Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's So Wrong About Enforcing Citizenship Laws?

A friend, who I consider of at least average intelligence, and reasonably reasonable, just innocently put out the statement, "The folks opposing the efforts of Arizona to enforce citizenship laws have yet to convince me why it's a bad thing."

Well, of course, I gasped in shock. How could any right thinking person not recognize this obvious evil? But then, I tend to get outraged easily and these are easily outraging times. So I've learned to maintain my calm and think about a reasonable answer that might explain "why it's a bad thing."

Simply, it puts the concept of justice as we've practiced it in the USA for over 200 years on its head. We have a justice system in which we value the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and we have a dedication to freedom that includes freedom of movement and travel without harassment from authorities. Each of those is reversed by the Arizona law.

What has been voted on by the legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature is a law that requires all law enforcement figures to presume that anybody who may not have been born here is here illegally, without any proof or reasonable suspicion that any crime has taken place. All immigrants (and anybody who might look or sound like an immigrant) would essentially be required to carry their papers proving they're here legally with them at all times and subject to this question on a continuous basis for simply going about their daily business.

People who came to this country legally - and many who were born here but "look wrong" - will be subject to a burden that no other citizen or legal immigrant is subject to. And, of course, only a complete fool would deny that this is aimed solely at those of Latin decent. No British tourist or immigrant is likely to be hassled under this law. But Latinos who've lived their entire lives in Arizona will be.

This law has very little to do with "enforcing citizenship laws" and quite a lot to do with holding out one group of people and making them subject to additional official harassment. That is racism, pure and simple.

And, of course, there's the question of proper authority. Border patrol is the jurisdiction of federal authorities, not state or local police. This law creates an unnecessary burden on the police as well, who will be charged with carrying out this racist policy.

Of course, where there is evidence of a crime, the proper authority must investigate. And if, in the course of investigation of a local crime, police determine that a suspect may be in the country illegally, they should turn that fact over to the federal authority to prosecute. But the presumption of a crime is un-Constitutional and un-American.

When I was young, and the Soviet Union was still our greatest threat, one of things we were told that made our country so much better, was that we had no need for "Internal Passports." That in the USSR, people had to carry papers to travel from town to town, whereas we were free to move about within our borders. When I think of the effect of this law on the Latino population of Arizona, I am reminded of this and again, I say, anything that makes us resemble the old Soviet Union is most likely un-American.

Requirements for internal passports, the presumption of guilt before evidence of a crime, and a policy that singles out one group for official harassment all add up to why I think "it's a bad thing," a dangerous thing, and one more major blow to democracy and freedom and all that I love about America.

I don't know if that will convince my friend, but I certainly know where I stand. And I won't be standing in Arizona anytime soon if this becomes law.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Keep Your Laws Off My Cappuccino Stout!

Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San Jose) is normally somebody I really like. He's a great, honest guy, who actually cares about the community. Both now, in the state legislature, and earlier, on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, he's been a friend and advocate of the nonprofit community in which I work. But, Jim, if you're reading this, now you've pissed me off.

Assemblyman Beall has introduced legislation to ban caffeine in malt beverages (IE: Beer). The target product, it seems, is this:
...sweet malt beverages known as "alcopops," which often mask the flavor of alcohol and tend to be marketed to younger drinkers. ... many of these products come in 23-ounce cans that contain the equivalent of five to eight cups of coffee, are 12 percent alcohol and are sold for $1.99. A regular energy drink, by contrast, can cost $2.99...
Personally, I've never heard of these before, but I can see why it would be an issue. But there's a couple of problems with attempting a ban.

First of all, the products are likely just a response to consumers who were already mixing energy drinks with vodka. Those who want a "buzz-drunk" will continue to do that, whether or not the pre-mixed version is on market shelves. This could be yet another law that will have absolutely no effect on the actual situation: those who market alcohol to under-age drinkers and lack of public knowledge of the dangers of the buzz-drunk.

Secondly, and what's really got me worried, is in trying to remove a few products aimed at under-aged drinkers, they could accidentally ensnare and ban legitimate adult products, such as ales, porters, and stouts enfused with coffee or chocolate.

According to the article, "Beall said he is working with beer lovers to make sure they can still enjoy brews such as the Cappuccino Stout from Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma." Well, I hope so! I love that brewery, and their product. But, somehow, I'm nervous that this bill can be written broadly enough to target all offending products, but narrow enough to keep Lagunitas and other creative craft brewers in the clear. It seems that whatever loophole is written in to save craft brews will be exploited by those market to kids.

Aren't there already laws against marketing booze to minors? Whether it's the manufacture who promotes the product to kids or the retailer or bartender who sells it, we have the tools to crack down on wired drunk adolescents already. Let's use these resources to get rid of the "alcopop crisis" and leave the craft brews alone!

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