Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Caliphate

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

The recent Charlie Hebdo attack has again raised the prospect of global radical Islamic terrorism.

Unfortunately, the reaction in the US continues to be myopic and uninformed.

Here’s just a sample.

Network national security analyst KT McFarland blamed the shooting at Charlie Hebdo headquarters on France’s “really strict gun control” and “politically correct” policies that treat everyone equally. Echoing disdain for policies that treat everyone equally, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatens the city’s security by demoralizing the New York Police Department and painting the NYPD with “a racist brush” when officers act on that principle.

Strategic analyst Ralph Peters cited the shooting to attack Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), invoking the recently released Senate Intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques. Peters proclaimed that “these terrorists who did this monstrous attack in Paris are the people Senator Feinstein doesn’t even want to waterboard,” adding that the Obama administration is too “soft on radical Islam.”

Breitbart.com editor-at-large Ben Shapiro used the tragedy to invoke tired Benghazi smears of Hillary Clinton and President Obama, asking when they would “recommend we arrest the rest of the Charlie Hebbdo staff for inciting Islamic violence?”

Outnumbered hosts agreed that Americans “are being hunted” by terrorists, and network host Kennedy added that “I think the best thing that Americans can do is arm themselves.”

Ingraham blamed the tragic attack in Paris on France’s immigration policy, saying “the principle of multiculturalism and open borders… is pure insanity, a suicide pact.”

While wrong-headed partisan responses from conservative pundits is not surprising, these also continue a false narrative about why all of this is occurring.

Jihadist attacks to not occur because of there are too few guns in citizens’ hands. They did not occur because of political correctness. They do not occur because we are too soft or because there is too much free speech. Jihadists are not hunting Americans. They don’t attack because of our immigration policy or the immigration policies of any other western country.

Jihadist attacks occur because disaffected young men (mostly) are radicalized by an idea and inspired to sacrifice themselves and others to support that idea.

Jihadists have no monopoly on disaffected young men. There is a long list of young men who carry out murderous suicidal attacks in this country who are motivated by any number of other twisted ideas that have nothing to do with Islam. It is the same quirk in the maturation process of young men that armies through the ages have been able to take advantage of. They need a cause that they can commit themselves to.

If it isn’t something uniquely sinister in young Muslim men, what is it that continues to cause attacks from radicalized Islamic fundamentalists on western targets?

It’s the Caliphate, stupid

The Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a person who combines both political and religious leadership. This is not all that different from revisionist history preached by fundamentalists who claim the founding fathers intended to create a Christian nation.

This exploration of the Caliphate as the root of jihadism is based on some very thoughtful analysis published in a column by Canadian Columnist Gwynne Dyer.

The first question to ask is why is a caliphate at the root of this terrorist activity?

The answer is simple.

There is a civil war going on in Islam. Since Islam is a religion without borders, this war also has no borders. The vast majority of the casualties in this war are Muslim, but what gets reported in the west is when this war occasionally overflows into western countries.

The great Muslim civil war is about the political, social and cultural modernization of the Muslim world. Should the Muslim world continue down much the same track that other major global cultures have followed, or should those changes be stopped and indeed reversed? The Islamists take the latter position.

It has become a war because most Muslims across the world find modernization very attractive. Those who oppose democracy, equality, consumerism, etc. are a minority even in their own countries. They understand that the only way to preserve the way of life they feel is required of all devout Muslims, is to create a conservative Caliphate. This Caliphate can impose the harsh policies of Sharia law on the majority of the population who would not follow the fundamentalist interpretations of the Quran given a choice.

They use the west to recruit followers by inventing a narrative that says that modernization and western culture itself is a plot to undermine Islam. The main strategy to prove their point are attacks INTENDED to trigger a military response. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq established the jihadi movement as a legitimate political force. Decades earlier the same tactics prompted the same response from Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

To the degree that these attacks also trigger mistreatment of Muslim minorities in other countries or acts that even the Muslim mainstream considers offensive (burning Qurans and public ridicule of Mohammed), the fundamentalists win.

So it should be no surprise that when ISIS declared that their intention was to create a Caliphate in northern Syria and Iraq, fundamentalist Muslim fighters from around the world poured into that region to help.

The second question is also obvious. What does the west do?

The answer to this question is more difficult.

The west cannot stop being an engine of cultural change. That is in our nature. So it will always be viewed by a fundamentalist minority as a threat.

The west also cannot stand idle while terrorists continue to attack. These are issues of security and law that demand a response.

But the west can’t continue to treat this ideology as a movement of rational people. This is similar to the challenges that the US faced with Japanese kamikaze attacks. How do you defend yourself against someone who is not only willing, but eager to die for their cause?

The solution lies in our own culture and our own values.

Our greatest asset in the United States in this conflict of ideas is the fact that our success as a nation is testimony to the power of freedom, liberty, and religious pluralism. If we compromise religious liberty in the name of defeating Wahhabis, we lose. We become who the Islamist said we were.

The best way to prove that secular society is preferable to an Islamist one is to prove that all human beings including Muslims prefer to live in these types of societies, over those ruled by Sharia and clerics, out of their own free will and not by coercion.

It may seem counter intuitive, but the best way to defeat this idea is to welcome Muslims who are willing to live by our laws into this country.

Just as the Wahhabists and Salafists use our freedom of speech to spread their message, we have to spread our message of freedom and liberty by demonstrating that western societies are able to walk our talk.

We also have to shut off the flow of money from Saudi Arabia that supports the spread of this fundamentalist ideology. We are finally in the position to do so because of the collapse of the OPEC cartel.

“We can’t kill our way to victory,” Adm. Michael Mullen famously said of the Afghan war.

We can’t spy our way to victory.

We can’t torture our way to victory either.

We can’t close the borders and expect to be safe.

We can’t silence the voices of those who disagree with us and assume that disagreement will end.

Ideas can’t be killed. But they can be defeated by a better idea. The current jihadi movement is built on a couple of lies. People live better lives under Sharia law. Western culture was created to defeat Islam.

We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that peace loving people live better lives when they get to decide for themselves how they would like to live.

We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that law abiding Muslims are more welcomed and free to practice their religion in the United States than any other place is the world.

The Human Condition, Faith, Facts, and Truth

Friday, December 26th, 2014

First a brief review of the difference between fact and truth.

A fact is something that can’t be logically disputed or rejected. Within the base ten system, two plus two will always equal four. That’s a fact.

Truth on the other hand has within it the quality of judgment. That’s because pointing out what is “true” immediately also identifies what is “false”.

Truth is something that must be discovered or created. Here’s an example. The observable facts are that the path that light from a distant object takes can be curved by the presence of another large object (the sun). This observable fact supports Einstein’s general theory of relativity. We accept that theory as a true description of how the universe works because it explains all of the observable facts that we can assemble.

The search for meaning (truth) has always been part of the human condition. In that search, we assemble observations. Some of those observations are facts (mathematics). Some are not (religion).

The challenge of course is that all humans are also susceptible to accept those observations that agree with our point of view as fact and dispute those truths that call our favorite “facts” in question. Scholars from Johnathan Haidt to Aristotle have wrestled with this question of whether there is an absolute truth that can and should be universally shared.

Science has moved the furthest in the direction of separating fact from belief and true from false. The way that they do that is through a version of crowd sourcing called the scientific method.

When someone discovers something that they propose as a fact, they share it with everyone else in their scientific community. If others can duplicate that observation, it is affirmed as a fact. Others in the community can challenge that fact, but they have to produce their own observations that can be duplicated that demonstrate the the original observation was inaccurate.

Only after accepted facts are established, do members of that community attempt to discover or create theories which explain why those facts occur. Those theories get tested and re-tested as new facts are discovered. Eventually some subset of theories emerge as accepted truth because a majority of the scientific community agree that these theories accurately explain all of the applicable observed facts.

That doesn’t mean that these truths are absolute. As our knowledge expands, there is always the possibility that new facts will be discovered that force a re-evaluation of previous theories. This process of enhancement is what improves theories. Occasionally, observations require a radical change to theories. But usually the change is more gradual. That gradual change is currently underway in improving the climate models that we have. But one of the accepted truths in climate science is that the atmosphere is warming at a rate that exceeds what can be explained by natural phenomena.

What makes all of this work is that this scientific method is BIASED toward crowd sourced peer review that is eager to discover and prove new facts. The claim by some that the scientific method suppresses facts in an effort to prevent contrary theories from emerging is self serving FUD. Those who voice that opinion are attempting to discredit the process because they oppose the results of the process – not because they have any proof that the results of the process are flawed. If anything, exactly the opposite is true. The scientific community gives fringe opinions too much respect. This provides those who practice “science for hire” undeserved legitimacy. One example of this junk science were the tobacco-funded researchers who for years tried to disprove the fact that tobacco caused cancer. The fossil fuel industry invests in similar research today in an attempt to muddy the water regarding the real causes and likely results of climate change.

The challenge of trying to live a fact-based life, however, is that it often fails to satisfy our basic need for meaning. We have a gut feel that there is a God, even though it can’t be proven. We have a gut feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with dependency, but we can’t explain why. We have a gut feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with discrimination, but we can’t explain why. There are some human activities that we feel are revolting or depraved even when it only involves willing adults.

We long for a connection to a higher power who can help us resolve these conflicts, provide us direction, and give us purpose.

This is a belief-based life.

Those who live belief-based lives are sometimes vulnerable to intolerance, bias, discrimination, and even fanaticism in response to those who don’t share their beliefs.

The problem is that those who claim to live fact-based lives are no less vulnerable to the same temptations.

So where does this leave us?

Confirmation bias clouds our vision, confuses belief with fact, and causes us to take positions on an emotional basis and then attempt to defend those positions with junk science or conspiracy theories. In other words, facts no longer have an objective quality. Instead every fact gets evaluated against the filter of how it affects our view of the truth. Truth constructed from beliefs can’t be questioned even when there are no facts to support it. Climate change is a perfect example of this phenomena.

While no one has a monopoly on facts or the truth, the further we drift away from respect for facts and the certitude of science, the more difficult it becomes for us to find the common ground that we need to allow our Democracy to work.

Aristotle summed it up best.

The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, no one fails entirely, but everyone says something true about the nature of all things, and while individually they contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.

The universal truth may be that we are all human and in that shared humanity are the seeds for transcendence and destruction. This holiday is the celebration of our shared hope that we can overcome our weaknesses and build a better future where we all can live in peace.

Brief History of Torture in this Country

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Torture has been routinely practiced by both European and Native American people in this country.

In the 1890’s, the Supreme Court ruled that torture as a punishment violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

That did not slow the use of torture by private individuals, law enforcement, and the military.

Lynching black men for being “uppity” began in 1882 and continued through at least 1981 accounting for somewhere around 5000 deaths.

Police forces used “third degree” tactics which met current definitions of torture to elicit confessions for the first half of the 20th century. In the 70’s and 80’s, Chicago police use electroshock, near-suffocation, and excessive beatings on suspects. A Texas sheriff in 1983 used waterboarding. Two San Bernardino officers were convicted of torturing suspects in 1997. Prison abuses have been wide spread for decades including electroshock, sexual slavery, rape, and forcible tooth extraction.

The US military tortured German U-boat crewmen during WWII. The CIA emerged as the primary sponsor of torture during the Viet Nam war with the South Vietnamese Army acting under their supervision. During the 70’s and 80’s the CIA trained members of South American right wing governments in torture techniques to repress populist reform uprisings. Brazil’s National Truth Commission blamed the US government for teaching torture techniques to the Brazilian military that was in power from 1964-1985.

In 1948 the United States signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibiting torture. The US was one of the countries that participated in drafting this document. It was in direct response to the treatment of US POW’s at the hands of the Japanese and Germans. This was followed by the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both signed in 1977 in direct response to the excesses of the Viet Nam War. These conventions are the foundation for International Law which mandates that any person involved in ordering, allowing, or even failing to prevent or prosecute torture is criminally liable.

Ronald Reagan signed the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This was when Reagan was admonishing Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall. China was emerging from the Cultural Revolution, but was still communist in structure and ideology. There were plenty of fingers that Reagan wanted to point regarding oppression and torture.

The difference in all of this was that until 2001, torture (though widely practiced in this country) was illegal. In 2001 all of that changed.

In 2001 in the wake of 9/11 attacks, the President Bush gave VP Dick Cheney responsibility to gather whatever information he needed using whatever methods he required to prevent another attack on US soil. Cheney instructed his lawyers to redefine what the word torture meant, turned the CIA loose, and the rest is history.

Cheney belligerently defends the choices that he made even today, but his protests ring hollow.

He continues to insist, as President Bush did, that the US did not engage in torture – but that method of Big Lie politics no longer works with a majority of the American people.

His second defense is that he did what he had to do to keep the country safe. His definition of keeping the country safe was that there has been no repeat of 9/11. Instead we are left with the legacy of two failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the rise of ISIS.

Instead of being welcomed as liberators, the invasion of Iraq dangerously destabilized the region. Cheney’s neocon vision of a democratic transformation morphed into just another puppet government in Iraq. That government pursued the same old sectarian divisions as Saddam. Those continued sanctioned oppressions provided ISIS an opportunity to mount what in effect is a Sunni revolt against the Maliki government in Iraq and the Assad dictatorship in Syria.

The US invasion of Iraq and the promise to establish a US client state that would transform the whole region also raised alarms in neighboring Iran. Iran felt that the only way it could defend itself from a similar US invasion at some point in the future would be to develop a nuclear weapon.

All this in the name of “keeping America safe”.

If you parse Cheney’s responses to questions closely, he defines torture in the context of the 9/11 victims.

“Torture to me,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “is an American citizen on a cellphone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.”

Some attribute that to just setting a high bar for just about any retaliatory action. In other words, unless you kill thousands of innocent people, you haven’t committed an act of torture. He says this with a straight face even though the war in Iraq killed well over 100K civilians.

But that wasn’t his primary purpose. His primary purpose was to advocate a particular world view held by Neocons. That point of view suggested that the US was the sole remaining super power in the world, but the only way that US could remain in that dominant position would be to regularly demonstrate its superiority through the unilateral exercise of force.

Here’s Paul Krugman’s explanation.

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated, but let’s not forget how we ended up invading Iraq. It wasn’t a response to 9/11, or to evidence of a heightened threat. It was, instead, a war of choice to demonstrate U.S. power and serve as a proof of concept for a whole series of wars neocons were eager to fight. Remember “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran”?

The point is that there is a still-powerful political faction in America committed to the view that conquest pays, and that in general the way to be strong is to act tough and make other people afraid. One suspects, by the way, that this false notion of power was why the architects of war made torture routine — it wasn’t so much about results as about demonstrating a willingness to do whatever it takes.

The willingness to do whatever it takes is where Cheney makes his stand.

This philosophy allows Cheney to posture as a macho-man and criticize those who oppose him as “soft”. But when you look past the rhetoric at the man, you discover that his actions don’t match his rhetoric. He’s all talk and no walk. This is simple solipsism of a self-centered egomaniac.

The results are easy to point out.

When he was in office, Cheney was one of the loudest proponents of expansion of executive power. Torture, domestic spying, black site renditions, outing of a CIA agent to punish her husband, the Patriot Act, private meetings with Oil companies to set the energy agenda, and outsourcing the Iraq war to contractors like Halliburton are just a few examples.

Yet when Obama has exercised the same executive power, Cheney said that the President went, “far beyond what was ever intended.” He has consistently called the President weak on terrorism, but by his own measure, this President has also prevented a repeat of a domestic 9/11 attack. Employing the same logic, shouldn’t Obama’s methods be graded on the same “results are all that matters” scale as Cheney’s?

So it isn’t really the substance of the action that interests Cheney and his supporters, it is the intent of that action. If the goal is something that neocons support, no action is unreasonable to achieve it. In fact, the more extreme the action, the better because it demonstrates the deep commitment to principle of the actor. If those same actions are employed by a progressive President, however, to further his agenda, the means and the ends are both illegitimate.

Putin is the foreign leader Cheney does appear to admire. This is the same Putin whose annexation of Crimea led to the collapse of the Russian economy and a run on the ruble. That collapse was accelerated by the sanctions that a “weak” Obama put in place and the oil exploration boom that Obama supported. Less noticed were the dire predictions of the “Cheney” crowd of an expansionist Russia that failed to materialize.

Instead we have a more compliant Russia supporting US actions in Syria and Iran. Not surprising that we have heard little from Cheney about any of this.

This brings us back to the question of torture.

Torture is wrong whenever it is practiced.

Even if it did result in useful information, it is wrong and can’t be justified. The reason it can’t ever be justified is because we are a nation of laws based on a shared constitution. Neither the law nor the constitution are relativist documents. No end justifies a means that includes unconstitutional or illegal activities. Fortunately it has again become illegal for anyone to use torture in our military or our intelligence services.

Cheney and his crew may claim to be strong, but they were not willing to put themselves at risk for the principles they supported. They also made sure that a law was passed in 2006 to shield them from future prosecution as a result of their actions.

When push came to shove in Cheney’s personal life, his actions consistently failed to reflect his speech. He actively avoided military service. He strongly defended his daughter’s right to marry her same sex partner. He let Scooter Libbey take the fall for his plan to punish Joe Wilson for questioning the facts around Iraq’s claimed nuclear program. He leveraged his insider position as Secretary of Defense into a CEO job with Halliburton by laying the groundwork for a massive outsourcing of military operations to private companies. During his time at Halliburton, the company went from 73rd to 18th in the list of government contractors. It was also ultimately fired by the GAO for over-billing. Cheney retired from Halliburton to join the Bush ticket in 2000. They gave him a $33.7M retirement package. About that same time they were rehired by the defense department. Haliburton went on to make $39B off the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Cheney’s significant holdings in Halliburton where placed in a blind trust during his time in office, but did very well. Cheney did donate a significant amount of the money he made from his association with Haliburton to charity, but donating money obtained illegally or at least immorally does not cleanse the method by which that money was obtained in the first place.

The strong are those who are willing to stand up for our values and willing to take the risk that those values may leave us vulnerable in some way. They believe in the principles on which this country was founded. Those who claim that they only way that we can defend our values is to abandon them are the real cowards. God and history will hold them accountable much more effectively that I ever could.

The New Party of NO

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

“We need to quit, you know, kind of rattling the economy with things that are perceived by the voters as disturbing,” Mitch McConnell

A funny thing just happened.

After six years of obstruction, the Republican Party is finally in the position where they can be blamed for their own misconduct.

The result is that they are starting to change their behavior.

History
Mitch McConnell has acknowledged that he is the author of the obstructionist strategy that Republicans adopted in 2009. They were fresh off an historic loss to the nation’s first African American President. At the time, there was plenty of discussion of a post-partisan post-racial era that would recapture the golden New Deal age of Democratic dominance.

McConnell’s insight was that if Republicans refused to participate in the process of government, they could convince enough of the public that this new charismatic leader was at least partly to blame. He recognized that when an idea enjoys the support of both parties, it also receives the equivalent to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from mainstream voters. Anything that passed without that seal was suspect.

Republicans rode that suspicion to a 2010 victory.

Effectively grinding government to a halt was risky. It meant that Congress would fail at even routine tasks. It created the most dysfunctional government since the Civil War with historically low approval ratings for Republicans. But it also succeeded.

Republicans intended to destroy the American legislative process, and they did. Republicans set out to exacerbate partisan tensions, and they did. Republicans hoped to make Obama less popular by making it vastly more difficult for him to get anything done, and they did. Republicans hoped to parlay public discontent into electoral victories, and they did. Republicans made a conscious decision to prevent the president from bringing the country together, and they successfully made the national chasm larger.

Obama went from a figure of hope and change to the president who hasn’t signed a major bill into law since 2010. In 2014, Democrats were running for cover and Republicans were rewarded for their strategy.

Now What
The real reward from the 2014 elections is an opportunity to govern. On closer investigation, voters did not reject Obama’s policies. Many of those policies either in direct ballot initiatives or exit polling reports are very popular.

Voters also did not endorse McConnell’s obstructionist strategy.

Quite the opposite. Voters want a government that works and they have now put Republicans in a position where they have to demonstrate that they can do a better job.

Obama again has demonstrated his acute political sense. Rather than play the traditional role of powerless executive, he realizes that he is finally free to enact large portions of his agenda. He is betting, just like Mitch McConnell did, that the voting public will reward whichever party gets the most done in the next two years, and he has a head start.

He has already taken landmark action on immigration and the environment. He has a huge Pacific Trade agreement in the works. There is also the possibility of a nuclear agreement with Iran. The economy is recovering faster than the rest of the world and the Saudi’s will keep oil prices low for the next two years to discourage competition. He can’t move on things that require appropriations like infrastructure or legislation like tax reform. But there are plenty of other areas where he can and has been active, all the while calling out the Republican majority to do their job and pass something substantive that he can sign.

The incoming Republican majority now has a choice. They can focus all of their energy on slowing Obama down, or they can take up the challenge that Obama has given them and begin passing their own legislation to address the issues that concern voters.

Both strategies have risk. In the first case, they are ignoring voters and hoping that there is still some life in the obstructionist strategy. In the latter case, they have to demonstrate that government CAN be a force for good, but only if Republicans are in charge. To accomplish that, they will need the same thing that they have withheld for the past six years from Obama – bi-partisanship.

Summary
Actions speak much louder than words. The actions of the incoming Republican majority suggest that the message of the last election was not a rejection of Obama’s policies as they have said. It was instead an opportunity to demonstrate that they can in fact govern, and a warning that they will be punished again in 2016 if they fail.

While it is interesting that John Boehner can describe a nine month spending bill as “long-term”, what it does say is that the new Republican controlled Congress will forgo holding the government hostage at least until September, 2015. That is a good sign.

Riding the Ted Cruz Crazy Train

Friday, November 28th, 2014

I heard Ted Cruz on NPR the other evening talking about Net Neutrality. He had a “wonderland” approach to the issue that made my head spin. I thought it would be fun to review his positions on a number of other issues.

First, we should state for the record that Ted Cruz is running for President in 2016. At the point that he formally announces his intensions, he will have been in the Senate for 4 years. If you doubt that claim, he’s what one of his advisors says.

“At this point it’s 90/10 he’s in,” one Cruz adviser said. “And honestly, 90 is lowballing it.”

Cruz has quickly displaced Paul Ryan as the hero of the Tea Party movement. In part that was because Ryan disagreed with Cruz about the government shutdown strategy. In part, it is because Ryan has deliberately distanced himself from the Tea Party.

So let’s go down through the list.

Net Neutrality
By way of full disclosure, Ted Cruz gets significant funding from those who would stand to gain if Net Neutrality rules are not passed.

The basic issue is not legality. The government does have the legal right to regulate the companies who provide Internet service under a law originally passed to regulate telephone service. Companies that provide internet service can charge a premium for people who want faster connections TO the Internet. Just like phone service, however, once you are connected, what comes through that connection is the same whether the “call” is from Amazon or your significant other.

Cable companies oppose regulation. They want an Internet where they can price content delivery in the same way that they price user connections. Big content companies like NetFlix are willing to pay a premium to get their content delivered faster than everyone else. The specific issue, however, is that since everything is delivered at the same speed now, the only way to create a new faster speed, is to slow down those who don’t pay.

Cruz, however, chooses to describe this as a government takeover of the Internet and wraps himself in the sheep’s clothing of champion of the little guy.

I promise the regulations over and over and over again will favor the big guys that have armies of lobbyists in there and will end up putting more burdens on the startups and the entrepreneurs.

The problem with this claim is that the “little guys” want this law. They see government as their defender from the folks who support Cruz.

Julie Samuels is the director of Engine Advocacy which represents about 500 startups and small companies, including Etsy and Kickstarter. She says the biggest Internet companies can afford to pay more for faster access to their customers.

SAMUELS: They can afford to pay Verizon or Comcast or Time Warner more, even if it sucks for them. But let me tell who can’t afford that. That’s the small companies and the startups and the ones who are just trying to get out there and reach consumers and reach users.

Politifact labels Cruz’s claim of a government takeover as false.

Obamacare
Senator Cruz claimed a mandate from the 2014 elections to repeal Obamacare.

the American people overwhelmingly said we don’t want Obamacare. It’s a disaster. It’s hurting the American people.

The facts, however, don’t line up with his claims. Only 37% of those eligible to vote, actually voted. That electorate was more heavily Republican than national elections. But even with that built-in bias, exit polls showed that only 49% thought the law “went too far” – hardly “overwhelming” opposition.

Politifact labled this claim “False”.

How about the claim that the Affordable Care Act is “hurting” the American people?

“Virtually every person across this country has seen premiums going up and up and up” due to Obamacare. – Ted Cruz

The rate of premium increases has gone down nationally from over 10% to 8%.

Politifact labeled Cruz’s claim “False”

Here are a few other facts which contradict Cruz’s claim that the ACA has been a “disaster”.

  • The uninsured rate has gone down from 18% to 13%
  • Medicare trustees have said that the ACA extended Medicare’s fiscal solvency four years.
  • The death spiral that Cruz predicted failed to materialize because healthy people did sign up
  • The ACA has had a positive impact on the deficit as predicted by the CBO
  • Immigration
    Cruz has also made his immigration stance clear.

    This was a referendum on amnesty…. we don’t want amnesty. And I’m sorry to say the president is behaving in an unprecedented way. There is not in recent times any parallel for a president repudiated by the voters standing up and essentially telling the voters go jump in a lake, he’s going to force his powers.

    In those same exit polls in an election already biased in a Republican direction, 57% supported a path to a legal status for illegal immigrants. Only 39% supported deportation. Cruz was overstating his support here too.

    He also said, Barack Obama “is the first president we’ve ever had who thinks he can choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore.”

    Politifact found this Cruz claim false too.

    As far as his claim that the President was telling voters to “jump in the lake”, he was doing exactly the opposite. They supported his action.

    Eminent Domain and Keystone
    Cruz is a big supporter of the Keystone pipeline and also a big defender of personal property rights. By way of disclosure, he also has received over $2M in campaign financing from the fossil fuel industry.

    My view of eminent domain is that it should be limited with regard to the constitution and the fifth amendment of the constitution that provides that it can only be used for public use.

    And

    I am disturbed by eminent domain abuse, because I think private property rights are fundamental to who we are as Americans… I don’t we should be helping out private interests,

    Eminent domain is the core issue with the Keystone Pipeline that is currently in the Nebraska Supreme Court.

    The landowner’s legal challenge cites the use of eminent domain as a major point in their opposition to the project. Previously the elected Public Service Commission had the authority to give utilities or other ‘common carriers’ like railroads to use eminent domain to construct projects that benefited the community.

    So how did Cruz react to the question of eminent domain being used to promote the private interests of TransCanada Corp?

    The problem with the Keystone Pipeline isn’t the issue of Eminent Domain, the problem is the Obama administration with the stroke of a pen shut that project down.

    I could go on, but I think you are getting the picture.

    There is a pattern here.

    Ted Cruz claims to be a champion of “common sense principles – small business, small towns” yet his actions on things like the Affordable Care Act, Net Neutrality, Immigration, and eminent domain directly contradict those principles.

    And it’s not just those issues. It is every issue on which he engages. If you doubt that claim, here’s a list of every issue covered by Politifact and their ruling on those issues.

    Over his last two years in the senate, he has been completely honest just once. Two thirds of the time that he opens his mouth on public issues, he is telling lies.

      True (3%)(1)
      Mostly True (13%)(5)
      Half True (18%)(7)
      Mostly False (23%)(9)
      False (33%)(13)
      Pants on Fire (10%)(4)

    Just by means of comparison for those who think I’m picking on conservatives, here’s the same list for President Obama. He’s clearly told some lies too, but over a much longer time in office with much higher visibility, he has flipped the script on Cruz. Obama has told the truth three times out of four.

    I would not hold this up for a standard either. That’s not the point. The point is that conservatives like Ted Cruz and those that support him vilify President Obama as the worst president ever BECAUSE in part of the lies that he has told. The reality, at least from an objective point of view, is that those who support Ted Cruz fail to apply the same standard of accountability to him that they use for the President. That’s the reason the Ted Cruz can get away with it.

      True (21%)(115)
      Mostly True (25%)(132)
      Half True (27%)(147)
      Mostly False (12%)(63)
      False (13%)(70)
      Pants on Fire (2%)(9)

    Much like the Tea Party he claims to represent, Ted Cruz is a walking contradiction. He thrives on the “straw man” argument where he constructs his own version of reality and then knocks it down with his “common sense” approach. The reality is that he is not the principled person he claims. He is instead just another opportunist taking advantage of dog whistle political issues. He acquires power from the support of those whose bias have left them vulnerable to exploitation. He brokers that power for money from the corporations who are really setting Senator Cruz’s agenda.

    The primary agenda of these interests is to render government incapable of filling its role as a balance to the expansion of corporate power. In that role, Ted Cruz has been a superstar.

    Republican Masquerade

    Thursday, November 6th, 2014

    It appears that the Republican strategy of obstruction has finally paid off.

    The media narrative prior to the elections was all about Obama’s historically low approval ratings. There were only two other president’s in recent history with lower approval ratings at this point in their Presidency – Reagan and Bush II. Both of them also lost control of congress in their 6th year in office.

    What the media didn’t say was that Congressional approval ratings were at RECORD low levels – 12.7% with a disapproval rating above 80%.

    Roughly 30% more of the country approved the job that Obama is doing than approved the job that Congress is doing.

    Yet, even though Congress was up for re-election, Republicans successfully made Obama the focus of their campaign – again.

    How did that happen?

    I think that there were three inter-related forces at work.

    First is simple math. There were more Democratic seats in play in states that Romney won in 2012 than Republican seats in states that Obama won.

    Second, the coalition that elected Obama in 2012 did not turn out the in same numbers in 2014.

    Third, Democrats in close races ran away from Obama and his policies. Republicans in those same states ran away from the Tea Party.

    Here’s how all of that played out.

    Simple math convinced Obama and the Democratic Party to play small ball. Rather than allow this to become the same referendum on Obama’s policies that has occurred in every federal election since 2008, the Democrats in battleground states tried to make this about local issues. They were so terrified of Republicans waving the “Obama” flag that they simply tried to change the subject. Rather than provide voters the “red meat” debate on principles that they were asking for, the Democratic Party served a selection of small issue hors d’oeuvres. The voters rejected this tactic and the Democrats lost.

    Instead of talking about Medicaid expansion, minimum wage, or meaningful gun control, red state Democrats tried to paint their Republican candidates with the banner of Tea Party extremism. They talked about gridlock, failure to invest in the middle class, and accountability for things like the government shutdown. The problem is that midterm elections are generally about paycheck issues and none of those issues resonated.

    The Democratic base IS traditionally difficult to turn out in non-Presidential years. If you want them to come to the polls, you have to give them a reason. That reason could have been a full throated defense of progressive principles. It could have been an appeal to all of those people who HAVE benefited from Obamacare. That would have required their Republican opponent to explain to all those who have gained coverage under Obamacare, what would happen to their coverage if a Republican got elected. Even Mitch McConnell, who vowed to uproot Obamacare “root and branch”, was forced to admit that Kynect, Kentucky’s implementation could stay because it is very popular with Kentucky voters. The Washington Post fact checkers said,

    Ultimately, then, McConnell’s statements make little sense unless he has a specific plan that would allow Kentuckians who currently have insurance to retain it. He relies on narrow technical details that have a ring of truth—the grants for the Web site have ended; the Kynect Web site could continue; Medicaid expansion was a decision by the governor. But he leaves the big picture—What is his replacement plan?—completely empty.

    Thus his statements are a bit slick and misleading. If he wants to rip out Obamacare “root and branch,” then he has to explain what he would plant in the health-insurance garden instead. Otherwise his assurances on the future have little credibility. He earns Three Pinocchios.

    Because his opponent Allison Grimes failed to engage on principles, defend Obama, and defend Obamacare – she had little standing to call him on this lie. Instead she tried to portray herself as more of a Kentuckian that McConnell. She lost.

    It could have been a discussion of how Republican obstructionism has slowed economic growth and damaged the middle class. Instead of portraying themselves as staunch defenders of the poor and middle class, many of the Democratic candidates talked about their willingness to make deals.

    Just to make sure they got elected, Republicans ran just as hard away from the Tea Party and toward the center. Here are some examples.

    57% of Arkansas voters supported Republican Tom Cotton for Senate, but 69% supported an increase in minimum wage which Cotton also supported. Same thing in South Dakota and Nebraska.

    Colorado defeated a “personhood” ballot proposal and elected Republican Cory Gardner to the Senate. Gardner had supported personhood legislation in the past, but in this close election said he had changed his mind and also supported over-the-counter birth control. He narrowly defeated incumbent Mark Udall who tried to make women’s issues the centerpiece of his campaign.

    The final results aren’t in from Alaska, but there was a minimum wage measure on the ballot there too. Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan had opposed raising the minimum wage, but changed his position in this campaign.

    Republican candidates in Georgia and Virginia criticized high poverty rates. The victorious Republican candidate for Governor in Georgia ran in part on his accomplishments in reducing the number of incarcerated black men in Georgia. Victorious Republican Senate candidate James Lankford in Oklahoma railed against income inequality, as did the Republican senate candidate in Louisiana. The new Republican governor in Illinois said taxes should target businesses rather than “low-income working families”.

    Republicans, at least in part, won by distancing themselves from more radical positions associated with the Tea Party. They not only masqueraded as moderates, they openly embraced traditional Democratic positions that would have been heresy in 2010. And they won.

    This great irony was pointed out by Sally Kohn in the Daily Beast.

    Republicans ran as Democrats—and voters endorsed Democratic ideals both in voting for those masquerading Republicans, and in backing liberal ballot measures. For progressives, that—plus the fact that, thanks to these ballot measures, thousands of hard-working Americans are going to get a much needed basic raise—is about as silver as the lining on this election is going to get.

    Crazy Train – 2014

    Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

    We are witnessing the inevitable consequences of making science optional.

    Exhibit 1 – Ebola

    Ebola is a virus that was originally identified in 1976. Fruit bats may be the carrier. They aren’t affected.

    Humans are.

    There have been approximately 10 outbreaks of the disease, all in Africa, over the last 40 years.

    The most recent outbreak has been by far the most serious.

    Like many other diseases caused by a virus, there is no cure.

    This virus, however, is relatively difficult to transmit. You have to actually consume some body fluid from an infected person during the period of time that they are exhibiting symptoms in order to contract the virus. Because the symptoms are so debilitating, those most likely to contract the disease are those providing care to those who already have the disease.

    The common flu, which infects and kills WAY more people every year than Ebola, mutates regularly and is airborne. You only have to breathe the same air that was recently sneezed into by a flu victim in order to catch their flu.

    Ebola, while exhibiting dreadful symptoms, is relatively easy to contain. Just wash your hands.

    The reason that it spreads in Africa is because living conditions are primitive, cities are crowded, hygiene is difficult to maintain, there is little health care infrastructure, a shortage of clean water, and burial customs involve families touching the corpse.

    The reason it won’t spread in any more advanced country is because people DO wash their hands, there is clean water, there are fully staffed hospitals, governments are able to isolate the infected, quarantine those that have been exposed, and people generally refrain from touching a corpse if they suspect it may be diseased.

    Unfortunately conservative Republicans cannot refrain from dragging this “corpse” through the public square with a big sign that says “be afraid of foreigners”.

    Exhibit 2 – Beheadings

    The Islamic State has figured out how to manipulate the west again.

    They kill a handful of people in a gruesome barbaric way and the US fires up the engine of war again and sends it chugging back into the Middle East to the tune of $22M a day.

    Over 33K people die on our roads every year. Many of these deaths are just as gruesome. The only difference is that they are not broadcast on YouTube and they are mostly accidents, not homicides.

    There are almost as many gun deaths in this country every year too. Many of these deaths are just as gruesome as the ISIL videos. Few of the gun deaths are posted to YouTube, but most of them are intentional homicides.

    The bottom line is that you are 33K times more likely to get killed by a car or a gun than you are to be beheaded by a terrorist. Yet we aren’t spending $22M a day to make our roads safer. We certainly aren’t spending $22M a day to reduce gun violence.

    The reason we are terrified of ISIL is the same reason we are terrified of Ebola.

    Fox News tells us we should be afraid of them because there is a Democrat in the White House and an election in two months.

    It is boogyman politics at its worst.

    You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning or bitten by a shark than you have contracting Ebola or being beheaded by a jihadist.

    This is exactly the reaction ISIL was hoping for because their lifeblood is new recruits. The best way to get recruits is to pick a fight with the west. And we are happy to accommodate because Republicans have a chance to take over the Senate.

    David Brooks calls it contagious hysteria.

    He blames it on our polarized segmented society. People are choosing to live near those who share their political beliefs. They only talk with those who share their beliefs. They only listen to news sources that echo their beliefs.

    People who feel alienated from the leadership class distrust the institutions of those leaders, whether it is political, cultural, or scientific. As a result we see a dramatic increase in parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids because they fear autism. We see junk science and conspiracy theories carry as much weight as sound peer-reviewed academic research. We see a general erosion in the confidence in government regardless of who is in charge, and the ability for the democratic process to effect any substantive change.

    Add to this already toxic mix, a partisan broadcast media pursuing a business model that feeds on crisis, dissension, and demonization. Fox and MSNBC are the modern day Savonarola leading the mob in pursuit of those responsible for the plague.

    The true weakness is not in our institutions. It is in us.

    Fix the Roads

    Friday, September 12th, 2014

    The elder Mayor Daley’s political credo was that as long as you picked up the garbage, plowed the snow, and fixed the roads, Chicago voters wouldn’t care what other political shenanigans went on. He was a practical politician in a city that famously “worked”.

    The same can’t be said for the current state of Michigan. Even though Republicans control the Senate, the House, and the Governor’s mansion; they can’t seem to come up a plan to fund road reconstruction.

    This is not a new problem.

    The whole country went into recession in 2001 but the Michigan economy didn’t start growing again until 2009. Road funding suffered during that period of time as did funding for many public services.

    Then there is the general trend of more efficient vehicles. That means the state is effectively getting less money in fuel taxes per mile driven on the roads. Michigan is not, however, the only state with that problem.

    Last year’s severe winter, however, elevated Michigan’s problem to a crisis.

    Experts say that many of the deteriorating roads in the state have now passed the point where they can be effectively repaired. Instead they must be completely rebuilt.

    The estimated additional cost to simply keep the current situation from getting worse is somewhere around $1B.

    The cost to bring the roads back to a national standard is twice that.

    Part of the problem in Michigan is that we have some of the lowest tolls and fines for overweight vehicles in our part of the country. We charge overweight vehicles a $50 flat fee while all of the surrounding states charge fees based on weight, mileage, and even bridges crossed. This situation is part of the “friendly” auto manufacturing climate that has grown up in this state over decades.

    Paradoxically, Michigan also has the sixth highest gas taxes in country.

    But it ranks last in per capita road spending.

    That’s because, at least in Michigan, the sales tax on gas goes into the general fund rather than the road fund.

    While this makes funding more challenging, the basic realities remain. The state has to spend significantly more money on the roads than it has been spending. Fortunately the citizens in Michigan recognize this and overwhelmingly support increased taxes to fix the roads.

    The solution is obvious. You’ve got to raise taxes on somebody to generate another $1B – $2B in revenue. So why isn’t it getting done?

    In simplest terms – Ideology

    The republican legislative majorities occurred during the Tea Party wave election of 2010.

    They are now faced with the reality that there is no practical way to fund the roads without raising taxes. They already cut funding to schools and eliminated senior citizen state tax breaks to fund a billion dollar business tax reduction – knowing that they still had this issue to deal with.

    The governor, to his credit, put a tax hike proposal on the table.

    So did the Republican Senate Majority leader, who happens to be term limited and as a result can’t run for election again.

    They all received the support of the Democrats, but all failed to get sufficient Republican votes to pass.

    It is now so bad, that the Senate Majority Leader has admitted that he is out of ideas.

    “We’ve come close to getting the votes necessary to fix this longstanding problem. But quite frankly, we’re looking at all ideas now – newer ideas,” said Richardville. “And we’re not afraid to entertain anything from anyone.”

    So faced with a real crisis regarding Michigan roads and the prospect of another brutal winter that will damage even more roads beyond the point of repair, Tea Party Republicans refuse to vote for any plan that raises taxes or fees on anybody.

    I can’t think of any clearer example of the folly of the ideology that has overtaken the Republican Party. There are consequences to a philosophy that believes no tax can be justified and economic growth will offset any loss of revenue. It is impossible for economic growth to generate sufficient additional tax revenue to solve this problem. The deteriorating roads are impacting economic growth today preventing the promised stimulation from low business taxes.

    As Mayor Daley understood, voters expect government to provide a set of basic services. Voters are also wise enough to realize that they have to pay for these services.

    Hopefully voters will recognize that this party is unable to govern because of their “no tax” philosophy and vote them out.

    Combating Fundamentalism

    Saturday, August 30th, 2014

    Islamic Fundamentalism has reared its ugly head again in the Middle East.

    This latest version is so radical and violent that the established radical and violent fundamentalist movements have disavowed it. So that checks the first box of the well-worn conservative criticism of Islam. Other Muslims ARE speaking out against this latest perversion of their religion.

    ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) was born in the ugly proxy war going on in Syria. It has its roots in the AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) group that the US defeated in the Iraq war in what has been called the Awakening Movement. It has gained some traction in Iraq lately because of the failure of the al-Maliki government to share power with Sunni’s. Their military leaders come from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party that was ousted in the overthrow the Iraq government.

    ISIS forces have been bolstered by up to 3000 foreign fighters. Somewhere around 1000 came from Chechnya. Another 500 have come from Europe (primarily France and Britain). Sunni prisoners freed from areas in Iraq and Syria that ISIS controls also have added to their forces.

    ISIS is primarily internally funded. None of the claims for connections to Qatar or Saudi Arabia have been proven. They fund themselves through extortion, kidnapping, and looting the resources of the areas that they occupy. Since that includes oil and electric power that they control in northern Syria, they have sufficient financing to fund their operations.

    Between Saddam’s weapons stockpiles that were left unguarded during the US invasion, weaponry captured in Syria, and US weaponry left behind as US forces left; ISIS does not appear to need an outside arms supplier to accomplish its military goals either.

    Conservatives like McCain and Graham are advocating a military solution. They haven’t said how they will finance it. The current air strikes in Iraq cost approximately $7.5M a day. They also acknowledge that:

    It is a truism to say there is no military solution to ISIS. Any strategy must, of course, be comprehensive. It must squeeze ISIS’ finances. It requires an inclusive government in Baghdad that shares power and wealth with Iraqi Sunnis, rather than pushing them toward ISIS. It requires an end to the conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. A strategy to counter ISIS also requires a regional approach to mobilize America’s partners in a coordinated, multilateral effort.

    Let’s parse this a little more.

    As listed above, it is going to be difficult to “squeeze ISIS’ finances” because they are not dependent on outside sources of income. They also have a healthy kidnapping industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in worldwide ransom payments. The US and Britain are the only governments refusing to pay ISIS ransom demands.

    It is hard to imagine what additional pressure the US can exert on Baghdad to form a more equitable government. We accelerated our troop withdrawal in part because Baghdad refused to reform itself.

    It is unclear what else the international community could do to “end the conflict in Syria”. Syria is a client state of Russia. The international community has been unable to keep Russia from dismantling Ukraine using its own soldiers. What could the US or the international community do that they haven’t already done, short of military action, which would cause the Russians to act differently in Syria?

    As far as military action is concerned, the US is able to carry out air strikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government. How would that happen in Syria?

    It is unlikely that we are going to get a request from Assad for help. If we did, accepting that request would legitimize the same government that we said no longer has a right to rule.

    If we go in unilaterally, we are almost certainly going to cause a strong response from Russia. The nature of that response could lead to a much larger conflict that no one wants.

    The ONLY way that we can justify any military action in Syria is with the overt support of the international community and the covert support of Russia. Last time I looked, there weren’t many in the international community supporting our much more modest efforts in Afghanistan. There isn’t much appetite among our friends to go another round in Iraq and Syria. The only way Russia is going to agree is if ISIS threatens the overthrow of the Syria government. While that may be ISIS’ long term plan, in the short term, ISIS is not expanding their territory in Syria. They are much more interested in Sunni sections of Iraq.

    The larger truth is that, just as there was no military solution to Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq and Afghanistan – there is no military solution in Syria.

    You don’t defeat an idea with a gun, particularly in revenge cultures like the Middle East. ISIS would like nothing more than a shooting war with the US. That helps validate their claim that the US is at war with Islam.

    You can only defeat a bad idea with a better idea. That better idea is all of the western corruption and consumerism that fundamentalist Islam abhors. That better idea is equality between the sexes and economic opportunity. Those ideas have peacefully transformed China into a capitalist powerhouse. Those ideas are slowly dismantling the Islamic state that took power in Iran in 1979. Within a generation, those ideas will coopt and transform ISIS too. That’s because the children of these fighters, will be less willing to live the fundamentalist lifestyle than their zealous parents. They won’t fear or despise the west as a long as the west hasn’t spent the last 20 years killing their relatives.

    The isolation strategy that eventually gave consumerism time to work its magic in Iran can also work in the new defacto Islamic State. They will find that governing is way less interesting to foreign jihadists than fighting. The west will find that isolating the Islamic State is going to be a far more effective strategy, even if we have to endure a small number of terrorist attacks, than attempting to defeat them militarily.

    Root Cause – Ferguson Riots

    Thursday, August 28th, 2014

    The death in Ferguson of an unarmed teenager and subsequent unrest raise a couple of basic questions.

    The first is obvious. There is no question that a police officer shot an unarmed citizen multiple times. The teenager died from his wounds. What happened in the moments leading up to gunshots being fired are still in dispute. We have a legal process that assumes that people are innocent until proven guilty. A grand jury has been empowered to determine whether or not the officer should face charges. Until that grand jury brings back a verdict, there is not much more useful to comment on the incident.

    The other equally obvious question is why did the residents of Ferguson react as they did?

    The sad reality is that police are killing people at the rate of about 400 a year for the past five years according to the FBI. These are “justified” homicides. There aren’t any FBI statistics on unjustified homicides where police offices are put on trial and found guilty of a homicide.

    An independent report assembled from media, obits, and facebook pages provides a little more detail.

    ferguson graphic 1

    There are additional statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that also have bearing.

    44% of the contact that an African American has with the police is for a traffic stop. But African Americans are three times as likely as white drivers and two times as likely as Hispanic drivers to be searched during a traffic stop. Statistics also show that this higher rate of searches doesn’t result in the discovery of any more drugs or guns than the any other traffic stop.

    These same statistics (compiled by fivethirtyeight.com) show that African Americans are three times as likely to be threatened by force during their encounters with police and twice as likely to actually have force used against them. A majority of those who reported force being used against them felt it was excessive. But the interesting final statistic is that when you break down all of those people who feel that they were subject to force, African Americans were the least likely of all of the racial divisions to regard that force as excessive.

    ferguson graphic 2

    But this is happening in communities across the country. Ferguson is no different than any of the larger cities profiled in these statistics. Why is it that only Ferguson burst into flames?

    Here are some more statistics from Politfact.

    Ferguson is 67% African American. Four decades ago Ferguson was 99% white.

    The Ferguson police department is 94% white. The police chief is white. The mayor is white and the local prosecuting attorney is white. The judges are white. The school board is mostly white.

    Even this isn’t that unusual in communities that have experienced rapid demographic changes. It takes a while for the new majority to assert itself politically.

    Ferguson is special in a way not obvious from all of these statistics.

    They are a classic speed trap complete with a predatory court system. But as the demographic in Ferguson changed, so did the targets for traffic enforcement. Instead of targeting out of towners, Ferguson targets its own population of poor African Americans. Fines and court fees are the second largest source of Ferguson’s revenue. According to a white paper by Arch City Defenders, in 2013 Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants for unpaid fines in 12,018 cases. That is the equivalent of 3 warrants per Ferguson household.

    How can that happen?

    Because the court system is rigged to benefit those who can afford a lawyer and punish those who can’t. According to the report, “the bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late receiving an additional charge for failure to appear.”

    NPR goes on to report that those who can’t afford to pay the thousands of dollars in fines and fees associated with a single violation, are put on payment plans by the courts with interest rates sometimes as high as 12%. Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that people can’t be jailed for failing to pay their bills, Ferguson regularly issues arrest warrants for those who miss payments. It also requires those on payment plans to appear in court monthly. This inevitably results in missed court dates which create additional fines and arrest warrants. When people get arrested, they lose their jobs, which makes it all that much more difficult for them to pay their fines.

    A community group has been organizing arrest warrant amnesties for these non-violent offenders. Earlier this month 3000 people in Ferguson, 15% of the total population of Ferguson, lined up to participate in the program.

    The result is a deeply polarized and isolated community. Because so many residents of Ferguson have open arrest warrants, they fear getting stopped, resent the police, and feel imprisoned in their own homes.

    “It’s a risk to go to the store,” says Ahmed. “Outside of that community, it’s a risk to go to any educational institution, to get a job, to go for job interviews. Especially since most of the jobs are maybe 5 to 10 miles away. So some of them just don’t even try anymore.”

    The African American population in Ferguson not only distrust the police, but also the courts. They feel the system is deliberately rigged against them, and statistics suggest that it is.

    It’s against this backdrop that two teenage African American boys were stopped by a white Ferguson police officer for walking in the street. They all knew what was going to happen next. The officer was going to check to see if the boys had any warrants. He would arrest them if they did, and issue them a jaywalking ticket if they didn’t. That ticket would cost each of them money that they didn’t have. They were going to end up in jail either way. These kids just kept walking. It may have been foolish, as young men often are, but they likely felt that they didn’t have many other choices. They challenged the police officer’s authority because they regarded it as illegitimate. According to one account, they also asked if he was going to shoot them for jaywalking – an obvious reference to Ferguson’s “speed trap” justice system. The officer responded by backing up his vehicle and confronting these two boys. That confrontation resulted in one of them being shot to death.

    That death caused an outpouring of frustration, violence, and crime from a community that felt that it had no other options. Unfortunately, it is what humans around the world do when they feel their governments give them no other options.

    That’s the root cause.