Category Archives: Politics

Gun Problems

We have gun problems in the U.S. We’re not alone– many nations have gun problems. Ours are interesting in part because of our profoundly exuberant and resilient ‘gun culture’, as well as our constitutional protection of gun rights.

The right to bear arms has been argued to be both a private, individual protection of individuals against crime, of individuals and citizens against big government, and of course there’s the argument that it’s not about individuals so much as it’s a protection of the citizenry in general’s ability to form militias.

I don’t know which of these were meant to be protected by the U.S. constitution. Perhaps all of them are. I do believe that which of them is most valuable should also be weighed against the cost of fundamentally altering the original document by new amendments, or by radical reinterpretation (especially narrow interpretation) of the meaning of the 2nd amendment. Whatever the exact meaning of the 2nd amendment, it is embedded deeply in American culture, for good or for ill. Which means that discussions of gun safety, gun rights, and gun control are especially heated.

I have few ideas about ways in which discussion of guns in the U.S. can change for the better. There are 2 ways I know of to attempt to reconcile positions that are enormously different. The first is compromise. The second is innovation. They are not mutually exclusive. Gun rights advocates and gun control advocates need to stop ‘talking past each other.’

A stereotypical conversation about gun rights and problems might go like this:

Liberal: “We should really do something about these crazy shooters! Wouldn’t less guns and more difficult access to guns make it harder for them to be as violent?”
Conservative: “The 2nd amendment guarantees my rights to bear arms and defend myself from these shooters.”

These two haven’t really talked about the same thing– not yet. And usually the argument doesn’t get past this problem, although the particulars will vary and it may go on a long time. Liberals object to all the solutions conservatives propose, and vice versa. Part of this stems from the fact that gun violence is hard to study, and to some degree has been made more difficult by the attempts of the NRA to make gun studies harder to do, or to prevent funding for such studies. On the other hand, liberals are just as guilty as conservatives; they are notorious for ignoring or dodging the argument that says that CCWs, armed guards, and better police presence can reduce violence by making criminals think twice about what might happen if they attempt a crime. Conservatives and liberals both appeal to studies and statistics from various places in the world, but usually neither group accounts very well for the cultural differences or the contexts for many of these things. Conservatives will cite Switzerland as an example of a highly armed society where crime is minimal– but ignore the fact that the requirement for military service in Switzerland is very different than our military structure in the U.S., or they make the argument broader by claiming that Switzerland’s model of required military service would be beneficial. But that’s a different kind of claim. Simple small changes are easier to talk about than enormous shifts in military requirements, and the cultural differences between Switzerland’s historically (fairly) homogeneous people and the diversity of groups in the U.S. (and the ensuing cross-cultural internal struggles or lack thereof) are difficult to incorporate into a solid pro-gun argument.

Liberals on the other hand will cite countries in which firearms are effectively banned, like Japan or Britain. There are problems with these categorizations, too, the most obvious of which is Britain’s high violent crime rate– there is more to these pictures than liberals usually choose to portray. In addition, these arguments are not likely to even appeal to an audience that regards firearms as something fundamentally different from what liberals categorize them as.

Liberals see guns as a tool with a single function– and little nuance to that function. According to them, the gun is a device to kill with, and a handgun in particular is designed for killing people, not animals. And of course there are also liberal groups that don’t even recognize hunting as a valuable or legitimate activity, but that’s another argument entirely. But this is exactly where I think the divide becomes important– how we regard a tool, and the level of nuance which we give it.

Conservatives too, are guilty of ignoring nuance, as they portray firearms as simply protective devices for law-abiding citizens, and ignore virtually the entirety of the community and individual instances of the abuse of firearms in the name of justice, so-called ‘Manifest Destiny’, or again, ‘protection,’ that dominate the historical U.S. landscape, especially the mid-west, the west, and the south of the U.S. Here I refer to the attitudes that generate police militarization, a problematic development that in recent years has both libertarians and liberals outraged quite often. Some will want to dismiss this as unrelated to the issue of individual firearm ownership, but there is likely a deep connection between the issues, when one focuses on the psychology of guns.

Both conservatives and liberals ought to be more willing to attempt to grasp the values the other group has before they even begin to engage in an argument. Essentially, both groups approach the gun issue with a typically closed mindset about what they will or will not agree to as solutions for the problems we face.

Guns are a tool. Understanding what kind of tool they are, and the psychological implications they have for differing groups– these matter to the discussion, but they are seldom discussed (in my experience).

Previously I mentioned compromise and innovation as solutions to our bi-cultural impasse. Compromise is valuable, and I think with a better understanding of what each group values, all of us will be better able to come to compromises that we can settle for. But the superior component in this is innovation. Innovation tends to ask if there is another way entirely– some way that would allow both groups to have their way, or would redefine circumstances such that the problem disappears, or says both sides are wrong or insufficient– and sends them back to the drawing board. Innovation will help us. We must be imaginative if we want to come up with ways in which gun-rights and gun-control can be adequately addressed. I have ideas of my own, but I’d like to let them cook before I bring them to the table. In time, I’ll make a post on my own suggestions.

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Filed under Law, Philosophy, Politics

Educational Policy Discussion Without Pedagogical Context?

Paul Manna has aptly named his book, “Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities”– the very title reflects the haphazard propulsion of educational endeavors in the US educational system. He details a number of frustrations with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), including it’s tendency to lower expectations of students, rather than maintain them, or to distort the approaches of teachers, focusing on material and testing, rather than focusing on our long-valued, well rounded liberal arts education, or teaching students as individuals. The only notable lack in his analysis is that there is no explanation of pedagogy to contextualize pedagogical strains created by NCLB. His analysis claims three major positive influences of NCLB including a push for administrators, state officials, and teachers to narrow the achievement gaps between disadvantaged student groups and the rest of the students, the forcing of “educational bureaucracies to improve their technical abilities,” and in places where NCLB was adopted fully, necessary but difficult policy and administrative changes were pushed through because of NCLB’s requirements and Federal backing. His points are very well contextualized, although they may take a careful reading by readers unfamiliar with educational policy and issues in the US. His greatest strength is the balance of sources used to illustrate his points, and show the difficulties of NCLB. He utilizes statistical data, but complements it with simple explanations, and clear anecdotes, providing not only his careful analysis of what is actually going on, but including the public’s reaction to NCLB. While the book could easily be many times larger than it is, it covers the material well, and provides readers with a far better understanding of the complex issues, as well as the benefits and drawbacks, attending the No Child Left Behind Act.

The author takes some time in getting there, but he reconstructs the frustration over the restriction of available time and resources for primary and secondary teachers alike – and he does so with remarkable concision, encompassing the issues and providing analysis based on statistics. However, he does so only after reminding the readers of the various criticisms of the act. He quotes historian David McCollough, who asserts that history as a core subject has fallen by the way side because of the heavy focus on English and math. Others referenced by the auther claim that civic education is also markedly lacking, and even President Obama was quoted, saying that the liberal arts education his generation enjoyed is rapidly becoming non-existent for our youth today.1

These reflect the common statements heard in newspapers, classrooms, and staff room discussions all over the US today, but Manna continues, explaining that these conclusions, although anecdotal, are actually well supported by most of the quantitative data available. Most school districts showed decreases in art classes as well as science and social studies, commonly dropping an entire hour or more per week in those subjects. He also details the exceptions to the general support of that quantitative data. He details the achievements of the Osmond A. Church Elementary and Middle School, showing the reader that it is possible to focus on a new, NCLB driven curriculum that is both geared toward improving English and math skills, while maintaining gains in all areas, and serving a typically disadvantaged student population.

Manna’s observations aside, the ramifications for teachers are enormous – lesson planning by itself was already a difficult task. Pedagogy as a context is never addressed within his work, but such is important to fully grasp the nature of the struggle not only in the bureaucratic circles, but in the classroom. Teachers struggle to include all students, and remember to ‘teach students and not lessons’ is complicated by these new restrictions and pressures. From a pedagogical perspective, one can note that the solution lies in complex approaches to lesson planning and presentation, as well as grading programs and individual attention to students. This raises the bar, not only for students, but for teachers. Teachers who have traditionally had the freedom to design their own lesson plans must be clever to maintain what freedom in that realm they can. If one knows anything about pedagogy at all, it is hard to avoid these conclusions, despite Manna never addressing pedagogy directly.

Manna also points out that despite many conflicts and “tensions” generated by the legislation, NCLB has also driven some positive changes, assisting the reader in understanding complex political and educational interconnections. The positive benefits from NCLB include a focus on what has been called in educational circles ‘the achievement gap’. It has been tackled again and again, but students from lower socioeconomic positions have consistently scored poorly on tests, done poorly in school, and often fail to continue their education after high school. Central to NCLB’s attempt to narrow this gap in performance is the requirement for states to divide their reports on testing results into student categories, including minority groups, students with disability, students from low-income homes, and ESL students.2 This allows various government agencies, as well as local administration and educators, to monitor this achievement gap closely. Various looming consequences for failing to improve all (or the vast majority) of these groups from year to year (the term used here is Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP) ensures quite a focus on the achievement gap, although that focus may or may not be effectively utilized toward improving student performance. His writing indicates that the legislation and the accountability measures in particular are flawed, but that the overall effect is a tension is generated within the educational system that is slowly changing our attitudes about how to go about education, testing, pedagogy, and administration.

Manna explains some of the nature of educational bureaucracies. These state and local administrative components to our educational system are varied across the nation, and examining the impact of NCLB requires that one look at each state individually. The act’s requirement for AYP meant that each state had to have a new accountability system, either in addition to, or as a replacement or adaptation of, their original system. Each state chose their own plan, and most, in seeking a way to measure this progress, actually contracted out that process. This complicated matters, because the testing agencies, while paid to do this, are certainly not perfect, indeed, they may not even be considered experts. This caused many school districts and states concern when inaccuracies in testing materials or grading processes resulted in problems with NCLB, namely inaccurate sanctions or poor ratings. Despite all of this, or rather because of these problems originating within state bureaucracies and their adjuvant contracts, the states have taken closer looks at how they measure performance, and who is doing the measuring. Most states concluded that their own systems were disconnected, disparate pieces, with little effective capacity for “tracking and integrating sometimes even basic information about their students and teachers.” Manna says that 39 states reported better data tracking systems because of NCLB’s influence. Some of these changes came with difficulty, as administrative and policy changes often do. This point, with connections throughout the book, is perhaps the best illustrated point, and the most necessary of discussions, if NCLB is continue in any effective direction.

Policy changes and administrative changes were also goals, for schools whose educational ‘culture’ was ‘broken’. On pages 85 and 86, Manna relates the common ‘restructuring’ moves made by many schools: replacing a principle, and occasionally other administrative staff, along with various teachers and other employees. He notes that the attempts made at restructuring were varied, some schools attempted very little, but others were able to use Federal backing to push through big changes. The explanation follows about a school shutdown and restart in Michigan. Manna draws a heavy contrast between schools’ typical actions (or lack thereof), and what NCLB actually seemed to call for – which few school districts utilized. Bureaucracies and state employees are notoriously difficult to change, or fire, yet NCLB attempts to change that. Manna is effective in explaining how NCLB makes that possible, primarily through the use of these anecdotes.

Smooth transitions and clear connections, here and throughout the work, exemplify Manna’s ability for tying examples and stories to the theoretical framework and interactions at the policy level itself. To create his framework, assumptions about human nature are made, but are never clearly articulated in a broad, philosophical sense; rather, they are exemplified through the various anecdotes utilized. The stories are wide and varied, and range over a variety of human behavior, pointing to a view that says humans are flexible and varied. Such is integral to his analysis, as discussion of human nature never enters the conversation. Instead, his analysis tells us that the way we structure accountability systems, conflict and confrontation, education and the classroom, not to mention testing for proficiency, all can have marked impacts not only on the students in the education system, but on the adults administrating it and teaching within in it.

1 Paul Manna, Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities (Washington D.C.: CQ Press, 2011), 116.

2 Ibid, 23.

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Filed under Education, Law, Leadership, Politics, Sociology

A Treatise on Freedom

In the course of any philosophical discussion the inevitable issue of freedom comes up. This discussion is comprised of a number of elements, including liberty, freedom, and free will. I reject Determinism in any form. Determinism says that we are a product of our environment or our genetics, and that therefore our choices are predetermined. If one wishes to make a difference in the world, one must assume that there are various possible futures, and therefore must reject this philosophy. It is of course undeniable that our environment and our genetics certainly have impacts on our decisions. Ultimately, our choices are not crafted entirely by our own actions, because all choices are shaped and constructed by our environment itself, which of course includes the decisions of others, as well as the historical trends and forces that have shaped the current environment.

Assuming that we are free entities despite these influences on our decisions, there are, as previously established, two elements to freedom. First is liberty. Liberty is the possibility of a decision in an abstract sense. For example, I am at liberty to construct a sandwich. However, if I have not the bread, or jam, or other various condiments that could be placed in a sandwich, then I have not the power to construct said sandwich. It remains beyond my reach. Freedom is a combination then, of possibility, or liberty, and available means, or power. Freedom is dearly prized, but often misunderstood. The famous and the unknown alike have attempted to explain it, as well as methods to achieve it, presumably for as long as man has pondered anything at all. Yet, for so many, it is elusive. From all gamuts of political thought, including Marxism, we find seekers of freedom. With these constructions of liberty, power, and freedom, and observing the nature of man’s decisions as primarily motivated by emotion rather than some abstract sense of rationality, one must conclude that a Marxist state’s centralization of authority will lead to the demise of liberty within said state, and hence, freedom.

Marxist thought has been oft analyzed and subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. Marx’s constructions seem concerned with the nature of man, and his freedom. But in what sense? It often seems unclear. Freedom from oppression is perhaps first and foremost. Marx can easily be said to be seeking an escape for the proletariat from economic oppression– from a system of labor and production by which he is alienated from his work, and hence, from his very self. Thus, Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Marx could more accurately be said to be seeking power, to attain freedom.

For it seems that it is in creation, in work itself, that man defines himself, and creates his or her very identity. Most artists will affirm that it is their work in which they define themselves. A mother with children to take care of is defined, and finds a large portion of her identity in the work she does for them and with them. A father could be the same, although we might often say that he should be, rather than is such. A career is often quite the defining aspect in one’s life. One might say, I am a reporter, a teacher, an entrepreneur. Yet, the choice to become any of these things is, generally speaking, dependent upon society’s constructions of methods to attain these identities, not to mention the definitions of the identities themselves. Marxist humanism then, is centered around the thought that it is through man’s work that man’s identity is found. Indeed, man’s work is inextricably intertwined with his very being. Marx’s concern for man’s opportunity, or rather, his freedom to be what he wishes to be, is a valid one.

Noting that Marxism seeks freedom as a means to an end, towards the reduction of the alienation of self, rather than freedom as an end in itself, one finds hints at the reason for the rise of the Totalitarian state. This is precisely the reason for which a centralized and socialized State will inevitably relinquish its hope of freedom as a means to the end of alienation, instead resorting to manipulation, control of information and resources, and ultimately, violence, to maintain control of the State. The legitimacy of claims of freedom then become increasingly untenable, as power is centralized and consolidated.

Marx’s approach was to advocate the establishment of a governing force— to throw off the shackles of economic oppression by seizing the means of production— by seizing power. Concentrate economic power in the hands of the State, and in controlling the State, you will control economic conditions and alleviate the oppressive circumstances. While the concentration of power in the hands of the proletariat could certainly alleviate the economic oppression the working class have endured, there are concerns as to how to accomplish this. In response to this apparent vacuum in Marx’s writings, Lenin proposed a process by which the natural leaders of the proletariat form what he called a ‘Vanguard Party’ to safeguard and promote the cause of the proletariat, who is often not trained or capable in the fields of political construction or governmental management.

This is inherently problematic, in that this Vanguard becomes a fairly exclusive club, who in most historical cases, seem to have been more interested with the maintenance of their own power than the very lack of freedom which concerned Marx. The foundational positions of Marxism cannot be propagated and freedom will not continue unless free market forces are suppressed or controlled. However, the establishment of a one-party Socialist state is then prone to the very destruction of the freedoms it seeks to create, through the intentional or unintentional abuse of the centralized power and control of the State. The intentional abuse of power is a familiar and frustrating problem, but there are other conditions under which concentrated power is problematic.

There are reasons, found within human nature and social behaviors, that those in power will attempt to remain in power. Motivations in and of themselves, can be fairly benign, or in the case of more ambitious men, rather malign. Contributing factors to the continued control of societal structures and powers are at their core, elements of human nature. The influence of individuals upon others is ultimately a matter over which institutions and societal structures can have little control.

The influential are not by nature influential only because they have position and wealth. It is because they wield with great grace and force the tools of demagoguery, persuasion, leadership, charisma, and determination. The ambition of the individual, and the liberty of the group to look to them as problem-solvers, leaders, and finally rulers, is an inevitable occurence resulting from the all too common exercise of choice without rationale and without care. Human beings are not rational— at their core, their very motivations to do any and all things are generated by emotions— such are not restrained, nor ruled, by intellect. Intellect is no superior control to emotional states— no, in it’s best form it is a pruner, a shaper. Without acknowledgement of this truth, Marx of necessity, defeats itself— for old class distinctions, once based on political power, and economic power, are now no longer ever opposed to each other. And by the very philosophical position on governmental power which Marx takes, the preservation of individual liberties takes a back seat to communal power.

Therefore, the class of political elites, of elite thinkers, organizers, problem-solvers and leaders, degenerates into a ruling, upper class once again. For these leaders can not be expected to understand and mete and measure the accountability necessary for them to maintain good leadership. Such is beyond the bounds of reasonable human expectation: we cannot expect that one man should know always and consistently what is best for another by reasoning and feelings alone, and leadership’s elevated status makes it ever more difficult for one to perceive the possible wrongs and problems that his decisions create. Leaders are distanced from the consequences of their decisions by the nature of their image in the eyes of their followers, and, through reinforcement of ideals, his image in his own eyes. In addition, the distance from the community that comes with a centralized power structure, and the nature of power over others itself, contributes to the difficulty of governance of any kind.

The nature of the Marxist conception of power and leadership by its very nature assumes a kind of leadership ultimately devoid of adequate respect for liberty, and therefore, for freedom.

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Filed under Capitalism, Communism, Corporatism, History, Leadership, Philosophy, Politics, Socialism

I’m going to brand my blog…

This may be a while in the making. I’m still brainstorming, and I’m trying to figure out exactly how to say what I want in just a word or two. The idea here is that subjectivity is an important element in all judgements,  and especially in testing students. I intend to change the face of American Education, one student, one teacher, one school at a time.
I believe we all need more freedom in deciding how we are to be educated, and we need a larger variety of resources at our fingertips– not in the sense that they are accessible, but in the sense that they are recognized by the community at large as being useful and good. Supporting the system that’s in place will only get us so far– we need to be creating and building our own systems, communities, and legacies– we need to build things so amazingly good, relatively stable, and adaptable–that put the individual at the heart of what we do, without ignoring or trampling on the needs of society as a whole– that these new systems and institutions crowd out the old by being so clearly superior, that the old system crumbles and gives way to the new.
We need more liberty in our schooling options. We need to recognize all schooling as such. In Utah, parents can send their children to high school for some classes, but homeschool them for the rest, effectively mixing and matching however works best for them. Public school needs to be there– not all parents can teach all subjects, but it needs to be more focused on community activity and real education, rather than some sort of socializing program meant to produce graduates in factory fashion. The system needs to be more flexible in many ways, and making homeschool mixable with public school is just one step, there are many more.
Back to testing– true mastery of a subject is shown by two things, in my opinion. The first is if one can clearly and carefully construct a paper about the subject. The second is if one can teach that subject to another. We need mentoring programs in our schools– programs that aren’t weekend getaways, but daily and weekly activities assisting other students in understanding material and concepts. We need our tests to focus more on the construction of questions and clear thought, than the memorizing of names, dates, and other information. These tests need to be subjective. Even in math, the skill of looking at a situation and defining the relationships of various pieces of the problem, and then constructing a formula receives very little attention, while drilling algebraic concepts that many of us go on to never use again is favored above all else. Maybe if we taught why math was important and how it can connect us to our world we’d see more people interested in going into mathematic-related fields, rather than plowing through calculus class so they can go on to become an accountant somewhere crunching numbers all day (nothing against accountants here– but the finance sector is pretty top-heavy here in the US, and it doesn’t actually produce anything– it’s really about providing a set of services– good ones, but perhaps overvalued at the expense of other things).
This has been a bit disorganized, but I hope you get a sense of the driving concepts and ideas here.
Below you will find various ideas for blog branding– feel free to suggest your own.

—————–

Suggestions and ideas include:

The Landlocked Philosopher – Submitted by my Brother -in-law.

The Gamut – Submitted by my Sister-in-law and her husband.

Polytical (amalgamation of Political and Analytical)

Educated Wannabe Cowboy

Beyond Clarity

Subjective Clarity

Tools for Subjective Judgement

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Filed under Communitarianism, Education, Politics, To the Readers

Fighting Police-State tendencies… Utah’s House Bill 59

Recently, Utah State Representative Stephen G. Handy has  proposed a bill to, in his own words: “allow for police officers to perform their duties in pursuing arrests for criminal activity that did not occur in their presence. This may sound alarming . However, there are many instances in which we allow police to pursue arrests in this manner.”

This is misleading. While there may be problematic language with what is currently on the books and what policemen should be able to do, as evidenced by three examples Handy provides, the proposed legislation is dangerous and risky. Currently policemen have authority to arrest someone upon probable cause of a Felony or a Class A Misdemeanor. These seem like relatively reasonable lines to draw, but the bill that has been proposed would change these limits. The first change is from probable cause to reasonable cause or reasonable suspicion, as it is more commonly called. This might bother me, but I’ll hold off judgement on this portion of the bill, because I haven’t studied law, and I’d have to study that and think about it for a bit to decide if that’s a reasonable change.

The other change is what troubles me– and, in the common vernacular: It is not cool. The bill “amends a peace officer’s authority to make an arrest without a warrant upon reasonable cause by providing that this authority includes any misdemeanor, rather than current law which grants the authority to arrest upon reasonable cause to class A misdemeanors and felonies.” Given what Class B and C Misdemeanors include, this makes me very opposed to the bill, because police authority could then be abused far too easily.

In the Deseret News comments section online, one ‘John C.C.’ from Payson says:

Sample Class B misdemeanors: Illegal fireworks, gambling, writing a bad check, possessing a keg of beer, retail theft, possession of marijuana, road racing, failure of public official to disclose conflict of interest, disturb the legislature, do business without a license, damage a government survey marker, damage a road sign, fornication, false fire alarm, minor graffiti, let your kids sluff school, fishing w/o license.

Sample Class C misdemeanor: speed, leave your neighbors gate open, use vulgar language on a bus, misnumber your written checks, lie to avoid jury duty, abandon your campfire and it reignites without hurting, anything, give cigarettes to a minor, public urination, public intoxication.

A website leaning toward the ‘blue’ side discusses the unacceptable risk for abuse of this law here. A friend of mine on Facebook commented on the issue, saying:

It strikes me as a misunderstanding here – Congr. Handy probably doesn’t really understand the difference between arresting someone and charging them with a crime. Nothing would stop a Utah policeman, under existing law, from issuing a citation for these minor, though unwitnessed, misdemeanors – and it’d be up to a judge to decide whether the evidence, if any, deserved further proescution. This has nothing to do with making an arrest. Making an arrest is a matter of keeping public order. There’s no reason to do it otherwise, in the absence of a specific warrant. It’s as if Handy imagines that arrest and conviction are the same thing.

While I certainly don’t expect that officers will immediately begin abusing this authority to some intolerable degree, but I’m certain that the change in law creates a tenor which requires less proof from the state– less burden on them before they can detain, arrest, and interfere with the lives of the average citizen. Where there is less requirement for proof, accountability suffers, and in this case, civil liberties could easily come under assault by individual officers who misinterpret situations, deliberately or not. In short, this bill is a subtle threat to our civil liberties and should be resisted vigorously by the population. We can and should be vocal– email your state representative today. If you live in Utah County, your rep is Patrick Painter. If not, you can find out who your Representative is by searching at www.utah.gov.

Finally, I include a sample letter, written by my friend Kevin:

With the rising cost of incarceration 2008 statistics show at about $30,594 per inmate (http://nicic.gov/features/statestats/?State=UT) and a proposed 7 percent cut in the Utah State Prison that could potentially prematurely release about 850 prison inmates along with the job loss of approximately 175 Corrections staff members (http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/51145440-76/cuts-proposed-budget-prison.html.csp).

According to the same Salt Lake Tribune article there would be a need to curtail DUI enforcement.  All of this at a time that the Utah Legislator is choosing to submit, HB 59 on Arrest and Requirements with or without Warrants by Stephen G. Handy.  The bill “amends a peace officer’s authority to make an arrest without a warrant upon reasonable cause by providing that this authority includes any misdemeanor. . .”

If during a time of budgetary shrinkage why on earth would we want to allow police officers the ability to arrest people for any “misdemeanor”, i.e.: J-Walking, Spiting in public, vulgar language, etc.  It seems this would require tax payers to pay more dollars for less effective government and create more bureaucracy.

Please help stop the passing of this bill.

Sincerely, ______________

 

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Filed under Activism, Law, Politics

Middle Eastern Politics and the Egyptian Uprising

I try to follow politics in the Middle East to some degree or another.  I think I could do it 24/7 for several years and still not really feel like I know what’s going on over there. However, I support peace in the region, and preferably, some kind of democracy. It has been fascinating to hear what’s been happening in the region lately, especially with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. I don’t think anyone has a clear idea of what will happen as events continue.

One of the big questions being asked is how a regime change in Egypt will affect Israel. Egypt has been fairly friendly with Israel for awhile now, as far as I understand. In that, Egypt has set the political tone, to some degree, of the entire Middle Eastern Region.With this current instability, it’s possible that Israel could come under heavier assault, and it seems possible that Israel could find an even better ally, especially if democracy comes to Egypt. (Or at least those are the things I’m guessing– again, I’m sure I’m very uninformed, so I could be wrong)

There are concerns over the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence on the current events, and whether they will attempt to seize power. I’m not sure how well-founded these are– maybe it’s a real concern. However, the tone and style of presentation of this idea has been consistently focused on the U.S., rather than the Egyptians’ uprising in and of itself. It seems an incredibly US-centric way of looking at things, and an entirely unfair and biased way of describing them. As I read about the conflict, my brother-in-law posted a thought on Facebook, effectively wondering how these events would affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the rest of the region in general.

After an argument with someone else on Facebook, he finally posted something that I feel has quite a lot of merit. I think we here in the U.S. are usually very ignorant in our views of world politics, and even when we attempt to understand what’s going on out there, we seem to have only a superficial understanding. With that said, here is the quote from his Facebook in response to his friend, and I will leave you to ponder it.

Joe: “…I studied Middle Eastern history and culture for the past four years. I’ve lived there, I have friends there, I’ve seen the conflict firsthand, and for a short time I worked for one of the most influential policy-making organizations for US foreign policy in that region. Your arguments about the Palestinians may not be false–I’m not saying that they are–but the conclusions you subsequently draw about Israel betray a willful onesidedness that is completely and utterly uninteresting to me.

I’m not interested in winning any arguments about the rightness of the Palestinian cause or the wrongness of the Israelis; I just want to have a better understanding of what’s going on. Because even after all of my studies and experiences, I still feel stunningly ignorant about the region. If you don’t, you must be blind.”

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Filed under Current Events, Journalism, Politics, Socialism

Hitler’s Power: Iconic Authority Part III

Hitler’s confidence, and his absolutism were part of his appeal to the masses.1 He was famous for his uncompromising statements, and Haffner remarks upon Hitler’s appeal, explaining that it was his complete polarization as an individual that incited such vigorous excitement in the German people. Of his confidence in leading Germany wherever he wished, one can note a brief exchange between Hitler and a British reporter by the name of Mosley.

… Hitler … demanded that I come forward and be introduced. He was in a good mood; he made a couple of jokes about the English Press when he knew who I was, and then banteringly asked why British journalists in Germany wrote so much about the threat of war. “There will be no war,” he said. “Don’t you agree?”

This, mark you, was the summer of 1939.

I said there would be no war if the rights of Poland and the Free City of Danzig were not infringed.

Hitler slapped his thigh, and laughed. “Even if there are, there will be no war,” he said. “There was no war over Sudetenland, nor over Czechoslovakia. There will be no war over Danzig.” When I demurred he repeated: “There was no war over Sudetenland! There will be none over Poland! The conditions are exactly the same and your actions will be the same.”2

Hitler’s position as head of party was something he was equally confident about. Of the party, Hitler once said, “The party is the Führer and the Führer is the party.”3 However, for all of Hitler’s allegations of unity, along the Nazi rise to power, he in fact stood apart, and above the party, to some degree or another. Sophie Scholl asked of her father, “But does the Führer have any idea of the concentration camps?” Her father responds, “How could he not know, since they’ve existed for years and were set up by his closest friends? And why didn’t he use his power to do away with them at once? And why are those released from them forbidden on pain of death to tell anything about what they went through?”4

For the masses, Hitler was not synonymous with the party—he was no simple mouthpiece, indistinct from the Nazi party itself. The exchange above instead suggests a belief in Hitler as a leader of the people, and confusion as to the disconnect with what Hitler had seemed to be, and what he now seemed to be condoning. This separation of the leader of all Germany and the political party in power can be explained in part by this “cheap mass intoxication” that Haffner writes about. To further exploit this yearning in the masses, Goebbels implemented a propaganda campaign of historic proportions.

In the early 1930s, as Hitler gained popularity, and just before he was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg, propaganda posters showed Hitler and Hindenburg together. In one poster, Nationalist colors of red, white and black are used in one, with the caption, “The Reich will never be destroyed if you are united and loyal.”5 In another, Hitler and Hindenburg are shown standing. It reads, “In the deepest need Hindenburg chose Adolf Hitler for Reich Chancellor. You too should vote for List 1.”6 This is of course is disingenuous, Hindenburg needed Hitler like a fish needs a bicycle, but he dared not let the rabble rouser out of his sight, or he risked the continued stability of Germany.


Early on, the campaign sought to make an image for Hitler in keeping with his rhetoric. He sought a united Germany, at all costs, and Hindenburg was already accepted by the mainstream of German society as a great leader. Hitler in his bid for the chancellorship could effectively borrow this image, and move decidedly into mainstream politics.7

Later on, after Hitler had become Chancellor, and then dictator, further propaganda kept the people united. In another poster, a German worker is shown, lifting a stone into place on the wall. The background is sparse, and the worker appears Aryan, being blond and tall. The caption reads, “Hitler is building. Help him. Buy German goods.”8 This simple rhetoric was common to propaganda posters, if the archives at Calvin College are any indication.

The emphasis in these posters was not deep visual symbolism—this wouldn’t have been often picked up on by the masses. Instead, the posters contained short, pithy sayings, or oratorical prose.  Goebbels and Hitler both claimed that propaganda was a great art, and to communicate effectively a united message to the masses was the goal. No deep thinking or heavy symbology would be as effective. Hitler wanted an unthinking mass of Germans, united in attitude, to avoid dissent and confusion. As he said in Mein Kampf, “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level has to be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to.”9
While symbology wasn’t heavily relied upon, there were instances of it in the propaganda, probably due to Goebbels’s promotion of ‘Führer Worship’. One comparison, very Christian in its symbolism, was found in a poster featuring a dove, descending from above Hitler, with the sun blazing brightly behind him, as he holds the Nazi flag in his right hand. The text, again, is potent rhetoric, “Long live Germany!”10 In another instance, one of the well known paintings of the Nazi regime was entitled Der Bannerträger, or “The Standard-Bearer,” painted in the mid-1930s, probably 1935. Hitler stands looking to the left, in a suit of shining armor, holding the Nazi flag. The symbolism is medieval, and harkens to the Crusades, pointing to German militarism. Claims have been made that Hitler handpicked this from a number of other depictions, in which he was apparently disappointed.11

Goebbels did a great many things to craft Hitler’s image, and these are but a few examples. Propaganda was found in many forms in the Third Reich, but Hitler’s visage and the swastika were definitely the most recognizable symbols for the German populace.12

Toward the end of the war, Hitler struggled with waning enthusiasm for the war, the party, and a lack of unity in miltary leadership. These combined forces did not topple his government, or remove him from power. Protests were few in number, and were quickly silenced. In addition, Hitler’s domination over his generals in war strategy was actually complete enough to lead to his own demise, as the the overextended eastern front of the Wehrmacht was overrun by Soviet forces.

Hitler’s generals were a disparate group, loosely united by dedication to Germany, and the force of Hitler’s personality, as well as Hitler’s deliberate positioning of them such that they would quarrel with each other rather than challenge him. One of Hitler’s top generals, Franz Halder, took extensive notes during the war. His notes indicate no moral reservations about the attack on Poland. This indicates not a mindset of anti-Semitism, but of warmongering. Megargee, author or War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, quotes a record indicating the peace between Germany and Poland was fairly disingenuous.13 However, Halder does not seem particularly invested in racial ideologies, in fact, he makes a note that the military should be particularly cautious in avoiding getting embroiled in politics. Such a position does not point to a particular devotion to Hitler’s ideas—rather it suggests that Hitler’s position as leader or his force of personality were the cementing forces for Halder himself. Halder’s notes further indicate a brusque, business-like attitude toward both Hitler and the war.

Other military leaders were of various dispositions. Göring, for example, was as devoted to Hitler as he was to the war—anything Hitler asked for, he would promise, including air support at Stalingrad, which was logistically impossible to deliver.14 Some military leaders in Germany eventually turned on Hitler, but would not challenge him openly, and lacked the courage to shoot him despite many opportunities. The failed July 20th bomb plot, pushed chiefly by Stauffenberg, was the most extensive of the military’s resistance to Hitler, but he was hardly wounded.15 Despite the attempts on his life, he maintained control of the military without obvious challenges.

The relationship of leadership within the military is far more nuanced than the memoirs of Hitler’s generals would make it seem, Megargee asserts. Hitler’s generals were not simply following their duty to their leader, although such motivations were a component in their behavior. Halder’s War Diary records of Hitler, “…the commander must give orders that express the common feelings of his men.”16 This does not mean that Hitler’s generals were anti-Semitic, as Megargee suggests, but rather that the military was ready and willing to fight a war for Germany’s greatness, against whatever perceived enemy, real or not, that their leaders could point to with any convincing oration.

Hitler’s military leadership and the average citizen were less interested in the Nazi party than they were in a singularly effective leader. Megargee explains that it was belief in the individual, Hitler, that led to belief in the party, and that the oath that so many took, was almost superfluous.17 Haffner’s account suggests that his some of his own generation, and some of the former Freikorps, were perhaps the most common adherents to Hitler’s actual philosophy.18

Hitler’s appeal to the masses was not without resistance; there were incidents of resistance to both Hitler himself and the Nazi party. Gertrude Sombart said in an interview, “…most people of course, were for Hitler.” She relates further, that after the an assassination attempt, she remarked to her husband that it was bad luck that Hitler had survived. Her husband told her to hush, as there was an SS officer nearby, but from a woman who was with them came similarly derogatory comments about Germany’s leader.19

What We Knew, a collection of interviews from both Jewish and non-Jewish Germans who lived through WWII, makes it clear that it was a common sentiment to dislike the Nazi party—especially through the war itself. Inge Scholl relates an account of her siblings and their protests against the regime in a memoir. Sophie Scholl, with several of her fellow college students, and their professor, protested the Nazi regime, distributing anonymous leaflets promoting resistance to the government. “Do not forget that every people deserves the government it is willing to endure!” the leaflets said.20 This formal resistance arrived toward the the middle of the war, much after the Nazis had already suspended civil liberties and tightened their grip on Germany. The six originators of the group, called die Weisse Rose, were executed by the Nazis in 1943.21 There were others, including Helmuth Hübener, who wrote his own leaflets on a typewriter while listening to British radio. Hübener and two of his friends and supporters were arrested. Only one of the three friends survived to relate the tale, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe.22 Whatever resistance there was, these groups’ outspoken, dissenting voices against the Nazi government were in the minority, despite general public frustration with the Nazis.

While there were groups that protested the regime, it seems that the clarity and extent of information about the ‘Final Solution’ itself was varied among the public. The German populace was fearful of saying a word against the regime—few were willing to risk what liberty they had. The Nazi party forbad those few that left concentration camps to ever speak about it, on pain of death.23 In fact, various sources suggest that the actual mass-murder of the Jews, fulfilling Hitler’s desires for a ‘Final Solution’, was the best kept secret of the Third Reich.

The lack of written communications between Hitler and Himmler about the concentration camps and the ‘Final Solution’ is conspicuous. There are several contributing factors, the first being that Hitler preferred spoken to written communication. The second follows on that premise, being that Hitler generally spoke to Himmler on the phone at least once a day.24 However, the Nazi Regime was a modern one—there were notes and records on many things, and it has been regarded as perhaps the mostly highly documented regime of the 20th century. So this lack of recorded directives for Himmler remains conspicuous. Notes of Himmler’s were recorded after telephone sessions with Hitler, and after 1938, Hitler began publicly threatening the Jews with extermination if they did not leave Europe. However, within the eye of the public, there is a distinction between rhetoric, speeches, or painting a group as pariahs, and actively exterminating a group openly. While the average German citizen may have been aware of some of what was going on in the death camps, it seems clear that Hitler knew that open discussion would be detrimental to his cause. A memo banning discussion of the ‘Final Solution’ in public was sent out in July of 1943.25

Hitler’s deliberate avoidance of written orders in general, as well as his particular avoidance to records of the “Final Solution” seem then attributable to a fundamental preoccupation with the public eye. Hitler’s vanity—his fixation on how he appeared and what he communicated, particularly in his speech-making, is well documented.26 Without any written records from Hitler himself on the ‘Final Solution’, one can conclude that Hitler was covering his bases, so to speak. The public was vaguely aware of the concentration camps, and he was preparing for the day that the mass-murders and the death camps became entirely public. The reaction of the public wasn’t as united as he wished,27 and this would certainly have made such a media conscious leader pause, no matter how bold.

Anti-Semitism could not have been the primary driving force for most Germans—they simply weren’t completely engrossed enough in Hitler’s haphazard ideology. Hitler’s control of Germany then seems most easily attributable to German perceptions and expectations about authority, and the force of Hitler’s oratory. Propaganda, filled with rhetoric, played its part as well, but above all else, the people were expecting a leader, a savior, a redeemer of Germany. Such needs were common sentiment, and would not be surprising in a monarchy, but the return of a dictatorship in the modern era promised a different kind of regime than had hitherto been seen in Europe.

1Stern, 18.

2Leonard O. Mosley, Report from Germany (London: Victor Gollancz LTD, 1945) 8-9.

3Kershaw, 83.

4Inge Scholl, The White Rose, trans. Arthur R. Schultz (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983), 11.

5Poster from the March 1933 Reichstag election, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

6Poster from the March 1933 Reichstag election, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

7Kershaw, 46.

8Poster from Nazi Germany, mid-1930s, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

9Hitler, 180.

10Poster from Nazi Germany, mid-1930s, Christological depiction of Hitler, digital image, “Nazi Posters: 1933-1945,” German Propaganda Archive http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm (accessed 13 Dec 2010). Original poster in possession of Dr. Robert D. Brooks.

11 “Der Bannerträger,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Website http://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/archive/painting-the-standard-bearer/ (accessed December 4, 2010)

12 Steven Heller, Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State (New York, NY: Phaidon Press, Inc., 2008), 19-20, 24-25.

13Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation:Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006), 8-9.

14Joel S. A. Hayward, Stopped at Stalingrad (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 233-4.

15Percy Knauth, “The Hitler Bomb Plot,” Life Magazine (May 28, 1945), 17-18, 20, 23. http://books.google.com/books?id=7kkEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed December 12, 2010)

16Franz Halder, The Halder War Diary ed. Charles Burdick and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1988), 346.

17Megargee, 8-9.

18Haffner, 10-15, 20-21, 27-28

19Johnson and Reuband, 160.

20Scholl, 31-2.

21Ibid., 155-6.

22Rick McFarland, Truth and Conviction: The Helmuth Hübener Story (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2002). DVD. See also: Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, The Price: The True Story of a Mormon Who Defied Hitler (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1984).

23 Johnson and Reuband, 147-150, 179, 222, 242-244.

24Sarah Ann Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the “Jewish question.” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 136-140.

25Arad, Gutman, and Margaliot, 160.

26Kelly Davis, Nazi Germany (Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2005), 7.

27Gay, 63-66; Johnson and Reuband, 164-165 ,175-176, 231-233.

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