Political Discourse as it once was. Quotes from the Lincoln/Douglas debates:

"If I have reasoned to a false conclusion, it is the vocation of an able debater to show by argument that I have wandered to an erroneous conclusion."
- Abraham Lincoln, 8/21/1858

 

"I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasm."
- Stephen A. Douglas, 8/21/1858

 

"But I have a right to claim that if a man says he knows a thing, then he must show how he knows it. I always have a right to claim this, and it is not satisfactory to me that he may be 'conscientious' on the subject."
- Abraham Lincoln, 8/21/1858

 

 

 


Scoring


Form letter reply or no reply at all. It is not clear that anyone has even read the correspondence beyond possibly noting the topic. A complete disregard of a constituent's specific questions especially after repeated attempts. A complete lack of engagement in the democratic process.

 

Attempts to address the specific points raised by the constituent but in a demonstrably unreasoned manner, whether sincere or through deliberate rationalization.

 

 

A valid, rational argument that places truth above politics and partisanship. Fully engaged in the democratic process.


 

 

 

 


Contribute?

Do you have some correspondence with your representative that you would like to contribute to EngageTheDebate.com?

Please send it to info@EngageTheDebate.com


 

 

 

 

 


"The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

- Thomas Jefferson, 3/31/1809, in a letter to the Citizens of Washington County, Maryland


"I have a right to claim that if a man says he knows a thing, then he must show how he knows it. I always have a right to claim this, and it is not satisfactory to me that he may be 'conscientious' on the subject."  - Abraham Lincoln debating Stephen Douglas, 8/21/1858


Senator Don Perata, CA (District 09)

Undemocratically Disengaged

In what many might consider an outright act of political intimidation, the office of Senate Majority Leader Don Perata has refused not only to engage this debate, his office has chosen to waste the time, energy and the financial resources of the California Highway Patrol in an apparent attempt to silence rational questioning of his positions by this constituent. His office did not attempt even a single official, non-form letter reply after repeated attempts over nearly two years. (38 contacts)

Summary of Contacts:

Contact
Summary
Initial contact. Trying to engage the debate.
No response. Trying to engage a second time.
Undemocratically DisengagedSenator Don Perata replies with a response that is better than a form letter but which does not address the points raised.
Trying to engage a third time.
Trying to engage a fourth time.
First attempt to set up a meeting with the Senator to discuss this issue.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again and was given reasons why the Senator would not see me.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Called the office to arrange a meeting again.
Received a call from a staffer of Senator Perata to clarify what I wanted to discuss.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response. I was told that I would receive a call right back.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response. Asked that a reply be left with the receptionist.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response. The receptionist was told that I would receive a reply but no eta could be given.
Called the office to see when I could expect a written response. Erin, the staffer in question answered the phone and said that I was a "stalker."
My written reply to the "stalker" comment.
Upon receiving no reply I sent another reply to the "stalker" comment.
I left a message with the scheduler in order to meet with the Senator concerning both my original concerns and the stalker comments.
Again left a message with the scheduler, Nancy.
Left another message for Nancy because none of my calls are returned.
After not having the reply promised by the Senator Don Perata's Chief of Staff, Erin Niemela, after five months, I reply to her stated position of using birth as a line even though it may never have been seen by the Senator himself. I do this so that these points can be taken into consideration in any reply that I might receive.
I left another message for Nancy to please call me back concerning meeting with Senator Perata.
I left another message for Nancy asking for a return call.
I left yet another message for Nancy who will not return any calls.
I called Nancy again and found a brief "explanation" as to why I have not been called back.
Undemocratically Disengaged Senator Perata's Chief of Staff, Erin Niemela, followed through on her threat and I received a call from the California Highway Patrol.
I faxed a summary letter of my documentation of these attempts to engage this debate and my intention to publish the results. The entire ordeal is summarized.

 


First contact: To Senator Don Perata encouraging him to engage the debate. This letter

May 26, 2001

Sen. Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Sen. Perata

As a rational person who is pro-life, I can find no Constitutional basis for one person's 'right' to legally kill an innocent person. The 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes clear that all persons, regardless of citizenship, are to be protected equally by the laws. This argument presumes:

1) the pregnant woman is two individuals and not one
2) the second individual is also a person entitled to rights
3) all persons are included by the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution

If you accept these three statements then there is no other rational position but to be pro-life. As a pro-choice person you must disagree with at least one of these three statements. In summary, I would like to know which and why.

The first statement is based on the fact that our lives as individuals begin at conception/fertilization. There is overwhelming evidence to support this fact. According to U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee testimony given by numerous internationally known biologists and geneticists, the answer is clear:

"Conception (fertilization) marks the beginning of the life of a human being ... There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological and scientific writings."
Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981, p.7

Further testimony was given by Jerome Lejuene, the Father of Modern Genetics, who told lawmakers, "To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place, a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion ... it is plain experimental evidence."

Opposing testimony to these points was invited but none was received because to do so is profoundly contrary to scientific knowledge.

One does not need a degree in biology to accept this position as fact for if a new individual did not exist after conception/fertilization then a pregnancy must at some point conclude by the mother splitting into two individuals, an act of asexual reproduction. Since we each have two parents who created us at conception/fertilization, if we are not independent beings from that point on then human beings must reproduce asexually which is absurd.

My first question for you is do you believe that conception/fertilization marks the beginning of a human being's existence? If no, please explain when this occurs and why you believe this is so.

The second statement is that unborn human beings are in fact persons entitled to rights. Being a person is not a subjective matter, as some seemingly believe; it is a matter of objective fact. Africans are persons and have always been persons even though they were not treated as such during the days of slavery. Dred Scott was factually incorrect by not recognizing the objective fact of the personhood of Africans. Those today who claim that while the unborn are human beings they are not persons are making a similar arbitrary, subjective assertion. Upon serious examination, I have never found a rational argument to support this pro-choice conclusion. Let me explain why.

You and I are persons because we are each inherently capable of thought, feeling, emotion, reason, and all of those other attributes commonly associated with persons. The unborn are also persons because they are beings that have this same inherent capacity. While they do not have the immediate capacity to demonstrate these abilities, neither do you or I while unconscious. You and I retain our personhood while unconscious because we are beings with these inherent capacities. It's that simple. Unborn human beings are persons for the same reason that you and I are; we all have inherent capacities that distinguish us from all non-persons. We all have the being of persons so we all are persons.

While one could perhaps argue that only those individuals with blue eyes are persons, one would be hard pressed to explain why this position would not be arbitrary since it has nothing to do with being a person. The only non-arbitrary place for assigning personhood is the beginning of that individual's existence which is conception/fertilization. Any other place ignores the inherent capacities of that being which is what defines the being for what he/she truly is, a person.

My second question is do you believe that unborn human beings, while living members of the species homo sapiens, are also persons? If no, when do they become persons and why at that time?

The third part of my position comes directly from the U.S. Constitution. The 14th amendment clearly states that all persons are to have equal protection of the laws. Since you swore an oath to uphold the Constitution I doubt that you have an issue with the 14th amendment. Do you have a different reading of this amendment?

I have given a lot of thought to this issue and have found no rational pro-choice arguments that address this fundamental issue of the personhood of the unborn. Even Roe v. Wade specifically avoids it which is absolutely inexcusable; You can't argue that there are no victims simply by dodging the point.

In today's political climate, being pro-choice is easy. Given the rationality of pro-life arguments that I have heard, I think that someday arguments for the choice of abortion and the choice to own slaves will be held in the same regard. The arbitrary denial of the most fundamental protections, called by our founders the "unalienable right to life and liberty," in order to achieve one's own ends against an innocent person is a crime against humanity. There is no Constitutional right to kill an innocent human being for one's own benefit. (Again, Roe v. Wade specifically avoided this point and therefore can not be used as a defense.)

I am very open to a rational pro-choice argument but I'm having some difficulty finding one. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your reply so that I may better understand just how you are representing me in the Senate.

Sincerely,

A Private Citizen


Second contact: To Senator Don Perata encouraging him to engage the debate. Sent after receiving no response to the first letter.

October 6, 2001

Sen. Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Sen. Perata

On May 26th I sent you a letter asking for a clarification of your position on abortion and I have not yet received a reply. I would like to give you another opportunity and again I ask that the reply not be as a form letter as that certainly will not be able to respond to the particular questions that I have. My original letter is enclosed. Thank you.

Sincerely,

A Private Citizen


Third contact: Senator Perata's form letter reply.

Undemocratically Disengaged Don Perata's reply, while more detailed than the standard form letter, still fails to address the fundamental questions presented in the initial correpondence.

 


 

October 11, 2001

I am writing in response to your letter inquiring about the beliefs underlying my support for pro-choice legislation.

I recognize that you have strongly held views about this matter and respect the thoughtful and thorough explanation of your position contained in your letter. Given the fervency of belief that characterizes both sides of this difficult debate, I have no doubt that there is little that I can say that will seem convincing - or even reasonable - to you.

My support for pro-choice legislation is premised upon the belief, which underlies much U.S. law relating to abortion, that fetuses in early stages of development are not independent citizens possessing legal rights that can be separated entirely from those of the mother whose womb sustains them. I believe that one can acknowledge the fact that fetuses are living beings and that the state has a growing interest in extending protections to them as they develop while still factoring in the rights of mothers who are fundamentally and intimately involved in the fetus' development.

I appreciate your taking the time to let me know of your views on this matter and welcomed the opportunity to respond to your inquiry.

Sincerely,

Don Perata


Fourth contact: Again trying to engage the debate (third attempt).

October 31, 2001

Sen. Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Sen. Perata

Thank you for your October 11th reply to my recent letter concerning your support of abortion legislation.

I must say that while I agree that "fervency of belief" is often an apt characterization of both sides of this debate, it is not at all a persuading factor for me; in fact I find much of both sides of this debate terribly lacking. I do, however, think that rational thought is quite important in debate and it is for this reason that I am writing to you again. I am a firm believer in the equality of all persons and if someone were to argue for the legality of slavery I would respectfully disagree. It is in that same spirit that I disagree with your position on abortion as abortion is also a horrifically discriminatory practice.

You wrote that your support for abortion legislation "is premised on the belief, which underlies much U.S. law relating to abortion, that fetuses in early stages of development are not independent citizens possessing legal rights.." According to the Constitution no one is a citizen until birth and therefore no human being at any stage before birth is an 'independent citizen'. But the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment states that all persons are to be equally protected by our laws regardless of citizenship: all persons, regardless of citizenship. It is on this point that I would like a clarification of your position.

If all persons are equally protected by the laws by Constitutional mandate, then how can one person have the right to kill another person strictly for their own benefit? How is that equal protection? You wrote that you "acknowledge the fact that fetuses are living beings", presumably belonging to the species homo sapiens, and yet you allude to a supposed right to kill that innocent human being. Why is this an exception to the equal protection clause?

While I truly do appreciate your candid and quick replies to my letters, I must admit some disappointment in the fact that you have not answered any of my original questions in this regard. As your constituent I would find those answers most enlightening regarding your position and so I have enclosed a copy of my earlier letter.

I suspect that the reason you choose to not answer these questions, with all due respect, is that you can not in good reason. I have for many years made a sincere attempt to find a rational, Constitutional pro-choice position but I can not find one; being pro-choice, I have found, is very similar to arguing that race is a suitable criterion for enslavement. I ask you to show me that I am incorrect by answering my original questions. Again, thank you for your time in this matter.

Your constituent,

A Private Citizen


Fifth contact: Again trying to engage the debate (fourth attempt).

February 2, 2002

Sen. Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Sen. Perata

Re: Your position on slavery

I simply can not understand your continued support for slavery. Clearly, the evidence that slaves are fellow human beings is scientifically incontrovertible and they are deserving of the dignity and respect due all persons as guaranteed by the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The founders of the Feminist movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were completely opposed to slavery precisely because they believed that by definition there could be no exceptions to 'equality'. By simply ignoring the humanity of the slave you do not justify your position; you are merely masking a terrific injustice.

I would like to point out that as shocking as the above paragraph sounds today it is exactly like your position on abortion and every statement is just as true. Please read it again with this in mind:

I simply can not understand your continued support for abortion. Clearly, the evidence that the unborn are fellow human beings is scientifically incontrovertible and they are deserving of the dignity and respect due all persons as guaranteed by the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The founders of the Feminist movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were completely opposed to abortion precisely because they believed that by definition there could be no exceptions to 'equality'. By simply ignoring the humanity of the unborn you do not justify your position; you are merely masking a terrific injustice.

I have three times now (in letters dated 5/26/01, 10/6/01 and 10/31/01) asked you three simple questions concerning your position on the humanity and protections due the unborn and you have not replied to my specific questions. I will give you one more opportunity to reply in writing (original letter is enclosed) before I make an appointment with your office so that you can explain in person your support of slavery and its equivalent. As the person who purports to represent me, I do not believe I am asking too much.

Sincerely,

A Private Citizen


Sixth contact: First call to arrange a meeting with the Senator to discuss this issue.

June 10, 2002

I called the Senator's office to arrange a meeting to discuss this issue. I was told that his scheduler would speak to the Senator to see what could be arranged.


Seventh contact: Called the office again to arrange a meeting.

June 17, 2002

I called Senator Perata's office again to arrange a meeting. Had to leave a message.


Eighth contact: I called the Senator's office and was given reasons why the Senator could not meet with me.

June, 2002

I called the Senator's office again and was told by the scheduler that the Senator could not meet with me because 1) the California budget crisis was taking up all of his time and 2) the Senator had answered all of my questions in his form letter. (Not true.)

Since the first reason was plausible I decided to bide my time until the budget crisis had passed to re-engage.


Ninth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 10, 2002

The budget crisis has ended so I called the Senator's office to schedule a meeting and was told that the scheduler was on vacation.


Tenth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 16, 2002

I called back and the scheduler told me that the Senator was sick and that she would talk to him and call back the following Monday.


Eleventh contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 22, 2002

Have not heard back so I called and left a message.


Twelfth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 24, 2002

Have not heard back so I called and left a message.


Thirteenth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 25, 2002

Have not heard back so I called and left a message.


Fourteenth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 28, 2002

Have not heard back so I called and left a message.


Fifteenth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 29, 2002

Have not heard back so I called and left a message.


Sixteenth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 30, 2002

Have not heard back so I called and left a message.


Seventeenth contact: Phone contact to set up a meeting.

October 31, 2002

Have not heard back so I called and left a message.


Eighteenth contact: Received a call from one of Senator Perata's staffers.

October 31, 2002

I received a call from Erin, one of Senator Perata's staffers, and had a very good conversation covering the relevant issues from scratch because she had not seen any of my correspondence. I was assured that the Senator would be asked my questions and that a response would be forthcoming.

Unfortunately, my cell phone battery expired during this conversation and I did not have the opportunity to enquire as to when I might expect a reply.

[This reply can not receive a score because this staffer said that she really could not speak for the Senator to this degree.]


Nineteenth contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

November 19, 2002

I called to enquire as to when I might expect the response letter. I had to leave a message.


Twentieth contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

November 25, 2002

I called to enquire as to when I might expect the response letter. I had to leave a message.


Twenty first contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

November 26, 2002

I called to enquire as to when I might expect the response letter. I had to leave a message.


Twenty second contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

December 2, 2002

I called to enquire as to when I might expect the response letter and I was told that Erin would call me right back...


Twenty third contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

December 4, 2002

I called and left another message for Erin requesting a return call.


Twenty fourth contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

December 10, 2002

I called and left another message for Erin. I asked that a message be left with the receptionist concerning an estimated date for the reply that I was promised.


Twenty fifth contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

December 11, 2002

The receptionist was told that I would receive a letter but no eta could be given. I left another message that Erin please call me back.


Twenty sixth contact: Phone contact to check on return letter.

December 17, 2002

Erin Niemela herself, Senator Perata's chief of staff, answered the phone and so I had a chance to ask her simply for a date as to when I might expect a reply. She accused me of being a stalker. I decided to reply to this in writing. Here is that reply.


Twenty seventh contact: My written response to an amazing phone discussion with the Senator's Chief of Staff.

December 17, 2002

Sen. Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Senator Perata,

On 10/31/02 I had the pleasure of having a detailed and intelligent conversation with your Chief of Staff, Erin Niemela, concerning my recent queries to your office. In this conversation Erin promised to bring up my concerns to you and to draft a reply. Unfortunately, this conversation was cut short when my cell phone battery expired so I was unable to get an estimated date concerning when I might expect a written reply.

In order to obtain an estimated date I have called your office and left messages asking to speak with Erin and I have left my phone number on each occasion (7 times in the last month and a half) but none of my calls were returned.

So I called one more time this morning, 12/17/02, and Erin fortuitously answered the main phone and so I asked her simply for an estimated reply date. She said that she could not give me an estimated date because of the renewed budget crisis and, furthermore, that she considered my calls to your office "stalking" and that she may call the CHP if I dared call the office again!

I am truly offended. I have not received a single reply to my phone messages and then I am accused of being a "stalker" by my representative's Chief of Staff who is going to call the police over my enquiries concerning an estimated date for a promised reply? Do I live in a police state? Am I not allowed to ask my representative questions and expect the reply that was promised? This behavior is unbelievable to me.

Now Erin did not at all sound like the same person with whom I had spoken with on 10/31/02 so I must believe that she was simply having a bad day, a very bad day. But this is not an excuse for a public servant to treat a constituent in this manner.

To her benefit, I would also like to add that although I am shocked by today's treatment, I was altogether impressed with my telephone conversation with Erin on 10/31/02. She dedicated considerable time in engaging my questions as our phone conversation was lengthy enough to completely drain my cell phone battery. Of course, as specific and detailed as my questions are, she was able to give me her opinion but could not speak for you, Senator, without consultation which is what she said she would then do.

I do hope that bringing this to your attention will not result in a refusal of the promised reply to my questions. Time will tell if I am right in expecting this written reply.

I understand that you are quite busy with the budget now and I wish you well. And even though I have been "cautioned" against calling your office again I will do so over time until I have received the reply that was promised for this situation is a suitable crack for my questions to fall into and I don't wish to see that happen.

This entire situation is also regrettably circular for if I only had an estimated reply date then I would have no reason at all to call your office.

I have enclosed my original letter of nearly 19 months ago containing the three questions to which I've been promised a reply.

Thank you,

A Private Citizen


Twenty eighth contact: A reminder letter wondering when I might receive an answer and seeking an apology for the stalker comments.

February 6, 2003

Sen. Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Senator Perata,

This letter is simply a reminder that another two months have nearly gone by and the promised reply to my queries has not yet arrived. The conversation that I had with your Chief of Staff on 10/31/02 on this issue was detailed enough that I thought she would simply write everything down and get your approval. Hopefully her notes are detailed enough that this can still happen. I am trying to be an engaged citizen but this delay of over one year and eight months as regards my initial query for clarification of your position seems a bit too long to wait. When might I expect a reply?

As regards her off the cuff comment that my calls to the office seeking only an estimated reply date (since none of my calls were returned) might result in the California Highway Patrol showing up at my door as a suspected stalker, I would recommend that a trivial apology would be enough to put that matter behind us. I am surprised that I have received no replies to this particular matter already.

I have enclosed both my original questions and the previous "stalker" reply as well.

Thank you for your time, good luck with the renewed budget crisis and I hope to receive the reply that was promised very soon.

Sincerely,

Thank you,

A Private Citizen


Twenty Ninth contact: I left a message with the scheduler in order to meet with the Senator concerning both my original concerns and the stalker comments.

July 7, 2003

I left a message for the scheduler, Nancy, to schedule an appointment with the Senator concerning both my questions and Erin's comments. Tried to speak with Erin as well but she was not in. I again left contact information.

Thirtieth contact: Again left a message with the scheduler, Nancy.

July 24, 2003

Again left a message with the scheduler, Nancy, including contact information.

Thirty First contact: Left another message for Nancy because none of my calls are returned.

July 25, 2003

I left another message for Nancy to please return my call and I again left contact information.

Thirty Second contact: After not having the reply promised by the Senator Don Perata's Chief of Staff, Erin Niemela, after five months, I reply to her stated position of using birth as a line even though it may never have been seen by the Senator himself. I do this so that these points can be taken into consideration in any reply that I might receive.

March 30, 2003


Sen. Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612


Dear Senator Perata,

On 10/31/02 I had a conversation with your Chief of Staff, Erin Niemela, concerning my wish to get a clarification of your position on abortion which I first requested over a year and a half ago. We spoke at some length and we quickly reached a point where she felt that she could not adequately speak for your position without consultation. Our conversation ended with a promise from Erin that she would communicate my specific questions to you and write a reply. It is now five months later and I have received no reply so I am going to respond to the points that Erin made in that conversation even though she has apparently not yet passed them by you for your approval. I hope that you take these comments into consideration in the reply that Erin promised to write.


To be clear, I do not seek to change your position on this issue; I ask only for a clarification of your position so that I may better understand how you represent me. In our representative democracy, it is simply not enough for a representative to take a position without being willing to support it with reasoned argument. It is reasoned argument that I seek for why you believe that rights can only be given to individuals at birth.


Stating that personhood begins at birth can not possibly be a valid definition of what it means to be a person because this definition includes no references to the characteristics inherent in being a person and it follows no rules or principles. In other words it is an arbitrary definition. Let me explain in more detail.


During my phone conversation with Erin, I tried to uncover a foundational principle for the offered definition. I asked if it was the level of development that was achieved that was the necessary determinant for the granting of rights/personhood. I suggested that this would imply that a child at birth born two months prematurely would be less developed than a full term human in utero but would have rights that the full term human would not have. If level of development is the guiding principle then how can the less developed child be the one with rights? She agreed that development was not the relevant factor but instead that the dependence on the mother was the defining characteristic.


I then asked if it was the general principle of dependency that was most relevant. For if this were the case it would be problematic because dependency is a graduated scale and not either/or. For instance, you and I are more dependent on others than a survivalist who is capable of living weeks and months at a time in the wilderness. But you and I are more independent than a parent with Alzheimer's disease who may in turn be more independent than a newborn who is more independent than my mother was when she was temporarily on a heart-lung machine. To the contrary, personhood is not a sliding scale; one either is or is not a person. Erin agreed that levels of dependency vary a great deal and that the suggested definition did not have to do with the general principle of being dependent but only with this specific case of human to human dependency.


We did not speak to the following point specifically but I'm sure that Erin did not intend that the separation of offspring from mother of any species was meant to grant rights of personhood (e.g. that a baby elephant once born and separated from its mother would be a person entitled to rights). I assumed, safely I think, that she was limiting herself to our species which only further illustrates the fact that the argument was not attempting to refer to some guiding principle about the general bestowing of rights at human birth.


So the argument was that the unborn are not persons (and therefore not entitled to rights) because of a distinction that makes absolutely no reference to the actual intrinsic nature of what it means to be a person and which makes no reference to any guiding principle as its foundation. The problem is that this is the very definition of arbitrary:


Arbitrary
- based on or determined by individual preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something.
- depending on will or discretion; not governed by any fixed rules


The definition was offered for the point at which a new person comes into existence (and is therefore entitled to rights) is arbitrary because:


1) It makes no reference to the inherent nature of what it means to be a person (which is the central purpose of a definition!). One can not attempt to define personhood without mentioning the characteristics that make us persons.
2) It references no general rule or guiding principle (e.g. dependency or level of development).
3) It exists solely for the purpose/convenience of attempting to maintain a pre-conceived conclusion.

An arbitrary definition of what it means to be a person is absolutely unacceptable when it comes to applying the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment! Far from attempting to define what it is to be a person, what was offered is a perfect example of an arbitrary definition.


It is an objective fact that unborn human beings have the exact same inherent capacities of personhood that born human beings have. For example, as the same type of being simply at an earlier stage of development, the unborn have the very same inherent capacities to reason, love, be conscious, and recognize truth and beauty as you and I do, and therefore unborn human beings are persons just the same as you and I are. They can't demonstrate this at the moment but neither can you or I while unconscious; we retain our personhood in full while unconscious because our inherent capacities for functioning as persons are completely retained; in other words it is only as a person that I could ever hope to function as a person! These inherent capacities are what make us persons; they are what separate us from all that is impersonal.


This is a non-arbitrary definition of personhood because it does not suffer from the objections I've made against Erin's definition because it includes as a part of the definition the very characteristics of what it means to be a person and it also offers a principled, rule based rationale for applying this to any being anywhere. If an alien life form is someday found to have these characteristics then they too would be persons and entitled to the protections afforded all persons by our Constitution. A non-arbitrary definition of personhood is a requirement for just actions and laws.


Unfortunately, our country has a history of defining personhood as it deems convenient at the moment so the definition Erin offered does have many sad precedents.


Slaves were arbitrarily defined by Dred Scott to be less than full persons. This was a flawed decision because what it means to be a person is objective and Dred Scott did not measure up to the objective reality that people with black skin are in fact people and it was therefore overturned. While this definition legally applied, however, the powerful interests that wanted cheap labor were certainly satisfied but their purposes could never justify such an arbitrary definition.


Women were denied the right to vote even though they had all of the capacities of persons that males had and have. This state of affairs was certainly beneficial to those men in power who perhaps felt their positions threatened by the empowerment of women but such societal/cultural biases should hold no sway in today's society. This injustice was corrected through the eventual realization that such arbitrary definitions of which group should possess which fundamental rights is inherently unjust and that all persons should enjoy the same basic rights.


The Japanese interment of WWII was certainly a convenient social solution to a perceived threat but it was inherently unjust because the equal treatment of all persons demands that the presumption of innocence is a right of all persons. Social problems need to be dealt with without sacrificing innocent people.


These examples of past injustices caused by redefining who is a person worthy of having certain rights should be a warning to us. Have we really completed the work of leveling the legal framework so that all persons have equal protection of the laws as mandated by the Constitution? We clearly have not as evidenced by the continued use of definitions that arbitrarily sacrifice some group of innocent persons for the benefit of others.


I could, for instance, arbitrarily declare that only humans with blue eyes are persons but in doing so I would be objectively wrong. This blue-eyed definition does not correspond to the reality of what separates persons from non-persons and fails just as all previous arbitrary definitions mentioned fail. It fails because it ignores the very facts of what it means to be a person. It describes no characteristics that are inherent to personhood.


It is not a well known fact because of its inconvenience to today's powerful interests, but all of the founders of the Feminist movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Gage, Mattie Brinkerhoff, Victoria Woodhull etc. were opposed to abortion for the same reason that they were abolitionists. (See the book, Prolife Feminism, Yesterday and Today.) They believed that equality achieved on the backs of any subset of humanity is not equality at all. And how could it be? One can not raise oneself up by stepping on a third party and claiming equality as the goal achieved.


The mainstream Feminist movement of today believes that abortion is necessary for gender equity but they have conveniently ignored the arguments of their own founders who have correctly pointed out that the result of such an action is not equality. Correcting the injustice of abortion is simply the latest chapter in the continuing saga of securing equal rights and equal treatment for all persons as is guaranteed in the Constitution.


Of all of our rights in this country, the right to life is one of the most fundamental. It was cited by our founders as the first of only three "unalienable" rights in our founding documents. As an unalienable right it is one that can not be overridden; it can not be taken away! There can be no question in anyone's mind that the right of an innocent person to not be targeted for death is clearly enshrined in our Constitution.


Yet some will claim that abortion is fine because Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. Roe is no more a rational justification for abortion today then Dred Scott is a rational justification for slavery today. Dred Scott was finally recognized to be horribly flawed and was overturned. Roe fundamentally ignored the entire question of personhood referring only to ancient beliefs and laws. Nothing could be more fundamental to this issue! The fact that the unborn have the same qualifications for personhood that you and I have is clear evidence that Roe is as flawed as Dred Scott.


And in any case, with what justification could Roe ever overrule an unalienable right? Justice Blackmun rationalized his position based on the Shadow Doctrine of Griswold v. Connecticut. This doctrine claims that there are rights to be found in the Constitution that are not explicit but that can be found by "reading between the lines." From Griswold then came the 'right to privacy'. Blackmun created the supposed right to an abortion by extending this right to privacy with a creative use of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment (full text: "nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"). Blackmun was certainly a creative fellow.


Even if Blackmun's arguments were sound (which many even on the pro-choice side of this issue agree were poor), can an unalienable right be overridden by an excessively creative interpretation of a right that itself only exists by "reading between the lines?" If so then the protection of life was never an unalienable right, the rights afforded all of us by the 14th Amendment (explicitly!) are a sham and Thomas Jefferson was incorrect when he said that, "The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government." There can be no Constitutional right to kill an innocent person simply for one's own benefit.


Even Justice Blackmun and notably also the appellant in Roe agreed as Blackmun wrote in Roe:


The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a "person" within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment. The appellant conceded as much on reargument.


Unless someone can rationally explain with non-arbitrary definitions why we are not persons before our birth (even though we are then beings with the exact same inherent capacities to function as persons as we now possess, which is exactly what it means to be a person) then our unalienable right to life as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment can not be infringed for someone else's benefit.


You, Senator Perata, can not claim to be true to your oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution while ignoring the Equal Protection Clause by holding to an arbitrary definition of what it means to be a person. One can not be pro-choice and claim to be upholding the Constitution while holding such an arbitrary definition of personhood. Therefore, you must have an argument in support of your position that I have not heard before. I am asking you for that argument.


And true 'choice' is most certainly not available to so many women who would like to have their children but abort for lack of emotional and financial support. These women are being compelled to abort every day; they have abortions but not by 'choice' as the slogan goes but because they have no choice. Women and men who are true to the founding feminist principles of equality for all persons without any exceptions are working toward the goal of providing this choice every day (e.g. www.feministsforlife.org) and they should be supported. And as a non-partisan I feel safe in saying that if being a Liberal means giving a voice to those persons who are not empowered then mainstream Liberalism is on the wrong side of this issue.


Again, I am not seeking to change your opinion; I seek only to understand your position. Please demonstrate to me that one can be rational and pro-choice without shredding the 14th Amendment. I have yet to hear an argument, including your Chief of Staff's argument, that satisfies this condition.
I have included a copy of my original letter containing 3 questions on this topic that if answered would get to the root of this discussion immediately.


"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
- Martin Luther King Jr.


Searching for true peace,

A Private Citizen

Thirty Third contact: I left another message for Nancy to please call me back concerning meeting with Senator Perata.

March 31, 2003

I left another message for Nancy to please call me back concerning meeting with Senator Perata.

Thirty Fourth contact: I left another message for Nancy asking for a return call.

April 2, 2003

I left another message for Nancy through Laura asking for a return call. I asked Laura if she could discover an explanation for why I have not been contacted.

Thirty Fifth contact: I left yet another message for Nancy who will not return any calls.

April 3, 2003

I left a yet another message for Nancy through Jennifer to determine the status of my request for meeting with my representative. I also asked if she could uncover an explanation as to why I have been a completely ignored constituent.

Thirty Sixth contact: I called Nancy again and found a brief "explanation" as to why I have not been called back.

April 8, 2003


I left a message for Nancy to please call me back because she was on another line. When asked why I've not received a call back already Jennifer said that Nancy had replied that she "has nothing to say to me" and so has not returned my calls. Then Sora took the line and said that Nancy had stepped out of the office and that I should fax a request for a mtg to Nancy. This is the first time that I had been told that standard policy for meeting with Senator Perata was by using a fax. Perhaps Nancy could have called to tell me this.

Thirty Seventh contact: Senator Perata's Chief of Staff, Erin Niemela, followed through on her threat and I received a call from the California Highway Patrol.

Undemocratically Disengaged That the office of Senator Don Perata would resort to what many would consider political intimidation rather than engaging in the democratic process is utterly disgraceful.

 


 

April 11, 2003


I received a call from a Sgt. of the California Highway Patrol concerning my attempts to engage the debate with Senator Perata's office. Senator Don Perata's Chief of Staff, Erin Niemela, had lived up to her threat of calling the California Highway Patrol rather than engage with a constituent.

The officer made the point that by law representatives do not have to answer any of my questions but that this is not a statement of the rightness or wrongness of their actions. I agreed with the Sgt.'s distinction completely. They are not obligated by law to try and justify their irrational positions to those that they represent but as Representatives they are absolutely WRONG not to do so.

Having hit the brick wall with Senator Perata's office I had already begun composing a closing fax detailing my plans to publish their absolute refusal to engage this debate and how such actions are perfectly contrary to a representative democracy. I informed the Sgt. of my documentation of this entire exchange, my plan to publish it and of my intention to fax this final summary to Senator Perata's office and he was perfectly fine with such contact.

Thirty Eighth contact: I faxed a summary letter of my documentation of these attempts to engage this debate and my intention to publish the results. The entire ordeal is summarized.

 

April 13, 2003


Senator Don Perata
1515 Clay St. #2202
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Senator Perata,


This letter is to inform you that my contacts with your office over the last two years are a part of a study soon to be published measuring the willingness of a number of elected representatives to engage in rational debate with those that they represent. This study will be published on the World Wide Web at www.engagethedebate.com.


To date the office of Senator Perata currently has the worst record of engagement of all surveyed representatives. In 38 contacts with this office over the test period of nearly two years there has not been even a single attempt to officially respond to the constituent's specific questions aimed at clarifying a given policy position held by you.

There was a time in our nation's history when honest discussions of matters of great importance were not so studiously avoided. Almost one hundred and fifty years ago Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held a series of seven debates that were dedicated almost exclusively to slavery, one of the most contentious social issues in our nation's history and one that many people also considered "settled" law. These ~20 hours of detailed political discourse are an example of the kind of debate that is an essential part of a democracy. The resistance of elected officials to engage in policy debate today is inexcusable and such was the inspiration for this study.

This study will include all correspondence and summaries of all conversations held with each representative's office. An overview of the 38 contacts made to date with your office over this two year period is as follows:

• 5 written attempts by the constituent to engage the Senator in rational dialogue by asking the Senator to clarify his position on a given policy. The office of Senator Perata has, to date, not made any official reply to these specific questions that are fundamental to the issue at hand.

• 1 generic reply to constituent's questions that did not even attempt to address the specific questions asked. This is the standard type of letter received when an elected representative does not wish to engage with the constituent.

• 1 conversation with your scheduler, Nancy, who said that my questions had been answered with your generic reply. This is obviously false as the questions asked were not addressed.

• 18 calls made by the constituent over a 10 month period to set up a meeting with the Senator in an attempt to engage. Messages had to be left on every occasion for your scheduler was otherwise disposed each and every time. This high number of messages was necessitated by the fact that not even a single call was returned. This is inexcusable and demonstrates a complete disregard for the constituent.

• 1 promising call from the Senator's Chief of Staff where the issue was debated in some detail but not in any official capacity. The Chief of Staff promised to bring this issue to your attention but the call was cut short (cell phone battery expired) before an expected reply date could be requested.

• 7 calls by the constituent to the Chief of Staff in order to get an estimated reply date. This number of calls over a period of 6 weeks was also necessitated by the fact that not even a single call was again ever returned even though a written reply was already promised by your Chief of Staff. Your staff can not legitimately complain of having received so many calls while at the same time also refusing to return any calls.

• 1 call by the constituent that was coincidentally answered by the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff said that she could not give me an estimated date and that she considered my calls (the 7 mentioned above spanning 6 weeks) to the office "stalking" and that she may call the California Highway Patrol if I dared call the office again! Again, if any of my calls were actually returned there would be no reason to call again.

• 2 letters written by the constituent seeking a response and apology for the "stalker" comment. No replies were received.

• 1 recent call from the California Highway Patrol at the request of the Senator's office. Does your office so fear rational questioning of your policy positions that it feels obligated to call in the California Highway Patrol? I would suggest that replying to reasoned questions with reasoned answers is a far better alternative than wasting the time of the CHP with calls that some may consider an intimidation tactic initiated by your office. The officer said that while your office is not required by law to answer my queries, he pointed out that this does not speak to the rightness or wrongness of your office's willingness to do so. The officer's distinction is perfectly valid. While your obligation to try and justify policy positions is not a legal requirement it is a requirement of our representative democracy. By ignoring attempts to seek clarification of your position your office undermines the very meaning of democratic, representational government.

• This letter.

To summarize, the constituent was only contacted directly by your office on two occasions. The first was a simple letter that did not address the issues raised by the constituent. The second was a call from the Chief of Staff who chose to not speak for the Senator in an official capacity without your input but then failed to get your input as promised. This level of interaction by a representative to the represented is completely inadequate. Engagement in rational policy discussion is fundamental to our democratic system. If there are any members of your staff who do not believe that one of the primary purposes of the office of an elected representative is to serve those that are represented then they are seriously mistaken and this includes answering honest, rational questions.

If the Senator feels that this record does not adequately represent his office then please let me know where my records may be in error. I would also like to offer some constructive advice:

• Adequately explain why you hold the positions that you do on controversial topics (e.g. a white paper) and publish such information in a public place such as on your web page. This would allow you to direct interested constituents to this information with a minimum of effort for your staff.

• Honestly engage your constituents. The repetitive contact required in this study was only necessary because of the stonewalling behavior of your office.

• If a reply is promised to the constituent, please follow through.

• And if this truly need to be said, if you refuse to provide any more information for your constituent, please pay them the civil courtesy of a letter or phone call explaining that no more information will be forthcoming. While undemocratic in nature this is a better alternative that responding to rational debate with what many would call attempted intimidation using the police.

And for your information, in my recent conversation with the CHP officer, I told him of this study and of my intention to send this summary letter and he was perfectly fine with such contact.

In his first debate on August 21, 1858, Abraham Lincoln said the following regarding his debating partner Senator Stephen Douglas:

I have a right to claim that if a man says he knows a thing, then he must show how he knows it. I always have a right to claim this, and it is not satisfactory to me that he may be 'conscientious' on the subject.

This statement is just as true today Senator Perata. Engage the debate.


This is the last time that I will initiate contact on this subject with your office.


Sincerely,

A Private Citizen

There has been no response.


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