“Pew! Pew!”

America doesn’t have a lot going for itself right now. We aren’t the best educated nation, we don’t have the most competitive economy, we have some of the worst income inequality in the world, and the likelihood of social mobility is appalling. So for all of our not-quite-top-of-the-class statuses, at least we can claim that we have the most guns per capita and the most gun death rates!

Okay, so maybe the number of people falling to bullets isn’t something to brag about, but you wouldn’t be able to tell based on the enthusiasm groups of people have for defending their right to own assault weapons without background checks.

This guy looks patriotic to me.

This guy looks patriotic to me.

I’m not trying to imply that pro-gun groups like the NRA want record gun deaths each year. Gun owners are not inherently violent people, neither are the interest groups that they are a part of. It’s pure coincidence that the NRA came into being shortly after the KKK was recognized by Congress as a terrorist organization in 1871

Totally different, you can see my face.

Totally different, you can see my face.

But seriously, in the modern day the NRA is not a racist organization, nor does it endorse shooting anyone besides criminals. In fact, a majority of the NRA’s membership comes from discounts at shooting ranges for members. If you own a gun and you like to shoot it, it’s a really good idea to join the NRA because of the financial benefits. There are also political benefits if you run for office.

The major problem with groups like the NRA is that they utilize slippery-slope logic every time someone proposes legislation that has something to do with gun regulations. A majority of Americans are in favor of background checks before rifles are given out. A majority of Americans are in favor of eliminating the right to assault weapons and hollow-point bullets. A majority of Americans are in favor of  restricting bullet magazines so that a mass murderer can only kill ten people before having to reload. Yet when any of these proposals hit the floor, pro-gun groups are in an uproar asserting that any new regulation will result in the government coming to our homes and confiscating our guns.

Let’s think about the logic behind that. If banning assault weapons leads to the government taking away all our weapons, then couldn’t we argue in the reverse that if we allow assault weapons then we should allow any weapons (including nuclear warheads). The Constitution says “right to bear arms shall not be infringed” so I guess I can have nuclear arms and no one can fault me for it.

If you actually read the second amendment in it’s entirety you can see that it’s been misread for quite a while: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The second amendment is the only amendment in the Constitution that states it’s purpose. The right to bear arms shall not be infringed in the context that the arms are used within a well-regulated militia.

You guys don't count.

You guys don’t count.

The Supreme Court, led by “Originalist” thinkers such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have ruled the right to bear arms as an individual right rather than a collective right based on “American Tradition”. In D.C. v. Heller the Supreme Court ruled that a law couldn’t be passed to require guns to be unloaded or bound by a trigger lock when not in use. Scalia and Thomas took part in another decision that ruled against partial birth abortions because of how disturbing the procedure is. I agree with them on that, but they must have failed to consider how disturbing it is to find a toddler’s head blown off because their dad left their gun loaded without a trigger lock in the living room.

It turns out that owning a gun results in much more risk than benefits. Family members living in a house with a gun are far more likely to be victims of gun-related violence. But I am digressing.

The main point is that there are people in the government right now that are trying to propose ways in which we can stem the tide of gun violence in the United States. President Obama recently pointed out that over 1,000 people have died due to gun violence since the Sandy Hook School shooting. Some people may argue that this is just political posturing, but the family and friends of those thousand people would probably disagree. America has a problem and there are people trying to fix it.

I don’t think that American citizens need to have assault weapons. To those who would argue that “we need to match what criminals have” I would argue that America doesn’t need to have shootouts at noon in the town square every time someone tries to do something stupid. I think that everyone should have to go through a background check before buying a gun. To those who would argue that “background checks are inconvenient” I would argue that going to a theater and getting shot before the movie starts is inconvenient too. I think that a magazine should have a limit on the number of bullets it can carry. To those who would argue, “We won’t be able to protect our neighborhoods as well,” I would point out; “Because we do such a good job of that in the first place…”

Let's try to cut down on the violence.

Let’s try to cut down on the violence.

Scalia: A Love Story

“Forget about state rights. They’re gone!

If there was a list of phrases to never say in the state of Virginia, this one would probably top the list. Yet, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia doesn’t seem to mind much about his audience. When he visited CNU on October 18, 2012 to speak with students, he pulled no punches. Antonin Scalia is appointed to the highest court in America for the remainder of his life. He doesn’t have to worry about embarrassing himself and losing prestige or his job. He doesn’t need to worry about getting reelected. This freedom from societal pressure allows Justice Scalia to be honest and sincere, as well as entertaining. He was easily smartest person in a room full of 1200 educated people.

To the chagrin of all the professors present, Scalia downplayed education in favor of luck and character in terms of its relation to success. “Good luck beats early rising,” he said at the 3pm Student Q&A sessions, during which invited students had the opportunity to candidly ask the Justice and his companion, Judge Henry Hudson, questions. At the evening event he quoted his father, saying, “You can hire brains by the hour. The only thing not for sale is character.” His emphasis on the importance of character and luck stood out in a speaker series that focuses primarily on the importance of leadership through education and making good connections.

What was immediately striking about Scalia was his youthful energy and his enthusiasm to speak his mind. Scalia acted like a man twenty years his junior and had a mind that was as sharp as can be. The short, stocky, overtly Italian Scalia doesn’t need to stand over you to be an imposing figure, but when he cracks his smile and starts speaking, it is clear that he is as easy to talk to as a favorite professor. While many students walked into the events of the day with misgivings and expected a stuffy, unapproachable judge, Scalia’s openness and sincerity helped everyone to relax and enjoy the talks. One line that he used, both at the private Q&A session and at the public talk later that night, laid out why he became a lawyer. He was not initially sure he wished to go into law but his Uncle Vinnie—and “every Italian has an Uncle Vinnie”—was a lawyer so he thought he would give it a go.

Whataya tawkin' about?

Whataya tawkin’ about?

Despite the fact that Scalia has not always been in the majority in the court, and he admitted that his constitutional theory of interpretation is not as widely accepted in the U.S. as he would like, Scalia did not come across as someone who stays up at night worrying about the future of our country. He knows what his place is in the government and when he was asked about his opinions on specific policies he responded by saying, “I am a policy eunuch. They write it. I review it. That’s it.” Echoing the tone set by Chief Justice Roberts in the recent healthcare decision, he explained that the Supreme Court doesn’t decide whether a law is a good one or a bad one. Rather, their job is to decide whether it is constitutional or not.

Regardless of whether or not students agreed with Scalia’s interpretation of the Constitution, everyone seemed to enjoy the man’s presentation. Perhaps this was because it was so clear that he was having a blast with us. When President Paul Trible stepped onto the stage to signify the end of the evening’s Q&A session, Justice Scalia declined to step down, saying, “I’m having such a good time,” This was met with a rousing round of applause that one might expect for an encore performance at a Mumford & Sons concert. His sincerity and obvious love for what he does helped students warm up to the man, even if they still disagree with his opinions.

If nothing else, Justice Scalia represents the pinnacle of success, which he said means, “being the best at what you love”. His definition of success was one that does not rely on power or money or promotions. It is one that emphasizes the importance of character and enjoying what you do. This standard of success is one that every CNU student strives to reach, and is fully capable of obtaining. In this and many other ways, Justice Scalia was the perfect speaker for the President’s Leadership Program and the student body of Christopher Newport University as a whole.

 

Israel in the New Middle East

In mid-December 2010, a notoriously unstable part of the world erupted into chaos. Throughout the Middle East, protestors took to the streets demanding democratic reform and the end of dictatorial regimes. Every country in the region from Algeria to Iran has been affected by this movement in some way, and near the geographic center of this sea of change is a country that is negatively viewed by a majority of the mid-east population: Israel.

Image

In August of 2011, while the Arab Spring was in full swing, Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki warned that, “Zionists and Israel are the first and biggest beneficiaries of this whole process,”(Schmidt, 2011). Though the Arab Spring presented an opportunity for Islamists to move into political spaces that had, until that point, been closed to them, the changes also reflect an opportunity that Israel and other countries could take advantage of to advance peace in the region.  Joseph Szyliowicz, a professor of International Studies at the University of Denver and Sigurd Neubaur, a defense and foreign affairs specialist out of D.C. expressed the view that the Arab Spring presents an opportunity for closer diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey; two of the few nations in the region that were not rocked with protests and upheaval. They argue that closer ties would be mutually beneficial due to an increased support-base for Israel and increased international sway for Turkey (Szyliowicz & Neubauer, 2013). It is possible that what Szyliowicz and Neubaur predict could happen in Turkey might also happen with other countries in the region. Though some of the democratic movements in the region have resulted in Islamist leadership, these groups are at least moderated by the fact that they are largely pro-democracy, such as Tunisia’s al-Nahda party (Al Jazeera, 2011). Where Israel is one of the few truly democratic countries in the region, there are questions of whether democratically elected Islamists will be more pro-Israel.

Egypt is an important example. The central target of the protests that took place in Egypt seemed to be Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader, rather than Israel. However, the changes in Egypt could prove very negative to Israeli influences. Before his removal, Mubarak was a counter to Iranian influence in the Middle East as well as a nearly unconditional ally of the United States and Israel (Flamini, 2011 pp. 216) Now, Mubarak has been replaced by a largely conservative-led government with Mohamed Morsi at the helm and the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood (Kirkpatrick, 2013). This is significant to Israel because the Muslim Brotherhood is made up of Islamists who are generally opposed to Israel’s existence. In 2012 during a short conflict between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian leadership was put in a tight spot between their treaty obligations to Israel, such as the 1979 peace treaty, and the Brotherhood’s ideological connection and support with Hamas (Fleishman & Abdellatif, 2012). Though Egypt eventually filled the role of mediator during the conflict, it is uncertain where it will stand in future Arab-Israeli conflicts.

That said, there have been important indicators of the power of anti-Israeli groups since revolutions and government overthrows have taken place. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government is still having trouble executing on its own agenda due to internal pushback (Kirkpatrick, 2013). In Jordan, on Wednesday January 23, elections are to be held with Islamists largely sitting out the election. Of 1,400 people running for seats in the Jordanian government; only 22 are Islamist (Luck, 2013). With Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu poised to win a third term in the coming elections (Aly, 2013), and all the changes that have been going on in the Arab world, it could be argued that the only thing holding Israel back from peace with its Arab neighbors could be the far-right ruling party of Israel itself.

As the fallout from the Arab Spring continues to impact the Middle East, Israel’s certainty of safety could change dramatically for good or ill. For the time being, evidence suggests that the Arab Spring has not negatively impacted Israel yet, and that there is a possibility of progress toward peace in the Middle East if the new governments in the region are willing to talk to the older governments in the region.

Sources Cited

Aly, B. (2013, January 21) On Eve of Israeli Elections, Arab Spring’s Influence Still Uncertain. AhramOnline [online] retrieved January 22, 2013 from http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/62967/World/Region/On-eve-of-Israeli-elections,-Arab-Springs-influenc.aspx

Fleishman, J. & Abdellatif, R. (2012, November 14) Israel’s killing of Hamas military chief leaves Egypt in Quandary. LA Times [online] retrieved Janaury 22, 2013 from http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-israel-hamas-egypt-quandary-20121114,0,5883238.story

Kirkpatrick, D. (2013, January 19) Brotherhood Struggles to Translate Power Into Policy in Egypt. The New York Times [online] retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/world/middleeast/brotherhood-struggles-to-exert-political-power-in-egypt.html?pagewanted=all

Luck, T. (2013, January 20) Islamists to sit out Jordanian election. The Washington Post [online] retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/islamists-to-sit-out-jordanian-election/2013/01/19/c78b61e4-6194-11e2-b05a-605528f6b712_story.html

N/A (2011, March 1) Tunisia’s al-Nahda to form party. Al Jazeera. [online] retrieved January 22, 2013 from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/03/201131132812266381.html

Schmidt, M. (2011, August 18) Iraq Leader Says the Arab Spring Benefits Israel. The New York Times [online] retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/19/world/middleeast/19iraq.html?_r=0

Szyliowicz, J. & Neubauer, S. (2013, Janaury 21) A New Era for the Eastern Mediterranean? CNN.com [online] retrieved January 22, 2013 from http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/21/a-new-era-for-the-eastern-mediterranean/?iref=allsearch

Why the NFL Referees’ Bargaining Victory Means So Much More Than Better Football

Hey, remember this:

So does everyone that has been watching football this season.

Following disagreements over wages and contracts for the NFL referees between the NFL and the refs, the referees walked out en mass to bargain for better wages and benefits. Some have argued that the refs get paid pretty good money already, so why would they need better wages and such? To put it in perspective, their decisions are often more important than any decision a coach or team manager can make. Example.

The head of the NFL thought that he was making a pretty good move by bringing in a bunch of replacement refs until the regular refs would accept their fate or lose their jobs. Perhaps he was thinking of Reagan’s bold moves when federal air traffic controllers across the nation walked out. Circumstances were very different however, where Reagan’s moves resulted in slower air traffic for a time and misery for 11,000 people, the NFL’s decision to put in replacement refs resulted in numerous blown calls and the misery of football fans everywhere.

Just a few days ago the NFL budged and gave the refs an offer that they found acceptable. The replacement refs, instead of helping the NFL’s side, only proved to everyone that the job is tough and that no one can really replace the professional refs. On Thursday the regular refs returned to the game, and in Baltimore, they got a standing ovation.

Why does this matter outside of the NFL?

It matters because for the first time in a long time, a union has been viewed as heroic in the face of corporate profits. The NFL wants to make money, and they knew that they could make more money by paying their refs less. As with every private industry, the people on top will give the people below them less than they could in the interest of growth, and personal profit. In America we have a strange tendency to side with the people on top. We accept the misconception that they are in their position because they worked harder than everyone else and are more deserving of fortune than everyone else.

With the victory for the refs, maybe we can see this trend slip away. We witnessed a group of people that have seemingly little personal power or personal wealth and they came together to become a force as powerful as the rest of the NFL. They asserted that they deserved better treatment and as much as the people on top tried to deny it, we could all see that it was true.

Through trial and adversity the refs hung on with the tenacity that we would often applaud on the football field. When the NFL tried to strong-arm them, we decried it, and when the NFL finally broke down and gave them a good deal, we stood up and cheered.

What we should not forget is that these sorts of actions by the NFL are not exclusive to the NFL. In every industry, from mining to manufacturing to housekeeping, the laborers will be taken advantage of unless they stand up for their rights. The cause of the NFL referees happen to be the cause of all the working people. We shouldn’t forget this example.

Why The Social Contract isn’t Actually a Contract

Everyone who is anyone knows John Locke’s Social Contract Theory. (Here you go, if you don’t) Locke mused that when an individual enters into a society they agree to an imaginary contract in which they are okay to give up some of their rights in order to have certain rights protected by the government. In his own interpretation, for example; you would give up your right to kill or enslave another person in exchange for the government’s promise to protect your life, liberty and property through laws.

Locke’s views were integral in the foundation of the ideology behind the Declaration of Independence and the thoughts of our founding fathers. The social contract is the basis for American governmental society and it just so happens that it is a contradiction within itself.

The Social Contract isn’t a contract.

The definition of a contract has not changed much in the last few thousand years. The general requirements to make a contract are consistent through history and have been more or less accepted all across the world. In America it is dictated in the Uniform Commercial Code.

Firstly, a contract requires mutual assent on the part of both parties. This requires an offer from one party and an acceptance by the other. In the case of the Social Contract Theory, an individual would be a party, and society would be another party. In the theory, the individual leaves a state of nature voluntarily and voluntarily agrees to the contract by joining the society. In that hypothetical, the theory stands, but in situations when a person is born into society they are not voluntarily agreeing to the social contract, they are forced into it. Since there is no actual acceptance, the Social Contract Theory fails the contract test.

But there’s more. A contract also requires consideration on the parts of both parties, without which an agreement could not be formed and a contract would not be valid. In the specific circumstance of being born into a society, no consideration has been made by the infant prior to entering the society. The Social Contract Theory fails this contract test as well.

But there’s even more. When an offer is made from one party to another, the second party can accept the offer or counter-offer/reject the offer. In a democracy, individuals throughout the nation have different ideas about what sorts of laws should be in place. From the day we are born and start to learn about civics we start to ponder how we could make the nation better with better laws. We have not accepted the society exactly as-is and have essentially made a kind of counter-offer. Anyone who wants to make a new law has rejected the social contract. And the contract fails again.

But there is still more. The base ideas of John Locke may be good: “Government should protect the life, liberty, and property of the people,” but that does not mean that the phraseology of his widely-accepted theory is accurate. If we were to hold the Social Contract theory up to the accepted ideas of what a contract is, we would find that it isn’t actually a contract at all and there is nothing legally-binding about it.

It may be a good philosophy, but it is no contract.

I wonder if I could weasel out of a speeding ticket with that argument…

Fact-Checkers

There’s nothing more hated by a politician than a fact-checker. Recently, Paul Ryan (Republican VP candidate and discoverer of the Fountain of Youth) made a speech in Tampa at the Republican National Convention. One of the first bits of commentary came from CNN’s Erin Burnett who said:

“We were jotting down points. There will be issues with some of the facts. But it motivated people.”

Well, it turns out that Erin was absolutely right. Since the speech was delivered, America’s apparent army of fact-checkers tore the speech apart. It turns out, despite repeated assertions by the Romney campaign that they can “win based on facts”, “stretching the truth” is easier to rely on.

In his speech Paul Ryan asserted that a GM factory in his home town was shut down as a direct result of President Obama’s policies. He neglects to mention that the factory closed while George W. Bush was still in office and, ironically, his running mate encouraged letting the American auto-industry go bankrupt. But we can probably forgive Paul Ryan for that one, he was just off by a year and a presidential administration. Semantics.

Above: Not one person.

Ryan asserted that President Obama has said that private industries and their successes are all thanks to the federal government. His basis for his assertion was the president’s statement that government “Invested in roads and bridges, if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” Ryan just left out the first part so that everyone could hear, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” But we can probably forgive Ryan for that one, it’s a political campaign, he’s got to take his opponent’s words out of context.

But what about Ryan’s assertion that America’s AAA rating drop was because of President Obama? Last year the credit rating of the United States was dropped a level. Paul Ryan said that it was the president’s fault, but Standard & Poor wrote, in detail, why they dropped the credit rating (report). It turns out it had very little to do with Presidential policy, and everything to do with political rhetoric from Paul Ryan’s party about intentionally defaulting on loans.

“Another official with Standard & Poor’s, director Joydeep Mukherji, told POLITICO that the stability of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that “people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default.” He didn’t mention who those people were. “That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable,” he added. “This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.”” -Politifact.com

Sound familiar?

Paul Ryan even had FOXNews pundits wagging a finger at him, with Sally Kohn stating:

“to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was  Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.”

As a Republican Vice Presidential candidate, the last thing you want is FOXNews looking at you funny. If Mitt and Paul have as much to work with as they claim in regards to attack the President, then they better actually use it instead of making stuff up.

Because the truth has a way of biting you in the back.

“Legitimate” Rape

Recently, some moron made some interesting comments about rape. Republican senate candidate from Missouri, Todd Akins, informed the nation that women can’t actually get pregnant from “legitimate rape”. When asked about his opposition to abortion in the cases of rape and incest he responded:

“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

um…

So basically, according to Akins, there is such a thing as legitimate rape, and the way that you can determine “legitimate” rape from “illegitimate” rape is a baby. If a woman get’s pregnant from a rape, then she must have wanted it, and it can’t be rape.

Let’s disregard for a moment that there is absolutely nothing to corroborate Akins’ claims and pretend like he’s right.

…Imagine how this would revolutionize crime in America! If we were to accept the Akins Doctrine of rape, then who would get prosecuted?

Well, obviously, in cases of rape, if the woman gets pregnant then the rapist gets off scott free. Rape requires a lack of consent from one of the parties involved. By getting pregnant, a woman’s body clearly offers consent. No matter how many times she said “No! No! No!” according to the Akins Doctrine; actions speak louder than words.

Yeah they do!

Let’s consider theft under the Akins Doctrine. Theft requires an individual, or individuals to take possessions from other individuals without their consent. If a burglar successfully steals your t.v. and you don’t successfully stop him, then you’ve implied consent for him to take your t.v. Clearly you didn’t want the t.v. enough to risk your life protecting it from being taken, so that means that you actually wanted them to take it. If you are shot and killed by the thief while you protect your property, then you demonstrate that you truly tried your hardest to keep your t.v. The burglary then becomes legitimate.

And lets not forget about murder! According to the Akins Doctrine, murder would only be legitimate if you survived the killing. If you die when someone attempts to kill you, then your will to live just wasn’t high enough. The person that killed you shouldn’t be charged with murder, they just assisted your suicide.

Maybe, deep down, Akins is just trying to get us to look at criminals from a kinder point of view.

…Then again, maybe he is one.