Monday, August 17, 2015

#BlackLivesMatter and the politics of force

There’s an episode of "Doug" from 1993 called Doug’s Big Brawl where Doug Funnie and another boy get into a situation where they’re both expected to fight each other and Doug’s dad tells him:

"Show me a man who resorts to violence, and I'll show you a man who's run out of good ideas.”

With that in mind, I turn your attention to last Saturday’s disruption of a political rally where Bernie Sanders was prevented from speaking by several Black Lives Matter protesters. In this case there was no violence, but there was indeed a great amount of force.

My preference for political change is to reason with people and convince them with words. I understand that people reach a lot of their opinions through selfish justification and emotions, but I still feel that better arguments and better ideas are the morally superior approach and the one I support.

Black Lives Matter activists regularly uses force as their primary tactic, such as disrupting a symphony, an award ceremony for WWII vet and even shutting down highways. They are not trying to reason with people, but get their attention or intimidate them by using force.

But let’s not kid ourselves, Black Lives Matter embraces violence and destruction along crude utilitarian lines. It gently refers to riots as “uprisings” and while its members only occasionally directly instruct people to riot, the activists openly defend and justify violent riots. The “No justice no peace” slogan is not merely a threat of noise pollution.”

Black activists tried to convince us for years that there is a widespread problem with American police killing not just violent black men, but upstanding young black men too. The problem was finding an example and they seized on the death of Michael Brown to make their case. A family member called him a "gentle giant" and one Deadspin article specifically said "By all accounts, Brown was one of the good ones."

That famously blew up in their faces when the early credulous, alarmist reports fell away and the public learned about Brown’s strong-arm robbery just before he put down while trying to kill a police officer. The foundation of the Black Lives Matter campaign turned out to be a hoax.

While paragons of humility like Jonathan Capehart took back their initial embrace of the Michael Brown narrative and admitted they were wrong, Black Lives Matter instead chose to keep telling the same lie and keep chanting “Hands up Don’t shoot” and act like nothing ever happened.

A Rasmussen poll released on Aug. 13 showed 53% of respondents believe the Ferguson riots are mostly criminals taking advantage of the situation, not actual protests.

Black Lives Matter activists failed to convince the public of the importance of their message with compelling arguments, but have had some success through the use of force. That was firmly on display on Aug. 8 at the Seattle event where Bernie Sanders was supposed to speak to the crowd.

As you can see from the footage and the transcript, the activist pulled themselves on stage and immediately started hurling threats like “If you do not listen to her, your event will be shut down right now! Right now!” She later bragged about shutting down a Christmas tree lighting celebration, claimed the shooting of Michael Brown was really a murder and called the crowd racists and white supremacists for booing her obnoxious, blubbering rant.

The American left was in disarray following the Seattle disruption, as two of its large factions were put in direct conflict. Initially, some people on official-looking Black Lives Matter social media accounts claimed the Seattle protesters were not legitimate members of Black Lives Matter, but those same accounts later took those statements back and said they were not authorized to speak. 

The Sanders campaign originally promoted that angle before the correction came in, as it nullified any need for left-wing soul searching. Some people still insist they were not legitimate protesters, or were enemy agents hired by the right. That’s conspiracy-theory nonsense, but even if it were true it would be irrelevant because most Black Lives Matters leaders and sympathizers have embraced the Seattle disruption.

This also puts me in a tough spot, because I have a handful of black friends on Facebook who have embraced the hashtag from time to time. Every last one of them is gracious, gentle, kind person, and I’m puzzled why this group resonates with them.

Especially since Black Rights Matter is very much a movement against civil rights.

Before we go any further, I need to address the limits of what is and what is not a free speech issue. Free speech is commonly defined by educated people as freedom from government restrictions on speech, but not one of private limits. The most common example is if someone stops someone else from commentating on their blog or Facebook page, that is not a violation of the person’s freedom of speech. I completely agree with that example, but I do think private entities can do certain things that is on par with opposing free speech.

The obvious example is using illegitimate force to block a speaker from sharing ideas with an audience, which is exactly what we saw a mob of 100 people do at the University of Toronto in 2012, such as physically blocking the doors to the venue, pulling the fire alarm and making noise to keep people from hearing a lecture.

Which is exactly what happened in Seattle. The novice observer believes that Sanders was the victim of the Black Lives Matter protesters, while the more experienced observer understands that the audience’s right to listen to Sanders was violated, and the activists are 100% guilty of violating the civil rights of a very large group of people.

Which has been pretty consistent with the loathsome tactics used by the Black Lives Matters goons. While a lot of the focus has been on the police officers murdered and horribly wounded by Black Lives Matters activists and supporters, the group’s victims also include a lot of innocent bystanders who were just trying to drive to work, attend a public event or take an ambulance ride to the hospital.

I am not saying that Black Lives Matter has failed to have any influence, as there are a lot more police body cameras in operation today. I’m also not saying their actual influence is always negative, as I see the police body cameras to be a good thing. I am saying their influence comes from their willingness to use force on people who don’t deserve it and I don’t consider the death, destruction and violation of rights they have caused to be an acceptable trade-off.

In a particularly craven move, Sanders caved in to their demands, announcing the hire of a Black Lives Matter activist and adding some of their issues to his campaign platform. He and the staff at the Seattle event were unwilling to stand up to the activists, but I don’t think it’s because of who they are.

Sanders seems to be morally opposed to having hecklers and disruptors dragged out of his events, such as his superhuman tolerance for several rabid anti-Israel shouters at a town meeting event last year. I suspect he doesn’t want to see people cuffed or dragged away, which is too bad for his actually supporters who want to hear him speak uninterrupted.

Contrast that with Bill Maher’s legendary response to a group 9/11 Truthers who started shouting from his audience, where he told security to pull the riff riff out and ended up storming into the crowd to get lend a hand. That is what leadership looks like, not hand-wringing and instant surrender.

There was a recent episode in Utah where animal rights protesters attempted to use force to shut down a pig wrestling event by standing in the ring. A pig wrestler picked up one of the protesters and dumped them over the fence. I can understand why the police were considering charging the pig wrestler with assault, but to be honest I find it to be a superior response than giving the protester the microphone like Sanders did. Twice.

I don’t think Sanders is competent to serve on a municipal zoning board, let alone be president of the United States, but the principles at stake here are the issue, not the details of this example. That’s why I find it incredibly irksome to see so many arguments putting down the disruption by saying Sanders was an unworthy target and the activists should have done the same thing to other politicians.

Ken White recently reminded us that embracing vile tactics against our political opponents is not only immoral, but it also gives your opposition permission to use the same tactics back on you.

Don't think for a second that Black Lives Matter protesters would accept being on the receiving end of disruptions. Look at last month's Ohio incident where reporter Brandon Blackwell ignored an order for all white people to leave their event. Not only did the activists threaten him and make a scene, their supporters moaned that he was disrespectful and should have left the event when told to.

Pardon me, I think my irony levels are getting dangerously high.

Black Lives Matter activists don't use force because they have had a hard time getting their message out to the public or because they are beaten-down serfs with no other possible course of action. They do so because they don't have a strong enough case to convince people through legitimate means. The use of force comes from a place of weakness, not of strength.

The worst defense I hear for the brute tactics of Black Lives Matter protesters is that nothing else works. That's not true for most other causes. Perhaps the reason mainstream tactics don't work for Black Lives Matter is that their ideas are flawed. To return to what Doug’s father said, their embrace of force is an open admission that they are out of good ideas.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

BlackLivesMatter doesn't itself matter

I suspect the activists flocking to the banner of "BlackLivesMatter" have a secret contest for who can be the most blood-boilingly obnoxious.

Blocking highway traffic, blocking subways, interrupting live performances, refusing to meet with sympathetic politicians and even disrupting WWII veteran medal ceremonies is pretty obnoxious, but not as obnoxious as what happened at the University of California at Berkley this week.

After professor Steven Segal told his social work class his views that black-on-black violence, not white cops, is the biggest problem facing the black community and backed it up with statistics, students declared he was a racist, the class was an example of institutionalized racism and Segal "oppressed" his students with his opinions.

In my time as a right-wing college with a steady stream of left-wing professors who inserted their political views into class, I can't think of a single time where I would have called it "oppression" or left the classroom crying like these kids just did. The o-word was used a few times in this moronic incident.

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Eric Garner's death was a tragedy. The only tragedy related to the death of Michael Brown is how it harmed the life and career of police officer Darren Wilson, yet these activists have made Brown their poster boy.

Last week police in the city I work in shot a suspect three times while he charged at them with a drawn knife. He had just stabbed his boyfriend, who was the one who called police, and is still in critical condition. Sadly, if this guy had been born black instead of white there would be protests and folk songs in his honor.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The dead concept of cyberbullying

The terms "harrassment" and "bullying" when used for online activity are now dead and Marc Merrill, CEO of Riot Games, was the last one seen kicking their twitching bodies before they expired.

Here's the backstory: Sanghyuk “Faker” Lee plays video games competitively for a living and is paid by a company, Azubu to stream live videos of him playing the game League of Legends. Another person, referred to by the online name StarLordLucian, started streaming Lee's live feed as well without permission to profit off of someone else's work.

Azubu tried to get him to take it down, claiming copyright, but StarLordLucian said they don't actually have the legal rights to Lee's feed. Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends does. That turned out to be true.

So when someone asked Merill, who runs Riot Games, what he thinks, his response was a little nutty:

You are rationalizing and trying to justify the fact that you have singled out a player against their will and broadcasting their games in a way that he can do nothing about. That reeks of harassment and bullying.


Someone is trying to make easy money off of someone else's work. Their motive is personal profit, not to hurt Lee's feelings. I don't know why Merill would say such a strange thing, but I suspect it's because those two words, "harassment" and "bullying" are tossed about so loosely these days that they come out automatically, like duckspeak in 1984.

Which is too bad, because the real examples are pretty horrible, but now it's not just mild criticism that's being labeled as harassment and bullying, but pretty much any unwanted presence.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What it took to get a legal firearm in Massachusetts

At the request of my brother, I've collected the stories I wrote in 2013 when I went through the entire process of getting a license to possess firearms in Massachusetts.

I was initially intimidated by the famously long process of getting a firearm in Massachusetts, but then I thought about pairing it with my job as a journalist. Gun control was a big political issue at the time and I felt the country would benefit from a fair account of how my state's gun permitting process actually works.

I was also hoping the online release of the series would lead to job offers, or at least national attention. I did get my biggest response from readers for anything I'd ever written, includes gun advocates out of state, but it didn't lead to any contact from the national press. I showed that a state agency broke state law by failing to return my background check within the 40 days the state requires, and there were no consequences.

May 5: I began the process

May 30: I took a firearm safety course

June 2: A long waiting list kept me from meeting with local police representative for application

July 8: Met with police representative and sent application to state

October 14: Received my permit 150 days into the process


Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's good to be recognized

I'm proud to announce that last night I received a first-place award for health reporting for my 2014 series on my region's high suicide rate, which explored both what experts know about suicide and personal stories from different demographics that are at a higher risk.

The award was given by the New England Newspaper & Press Association and I was one of four finalists for all health stories in New England daily newspapers under a circulation of 30,000.

I try to keep my personal blog and professional writing separate but under the circumstances I feel comfortable sharing links to the series this time.

January 25: The numbers on my area's high suicide rate, which mysteriously exceeds demographic norms

March 9: Why men die from suicide at a higher rate

March 28: Interview with Kevin Hines, author who survived jump off Golden Gate Bridge

March 30: Talked to a mother who lost her teen son to suicide and wrote about teen suicide issues

April 27: Spoke to a veteran who survived a suicide attempt and touched on veteran suicides

June 17: Interviewed experts about suicide among the elderly

July 6: Details of evidence-based suicide prevention programs

July 30: Spoke to experts about how the media fails in its suicide reporting

This was a difficult issue to cover, and emotionally taxing. I was already proud of what I created here, and while the award is nice to have, it didn't mean as much as the positive responses I got from readers who had suffered a tragedy because of suicide.

This is a serious problem that thrives on silence. I hope I've inspired people to talk about it instead of staying quiet because it's an uncomfortable subject.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Public counter pressure

I got excited when I saw the following sentence linked on Twitter. Finally, I thought, a company is taking a brave stance instead of caving to the pressure of whiners.

"Sorry, we have a general policy against firing people based on social media campaigns. We're against digital mobs."

But then when I clicked the link I saw it was merely a suggestion from writer Conor Friedersdorf of what companies should say, and that it would be better to live in a world where the consequences for caving to only mobs was actually worse than standing up to them.

By the same token, I'd like to see people get resentful at cowardly corporate speak like "at this time," as in the sentence "We're not interested in hiring you at this time."

If only collective bitterness could be coordinated.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Obama's most frustrating economic statement of 2015 (so far)

A good friend of mine who studies political science has been trying to convince me that President Barack Obama is a moderate. My friend knows more than I do on this topic so I take him seriously, but I just can't get the idea to gel, mostly because the president makes statements like the one he just did about Staples Inc. and the Affordable Care Act.

Clickbait website Buzzfeed recently sat down with the president about a number of topics, one of them was about how the office supply store Staples Inc. limits its part-time employees to 25 hours a week to avoid working a long week and passing the threshold where full-time benefits kick in.

Obama was told that those employees are having their hours limited to avoid having to provide health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Staples Inc. has since said that was wrong and the policy is actually a decade old and unrelated to the Affordable Care Act. However, look at the position the president took when presented with the scenario that his policy has given companies an incentive to cut workers hours instead of paying the high costs of the benefits:

...There is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act. I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages. This is the same argument that I’ve made with respect to something like paid sick leave. We have 43 million Americans who, if they get sick or their child gets sick, are looking at either losing their paycheck or going to the job sick or leaving their child at home sick. It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do — but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

This is a very telling answer, and it tells me above all else that the president is not a moderate, nor does he seem to understand that business owners who provide health insurance aren't giving their employees a gift. No, employers provide health insurance as a form of payment. They don't do so "because it's the right thing to do" but because they have to compete with other employers.

Maybe the president's brain just can't grasp economic reasoning, and if so he's far from alone, but let's be honest, his ignorance is left-wing ignorance, not moderate ignorance. Just look at the cliche he ended his statement with:

...But when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

The president is evoking the concept of infinite wealth, that a company that makes a large amount in profits should be able to provide unlimited expensive benefits to every one of its employees. However, most of those companies have huge labor forces and those expensive health insurance plans add up. It's telling that people making this argument don't list the actual cost of this course of action.

For what it's worth, Staples Inc. reported a net profit of $707 million in 2014, not actual billions like the president said, and actually lost money in 2013. I can't see a number of how many part-time employees it had, but total employees in 2013 are listed on Wikipedia as 83,000 people.

The president has made it more expensive for businesses to have full-time employees, and when told that businesses are responding the way conservatives predicted they would, his response is to blame the companies? Shame on them? No, shame on him and his infamous audacity.