I Didn’t Realize Pigs and Dogs Were Mortal Enemies.

Eating dinner with my mother often results in me catching Inside Edition, since she normally watches it after the CBS evening national news.  Sometimes the CBS news and their insistence on sticking with the “both sides are equally at fault” narrative of US politics sends me on an after dinner “anger dampening”walk with my Chow Chow.  If CBS happens to be unobjectionable that particular evening, it normally ends up being an eye-roll worthy story on Inside Edition that peels me off the couch.  As much as I try to focus, something about “in depth” reports on how to protect yourself from hotel peepers combined with fawning reports of Hugh Jackman rescuing children from Wolverine’s oldest foe, Riptide, tends to distract me from my reading, and any attempt at post-dinner conversation would result in an angry “shush!”  Sop instead, Princess gets her evening walk.

The other night, however, a story on Inside Edition caught my eye and doomed Princess to an extra 30 minutes of waiting before her nightly constitutional.  Here, have a watch.  It is safe for work, although probably not safe for humanity.

Stomach sufficiently turned?  Any explanations for the officers’ reactions?  I mean that one dog was already in a catch-pole.  It wasn’t a threat to that officer.  And yet he still felt the need to shoot the poor dog five times?  And how frightening is it that most of those cases began when the officer went to the wrong address to begin with?  How do you protect against that?

My dog, Princess Lyanna Sarella, is a Chow Chow mix.

Digital Image

Whatever you have heard about Chow behavior, toss it when dealing with Princess.  Well, she is incredibly stubborn, so there is that.  But while she is definitely my dog, she bonded almost as strongly with my mother.  On our morning walks we stop at bus stops so the kids can play with her most mornings.  She loves kids and other dogs.  She’s had a 5 year old pull her tail and jump on top of her (my exes kids.  Sigh.) and the most she would do is walk away.  As soon as we let someone in the house, she accepts them.  (She’ll still sit right by my mother or me until she gets used to them.  She’s protective, but not off-putting about it.)   The only way Princess is going to be a danger to anyone is if that person is attacking me or my mother.

But if the cops come into our yard or home aggressively, she is going to bark.  She wouldn’t attack the cops unless they were physically assaulting my mom or me, but this video, as well as countless (okay, about a hundred thousand) others you can find all over Youtube, tell me she has no better than a coin flips shot of surviving the incident.  Given the Chow Chow’s reputation, the truth is probably much worse than that.

Understand me here please.  I am not saying #doglivesmatter.  I am not suggesting this is in anyway the equal to the systematic racism that both consciously and unconsciously results in the violation of the rights of, and far too often the death of, non-white humans.    I am not saying we should be outraged over this instead of the way some cops seem to think African Americans exist for target practice.  But we can care about more than one thing at a time.

This also adds evidence to the idea that there is something wrong in the mindset of some officers for some reason that obviously goes beyond “a few bad eggs.”  I have always heard/read/thought that officers were taught to use force only when necessary, as a last resort.  Yet so many of the videos that launched #Blacklivesmatter, as well as these dog shooting videos, show police officers using force as the default solution.  Indeed, some seem eager to escalate to lethal force.   It is easy to see how itchy trigger fingers added to existing racial bias, once again, conscious and unconscious, results in dead black men.

It is not a “few bad apples.”  It is not a couple of racist officers dragging everyone’s reputations down.  Something is rotten in our criminal justice system, and I fear that until my fellow white people stop looking at the police through our white privilege colored glasses nothing is going to change.  In fact, with the nation’s recent swing towards authoritarianism, along with the now ever present fear of terrorism, things could get far worse before they get any better.  More illegal searches.  More illegal seizures. More stop and frisk.  More illegal surveillance.  More police militarization.  More SWAT raids for minor offenses.  More innocents dead from SWAT raids. More wrong houses.  More dead dogs.  More flashbanged babies. What 4th Amendment?  More black teens body slammed. And of course, many more dead black people.

Apathy is acceptance.  And I fear far too many of us accept the status quo.

It is our shame.

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Cartoonish DA Tells ACLU: “Come Get Some!”

After reading yesterday about the local teenager being charged with “desecration” for taking an idiotic picture then sharing it with his friends on Facebook, I immediately knew what I would be posting here at Foster Disbelief.  Just writing about it and expressing my fears and outrage didn’t seem like enough though.  This was in my backyard and being covered in my local fishwrap.  I’ve seen the statue before, and I’ve spent time in the teen’s hometown.  When I was in high school, I actually had several friends from down his way.  In addition to the close proximity to me of the events, the story also scared the hell out of me.  While I don’t routinely pose for pictures with Jesus statues, taken so it appears the Son of God is about to receive a shot of my holy spirit right in the face, I do post much that many in my area would consider blasphemous.  With this teen being charged for offending the religious feelings of locals, since he did no actual damage to the statue at all, and the evidence against him being pictures he posted on Facebook, I started to wonder how long it would be until one of my posts “offended local sensibilities.”  Yes, there is a First Amendment in this nation that supposedly protects my speech, but then again, this teen is being charged with a misdemeanor, publicly shamed, and exposed to threats of Christian violence.  Some people think that I blog under a nom de guerre due to my past status as a heroin addict, but to be completely honest, with the depth of the heroin problem Altoona has been struggling with since the 1990’s and the law enforcement strategy of gleefully targeting addicts by using fellow addicts*  as a weapon in the war on drugs, having a non-violent drug felony on your record is pretty common around here.  I am rather sloppy in protecting my actual name; to be honest, I really do not care if it gets out.  I am open about both my felony and my atheism to those who know me.  The only reason I don’t use my real name here is that I do not want the less grounded local fundamentalists to be able to tie my name to my posts with no effort at all.  My last name is extremely uncommon, and my home phone and address are listed.  I would rather not have threats delivered to my home because after I offended an unhinged person, all they had to do was grab the phone book to find out where I lived.  And then a story like this comes out, and I start to wonder if I should be more careful in protecting my identity.

Once I decided that just blogging about the story wasn’t enough, I tried to figure out what else I could do.  First off, for what I believe to be only the second time in the history of Foster Disbelief, I asked my readers to share the story.  Then I wrote a message to The Friendly Atheist and sent him the details.  Hermant Mehta wrote a post about the story and exposed a huge audience to the story.  (He also linked to and quoted from my blog post, which I didn’t ask for but greatly appreciated.)  I have a few more messages out to atheist bloggers and podcasters, and after being covered on The Friendly Atheist, I am sure it will draw attention from many in our community.  My final e-mail then went to the ACLU, and while I do not suffer from delusions and have no doubt others contacted them as well, the Altoona Mirror this morning brought a smile to my face and once again proved that we can all make a difference, as long as we make ourselves heard.  (The story is behind a pay wall, so I will be quoting most of it here.)

The American Civil Liberties Union is expressing interest in the case of an Everett 14-year-old charged with “desecrating” a statue of Jesus.

On Thursday, a Pittsburgh-based ACLU attorney said the state law cited in the case – a rarely invoked ban on “defacing, damaging, polluting or … mistreating” venerated symbols – poses constitutional problems. State police charged the teen Tuesday, several weeks after he posted photographs online of a simulated sex act with the Everett statue.

“There are some serious First Amendment issues with this statute” if merely gesturing next to an image is enough to be charged, said Sara Rose, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The case has been debated nationally, with news websites and bloggers on both sides of the issue discussing the charge. An ACLU media representative said several people have sent her office copies of the article.

“Bloggers on both sides….several people have sent her office copies of the article.”  That’s me!  And a whole bunch of other people, but me as well!  Unfortunately, any good feelings from making a difference and having my voice be heard quickly faded when I read the reaction of the Bedford County District Attorney, a man who clearly has vastly different ideas of religious freedom from those not basing their understanding of the Bill of Rights on their religious beliefs.

Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins, who is in Puerto Rico for a Lions Club gathering, did not return a message seeking comment.

“I guess I should take solace in the fact that the liberals are mad at me – again,” Higgins said Thursday on his Facebook page. “As for this case, this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community. … His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

Let’s take a break here for a second, and see what Wikipedia has to say about  District Attorneys: (bolding mine, as always)

The district attorney (DA), in many jurisdictions in the United States, represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. The district attorney – an elected or appointed official – is the highest officeholder in the legal department of the jurisdiction – generally the county in the U.S. – and supervises a staff of assistant (ADA) or deputy district attorneys. Depending on the system in place, district attorneys may be appointed by the chief executive of the region or elected by the voters of the jurisdiction.

In a moment, we will talk more about whether or not this “troubled” young man actually broke the law, and if that law is even constitutional.  But right now I want to dwell on an elected official who “represents the government, the highest officeholder in the legal department” of Bedford County, a man who’s job is to, without bias or malice, prosecute criminal offenses, making the following statement: ” If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

Last election, Blair County filled a vacant spot on the bench with an election for Judge.  When the Republican candidate (eventual winner, Wade Kagarise) came to my door during his campaign, I couldn’t help but notice that the most prominent statement on his handouts, other than his name and the office he was running for, was the statement pledging his firm opposition to abortion.  Out of all types of political pandering, this is perhaps the type that annoys me the most.  There is absolutely no reason anyone in Blair County needed to know the candidates stance on abortion to cast an informed ballot in November.  He was running to be a Judge on the Blair County Court of Common Pleas.  Roe V. Wade is not likely to come in front of his bench to be challenged.  He presides over criminal trials, child support and custody cases, and a myriad of other types of cases, none of which his stance on abortion rights has any bearing on.  He stressed his opposition to abortion rights because he knew it would get him votes from the overwhelmingly conservative local majority, not because that information was relevant on his qualifications to be a judge.  I bring this sort of political pandering up because Bill Higgins is using Facebook and this case to win himself votes the next time he is up for re-election.  He sounds like a host on Fox News, not a representative of our criminal justice system.  Either he actually believes the insanity he is spewing, in which case it terrifies me that he has the power to prosecute, or he is parroting right wing talking points to score points with the rabid local far right.

Either way, how can any non-Christian accused of a crime read that statement and not worry about malicious prosecution, or prosecutorial misconduct?  Let me be clear that I am not accusing DA Bill Higgins of either act, merely pointing out questions that may arise in the minds of non-Christians who find themselves prosecuted by his office because of idiotic, antagonistic, bigoted, prejudicial, unprofessional, inflammatory statements of his that make it clear that as the highest ranking official in the Bedford County legal department, he only represents the Christian majority.  Statements like that word salad of Christian far right delusions should cause him to have to recuse himself from every case where the defendant is not a member of the Christian religion.  I know that if I found myself on the wrong side of court opposing him,  I would wonder how much of his prosecution was due to the law, and how much was due to my beliefs.

Okay, let’s get back to the ACLU and the story, shall we?  Once again, you can find the pay wall here:

Rose said the state law is cited rarely enough that she had never researched it until this week. News accounts indicate a Wilkes-Barre college student was charged under the law in 2010 for urinating on a Nativity scene; in the 1980s, Pittsburgh authorities threatened a charge against an unnamed vandal who daubed pro-Palestinian graffiti on a public Hanukkah decoration.

At the root of the issue, Rose said, is the law’s distinction between “objects of veneration” and other items. While the Wilkes-Barre student could have been charged with urinating in public and the Everett teen could arguably be charged with public lewdness, she said, a special law protecting religious items from that violation is harder to justify.

And while not all symbolic speech is protected, the fact that the boy took photographs, posted them publicly and commented on them with friends is enough to be considered “expressive” and therefore legally protected, she said.

It’s an issue she said ACLU attorneys have faced in the past: The courts have repeatedly ruled that flipping a middle finger, while offensive, is a matter of free speech and not a criminal act, Rose noted.

Prosecutors have faced similar difficulty enforcing flag-protection laws, which also punished “desecration” of revered items until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 1989.

Once again, he did no damage to the statue.  DA Bill Higgins is claiming that taking a picture he finds offensive is criminal.  Until the pictures were seen online, no one even knew a “crime” had been committed.  There was no public nudity, no defacing or vandalism of property, nothing.  Just a picture some people find offensive.

That is not criminal.

As the ACLU seeks to contact the teenager, it could take at least several weeks for a hearing on the misdemeanor charge to be held. Bedford County President Judge Thomas S. Ling said the next set of juvenile court hearings is scheduled for Oct. 3.

I believe that if the ACLU represents this young man, the law will be ruled unconstitutional.  I think it is a rather open and shut case, to be honest.  No matter how much it offends you, I can flip you off and you can not arrest me for it.  We have a right to our own religious beliefs, and a right to freedom of speech, what we do not have is a right to not be offended.  The statements DA Bill Higgins made on Facebook sure the hell offend me, yet I do not think he should be arrested for it.  And as much as I question such statements being said by a representative of the government, and feel it reflects poorly on his ability to prosecute non-Christians without bias, I do not claim that he doesn’t have the right to make nonsensical statements.  What worries me the most is that the parents of the teen deciding that they just want their son to plead guilty to the misdemeanor and put this all behind them.  Perhaps they even feel that he broke the law, but even if they are just as outraged over the charges as I am, I could understand why they would want it all to just quietly go away.  The teen is already facing threats of violence over the issue.  Hopefully, those threats as well as the statements of DA Bill Higgins lets my readers understand that I am not exaggerating how insanely conservative the central part of Pennsylvania is for a state that votes blue in most national elections.  Our electoral votes may go Democratic, but the center of the state is as scary for atheists as any part of Georgia, Mississippi, or Texas.  I think it would be worth the backlash to fight this unconstitutional law because I am an atheist who sees how tightly the Christian religion is wrapped around local government in my state, and because of the gerrymandering of districts, races in areas such as mine are over after the primary with the only question being how conservative will the winner be this time.  I look at the words of DA Bill Higgins and then wonder if I will ever hear a knock at my door, resulting in my arrest for something I wrote, or for a picture that I posted, not of Jesus giving me a scrubby, but something that offended the wrong people with the right powers.  While it would be worth it for me, perhaps this teen and his family will have a different result to the equation.  His name is already out in the public domain (Thank you, Bedford County Free Press).  I have no doubt that if he fights it and his family stays in the area he will be ostracized at school and his family will face the type of Christian love reserved for those who dare have a different religion, no religion, or merely just a different understanding of Jesus and ask that their rights be respected as well. (Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars specializes in telling the stories of the retaliation faced by those who take part in church/state separation cases.  Unless things changed since I last heard, he is even writing a book on the subject.)

If the teen and his family are not willing to fight this law, maybe it is time for me to get myself arrested again.  *sigh*

 

*The use of “addicts as weapons” in the war on drugs.  The Drug Task Forces in the Altoona area and surrounding counties claims that they are going after drug dealers.  And during one of the bimonthly drug round ups, one or two (up to five in a especially good month) dealers are included in the thirty or so people arrested and charged with selling drugs.  How does this happen you ask?  By targeting addicts, and using addicts as weapons.  It is standard operating procedure to try to turn arrested addicts into confidential informants (C.I.s).  In exchange for a reduced sentence, or withdrawal of charges, these C.I.s are given task force money to buy drugs, thereby setting up the seller for arrest.  There are many reasons this is a shady practice.  From discussions with C.I.s and situations I witnessed, C.I.’s are allowed to use some of the drugs they bought with no punishment.  Some C.I.s are then rewarded with money for their actions, money law enforcement is very aware is going to be used to purchase drugs.  Otherwise, in exchange for performing observed buys, the task force enables an addict to continue their addiction.  Sooooo ethical.  Perhaps it would be a tolerable (perhaps not, but I’m trying) practice if it took dealers off of the streets.  But as I said,  actual dealers make up a very small percentage of those arrested and charged with these methods.  The vast majority of the time the C.I. calls up one of their fellow addicts, someone who uses with them and therefor trusts them, and tells them that they have 100 dollars or so but can’t find anything.  Of course, if the person they called could somehow find some, they would be more than willing to share with them.  Which results in the target taking the money and buying dope for the two of them and then both of them getting high.  The target will even be thankful that the C.I. thought of them, and helped them out, until the day of the raid comes and the target finds out he is now somehow a drug dealer, even though he never sold a bag of dope in his life.  You may think this is all sour grapes; you may think it is justified to get users off the street; you may think we should all rot in a cell for ever experimenting with drugs in the first place.  You are free to hold your opinions, just do not delude yourself that drug task forces outside the larger cities are sweeping up truckloads of drug dealers.  Actual dealers use drug runners and other techniques to insulate themselves from shady tactics such as these.  Meanwhile your tax dollars are being used to shove your neighbors through the system for being addicts on trumped up charges for crimes that would never be prosecuted in a large city.  But regardless of the human cost, it sounds like they’re making progress in the War on Drugs, so fight on.

 

 

Reason 4326 Not to Prohibit Substances People Want:

Yahoo! has a good, old fashioned, scare story on the dangers of the club drug known as “molly” posted currently, but as is the case with most scare pieces, that ugly little secret known as truth still manages to come out somehow:

Molly — the innocuous street name for a drug linked to at least three fatal overdoses in the past month — sounds more like someone’s great-aunt than an illegal substance. A better name for the designer drug, according to both drug enforcement and medical experts, would be “Russian Roulette.” “When a buyer abuses something called Molly, there’s no way to tell what’s in it,” Rusty Payne, a spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Agency told Yahoo Shine. “That’s the most dangerous thing about these drugs.”

Really?  That is the most dangerous thing about “these drugs”?  Then I guess the only rational response is to force the suppliers to manufacture the drugs in illegal laboratories with no purity standards or quality control.  I mean, after all, we are only one more drug bust away from winning the war on drugs and ending drug abuse in America, right?

Look.  We know prohibition doesn’t work.  We’ve tried it with alcohol, and we are trying it now for drugs with horrible results all over America.  People want to get high.  As long as people want to get high, people will be willing to risk breaking the law for the incredible profit opportunity the black market provides.  Drug abuse is a problem, but it is far past time to quit labeling all drug use as abuse.

Without a doubt, regardless of the substance, the two biggest dangers of using any drug are the law breaking required to obtain it, and the complete ignorance of what is actually contained in the product.  It is time we switch to an education and harm reduction model.  Cripple the black market while controlling purity and quality and you cut the drug problem in half if not more instantly.  Then we can spend all the money we save at reeducation of those employed in the drug war, treatment for those who have drug problems, and honest education of the real risks of drug use.

It’s been a while since I’ve linked to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.  Go get educated.

 

Some Letter to the Editor Goodness….

Ah, Letters to the Editor.  Where everyone has a chance to share their often ignorant opinion.  Recently here in Altoonaland, the seemingly heartless have been grasping their crayons and firing off their compassion filled screeds to the local fishwrap.  Drug and alcohol treatment is the issue at hand, and since you know I have a history there, of course these letters have caught my attention.

First up is James Thompson with his letter titled, Why should society have to pay?:

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More Religious Discrimination Added to Blair County’s War on Drugs

I have written before of religious discrimination in the criminal justice system when it comes to the war on drugs, especially when you do not happen to live in a large city.  A quick refresher on the issue:  While there are secular alternatives to 12 step based treatment programs, the farther you get from a major city the less likely you are to encounter one of them.  In Blair county of Pennsylvania. which includes the city of Altoona, and the town of Hollidaysburg, as well as other communities, there are no S.O.S or SMART Recovery meetings available, and all local rehabs are 12 step based.  The 12 steps are an inherently religious program.  You will get arguments on this point from some; people who tell you that anything can be your higher power, that it doesn’t have to be God, that it can be a pencil or a doorknob; that it is a spiritual program, not a religious one.  These arguments, in my experience, come mostly from those trying to get you in the door, or trying to defend the program from claims of religious coercion. Some who have made these arguments have admitted to me later that eventually, for the program to work, your higher power has to become the God of your understanding.  Bill W., the founder of AA and the 12 steps, made no attempt to hide the religious nature of the program.  From the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

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Blair County, Pennsylvania: Fair and Just Criminal Sentencings

The Blair County criminal justice system knows its priorities.  They make sure those priorities are known by everyone in the community with the fair and just sentences they pass down to those convicted of crimes in this area.

For example, are you a non-white person convicted of dealing drugs?  You are in luck!  The county is dedicated to rehabilitating you.

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Stossel Hits the Proverbial Nail on the Proverbial Head

As a progressive with socialistic tendencies, I disagree with libertarians on many things.  I have no problem pointing out where I think they are heartless or just flat out insane, as I did here with a previous column by John Stossel.  But as much as I disagree with much of their philosophy, I couldn’t agree more with parts as well, and I feel I should give credit where it is due.  Stossel’s column this week is brilliant.

I like to bet on sports. Having a stake in the game, even if it’s just five bucks, makes it more exciting. I also like playing poker. “Unacceptable!” say politicians in much of America. “Gambling sometimes leads to ‘addiction,’ destitute families!”

Well, it can.

So politicians ban it. It’s why we no longer see a poker game in the back of bars. Half the states even ban poker between friends — though they rarely enforce that.

After banning things, politicians’ second favorite activity is granting special privileges to a few people who do those same things — so big casinos flourish, and most states run their own lotteries. Running lotteries is one of the more horrible things our governments do. The poor buy the most tickets, and states offer them terrible odds. The government entered the lottery business promising to end the “criminal numbers racket.” Now states do what the “criminals” did but offer much worse odds. Adding insult to their scam, politicians also spend our tax money promoting lotteries with disgusting commercials that trash hard work, implying that happiness comes from hedonism.

Hypocrisy.

I joke sometimes that “lottery” is an ancient Greek word that means “tax on people who sucks at math.”  You can not find a game in a casino that gives odds as bad as the lottery.  Seriously.  As bad of a bet as slot machines are, they still pay off at a much better rate than any state run lottery.  Stossel’s column is worth a read this week; it deals with more than just gambling, and is spot on through out.

As heartless as I find many libertarian ideas,  I also understand that they are on our side on many issues, and have no problem putting aside disagreements to work on the issues we both care about.  Perhaps there is a lesson here.  Care less about labels, and more about specific ideas?  *shrug*  Drug policy reform is perhaps the most important issue right now for me; I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through, and I know that libertarians are going to be a big part of any significant reform.  Whether they are on the left or the right, if they have good ideas, point them out for other to see.