Feb 29

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

President Obama is weak.

Every single Republican candidate has echoed this sentiment, including Carly Fiorina (in the fifth debate and falsely claiming American Generals retired because of Obama), Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio (here and here), Donald Trump, of course, Rick Santorum (here and here), John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson. Even the once-possibly-still-is-isolationist Rand Paul said it. If one candidate truly represents this point of view, it’s now out-of-the-race candidate Chris Christie, who described Obama as a “feckless weakling” at the fifth Republican debate, and kept repeating this talking point.

So literally every candidate.

Dated insults aside--I mean, seriously, Christie, “feckless”? What is this the 1950s?--this claim, like far too many others in this election by Republicans, has absolutely no merit. Look at one of Republicans favorite examples of Obama’s fecklessness, the capture and detention of ten US soldiers by Iran in January. If you missed this crisis, that’s because it was over twelve hours. But the Republicans candidates knew what this meant...weakness!

"If our sailors aren't coming home yet, they need to be now. No more bargaining. Obama's humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again." - Jeb Bush on Twitter

“The only reason they were seized is because of the weakness of Barack Obama.” - Ted Cruz on Fox News Sunday

"WH says our sailors are being given courtesies? This is feckless. WH is endangering our troops. Demand their return NOW!” - Rick Santorum on Twitter

“Do you think Iran would have acted so tough if they were Russian sailors? Our country was humiliated.” and “Iran humiliated the United States with the capture of our 10 sailors. Horrible pictures & images. We are weak. I will NOT forget!” - Donald Trump on Twitter

In reality, this incident represents the Obama administration's strength on the world stage, if strength means getting what you want. Which it does. Since America now has diplomatic relations with Iran, its diplomats were able to quickly and effectively negotiate a solution. Fred Kaplan at Slate explains:

“If anything, the speedy, peaceful resolution of this incident could be seen as proof that Obama’s nuclear deal, which all the Republican candidates abhor, holds some collateral benefit in addition to its inherent merits—that the diplomacy it unleashed, after 36 years of official silence (Kerry and Zarif had been scheduled to talk on the phone Tuesday afternoon anyway), was what made the rapid settlement possible.”

In other words, diplomatic relations solved the crisis. And solved it better than George W. Bush did. In 2007, the Iranians captured 15 Royal Navy sailors and it took 13 days to negotiate their release. If you do the quick math, this means George W. Bush is approximately 45 times weaker than Obama, counted in pure man hours of captivity.

Of course, this is all selective, hypocritical politics. Under a Republican President--like, say, George W. Bush--these same candidates would have praised his leadership and strength in freeing the sailors.

What’s worse, and this is where this post will take a weird turn, is that Republicans believe Obama is weak because he won’t project military power abroad. Which is odd, because the American military, under Barack Obama, has bombed more countries than any President since Nixon, possibly FDR (a list that includes Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria). And we’ve sent troops to aid the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria. And possibly launched attacks in the Philippines.

So we disagree with the Republican’s rhetoric--Obama isn’t weak--but also still disagree with the President’s policy for being far too willing to use America’s military abroad. What’s worse, one of the most aggressive foreign policies in American history is being characterized as dove-ish-ness.

That’s truly terrifying.

Feb 24

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

Like businessman-turned-politician Mitt Romney before her, businesswoman-turned-former-candidate Carly Fiorina wants to broadly expand the size of the American military. While she was still campaigning, she often repeated her Heritage-Foundation-and-American-Enterprise-Institute-approved talking points, especially around warships, planes and tanks.

Carly Fiorina believes we need more! Lot’s more! Here’s the (unrealistic) plan she laid out at the debate in September:

“What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet...We need the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it. And, specifically, what that means is we need about 50 Army brigades, we need about 36 Marine battalions, we need somewhere between 300, and 350 naval ships, we need to upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad...”

Fiorina isn’t alone in her belief that the U.S. military needs to be larger. Jeb Bush promised to rebuild the military and increase its size and budget. Same with Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. (According to both of the previous two links, Donald Trump both agrees and disagrees.) Cruz, Rubio and Trump all mentioned “rebuilding our military” in their speeches after South Carolina.

So I wanted Michael C to write a post explaining that while our military is smaller on the whole, it is more expensive and powerful. By far. Well, he already did...for the last election. Posted over at Tom Ricks’ blog “The Best Defense”, he explained how when it comes to the Department of Defense, even really smart business people like Mitt Romney lose their business acumen. It seems like Carly Fiorina (and possibly Donald Trump) have lost the same passion for fiscal discipline.

In that guest post, Michael C got to the core of the issue when it comes to the DoD’s budget: it isn’t about the sum totals; it is about efficiency. We pay way too much for every weapon system. And we don’t get quality anymore. The F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are over-priced monstrosities that barely fly...and don’t even fly combat missions in our current wars. But they make defense contractors a fortune.

This talking point about the military isn’t even true. The Obama defense budget is arguably the largest budget in inflation-adjusted terms ever. Claiming we need to rebuild the military is like saying you need to upgrade your vehicle as you drive off the lot in a new car. You just bought one.

More to the point, Obama isn’t even cutting the budget; he actually increased it. At least, according to reality.

Feb 22

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

Six months ago, you could have predicted Republicans would say some crazy things about foreign policy and our military. Loosening ROE? Pretty predictable. Obama is weak! Yeah, not true but kind of predictable. We need more military spending? Of course they would say that. (More on all three topics this week and next.)

And also waterboarding.

Sure, you could have predicted that Republicans (outside of John McCain) would have defended this so-abhorrent-even-the Nazis-initially-forbid-it practice. They’ve been defending torture ever since Dick Cheney and the CIA started doing it after 9/11.

But I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that Republicans would argue waterboarding didn’t go far enough at the eighth Republican debate:

“I would bring back waterboarding and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding. “ - Donald Trump

“And so, if it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe." - Ted Cruz

So, in other words, anything is on the table. (When asked, Jeb Bush and Rubio dodged.) There’s no need to rehash this issue, since we’ve written about it so much in the past. So here’s a quick recap of why torture is wrong, morally and ethically, and some links:

1. Torture isn’t effective.

Practically, as The Atlantic sums up the Senate’s report on torture, torture doesn’t provide good intel:

“Despite their use against at least 39 detainees, there’s still no evidence that “enhanced interrogation” methods produced information useful to stopping terror attacks, while there’s plenty of evidence that those subject to torture produced false information in the hopes of ending their ordeals.”

Basically, you’ll say anything to not be tortured.

2. Torture will get Americans killed.

Trump argued that since ISIS beheads people, we have to torture them in response. If ISIS’s shocking actions anger him so much, wouldn’t our shocking actions anger extremists? Wouldn’t it inspire terrorists?

Yes, as The Atlantic, John McCain, The Daily Beast, and Slate have pointed out.

3. Our best quote ever on torture.

Which completely debunks Ted Cruz’ nightmare scenario above:

“Would the CIA have tortured Richard Jewell to find the locations of more bombs? Would Jewell have confessed if waterboarded? Would they have just killed him to stop him from attacking again?”       

4. Check out past On V posts on torture.

For whatever reason, the only times we’ve written about torture on the blog are when we’re writing about movies, like The Battle for Algiers (twice), Inglorious Basterds, Zero Dark Thirty (before the release of the Senate Torture report and called it!) and Homeland.

5. Torture is immoral.

Even if torture were effective, it doesn’t matter. It’s immoral.

And really, that’s all that matters.

Feb 17

In Spring quarter of 2003 at UCSB, two months after America invaded Iraq, I saw some Quakers at a table by the Rec center advertising options for young men to sign up as conscientious objectors for the draft. I spent a good thirty minutes discussing what I could do, as a pacifist, with them. (They were really incredulous when I talked to them, which made me wonder why they even bothered to set up the table.) I left without officially signing up as a conscientious objector. I didn’t think a draft would occur in the near future; it seemed like plenty of young men were willing to fight.

Like, say, my twin brother, who, during the same Spring Quarter of 2013, approached a table advertising UCLA’s ROTC program, and soon signed up.

I thought about this memory again watching the excellent new play The Dodgers last weekend. (Full disclosure: my girlfriend is Stage Manager for the production. Still, get tickets here!) In the play, a group of draft dodgers on a commune in the sixties deal with the threat of getting drafted, a fictionalized account of playwright Diana Amsterdam’s actual experiences.

There’s no better compliment I can give this play other than this: it inspired an entire post's worth of thoughts.

Military Conscription is Crazy Unethical

In perhaps the most powerful scene in The Dodgers, four eligible, military-age hippies watch as the draft lottery unfolds, hoping their birthdays doesn’t get called. It’s ironic when they realize the draft lottery hasn’t been shuffled properly. It’s tragic when their birthdays do get called.

Oddly enough, despite its brief appearance on the campaign trail--Ted Cruz doesn’t think women should be drafted--the draft feels like a relic, though every young man who turns eighteen in America still has to register with America’s Selective Service System, in case America returns to military conscription.

The Dodgers reminded me of how crazy unethical a draft is. Like truly, epically unethical. I’m not sure how, thousands of years from now, anyone will justify their existence or purpose. It will be seen as another relic of a barbaric age. (To note, every future generation views past generations, or should, as barbaric).

Forcing someone to go to war is a violation of basic liberties. It is a violation of one’s personal agency, both in terms of threatening their safety, but also forcing them to kill. Now, a defender of a draft would argue that drafts serve the greater good by protecting everyone’s agency and safety while solving the inevitable tragedy-of-the-commons problem of going to war. But if a war is so just and noble it must be fought, I have trouble seeing how a country wouldn’t be able to get people to fight in it. (Not to mention the long-held pattern of the rich and powerful getting their children out of the draft, as is mentioned in The Dodgers.)

The subject is too long for a blog post, but I love that The Dodgers brings this issue up again.

Vietnam as the Counter-Argument to the Pacifism Counter-Argument

When you tell people you’re a pacifist, as I am, you invariably get one rebuttal question:

What about World War II?

My first, albeit sarcastic, response is, “What about it?” (World War II is much murkier ethically, than most Americans care to admit.) But my real response is, “What about World I?”. As I wrote in the “World War I Problem”, while the proponents of war love citing the good wars (like World War II) they ignore the bad (like World War I). They ignore the meaningless, strategically dubious-yet-devastating-in-human-terms wars.

I could easily substitute Vietnam for World War I and the argument remains the same. Vietnam was a pointless mess that tortured an entire generation, not to mention killed tens of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians. In retrospect, I doubt that anyone sees Vietnam as the bulwark against Communism people thought it was at the time. Russia would have almost certainly imploded two decades later regardless, with or without our involvement in Vietnam. Oh, and it was instigated on the basis of a lie. You kind of forget--I mean, I don’t, but the public at large--the stupidity and insanity of the Vietnam war. As we’ve mentioned before, Hollywood stopped making movies about Vietnam twenty years ago.

In our post-9/11 world, America has gone back to war, deploying troops to at least two countries--at least one of which began under false pretenses, again--and dropping bombs in, approximately, hundreds of other countries. We’ve forgotten how bad war can be.

Pacifists Aren’t Cowards

I do have one criticism with the play, and that’s that the main characters mostly focus on fear of dying rather than moral superiority of not fighting in an unjust war. (Not that this is inaccurate; I’m sure many, if not most, drafts dodgers didn’t want to die.)

When I had that conversation with the Quakers above, they pointed out that you can become a conscientious objector but still get drafted as a medic. For anti-war types and pacifists, this is an internal conflict, whether working as a medic saving American soldiers still furthers a war they consider immoral.

For me, it seems like a fair solution, fulfilling a constitutional obligation without violating personal values. I don’t want to go to war, not for fear of dying, but fear of killing. I don’t know what I’d do if I got shot at. I don’t think anyone does. (I assume, since my genetic equal served successfully in war, I probably could as well, but I don’t know.) Even if I were drafted--doubtful now, at my age--I would go, but I wouldn’t kill.

Feb 15

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.

And, though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

Over time, words lose their original meaning. Often, exaggeration is to blame. The most obvious (and cliched) example is “literally” which literally no longer means literally. This “misuse” isn’t new or even that wrong from a literary perspective. (James Joyce, Mark Twain and Jane Austen all used it incorrectly.) You could (debatebly) throw “decimate” into this category, a word which once meant “one-tenth” now means “all”. I’m not immune either. Over the last couple months, I (Eric C) realized I use the word “infinitely” in definitively un-infinite situations. Michael C misuses “exponential growth” to refer to non-exponential growth and hates himself for it.

I fear this may happen to the word “existential”. “Existential” is supposed to refer to existence, meaning that if something is an “existential threat”, it poses a threat to your existence.

This word is literally being decimated by delusional (or fear-mongering) politicians.

I first noticed this language abuse by John McCain in 2008 during the presidential campaign, referring to terrorism generally. Of course, he’s not the only one. Long-time readers of On V may remember us writing about this before, citing major conservative thinkers scared of radical extremists. Since then, John McCain, and once-upon-a-time Republican Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham have continued the assault on language (and logic), by claiming ISIS poses an existential threat to America and the west.

Thankfully, some major conservative thinkers have debunked this abuse of language. That, alas, was but a brief blip in conservative thinking. Despite the patently inaccurate description, the entire Republican field has pushed the fact that ISIS is an existential threat:

- Ted Cruz, in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner, wants “to fight the existential threat of the Islamic State.”

- Ben Carson at the fifth debate: “But the war that we are fighting now against radical Islamist jihadists is one that we must win. Our very existence is dependent upon that.”

- Rand Paul feels ISIS poses a “global threat”. Which is somehow less accurate than “existential”.

- Or Marco Rubio at sixth debate: “There is a war against ISIS, not just against ISIS but against radical jihadists terrorists, and it is a war that they win or we win.”

- And Marco Rubio again at the seventh debate: "ISIS is the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind. ISIS is now found in affiliates in over a dozen countries. ISIS is a group that burns people alive in cages; that sells off little girls as brides...They want to trigger an apocalyptic Armageddon showdown."

From the start, Michael C and I have followed a guideline for choosing what to write about on our blog: have a good take. A good take means saying something true, but, more importantly, something novel, unique or original. You might stand out if you argue the moon is a hologram (like this guy, somehow) but the claim is so patently false as to be uninteresting. Next though, a good take needs to be original, lest we become just another blog in the “internet echo chamber”.

There’s a caveat, though. If an idea is true, but the general public doesn’t believe it, well, we need to write about it. Even if others are saying it too. This applies to ISIS.

America has fighter planes, tanks, battleships, landing craft, nuclear weapons; ISIS has some trucks and a handful of missiles. America’s military has a budget of over half a trillion dollars annually; ISIS claims they have two billion dollars. America’s military has over 1.3 million people; ISIS has soldiers in the low thousands. We have rich allies with well-funded militaries; ISIS has, somehow, managed to also piss off Russia, the Kurds, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

So obviously ISIS doesn’t represent an “existential threat” to America. Or a global threat. Or really the world more generally.

As we said earlier, others have made this point. But it still needs saying. Many people rationally understand this; millions of potential voters don’t. Obviously, it is galvanizing Republicans, both their candidates and their admirers. But worse, some Democrats have basically conceded this issue. As we wrote about before, during Obama’s final State of the Union, when Obama said that ISIS didn’t pose an existential threat, some Democrats didn’t clap at this line. Hell, watching the New Hampshire returns last week, I saw on MSNBC’s scroll that 9% of Democrats in New Hampshire ranked ISIS as their most concerning issue.

ISIS may some day launch terrorist attacks against America. (Even then, statistically, the threat they pose to Americans is tiny. Less than bee stings and bathtubs. Or fireworks.) But the chances ISIS will threaten America’s sovereignty or borders is literally infinitely small. Both politicians and the media need to make this clear.

Feb 10

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.

Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

At the sixth Republican debate, Ben Carson warned the world of a looming threat:

“And we have enemies who are obtaining nuclear weapons that they can explode in our exo-atmosphere and destroy our electric grid. I mean, just think about a scenario like that. They explode the bomb, we have an electromagnetic pulse. They hit us with a cyber attack simultaneously and dirty bombs. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point...those kinds of things are in fact an existential threat to us.”

That does sound terrifying. And Carson isn’t the only one sounding the alarm. Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum  and Mike Huckabee all fear an EMP attack, even though experts universally agree, this isn’t a remotely real or credible threat.

You may wonder why we keep writing about how the world getting safer or why we started the year sharing good news stories. Or why we keep debunking the anti-pollyanna pundits that dominate the media. Or why we’ll keep writing about this.

Frankly, because we’re losing the battle.

Since we’ve started writing about how the world getting safer, inspired by Steven Pinker, John Horgan, Joshua Goldstein, Bruno Tertais and other’s research, the world has only got more pessimistic. (And yet safer.) We keep a collection of pessimistic or statements about our “dangerous” world, and it just keeps growing. Heck, I just listened to a Nobel Peace Prize winner who stopped a war in Liberia, complain about the amount of war today, as an argument against war being inevitable. Huh?

Most of all, this year's election proves it. In America, you can blame Republicans, especially if they’re running for president. Michael C has this thing while we’re writing up posts, where he warns me (Eric C) not to go “Daily Kos” on the writing. In other words, don’t go crazy liberal/partisan. And I try. So, instinctively, for balance, I don’t want to blame Republicans for fear-mongering. But then I heard this on NPR:

“And the Republican theme of how scary the world has become under president Obama’s watch is only getting more intense...The theme is pretty clear: the world is on fire and it’s all President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s fault...”

Not only do people think the world is a dangerous place, one side of the political spectrum has made it their main talking point for foreign policy! From Rand Paul:

“After all the sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, why do we find ourselves in a more dangerous world?”

That’s from an isolationist! Or Chris Christie in the NPR article above:

“These are among the most perilous times in our nation’s recent history.”

Or Marco Rubio:

“America is in far greater danger today than it was eight years ago"

Or Jeb Bush at the seventh Republican debate:

“Well first of all, I think it's important that when we're running for the highest office in the land that we recognize that we're living in dangerous times and we have to be serious about it, that our words have consequences.”

Politicians exploit violence to their advantage, selectively over-hyping “crises”. And frankly, Republicans have perfected it, because they and Americans tend to think Democrats are “weak” militarily and on foreign policy, just like the NPR reporter explained later in that report in the link above. In 2014, that meant framing the rise of ISIS and the Ebola crisis as world-ending catastrophes. This year, during the Republican debates, it means again over-hyping ISIS, the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shootings. (But like I said, selectively. Terrorism gets top billing, but mass shootings get ignored.)

It has an effect. In other words, these politicians successfully convince their followers that the world is a mess. Reveal, the podcast by the Center for Investigative Reporting, just did an hour on Donald Trump. One of his supporters described the world this way (Min 18:00):

“My neighbor is afraid to fly. I’m not afraid to fly...Hopefully it won’t be my flight that gets blown up, but no one feels safe anymore...we live in a dangerous world. We want to know who’s coming in. They’re coming into this country, the bad people, for one reason: to kill us.”

Almost nothing in that quote is true, but it represents what a lot of average Americans mistakenly believe.

So, who’s to blame? First, obviously Republicans, for needless fear-mongering and misleading their followers. Honestly, if the economy were in the toilet, Republicans would want to talk about that instead of ISIS.

Next would be Democrats, who either believe the world is a dangerous place, as dangerous place or more dangerous place than it has ever been. (Especially your regular, civilian Democrats.) Worse would be Democrats who know we’re safe, but don’t say or do anything about it. This does not include President Obama, who stated that ISIS is NOT an existential threat at his last State of the Union. This does include the Democrats who didn’t clap.

But most of all, I blame the media. Republicans complain about a hostile, anti-Republican “mainstream media”. But that very same mainstream media over-hypes pet issues that help Republicans, like terrorism and wars in the Middle East that then benefit Republicans. As we wrote about a few years ago and last year, the media, before is incredibly pro-war/pro-intervention. (It’s not until the war turns out badly that they complain about it.)

They also rarely correct the record about how the world is getting safer. They almost never but terrorism in context of how statistically rare it truly is. (Which, ironically, is why it is so news worthy.)

We’re in a similar situation to global warming denialism of ten years ago. The world is getting safer, except today, politicians of both parties argue the opposite. It’s time the media, when reporting about terrorism, mass shootings or other acts of violence, call them what they are: anomalies. Exceptions. Otherwise, politicians will keep using it to their political advantage, arguing for killing civilians, denying immigration to one class of people based on religion, starting new wars, and loosening ROE.

Which, ironically, may actually make the world less safe.

Feb 08

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.

Also, we have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

Before we started writing this series, I thought about the cops that I knew. For me--probably not Michael C--writing about cops felt a lot more personal than writing about soldiers. Our family knows a lot of police officers. Yes, obviously Michael and I know a lot of soldiers, but usually with the military, you can blame policy, politicians or officers for most problems. Writing about police shootings--or more accurately, blaming the police for excessive force, unaccountable killings and unjust practices that encourage and promote racial disparity--feels more personal. It feels like we’re blaming them personally.

So I got to thinking about the cops I knew. They’re good people, right? I believe they are. But as the police shootings kept mounting--or for me personally, seeing the video of the Walter Scott shooting--I couldn’t escape the conclusion: some cops are bad cops.

And then it hit me. I was getting close to reusing Grossman’s analogy about “wolves, sheep and sheepdogs” that we spent a lot of time on last year. (Click here and here for some background on this misleading analogy.) Basically, this simplistic analysis is used by some police officers and soldiers to divide the world into three groups: bad people like terrorists and criminals (“wolves”), the good people  who use violence to stop the wolves (glowingly described as “sheepdogs”), and those good people who disdain violence (insultingly dubbed “sheep”).

Unlike last year, I don’t want to keep bashing Grossman’s illogical analogy. In fact, I think it is actually instructive (in a few limited ways) in understanding and stopping police shootings.

Obviously there are some bad cops. (Unlike Grossman, we don’t believe joining the military or police automatically makes you a good person or a “sheepdog”.) So, if you assume that some police officers are sheepdogs (good cops) and some are wolves (bad cops), how do you tell them apart? Easy. Look at their behavior. In far too many police shootings, the shooters had dismal records of over-using force:

- Look at the Laquan McDonald shooting. Officer Van Dyke--the officer who shot McDonald and now faces murder charges--had 18 complaints filed against him.

- Or the shooting of John Crawford III at a WalMart. According to CNN and a federal lawsuit by Crawford’s family, “...Officer Sean C. Williams, who is also ‘involved in the only other fatal police shooting in the history of the Beavercreek Police Department,’ according to the lawsuit.” So one police officer accounts for both shootings in one police department’s history? Unlikely.

- Or Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death using an illegal police tactic, had been sued three times for misconduct.

- Michael Slager, who shot and then lied about shooting Walter Scott, had three complaints for use of excessive force.

- The city of Cleveland had to settle an excessive force lawsuit brought by citizens against Frank Garmback, one of the police officers who shot Tamir Rice.

Not all cops are bad, but some are. We can look at their records and dismiss the bad cops (wolves) preemptively. Even Grossman agrees with this, as he wrote, “the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.”

Alas, this is not what happens.

How do too many good cops (sheepdogs) deal with bad cops? By doing nothing. Police officers are almost never convicted of killing civilians. We pointed out five different examples in a post last year of DAs and police departments ignoring allegations of abuse.

Of the police officers above, the officers who killed Tamir Rice, John Crawford III and Eric Garner received no punishment, as grand juries declined to indict the officers. The police officer who shot Tamir Rice wasn’t questioned until over six months after the shooting, and only had charges filed after video of the shooting became public. If Michael Slager is convicted, he’d be the first officer in five years in South Carolina.

Even worse than all of this looking the other way--for both excessive force complaints and questionable shootings--is when sheepdogs also cover up the crimes of the wolves in their midst.

In the case of Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police Department intimidated witnesses into silence, according to reports from the family. And police officers lied, “...In reports to internal investigators, the other officers either corroborated his story or said that they hadn’t seen what happened. One said that she had been looking down and missed the whole thing.” And then the police department refused to release the tape of the shooting to the public to conceal what had happened.

The good sheepdogs of Chicago tried to specifically protect a wolf in their midst. So much for sheepdogs being “punished and removed” for the sake of our democracy.

I don’t believe all cops are evil. I don’t believe they should be vilified. But I do believe they need to be criticized for working in and protecting a system that shields all cops from punishment, without differentiating the good cops from the bad, or at least trying to. It’s the police officers in New York who, feeling like they’re under attack, protest after their fellow officers choke a man to death for selling loose cigarettes.

The problem, hate to paraphrase a quote-behaving-badly, is sheepdogs doing nothing about the wolves in their midst, who let a broken system remain broken. I would hope that the police officers I know can at least agree on that.

Feb 01

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

Let’s just start at the beginning, with the Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

That is the first line in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It’s really, really clear. If you claim to love the Constitution (and really people mean the Bill of Rights when they say they love the Constitution), it means loving the freedoms and liberties enshrined in it.

And the Founders started with religion.

The Constitution is only as strong as the people upholding its values. The Constitution can’t enforce itself. The Constitution doesn’t pass laws violating its principles; politicians do. During primary season, we’ve been reminded of this often unacknowledged fact.

So when numerous Republican candidates for president advocate unconstitutional proposals, you’d expect more protest from the party that carries mini-Constitutions, endorses original intent, and opens Congress by reading the Constitution from front to back (leaving out any sections the founders originally put in about 3/5th people).

If you had asked me before the election, I would have guessed that Republican candidates would have advocated violating the constitution when it comes to warrantless wiretapping. That’s hardly come up. Instead, candidates are advocating and proposing laws that would directly violate the First Amendment--by infringing on Muslim’s right to worship--by Republican candidates, most vocally Donald Trump followed by Ted Cruz. (This also applies to immigration, like Donald Trump’s opposition to the 14th Amendment.)

At his most extreme, Trump recommended creating a database of Muslims in America for intelligence agencies to watch/surveil/track. Summed up, simply for adhering to a religious belief (Islam), the government will track certain people. How can that not terrify anyone worried about government power or protecting civil liberties?

Other candidates called for using religion to screen immigrants. Still unconstitutional, other candidates including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz joined Trump on this issue. Ted Cruz has also battled Donald Trump for which candidate can go the closest to outright Islamophobia, in some cases sounding like he endorses hate speech against Muslims.

In some ways, we can’t really blame Trump or Cruz, who are following the worst impulses of the people in the party they represent. As in all things politics, it’s a chicken and egg conundrum: Is the politician to blame for racist, unconstitutional views or the people showing up at his rallies? Of course, the people don’t just get riled up on their own. Conservative talk radio helps, and sometimes goes much farther than the politicians or people.

You can see this in the worst impulses of mobs of people. The first amendment says the federal and state governments cannot privilege any religion over another. So if a town allows a Catholic church and a Protestant church, it must also allow a Mosque. Yet that basic understanding of the Constitution doesn’t stop a mob of citizens in Virginia from protesting a renovation to an Islamic center. Whether through popular fiat or government regulation, they want to evict all Muslims. (This is similar to the people who wanted to ban a Mosque from opening near the World Trade Center.) This is the worst sort of populism the founders feared.

If you want absolute security, the Constitution is not for you. Too often the values that keep us free put us at risk. Civil libertarians (like myself) too often neglect this fact. Republican candidates probably do love the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution, but it seems like they love safety more. They are reflecting the sentiment of their base. And that base is scared. Pointlessly scared--the risk of dying is almost zero from Muslim terrorism--but still scared.

And scared people overreact. These overreactions do threaten our country: they threaten the Constitution. They threaten the Bill of Rights.

Responding to Donald Trump’s surprising political success, a lot of liberals have responded with jokes, not taking him seriously. As voting begins today in Iowa, serious issues are at stake, up to and including the sanctity of the Constitution.

The Constitution is a fragile thing after all.