When Is A Child Not A Child?

We make a distinction in this country between children and adults. We do this in the belief that it takes a certain level of maturity to be able to make reasoned decisions, and before that maturity is reached a person is less responsible for their actions–that is the province of a responsible adult, typically a parent.

The principle is codified: rights come with responsibilities, responsibilities confer rights. It is this principle that is the basis for withholding some rights for society’s younger members when we do not hold them responsible. It is a matter of equity and a recognition of human development.

In our society, we set that legal milestone based on age, as basing it on “maturity” would be virtually impossible to implement.

But then we sometimes choose to prosecute underage defendants in criminal cases as adults. The presumption is that the crime was so abhorrent, or the attitude of the defendant so callous, that they must face the penalties that an adult would face.

Let me reiterate the principle in a different syntax: if you do not have the right, you cannot be held responsible. Conversely, if you have the responsibility you must have the right.

But, while we hold these youthful defendants to adult responsibilities, we do not then give them the rights of adults.

While we can certianly have spirited debates about what age the young become adults, and assume the responsibilities of adulthood along with the corresponding rights, is there really any basis for holding an individual responsible as an adult without granting them the rights that go with that level of responsibility?

What do you think?

An Open Letter to President Obama and the Democratic National Committee

(published on Blue Oregon 8/13/09 – www.blueoregon.com)

August 5, 2009

Mr. President (and Committee Members),

I recently received a mailing from you. You ask me to make a contribution “to help build grassroots support for action on the economy, health care, energy and education.” You ask if “you can count on me.”

Can you count on me? Yes, you can. You can count on me to hold you to your campaign promises and the party platform.

Will I make a contribution? Yes, I will. Here is my contribution:

It is time to stop trying to work with an opposition who is demonstrably unwilling to compromise, or even to have a conversation about the most important challenges of our time.

It is time to stand up and clearly state what needs to be done, how you are going to lead the country in doing those things, and who is helping and who is hindering.

We need to hear specific solutions, not vague generalities. We need you to voice those solutions clearly, and to invite the people and the legislators of this country to get behind you in achieving them. We need the Congress to stop fooling around and pass legislation that will implement serious change, and we need it now.

We know the problems.

The Economy
Our economy is in tatters, largely because of unregulated speculation by a relatively few individuals and corporations, supported by years of de-regulation by the federal government. In a field where one of the basic principles is “the reward reflects the risk”, those who invested in the riskiest instruments were happy to receive the rewards when times were good, and were relieved of the losses when unlimited speculation resulted in the inevitable failures. Congress eliminated the risk at taxpayers’ expense. This is because most of our legislators and holders of high office have been sold to the highest bidder. It is time now for you to exhibit leadership in bringing to the forefront of public discussion the need for massive campaign reform, and the clear delineation of corporations as business entities, not people, with the rights and obligations of business, not the rights (without the obligations) of people, as is the case now. We need to become a nation of producers, not importers. We need meaningful, productive jobs. We need to narrow the growing gap between the rich and poor in this country. We need to eliminate the tax cuts for the wealthy, reestablish a truly progressive income tax system and re-institute an effective estate tax. We need to break up monopolies and business “too big to fail.” We need to regain control of our sovereignty by withdrawing from GATT, WTO and other international treaties and agreements that subjugate the will of the people to that of international corporations.

Health Care

Alone in the world of “developed” nations, we have millions of our people who cannot access health care, and the number is growing rapidly. We know that health insurance is NOT health care. We know that single-payer health care systems work, and they work well. It is long past time that we institute single-payer health care in the United States. This would establish an indisputable legacy of the Democratic Party as the party of the people. Instead we get a conversation that does not even include single-payer. You started with a compromise, perhaps to be more inclusive, particularly of the Republicans. What you got was wholesale rejection by Republicans, and a number of Democrats backpedaling as fast as they can. Present a real single-payer plan, fight for it, and let those in Congress who will not support it, do so publicly. Then see what the mid-term elections bring us. How would you like to run for re-election as “the candidate who voted to deny you health care?”

There is no clear and simple solution to our energy problems, nor the energy problems of the rest of the world, but we do know some basic facts: We are fast approaching the end of cheap and easy to use energy, and there are no reasonable alternatives. Calculating life cycle energy flows, nuclear energy is an energy sink, not an energy source. Coal is so environmentally destructive that it should be eliminated as a fuel source as soon as possible. Using any combination of source materials and processes, biofuels are totally inadequate in volume to replace our present energy use. Any possible sustainable energy use will be significantly lower than our current consumption. The only successful strategies will be based on significantly lower aggregate energy use. This means, at the very least, re-localizing economies and vastly reducing transportation.

An educated public is essential to our democracy as well as to our economy. Full, free public education through college is the backbone of a productive and engaged populace.

You Asked, We Gave
The Democrats have, for years, asked for support “to regain a majority” in both houses of Congress and to take back the White House.

Well, now you have it all.

But the people of this country are seeing more of the same: more money to the wealthy, more control to the corporations, more caving in to radical conservatives, and the continuation of reprehensible policies of previous administrations that we were promised would end.

Now, It Is Your Turn
So far, Mr. President, you have continued to make great speeches, but you have not shown any leadership. If you want my help, or even my vote, both you and the Congress need to stand up for the principles and programs you promised. I speak only for myself, but I hear a multitude of others saying much the same things. And we all vote. I think we have seen an end to mass apathy among voters. The last election shows how many people can be connected with very little funding, without support from international corporations, and we have seen the results at the voting booths when we are.

Mr. President, now is the time for you and the Democratic leadership to lead. Make the changes needed, or at least fight for them. Stop trying to include those who have no wish to be included. Stop trying to compromise with those who will not compromise. Make the changes we need, and make them now. And do it very publicly. Let us see who is helping and who is not. Let us know what our representatives are actually doing, not just what they are saying.

And while you are at it, hold those in past administrations (and Members of Congress) accountable for their past actions at least to the same standards the average citizen would be. There should be indictments and trials going on.

Otherwise we will see another single-term President, a surge of ineffective third parties, another Republican controlled Congress, and even more devastation of our economy, our environment, and our democracy.

Stand up to big money! Stand up to corporate greed! Stand up for the principles the party once stood for! And do it now!

Yes, we can!

Computer Security

Recently, a Portland, Oregon, man had his computer repaired at a local factory-authorized dealer.

The first time he used the computer after he had it back he noticed that the screen looked different. A little exploration revealed that the information on his hard drive had been completely replaced with information from someone else’s computer. The information belonged to a professional, and contained confidential records about clients.

When asked, the dealer explained that the wrong data had been restored to the customer’s computer after the repair was done. Human error.

When asked why this kind of error had happened, and not been detected before the computer was released to the customer, no explanation was offered. When the manufacturer, who presumably has standards for it’s authorized dealers, was asked about this incident, they had no comment.

These are the folks who handle all our personal data. They provide the hardware and software that allows us to create records, and to transmit them to others, assuring us of the confidentiality of the data.

Gives you a warm feeling of security, doesn’t it?

This links to the practices of various companies that require you to give them a broad array of personal information before they will do business with you. They assure you that the information will be protected, and not released to anyone “not authorized” to have it.

In most cases they cannot tell you why they need it other than “it’s our policy.” On the rare occasions that they do supply a reason it is usually vague (e.g. “for continuing support”) or false (they do not need your social security number to run a credit check.)

They can’t usually tell you who is “authorized”, nor how they will protect the information, and they won’t agree to compensate you for any time or expenses needed to clean up the damage done by their failure to adequately protect the information.

Here comes that warm feeling of security again.

My usual response it to refuse to do business with these companies.

It works for me. If it works for enough of us, the companies will change their practices, or go out of business.

What do you think?

Child Neglect – It’s a Matter of Religion

Two Oregon events have recently come to my attention, and it set me thinking.

The first was the trial of two parents for the death of their child. They were charged with manslaughter when their child died, because, as members of a religious sect that believes in prayer, not Western medicine, as the way to restore health, they did not seek medical help for their child when they knew the child was ill.

I was not at the trial, and I do not know the facts presented to the jury. I do know that the jury found them not guilty of manslaughter, although they did find the father guilty of criminal mistreatment. As I understand it, the parents were not aware of the seriousness of the illness, and that was a factor in their acquittal.

But the point here is that they were prosecuted. They were prosecuted because law enforcement officials felt they had violated the law in not taking their child to the hospital because of their religious beliefs.

Keep in mind that there is no law that says that if your child is ill you must take your child to the hospital. There are numerous laws about being responsible for the welfare of your children.

Yesterday, another child was lost. A 5-year-old child was playing in a river, parents nearby. It appears that the child fell in “knee deep” water and was pulled into the current. The child drowned. At some point the parents noticed that their child was missing. An aunt recovered the child. Medical help arrived, but was unable to save the child. It is estimated that the child was underwater for 5 or 10 minutes. The child was not wearing a flotation device.

What are the chances that these parents will be charged with manslaughter?

After all, they allowed a 5-year-old child into open water without a flotation device, a practice that has led to a number of drownings in this area in just the last few weeks. Media stories regularly warn people of the danger of entering the water without a flotation device. In fact, there are laws about flotation devices for children in boats, although not, to my knowledge, for wading in rivers.

And they lost track of the child for at least 5 minutes, and perhaps 10, knowing the child was in the water.

In the first case, the child died when the parents did not call on medical help. This was considered so neglectful of the child’s welfare that they were tried for manslaughter. Let’s ignore for a moment the unstated assumption that if they had taken the child to the hospital the child would have recovered, an outcome that by no means is assured – children (and adults) die every day in hospitals, often from diseases they contracted in the hospital. In this case law enforcement officials chose to charge the parents with manslaughter. After all, seeking medical care for children who are ill is the common practice in this country – the norm.

In the second case, the child died when the parents allowed a 5-year old to play, unsupervised and unwatched, in a river, without a flotation device. There has been no call to see the parents charged with manslaughter. After all, letting children play unsupervised, and without floatation devices, is the common practice in this country – the norm.

It appears that the first child’s death is criminal. The second child’s death is just a terrible accident.

Kind of like when drunk drivers kill people.

What do you think?