culture freedom politics

I didn’t notice white privilege*until I was in the back of a police car.


I sold high end audio and home theater equipment for my first job out of college. I loved music and was a true gear head, the equipment itself was fascinating to me. By 1998 I had moved up to Northern Virginia and was working selling camera gear. Again, I loved photography and the gear so it was a good fit for me. I still loved audio equipment though.

I spent a lot of time at a high end audio store in McLean, a super posh suburb of DC in northern Virginia. The equipment they sold was on a level I could only dream of owning. Sublime sound, gorgeous equipment, and stratospheric prices were the hallmarks of the store. Vu, the owner, let me hang around and listen to my heart’s content. We got along really well and he wanted me to work there. I was tempted but I liked the job I had. I did take advantage of his courting though and spent a lot of time at his shop when I could.

The store had two levels. The basement had the really good stuff and that’s usually where I would hang out. One particular Sunday I went to the store. Vu was busy with a customer. He acknowledged me as I came in but I didn’t want to disturb him so I went downstairs. That night I was listening to an especially wonderful system. It was in the neighborhood of 40k worth of equipment. I had been listening for a long time by myself and realized he was bound to be closing soon. I went upstairs and found all the lights off and nobody home.

I had stayed late at my first audio job a few times to help with inventory and whatnot. What we would do is lock up the store without setting the alarm and walk across the street to eat dinner. After that we would come back, do what we needed to do, and then set the alarm when we left. When I found myself locked in the store in 98 I tried to remember the ins and outs of the alarm system. I realized that I hadn’t set off the alarm as I was walking around so I figured he hadn’t armed it. He must be coming right back, I’ll just let myself out and give him a hard time about it later on. As soon as I touched the doorknob the alarm went off.

Now my mind was racing. I could just leave but if anyone saw me it would look really bad. The phone rang. I knew it was the alarm company calling to see if the alarm had been set off by accident. Vu would have a code word to assure them things were fine. I decided to tell them what was happening. “He locked me in!” I said, “Hang on, we’ll send someone right over,” they responded. I had hoped that meant Vu but I knew better.

The police show up and I greet them through the main window at the front. I tell them that I was locked in and they motion for me to come out. Both officers were white. I only remember the one that stayed with me, he was young, maybe younger than my 27 years. As I explained the situation (downstairs, the owner knows me, etc.) my officer tells me he is now going to cuff me. “You’re going to cuff me?” He responded, “Well, we could do them behind your back if you want instead.” I nodded that I understood my situation. He patted me down and then put his cuffs on my wrists. Once I was in the back of the Crown Vic (there isn’t any leg room at all in those things!) his partner went in and looked around.

As I sat in the back of the cruiser a series of thoughts raced through my head. I knew things would eventually be OK but it wasn’t looking good in the meantime. I thought to myself, “Man, I’m glad I’m in McLean and not DC. I’m glad I don’t have a record.”

“I’m glad I’m not black.”


If you had asked me about Harvey Weinstein 5 years ago I would have said, “Who?” If you had instead told me that a super powerful Hollywood producer was systematically assaulting and possibly raping women that wanted to work for him I would have said, “Duh.” Everyone knew about the casting couch. It was widely understood that was how Hollywood worked. It was also understood that being able to do that sort of thing was a big reason why those men wanted that position. It was a perk of the job.

So in 1998 when I thought to myself, “I’m glad I’m not black.” I wasn’t filled with a seething anger about systematic racism or the disproportionate rate of violence and arrests that black people were subjected to by the police. No, it was a plain statement of fact. Everyone knew the police didn’t like black people. Everyone knew that black folks got carted off to jail for any reason at all. And so I was happy I wasn’t black. That was as far as my thought process went at the time.

The officer’s buddy came out of the shop. They had been in contact with the alarm company and had the alarm shut off but they couldn’t get a hold of Vu. He also said it doesn’t look like anything was amiss. I have no idea how he could know that, the place wasn’t exactly neat and there was, unbeknownst to him, a lot of small, crazy expensive stuff laying around. In any case, they decided to let me go. I don’t even think they checked my car. At the time I figured that they thought I was either telling the truth or I was the world’s worst burglar.

Fast forward about 15 years and I have had several black housemates, one of which had done time for selling drugs. Talking with them I got a better feel of what their experiences with law enforcement were like. A very troubling series of alternative scenarios came to me as I thought about what happened on that night in 98.


Normally you consider how you talk to be normal and other people have accents. I remember the first time I ever noticed an American accent. Jean Luc Goddard’s film “Breathless” is a classic French New Wave film. Unsurprisingly the entire cast is French. The lone exception played an American expat. Hearing Jean Seberg yelling, “New York Herald Tribune!” grated on the ears after hearing nothing but French native speakers. Is that what I sound like? Yikes.

As I thought about that night in 1998 I realized my whiteness was yelling “New York Herald Tribune!” How? We’ll start with the fact that the police let me go. I was a little surprised even when it happened. It was a ridiculous situation and I had nothing to offer the police as way of proof of what I said. If I were black I’m pretty sure I would have been booked.

But going a little deeper I realized that my reactions would have been completely different if I were black. When I answered the phone and talked to the alarm company I did so under the belief that since it was all a silly mistake everything would work out in the end. There isn’t any way I would have thought that if I were black. At best I would expect to be face down on the ground being read my rights and then spending a night in jail. At worst? Well…. No, if I were black and the alarm went off I would have gotten the hell out of there as quickly as I could. Of course if someone saw me leave I’m sure the police would have tracked down my car and greeted me with guns drawn when they found me.


So I had a glimmer of what white privilege was in 1998 but it was a shallow and entitled view. It took 15 years and living with people that had experienced being black while dealing with police for me to really comprehend how privileged I was. It isn’t enough to know that you have it better with the police because you are white. You need to understand that you have options when it comes to actions to take and the assumptions you make when it comes to the police that black folks do not. And with just a little bit more thought (just a little) you’ll start to comprehend that goes well beyond just dealing with the police. If you are black there is another level of stuff that you will have to deal with all the time that whites can’t understand because it doesn’t exist for us. That stuff complicates everything, no matter who or what you are dealing with. It is a reactive force thrust upon you and impacts every thought you have and therefore every action you take. White privilege is living without that extra layer of history and personal experiences complicating everything including what you think of yourself and what a lot of people expect out of you just because of The color of your skin. I can point to a singular moment in 1998 when I undoubtedly benefitted because of my race. What I can’t point to is the vague complexity of all of the things in my life that would have been different if I were black. Most white people don’t have the former but all have the latter and are oblivious.

I’m thankful to have had not only that moment in 1998 but also the exposure to black experiences needed to put it into perspective. While I don’t think it’s a good idea for everyone to be suspected of robbery I think that being exposed to the black experience is something we should all be expected to do. Sit down and talk with black folks, it’s literally the least you can do.

*While I am completely on board with the concept, I find the term white privilege can be counterproductive at times. I think it works in this context but I hope to write more about that in the future.

culture freedom music

Sound of Da Police

I’ve expressed my admiration for this song before but goddamn, I can’t think of a more appropriate song considering recent events. It does a great job of showing the ongoing problems black folks have had with the cops. It’s sad that the song is just as relevant today as ever…


Are you really for peace and equality? Or when my car is hooked up
You know you wanna follow me, your laws are minimal
‘Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
‘Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police




culture freedom politics

It’s all too much… (NSA, Syria, etc.)

The idea was that once I had my shiny new blog(s) I would commence blogging again. Aside from a few silly posts I haven’t done much really. iPhone, stereo, Doctor Who, not much of substance. It’s not as though there isn’t anything to talk about but rather that there’s too much. There are so many big things going on that make me crazy I’m overwhelmed. In addition to the ongoing drone strikes there is now:

1) The NSA scandal that won’t stop depressing me. First we found out that they are scooping up phone records of everyone, then we learn that they are collecting seemingly every interaction on the internet, we are just starting to feel the international response to revelations that the NSA spied on foreign leaders and even the UN and EU, and now we have learned that the NSA has been active in making sure it has backdoors to get around most encryption used on the internet. That last bit is worrying since if the NSA has a backdoor, others could use it as well if it is found. The idea that the NSA has weakened our protection online in order to protect us against the boogyman is galling to say the least. More and more I’m coming around to thinking that Snowden may have done the right thing…

2) Turns out the DEA is also collecting vast swathes of information about people in general. There was also talk of the DEA getting info from the NSA and then reverse engineering investigations to hide their info source. 

3) The whole Syria thing. Who exactly would we be helping if we bombed Syria? How many civilians would be killed if we bombed them? How do you determine who is a civilian in a war like that anyway? Is the desire to oust Assad really a desire to help Qatar and Saudi build a pipeline and stick it to the Russians? Three months ago I would have said that is crazy but what little trust I had in the machinations of the feds has all but evaporated. Plus, now Kerry says that “Arab” nations are offering to pay for an invasion of Syria? Ugh…

Add to that the ongoing drone strikes, various blog and publication attacks of “libertarians”, and, oh yeah, my health and I just can’t keep up with what to be outraged over.

If I force myself, I can see a bit of a glimmer of hope. There does seem to be widespread opposition to bombing Syria among the US populace. We’ll see if that’s enough to sway the representatives. And if it is enough, we’ll see if that’s enough to reign in Obama. It’s nice to see some anti-war sentiment coming back finally. I’m also sensing a building backlash over what the NSA has been up to, at least online. I do wonder how much the regular guy cares or knows about it but things do seem to be piecing up steam.

Anyway, if I can work up the energy I’ll blog in more depth on these things, but man… where do I start?


Citizens United paranoia

Just saw that the Democrats have put overturning the Citizens United ruling, by constitutional amendment if necessary, into their party plank. I’m sure that’s going to rouse a lot of support among the Democrat rank and file. I hope that enthusiasm is due to not thinking things through carefully instead of knowing and supporting the results of that position. 

It’s important to remember what the Citizens United group did and why it got them in trouble. That organization made a video that was critical of Hillary Clinton and released it fairly close to an election. It wasn’t an ad, it was a 90 minute “documentary” available on video on demand cable channels. I’m sure that it was as unbiased as any Michael Moore documentary (eye roll) but the veracity of the critique isn’t what got them in trouble, it was the timing. The laws at the time had an exclusion zone around elections when it came to political speech by groups.

So keep that in mind, a group was stopped from distributing a film because it was critical of a politician near an election. Doesn’t that strike you as… unAmerican? I mean, we usually associate illegal critiques of politicians with places like China, the middle east, Mymmar, etc. Speaking out against politicians is pretty much what the 1st amendment is about.

“But corporations aren’t people!” I still don’t know what that phrase is trying to argue. Corporations are made up of people and in the case of advocacy groups, they are made up of people that want to share a viewpoint. Is there really a good reason they shouldn’t be heard? Is there a good way for ideas to get out into the mainstream press without people forming into groups? Should we only hear messages from the political parties? Should single issue groups really be marginalized?

But let’s say you’re OK with that. The important thing is that we keep corporations from spending money on political advocacy. I’m going to skip the “why” question and ask if that applies to all corporations. If a constitutional amendment passes, how do we distinguish the New York Times corporation from any other? What would stop a group like Citizens United from claiming to be “the press?” Would these rules apply to the DNC and RNC? The other question is do we try to stop corporations from political advocacy in general or just from advocating candidates? Is there a difference? Groups (and they are mostly corporations) do political advocacy all the time. Is there a practical difference between saying “Vote for a candidate that supports unions” vs. “The AFLCIO endorses Obama because he supports unions”? At what point would we tell groups like the ACLU, NAACP, Teamsters, NEA, that they can’t advocate for candidates? Do we really want that? The bottom line is that any law or amendment that tries to address these questions will most likely be too broad and limit too much speech. If it isn’t it will be too easily circumvented.

The big thing to remember is that whenever a right is infringed upon, it is always the smaller, more vulnerable group that is at the most risk. Laws that restrict political speech will always disproportionally affect minority opinions, opinions from more vulnerable populations. Yes, powerful groups will use it for their own agendas, but we have to keep open the possibility for all groups to have their say. If you worry about the powerful swamping the little guy with their messages, think about how much worse it would be if the little guy isn’t allowed to speak at all. If you want groups like the ACLU, NAACP, or any other advocacy groups to have a voice in elections, you should be happy with the Citizens United decision.

culture free market freedom politics

Healthcare reform

My Facebook page is being filled up with impassioned pleas to save healthcare reform. They are of course talking about the arguments in the Supreme Court over the “Affordable Healthcare Act.” I’m not a big fan of the legislation, no surprise there. Funnily enough, I don’t need to know the minutia of the 1000+ page law to draw my conclusion either. The main sticking point to me, and I think the reason it is being argued at the Supreme Court, is the individual mandate. The law says that everyone has to purchase health insurance, in fact it relays on this in order to realize its cost savings that are supposed to come from it.

Let’s forget for a moment that this law is not about healthcare, but health insurance, and let’s also forget for a moment that popular opinion shouldn’t sway the Supreme Court. I am also going to, for the sake of argument, allow that the law actually would reduce health insurance prices and it would actually work out best for everyone. I don’t believe that for a second mind you, but I don’t want to dwell on that here.

Have you wondered why there is so much chatter about this supreme court case? I’m not talking about the political scorekeeping involved, I’m talking about the commerce clause.


[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;


That little clause has been twisted to the point where it is unrecognizable. It’s meaning seems rather straightforward, but congress, with the Supreme Court’s blessing, has used it in all manner of strange ways. In Ashcroft vs. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government could outlaw marijuana because of the commerce clause even though in this case the defendant never sold it at all, let alone between states. It was ruled that the defendant could have sold it, therefore the federal government had jurisdiction over it. Judge Clarence Thomas said this in his dissenting opinion:


“If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to “appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.”


So who could blame congress when it passed a law saying that it could force every American to do something? When pressed on what gives them that power, they respond that the commerce clause gives it to them.

This really is the drug war’s chickens coming home to roost. Once the Supreme Court ruled that congress can essentially legislate anything at all because of the commerce clause, all bets were off. If this law gets struck down, they will have established that the Federal Government cannot force you to buy something. That’s hardly a shocking idea and it shows just how nuts the law is as determined by the Supreme Court.

There was a time when lawmakers assumed that prohibiting a substance was unconstitutional. Banning alcohol was a popular cause at one point, but they knew they couldn’t pass laws banning it until they amended the constitution. How quaint. It is now assumed that the federal government can legislate any damn thing it wants to. This law getting struck down will carve out a very narrow limitation on the feds, one that I’m really terrified that we have to spell out so clearly.

Much has been made about the hypothetical broccoli law. The thought experiment goes like this, broccoli is good for you, so can the federal government force people to buy it if not eat it? It’s a silly thing, no one really thinks that, but there are legions of people that think in the abstract that the government should legislate “good” things. You, know, for our own good.

this goes right back to my “Everything is fine as long as the right people are in power” model of politics. Why does no one think about the damage that will ensue as soon as the “wrong” people are in charge? Limiting government power is to protect us from whatever politician you think is evil incarnate. Dick Cheney or Nancy Polesi, it doesn’t matter. No one should be afraid of the changing of the political winds.

This is the real reason why this case is so important. If we can get some sort of semblance of sanity with regards to the commerce clause, it will be a victory. With any luck, it will also force the court to reconsider previous contortions over the clause as well. Remember, the law being “good for us” is not a sufficient reason for the government to employ its force.

economics freedom

Child Labor

I cringe whenever I read about child labor laws. Western, prosperous countries have a real aversion to the thought of child laborers and anew quick to denounce and to combat it. Every time another concession is reached to limit child labor the success is trumpeted and progress is seen to have been made. Funnily enough, I have never seen any of those organizations track the outcomes of the children themselves to see if they are being helped.

Like everything else in life, the issue of child labor is about options. I can guarantee that whenever you find child laborers, you will find crushing poverty as well. I believe the best way to think about child labor is to imagine what they will do if they are not allowed to work legally. Clearly, if they needed to work before, the passing of a law will not change that circumstance. We have an analog of what happens right here in this country with illegal aliens. When you are not permitted to work legally, you are driven underground. You might find regular work, but at a much lower rate of pay. The ones that aren’t lucky enough to find work as gardeners, carpenters, cooks, etc. or aren’t willing to accept the low wages end up in the black markets. Drugs, prostitution, and other types of illegal activities are careers open to people that can’t find legal jobs.

I don’t have any evidence, but there are plenty of anecdotal accounts of sheet children being forced out of jobs by the new laws and into much less savory occupations. The stories from Yemen alone are heartbreaking, I can’t imagine what its like in more urban places like SE Asia.

I wish that people that pursue these laws would spend as much time worrying about what the kids will do once they lose their job. I also wish that people in the US and Europe would understand that they don’t really have a good idea of what real poverty is like and what choices people living in it face. Child labor is a terrible thing, no doubt, but if we’re going to take that away from kids, we need to provide them with something other than the thing they are avoiding by working…

freedom politics

An honest defense for voting for Obama

Glenn Greenwald hits one out of the park when describing the relative shortcomings of the two more “liberal” candidates in this year’s presidential running, he gives what he calls an honest, candid, and rational way for a democrat to defend voting for Obama.

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.


He was comparing Obama’s policies to Ron Paul’s. Greenwald does a good job of pointing out why people might want to vote for either one, but it is important to look at what “liberals” should value more highly. Not enough liberals admit to Obama’s shortcomings, and they are numerous from a liberal’s point of view. In the same vein, liberals seem to have a knee jerk reaction to Ron Paul without giving enough credence to his strong points. The article is illuminating in that it exposes the desire to instantly discredit “the competition” for any negative parts of their plank. Of course doing that requires you to overlook the very real problems of your own candidate. No politician is free from taint, free from problems. What needs to be done is to prioritize what is important to you and then decide if a president can wield much power over those things.

I’ve written at length about how disappointed I am with Obama’s foreign policy, war mongering, executive power grabs, solidifying of Bush doctrine, bailouts, and erosion of civil liberties. Ron Paul is directly opposed to all of those things, and has been for 40 years. Yes, some of Paul’s theories make my skin crawl, I don’t like his stance on immigration, and I’m not sure I agree with his abortion policy objectives, but I’ll take the trade off. I’d like to think that all of the people that hated Bush Jr. would also like Paul more than Obama simply because Obama is a lot closer to Bush in all the worst ways.

I’ve met plenty of people that don’t like Obama, but have shrugged their shoulders and said, “What choice do I have? Perry? Gingrich?” It may still come to that, but there is a chance that we might have a very real alternative this next time around. Say what you want about Paul, but he is very different than Obama, and I think his positives outweigh the negatives. Suffice it to say that he really differs from the rank and file of the republicans too, so he still may not get the nomination. If he does win the nomination, I will have no choice but to vote for him because I hate war. War on other countries and war on our own citizens (both through military actions and the war on drugs). If he doesn’t get the nomination, who will agitate against war? Certainly not any of the other republicans, and Obama can’t exactly repudiate all of his foreign policy. Read the article and watch the video clips, Ron Paul is the only one saying what needs to be said.


Progressives and the Ron Paul Fallacies


freedom politics

Ron Paul and the Newsletters

Newsletters published under Ron Paul’s name have started to be talked about again now that he’s a front runner in Iowa. These came up last election too. He disavowed them then and now. They are still a problem for him though. The newsletters are pretty bad, they talk about race wars, gay bashing, and anti-semitism. Paul has claimed that he wasn’t involved in writing them and wasn’t aware of what was being published. That’s tough to believe…

On the other hand, the newsletters really don’t sound like him. Paul has been very consistent over the years in preaching about liberty and freedom. That includes gay rights and the ignoring of color. How many other politicians point out the racist motivations for drug laws? Surely a racist wouldn’t explain how drug laws unfairly target minorities, let alone point out that it was the minority use of those drugs that led to the formation of those laws?

Paul has been consistent enough with his proclamations and votes that I don’t think that anyone really thinks he is a racist. I don’t understand the tactic some of the really far left commentors have used, essentially claiming that because there are racists and homophobes supporting Ron Paul that he shouldn’t be supported. Part of libertarianism is the tolerance of ideas, including ones you don’t like. I certainly don’t see why Paul shouldn’t take money from anyone that wants to give to him. After all, if you can take money from racists and use it to promote liberty for all, that’s got to be a good thing.

I think the best critique of this situation is that it shows a real problem with Paul’s decision making process and attention to detail. Certainly it calls into question just how politically un-savvy he is. Sure, there is an impetus to allow anyone to help you out, and in libertarian political circles I’m sure it’s impolitic to critique belief systems. Still, making a stand against racists shouldn’t be too hard to do and him not doing it might cost him in the long term. Shame, really, as his nomination would really show the political process actually representing people’s frustration over the status quo. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be disappointed, again…

freedom Yemen

Say it ain’t so

US doubt intelligence that led to Yemen strike. That’s the name of an article in the Wall Street Journal that describes what sounds like a Yemeni official fingering a political rival as Al Queda so the US could kill him. I’ve been beating this drum for a long time. The Yemeni government has long used the bogeyman of Queda to eliminate rivals. It was commonly understood over there that when the Yemeni government claimed to have killed Queda operatives, it was probably killing political rivals. When there was tribal violence, it was usually ascribed to Queda.

All forms of intelligence in Yemen are untrustworthy. There are too many local power struggles and not enough transparency to accurately understand what motivates most of the violence over there. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that US military force is used as a convenient way of solving local disagreements. If we give them the power to direct force, it will be used in ways that best suit them.

I’m still not convinced that Queda in Yemen poses any threat to the US. They were the picture of incompetence in Yemen, and their attempts outside of the US have been laughable. Even if they are a threat, Yemeni sources are about the least trustworthy you can find. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we get clear intelligence before we kill someone. Is that really too weird a suggestion?


Forgive me if I don’t cry

I would rather live anywhere than North Korea. Somalia, Cuba, even Haiti are more appealing. The DPRK is the last holdout of old school “socialist” autocracies. Yes, both Cuba and Venezuela are still claiming to be socialist, but neither reach the depths of North Korea, the Soviet Union, Pol Pot’s regime, or even East Germany. I put socialism in quotes because of course socialism is just a ruse used by the leaders to grasp power and stay there. Those sorts of places have the worst inequality of anyplace. I think Hugo Chavez had the same idea, but he isn’t able to muster the same kind of oppression. Among all of socialism’s flaws, the attraction of power hungry men and their ability to wield it ruthlessly is probably at the top of the list.

Well, the world has one fewer thank God. We can only hope that this destabilizes the existing power structure. It’s amazing to think that the Dear Leader managed to put North Korea in place where a civil war would be about the best case scenario and the status quo the worst. My heart goes out to all of the people of North Korea, you’ve suffered for too long.


Kim Jong-Un Privately Doubting He’s Crazy Enough to Run North Korea from the Onion

Comparing North and South Korea at night

Remembering Kim Jong-Il’s Victims by Reason magazine

American Blogger’s Vacation in North Korea