Politics Archive

Monday, August 5, 2013

Response to Another E-mail on U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

UN Flag LogoI've received another e-mail that's prompted a response on my part (the full text of the e-mail is available below the fold). This e-mail had to do with the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, and the recent vote in the Senate on an amendment to a budget resolution to try to prevent the U.S. from entering into that treaty.

I've heard of the Arms Trade Treaty previously, and blogged about it in the entry, Response to Article on U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. As in that previous article, this e-mail was trying to paint the treaty as a U.N. / Obama attempt to take away Americans' right to own guns. Here's a paragraph from this most recent e-mail.

The U.N. Small Arms Treaty, which has been championed by the Obama Administration, would have effectively placed a global ban on the import and export of small firearms. The ban would have affected all private gun owners in the U.S., and had language that would have implemented an international gun registry on all private guns and ammo.

So, how true is all this, and what is the treaty really about? You can follow the link below to see how the UN describes the treaty in their own words.
United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs - The Arms Trade Treaty

Here's the opening paragraph from that page:

On 2 April 2013, the General Assembly adopted the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. The treaty will foster peace and security by putting a stop to destabilising arms flows to conflict regions. It will prevent human rights abusers and violators of the law of war from being supplied with arms. And it will help keep warlords, pirates, and gangs from acquiring these deadly tools.

That sounds noble enough, but from looking into this treaty previously, I knew there were potential issues that the U.S. was concerned about with its earlier drafts. You can go to the State Department's website to read what they have to say about the treaty, and the aspects that they pushed for to make sure that the treaty didn't infringe upon U.S. sovereignty or the rights of our citizens.
United States Department of State - Arms Trade Treaty

In particular, here is a list of key points from that page that the U.S. insisted upon.

  • The Second Amendment to the Constitution must be upheld.
    • There will be no restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution.
    • There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law.
  • The U.S. will oppose provisions inconsistent with existing U.S. law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export, or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.
  • The international arms trade is a legitimate commercial activity, and otherwise lawful commercial trade in arms must not be unduly hindered.
  • There will be no requirement for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives.
  • There will be no lowering of current international standards.
  • Existing nonproliferation and export control regimes must not be undermined.
  • The ATT negotiations must have consensus decision making to allow us to protect U.S. equities.
  • There will be no mandate for an international body to enforce an ATT.

That sounds pretty reassuring, but I know not everybody trusts everything the government says. So, below is a link to a paper published by a reputable third party, The American Bar Association. They took a close look at the treaty to determine whether or not it would infringe upon Americans' Second Amendment rights.
Document Cloud - American Bar Association Center for Human Rights White Paper

Here were the opening three paragraphs of that paper, with a couple key phrases put in bold by me:

This White Paper discusses whether the July 26, 2012, President's draft of the Arms Trade Treaty ("the proposed ATT") conflicts with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. As detailed below, it concludes that the proposed ATT is consistent with the Second Amendment, as that provision has been construed to date by the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, of the United States.

The proposed ATT would obligate the United States to block the transfer of conventional arms across U.S. borders where certain conditions are met. In particular, the proposed ATT would obligate the United States to block both exports and imports of covered arms across its borders whenever those transfers pose an overriding risk of causing certain adverse consequences, including: serious human rights abuse, war crimes, or terrorist acts.

As currently drafted, the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms. Given that existing statutes regulating the import and export of such weapons have withstood constitutional scrutiny in the U.S. courts for decades, it is unlikely that the proposed treaty would compromise Second Amendment rights. Even if a court found that future acts of the President or Congress in implementing the Arms Trade Treaty did not comply with the Second Amendment, such acts or the Treaty itself would be void.

So, we have the UN saying that the treaty is meant to stop human rights abuses, the State Department saying they insisted upon preservation of Americans' Second Amendment rights before considering the treaty, and a respected third party, the American Bar Association, verifying that the treaty won't affect our Second Amendment rights. The opposition to this treaty sounds like fear mongering on the part of various right wing organizations.

Here are a few more links, from an admittedly left leaning source, to provide a counter point to all the right leaning stories I'm sure many of you have seen already:

It's also interesting to note that only three countries voted against the treaty - North Korea, Iran, and Syria - not exactly the countries you want to be grouped with.

As far as final approval of the treaty, it still has to go through the formal approval process with the President and the Senate. This recent vote by the Senate was merely symbolic, and doesn't actually mean anything.

Now, the State Department still needs to closely review the treaty and make sure that everything in the final version is okay, but the current opposition seems so irrational. It's based on a fear that by all indications doesn't match with reality.

The e-mail I received said to take careful note of who voted in opposition to the amendment, i.e. those in favor of at least considering the treaty. I would agree - they were the only sensible politicians in the Senate. And I would add that you should also note who voted in opposition to the treaty - the ones obstructing progress in the world. Unsurprisingly given the current political environment, the vote fell nearly along party lines. Not a single Republican opposed the anti-treaty amendment, and only a few Democrats supported it. Given the purpose of the treaty to try to stop human rights abuses, and the fact that the U.N., the U.S. State Department, and the American Bar Association have all stated that it will not affect Americans' right to own guns, you have to wonder just what the opposition is thinking. Even if the treaty turned out to have provisions that would attempt to limit our gun ownership rights, it would be superseded by the Constitution, so there's really no danger at all. Why would they out of hand oppose a treaty with such noble goals? Is political showmanship more important to these people than are the victims of tyrannical regimes and terrorists?

More Info:

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Boy Scouts to Allow Gay Youth

Boy Scout Logo with Rainbow FlagThe headline of this article says it all, Boy Scouts to allow gay members but ban on gay and atheist leaders continues. It's a step in the right direction, at least. As an Eagle Scout myself, I can attest to how important scouting was in my life. And I've mentioned before that I think it should be open to all boys who want to participate. It's absolutely wonderful that the organization has finally decided to allow openly gay boys to join. But the BSA still has a few spots left to address - gay leaders and atheists. I hope they can address those shortcomings soon.

Image Source: IndianasNewsCenter.com

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teach the Controversy! (except when I don't agree with it) - CSCOPE and the Second Amendment

CSCOPEYou know those types of people who doubt evolution and are always trying to get alternative viewpoints put into schools? They'll say to Teach the controversy, or to examine "all sides of scientific evidence". Well, in my recent research into the manufactured CSCOPE controversy, I came across this page:

RedHotConservative.com - 2nd AMENDMENT a COLLECTIVE RIGHT?

The writer highlighted a couple sections from a CSCOPE lesson plan.


and another:

The collective right's advocates believed that the Second Amendment did not apply to individuals; rather it recognized the right of a state to arm its militia. It recognized limited individual rights only when it was excercised by members of a functioning, organized militia while actively participating in the militia's activities.

The CSCOPE plan went on to explain the point of view of the proponents of individual's rights, and pointed out that the most recent Supreme Court decisions on the issue have favored the individual's rights interpretation. In fact, this is a pretty well balanced lesson. The debate of individual vs. collective interpretation of the Second Amendment is an old one. Just go read the Wikipedia article. It discusses older cases brought before the Supreme Court, such as United States v. Cruikshank, Presser v. Illinois, and Miller v. Texas, which interpreted the Second Amendment more as a collective right, and allowed state governments to restrict gun ownership. It wasn't until relatively recently, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Supreme Court finally and explicitly interpreted the Second Amendment as an individual right.

But apparently, even discussing this ongoing national debate is crossing the line.

In a High School lesson the kids are instructed to discuss whether the 2nd Amendment should be a collective or individual right. In TEXAS you may ask???? (UNFORTUNATELY YES) I call this INDOCTRINATION!

I know it's not terribly surprising, but just keep this in mind the next time you hear someone calling for debating all sides of the evolution debate. And also keep it in mind when you hear someone deriding CSCOPE for being some conspiracy to indoctrinate our children.

Previous CSCOPE Entries:

Monday, April 29, 2013

More on CSCOPE - Promoting Communist China?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the brewing CSCOPE controversy in an entry, CSCOPE Conspiracy?. For a bit of background, CSCOPE describes itself as "a customizable, online curriculum management system aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)." It basically consists of material to help teachers cover the required curriculum. But since everything seems to be politicized these days, CSCOPE is now getting pulled into the culture wars. Right wing critics of CSCOPE are leveling all sorts of charges against the system, such as claiming that it criticizes Christianity and that it promotes communism.

Since my post a few weeks ago, I've begun noticing these signs popping up all over Wichita Falls.

CSCOPE Protest Sign
Image Source: RedHotConservative.com*

So, I decided to take another look at this story. In my last entry, I examined one claim against CSCOPE - that it was denigrating Christianity by calling it a cult and claiming that early Christians participated in cannibalism and incest. Needless to say, reality didn't match up with the right wing claim.

Today, I typed CSCOPE into my google search box and followed a link to see another claimed criticism of the system. This time, the link was this one.
The Blaze - Want to See What CSCOPE and Common Core (Even Homeschooling) Lessons Look Like? These Parents Opened Up to TheBlaze

The writer of this article seemed mostly concerned with how CSCOPE discussed China, and supposedly promoted communism over capitalism. Here's a claim from that article.

"They make kids watch a video that makes capitalism look bad and Communist China look good. It's absolutely unbelievable."

Below are several screenshots of the program, "China Rises," along with a video that Card was able to record and save for his own records.

So, what does the screenshot say in support of Communism?

In 25 years, China has achieved the most rapid economic advance in such a short time of any nation in history. How? By scrapping its devotion to collectivism and embracing private enterprise with the zeal of 19th-century robber barons. But is China's success riding on the backs of the poor?

That's a pretty strange endorsement of communism. Here's an excerpt from another screenshot on that page.

Yet economic reform continued in China and continues today. The communist concept of sharing the work and the wealth - collectivism - has fallen by the wayside, and private enterprise has taken the helm of China's economy.

The actual screenshots from CSCOPE in the article are contradicting the text within the article. The CSCOPE lesson is claiming that China's switch to free market capitalism is what's fueling its economic growth.

The next complaint in the article was about 'cruelties' under capitalism.

Card notes that the video preview made available under the "Getting Rich" sub-section of the site talks about capitalism's "cruelties" as it shows a man whose [sic] lost his hand in a machine.

I haven't yet watched the video, but this doesn't sound like an indictment of capitalism. Given the mention of 'robber barons' in the one excerpt, it sounds like a look at how China is transitioning to capitalism, going through some of the same birth pangs as the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution, when lack of regulations led to bad working environments and actual armed uprisings like the Ludlow Massacre.

So, that's another criticism of CSCOPE examined and found wanting. If I have the time and motivation, I may try looking into more of these criticisms in follow-up entries.

More Info:

*Note that the article on that RedHotConservative.com site is a verbatim copy of the article on Times Record News without even citing it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Response to Anti-Liberal E-mail - Linus Gets It

Libtards First PanelI need to quit taking the bait so easily. Somebody sent me another political e-mail that I couldn't resist responding to. This one wasn't nearly as high brow as the typical right wing rant. It consisted of 3 strips of the comic, Libtards (the name in and of itself lets you know the level of discourse to expect). This comic rips off the Peanuts, and in the strips I saw, at least, consisted of political conversations between Linus and Lucy, with Lucy representing the liberal and Linus representing the conservative. I'm not going to repost the comics here, but I will provide links if you want to read them for yourself.

Libtards Strip 1
The first strip started with Lucy saying, "I voted for Obama because he's black," followed by Linus listing all the supposed problems caused by Obama.

Voted for Obama because he's black Only a small minority of people voted for Obama strictly because he's black - probably about the same number of people who voted for McCain/Romney strictly because they're white.
Deficit Obama took office during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Deficit spending is exactly what the government's supposed to do in that situation to stimulate the economy and get things back on track. So, you can't have it both ways. Either the economy is recovered and we can stop deficit spending, or the economy is still hurting and requires deficit spending from the government.
NY Times - Judging Stimulus by Job Data Reveals Success

Let's also not forget that government spending as a percentage of GDP has been steadily decreasing since Obama's first year in office.

Federal Spending
(Source: JaredBernsteinBlog.com)

(In my opinion, this is a fault with the Obama administration - stimulus spending has been too small, explaining the slower than hoped recovery. The current sequestration is going to hurt the recovery even more.)
Unemployment Unemployment has been improving since the worst of the Recession.

U.S. Unemployment Rate
(Source: TradingEconomics.com)
Benghazi I agree that this is a problem, but also one that's been blown out of proportion.
Think Progress - What Everyone Should Know About The Benghazi Attack
Gas prices Gas prices showed a fairly steady rise from 2003 to 2008 under Bush. Then there was a sudden drop, after which prices relatively quickly rebounded to what they'd been previously, but have held fairly steady for the past two years without further increase. So, even assuming any president had much control over gas prices, I don't see where Obama's done a bad job.

Gas Price History
(Source: GasBuddy.com)
Immigration crisis Illegal immigration peaked in 2007 and has been decreasing since then.
CBS News - Illegal immigration to U.S. drops after rising for decade
Solyndra What about it? There were nearly 40 projects in that loan guarantee program. Most of the projects were successful. Solyndra wasn't. I wouldn't expect every project in such a program to be successful.
Think Progress - Five Things You Should Know About Solyndra During The 2012 Campaign
National credit rating Maybe you could blame Obama for not showing enough leadership here, but the downgrade was clearly due to the GOP in congress, and the way they played chicken with our country's economy and reputation.
Think Progress - The Downgrade Trifecta: S&P Slams Third GOP Debt Stance For Jeopardizing U.S. Credit

Libtards Strip 2
The second strip started with Lucy saying, "I am pro-choice!", followed by Linus listing all the things our tyrannical government prohibits.

Can I choose to smoke? Yes.  Cigarettes are still legal.
Can I choose a large soda? Other than one local government (NYC), everyone has always been able to buy large sodas.
Can I choose to own a gun? Yes.  Even the recently failed gun control laws were only trying to institute universal background checks, limit clip capacity, and limit one particular type of firearm (assault rifles).  A few years ago, Obama even signed into law a bill that allows people to take firearms into national parks.
NBC News - New law allows loaded guns in national parks
Can I choose an incandescent bulb? First of all, it depends.  Some states are phasing out incandescent bulbs.  Federal laws are only mandating new efficiency standards (albeit, ones that will be hard for current incandescent bulbs to meet).
Wikipedia - Phase-out of incandescent light bulbs: United States

But more importantly, Lucy was right in this comic.  Our energy use is too high.  Global warming is a real threat that we must face, and switching to more efficient light bulbs seems like a small price to pay to help reduce our carbon output.
Can I choose low-cost coal? Again, Lucy is right.  According to Wikipedia, "Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it was responsible for 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year..."  How selfish do you have to be to want to continue using so much coal simply because it gives you a little cheaper electricity, when you're passing off all the problems of global warming to future generations?  Our nation should be transitioning to cleaner power sources.
Wikipedia - Coal power in the United States
Can I choose to honor God? Yes.  You just can't use tax-payer money to do so.  Granted, there are mostly local cases where someone doesn't understand the law, but no widespread attempt at suppressing religion.  In fact, the problem's mostly the opposite - people abusing their positions to use taxpayer money to push sectarian beliefs and not respecting the Establishment Clause.  (When's the last time you heard a politician end a speech without saying "and God bless America"?)
ACLU - ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression
Americans United

Oh, just for the hell of it, let's turn this around and ask a few hypothetical questions to Republicans.

Can I burn an inanimate object like a flag? Not if we had our way.  Even though it causes no actual harm to anybody, it seems disrespectful.
Fox News - Houses Passes Ban on U.S. Flag-Burning
Can I marry whoever I want? No.  Even though marriage has been an ever changing institution, from polygamy (even in the Bible) to arranged marriages to no inter-racial marriages just a few decades ago, we're going to pretend that 'traditional marriage' is something real and outlaw the marriages we don't agree with.  And we'll even try to get an amendment passed to the Constitution that takes away freedom.
Star Tribune - Marriage Amendment
What about in my heterosexual marriage?  Can we do things a little 'wild and crazy' in the bedroom? Nope.  Missionary style only - at least in 13 states.
Huffington Post - Why Do Virginia, 13 Other States Want To Keep Their Anti-Sodomy Laws A Decade After SCOTUS Ban?
Can I hook up with a girl from a bar?  Shack up with my long term girlfriend? Not in Virginia.
Sodomy.org - Virginia's Sodomy Law
Can I smoke a little pot? No.  Drugs are immoral (even if marijuana and several other illicit drugs are less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol).
Wikipedia - Substance abuse
Can I buy a bottle of fine scotch whiskey on a Sunday afternoon? No.  And you can't go car-shopping, either.
Wikipedia - Blue law
Can I vote? Going against 200 years of tradition - not unless you have a driver's license, even though voter fraud is a non-existent problem.
Mother Jones - UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud

And if we think you're going to vote against us, we'll do what we can to make it harder for you to vote.
Think Progress - Florida Republicans Admit Voter Suppression Was The Goal Of New Election Laws
CommonDreams.org - Land of the Free? Home of the Brave? Only When It's Convenient

Libtards Strip 3
Here's the third and final strip from the e-mail. This one began with Lucy claiming, "Republicans are racist, sexist, homophobic, gun-toting religious fanatics," with Linus pointing out that liberals support Muslims who share all those same traits.

Okay, he has a bit of a point, there. Too many liberals, going too far in trying to be tolerant and multicultural, accept the negative aspects of some cultures.
SamHarris.org - Dear Fellow Liberal: An Exchange with Glenn Greenwald

But it's important to remember that there's a lot of diversity among Muslims just like Christians. Just like you shouldn't try to tar all of Christianity because of the KKK, Hutaree, the Army of God, modern day witch hunts, or the like, you shouldn't try to tar all of Islam because of Muslim extremists. In fact, this is a large part of the reason why many liberals are so quick to defend Muslims - because there is real discrimination against them.
Wikipedia - Christian terrorism
Wikipedia - Army of God (United States)
Guardian - Children are targets of Nigerian witch hunt
Think Progress - Fox News Reignites Islamophobic Campaign Against The 'Ground Zero Mosque'

So, this was just more of the same that I've come to expect from right-wing e-mail forwards - straw men and distortions of the truth, though in a much cruder format than I'm used to seeing.


Selling Out