Some People Who Shouldn’t be in Jail Might Get Out a Little Early

So, this is potentially pretty great news.  After voting to reduce prison sentences for certain drug offences earlier this year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has voted unanimously to retroactively apply these changes to prisoners who have already been sentenced.  This means that more than 46,000 inmates could see their sentences cut by around 2 years each.

The decision is a small sign of progress for a system that has long imposed overly-long sentences on drug offenders, especially for those convicted on non-violent offenses or those who played a peripheral role in deals involving a large quantity of drugs.  But, it is not a complete fix, and honestly, it is not even close:

In fact, many federal judges have expressed vocal outrage over schemes that bind them to sentencing low-level defendants like kingpins. That fundamental scheme hasn’t been changed by today’s fix. Since the mid-1980s, these drug sentencing laws have placed an over-emphasis on quantities of drugs rather than a defendant’s role in the crime. That means that a person involved in an offense that involved 50 grams of methamphetamine could get 40 years in prison, regardless of whether they served as mastermind of the deal or a low-level courier of money.

The Sentencing Commission and the U.S. Justice Department would both like to see this scheme changed. But for that, they have to wait for an act of Congress, since even the Sentencing Guidelines are tied to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. “The real solution rests with Congress, and we continue to support efforts there to reduce mandatory minimum penalties, consistent with our recent report finding that mandatory minimum penalties are often too severe and sweep too broadly in the drug context, often capturing lower-level players,” Saris said in January.

Two bipartisan bills to reform these laws are still pending in both houses of Congress.

But, any amount of progress, however small, is still a good thing.  The first 8,000 inmates eligible for a review of their sentence will appear before a judge in November 2015.  If every eligible inmate is awarded the maximum sentence reduction, it would mean a total of 83,525 fewer years behind bars, and would translate to huge savings for a prison system already short on funds.  But, just as importantly, it would be a small bit of justice for people who were penalized far more than they should have been.

However, one obstacle remains:

Congress has the authority to block both amendments by Nov. 1 of this year.

It would not be surprising if hardliners in Congress (especially those in the pockets of private prison companies) decided to stand firmly in favor of draconian drug sentencing and attempt to block the amendments from taking effect.  Fortunately, this Congress has a history of sitting on their hands instead of taking action.  And this is one instance where their inaction could actually do some good.  It would be even better if they would act and pass the proposed reform bills, but that may be too much to hope for.

Of course, none of this would be an issue in the first place if the U.S. did not have such severe penalties for drug offenses on the books.  Nor would it be an issue if marijuana were legalized (or at least decriminalized) since most drug offences involve marijuana rather than “scarier” drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin.  Sadly, change comes slowly.  But, it appears that change is indeed coming.  And that is a good thing.

Misogyny and Warmongering – Not Just for the GOP Anymore

Here is the winner for the worst tweet from a so-called “liberal” today:

There are a lot of things wrong with this tweet, but here are just a few:

  • Comparing Hamas to a “crazy woman” is demeaning to both.  Hamas is an extremist group within a community that has been oppressed, attacked, kicked off their land, and terrorized for years.  Are they themselves guilty of violence?  Of course.  But, their actions are a reaction (albeit an extreme one) to what has been done to them.  And calling a woman “crazy,” even the hypothetical woman in this tweet, perpetuates the stereotype that women are irrational or overly emotional, as opposed to people like Bill Maher, who theoretically has his shit together (though one would question his “craziness” after tweeting this nonsense).
  • Advocating violence as a practical solution to either Hamas or your hypothetical woman is merely a continuation of problematic behavior that has already proven to be of no use.  Again, the actions of Hamas are a result of what has been done to them, including being “slapped” by Israel.  And saying that hitting a woman under any circumstances, even if she is “crazy,” is inexcusable.  Misogyny like this is exactly what women have been trying to bring to light with the #notallmen and #yesallwomen trends on social media.  For anyone to advocate violence against women, but especially a so-called liberal like Bill Maher, shows that women sadly still have a long way to go in their fight to be treated as equal members of society.
  • Trying (and failing) to make a joke about either the atrocities in Gaza or violence against women belittles the struggles that Palestinians and women face on a daily basis.  A lifetime of oppression can make people act in a way that privileged people like Maher may see as “crazy.”  But, this just means that he needs to open his eyes to the reality of the world around him.  There are horrible things happening out there, and making jokes about them just makes it easier for Maher and other people like to him to ignore them.

I have generally been a fan of Bill Maher, and I have watched his shows for years.  But, lately, I watch far more for the guests than for Maher himself.  His anti-Muslim and misogynist views are getting harder and harder to ignore.  I get that he is a comedian, and that he is “edgy” and deliberately provocative.  But, this tweet, and comments like it are not funny or edgy.  They are offensive and potentially harmful.  Maher is in a position to have his voice heard by a very large number of people, to change minds, and influence attitudes and behavior.  To waste that opportunity by spouting garbage like this is a shame.

Stand Down, Don’t Stand Your Ground

So, it appears that another piece of pro-gun mythology has been debunked.  Two studies, one from Texas A&M and one from Georgia State, have found that “Stand Your Ground” laws do not deter crime, and instead actually increase homicide rates.

The Texas A&M study found that the law accounted for an additional 600 homicides in states with “Stand Your Ground” legislation in place, an increase of 8 percent.  The study simultaneously “found no detectable decrease in burglary, robbery or aggravated assault.”  The Georgia State study, using different methodology, found a similar increase of 7.1 percent.  Importantly, neither study found that the increase was due to justifiable homicides—that is, shootings in which a shooter is “standing his ground” against an imminent threat.

It was suggested by pro-gun groups that “Stand Your Ground” laws would lead to a decrease in crime, as criminals would be aware that homeowners (or other victims) would be justified in shooting them.  This would supposedly act as incentive for criminals not to engage in criminal behavior.  This has proved not to be the case:

“Collectively, these findings suggest that incentives do matter in one important sense: lowering the threshold for the justified use of lethal force results in more of it,” the authors concluded in the report. “On the other hand, there is also a limit to the power of incentives, as criminals are apparently not deterred when victims are empowered to use lethal force to protect themselves.”

Though it is interesting to see that data backs up the beliefs of those opposed to the law, it is really just common sense.  If people are given more freedom to shoot their guns without legal consequence, they will shoot their guns more often.  And, if someone believes that they are “standing their ground” they will not look for ways to avoid confrontation, and might even seek it out.  The better solution would be to give people reason to avoid confrontation altogether.  Involving firearms only escalates situations that might otherwise be defused.  Guns embolden people who might otherwise rationally seek to settle arguments without violence.  Giving them more freedom to use their weapons in situations where they are not needed was a bad idea from the start, and now there is data to confirm it.

Death Penalty Killed in California

Though California rarely executes prisoners (at least compared with other states that still practice capital punishment), and have executed exactly zero since 2006, it still technically has the right to put prisoners to death.  At least, it did.  A ruling today from a federal judge has effectively ended that possibility.  And that is a great thing.

From the ruling:

“California’s death penalty system is so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay that the death sentence is actually carried out against only a trivial few of those sentenced to death,” [U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J.] Carney writes. “For all practical purposes then, a sentence of death in California is a sentence of life imprisonment with the remote possibility of death — a sentence no rational legislature or jury could ever impose.”

Carney continues: “Inordinate and unpredictable delay… has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional.”

Generally, what happens in California spreads across the country, whether it be medical marijuana, same-sex marriage rights (ignoring the obvious, though temporary, outrageous interruption that was Prop 8), gun control legislation, environmental regulation, or anything else.  Here’s hoping that trend continues.  Capital punishment is an antiquated and utterly ineffective way to prevent crime.  It is inhumane and cruel, exorbitantly expensive, and is more a means of vengeance than justice.

Many states (and most nations) have independently outlawed the practice of putting people to death, but this is the first time the practice has been found to be unconstitutional.  If the recent wave of same-sex marriage decisions is any indicator, this could be merely the first in a series of findings that could bring the United States in line with the rest of the civilized world.

No Volunteers Needed

There is currently an immigration problem on our southern border.  Despite claims that it is a priority, Congress has done nothing to help stem the flow of immigrants fleeing northward from Latin America, many of them unaccompanied children.  President Obama has likewise done nothing, though he may be right in claiming that his hands are tied by the inactivity of the legislative branch.  Regardless, it can definitively be said, something must be done.  However, what we certainly do not need is this:

The Express News and The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, both reported on a YouTube video featuring Chris Davis, who has been identified as the commander of the militia, in which he apparently explained how the border would be secured.

“You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, ‘Get back across the border or you will be shot,’” Davis said in the video, according to the reports.

These people are not patriots.  They are vigilantes, attempting to take matters into their own hands, illegally, and against the wishes of their country:

Law enforcement, for their part, don’t seem interested in the help that the militia purports to provide.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the Express News it does not “endorse or support any private group or organization from taking matters into their own hands as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences.”

“We don’t need their services on our border,” a Texas county sheriff told the Monitor.

But, these so-called “patriot” groups are undeterred.  Again, it must be stated that their intended actions are illegal.  Even the broadest definition of “Stand Your Ground” (which is already a deeply flawed law) surely cannot be used to justify the massacre of children.  The frustration with the lack of action on curbing immigration is understandable, at least for believers of the spurious claims by right-wing pundits that all immigrants are criminals, or that they are coming for American jobs, or to suckle on the teat of the American entitlement system that would provide them with education, health care, and food stamps (things people on the right are reluctant to provide even to needy citizens).  But, even if any of this were true, it does not justify an unregulated militia arming themselves and threatening to execute anyone who disobeys their commands to leave the country.  [It must also be noted that it is a bit ridiculous to think that children who do not speak English would somehow understand instructions in English, though I do suppose a gun pointed between their eyes could help overcome the language-comprehension gap.]

This “might makes right” mentality is unfortunately common, and leads to incidents like the above-mentioned stand-off at the Bundy Ranch, where an armed mass threatened government officials while standing up for a man who was blatantly breaking federal law.  Luckily, this incident somehow miraculously ended with no casualties.  But, in an incident like the Trayvon Martin killing, where an armed vigilante took it upon himself (against the instructions of police) to defend his neighborhood from the terror of a black teenager with snacks, things did not end without innocent bloodshed.

This blood lust, where people are willing to disobey the requests of law enforcement personnel to take things into their own hands, empowered by guns and the prospect of using them to kill innocent people, is dangerous and is a recipe for tragedy.  Remember that there are already 20,000 Border Control Agents on the job and that many of these immigrants are children fleeing crime and poverty.  These children want nothing more than to live somewhere free from the threats of death and hunger.  And, these militias think that showing them the business end of a gun is the proper way to greet them.  Have we no compassion at all?

So, should we just let in all the immigrants come stay in America?  I honestly do not know.  But, I think that would be much preferred to slaughtering those that manage to make it across the border.  There must be an answer, but like usual, guys with guns are not it.

Mind Over Money

The loudest news this week on the anti-gun front came from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is using his group Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as $50 million of his own money, to try to beat the National Rifle Association at its own game.  Sadly, his effort, while well-intentioned, is destined to fail.

The idea is to mirror the NRA practice of giving political candidates a survey to determine their stance on guns and gun legislation.  These surveys would then be used to endorse candidates in upcoming elections.  Those with strong gun control strategies would receive Bloomberg’s blessing.

This has certainly proved to be a sound strategy for the NRA.  Republicans have fallen all over themselves trying to prove their pro-gun bona fides, carrying guns in parades, and shooting them in their campaign ads.  Meanwhile, Democrats are reluctant to speak out against guns (and often even support pro-gun legislation) for fear of losing votes.  And, Bloomberg’s copycat strategy will do little to change that.  Because it is not surveys or even money that wins elections or passes legislation, it is fear.  And, the GOP and NRA are masters of spreading fear, even if they are not scared of Bloomberg:

“Money cannot buy the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to the Second Amendment,” [NRA Spokesman Andrew] Arulanandam said. “Michael Bloomberg is just the latest incarnation of a long line of anti-freedom billionaires who’ve tried to take on the National Rifle Association.”

This is why background check legislation cannot get passed, even with support from 92 percent of the public (including 86 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of gun owners).  As long as the NRA can spin “gun control” to mean “gun prohibition” and make “guns” synonymous with “freedom,” they will win.  The same poll shows that only 50 percent of people support “gun control,” even though they almost all support background checks.  By dictating the definition of the term, the NRA has managed to control the issue. They have created their own language and their own set of facts.  And, this is how they have inspired people to hoard guns, form ramshackle militias, or parade around in public with semi-automatic rifles.  This is why gun sales continue to grow even as the number of people who own guns decreases.  This is why people can rail about a tyrannical government or impending terrorist takeover while not seeing the irony in pictures like this:

 

Girls with Guns

The juxtaposition of the gun, Bible, and flag in that picture are telling.  They are the trinity of the modern GOP.  And, all three are necessary for membership in the club of “true” conservatism.  The caption illustrates this.  Holly Fisher is a supporter of the owners of Hobby Lobby and their efforts to exempt themselves from providing contraception to their female employees.  Yet, her fellow conservatives pointed out that she was missing the three totems of the party, so she quickly obliged by posing with the requisite props.  And somehow, these conservatives fail to see the similarities between their own fanaticism and that of the extremist Muslims they love to demonize.

This is why even those conservatives and gun owners who may actually support background checks or other sensible gun legislation can only admit to it in an anonymous poll.  At the ballot box, they must prove their dedication to the party ideals.  The candidates know this, which is why their stance on guns and God matters far more than their economic or foreign policy.

And this is why Bloomberg’s plan is destined to fail.  He cannot shame Democrats into supporting gun legislation the way the NRA shames Republicans into supporting guns.  The truth is, it just is not as important to voters on the left.  Ana Marie Cox at the Guardian explains it well:

That’s the key misunderstanding between gun-control advocates and the wide swath of voters they need on their side: Americans are OK with guns. They don’t like violence. They don’t like guns in the hands of mad men and criminals, or shoved in their faces in restaurants and shopping centers, but they’re OK with guns.

And, even if we are not OK with guns, it does not matter, because the people we have elected to represent us are certainly OK with guns.  Or, at least they are OK with being seen that way, and OK with the money they receive from groups like the NRA to keep gun regulation an impossibility.

Bloomberg thinks that he can help change laws by taking a page out of the NRA’s book.  But, he is taking the wrong page.  It is not the money that matters.  It is the mindset.  The NRA, and by extension, the Republican Party, have convinced gun owners that their right to own and carry guns is divine.  It comes not just from the Constitution, but from God himself.  And, anyone who attempts to limit that divine right in any way is not just wrong, but evil.  To stand any chance at all, Bloomberg must make gun regulation matter as much to Democrats and guns do to Republicans.

That is the battle Bloomberg is fighting, and it is not one that can be won with money alone.

 

Hail To The [REDACTED]

I must get something out of the way right off the bat.  I LOVE the Washington professional football team.  I grew up rooting for them.  In fact, my earliest memories are of watching with my father as they beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII and as they lost to the Raiders the following year.  I have the second quarter of their victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, in which they overcame a 10-0 deficit to put up 35 unanswered points (with an additional touchdown in the second half) playing on a loop inside my head.  I have rooted for them in the good times and the bad times.  I remember sitting in old RFK Stadium and later in Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (now FedEx Field) and shouting until my throat was hoarse.  In fact, the first full sentence I ever uttered (at least according to my parents) was an echo of the radio call broadcaster Frank Herzog used every time they crossed the goal line.  I cheered when Art Monk and Darrell Green were elected to the Hall of Fame, and I cried when Sean Taylor was taken from us far too soon.  Even as I have moved across the country, my loyalty has never wavered.

But, I HATE the name.  I don’t remember exactly when it first started to bother me.  Certainly not when I sang the team fight song while wearing a plastic hog nose as a child.  And maybe not even in the lean years after legendary coach Joe Gibbs first retired.  But, it bothers me now.  It bothers me so much that I am a bit ashamed to reveal who I root for.  So much that I always wear a sweatshirt that can be zipped up over my burgundy and gold shirt when I go out in public.  And so much that, after all these years, I have even considered the unthinkable–rooting for another team.

The name, which I can’t even bring myself to type, is a slur, plain and simple.  I don’t know how I ignored that all this time, but I can’t ignore it any longer.  It is a derogatory term that is used to refer to a people who are varied and oppressed and driven into reservations far from their historical homes.  It is a word that paints them as something less than human.  And, that is what it all comes down to.  These are human beings we are treating as mascots.  We paint a caricature on our helmets and wear headdresses whose meanings we don’t comprehend and sing songs that mock their culture.  And for what?  Tradition?  Bullshit.

Despite any claims made by ownership, fans, or hired lackeys, the name of the team (or its mascot) do nothing to celebrate the culture of any particular tribe, much less the thousands of tribes that once occupied this nation.  We are not holding them up, we are keeping them down.  Just like we have done for centuries.  Even after years of civil rights progress, we still treat Native Americans as exotic, as something different.  But, they are not.  They are people, just as we are people.  And they deserve respect, just as we do.  And, if even one person among them is offended by the name (to paraphrase the empty promise of Commissioner Roger Goodell), then the name should change.  Sports are meant to celebrate the best of what people can do.  Must we taint it by clothing it in a reminder of our worst?

There has been dispute over the origin of the name, whether it was coined by Native Americans themselves or by the European invaders who slaughtered them.  And some have pointed to various Native American schools who use the same name as proof that it is not actually offensive.  These arguments are ridiculous and miss the point.  Some African-Americans have “taken back” the word most used to disparage them, using it in song lyrics and even in conversation with each other.  Does that make it less hateful or ugly if it were to come out of my mouth?  Not at all.

Daniel Snyder, the owner of the team, claims that he has loved the team for his entire life.  That may be true.  But, that does not mean that he has to love everything about them.  It can be hard to see the flaws in the things we love, but it is not impossible.  He can take a page from another local team owner who ignored history and tradition to do what was right.  The Washington Wizards basketball team was for years known as the Bullets.  But, the owner did not want a name that referred to something as ugly as gun violence, so he changed the name.  It was the right thing to do, even if it was not easy to admit the name needed changing, and even if there was resistance from fans hanging on to nostalgia.  Snyder can do the same.  But, he is digging in his heels, as are many fans.  Why?  Does any name, and especially this name, really mean that much?  Why fight so hard to preserve racism?  Is that really worth holding on to?

There is nothing respectful in treating Native Americans the same way we do Lions or Bears, as costumes to don.  Native Americans are not Cowboys, or Packers, or Steelers, or even Vikings.  They are not a job or a persona to adopt.  Not only do we not honor them with the name, we dishonor ourselves by pretending that this is a reasonable way to treat other people.

Historically, Americans have done very little to honor Native Americans.  We have taken their lives and we have taken their land.  In fact, the very ground on which the Washington football team plays its games was forcefully taken from Native Americans.  Where is the honor in that?

Will changing the name of a football team undo centuries of wrong?  Of course not.  But, it can stop rubbing salt in a wound that has been bleeding since Europeans first set foot on this continent all those years ago.  Football is a game.  It is meant to be fun and uplifting, a way to bring people together.  We cannot do that by holding other people down.  Change the name.

Fighting for guns and with guns

As a reminder who is calling the shots in the gun debate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have limited the capacity of ammunition magazines.  While this would admittedly have only been a small step in the right direction toward decreasing gun violence, it would have indisputably been a step in the right direction.

Further, Christie refused to meet with two parents supporting the bill who lost children at Sandy Hook, nor would he accept their petition with 55,000 signatures encouraging him to sign the bill.  He instead repeated the gun lobby talking points that direct attention away from guns and on to mental health.  While mental health care can certainly use reform, scapegoating mental illness merely shifts blame away from the firearms that enable violence and does little to address the actual problem.  Studies have shown that mental illness is not an indicator of violent behavior.  Rather, the best indicator of violent behavior is a history of violent behavior.  And, limiting magazine size has been shown to limit fatalities in mass shooting situations.  But, like many other Republicans, Christie has proven that he cares more about the lobbyists that might pay him than the constituents who actually live in his state.

And what is the result of all that lobbying, refusing to legislate guns and spewing rhetoric that encourages revolution or uprising against the government?

This:

While it is easy to dismiss this person as mentally unstable, the truth is he would be harmless without his unfettered access to firearms.  Buried further down in the article is this:

Greer had prior arrests for firearms possession and reckless driving, as well as for an altercation with an officer.

Again, more than mental illness, previous violent behavior is the best indicator of the potential for future violent behavior.  And, like many gun owners on the fringes, Greer seemed to have fantasies of “combat.”  This is a direct result of the way gun lobbyists talk about guns and gun owners.  While most rational gun owners are able to dismiss this sort of talk as hyperbole or propaganda, some people seem to actually think that a revolution is coming, and that they are combatants in this imaginary fight.  Luckily, this particular fantasy was stopped before any innocent lives were lost.  But, we have not always been so lucky, and we won’t continue to be so lucky unless something is done to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.

Wins and Losses: Big, Small, or Not at All

The gun debate rages on, with each side claiming victory with each tiny step forward.  But, is anyone really winning, or are we just treading water, with little actually getting done?

Two examples:

First the open carry groups who have taken to carrying semi-automatic long rifles into various stores and restaurants was dealt another blow.  After requests from Chipotle, Sonic, and other businesses that these groups leave their guns at home, Target has done the same.  Target had been a popular location for these open carry gatherings in recent weeks, but no more.  The store released a statement from interim CEO John Mulligan:

As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit “open carry” should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law.

We’ve listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members.

This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.

The wording of the statement is interesting, as it is a request rather than an outright ban.  In states allowing open-carry, a gun owner would be legally allowed to ignore this request and take his gun into a Target store (or a Chipotle, Sonic, or any other store).  While Target employees and customers can hope that they can feel safe while they shop, without the scary sight of strangers with assault rifles, they are still powerless to stop a gun owner from carrying his gun in the store.  So, is this a win, or is it just rhetoric?

Second, a so-called win for gun folks:

A new law has gone into effect in Georgia that allows gun owners to carry their weapons virtually anywhere in the state:

Tuesday was also the day that Georgia’s so-called “guns everywhere” law went into effect, allowing residents to carry guns into bars, nightclubs, classrooms, and certain government buildings. Among other things, the law also prohibits police from demanding to see the weapons permit of someone seen carrying a gun. Childress mentioned that last point when talking to the Daily Times about Tuesday’s incident.

This seems like a clear win for gun advocates, but there was trouble almost immediately.  Specifically, there was a confrontation between two men in a convenience store:

According to the Daily Times, the first man, Ronald Williams, approached the second man in the store and demanded to see his identification and firearms license. Williams also pulled his gun from his holster, without pointing it at the second man. The second man responded by saying that he was not obligated to show any permits or identification — then he paid for his purchase, left the store, and called the police.

Police responded to the call around 3 p.m. Tuesday, and Williams was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct for pulling his gun in the store.

So, gun owners do not know the details of the law that allows them to carry their weapons.  Nor do they know just who can be trusted to carry a gun.  And, this has people concerned, even police:

“This is an example of my concern with the new gun law that people will take the law into their own hands which we will not tolerate,” [Valdosta Police Chief Brian] Childress said.

I share his concern.  Laws allowing more and more people to carry weapons in more and more places will embolden those people to draw or even fire their weapons.  The (faulty) logic behind these kind of laws is that if more people are armed, fewer people will draw their guns since they will know that everyone else could potentially also be carrying a gun.  But, if everyone is carrying a gun, the likelihood that a gun will be drawn or fired increases, putting everyone in more, not less, danger.  So, is this a win?  Even for gun owners, this seems like a loss.

And that seems to be the pattern.  Laws get passed that make it easier to carry guns, and other laws get passed making it harder.  But, people still get shot and killed, either way.  Every win is a loss, and every loss is a potential lost life.  The only real win will be when people lose their desire to carry guns at all.

SCOTUS Snafu

Women are people.  Corporations are not.  But, what should be apparent and obvious is not necessarily legally true.  The Supreme Court has ruled against the latter statement, and now it seems they disagree on the former, as well.  They are wrong on both counts (in my humble opinion, anyway), meaning there is no logical justification for their decision in the Hobby Lobby case, where they have found that the rights of corporations matter more than those of the women who work for them.

Since the last thing we need right now is another man explaining women’s rights, I will leave that to Katie McDonough at Salon, who writes:

So what does the decision actually mean? In the immediate term, it means that women who work at Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are paying for health coverage (insurance is part of their compensation package, it’s not some gift bestowed upon them by their bosses) that their employers have decided that they can’t have. That’s really what this comes down to in the most blunt terms imaginable. The religious owners of these companies have medically inaccurate ideas about contraception and abortion, and they now get to impose those ideas on the people who work for them. In the majority opinion, five male justices argued that the Department of Health and Human Services can fill in the gaps in coverage created by this ruling by including for-profit companies in the accommodation system created for religious nonprofits and other explicitly faith-based organizations. Women’s health, it seems, has become someone else’s problem.

McDonough raises some important points, the first being that health insurance is not a gift from the employer to the employee.  The employee pays for her health care, and should be the only one who determines what is and what is not covered.  Just like the employer has no right to tell her what she can spend her money on after she cashes her paycheck, the employer has no right to determine what her payment for health care is used for.

The second important point is that Hobby Lobby’s position (and that of other companies with similar pending cases) is based on wrong information.  Their objections are supposedly due to a belief that contraception is the same as abortion, which is simply not the case.  While contraception can prevent pregnancy, it does not terminate pregnancy.  Further, many women who use hormonal contraception do so for other medical reasons, including endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and various menstrual disorders.  This means that for these women, birth control is medicine.  It is not something that they take to have consequence-free sex (though there is certainly nothing wrong with that), it is something they take to alleviate pain and suffering.  To deprive them of this based on faulty information is inhumane and inexcusable.

I would disagree (if only slightly) with one point, however.  McDonough says “women’s health, it seems, has become someone else’s problem.”  I would counter that this actually means that women’s health has become EVERYONE else’s problem.  In addition to the half of the population that stands to suffer directly as a result of the ruling, the rest of us will feel the effects, as well.  Unplanned pregnancies will likely rise (which means abortions would rise with them), and potentially minor medical conditions could grow into more severe conditions which require further medical care, rather than simple hormonal treatment.  This means health care costs would rise for everyone.  And, for anyone who claims that women should simply pay out-of-pocket for their contraception, I would counter that it is more expensive than most people think.  But, to even entertain that notion means accepting the false notion that men and women deserve to be treated differently.  If the health care I purchase covers every aspect of my health, why should it be any different for a woman?  Do the religious beliefs of the owners of a corporation really matter more than the well-being of a living, breathing person?

Though women (and a few men) have collectively rallied in opposition to the SCOTUS ruling, this is actually an issue that concerns individuals.  If a person has religious beliefs that forbid certain types of medical care, they should be allowed to forego that type of treatment.  That is religious freedom, as guaranteed by the Constitution.  However, they should not be able to force anyone else to do the same. That is not religious freedom, but religious oppression.  One could argue that the decision does not outlaw contraception, merely keeps it from being covered by employer-subsidized health care (which is itself a deeply flawed system).  But, the truth is, the extra cost of paying for contraception in addition to the cost of the health care plan they are already paying for may be too much for some women to afford, and is not a cost they should be forced to pay anyway.

Simply, this ruling gives far too much power to an employer over its employees.  And, it continues a trend where women are not treated as equal to their male peers.  And, many women justifiably feel that they had little say in the decision.  McDonough continues:

To sum it up, five male justices ruled that thousands of female employees should rightfully be subjected to the whims of their employers. That women can be denied a benefit that they already pay for and is guaranteed by federal law. That contraception is not essential healthcare. That corporations can pray. That the corporate veil can be manipulated to suit the needs of the corporation. That bosses can cynically choose à la carte what laws they want to comply with and which laws they do not. Each specific finding opens a door to a new form of discrimination and unprecedented corporate power. If you think this ruling won’t affect you, you haven’t been paying attention. If you think these corporations are going to stop at birth control, you’re kidding yourself.

Not all men agree with this decision.  In fact, one very notable man has vocally condemned it:

But, even he is powerless in the face of the five men on the Supreme Court who have decided that not only are corporations people, they are people whose rights and freedoms matter more than the women they employ.  This is shameful.