Archive for January, 2011

Pakistan, US Aid, and Human Rights

The US has sent Vice-President Biden to Pakistan to assure them of our love and support. Biden delivered this message with a straight face, saying that: “ We are not the enemies of Islam and we embrace those who practice that great religion in all our country.” While he was praising Pakistan for being a key anti-terror ally, the Taliban killed 18 and wounded 15 others, most of the security officers.

To be fair, he “reprimanded” the Pakistanis about the killing of the Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot dead by his bodyguard over his outspoken opposition to strict blasphemy laws. Said Biden: “Societies that applaud such actions end up being consumed by those actions.” Which, when followed by promises to fast-track part of a 7.5-billion-dollar five-year aid package, is hardly a strong condemnation of terrorist practices by Pakistan.

Aid to Pakistan should be cut off until that country puts its house in order, and stops supplying the Taliban with American dollars. There are a couple of reasons we should take this stand, and they mostly hinge on human rights, and the failure of the Pakistanis to uphold those rights. One, at least, is logistic; we shouldn’t throw money down a sinkhole, especially when it is in such short supply around here.

First, the logistical. The International Herald-Tribune reports that mismanagement and misuse of cash are hampering relief efforts for flood victims with nearly $60 million in the prime minister’s fund still unspent. Foreign donors contributed half of a UN appeal target of $1.93 billion, but officials say efforts to rebuild 1.6 million homes are being compromised by infighting between federal and provincial authorities. That’s private donors, individuals like you or me, giving a billion dollars. They can’t spend what they have, and as we learned in the horn of Africa, when “provincial authorities” are involved, as likely as not the money is being siphoned off into private coffers. Let’s get a thorough accounting of past monies, and a vetted plan for future aid, before we send more.

On to the important stuff, like human rights. As I mentioned in previous columns, it’s difficult to consider Pakistan an “ally” in the “war on terror.” Remember this? “When the Americans started bombing the Taliban, the Frontier Corps started shooting at the Americans,” said one of Suran Dara’s villagers, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being persecuted or killed by the Pakistani government or the Taliban. “They were trying to help the Taliban. And then the American planes bombed the Pakistani post.” Our allies, shooting at us? Oh no, what should we do? Give them more money to buy more bullets! Brilliant!

Sarcasm aside, what about Aasia Bibi? She’s the women, a Christian, convicted by Pakistan of some vague offense under their blasphemy law. Her conviction is what led to the killing of Taseer. What to make of that? Let’s see what the Human Rights Watch, not a very conservative group, said.

“As the world celebrated Christmas, Pakistan’s beleaguered Christians cowered in fear. Baying for the blood of a Christian woman unjustly convicted under the country’s abusive and discriminatory blasphemy law, Islamist extremists held country-wide protests on Christmas Eve and have yet more planned for the New Year and beyond

Taseer’s killing provides the government and citizenry an unequivocal and unpleasant reminder that state appeasement of extremist groups does not work. The Punjab provincial administration run by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif needs to accept that its historical and ongoing tolerance of violence by extremist groups is simply untenable.”

State appeasement of extremist groups does not work? Ghosts of Neville Chamberlain! What of the Human Rights Watch claim that the problems are the results of “Islamist extremists?” Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this about “moderate Islam”: “These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” According to Erdogan, there’s no such thing as an Islamic extremist. And he’s not alone. There are plenty of other Islamic scholars who say the same thing.

What else? How about this: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik today directed the authorities to block websites and SMS “propagating an anti-Islam agenda” within 24 hours. Malik ordered the Interior Secretary to trace all websites that are “propagating against Islam”. Cases should be registered against persons who are involved in such acts and are residing in Pakistan, he said. Malik also asked the Secretary to constitute a committee comprising representatives of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and Federal Investigation Agency to tackle anti-Islam propaganda. Malik also told reporters at Pirpai village in northwest Pakistan that the government has no intention of repealing or amending the blasphemy law.

How’s that for protecting free speech? But wait, there’s more! The leader of an Islamic political party in Pakistan has warned the daughter of a murdered politician to ”remember her father’s fate” and to stop supporting his cause. Shadab Qadri, the leader of Sunni Tehreek, one of Pakistan’s larger political parties, said the politician’s daughter, Shehrbano Taseer, 21, must stop speaking out against blasphemy laws.

”We read the statement of the slain governor’s daughter in a newspaper. She should refrain from issuing such statements and must remember her father’s fate,” Shadab Qadri said. His organization has also offered legal support to Mumtaz Qadri and financial help to his family ”as he performed a great duty in the name of Islam”. Mumtaz Qadri is the assassin of the Punjab Governor.

Pakistan, far from being our ally in the “war on terror,” has shown itself over and over again to be one of the world’s most flagrant abusers of human rights. We should immediately cease all foreign aid to Pakistan until and unless they protect the rights of all Pakistanis, Christians included. These would include the right to freely practice their religion, the right of free speech, and the right to communicate freely with whomsoever they desire. No person in good conscience can sanction their actions, any more than we could those of South Africa. The time to disinvest is now.

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The Threat Posed by the Tuscon Tragedy

It didn’t take long for the tragedy in Tuscon to become fodder for the political class. The bodies of the dead weren’t even cold before Carolyn McCarthy(D-NY) went public claiming she would introduce a new gun control bill within a week. She was followed by Peter King(R-NY), proving that a disregard for the constitution has become a truly “bi-partisan” effort. McCarthy plans to propose a bill that would ban the sale of ammunition clips that hold more than 15 rounds, like the one authorities said was used by alleged gunman Jared Loughner on Saturday. King said his bill would make it illegal to knowingly carry a gun within a thousand feet of “certain high-profile” government officials. Bob Brady(D-PA) joined the fray, although his attack was on the first amendment.

Others calling for some sort of legislation restricting free speech include Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in the House and father of Mignon Clyburn, a member of the FCC, who said America needs to “rethink parameters on free speech.” The Congressman thinks standards should be put in place to guarantee balanced media coverage. “You cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater and call it free speech, and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that.” Proving that congressmen spend more time talking than thinking. Nobody thought to ask him what to yell if there were a fire in a theater.

Brady (D-Penn.) has gone on the cable news shows vowing to introduce legislation that would make it a federal crime to use images or language that threaten public officials, like Sarah Palin’s, the Democratic Leadership Council’s, or the Daily Kos’ use of targets on a map. Not to be too proletarian about it, but one wonders why Brady is unaware of laws that already prevent threatening people, or does he believe that our employees lives are more valuable that ours?

Stopping short of advocating legislation, The National Hispanic Media Coalition is urging the FCC to open a docket to examine the extent and effects of hate speech in media. The organization also requested that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration update its 1993 report, “The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes.” Predictably, the NHMC believes that advocating enforcement of immigration laws is “hate speech.”

Furthering the notion that the government is at best disconnected from “We, the people,” and at worst, actively inimical to us, two members of congress have announce publicly that they will begin carrying firearms. Again, a bi-partisan effort, since one is a democrat and one a republican. They both proudly announce their exercise of a right denied to many of us, especially those in Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, among others.

The problem with all of this nattering is that it has become a substitute for serious thought. Serious thought takes time, and shooting off one’s mouth before the crisis has even cooled is proof of the absence of thought. The sheriff of Pima county has been an excellent example of this. So just what does this shooting teach us, and how should we respond?

Oddly enough, I believe that this shooting presents us with a parallel to what atheists call the problem of pain. Succinctly, that is whether a God that is good can countenance the existence of pain. It’s a sophistic problem that any serious philosopher can overcome in a few minutes, and has no more application than the question “what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” The answer to the problem of pain, surprisingly, is the same as the answers to eliminating our constitutional rights. Both revolve around the intrinsic nature of man, and the answer is the same.

Man is a creature endowed with, among other things like life and liberty, a free will. And because of that free will or liberty, we need to deal with the problems it causes. The Tuscon shooter had liberty, and with it, he purchased, loaded, and fired a handgun into a crowd of people. If some analysts are correct and he is mentally ill, he hasn’t any free will; at least to the extent that his illness precludes it. So some congressmen decide to jump into the midst of the problem, and solve it. However, incorrectly diagnosing the illness, they offer an incorrect cure. The problem in this case is not one of too much liberty, but not enough free will. The cure is not to restrict my rights, but to aid the mentally ill and restore their free will.

Carolyn McCarthy asks why anyone needs a high capacity magazine. Some ask why anyone needs a gun? Brady and Clyburn ask why do we need free speech? They ask the wrong question. The question isn’t why we need our rights, but why we have those rights. The constitution is silent about what we need, like housing, food, and medicine. It speaks volumes about what we have, like rights and responsibilities. It does this because necessities are a given, we cannot exist without them. Rights, on the other hand, were something novel that no government had been forced to acknowledge before. The beauty of our system is that it recognizes that these rights are inherent in each person, and cannot be defeased unless we allow it.

Man without free will is worthless to God, a mere golem, of no more import than a pet fish is to a human. Man without liberty is worthless to a republic, no more than a slave, an asset to the state. Only man, free willed and full of liberty, in full possession of the rights endowed by his creator, can be of any value to either himself, God, or society.

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Scalia, Originalism, and Women

I am shocked, although by now I shouldn’t be, by the number of people weighing in on Justice Scalia’s remarks at UC Hasting’s School of Law. Many have accused him of misogyny for one of his remarks, but I believe they miss the mark of what Scalia was really talking about.

Scalia is a leading proponent of a school of though called originalism. Originalism, actually a family of legal theories, holds that laws should be applied using the intent of the drafters of the law. Predominantly, it has come to be thought of as an approach to Constitutional application. Originalists would generally reject the idea of constitutional “interpretation.”

So, in the interests of being fair, let’s take a look at what Scalia was asked, and what he answered.

Question:    In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?

Answer:    Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

Note that the question begins with the professor saying that in 1868, nobody would have thought that the amendment applied to sex or sexual orientation discrimination. And then he finishes the question by asking if the current stream of 14th amendment law is fundamentally in error. So the ultimate question he asks is whether the 14th amendment has been used in a way it was never intended to be used. Or, perhaps, whether the 14th amendment has been applied incorrectly to situations the framers of the amendment didn’t envision.

Scalia then answers by saying yes, that the amendment has been stretched beyond its intent. Not once does he say that discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation is right, or good, or desirable. He merely says that neither form of discrimination is prohibited by the 14th amendment. His position is consistent with a judicial and legal philosophy that many people, including some legal scholars, agree with.

Scalia goes on in his answer to give the basic framework of that philosophy. He says, “If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box.” The point he makes is that the constitution cannot address every possible contingent of modern life. In those areas where it is silent, for example, about discrimination on the basis of sex, look to the legislature to reflect society’s current interests. “Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about.”

Scalia’s point is not only cogent in a legal theory framework, it also reflects a certain practicality. In America, abortion is still a terribly divisive issue, almost forty years after Roe v. Wade. In England, it’s not. Why? Perhaps because in England, the question was voted on by the people, and the people chose to make abortion legal. There are plenty of people in England that are pro-life, but they are also aware that they live in a society that gives them a voice, and their voice was heard, and they are willing to live with that result. In America, the issue wasn’t settled by legislation, but by judicial fiat. Even the justice who authored the decision later admitted it had to be fabricated out of whole cloth, because there is no right to abortion mentioned in the constitution.

Scalia has it right when he says that he doesn’t even need to read the briefs in abortion cases. It’s neither a federal issue nor a constitutional one. It’s an issue that lies within the purview of the people or their representatives. Not every issue has a solution in the constitution, nor should it. And to be fair, it’s not just abortion. Death penalty? Not a constitutional question, except in its application and equal protection concerns. Don’t like the death penalty? Get the legislature to outlaw it.

The point Scalia makes is not about sex discrimination, nor about women. It’s a more fundamental point about the nature of the government, its relationship to the governed, and the nature of the constitution itself. If the constitution can mean anything “nine superannuated judges who have been there too long” says it means, than it means nothing except what they say it means. If that is truly the case, then we no longer have a republic, we have an oligarchy of the unelected.

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The Disingenuity of the “War on Terror”

The AP reports that the car explosion that went off in front of Saints Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria killed 21 and injured 96 parishioners who were attending a New Year’s Eve Mass. According to church officials and eyewitnesses, there are many more victims that are still unidentified and whose body parts were strewn all over the street outside the church. The body parts were covered with newspapers until they were brought inside the church after some Muslims started stepping on them and chanting Jihadist chants. On the back of the car used in the attack was a sticker with the words “the rest is coming.”

The White House issued a pusillanimous statement that missed the target in a number of ways. Barack Obama said “I strongly condemn the separate and outrageous terrorist bombing attacks in Egypt and Nigeria. The attack on a church in Alexandria, Egypt caused 21 reported deaths and dozens of injured from both the Christian and Muslim communities. The perpetrators of this attack were clearly targeting Christian worshipers, and have no respect for human life and dignity.” He then went on to bemoan the loss of life in an attack made by the Boko Haram on a military barracks in Abuja, Nigeria that killed more than 20 people of indeterminate religion.

First, there is little, if any, evidence of Muslim casualties. If there were, they would be incidental, as Obama admits. Obama was clear that the “terrorist” attack in Alexandria was aimed at Christians. No one else is suggesting any Muslim deaths or injuries. Obama is clearly trying to bury the anti-Christian nature of the attack by claiming Muslim victims, and combining it with the Abuja bombing. Oddly enough, regardless of the religion of the victims, Boko Haram is a fundamentalist Islamic group attempting to seize power in Nigeria.

Second, Obama cravenly refused to identify the “perpetrators” of what he called a barbaric and heinous act, even though the perpetrators identified themselves as “Al Queda in Iraq.” The Islamic State of Iraq, a militant umbrella group that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, threatened the Copts of Egypt at the end of October. Egypt was slightly more sanguine, alleging the attack may have been conducted by the Israelis or other “foreigners,” even as Al Queda claimed responsibility. Obama has offered investigatory help to the Egyptians, although since there is evidence that Egyptian security forces were complicit in the attack, it probably won’t be accepted.

Third, there is the continuing use of the phrase “terrorist” to describe both people and attacks. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion ,” while it’s defined by Title 22 of the U.S. Code as “politically motivated violence perpetrated in a clandestine manner against noncombatants.” Practically speaking, though, we know it when we see it, to paraphrase Potter Stewart on pornography. What’s important to note is that terrorism is a weapon, or perhaps, a tactic. A terrorist, by definition, is one who uses terrorism to achieve a goal. Implicit in that idea is the notion that a terrorist is motivated by something, to achieve something.

And that is why I suggest that Obama, like Bush and Clinton before him, is a coward. He is quick to denounce terrorism, while ignoring the somethings that drive the terrorist. Imagine if during World War II we had declared war on artillery, or artillerymen. It would have been seen as absurd. How much is different when we declare a war on terrorism? We can decry terrorism as a tactic, and rightly so. But to do so with no regard for the who the terrorist is, and what they want, is an exercise in futility.

The terrorists are Muslims. Their goal is the destruction of western Christendom and the imposition of Islam and Islamic sharia in it’s place. Until the West wakes up, identifies its enemies, and engages them, we are in mortal danger. As individuals, as a society, and as “the last, best hope of man on earth.”

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