Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Black Site" is NOT the Right Term

Chicago PD have recently been implicated in the operation of a "black site" in a warehouse known as Homan Square. Is "black site" the right term for this facility? I don't think so; there are some similarities, but that term exacerbates the situation.

The alleged location of Chicago PD interrogations and its associated crimes, aka Homan Square.

The term black site is kind of an inflammatory word because it is affiliated with the CIA and it brings up conspiracy theories. In this case, it brings up a comparison between an alleged Chicago PD run interrogation house and CIA run interrogation houses, or "black sites". At a black site, the CIA will interrogate suspected terrorists without any other executive branch supervision and they use many different tactics that may be seen as cruel and unusual punishment.

Previously I wrote a blog about the cruel and unusual punishment at CIA black sites, so if you want more information on that, just click on the January blog on the right side called "Terror Report".

At the Chicago "black site", they are also accused of cruel and unusual punishment, such as beatings and shackling the detainee for hours, often without being charged with a crime. This violates the 8th amendment and the 5th Amendment, which give you the right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment and the right to know what you are being charged with respectively. The people detained at the Chicago site are not allowed to have access to an attorney because the site is "secure". The also are not "put in the books", meaning that they were never historically recorded as being at the facility. No one could ever prove it. CIA black sites share those two characteristics in common, however I don't see cruel and unusual punishment and restriction on the fifth amendment as enough evidence for a black site connection.

The thing is, the black sites are never on American soil. Wikipedia says they are generally out of US territory and therefore out of US jurisdiction. This means that the federal government cannot interfere with the black site's proceedings. An article from HuffPost even makes the argument that a quarter of the world helped the CIA run its torture program. If black sites are supposed to be out of the country, then how can we call this alleged Chicago PD run interrogation unit a black site? Calling it a black site evokes talk about cruel and unusual punishment, as well as restrictions on the 5th Amendment, but it also evokes an image of an internationally based "secret prison" that is out of US jurisdiction. In reality, if Homan Square even does house those crimes, they are still within US jurisdiction, and the federal government can intervene whenever they feel necessary.  If anything, you should call it a "domestic black site".

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Impending Death Penalty; Questions of Morality

The Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has yet to be sentenced. An article from the Washington Post says that the trial was delayed because the court had failed to find jurors who were not influenced by the media (impossible in this day and age, especially because the jury pool is in the Boston area) and who were also "not opposed to the death penalty". The court must find someone who is not against the death penalty because the prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

The topic of the death penalty is controversial in Massachusetts (according to CNN) because it was one of the first states to use the death penalty during the Salem Witch trials and currently has outlawed the death penalty since 1984. The Salem witch trials were the subject of a book we read in our American Studies class called The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. The book illustrated the irrational use of the death penalty during the Salem Witch trials.

But unlike the Salem Witch Trials, the death penalty has some weight in Tsarnaev's case; one could make an argument for its use. Tsarnaev and his brother were responsible for setting off a bomb during a marathon on April 15, killing three people and wounding 260+ people. Tsarnaev was not only indicted for that crime, but also for the death of an MIT police officer and for grand theft auto.

With such an appalling list of crimes committed, the "terrorist" label given to Tsarnaev is incontrovertible. But the real question is whether a terrorist like Tsarnaev should or should not be subject to the death penalty. As CNN puts it, "Tsarnaev is a poster boy for capital punishment". I interpret that as meaning that if there were to be a death penalty in any case, the Boston Marathon Bombing would be the one. The fact that Tsarnaev killed three people with a bomb and wounded 260 is reason enough for the death penalty, let alone the killing of a police officer after the bombing and grand theft auto. That is the pro-death penalty argument.

A poll by the Boston Globe indicates that many of the people of Boston don't agree with that argument, well, not necessarily. The poll shows that 33 percent of Boston's residents want the death penalty, while the other two thirds of Boston would rather have him spend life in prison. I think the results of this poll are not indicating some sort of bitter sympathy for the Marathon Bomber, but rather that the people of Boston would like to see him suffer for as long as possible. But of course that is just my very cynical opinion.

Life and death is a hard decision. In my opinion, if someone has caused such a widespread panic as the bomber did, while also taking away people's lives, crippling others, and conjuring fear into all of America, then that person can be subjected to the death penalty.

The consequence of the "three strikes rule" is life imprisonment. But what about being "ejected" from the game? What kind of crime do you think warrants the death penalty? Do you even think the death penalty should be allowed?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Government Reduces Welfare Funding for Unemployed

Recently I came across an article from the New York Times about how the government has been lowering its budget for programs that give monetary assistance to the impoverished, specifically the part of the population that does not work. The graph below shows this: 
A graph taken from the New York Times article that exhibits the decrease in government funding in the last few decades.

As you can see, the government funding for the group with the lowest amount of income has decreased from 1983 to 2004. The article explains that these government assistance programs are imperative for the survival of a huge portion of the population, ranging from Walmart employees to even bank tellers. The reason for this drop in funding, the article explains, is that new programs were created to "[distinguish] between those who deserve public generosity and those who don't", programs like Bill Clinton's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It's important that the article said "deserve", because that implies that some people don't deserve to get it but they still receive monetary assistance, which then implies that some people are lazy and just live off of the government welfare programs. And in fact, that is exactly what the article meant because it later quoted someone saying that these programs "got rid of welfare cheaters". 

A "welfare cheater" is presumably a person that doesn't work but still reaps the rewards of government assistance. 

The idea that people are cheating welfare or may be cheating welfare is not absurd, a few people are bound to be cheating the system, but to categorize all of those not making any income as "cheaters" is definitely unfair. Some people genuinely cannot find jobs and therefore cannot make any income. And by reducing the government assistance to those who can't find a job, the government is really making life harder for these people, and probably making it harder for them find a job and get out of the cycle. So in that way, I think that these selective welfare programs are discriminating against the people that need help the most

If the government's welfare budget is not able to distinguish between those who deserve and those who don't, can you pose a solution (that is, cheap, timely, practical) to this problem, or does such a solution not exist?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Liar, Liar, Get Hit by RPG Fire

NBC news anchor Brian Williams is a class act. He is a veteran news anchor (10 years for NBC Nightly), a former chief White House correspondent (in 1993), a brilliant journalist (covered the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the 2005 Hurricane "Katrina"), a former volunteer firefighter, a huge liar, a—Oh! Have you not heard?

Brian Williams is a liar of Titanic proportions, and it's just about sinking his career. He has recently been exposed as having lied to the entire nation about his supposed trip in a helicopter in Iraq. Here's a 30 second clip of him casually lying to the nation on The Late Show with David Letterman:

No kidding, Brian! You were hit by "ak-47's and RPG" fire, huh? So then you were forced to land in Iraq, let me write this dowWait, I'm getting some news...(earpiece buzzes)... flight engineer Lance Reynolds is claiming that you weren't even on that helicopter! He claims that you are lying outright! He says on FaceBook, "Sorry dude, I don't remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened." Wow, just wow. That's low. How could you do that? I mean, how could you even question Brian Williams? The Brian Williams? The Brian Williams that exposed the horrors of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrin—what's that now? ...( *fiddles with earpiece*) he might not have actually seen a dead body floating in the water? Wait, but, he still came down with dysentery after drinking the wat—no? D@#* it!

Okay, okay, so Brian Williams lied a little bit, what's the big deal? Just because he lied about being in a helicopter with other army rangers that got hit by an RPG and then was downed in Iraq, doesn't mean he's a bad person. He just mixed up his story with the story he stole from that flight engineer of the helicopter that was downed. It's alright, the First Amendment has got his back. It says that congress shall not make any law "abridging freedom of speech, or [freedom] of press". It basically says that the press has the right to free speech [absent of defamation] without being censored by the government. The news or a news anchor/journalist counts as press, so there you go, Williams is free to tell as many stories as he wants. Unless however, the speech is considered by court of law as "child pornography", "fighting words" that present a "true threat", or obscene. Those three types of press are restricted

Williams isn't showing child pornography, and fighting words taken literally would be the only context of the phrase acceptable here, so it all comes down to obscenity. What does obscene mean? It means in one context "something offensive in a sexual manner", or in the other context "something offensive to moral principles". So we know that Brian's lies aren't sexual in any manner, so are his actions offensive to moral principles? Without being sardonic, I think you could make that argument that it is offensive to someone's moral principles, and that would therefore make Brian Williams in violation of the constitution. However, if you thought that, you know, a lie is just a lie, no matter how many millions of people are fooled by it, then you might think Brian Williams' actions were protected by the constitution. 

So, my question to you guys is, is it possible that Brian Williams' lies were in violation of the Constitution? OR at least an abuse on the freedom of press?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Productivity in Reverse: Multitasking Makes Us Bad At Everything

When we multitask we juggle a lot of tasks at once.

Life in the 21st Century is busy. It speeds up with every new technological breakthrough. Every new invention was designed to complete tasks faster, which meant you would have more time to do other things.  Advancements in technology allowed us to be more efficient, more productive. You could either walk somewhere in an hour, or drive there in 10 minutes. Everyone would drive. Why? Driving is less time consuming. We can't stand spending more time than necessary, let alone waste it.  Ironically, with so much emphasis on being more productive, we're actually becoming less productive. 

The problem with focusing on productivity is that often we are trying to do too many things at once; we multitask. When you multitask, you're trying to be productive by attempting to simultaneously complete different tasks. Yes, it can increase our efficiency, but it only works in the right context e.g. brushing your teeth in the shower. You're saving time (however many seconds that is) by brushing while taking a shower. On the other hand, you might multitask between two tasks that require a lot of focus, and botch one or both of them, e.g. texting and driving (that's self explanatory). 

Because of American society's focus on productivity, we tend to multitask a lot. That has resulted in the attention span of the average American decreasing, fast. In fact, the average American's attention span was about 8 seconds, which is less than a goldfish's! A goldfish's attention span is 9 seconds! So if your still reading, congrats, you've managed to outwit a goldfish! 

The irony here, is that our attention span has decreased as a result of multitasking, which is a result of a focus on productivity. We're trying to be more efficient and productive, but often times it makes us less productive! For example, I was listening to music while writing this, subsequently this blog took me upwards of 50 minutes to write! I was trying to enjoy music while writing a blog, and I ended up barely noticing the music while being a very inefficient writer.

My philosophy is that you should deal with your work one thing at a time instead of multitasking because otherwise you'll end up half ass-ing all of it.