Thursday, December 12, 2019

On legislative vs extralegislative conditions

A friend of mine shared a link to a story titled, “Five Times Obama Put Conditions on Foreign Aid and Democrats Didn’t Care.”

I normally just scroll past such headlines but this time I made an exception because it just so happened to be a week during which Articles of Impeachment were presented against the President of the United States, principally for an attempt to place extralegislative conditions on military aid to Ukraine.

The story suggested that Barack Obama did the same thing as his successor on multiple occasions and got away with it. I was genuinely intrigued by this supposition and clicked on the link to learn more.

I have some experience doing online research for my own writing and I put a sincere—and I think, thorough—effort into making sure that the information that I present is accurate before expressing an opinion about it.

I subscribe to the adage by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” That being said, I also try to verify claims made in essays, Op-Eds, political commentaries, and blog posts written by others, usually starting with the references provided by the authors themselves—which can lead down some interesting online rabbit holes, filled with circular reasoning, biased assumptions, and shark-jumping inferences. Following the sources referenced in this particular story certainly did not disappoint in that respect. While there were plenty of direct links to legitimate news articles, there were also several links to stories on other blogs with similar political leanings. One of which contained 29 links as sources for some very bizarre claims, most of which were on the same web site. Only 6 of those links directed the reader to external sources.
How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?
(Image by the author)

It’s not unheard of for journalists to reference their own first-hand notes as their source for information when reporting, but when it comes to writing editorials and opinion pieces, there is still a need to effectively source any claims one might be making. The self-referencing that goes on with a lot of political blogging is tantamount to saying, “The crazy thing that I just wrote must be true because one of my colleagues said it in a different story on this same web site.” I guess that puts the burden of proof on the colleague to source the crazy. References that only take a reader to a different story from the same source are immediately suspect. Oftentimes, a simple keyword search is a much more effective and quicker way to determine the veracity or falsity of statements that might give one pause.

The “five times” referred to in the story my friend shared dealt specifically with foreign aid appropriated for five different countries: Colombia, Nigeria, Uganda, Israel, and Ukraine.

The US has given a lot of financial support to a lot of countries over the years for humanitarian purposes, to promote economic development and, of course, to shore up foreign militaries—usually presenting lucrative opportunities for American defense contractors.

Regardless of the reasons behind financially aiding other countries, foreign aid has always been provided with “conditions.” However, it should be noted that said conditions are “congressionally mandated”—i.e. written into the aid legislation by Congress, not the President—and aid to Columbia, Nigeria, Israel, and Ukraine is no exception. Provisos related to addressing corruption, counter-terrorism, and respecting human rights are practically boilerplate language in aid legislation.

In the case of Uganda, the Obama administration acknowledged the Executive branch’s ability to recommend conditions tied to US aid in the budget it’s constitutionally required to present to Congress every year. Since Congress has the ultimate authority on any conditions attached to the money they appropriate, it’s up to them to decide whether or not to include the President’s recommendations—and they’re under no obligation to accept any of it. When the Obama Administration diverted congressionally appropriated aid to Uganda, it did so based on the conditional language written by Congress when they approved the aid—in that case, based on Human Rights clauses.

Mick Mulvaney wasn’t completely wrong when he said, “We do that all the time” regarding “…political influence in foreign policy.” What he doesn’t seem to understand—and a lot of other people, apparently—is that regardless of what might be discussed between a President and their foreign counterparts requesting aid, any conditions tied to such assistance have to be approved by Congress.

Sitting Presidents have highlighted such conditions for decades as a matter of standard diplomatic practice but they cannot tack on additional conditions after the legislation has been passed and signed into law—unless Congress specifically grants them that authority.


I shared this post with the friend that I mentioned in it in a social media comment. A third party replied to it in an attempt to engage me in a debate (See attached image).

I found his observation that I “sound like a bot” to actually be kind of flattering. I tend to employ a writing style that's been referred to as “terse”—and I happily own it—because the language that I use is direct and to the point.

However, in this case, I think what the party finds to be “bot”-like is the fact that I have obviously chosen my words carefully, punctuated them appropriately, proof-read them, and put some thought into how they were formatted.


Monday, January 28, 2019

On remembering the Challenger

I know I’m not the only person reflecting on the events that took place 33 Years ago today but I hope that my contribution resonates in a way that’s unique when compared to what’s been written, being written and even will be written on this topic.

We weren’t watching the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger because our 6th grade class was preparing to leave on a field trip. Then we heard the school principal, Mrs. Macy, announce over the PA system that the space shuttle had exploded and that one of the crew members was a school teacher. I didn’t know at the time that my future high school freshman science teacher, Mr. Hansen, applied to the Teacher in Space Project. I can’t imagine what thoughts and feelings he experienced as he watched the launch that day—I don’t know for certain that he did watch it but I think it’s a reasonable assumption.

Moments after Mrs. Macy made that shocking announcement, I remember this kid—Donny something-or-other—cracking a tasteless joke about wishing that the teacher was the one we had from the previous school year. Even outside of the tragedy we were just learning about, I always remembered Donny as being a little prick.

The events of that morning made an otherwise exciting school outing—as exciting as a visit to a public library could be in 1986, I guess—into a rather somber one. Making it even more awkward was the fact that it was also our teacher’s birthday—Mr. Cano turned 30 that day—and there were cupcakes for everyone to celebrate.

So, January 28 stands out to me every year. I always remember that it’s the anniversary of the Challenger disaster and the loss of Christa McAuliffe and six NASA astronauts, and I always remember that it’s Mr. Cano’s birthday.

I don’t like to think that if it wasn’t for the Challenger explosion, I probably wouldn’t remember my teacher’s birthday but it is what it is.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

On animal cruelty (Trigger Warning: graphic descriptions)

In January of 2019, Robert Crosland—a junior high school science teacher in Preston, Idaho—was found not guilty of animal cruelty for feeding a live puppy to a snapping turtle that he kept in a classroom aquarium in front of four students.

As one who has lived with animals their whole life from typical house pets to livestock, I was sickened to learn about Crosland and his actions—which he doesn't deny—but what I found more upsetting is that he got away with it.

I believe in the rule of law and the presumption of innocence but I’m astonished that any jury would not judge what Crosland did as animal cruelty considering the testimonies that were presented.

Crosland’s justification for putting a live puppy into an aquarium with a snapping turtle was that the puppy was sick and likely to die. It would appear that he thought he only had two choices:

  • 1. Let the sick puppy die of its illness (he had no intention of caring for the animal if no one was willing to take it off his hands) or…
  • 2. Allow his turtle to eat it—alive!

Apparently, Crosland had not considered euthanizing the sick puppy.

"Goodbye Pandora"
(CC BY 2.0) brownpau
To anyone with the audacity to make a “circle of life” argument to support the claim that feeding a sick animal to a healthy one is no different than euthanizing it, I would invite them to learn the definition of the verb “to euthanize”:
“…put (a living being, especially a dog or cat) to death humanely.” (Emphasis added)
“…to put to death, generally in order to avoid pain.” (Emphasis added)
“…to kill (a person or animal) painlessly, esp to relieve suffering from an incurable illness.”
(Emphasis added)
To quote a news report about the case:
Prosecutor David Morris said the incident occurred in Crosland’s classroom at Preston Junior High School, but after normal school hours with four students present. 
One of those students… said he played with and touched the puppy before Crosland first tried feeding it to a snake in his classroom… When the snake paid no attention to the puppy in its tank, the teen said Crosland moved the puppy to the snapping turtle’s tank… 
…Crosland told [a student] and his friends he would feed the puppy to the snapping turtle, and asked if they wanted to watch… The teen said Crosland then put the puppy in the snapping turtle tank. the puppy swam around before it was dragged to the bottom of the tank by the snapping turtle, the teen testified. “And then the puppy passed out and became unconscious,” the teen continued… 
[Crosland’s son stated that] his father made a choice to let another animal gain from the death of the puppy rather than let the dog die from illness… [and is quoted as saying] “If you can lose a life to help another, then why not?”(emphasis added)
I’ll tell you why not in two words: needless suffering.

Crosland claimed that the puppy was sick, but it was still able to swim in the tank before being “dragged to the bottom.”

Cue the heartless apologists who’ll say, “Yeah, well… the puppy didn’t suffer long.” It’s an easy thing to say for someone who is capable of reflection and able to endure suffering because they can at least look forward to some relief in the future. Dogs are not capable of that!

Here’s something that a lot of people don’t know about dogs:

Dogs live in the moment. They live their entire lives in the present tense without the ability to think about past events or to contemplate any kind of future. The only thing that any dog is aware of is the moment that it’s living in and the feelings that it’s experiencing in that moment.

When an ignorant dog owner comes home to find that their dog has gotten into the kitchen trash and made a mess, the first thing they do is get angry and start scolding the dog. They think that their dog feels guilty for what it did because they misinterpret their dog’s behavior when it’s being scolded.

Dogs have no grasp of concepts like guilt. The dog may have gotten into the trash an hour ago but because no one was there to correct its behavior when it happened, it has no idea that what it did was wrong or displeasing to its owner. When the owner comes back home, the dog is happy to see them until the owner starts scolding them.

What the owner interprets to be guilt in the eyes of their pet is actually fear.

In that moment, all the dog knows is that its owner—the alpha of the only pack that its little wolf-brain knows—is being aggressive. It has no idea why. The only thing that it can think to do is be submissive because it’s simply afraid.

Anyone who understands this knows that when that sick puppy was being held in the hands of Robert Crosland, all it knew was that it felt sick.

When that puppy was put into a tank of water, all it knew was that it had nothing to support its sickly frame and instinctively started to swim so it could keep breathing.

When the snapping turtle bit into the puppy’s body, all that puppy knew was that it was in pain.

When it was dragged to the bottom of the tank, all the puppy knew was the pain, that it couldn’t breathe and fear. It had no concept of an end to its suffering, all it knew was that it was suffering and it died in pain and fear.

It wasn’t able to reflect on its short life, nor more than it was able to look forward to death and an end to its agony.

One would think that a person who is charged with teaching science to children would have at least some rudimentary understanding of this, if not the innate sense of empathy that most people have for other living creatures.

If this individual was sincere in his desire to end the suffering of a sickly puppy while also wanting to feed his turtle, the humane thing to do would have been to euthanize the former before feeding it to the latter.

I’m not talking about taking the puppy to a vet to be put to sleep with drugs, as that would have rendered it unfit for his turtle to consume. Animals that are raised for human consumption are slaughtered—the simplest definition being, “… to kill (animals) for food.” This is done as humanely and painlessly as possible.

To quote Temple Grandin on the subject:
“Most people don't realize that the slaughter plant is much gentler than nature. Animals in the wild die from starvation, predators, or exposure. If I had a choice, I would rather go through a slaughter system than have my guts ripped out by coyotes or lions while I was still conscious…”
Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism (1995)
One might also think that it would not be much of a challenge—especially in a conservative state like Idaho—to procure a low-caliber firearm to quickly and painlessly euthanize a sick animal while still being able to feed it to another.

These considerations appear to have been beyond the comprehension not only of Robert Crosland but also the jury that let him get away with his actions. I shudder at the thought of not only the legal precedent this might set but of the example it has set for the children that Crosland teaches.

By the way, snapping turtles are considered an invasive species in Idaho and a permit is required to own one. Crosland did not have such a permit which resulted in his turtle being confiscated by the Department of Agriculture and euthanized—not used as live food for a larger animal to “gain” from its death.