, slammed him face-first into the ground, and handcuffed him. His scooter was impounded, and his bail was set at $1,000. 

16. A 78-year-old man was pulled over on his way home from church for driving on the wrong side of the road. Having never been in trouble with the law before, he stepped out of his car and wasn't prepared for the belligerent actions of the cop, who threatened to take him to jail right from the outset of the encounter. The man was ordered back into his car, but when he felt a cramp and stuck his legs out of the car to stretch them, the cop decided to pepper-spray him and his wife. They ended up in the hospital, treated for bruises and burns.

The police chief's justification for his officer's assault? The elderly couple was not "compliant."

17. Police show up at a nightclub, where a man was driving erratically in the parking lot. After the cops take him into custody, they ask his buddy to move the car. The friend says he doesn't want to, because he's drunk, but the cops order him to get behind the wheel and move it anyway. When the drunken man begins hitting other cars, including a police cruiser, a cop opens fire and kills him, even as his partner tells him not to draw his weapon. A toxicology report confirmed that the man who was ordered to move the car was indeed drunk. The cop faced no disciplinary action.

18. A man at a laundromat sees cops using excessive force on a woman and decides to record the incident on his phone. "They slammed her into the wall, slammed her onto the ground, and then the other officer jumped on top of her and starting punching her in the face," the man said.

The cops confronted him and told him to stop interfering with their "investigation." 

"I told them I’m not interfering with anything," the man said. "I'm just videotaping y'all beating up this girl."

He left the laundromat for a while. When he came back to retrieve his clothes, a cop ambushed him from behind and started beating him. Several other officers joined in, before they released their K-9 dog on him. In typical fashion, the cops are screaming at him to "stop resisting" -- as if he could resist if he even wanted to, while they have the man pinned to the ground, yelling out in pain, with a dog biting his leg. (Cops are fond of saying "stop resisting," even if the person they've subdued isn't resisting at all, as it gives them one more thing to pin on their victim. "Resisting arrest" then becomes your word against theirs.)

"They had to choke the dog to get him off of me," the man said. "He was not responding to the call signs to let go of my leg." Meanwhile, the cops continued to punch and kick him.

But before the dog was done, it had taken several chunks of flesh out of the man's leg.

One of his shoes fell off in the attack, and when he was sitting in the back of the police car, a cop threw the shoe at his face.

The cops also took his phone and deleted the video he took of their assault on the woman.

19. A man who witnessed a skirmish at a bar, but was not involved in the skirmish, stepped outside the bar and was immediately grabbed and assaulted by police.

One of the officers involved in the assault has been in trouble before, including an incident in which he slapped a camera out of a woman's hands, and another in which he may have destroyed evidence from a night in which he was working security at a bar when a patron was shoved down a flight of stairs and suffered a brain injury.

20. Robert Leone saw a flashing light bar in his rearview mirror as he drove on a Pennsylvania road one night. Thinking he'd done nothing wrong and assuming the police car was on its way to another call, he continued driving. Police later said his car matched the description of a vehicle that earlier had been involved in a minor traffic accident. The situation suddenly escalated when more Pennsylvania state police cars joined the slow-speed chase, eventually using stop sticks to disable Leone's car. Dash cams from the police cars show a compliant Leone being beaten, tasered, and screamed at in the most crude, vile language imaginable. One cop can be seen jumping from the top of Leone's car and landing on Leone as he lay face-down on the ground. Leone begs for mercy as the beating continues. An ambulance that was called for Leone instead takes away an officer who broke his hand by pounding so hard on Leone's head.

Leone is eventually taken to the hospital in a police car. He begs the attending nurse for help, saying that the police have beaten him. One of the cops who brought him to the hospital overheard the comment and ordered all the hospital personnel out of the room, after which the cops beat and tasered him again.

He is released from the hospital and taken to police barracks, where he is set to be arraigned via videoconference with a magistrate. The cops order Leone not to look at the judge, obviously so the judge won't see how badly he's been beaten. When the link goes live, Leone immediately begs the magistrate for help, and the link "goes dead," with the cops claiming there was a malfunction. At that point, Leone is beaten and tasered a third time, so badly that he has to be taken back to the hospital for further treatment.

When Leone is finally taken to be locked up, the prison officials are shocked at his condition and bring in the on-call doctor, who gives him a full physical and documents all his injuries, so that the officials couldn't be blamed for any of the injuries.

Leone's bail was set at $250,000, and he waited in jail for six months for his trial, where he faced 24 criminal charges. He was found not guilty or had the charges dismissed for 20 of the 24 counts. It was clear that the cops threw everything they could at him, no matter how absurd or baseless. For one, he was charged with assault for breaking an officer's hand, even though it was the officer who broke his own hand by beating on Leone's head. He was also charged with DUI, even though all his tests came back negative for alcohol.

He was sentenced to one and a half to four years in prison on the four charges, and he was denied parole twice before finally being released after two and a half years. So far, none of the officers has been charged with any wrongdoing.

21. Police tell a 49-year-old woman walking her dog to pick up its droppings. She tells them her dog didn't defecate, but she picks up the cold pile in question anyway. When she raises her voice and complains about the disrespectful way she's being treated, a cop shows her a pair of handcuffs and threatens her with arrest. When she stands her ground, the cops do just that. They throw her into the squad car, and pound on her.

A witness saw the cop leaning into the car and pummeling the woman. She was struck in the face, back, stomach, breast, and arm -- all over a pile of dog crap that wasn't her dog's.

22. Cops pull over a 5-foot-2, 34-year-old nurse and mother in a parking lot for talking on her cell phone. Surveillance video from a nearby store shows as soon as the woman steps out of her car, she is thrown to the ground and handcuffed.

One of the cops walks her toward the police car, but rather than putting her inside, the cop violently body-slams her face first into the concrete. After she's finally put inside the cruiser, the two cops fist-bump each other, apparently to congratulate each other for a job well done -- for stopping a woman from the dangerous crime of talking on her phone.

23. A man finds his stepson in the garage, having committed suicide. In desperation, he attempts CPR. When medics and police arrived, the man said a cop grabbed him by the arm and belligerently ordered him to move away. As any loving parent would do, the man jerked his arm back from the cop and said, "Don't touch me," refusing to be ripped away. Rather than having some sympathy for the man and trying to calmly get him to step aside, the cop tackled the man, and two officers held him down while two others pounded on his face. He was arrested and taken to jail, where he was charged with felony obstruction.

24. A man and his mother were having an argument at her home, so she called police. When they arrived, she asked them to please not harm her son. Once inside, the son, who was unarmed, became combative. In short order, the man was tasered, the family dog was shot and killed, and then the man himself was shot and killed. The man had told police to leave and said they didn't have a warrant to be in the house, but according to the partner of the cop who pulled the trigger, the officer put a gun to the man's head and told him, "I don't need no warrant, motherfucker." Moments later, the man was dead.

25. And in what may be the most heartbreaking story of all, a 2-year-old boy may end up being disfigured for life after a pointless SWAT raid in Atlanta. The boy's mother recounted the terrorizing night in an article at Salon:
After the SWAT team broke down the door, they threw a flashbang grenade inside. It landed in my son's crib.

Flashbang grenades were created for soldiers to use during battle. When they explode, the noise is so loud and the flash is so bright that anyone close by is temporarily blinded and deafened. It's been three weeks since the flashbang exploded next to my sleeping baby, and he's still covered in burns.
There's still a hole in his chest that exposes his ribs.

... After breaking down the door, throwing my husband to the ground, and screaming at my children, the officers – armed with M16s – filed through the house like they were playing war.

... I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn't see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he'd just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he'd been placed into a medically induced coma.
The boy also had a hole blown in his cheek and lost the use of a lung. He was covered in third-degree burns. The family wasn't even sure at first whether he'd survive. He's undergone several surgeries, and it's not known yet whether he suffered brain damage in the incident. There will almost certainly be psychological scars.

What was so important in this house that the police had to bust in and terrorize an innocent family? An alleged $50 drug deal, made by the nephew of the homeowner, who wasn't even there and didn't live in the house.

The cops later claimed they didn't know any children were in the house, even though, as the child's mother points out, there were toys in the front yard, and their van had child safety seats inside, plus a stick-figure family on the back window showing four kids.

This poor family was already down on its luck. They were staying at a relative's house after their own home in Wisconsin burned down. And after losing their home, they had to deal with this. Terrorized by police who act like they're on a military raid, their innocent 2-year-old child disfigured -- all over a $50 drug deal. Complete overkill.

This is the tragedy of the so-called "war on drugs." It's doing more harm to innocent people than the drugs themselves are.

Can any good come from this horror? This is what the boy's mother had to say:
The only silver lining I can possibly see is that my baby Bou Bou's story might make us angry enough that we stop accepting brutal SWAT raids as a normal way to fight the "war on drugs." I know that this has happened to other families, here in Georgia and across the country. I know that SWAT teams are breaking into homes in the middle of the night, more often than not just to serve search warrants in drug cases. I know that too many local cops have stockpiled weapons that were made for soldiers to take to war.
The boy is back home now and continuing to recover, but his mother vows that "this is a fight we will not back down from."

Family spokesman and Atlanta community activist Marcus Coleman pulled no punches, either:
The fact of the matter is this family is the face of police brutality. This family is the face of the war on drugs. This family understands that this is bigger than them, and the mother and father have both stated that they do not want to see this type of tragedy happen to another family.
And the only way to prevent it from happening again is to stand up against this increasing militarization of the police and demand an end to the insane policies that are causing these raids to proliferate.

But why are they happening in the first place? Like most things, it boils down to money. The United States spends $51 billion a year on the "war on drugs," and the federal government is throwing around billions of dollars on top of that in grants, offering up military-grade armor and vehicles to help local communities fight the "war" -- and, of course, Fatherland Security is doing its part by writing enormous checks to police departments so they can buy even more battlefield gear on top of that, effectively turning police stations into armies.

Author Radley Balko, who for years has been following the trend of police militarization, offers an overview of how we got to this point:
There's certainly a lot of overlap between the war on drugs and police militarization. But if we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were two trends developing simultaneously. The first was the development and spread of SWAT teams. Darryl Gates started the first SWAT team in L.A. in 1969. By 1975, there were 500 of them across the country. They were largely a reaction to riots, violent protest groups like the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army, and a couple mass shooting incidents, like the Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.

At the same time, Nixon was declaring an "all-out war on drugs." He was pushing policies like the no-knock raid, dehumanizing drug users and dealers, and sending federal agents to storm private homes on raids that were really more about headlines and photo-ops than diminishing the supply of illicit drugs.

But for the first decade or so after Gates invented them, SWAT teams were largely only used in emergency situations. There usually needed to be an immediate, deadly threat to send the SWAT guys. It wasn't until the early 1980s under Reagan that the two trends converged, and we started to see SWAT teams used on an almost daily basis -- mostly to serve drug warrants.
... We got here by way of a number of political decisions and policies passed over 40 years. There was never a single law or policy that militarized our police departments -- so there was never really a public debate over whether this was a good or bad thing.

But there were other contributors. For about a generation, politicians from both parties were tripping over themselves to see who could come up with the tougher anti-crime policies. We're finally seeing some push-back on issues like incarceration, the drug war, and over-criminalization. But not on police. No politician wants to look anti-cop. Conservatives want to look tough on crime. Liberals love to throw money at police departments. So for now, rolling back police militarization is still a non-starter in Congress and state legislatures.
Undertaking an extensive study of SWAT raid proliferation, the ACLU uncovered some unsettling statistics:
There are an estimated 45,000 SWAT raids every year. That means this sort of violent, paramilitary raid is happening in about 124 homes every day -- or more likely every night -- not in an overseas combat zone, but here in American neighborhoods. The police, who are supposed to serve and protect communities, are instead waging war on the people who live in them.
The report also found that in the 800 cases the ACLU investigated, SWAT units were used for their original purpose -- "hostage and barricade situations"  -- only 7% of the time. Almost 80% were undertaken to search homes, usually for drugs.

"During these drug searches," the ACLU says, "at least 10 officers often piled into armored personnel carriers. They forced their way into people's homes using military equipment like battering rams 60 percent of the time. And they were 14 times more likely to deploy flashbang grenades than during SWAT raids for other purposes."

Balko added his thoughts on these findings:
In other words, where violent, volatile SWAT tactics were once used only in limited situations where someone was in the process of or about to commit a violent crime — where the police were using violence only to defuse an already violent situation — SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.
And as we've seen, innocent bystanders, including children and family pets, often become victims of these needless and overreaching raids. In at least one-third of these raids, according to the ACLU, no contraband is even found. But even when they do find something, do the ends justify the means? Is this not an invasion of privacy and a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

More from the ACLU:
Even if [SWAT teams] had found contraband, the idea of cops-cum-warriors would still be deeply troubling. Police can – and do – conduct searches and take suspects into custody without incident, without breaking into a home in the middle of the night, and without discharging their weapons. The fact is, very few policing situations actually require a full SWAT deployment or a tank. And simply having drugs in one's home should not be a high-risk factor used to justify a paramilitary raid. 
Equally disturbing is that police departments are so cavalier about these raids now that the orders to carry them out don't even come from the chief in many cases, reflecting a lack of proper oversight. Moreover, lots of police stations simply aren't talking about any of it. Nearly half of the ACLU's requests for information from local police departments were denied using a variety of flimsy excuses. In Massachusetts, SWAT teams declined to reveal information on the basis that they were private 501(c)(3) corporations, making them exempt from requests for public records. That's right: A taxpayer-financed hit squad is hiding behind the IRS tax code to conceal its actions from the public that it terrorizes.

Says Balko:
In short, we have police departments that are increasingly using violent, confrontational tactics to break into private homes for increasingly low-level crimes, and they seem to believe that the public has no right to know the specifics of when, how, and why those tactics are being used.
Furthermore, where only 25% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had a SWAT team 30 years ago, that number now stands at 80%. There's no escape from this growing police state.

On top of that, there are the weapons themselves that are being deployed in these raids, as police departments stockpile gear and munitions out of all proportion to anything they could possibly ever need. 

Barack Obama once said that "weapons of war have no place on our streets," but if he really believes that, then he has some explaining to do.

As these weapons of war are retired from the battlefields overseas, they're being handed over to local police forces all over the country.

The overkill would be laughable if the situation weren't so serious and the potential consequences so deadly, but the reality is that the wars overseas are coming home to Main Street, quite literally. A department in Maine requested a mine-resistant vehicle because the area allegedly faced "a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities." Little Keene, N.H., population 23,000, decided that it needed a Bearcat armored vehicle to protect against terrorist attacks at events such as its annual pumpkin festival. No joke. The ACLU report had a bit to say about Keene's ridiculous decision:
To explain why the police included the word "terrorism" on their application for federal funding for this purchase, a city councilmember said, "Our application talked about the danger of domestic terrorism, but that’s just something you put in the grant application to get the money. What red-blooded American cop isn’t going to be excited about getting a toy like this? That’s what it comes down to."
That's right. Silencers, camouflage, night-vision goggles, and even grenade launchers are being funneled into cops' hands, and all because little boys want to play with their toys. The Albuquerque cops, apparently having learned nothing from their scolding at the hands of the Justice Department for their use of excessive force, are getting in on the act, too, procuring 350 AR-15 assault rifles.

And the excuse the cops dish out for this excessive activity, over and over? It's for our own safety. As one rural Indiana sheriff whose department got a mine-resistant vehicle said, "It's my job to make sure my employees go home safe." In rural Indiana. What, are the cows going to throw Molotov cocktails at the cops? One of his peers in another rural Indiana county says he's only doing what's necessary, because "the United States of America has become a war zone." Well, no, it wasn't, but you guys are increasingly making it look like one.

So is Fatherland Security, which is responsible for a huge part of this abomination.

Memo to police: You are not at war against the American people. Stop acting like you are.

Clearly, this ramping up of the stakes is having a psychological effect on the mindsets of police forces, who are quickly forgetting that they're not members of the military. As The New York Times reports:
The ubiquity of SWAT teams has changed not only the way officers look, but also the way departments view themselves. Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons. In Springdale, Ark., a police recruiting video is dominated by SWAT clips, including officers throwing a flash grenade into a house and creeping through a field in camouflage.
Balko says that mindset absolutely has to change:
The gear and weapons and tanks are a problem. But I think a much deeper problem is the effect all of this war talk and battle rhetoric has had on policing as a profession. In much of the country today, police officers are psychologically isolated from the communities they serve. It's all about us vs. them.
... [C]ops should be a part of the communities in which they work. They should walk beats. They should know the names of the school principals, 7-11 managers, and Boys and Girls Club and community center staffers. When your only interaction with the community is antagonistic -- responding to calls, conducting stop-and-frisks, questioning people -- your relationship with the community will be antagonistic. Cops are public servants. Their job is to keep the peace while protecting and observing our constitutional rights. Somewhere in the process of constantly declaring war on things, we've lost sight of that.
For 30 years, politicians and public officials have been arming, training, and dressing cops as if they're fighting a war. They've been dehumanizing drug offenders and criminal suspects as the enemy. And of course they've explicitly and repeatedly told them they're fighting a war. It shouldn't be all that surprising that a lot of cops have started to believe it.
And none of this stops at SWAT teams and drug raids. It's only going to spread and get worse, and it's already beginning. Cops in Orlando conducted warrantless searches on the city's barbershops in 2010, essentially going on a fishing expedition -- the very thing the Fourth Amendment was written to protect against -- as they screamed and cursed at the store owners while ransacking their shops. Some cops were masked. Others had their guns drawn. Still others brought in police dogs. In the end, the cops found small amounts of drugs and guns, but 34 of the 37 arrests they made were for barbering without a license.

In Chicago in 2013, an undercover cop allegedly was offered sexual favors for cash at a massage parlor. When cops showed up to take action, the female owner, 5-foot-2 and 110 pounds, was rushed, thrown to the floor, and handcuffed, before being slapped from behind on the head. She thought she was being robbed before she realized that the criminals were actually Chicago's finest. She ended up with scratches and bruises from the incident, but that wasn't the worst of it. The verbal abuse from the cop was unrelenting.

"Mind your fucking business before I shut this whole fucking place down," the cop said when the woman protested her treatment.

He went on, screaming at her: "You're not a fucking American," he told the woman who's from China but has been an American citizen since 2011. "I'll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the fuck you came from." From there, he threatens to have it arranged so that she and her family will be killed.

The police tried but failed to find the surveillance video that showed the abuse as it unfolded, clearly so that it could never be used against them. 

When the woman fought back against the abusive cop and said she was just trying to defend herself, the cop roared, "Protect yourself from what? From the police? I don’t know how it is in your country, but in our country the police help."


Other stories are just as mind-boggling. Cops in riot gear have raided bars and nightclubs without warrants and handed out citations for underage drinking while checking for everything from outstanding arrest warrants to unpaid parking tickets -- all while holding patrons at gunpoint and searching their phones. The ATF, National Guard, and helicopters have been called out to break up low-stakes poker games, some of which ended after cops raided VFW halls and smashed down doors of private homes with battering rams. One gambling sting went so far as to have an undercover detective befriend a man who made friendly bets on sporting events. The detective got the man to make larger and larger bets over the course of several months, until he exceeded $2,000, which was the threshold in Virginia for running a gambling operation. The detective arrived later at the home of his "friend" with a SWAT team in tow. One of the SWAT team members shot the man in the heart and killed him.

We all remember the scene in Boston after the marathon bombing, with tanks and other armored vehicles rolling down the streets.

People were being involuntarily pulled out of their homes while the cops, armed to the teeth and indistinguishable from soldiers on patrol in a war zone, stormed through private residences with their guns drawn.

Citizens freely walking the streets were being told to show their identification to police. "Your papers, please ..."

One TV report gave a bizarre characterization of the house-to-house raids as a case of cops who would "rescue a family at the point of a gun." That's how we describe martial law and the trampling of the Fourth Amendment?

Don't forget, of course, that the cops, despite their fascist lockdown, never found the bomber. A private citizen did.

But it's hard to top what happened to a Nevada man in 2011. Police asked a man if they could use his house as a lookout for a domestic-violence standoff in the neighborhood. The man declined, saying he didn't want to get involved. That didn't matter, because the cops showed up anyway, demanding entry. When the man didn't open the door, cops smashed it down with a metal battering ram. Police rolled in, guns drawn, screaming conflicting orders at the homeowner after he dropped to the floor. Calling the man an "asshole," police fired at least three rounds of pepper balls at him from close range -- while he was unarmed and on the floor, posing no threat. He was then arrested. His dog got pepper-balled, too, before being tossed outside in the Nevada heat all day, while the cops commandeered the house for their stakeout.

The nearby home of his parents was taken over as well, and cops helped themselves to the water cooler and the refrigerator while they were there. The mother said the cops couldn't enter without a warrant, but they ignored her, grabbed her, and pulled her out of the house. The father was asked to come to the cops' command center, under the guise of helping them negotiate a surrender with the neighbor they wanted to capture. When the father realized taking him to the command center was just a ruse to get him to leave his house, he left the command center and was soon after arrested.

The family later sued the city, with charges including violating their Third Amendment rights protecting Americans from having to quarter soldiers. None of the cops involved were disciplined by the police department. 

Clearly, things are completely out of control. What can be done? The ACLU, for its part, is asking for states to set restrictions on the use of SWAT teams, saying, sensibly, that "such aggressive and dangerous force should only be used in cases where it's truly necessary to save a life." It's also asking the federal agencies dishing out the money and weapons to stop "incentivizing tactics that erode trust in law enforcement and undermine public safety."

Balko, for his part, doesn't see any of this ending well:
"A new industry appears to be emerging just to convert those grants into battle-grade gear," he said.
"That means we'll soon have powerful private interests, funded by government grants, who will lobby for more government grants to pay for further militarization — a police industrial complex."
He adds that the polarization between the two major parties is making reform impossible:
The other problem is that political factions decry police militarization when it's used against them, but tend to fall somewhere between indifferent and gleeful when it's used against people they don't like. Conservatives, remember, were furious over Waco, Ruby Ridge, and a host of BATF abuses against gun owners in the 1990s -- and rightly so. Liberals mocked them for it.
Liberals were furious at the aggressive response to the occupy protests -- and rightly so. And conservatives mocked them. Liberals are rightly angry about militarized immigration raids -- conservatives don't much care.
... Until partisans are willing to denounce excessive force when it's used against people whose politics offend them -- or at least refrain from endorsing it -- it's hard to see how there will ever be a consensus for reform.
And it certainly doesn't help that while 84% of cops say they've seen another officer use excessive force, 61% say they don't always report "even serious criminal violations" when they see them happening. On top of that, most cases of misconduct are never investigated, as the cops look out for their own, and jurors' bias toward cops prevents most cases referred for federal prosecution from ever moving forward.

As a result, cops have become nothing more than bullies who hide behind their badges -- a dangerous, violent gang with the power of the state behind them. They know they can act as horribly as they want to, and no one will ever call them on it.

They might even fist-bump each other after a hard day of beating up civilians.

If it sounds like I'm being unfair to cops, you have to keep one important thing in mind: No matter what pretty slogans they may have written on the sides of their cars, the cops are under no obligation to "protect and serve" their communities. The Supreme Court has even ruled as much. Their only job is to enforce the laws on the books. So if you're, say, a civilian on a subway who takes down a knife-wielding man who'd been on a 28-hour stabbing rampage, and you yourself get stabbed in the action of subduing the bad guy, two cops who are on a manhunt for the guy can stand by and watch all this unfold as they hide behind a locked door in the next subway car, until it appears that you've disarmed the bad guy and have the situation under control. Then they can come up to you, tap you on the shoulder, and let you know they'll take over.

That actually happened in New York in 2011. The man who saved the day sued the police for not protecting and aiding him. A judge threw out the case, saying the cops had no such obligation. They're fast enough to bust down your front door, kill your dog, and point a gun at your head if they think you've been smoking a joint, and they won't hesitate to pull you over for the victimless crime of not wearing a seat belt in your car, but if there's a real crime going on and you need their help, tough luck, buddy.

This was not an isolated case. In Colorado, the case that spurred the Supreme Court ruling in 2005, a woman called the cops to say that her husband, against whom she had a restraining order, had kidnapped their children and told her his location. She conveyed the information to the police, who did nothing. The man showed up at the police station several hours later, with his children's bodies in his vehicle. He opened fire, and the police shot him dead. He had to literally come to the cops' doorstep before they'd do anything, and by then it was too late for the children. The mother sued, and the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where the justices ruled that the police have no constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.

Similarly, in D.C., burglars broke into a townhouse and beat and raped a woman living on the second floor. Roommates on the third floor called 911, but one police car simply drove around the house and left, while another officer apparently knocked on the door but then also left when he got no response. When the roommates heard screams downstairs, they put in another 911 call, but it was found later that the call was never dispatched.

When the intruders realized there were more people on the third floor, all three women living in the house were taken at knife point to the apartment of one of the intruders. For the next 14 hours, the women were raped, beaten, and forced to commit sex acts on each other.

The women sued the police and the city for negligence. They lost.

The indifference of the cops doesn't even have to involve a violent crime. One guy tells of how his car was stolen with his iPad inside. Well, he was able to pinpoint the location of his iPad with the iCloud locator function, so he called the L.A. cops and told them exactly where they needed to go to retrieve his stuff. The response he gets? "All the auto detectives have gone home for the day. I'll give them the message and see if they want to do anything."

Fourteen hours pass and nothing happens. He calls LAPD again: 
So, the auto detective unit for LA says, "Yeah, sometimes we follow up on that if we have the personnel, but four of my detectives are on vacation, so I only have two and one is brand new. Sorry can't help you."
The only reply he ever gets is a letter from the police chief ... offering to sell him The Club for his car at a special discounted police rate.

We can't be bothered to solve your crime and get your property back, but here, let us sell you a stick for your steering wheel.

After all, there aren't any federal grants available for cracking down on auto and property theft. The cops have to have priorities -- like setting up seat-belt and DUI checkpoints so they can badger peaceful citizens who may have forgotten to renew their plates or insurance, or who forgot to properly install one of the straps on the kid's safety seat. All those tickets mean easy money for the local cop shop. It beats fighting actual crime, and it proves that things like seat-belt laws and red-light cameras have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with revenue collection.

One man who says he used to be a cop recently posted on Reddit to respond to a post asking people to share the most disturbing thing people's employers do and get away with it. If you still have any doubt that the cops care more about revenue collection than about public safety, read this:
Yeah, we have “quotas”. They are ‘unoffical’ but you get shit duties if you dont pull in so much money for the department per month. So, what that means is, say it’s the 30th of the month and you havent met your quota.. That means you pull over someone (preferably black, since they are less likely to fight it or sue) who is ‘doing 55 in a 54′ and give them a ticket.
Also, I’m lucky enough to work in a ‘shall arrest’ DV state. Which basically means that, if we get a domestic violence call against you for any reason what so ever, we are required to arrest SOMEONE. It doesn’t matter if a neighbor who hates you calls, and when we show up you are the only person home, we are still supposed to arrest you. I’ve literally been yelled at by a superior because some asshole called in a DV against his neighbor who he had a land dispute with, and I refused to arrest the guy because his wife wasn’t even in town when we got there (she had been out of town on business for a week…). It doesn’t matter to the higher up’s, because once you are arrested for even a bullshit reason, it’s money getting pumped into the system. You are GOING to pay bail if you can ... you are going to pay for a lawyer. Even a bullshit arrest can easily turn into multiple thousands of dollars. Oh, let’s not forget the expungment paper work you have to file (which is another 5-600 bucks), just to get the arrest removed from your record (the arrest will stay there even if you are found innocent or the DA refuses to press charges). Let’s not forget the money being pumped into parole officers, probation officers, etc.

Oh, and in my county in particular, ‘evidence’ that is confiscated, gets auctioned off, and the money goes back into the PD. So, if you are arrested for spotlighting or hunting out of season (or even some BS charge as mentioned above), we are going to take your car, your firearms, and possibly any other firearms you own that we ‘suspect’ you may have used for other illicit activity….and unless you can afford a good lawyer to get them back, we are going to auction all that off and the money is going to go back into buying us new squad cars and laptops to look at facebook while we sit in those squad cars.

So yeah, don’t think the police are here to protect you. We are here to put money back into the system. When I started out I was a starry eyed kid, thinking I was going to be helping out people and ‘protecting and serving’…..after a few months, I realized that it was all bullshit, and we are here to use anything you say against you, and twist any facts we can against you. It was so bad (at least where I live) that I had to quit, I didn’t have the moral ‘ambiguity’ to keep on.
Similarly, an Alabama cop was fired after speaking out about his police force's quota system for tickets and arrests:

Keep that in mind when you hit a checkpoint -- the cops are there to squeeze money out of you any way they can, not to keep the roads safe. And don't you dare try to flex your constitutional rights at one of those checkpoints. It gets the cops mad when you show them you know your rights.

They depend on your fear, ignorance, and capitulation. They don't want people who know how to fight back. They want you dumb, gullible, and submissive -- or at least as dumb as they are, considering that if you ever thought about becoming a cop yourself, you might just find yourself rejected from consideration if your IQ is too high. Remember how Frank Zappa said the powers-that-be want people just smart enough to run the machines but not smart enough to question what they're being asked to do? These checkpoints are living proof. Municipalities want cops who'll enforce the law with blunt force if necessary, but they don't want cops who might question the morality of the laws they're asked to enforce, or the methods by which they enforce them.

Cops don't do nuance. There are never extenuating circumstances. It's the same mindset that feeds into the zero-tolerance laws in public schools. It doesn't matter if your actions carried no malicious intent. That's why, for example, a lunkhead cop pulled over a family who was trying to speed to the hospital to get treatment for their son who'd been bitten by a scorpion. Rather than, say, escort them to the hospital so the boy could get treated for the poisonous bite as soon as possible, the cop told the mother, who obviously just wanted to be on her way, "You're not going anywhere, or you'll be arrested." That's the world of a cop -- totally black and white. It apparently never entered the cop's mind that he was valuing the collection of revenue over a human life -- the driver was speeding, so the driver must be pulled over and given a ticket. Period. If a situation doesn't involve the imposing of power, control, or compliance over a citizen, it doesn't register with a cop.

Again, it's little wonder that police forces would be filled with people of middling intelligence who blindly follow orders. After all, you can't afford to have cops who will risk having an ethical crisis if you're asking them to enforce something like a "no refusal" checkpoint, where if you decline to take a Breathalyzer test, not only can you instantly lose your license for a year, but they also have a judge on standby who will issue a warrant for your blood. This is actually happening. Refuse to blow at a checkpoint, and you'll be taken to a nearby clinic, or the jail, where you'll be strapped down, with a cop holding a forearm over your neck, while someone sticks a needle in you and extracts blood from your body against your will.

Again, I am not making this up. This is happening in the United States of America.

I'm doing this for your own good. Now, comply, citizen!
This is what happens when people have their rights and liberties chipped away at, little by little, year after year. What would have been an outrage not so long ago now has people actually supporting these invasive actions because, as we've heard over and over since 9/11, "we have to keep people safe."

Yesterday's "unacceptable" becomes tomorrow's "normal," as we continue to choose safety over liberty -- something Ben Franklin warned us against two centuries ago. 

You can see how this slippery slope with the cops began to unfold with the advent of seat-belt laws. Before there were any such laws on the books, around 75% of Americans opposed having laws requiring people to buckle up in their cars. It's not that they didn't think seat belts were a good idea; it's that they realized that buckling up was a choice that affected them and them only.

But then automakers struck a deal whereby the federal government wouldn't force them to put airbags in their cars if they could get states representing two-thirds of the U.S. population to pass seat-belt laws. Of course, the feds eventually mandated airbags anyway. And then they made it worse by bribing the states to maximize seat-belt enforcement and threatening to take highway funds away if they didn't. Eventually, the car-insurance companies got involved in lobbying the states, too. Once again, follow the money.

Speaking of which, it didn't take long for local communities to figure out that writing out tickets for not wearing a seat belt was easy money. So secondary-enforcement laws -- meaning people couldn't be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt unless they were doing something else wrong -- became primary-enforcement laws, as the government pummeled the public with the idea that buckling up was for your own good, and it worked like a charm. Where around three-quarters of Americans once opposed seat-belt laws, most people today support them, often enthusiastically. Now all you find are people coming up with ridiculous arguments about why you should always buckle up, like not letting yourself get shot out your windshield and injuring someone else with your airborne body. If we're passing and justifying laws based on avoiding such a freakishly remote possibility as that, maybe the law isn't such a good thing after all.

But this is what relentless propaganda gets you -- people who will willingly turn over their rights and sovereignty to the state, if only you program them with the right emotional buzzwords, day in and day out. And like frogs in a pot of water on the stove, we don't realize the water is heating up until it's too late and we boil to death. Can we still jump out before it's too late?

Doing so would mean coming to the realization that even letting the state make seemingly innocuous choices over your personal behavior has a snowball effect. Making people wear their seat belts may not seem like a bad idea in and of itself, until you realize that it's that same mindset that now allows cops to strap people down on a gurney against their will and have their blood drawn. It's a straight line from Point A to Point B. The latter would not have happened without letting the former set the stage by conditioning the people into thinking, "OK, maybe just this one little intrusion on my private choices is something I can live with." As we all know, it never stops at just one little intrusion.

I used to joke, after the seat-belt laws came into force, that the cops might as well pull us over after leaving a McDonald's drive-through, since our meal may have too many calories and could cause us some terrible health problems -- and since the state knows better than you how to make choices for your personal life, the state's revenue collectors are going to fine you for your own good. That's exactly the same kind of mindset that allowed the seat-belt law to happen -- and the fact that the state fines you for one activity but not another tells you all you need to know about the true intention of the law. Cops don't write you a seat-belt ticket because they're concerned about your safety and well-being. They do it because they can. They do it because there's money in it for their police departments and the state governments. They do it because of pressure from the car-insurance companies.  

Always follow the money. 

It's the same reason online gambling, for example, is illegal in most states -- not because the state is worried about protecting you for your own good, even though that's always the excuse, but because multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who just happens to be a casino magnate, has thrown millions of dollars at politicians to keep the competition at bay.

Always follow the money.

But regardless of the true motivation, the fact that we've allowed the state to micromanage our personal choices like this has led us to something much more nefarious. We never would have accepted something like an involuntary blood draw had we not been slowly conditioned by the mantra of "it's only for your own good," over and over through the years. Nobody wants drunk drivers on the road, but to extract someone's blood against his will goes far beyond any reasonable attempt to keep the roads safe.

Yet here we are. We've allowed it to happen. Public safety has mutated into heavy-handed harassment.

Welcome to the police-nanny state.

... Where, thanks to the Food Safety Modernization Act, government officials can micromanage the actions of people like artisan cheesemakers, telling them they can no longer age their cheeses on wooden planks because it's "unsanitary," even though this has been a practice for centuries.

... Where cops run undercover sting operations to keep car-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft off the roads in major cities, in some cases impounding cars and promising to make arrests -- all in the name of public safety, when of course all they're really doing is protecting the interests of cab drivers who don't want any competition cutting into their business.

... Where an inspector can object to the hosting of a private "farm to fork" event, with patrons eating food grown right on the farm where they were eating, and orders the hosts to pour bleach over all the food -- because the hosts didn't have the proper permits.

... Where another health inspector can order a homeless shelter to pour bleach over 1,600 pounds of deer meat donated to a homeless shelter, because the state didn't OK the meat first

... Where local governments can order people to tear up their gardens because they violate local landscaping ordinances, and threaten punitive fines for failure to comply.

... Where the cops can shut down a child's lemonade stand for not having the proper permits and inspections.

... Where a state dental board can block an orthodontist from offering discount dental cleanings to low-income families, threatening to take his license away if he doesn't comply -- because other dentists complained about the low costs.

... Where the cops can order a 9-year-old boy to remove a free book exchange from his parents' front yard.

... Where a man can go to jail for collecting rainwater on his own property.

... Where a man can be convicted of counterfeiting and accused of "domestic terrorism" for producing an alternative currency out of silver and gold, with bills and coins that look nothing like U.S. coins and currency in circulation.

... Where the feds can send in armed agents to invade farms to stop people from the crime of selling raw milk to willing consumers.

Just more examples of how the state is aggressively enforcing the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. No sane person thinks that a child running a lemonade stand should have to apply for permits and inspections. That's not what the permitting and inspecting laws were written for.

Some of these cases, though, go beyond absurd governmental overreach and actually destroy people's lives. John Stossel covered some of the more extreme examples in an eye-opening special a few years back.

And that doesn't even touch on the people whose lives end up in legal limbo because of health decisions handed down by those who think they know best.

Bret Bohn, 26, became a de facto prisoner in the psychiatric ward of a hospital after the state of Alaska went to court to wrest away custody of the man from his parents, despite their power of attorney and the wishes expressed in his own will. After a bout of insomnia following a surgical procedure, Bohn was tested and given an increasingly large regimen of drugs, including powerful psychiatric medication -- even though there was no reason to believe that his fragile state of mind was caused by anything but his lack of sleep. After he tried to check himself out and his mother sought a second opinion, the state came down against him and his wishes and decided it needed to lock him away for his own good. His mother was allowed one supervised visit a week, during which she couldn't whisper to him and wasn't allowed to feed him. He was allowed no phone calls. He was finally released after seven months.

A California couple took their infant child to the hospital when he displayed flu-like symptoms. The baby had a heart condition, and the hospital staff recommended surgery. But the parents were uncomfortable with the hospital, after the mother confronted a nurse who said she didn't know what kind of medication she was giving the baby, and it turned out to be an antibiotic, even though the child had been diagnosed with a virus. So they took their baby home and sought a second opinion elsewhere. That didn't sit well with the hospital, which sent Child Protective Services to the parents' home, accompanied by armed police. The cop shoved the father out of the way, tackled him, handcuffed him, and threw him in a police car. Then the cop entered the home without a warrant, and with his hand on his weapon demanded that the mother hand over her child. CPS wouldn't tell the mother where they were taking her baby. The mother and father were afterward forced to undergo regular visits from CPS to make sure they were acting like fit parents, but they eventually dropped the case under public pressure. The baby has since had his surgery and is doing well, but the parents are suing the police and CPS, which of course claim no wrongdoing.

Justina Pelletier, a teenage girl who had previously been diagnosed with mitochondrial disorder, was brought to the hospital when she was feeling ill. Doctors decided her problems were psychiatric and that they would be removing her from her previous treatment regimen. When the parents objected and said they were leaving to get a second opinion, security guards moved to block all the doorways, as hospital staff had determined behind the scenes that the girl's previous treatment constituted child abuse. Justina ended up locked in a psychiatric ward for over a year, and her condition deteriorated while battles over her custody raged on. Her parents were allowed only a single one-hour supervised visit per week while she essentially became a guinea pig for the hospital, being treated for a psychiatric disorder that the staff thought she might have. Finally, after 16 months, Justina was returned to her parents, after they capitulated and agreed to the state's terms for care of their daughter.

Who knows how to run your life better: you, or some faceless bureaucrat who's "just following orders" when he busts down your door in the middle of the night, beats your spouse to death, kills your dog, shuts down your business over a technicality, or kidnaps your child?

We all know the answer. Those who rule over us don't. That's the problem.

Why the right is wrong, too
Now, I started off this post talking about how the American left has lost its way, and it may seem unfair to drop all of this stuff at the feet of the left. But notice that video with Justina Pelletier and her family. It's on Mike Huckabee's show. A conservative program on a conservative network. For all of the right's faults, it's conservatives and libertarians who tend to speak out the loudest in defense of families who go through these types of legal nightmares. That's because -- again, for all their faults -- they understand and embrace the importance of the family unit as a fundamental building block of society.

Liberals, meanwhile, put their faith not in individuals or the family but in the state, content to believe that the government will always do the right thing because it has our best interests in mind. It's the same kind of unquestioning allegiance that colors religious belief, and I would contend that's a big part of the reason the political left has become so rigid and intolerant in its views. Blind faith in the state simply becomes a mirror image of the religious fundamentalism of the right. The notion that Justina and her family could have been the victim of an overbearing, overzealous government would never even occur to many on the left. The government simply had to have her best interests at heart. 

But there's a reason I'm not part of the political right, either. Holly Fisher sums it up in two pictures.

The West Virginia mom posed for the picture on the left after the Hobby Lobby ruling. The "Pro-Life" T-shirt makes it clear where she stands on the ruling, and the Chick-fil-A cup she's holding drives the point home. Both companies' executives have taken positions that resonate with conservatives, and the left eviscerated them for it.

I don't blame Fisher for rubbing it in liberals' faces. If the left could have raised a reasonable objection to either company, that would have been one thing, but to act as if the combined companies want to incinerate gays and women simply because one company exec said he opposed gay marriage and the other company objected to four types of contraception on pro-life grounds ... well, the ridiculous hyperbole speaks for itself. "Tolerant" "liberal" city leaders said Chick-fil-A wouldn't be welcome in their jurisdictions, and equally "tolerant" "liberal" college campuses tried to shut down the restaurants on their campuses. Not because the company CEO said he wouldn't serve or hire gays, or in any other way discriminate against them, but simply because he said that, as a conservative Christian, he supported traditional male-female marriage and didn't believe the institution should be extended to same-sex couples. I've already touched on the over-the-top reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling. The hysteria in both cases undermines any argument the left might try to muster.

When those same "tolerant" "liberals" launched personal attacks at her over the picture, Fisher decided to up the ante, saying the biggest complaint she'd gotten about the photo is that there wasn't a gun, Bible, or flag in it. The photo on the right came out on July 4.

The attacks against Fisher escalated into death threats, which is unfortunate. But this is where I draw the line with the modern conservative movement, as it sums up in one dramatic image why I had to get off this particular train after 9/11.

I grew up in a conservative Catholic home in the Midwest, and many of those values rubbed off on me. One that didn't, though, was the right's embrace of violence and militarism. The Catholic church's embrace of the consistent life ethic -- and, later, Albert Schweitzer's similar philosophy of Reverence for Life -- made much more intuitive sense to me than the pursuit of war and capital punishment, since the Jesus I read about was a man of peace who did not believe in retribution and vengeance. His teachings centered on love and forgiveness. But I didn't find that in the conservative movement, whether it was Reagan's bombing of Libya or Bush the Elder's invasion of Iraq. When the rhetoric after 9/11 ramped up and our national focus turned from bringing the perpetrators to justice to exacting bloody revenge even on people who had nothing to do with the attacks, I could no longer support the Republican Party. I'd rationalized it for years, but at that point I was done.

Today, a lot of evangelical conservatives seem to have some twisted notion of Jesus as a gun-toting Rambo warrior who will come back to Earth one day, wrapped in an American flag, with AK-47s blazing from each hand. It's a mindset that so tragically misrepresents the message Jesus sought to share with his followers. Holly Fisher perpetuates it in her picture, and she makes it worse by wrapping it all in the American flag, as if the way to spread American ideals is through the barrel of a gun while claiming to hold some kind of religious high ground. She said in one interview that she was proud of her husband, a solider, for having killed "terrorists," by which she surely means some man in a dirt-poor country who probably never posed the slightest threat to the United States. And this from the same woman who claims to be "pro-life."

That's the disconnect. In one picture, you have a woman claiming to support the right to life and freedom of expression and conscience, and in the other, you have a woman celebrating violence, murder, jingoism, and the apparent intermingling of church and state to the point of appearing to desire a Christian theocracy. Rather than looking at the American flag as a symbol of the "shining city on a hill" that Reagan talked about -- a nation that others could aspire to -- it's used here, as it so often is, as a weapon of fear and intimidation. Forget setting an example for the world -- we'll force the "American way" on the rest of the world at gunpoint, and we'll do it with the Bible tucked under one arm.

In short, this picture sums up why the rest of the world hates us.

Even more tragic is that it shows how religion, militarism, and what Einstein called the "infantile disease" of nationalism create a toxic and volatile mindset that remains the same no matter where you go in the world. We think we're so morally superior, and then someone comes up with a brilliant meme like this:

On the right is Sherafiyah Lewthwaite, known as the "White Widow." She has suspected ties to an Islamic militant group and has been linked with several violent attacks on civilians. Lewthwaite, born in Northern Ireland, converted to Islam in her teen years. She's seen in this picture holding a copy of the Koran.

Emma Goldman, more than a century ago, explained exactly why there truly is no difference between the two pictures:
Conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.

The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that from early infancy the mind of the child is provided with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner. It is for that purpose that we are clamoring for a greater army and navy, more battleships and ammunition.
Conservatives, predictably, have been bending over backwards to explain that there actually is a difference between the two images that are frighteningly alike. Fisher is a peaceful person expressing her constitutional rights, while the other is a violent criminal. Yeah, yeah, we all get that, but it misses the point that the mindset in both pictures is exactly the same. Both women believe in the righteousness of their beliefs and their holy books, and one presumes that if push came to shove, Fisher would mow down her enemies with that gun just as quickly as the White Widow would. She's proud of her husband for killing people, after all. She supports a foreign policy that makes people desperate enough to take up arms against a foreign aggressor that will not leave them alone. In other words, what Fisher believes in results in people like the White Widow. They kill us, so we kill more of them, and the cycle of violence never ends. But both are 100% convinced they are right.

Oh, you don't think our meddling in the affairs of other nations nonstop for years and years on end doesn't make people turn to acts of desperation? If I lived in constant fear of having drones flying over my head, not knowing if they may target a wedding or a rescuer, or blow up an innocent child -- since they have done all those things, and have killed 2,400 people in the process under the Obama administration alone -- I might decide to take action.

When I hear that the soldiers who invaded my country took a picture of themselves urinating on the dead bodies of the people they killed, I might want revenge.

If I heard about the excessive violence visited on prisoners in Guantanamo (many of whom never posed any threat, as we know thanks to Bradley Manning) and elsewhere around the world, or the humiliating sexual abuse they endure, or the painful force-feeding they undergo -- even after some of them have been cleared of any wrongdoing but still remain imprisoned -- I may feel some outrage.

And if I saw any of the horrid images from Abu Ghraib ...

... Well, I just don't know what I'd do.

But what I wouldn't say is that America occupies any kind of moral high ground.

Nor would I have the audacity to hold a Bible in my hands, ignoring Jesus' call to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

No Christian could act the way we've acted toward others, both guilty and innocent, since 9/11. I wonder what part of the CIA's torture program Jesus would participate in, for example. Let's read a little about it:
Court documents provide insight into the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques": Hooding, handcuffing, chambering a bullet, putting the gun to the suspect's head while cocking the trigger; threatening a hooded, naked suspect with a power drill; threatening to apprehend the suspect's mother or female relative, bring them before him to be sexually assaulted; various stress positions which could force dislocation of limbs; using a stiff brush on a suspect's naked body to induce pain; suspending the suspect on a bar or a hook for two to three days at a time; water boarding; electric shock; threatening to sodomize the suspect and to infect the suspect with the HIV virus.
This, incidentally, is the same CIA torture program John Kiriakou tried to expose and went to prison for it. Yet not a single CIA torturer has spent a second behind bars.

Is it any wonder that when we excuse and rationalize this kind of behavior overseas, we'd find those same behaviors coming back home and infecting law enforcement? Police brutality is clearly out of control, and things get no better when those who have found themselves on the wrong end of a night stick are sentenced to a term behind bars.

A nightmare that no one cares about
Reports of abuse in prison are running rampant, and much of the abuse is taking place not between inmates, but by the people running the prisons. Reports of beatings, sexual assaults, routine solitary confinement, withdrawal of food, taking bets on inmate fights, and outright torture are proliferating. One of the most horrifying examples comes from Florida, where a mentally ill man serving a two-year sentence for nonviolent drug possession was cooked to death in a scalding shower -- as punishment for defecating in his cell and not cleaning it up. The man screamed for mercy while the prison guards taunted him. Two hours later, he was found dead, with his skin starting to slough off his body. He had one month left until his release.

Most people don't seem to care about these stories, because they think that if you're in prison, you're a bad person and "deserve" whatever treatment you get. The problem with that kind of thinking is that treating inmates like animals serves no useful purpose because it has nothing to do with justice -- in other words, instead of helping people better themselves to become productive members of society when they've paid their debt to society, we're creating people who are going to walk out of prison with a chip on their shoulder, possibly making dangerous and unstable people even more so.

Bad people can be punished without torturing them and violating their human rights. That doesn't mean coddling criminals is the answer -- it means that prisons should be a place you go to sacrifice your freedom for doing something wrong, making the experience unpleasant enough that you regret what you've done, and providing opportunities for the repentant to make something better of their lives when they get out, so that they don't end up right back in a cell again.

The other problem with the who-cares-they're-just-criminals mentality is that a lot of people behind bars are guilty of nothing but victimless crimes. Half of the people in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, up from just 16% in 1970, and a quarter of all U.S. inmates are nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom have been caught up in the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that -- as we've seen in other walks of American life -- unfairly treat everyone as an equally bad criminal regardless of extenuating circumstances or the severity of the "crime" committed.

The website for Corrections: A Documentary summarizes the road we've taken to arrive at the current prison situation:
In the late 1960s, the U.S. began to expand the powers of law enforcement agencies around the country, generating by the 1970s an unprecedented reliance on incarceration to treat its social, political, economic, and mental health problems.

By calling new acts crimes, and by increasing the severity of sentencing for other acts, U.S. citizens witnessed a "prison boom."
Or, as the Chinese sage Lao-tzu so succinctly put it more than 2,000 years ago:
The more laws and commands there are,
The more thieves and robbers there will be.
It's not that there are more bad people in the world. It's that we've invented laws that turn them into bad people in the eyes of the state.

That's why, after Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs," the incarceration rate exploded.

The end result? Overcrowded prisons, as the U.S. now lays claim to the world's largest prison population, at 756 people incarcerated per every 100,000 people. We have 2.3 million people behind bars -- roughly equivalent to the entire population of Houston -- and while the U.S. makes up 5% of the world's population, we also account for 25% of its prison population. The number of Americans in prison is up by a mind-boggling 700% since 1970. 

Minorities bear a heavy portion of the burden. According to research from one author, there are more black men either in prison or on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850.

That's one of the human costs of a "war" that takes parents away from their children. There are also the societal costs, seen in the militarization of police and the use of SWAT teams for things other than their original purpose. Families are terrorized; innocent children are maimed; homes are destroyed.

Is the "war" worth the price we pay? Well, we should have learned our lesson during Prohibition that criminalizing the use of a substance doesn't make it go away; it merely creates a criminal underground, one that's often violent.

Americans are starting to figure that out themselves, and in a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans said they thought drug users should be treated and rehabilitated instead of jailed.

The question is, will policymakers listen? Well, once again, we have to follow the money. There's a lot of financial incentive for police departments in continuing to aggressively pursue the "war on drugs." Not only that, but there's also money to be made in keeping as many people as possible behind bars, especially given the rise of corporate-run, for-profit prisons. The potential for abuse here is obvious to any rational person, when prisoners become sources of revenue for a private company.

How did this all start? For the most part, it began when politicians began to have a hard time selling the public on passing bond issues to build new prisons. Existing prisons were overflowing as the "war on drugs" ramped up, and something had to give. But instead of reforming the drug laws to cut down on the incarceration rate, the solution was to have private companies build new prison facilities and then lease out the beds to the state. Taxpayers save money, and the companies would have incentive to keep their operating costs down to maximize profits and shareholder returns.

Everyone wins ... except the inmates. In the name of squeezing out more profits, private prisons have been understaffed and allowed to overflow with garbage and sewage, while inmates' food often comes in increasingly smaller servings or is spoiled by the presence of things like human waste or worms. Health care, too, has been gutted, with one prison nurse joking that "we save money because we skip the ambulance and bring them right to the morgue." Violence and riots at these prisons -- in part because of the lack of staffing to keep the inmates in check, and in part borne of a reaction to the abysmal conditions -- occur at a much higher rate than at government-run prisons.

Obviously, there is zero incentive to reduce headcounts, which is why lobbyists for the prison corporations have lobbied at both the state and federal levels, by way of bribes, to ramp up sentencing and imprison more people. Many of their contracts with state governments set quotas that guarantee a set percentage of beds will be filled, with the state picking up the bill for any shortfall.

But perhaps most nefarious of all is how prisons lease out their inmates to other corporations, which have access to a labor pool with no benefits, no sick days, and no holidays, and who can be paid pennies an hour for their work, if they get anything at all. If they refuse to work as de facto slaves for the corporations getting richer off their backs, they're often beaten. The names of the participating companies run the gamut from Microsoft and Starbucks to Boeing and Target. Even the Pentagon has gotten in on the act, handing over the making of military apparel to a government-owned corporation that employs prisoners. This process is putting so much pressure on small companies that it's forcing some of them to cut jobs or go out of business:
"There's a federal program tanking our industry," Kurt Courtney, director of government relations at the American Apparel and Footwear Association, told CNN. "The only way for workers to get jobs back is to go to prison. There's got to be a better way.
The clear lesson here is that if Chinese labor can't be exploited for a cheap enough price, corporations and our own government will prey on our own people instead, even if it means the loss of jobs for people who aren't behind bars.

Misplaced anger
The common denominator that runs through all these sad stories in modern American society is the soulless pursuit of money and a dehumanization of people we either don't like or would rather not think about.

The right understands that our society has lost its moral compass, but they come up with solutions that bludgeon people for being different or down on their luck. Telling a committed same-sex couple that they can't enjoy the same legal status as heterosexual couples isn't going to magically fix everything the right thinks has gone wrong with society. Blaming poor people for lacking a good work ethic ignores a host of problems, like disappearing jobs, or the exploding cost of higher education that's locking more and more people out of bettering themselves. Saying you're tired of working hard to support "lazy" people who collect welfare and sit around the house all day buys into the worst stereotypes about the poor, and it ignores who really consumes most of our tax dollars, as safety-net programs make up only around 12% of the federal budget. That includes food stamps, which were cut by $8.6 billion in the 2014 farm bill. That might sound like a lot, but it's less than the Pentagon shells out in a week for defense contracts and the salaries of military personnel. When it comes to anger over who's blowing our money, the anger is quite often misplaced.

I'm a middle-class guy who freelances for a living, and I paid more taxes last year than Boeing, an international multibillion-dollar corporation. You probably paid more taxes than Boeing, too. That's because Boeing paid nothing in taxes and had an effective federal tax rate of negative-1.4%.

Boeing is just one example of huge corporations that use loopholes not available to ordinary taxpayers to shelter their cash from taxation. These are the same companies that flood political candidates' campaigns with contributions, in exchange for the very types of kickbacks they're currently enjoying.  

That's where conservatives should be focusing their anger. Not at the poor who are just trying to get by, but at the companies that increasingly offer jobs with minimal hours and low pay. Not at "illegal" immigrants who are just looking to make a better life for themselves and their families, but at the companies that are handing their jobs off to foreign countries with cheap labor pools, and to inmates in the U.S. prison system, not to so-called "illegals."

These huge companies are using their loads of cash to buy politicians and influence policy, but then they don't pay back into the system, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill because they get to skip out on paying their fair share of taxes. To add insult to injury, we end up footing the bill for them twice when they pay their workers so little that the workers need to use food stamps to survive. Wal-Mart is the prime example here -- taxpayers subsidize their employees who don't earn enough to buy food and so have to resort to food stamps -- which the workers then turn around and use at Wal-Mart, since Wal-Mart undercuts its competitors on price, meaning that not only does Wal-Mart kill off Mom-and-Pop stores that can't compete with its predatory pricing, but it also actually benefits off the backs of its own employees by effectively forcing them to shop there. Wal-Mart, in the end, takes in 18% of all food-stamp spending in the United States. It's the modern-day equivalent of the company store

Yet the mantra from the right continues to be that if you're down on your luck, it's your own fault and you need to work harder. If you're in jail or in trouble with the cops, it's because you're a bad person and deserve what you get. If our government bombs your nation and kills your children, you were subhuman terrorists who had it coming, and your kids probably would have grown up to be terrorists anyway. We stand in judgment of others by dehumanizing them, because looking at what's really happening would be too uncomfortable and might challenge our beliefs. That's how communities all over the country are effectively criminalizing homelessness and the ability of everyday people to give them food and aid, and getting away with it. Rather than think of the homeless as human beings who have fallen through society's cracks and need help, rather than think that some homeless people might not be lazy bums but bright, educated people who fell on hard times, and rather than face the fact that we often turn our backs on addicts and the mentally ill, we just look the other way when they ask us for some spare change and probably breathe a quiet sigh of relief to see that cities all over the nation are using the force of law to sweep the homeless under the rug, safely out of sight. 

A similar attitude exists on the right toward our overreaching and unconstitutional surveillance network that tracks practically every step of our lives. Rather than consider the consequences to our civil liberties, the right tends to look at things like NDAA indefinite detention, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, the NSA, and the TSA with indifference, since "if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." Which, of course, is not the point and never has been. The point is that if you don't jealously guard your liberties, they will go away. But it's this blind deference to authority that puts Bradley Manning and John Kiriakou behind bars, leaves Edward Snowden in de facto exile in Russia, and makes Julian Assange an effective prisoner inside the Ecuadorian embassy giving him asylum in London. These are the people blowing the whistle on the real criminals running our world, yet the criminals continue to roam free while the truth-tellers are persecuted.

It's also this deference to authority that lets terrible sentencing injustices play out. A rich kid can get behind the wheel drunk and get nothing but probation, because he suffers from "affluenza" and allegedly doesn't understand right and wrong because of his sheltered and privileged status. An heir to the DuPont family fortune can rape his own 3-year-old daughter and face no jail time because he wouldn't "fare well" in prison. Yet a Missouri man is in prison for life for nonviolent possession of marijuana, and a 19-year-old in Texas could also go behind bars for life for making and selling marijuana brownies.

The wealthy and the powerful don't have to play by the same rules as the rest of us, and that's not acceptable. Excusing it only makes the problem worse.

Taking back our world
So what do we do about all this? Where do we start?

Well, I think the first thing is to realize that blind deference to authority is not a virtue and that respect is earned, not automatically given as a result of someone's position. People who enjoy privilege and power need to be questioned and challenged, not passively obeyed. That's how we keep them in check.

It's also important to keep in mind that most people in power do not have your best interests at heart. They are interested in power, control, and compliance. Compliance is what they get from most people. When they don't get it, the powers-that-be retaliate. How much retaliation one is willing to endure is a question each person has to answer for him- or herself. Henry David Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay a tax to support a government that was waging the Mexican War and backed the expansion of slavery. How many of us would be willing to go to jail for refusing to pay our income taxes on the basis that we didn't want our money funding endless war or the surveillance state?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail for deliberately disobeying an injunction barring parades and demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama -- an injunction put in place to prevent Dr. King and his supporters from exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly. How many of us would simply comply with the injunction and cancel our demonstrations? How many of us would be willing to follow Dr. King's belief that people have a duty to disobey unjust laws?

Furthermore, I believe we must be willing to be critical of our own nation and its policies. We are conditioned from a young age to be patriotic, pledge allegiance to the flag, stand for the national anthem, and generally believe that our country is better than any other on the planet and can do no wrong. But why, then, has the United States started 81% of the world's armed conflicts since World War II ended? Why has it killed 30 million people in those conflicts, most of them civilians, including women, children, and the elderly? Why, when a survey of 68 nations was taken, was the USA voted the greatest threat to world peace, beating the next country on the list by a 3-to-1 margin? Why does the USA think it's OK to violate international law when it engages in war, yet it would persecute any other nation that did the same? Why, in the name of fighting terrorism, are we engaging in actions that only create more terrorists and will drag us down into perpetual war? Why are we committing acts against other people and nations that we'd call terrorism if they were done to us? Why are we violating the rights of our own people in the name of fighting the "war on terror"?

Questioning your nation's motives and policies doesn't automatically mean you hate your country, as we've been taught to believe. To the contrary, it may mean you expect better from your country. You want it to set a higher standard for itself. You want it to serve as an example for the rest of the world to follow, rather than acting as a bully for the world to fear. The "my country, right or wrong" attitude that too many people hold only allows the nation's destructive policies to continue unchecked. Blind, unquestioning patriotism rarely ends well.

Sometimes we just need to set aside the propaganda and listen to our consciences. Bowe Bergdahl has become a polarizing figure for Americans, but if we all had the same attack of conscience that he did -- as he realized that what was happening around him in Afghanistan was not what he signed up for, and he found himself disappointed in his country for selling people like him so many lies -- we would find ourselves in a much better place than we do today. 

Consider these wise words:
War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
If your first reaction is that they sound like the words of someone with an ax to grind against the way America conducts business, you'd be overlooking the fact that those words were spoken by Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his death was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. Butler came to understand that wars were fought for the sake of the war profiteers. President Eisenhower echoed a similar warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, and he once gave a stirring speech, in the wake of Joseph Stalin's death, laying out the true cost of war to society:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

... This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace. It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty. It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men: is there no other way the world may live?
If the men who once led others into war were able to come to terms with the reality of our military actions, perhaps we should be willing to heed their words.

The unquestioning embrace of the wars we fight isn't healthy. Neither is the way we practically worship soldiers. They reality is that they are not fighting for our freedoms -- and if they were, the ever-increasing encroachments on our liberties since 9/11 would suggest that they weren't doing their job very well. They are the ones allowing our destructive foreign policies to be carried out, and most of them probably don't even realize it. But that's what makes it even more important that we have an open and candid discussion about our military actions, rather than simply stand and applaud every time we see a person in uniform. It's hard to get past the patriotic propaganda and the fearmongering over terrorism, but we have to make an effort to do so if we want to change our world for the better.

And finally, we have to start thinking outside the Democratic-Republican box. Voting the same two parties in, election cycle after election cycle, has solved nothing. They're both beholden to the same corporate interests, and they keep us divided and squabbling amongst each other so they can distract us from what's really happening behind the scenes. People are quick to say that third parties have no chance of winning. But that's just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course they won't win, if you don't vote for them. But nothing is stopping you from doing so. Voting for a Democrat or Republican just because you don't want the opposing party's candidate to get into office is throwing your vote away. If you choose to work within the system and prefer to vote, at least vote your conscience for a change.

The Greens and Libertarians, just to name two alternative parties, have plenty of great ideas that would shake up the status quo. Not that anyone should be voting for a party in the first place. It's the ideas that count. 

Clinging to political parties is something most of our Founders would have found abhorrent, anyway. Thomas Jefferson once said:
I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all. 
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty. 
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it.
And John Adams:
There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
Political parties bring out the worst in people. They offer a prepackaged set of beliefs for people to accept without critical thought, they subvert truth to spin, and they make it all too easy to demonize and dehumanize the "other" -- the people who subscribe to the opposing party. But it's all orchestrated to keep us divided and distracted while they and their cronies make off with our rights and our resources. Think back to the Obama-Romney debates -- the two candidates held virtually identical views on foreign policy and civil liberties. Watch how the two parties vote in tandem on those very issues. Those are the things that go down without any media fanfare, yet they're the things that matter the most to the future of our nation.

In the 1972 musical film 1776, which recounts the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there's a poignant scene following a moment in which John Adams, the fiery revolutionary, and John Dickinson, portrayed in the film as a loyalist, get into a physical scuffle on the floor of the Continental Congress. Caasar Rodney, delegate from Delaware, frail from cancer, musters up all his strength to intervene:
Rodney: Stop it! Stop it! This is the Congress! Stop it, I say! The enemy is out there!
Dickinson: No, Mr. Rodney, the enemy is here!
Rodney: No! I say here's out there! England! England, closing in, cutting off our air. There's no time ... no air ...
Rodney loses his breath and hunches over, his energy spent. But he has made his point. The men on the floor of Congress may have disagreed with each other over the matter of how to engage with England, but in their heated disagreements, they had lost sight of the fact that their fellow delegates were not the enemy. There was an enemy out there that they needed to unite against; otherwise, they had no hope of fighting against England.

And so it is today. While we bicker about hot-button issues and try to score political points at the expense of the "other" party, we lose sight of the real threats to our way of life, and the importance of uniting against them to reclaim our liberties. 

Those threats, as I see them, are, first, a government that has grown too big and unresponsive, too indifferent to the pain and suffering it causes both here and abroad, too inefficient, too reckless, and too unaccountable. 

But that's only half of the equation. Just as potentially ruinous are the corporations, lobbyists, and billionaires who pull the politicians' strings, buying the legislation they want and leaving the working classes to flap in the breeze as they outsource their jobs, stick workers with the tax bills they skip out on, and fight against raises to the minimum wage. The gap between rich and poor reaches unprecedented proportions, but no one does a thing since the legislators are in bed with the CEOs.

Much as it is with the right to jury nullification, most people don't seem to realize that corporate charters can actually be revoked -- and they once were when companies were found to have caused harm to the public. The problem is that corporations today wield so much power and influence that no state attorney general would ever dream of revoking a charter today. At least corporations can't imprison you or kill you like the government can, though that's little consolation.

When it comes to government, though, we could simply stop sending the same people and parties back to Washington. We do, in theory, have the power to stop the current direction our government is taking and send good, conscientious people to D.C. who believe in things like peace, life, liberty, prosperity, justice, and the Constitution.

The problem with fighting the status quo really arises when we tend to focus our energies either on corporate malfeasance, or government malfeasance, but not both. The left tends to do the former, while the right focuses on the latter. But there are battles to be fought on both fronts, and that's where people like Ralph Nader are performing an important public service. Nader is one of a handful of public figures who's focusing on uniting people across party lines by helping them realize that most Americans share common concerns when we stop demonizing our opponents and can see with more clarity that, as Caesar Rodney told his colleagues, the bad guy is not us. Rather, it's something out there that we can unite and fight against.

In his book Unstoppable, Nader talks about how left and right can come together over issues such as stopping unconstitutional wars, resisting international trade agreements that undermine both sovereignty and labor rights, ending corporate welfare, and holding the "Too Big to Fail" banks accountable for their crimes. By building coalitions around these starting points, Nader believes we can begin to construct a government that's once again accountable to the people and not to corporate interests, since the power of the corporations and the lobbyists would begin to be broken apart.

The Common Ground Movement has similar goals in mind. Accepting that left and right will never agree on every issue, the decentralized movement asks both sides to come together over three simple issues:
1. No more wars of aggression.
2. End the surveillance state, and the militarization of the police.
3. Hold the corrupt political and financial systems accountable.

But unlike Nader, who believes in achieving change through the system, the Common Ground Movement takes a more aggressive stance:
There is now a revolving door between the Washington and Wall Street; at this point they have grown together into one organism. It is important to come to terms with the fact that this problem is not going to be solved through elections or petitions. The people are going to have to take their power back without asking for permission, but that's only going to be possible if we unify on our common ground and set aside the rest.
Still, the Common Grounders remain committed to peaceful, nonviolent resistance, which is as it should be. To that end, the words of Lao-tzu, our Chinese sage from two millennia ago, ring true to this day:

An affiliated group, Storm Clouds Gathering, has a more ominous outlook for our future but proposes things we all can do to stand up and fight for what's right:

Stop all our payments to governments and banks, to bleed them dry. Occupy Congress -- block our lawmakers from going to work and meddling with more of our lives. And call for the military to come home and declare mutiny on the criminal class in Washington. 

Pretty heavy stuff, but it would most certainly have a dramatic effect on the system.

I noted that the narrator said that if you have small children and don't want to deal with any of this, it's best to have an escape plan and to be ready to put it into action at a moment's notice. Get passports, and start -- right now -- learning the language of the place you intend to relocate to.

That would be my ideal solution. I want my daughter to grow up in a place where she feels free to speak her mind without fear or persecution. I want her to have the best health care and education options possible, without having to worry about how she's going to pay for either one. Sadly, I don't think the country she's living in is the best option for achieving those goals.

My dream destination? Costa Rica. There's no standing army, the death penalty has been outlawed since 1877, and abortions are socially unpopular and allowed only under extreme circumstances. The nation leads the world on the Happy Planet Index, and its Pura Vida, or "pure life," culture celebrates friendship, a slower pace, simplicity, communal ties, and a relaxed attitude toward life's challenges. It's home to the University of Peace, as well as to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It's been named the greenest country in the world and plans to go carbon-neutral by 2021. It's the most biodiverse place on the planet, with 25% of its land set aside for parks and reserves to protect its flora and fauna, and it sports several microclimates, from rainy and humid to cool and dry. Recreational hunting has been banned. Elections are free and open, and adults enjoy universal suffrage. The country claims a top 1.0 freedom score in Freedom House's 2014 Freedom in the World report. It ranks 21st globally in press freedom, far ahead of the United States' 46th place. Its education system is ranked the best in all of Latin America, and a quality secondary education can be had for half the price of a comparable American education, or even less. (Notably, school uniforms are required in public schools, though not to enforce conformity, as one might expect. It's actually done for a positive reason -- to downplay children's socioeconomic differences.) The country has universal health care, and its health system is considered one of the 20 best in the world. If it were up to me, I'd get a ticket on the next plane, leave everything behind, and never look back.

But for now, the United States is my Hotel California -- you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And since leaving is not currently an option for me, my choice is to do the best I can living my life like this:

Thinking for myself, refusing to have others set an agenda for me, while doing my part to rein in the bad parts of governments and corporations and promote what they can do to help people instead. Business leaders need to realize that their companies are more than mere profit generators -- they should provide a service to the community, including plentiful jobs at a fair, living wage. All I can do is support companies that embrace those values.

As for government, if I have to pay taxes, I would rather have them support things that help and uplift people, including free or subsidized secondary education, a strong safety net, and true universal health care -- not the corporate-friendly bonanza that is Obamacare, which did little to rein in costs and kept many people uninsured. All I can do is support candidates who believe the same way -- if I choose to vote. But they must also be committed to the causes of life and peace, which means pursuing war as a last resort and reforming the laws to allow adults to engage in whatever consensual, nonviolent activities they want. Police officers would also be retrained to be public-service officers who put bad guys away, not trigger-happy paramilitary groups that bully and beat innocent people and focus on collecting revenue and hitting arrest and ticket quotas.

Politicians and business leaders who embrace those values are rare these days. But when I find them, I intend to give them my support. All I can do is set an example and hope that others are inspired to pursue their own paths to goodness. Living lives of decency, civility, humility, and respect will go a long way toward fixing what's wrong with our world.

Final thoughts
Half a year ago, I felt the ground shifting under my feet, as I felt my political views changing. At the time, I thought anarchism might be the only solution to our problems. Fast-forward to today, and I still see the appeal of tearing everything down and starting over fresh, creating new communities that exist on a horizontal plane, where everyone has an equal voice and top-down hierarchy is rejected.

But I see a lot of rigid conformity, ironic as that seems, among the leftists that tend to dominate anarchist circles -- think back to the incidents in Portland -- and I'm skeptical that if these are the people driving the movement, they'd ever establish a system in which freedom of conscience is allowed to flourish. Not only that, but there's so much in-fighting over ridiculous minutiae that they'd probably all politically correct each other to death before they ever got around to building a community.

Maybe I'm a liberaltarian, or a bleeding-heart libertarian. The label doesn't really matter. Cooperative individualism resonates with me, as the views of individualist anarchists like Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner have come to feel as right and comfortable as those of the anarcho-pacifists such as Leo Tolstoy. I think mutualism sounds like a good idea, a Georgist land-value tax approach seems the fairest of all possible systems, and a guaranteed minimum income would not only eliminate a lot of government overlap and waste in other social programs, but it would also ensure that no one ever went without a little something to fall back on during hard times. 

Meanwhile, although I have libertarian leanings, I've always believed in the statement that liberty is not license to do whatever you want to do; it is the freedom to do what you ought to do. Our liberties come with responsibilities, and if we don't act responsibly with them, we risk losing them. 

And finally, I found myself nodding in agreement when I read the words of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, when he said that "freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality." I think that notion would probably make some people's heads explode, but it makes sense when you understand that people thrive when they are free but that freedom cannot be an end in itself; we live in societies, and people in societies look out for each other.

In a way, this sums up where I am now:

But when it's all said and done, I may find the most in common with Thomas Paine, himself a supporter of the guaranteed minimum income, when he summed up his ideal view of the world this way:
When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of its happiness: When these things can be said, then may the country boast of its constitution and its government. 
More to the point:

In the end, maybe that's all we need to really change the world. Time will tell.

To be continued ... because the unexamined life is not worth living, and because all I know is that I know nothing. Never stop learning; never stop questioning.