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Columns
Funt: Steinle case solves nothing

SAN FRANCISCO

Too often in America we are reactive rather than proactive in addressing the nation’s problems. With each bit of breaking news it seems that calm, considered debate is replaced by a flood of tweets and a wave of emotions.

So it is with the case of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, the undocumented immigrant acquitted here of murder and involuntary manslaughter in the 2015 shooting death of Kate Steinle.

In fact, the circumstances of Steinle’s death are far too nuanced to meaningfully affect the raging debate on immigration policies—from building a wall on the Mexican border, to allowing certain municipalities to operate as so-called sanctuary cities.

Moreover, the furor regarding this case could affect critical matters far removed from Steinle’s killing, most notably the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA. Congress faces a deadline to rescue the program that protects children from being deported. There is reason to fear that the verdict in Garcia Zarate’s case might quash a DACA deal.

Sadly, Steinle’s death doesn’t even carry much weight in the debate over gun control. The weapon had been stolen from a car belonging to a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger—a crime that was never solved. Garcia Zarate claims he found the gun along the San Francisco waterfront, picked it up, and it discharged once, the bullet ricocheting off concrete and then striking Steinle as she walked nearby.

There is no disputing that Garcia Zarate was in the U.S. illegally and that his record included a string of nonviolent offenses. At the time of the shooting he had been released from a San Francisco jail despite a federal request that he be held for his sixth deportation.

Prosecutors made a serious tactical error in seeking a murder conviction in Garcia Zarate’s case, despite the fact there were no witnesses, no hint of a motive, and circumstantial evidence that pointed to an accidental shooting more so than a premeditated murder. The jury returned a guilty verdict on the lesser charge of gun possession.

President Trump predictably responded via Twitter that the verdict was a “travesty of justice.” He renewed his call for a border wall—relying on emotions more than facts to make his case. White supremacist groups have begun promoting #kateswall in support of Trump’s pet project.

The facts show that federal officials failed to obtain the required warrant that would have kept Garcia Zarate in a San Francisco cell prior to the shooting. Also at fault: the ranger who left his firearm in an unlocked car, and prosecutors who overreached in court.

A flawed process? Yes. A tragic death? Indeed. A meaningful reference point in the nation’s overarching immigration policy? No.

Peter Funt can be reached via his website, CandidCamera.com.


Letters
Your Views: Tax plan could trigger huge cuts to social programs

Rep. Paul Ryan, your tax cut bill results in a significant deficit. Simply put, this means that the tax cuts are not paid for. Is it correct that because the bill has deficit spending, it comes under the regulation of the pay-as-you-go law, which prohibits deficit spending?

Is it true that the pay-as-you-go law will require automatic cuts to programs that benefit the elderly or others in need?

Is it true that Medicare would see automatic cuts of more than $25 billion immediately and each year thereafter once the tax cut bill is in place? Is it true that other federal programs will experience automatic cuts without regard to need?

Is it likely that if one is over 65; disabled; a foster child; a farmer; a construction worker; someone needing addiction services, living on a fixed income or a Meals on Wheels recipient, they will experience cuts to their income, health care or needed services? Because of the deficits your bill creates, will you take steps to reverse the automatic pay-as-you-go program cuts to protect those impacted unfairly?

When were you going to announce to the general public and especially the elderly and others impacted by these cuts the devastation your tax bill creates for them?

JERRY HANSON

Elkhorn


Other_views
Guest Views: Smartphone addiction is a real thing

There are those times of desire, need, intense need. We stare wantingly at the smartphone on a desk or end table waiting—nay begging—to be picked up.

Our minds race. We wipe that drop of sweat from our brow. Our hearts beat a little faster. We shake with anticipation as we try to resist but can’t. Our hands reach with a speed and precision that affords the perfect grip as we grab our phones and …

Ahhhhhh.

Sweet relief.

Call it smartphone addiction.

Yes, it’s real. Psychologists have even come up with a name for it: nomophobia. It is the fear of being without one’s phone.

In 2013, Psychology Today said it affected 40 percent of the population. A year later, that figure grew to 66 percent and included a deeper dive:

Sixty-five percent, or about 2 in 3 people, sleep with or next to their smartphones (among college students, it’s even higher).

Thirty-four percent admitted to answering their cellphone during intimacy with their partner. What happened to being present?

One in 5 people would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from their phone. It’s a good way to lose your sole and your soul.

More than half never switch off their phone. That’s an addiction.

The first point’s probably not indicative of much. Many people use their phones as alarms clocks. It’s unlikely they’re kissing the phones and saying, “Good night, snookums,” while propping the device up with its own pillow (and if they are, then perhaps reaching out to a professional is indeed necessary).

The others points are problematic, but there could be an app for that (of course). Austrian designer Klemens Schillinger has created something called Substitute Phone designed to wean people from their smartphone addictions.

According to The Verge, the facsimile phones are “made of black polyoxymethylene plastic with stone beads embedded in the surface, which allows a user to replicate familiar actions, such as scrolling, pinching or swiping.”

Mmmm.

The devices are not yet for sale. But their creation does raise the question of whether a such a device could peel people away from their smartphones in a way similar to how e-cigarettes and vaping devices have allowed people to quit smoking.

Our jury’s out. Is it the sensory satisfaction of holding the phone that’s at the root of the addiction? Or is it the yearning to see if one has a notification some sort? As technology advances, it seems people are less wedded to particular devices than craving to know if personalized information awaits them.

Wristwatch devices for both Apple and Android users exist. The intersection of smart devices with laptops allows for people to get those notifications without having to pick up their phones. We suspect the sweet relief comes from knowing somebody responded to a text, Twitter direct message or Facebook message, more so than from caressing a particular device.

But maybe Schillinger knows something we don’t. Once his faux devices go on sale, the market will provide the answer.

—The Dallas Morning News


Columns
Bremel: Let’s stop arguing about 'Merry Christmas'

For most of my adult life, I have become accustomed to a hearing a common mantra during December: “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I’ve also been very aware of the emotionally charged debate of “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy holidays.” My question: Why all this angst in the “season of joy”?

Frankly, I use “Happy holidays” and “Merry Christmas” interchangeably. I struggle to find how that makes me a bad Christian, but some people suggest it does. There are hundreds of subjective discussion points in this debate if all we want to do is argue—ironic, given that most people claim this is a season of “peace and good will toward men.”

If you are the first to greet me, with “Happy holidays,” I will likely respond in kind. The same for “Merry Christmas.” Even if your greeting were “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa,” I would probably respond in kind in deference to your state of being. Think of it this way: When you wish me “Have a good day,” I will generally respond with, “You too.” I would never think of responding by wishing you a terrible day. So why would I do so with any other greeting?

I am privileged to have been born in a great country with freedoms not granted to much of the rest of the world. I am free to exercise my religion, as is anyone else. This season is an opportunity for Christians to strike up friendly discussions about all the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers. However, it is extremely hard to do that if you snarl, “Merry Christmas,” back at someone who has just greeted you with a different phrase.

When Jesus walked the earth, as the only perfect human being in the eyes of God, he said, “Follow me.” He instructed us to love our neighbors, to give to those less fortunate and to share with everyone, the way to Heaven in a fallen world. It was actually simple. We have made it far too complicated.

The second we fall into the trap of requiring other people to do what we want in order to receive something as simple as a kind greeting back from us, we’ve failed to communicate the truth about Christmas. The spirit of Christ and the way to “Keep Christ in Christmas” to me is to focus, more than ever, on doing for others, sharing our gifts and setting our own desires aside, in the name of Jesus who did it first for all of us.

If you think about it, maybe that is the way we are wired. Could that be the reason why people often experience a sense of happiness and joy when they donate to charities this time of year? Now, consider that perhaps your gift does not have to be a big check, a bag of food or a new toy to have an impact. A friendly greeting that acknowledges that every person has the potential to be redeemed by the gift of Jesus is the simplest way to begin.

So when presented with a friendly greeting of any sort this holiday season, I attempt to remember that we are all God’s children. For me, that means no matter where you live, who you are, what your politics are or what you currently think about religion, I have one responsibility—to treat you as Jesus would and offer you the same message of salvation.

The debate will no doubt rage on until the end of time. But as one person, trying to live my faith the best way I can, allow me to thank you for your kind greeting, whatever it might be, and to offer you my “Merry Christmas” in return.