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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Sharing of Opinions

Today I would like to share a comment I found on the Minnesota Public Radio site.

Wrong path on MySpace

What a scary place signing the new bill into effect regarding the ban of sex offenders. [MPR News: Bill declares MySpace and the like off-limits to sex offenders] There are a couple of issues that come to mind regarding this and other bills that have recently been signed into effect. Who is a "sex offender"? Convictions carry sentences, it is illegal to add to a sentence after it has been fulfilled. Will this bill effect sex offenders already in the system? Why do we need this bill? Who gains from this bill?

People labeled sex offenders are in very large part not child molesters. The word "sex offender" is scary, just like the word "terrorist". Just like the word "terrorist", "sex offender" is thrown around and used without thought. Crimes such as statutory rape are included. This means that a man or a women of 18 years of age that has sex with a girl/boyfriend under that age and is convicted will be considered a sex offender. "Sex offenders are many times registered as such for 10-20 years or more.

Second, any conviction carries a sentence. The sentence is given by either peers or an appointed judge. This sentence is carried out by the convicted person. Here we have a new bill ready to be signed into effect that prohibits rights of people that have fulfilled their debt to society. The bill is a continuation of punishment beyond the prescribed sentence that has been fulfilled.

This can easily be likened to any person convicted of any felony currently. It is currently legal to deny a job to any person that has been convicted of a crime. It is also now almost mandatory for any person to sign a waiver for a background check for any position. This makes finding work for felony convicts impossible. This is another form of unusual punishment beyond the prescribed and fulfilled sentence. Not only does this effect the person but the community and economy as a whole.

Why is this bill going into effect? There is not a jump in rapes, child molestation, child pornography etc. In fact the numbers have been going down consistently for over a decade. Why would it make sense to increase penalties?

Politicians love to make a name for themselves. Generally these people don't care about the consequences of their actions. Really who can argue with "tougher penalties for sex offenders". Before we act, we must take a hard look at what and why we are doing such things. Is this beneficial for anyone. Children, no. Community, no. Sex offender, no. Economy, no. Mrs. Swanson, ahh yes. [MPR News Archive: Swanson joins call for names of sex offenders using MySpace] If parents can't teach their kids what we all learned when we were kids, "don't talk to strangers," we're in for some bigger problems. Can our politician deal with real problems? Maybe bureaucratic waste?

Finally, this one step by itself is not bad. Great, we will have 1 or 2 less sex offenders using their real names on Facebook in Minnesota. LOL. Though, what are the second, third and fourth steps? A complete ban on Internet usage? I don't know of one job available anywhere that doesn't use the Internet for some part of it.

I'm not advocating sexual offenses, not even a little bit, however we should be wary about where we are going.

Geoff Halls
Bloomington, Minn.

Mr. Halls raises several good points.
  • Are such bans effectively additional punishments imposed on sex offenders, thus violating our constitutional rule against ex post facto laws?
  • Does anyone really benefit from these bans?
  • If they are effectively useless, why waste taxpayers' money and public resources on their enforcement?
  • Are politicians really interested in the public good or are they just out to make a name for themselves by passing "sounds good" legislation?

Questions like these are fundamental to our activities and policies as a nation.

  • Does the policy or law we are thinking about violate the basis of our free and independent society?
  • Does the policy or law actually address the issue we need to work on?
  • Could the policy have undesirable consequences that we have not anticipated, perhaps doing more damage to our society than good?
  • Does the person advocating the policy or law have alterior motives for supporting it that might be clouding their judgement, making their advocacy suspect, and have they considered the previous three questions?

Before we jump on the bandwagon on any policy or legislative idea, we need to answer these questions. Only then can we make reasonable and responsible decisions. Many times we pass laws without thinking about their consequences.

In the past there have been many examples of this.

In the 1910s Federal legislation was passed on the premise of protecting the banking industry and expanding its economic potential. The results? The Great Depression. Enough said.

In the 1930s, responding to The Great Depression, legislation was passed to regulate the investment industry and the fundraising of corporations. The result? It costs companies between 10 and 20 percent of their desired funds just to register their intended stocks and changes nothing about the potential risk of investment in new (or even pre-existing) corporations. It also did nothing to address the actual causes of The Great Depression. The answer? More legislation to help finance small businesses through debt-enslavement agreements.

Again in the 1930s, responding to The Great Depression, the welfare program was started, guaranteeing all citizens (supposedly) the basic necessity of food, medicine, and in some cases shelter. The result? Generations of welfare recipients that have been trapped in dependence upon the government. The answer? More legislation to impose arbitrary limits on all recipients as to how long they can be dependents in their entire lifetime.

Yes, those are examples of old legislation, but they are ones we are still reeling from today. And there are plenty of more recent examples, up to and including our so-called USA Patriot Act which has all but stripped us of any assumption that we have a right to privacy and anonymity in our society.

Can we undo the damage caused by these mistakes? Yes. Will it be easy to do? Hell no. It is never easy to undo damage. There is the cost of eliminating what is causing the damage. There is the cost of repairing the damage done. And there is the cost of replacing the damaging policies or laws with better considered policies or laws.

Can't we just take the time to do it right the first time?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

High Stakes Activism - Accepting Risk

Talking with others today, I suddenly realized that my path to activism started significantly before my graduation from high school. I learned certain lessons then that I find applicable to activism in our modern world. Let me explain.

It started early one brisk, autumn morning. My friend (for privacy sake I shall call him Jake) and I were horsing around while waiting for our school bus. A man who lived in the house nearest our bus stop came out and started yelling at us. Needless to say, things got a bit heated.

Jake, by this point becoming quite irrational, told the man "Shut up and leave us alone motherf****r!"

The man growled at him "I ain't no motherf****r"

A thought suddenly crossed my mind. A way I might get these too angry individuals to step back and allow the situation to defuse. The problem was, it could also escalate the entire situation and draw me into the middle of it. In an instant, I made my decision.

"Sure you are, why lie about it?"

The man blinked a moment, then growled "I AIN'T no motherf****r!"

A smile crossed my lips. He had fallen for my trap.

I shifted my expression as if I was about to state a fact. "Oh really? Don't you have kids?"

The man blinked in sudden dismay, confused for the moment. A glance at Jake and I could see he was equally confused. I let silence rule for a few seconds, waiting.

The man's face sudden grimaced, "For the love of Christ"

He leaned against the tree behind him and let out a belly roar of laughter. I looked to Jake, who's face attested to his sudden understanding of what I had said. Unfortunately, he did not have a tree behind him and ended up on his butt in the grass, laughing until he could barely breath.

Once they stopped laughing, I smiled at the man and said "Look, you are obviously upset about our noise, but we don't understand why you are so upset, what's going on?"

The man explained to us that he was a graveyard security guard and was just getting into bed when we started making so much noise. Jake and I apologized and promised we would show him due consideration, now that we knew the circumstances.

Now the question is, how does this apply to activism?

The answer is simple. We are dealing with a lot of highly complex issues. There are usually two sides to an issue with some issues having three or more sides. We get so involved with our advocacy of this solution or that solution or arguing that the other side(s) aren't seeing the whole picture of the issue. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren't

The point is, our discussions become debates, debates become arguments, arguments become fighting, and fighting becomes all-out war. As this escalation grows, it becomes more and more difficult to negotiate middle grounds and happy mediums. Often times it takes a risky move to bring people back to the negotiation table. The higher the conflict has escalated, the riskier the move to bring things back into progressive equilibrium.

As activists, we must evaluate the events and situations affecting our issue(s) to see where such risks can, should, or must be taken for the sake of progress. In the game of high-stakes activism, there is no room for wimps. Now ... who's turn is it to shuffle?