Sunday, June 4, 2017

Forbidden Topics

During WWII, sailors were forbidden to talk religion or politics on board ship, for the sake of crew unity, to avoid hard feelings among men who could not escape one another.
Obadiah Youngblood, Hampton Salt Marshes

This weekend, at the Hampton Democrats yard sale, I got talking to a couple of our representatives to the New Hampshire legislature and I asked why our local Democratic club never talks about the really important issues which face us. We talk about tactics to deal with the Republicans who control the governorship and both houses of the legislature and the shadowy "Executive Committee," which in some ways really rules the state.

But why don't we talk about abortion, the death penalty, decriminalizing drugs and prostitution, immigration, a rational approach to terrorism, when Democrats get together? 

The answer I got was such discussion would inevitably sow dissension in the ranks, and split our party, as within our own group there are wide divergences of opinion.

"Take abortion," one Rep said,  "The other side believes once conception occurs, it's murder."
And he is right, of course, some, the more vocal opponents of abortion do believe a two cell conceptus is a human being with a soul, and those people you cannot engage in discussion.

But, like so many ethical discussions, abortion is about line drawing, and the Supreme Court drew a line at 22 weeks gestation in Roe, and I think that wasn't a bad line to draw, especially in 1973.

But, much as I think abortion is a necessary evil, I do not embrace infanticide and that much I think I can agree with people who are horrified by "late term abortions." 
Of course, if I were in the U.S. Senate I would introduce legislation to place an IUD in every American girl at age 12, just like requiring vaccinations. (This is one of the many reasons I will never be a member of the U.S. Senate.)

Let's consider some of these topics and where we might find some agreement or at least discover what we believe by discussion with others who have a different point of view.

1. Capital punishment:  Here's my thought--I agree some people have done things so heinous and are likely to do like things again might be best killed. But, jury trials being what they are, a work of man, there is always room for error and the death penalty ought to be reserved for those about whom there is no doubt about their guilt, and how often does that happen? It does occasionally, as in the case of the men who murdered the Clapper family, of In Cold Blood fame. But that is rare, when you are really sure.

2. Immigration:  I don't fear immigrants or think they are likely to become terrorists or take jobs away from hillbillies at steel mills, but I do think it is reasonable to restrict entry into the country to numbers we can assimilate. Even during the mass migration waves of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were rules designed to assure the newcomers would not become a burden to society or a threat to it. But I could be wrong about this. What are the arguments?

3. English as the official national language:   I wish I were multilingual. I wish my fellow countrymen were as bilingual as every kid I met in Montreal who could switch back and forth between French and English mid sentence.  Where accommodations can be made, I'm all for it, as long as it doesn't place a financial burden on institutions and government when to it comes to translation. But in our clinics in Massachusetts, we must provide translators for every patient, and I am told courtrooms and government agencies must do the same. I'm not sure I agree we owe that to our non English speaking countrymen. One great advantage America has over Europe has been a common language and we ought to encourage a single common language. And for those for whom it is too late, why can the Spanish speaking immigrant not bring his own translator with him?  Let's hear the arguments for and against.

4. Prostitution:  Trafficking of young girls or foreign women, i.e. prostitution forced on women is a problem, but you can make that illegal without making criminals out of women who choose to be prostitutes, sex workers whatever. I would like to hear the other side on this. 

5. Drugs:  Not all drugs can be made legal--PCP, methamphetamines--because they are simply too deadly. But heroin, cocaine, marijuana, why not? I'm not sure drug detoxification programs work at all. I'm not sure I'd support them, unless you have convincing studies these are not a waste of time and money. But that doesn't mean I agree addicts belong in jail.

6. Terrorism:  Do we have any rational strategy for dealing with this?  Clearly forbidding people to travel from 6 Muslim countries is simply stupid. If you were a terrorist intent on pulling off another 9/11 attack, why would you fly from Somalia? Why would you not walk across the Canadian border?  Or do something else which would be a choice from a large menu of easier options to enter the United States?

7. Going green and working to save the planet from global warming: I'm not sure anything we can  do will really help much, and there are examples of missteps, like requiring alcohol to be added to gas. But I cannot understand what is wrong with shifting from coal and hydrocarbons to solar and wind where we can. I'm not sure I understand all the facts or arguments here, but I'd like to hear them, even if it means listening to Republicans, and I'd sure like to be able to ask them questions.

8. Redistribution of wealth, income inequality:  Watching the Fox News team interview the men, Trump voters one and all, at some diner in Connecticut, listening to what these citizens have to say, I have to admit, if these guys are at the low end of the pay scale, in the lower 5% of wealth, well, they surely do deserve to be there. They are struggling to rub two neurons together.  This is not to say I think they ought to starve, or be deprived of medical care, or be forced into homelessness. Two were veterans; one fought in Korea. One worked building submarines at Groton--hopefully, he was more compis mentis in those days. But, overall, I do think there is something morally, fundamentally and practically wrong with Melissa Mayer getting $900,000 a week for being the CEO of Yahoo while presiding over the meltdown of that company. Apparently, she was paid so much because someone else at Yahoo was smart enough to buy Aliababa, the Chinese Amazon, which assured the rise in Yahoo's stock price and so share holders were enriched and Mayer got rewarded. But that story is a prime example of undeserved reward in our capitalist system and we ought to be prepared to invoke a government mechanism to correct that sort of outcome.

I'd like to hear all the arguments, the way law students practice, on both sides of the case, so when I find myself facing a Republican, I've got practiced answers.

Right now, I'm in an echo chamber.


  1. with regard to capital punishment, do you not think the guy in Portland who killed two people on the train, should be put to death - and quickly?! I hate that his trial will last at least a year and he'll probably get life - which will make him a risk in prison (probably lead a gang of white supremacists in the jail). They can't kill him quickly enough for me

  2. Anon-as heinous as the crime was on the train, when I've seen the guy later, yelling out when he was being arraigned etc., he appeared to be more than a little mentally ill. Killing the sick-even when they seem to so richly deserve it-is a slippery slope..

    Mad Dog-that's a great painting..Oh and an interesting picture you've chosen to illustrate prostitution. Better watch it my friend-Donny won't like that and could send some Russian goons after you to teach you a little respect..How unfortunate you find yourself operating in an echo chamber-doesn't say much for your peers..

  3. Maud, in general I share your concern regarding the mentally ill. However, this guy has been in and out of our system for years with no success. He is a threat while in prison and now has killed two people who tried to do the right thing. Some people just don't belong in a civilized society - and need to be eliminated from it.

  4. Anon and Maud,
    Well then, the discussion has begun. Hallelujah. The capital punishment thing is one of those where I think we might find a position. I've heard the argument that, apart from war, the government simply should not be in the business of taking life. This is not out of sympathy for the murderer but because what it does to us when we kill. On the other hand, we kill animals without regret and who is to say keeping a ranting maniac alive for 40 years is actually the kinder response. Are there not cases where ending a life of demons, torment and suffering is not the greater act of mercy? I don't know. I'm just asking.
    Thanks. That's one of my favorite Obadiah's.
    Well, that's my point. There are all sorts of prostitution. Is the woman who marries a billionaire, whom she may find at least passingly attractive, but would never have considered marrying were it not for his wealth, not selling herself? It's the old joke, "we have already established what you are--we are just haggling about the price."
    Mad Dog