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Death With Dignity Passes in WA November 24, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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With the nation’s, and world’s, attention turning to the upcoming administration, the fate of Prop 8, and our financial crisis, an important milestone has been overlooked by the MSM: the passing of the Death With Dignity proposition in the state of Washington. Oregon is no longer the only state in the Union with a physician-assisted suicide option. The passing of this proposition is, for the supporters of Death With Dignity, a hugely important step toward recognizing the sovereignty of the individual.

“The people of Washington opted for individual liberty, personal autonomy and freedom of conscience,” said Barbara Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, in a statement posted on the C&C website. Lee pledged to continue working “to bring choice to terminal patients in the 48 states where aid in dying remains illegal.”

As anyone who has followed the euthanasia debate is well aware of, the issue is a little bit more complex than that—because any system that allows for some form of “hastening of death” also has to have safeguards in place to ensure that the person whose death is being “hastened” is in agreement as a competent adult, without further emotional or financial pressures being brought to bear. And of course the debate heats up further once we begin to talk about the question of “playing God.”  California voters rejected a similar proposition in 1992. If you want to read more about the debate, the link above will link you to further interesting websites.

A Clear and Present Danger November 18, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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If you think right-wingers have been safely returned to their cages by the results of the presidential election, think again. The paranoid ranting stoked by the McCain/Palin campaign has taken an ugly turn. James Vega quotes this gem from a Media Matters report:

“On the November 4 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, G. Gordon Liddy spoke to a caller who stated: “I’m ready to go to the concentration camp, that [Sen. Barack] Obama’s police force — he will round me up. Because I — I’m a white American.” Liddy then said, “Well, listen to this,” and aired an edited clip of Obama [talking about the America Corps program] saying in a July 2 speech in Colorado Springs: “We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” Liddy then stated: “Shades of the Gestapo. The Geheime Staatspolizei,'”

Inexplicably, Newsweek, a mainstream news organization finds it necessary to disseminate vile nonsense along the same lines.

“According to a 2006 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, a third of white evangelicals believe the world will end in their lifetimes. These mostly conservative Christians believe a great battle is imminent. After years of tribulation—natural disasters, other cataclysms (such as the collapse of financial markets)—God’s armies will vanquish armies led by the Antichrist himself. He will be a sweet-talking world leader who gathers governments and economies under his command to further his own evil agenda. In this world view, “the spread of secular progressive ideas is a prelude to the enslavement of mankind,” explains Richard Landes, former director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University.”

No wonder, then, that Obama triggers such fear in the hearts of America’s millennialist Christians. Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University’s law school, says he does not believe Obama is the Antichrist, but he can see how others might. Obama’s own use of religious rhetoric belies his liberal positions on abortion and traditional marriage, Staver says, positions that “religious conservatives believe will threaten their freedom.” The people who believe Obama is the Antichrist are perhaps jumping to conclusions, but they’re not nuts: “They are expressing a concern and a fear that is widely shared,” Staver says.

It is not surprising that the Associated Press is reporting that law enforcement officials are reporting more threats against Obama than for previous Presidents-elect.

Conservatives have a lot to answer for in this country, not the least of which is their encouragement of racist violence and religious apocalypse.

What He Said November 18, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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I’m not an economist and have no expertise on whether a bailout of the auto industry is a good idea. They certainly don’t deserve it, but retribution is often not the best policy. So I will follow our recent Nobel Laureate in economics, Paul Krugman, on this matter.

This is not a good time to allow 1 million jobs to disappear.

Making Money Selling Marx November 18, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Political Philosophy.
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Do you want to be in on the hottest trend in political philosophy and economics? Try Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. According to a news story from Der Tagesspiegel a few weeks ago that has, apparently, made the rounds in newspapers and blogs around the world (but I’ve had a hard time finding references to it in the MSM), the economic crisis has spawned a huge wave of interest in Marxism, especially in Germany. Sales of Das Kapital—which had been very slow—are skyrocketing, especially among university students. But according to the publisher of Karl Dietz Verlag,  Schütrumpf, this creates a moral dilemma for a Marxist: If Marx sells because of a crisis, that means the publisher profits from others’ misery…You can read a short version of the story here from BBC News. Anyone taking Philosophy 109, Issues in Social Philosophy, with me in Spring ‘09? We’ll discuss this!

An Historic Election….BUT November 7, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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Accolades for our historic election have been pouring in, and rightly so. Given our history, it is a remarkable achievement to elect an African-American, especially a progressive African-American, to the presidency. The United States has shown once again that, unlike much of the rest of the world, when faced with a crisis, we can overcome racism and tribalism and endorse reason and hope. So our celebration is richly deserved. It is indeed one of the great moments in our history (and perhaps in world history).

 

However, our celebration is tinged with poignant intimations of the road ahead. Conservative rule has thoroughly trashed our institutions and moral ideals. Our military is strained to the limit, our world reputation in tatters, and our education, health, and financial systems, not to mention every agency of government, are nearing collapse. Yet, despite the catastrophe of the Bush Administration, and an opponent who not only was an ideological soul mate of George Bush but who elevated a vacuous, ignorant yahoo as a vice presidential candidate, Obama beat McCain by only 6.3 percentage points, a 9 point swing in Obama’s favor over Kerry’s 2.4 percentage point loss to Bush in 2004. This modest victory was surely not a testament to the quality of McCain’s campaign that wheezed and sputtered like an old Ford Pinto until they decided to double down on race-baiting and xenophobia. If it had not been for the financial meltdown that became a crisis just as the public was beginning to pay attention to the campaign, it is likely the public once again would have voted for theocracy, neo-imperialism, and economic royalism.

 

Furthermore, and paradoxically, as Obama was achieving his victory, California, the bluest of blue states, voted to enshrine bigotry and hatred in its constitution by passing Proposition 8 that bans gay marriage.

 

So while Obama’s victory is a source of comfort, joy, and hope, that joy is tempered by the realization that the morally bankrupt intuitions and motives that gave rise to the conservative movement are still alive and well, immune to evidence, and poised to make a comeback as soon as our pockets are, once again, flush with cash.

 

The toxic brew of religious bigotry, economic royalism, and jingoistic posturing that fuel modern conservatism will not be vanquished by a single victory regardless of how inspiring. It will take decades of hard work to clean up the moral rot that has infected our political culture. Political change is important; but significant political change will require moral change, and that is a slower process for which there is no procedure to determine a victor.

 

If that moral change is to take place we must resist the conventional wisdom that is descending on the political landscape like LA smog. The gasbags of the Washington media aristocracy are falling over themselves to advise Obama to govern from the center, to be careful of over-reaching, to curtail the impulse to produce fundamental change. But these people are the enablers of the past 40 years of conservative ascendancy. Why anybody still listens to them is beyond me, for this is just bad advice. Governing from a center that has lurched to the right will simply reinforce the bad ideas and ill motives that got us into this mess.

 

Obama ran a campaign devoted to progressive ideas and he must deliver on them or be punished in the next election cycle. So he must not only be the commander-in-chief; he must be the educator-in-chief, explaining why conservative ideas don’t work and leading the public to embrace an alternative. We don’t need a follower of conventional wisdom; we need a leader to define a new center, far from the delusions of right-wing fanatics.

Duncan: 3 Death Sentences, 9 Life Sentences November 6, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Criminal Justice, Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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I can see on the blog stats that blog readers have been looking for news about Joseph Duncan, so here’s an update: Duncan was just given additional life sentences for the murders of Shasta’s and Dylan’s brother, mother, and her fiancé, so the tally now comes to 9 life sentences in addition to the three death sentences (for the abduction, torture, and murder of Dylan), and three 10-year terms, plus fines. This is where some readers would shake their heads—because after all, what’s the use of 9 life sentences? Especially since Duncan already has three death sentences. How many times can a person be put to death, and how many lifetimes can he serve? Idaho law professor Richard Seamon says it could be a record, and explains the principle behind what some would say is an overkill of sentences:

Courts impose multiple death sentences and multiple life terms for various reasons, Seamon said. “In a situation like this, of course, it does seem to be piling on.” But, he said, “Sometimes on appeal, some of the convictions can be thrown out, and that may very well affect the overall sentence. … That’s the main reason, as a practical matter, it matters.”

There are symbolic reasons as well, he noted. “It has primarily symbolic significance, that each life counts, each offense is individually valued and considered.”

Now Duncan will probably be headed for Riverside County, CA, to stand trial for the murder of little Anthony Martinez. However, Steve Groene, Shasta’s and Dylan’s father, is actively engaged in attempting to prevent that from happening. Groene says the reason officials in Riverside want to conduct the trial is for political gain, more than concern for Anthony’s family; he adds that having had Dylan’s story of torture and death told in detail in the courtroom was devastating, and he would want to spare the Martinez family from a similar experience. And besides, says Groene, it’s a waste of money, since Duncan will spend the remainder of his days in prison anyway.

                This is a great example of “pragmatic assessment” over “principle,” but what say you? Does the Martinez family need justice for their boy in court, or should the fact that Duncan will never walk free again be sufficient to them? (Not that they need to listen to us, or to Groene for that matter. We’re using very concrete, tragic events to illustrate abstract issues in criminal justice ethics here.) I’m reminded of a scene in True Grit where Mattie (whose father has been murdered by the outlaw Chaney) is assured by the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf that when he takes Chaney back to Texas to hang for the murder of a senator, he’ll be just as dead as if he’d been hanged for the murder of Mattie’s father. And Mattie responds, “It means  little to me how many senators he has killed.” She wants justice for her father, not justice in general. This is a very human reaction—but is it reasonable, in terms of possible outcome and costs? The ultimate question here is, is the Martinez family’s sense of justice satisfied if Duncan is “hanged for a senator” instead of for their son? Should justice reflect the feelings of the victims at all, or should the emotional aspect be irrelevant—as philosophy has traditionally assumed?

 

Go Do the Right Thing! November 4, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Political Philosophy.
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As you have probably noticed, I don’t talk politics very often on this blog, for a variety of reasons. And I never talk politics from the lectern, except inadvertently (and if you’ve taken classes with me, you’ll know my little trick: I will occasionally agree to talk politics standing next to the lectern, so I don’t get tempted to use the symbolic authority of the lectern to promote my own views. Does that matter? I don’t know–but that’s how I like to teach!). But I’m always ready and willing to talk about the importance of voting, so I just want to wish everyone (who appreciates our right to vote) a good Election Day! In addition, we will all see History created today—regardless of which way things go, and don’t you want to be part of it?

Now go vote!

Besides, I also want to congratulate ourselves, and you, on our Philosophy on the Mesa blog having passed the 20,000 hits mark!