Monday, November 30, 2009

Honduran Elections Restore Democracy, End Isolation

Hondurans went to the polls in yesterday's elections, choosing the conservative opposition candidate for their republic's new president. The turnout appeared to be higher than the previous election, despite the boycott by former leader, Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup earlier this year.

The coup was supported by the Honduran Supreme Court, the legislature and his own party after Zelaya, an ally of Venezuelan left-wing dictator Hugo Chavez, had attempted to conduct a referendum to end presidential term limits, in violation of the Honduran constitution. After the coup, the United States and Latin American states refused to recognize the interim Honduran government, which was led by a member of Zelaya's own party, demanding that the ousted leader be restored to power. The U.S. cut off critical aid to Honduras. However, no deal was reached that would allow Zelaya to return to power. Instead, elections were scheduled and held. The losing candidate from Zelaya's party quickly conceded the race for the sake of national unity.

I had criticized the Obama Administration's decision to isolate Honduras for its actions which rescued its democracy from a would-be Chavist dictator in my post, A Coup for Democracy in Honduras. The ouster of Zelaya has now been legitimatized by the elections, which have restored representative democracy to the Honduran Republic. To its credit, the Administration had announced that it would recognize the results of a free and fair election. Some Latin American states, like Columbia and some Central American states, have followed the American lead, but others, especially those aligned with Chavez, are insisting on a return of power for Zelaya, if only until his term ends in January.

Regardless, the U.S. should end its punishment of Honduras and restore aid to its ally. The U.S. needs stable, democratic friends in Latin America not only for trade, but as a bulwark against the growing threat of Chavist authoritarianism.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Risks and Dangers of Civilian Trials for the September 11 Terrorists

Despite the legal precedent of trying foreigners who commit war crimes in military tribunals, as well as Congressional authorization to do so, the Obama Administration has decided to try the September 11 terrorists in civilian courts instead. The conspirators, who had been facing a military trial, had expressed a willingness to plead guilty. There are several risks and dangers of the Obama Administration’s decision.

Holding trial of the September 11 terrorists in New York instead of at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba would make that city even more of a target for terrorism than it already is. Terrorists often use trials as a pretext for attacks. In addition, the massive security necessary for the trial will not only be inconvenient for New Yorkers, but costly to the city, as well.

This Obama Administration decision is inconsistent with its decision to try other al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts. For example, the Administration plans to try the terrorists who attacked the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 in a military court. Its rationale is the distinction between a military or civilian attack, but this distinction is splitting hairs, as September 11 was both an attack on civilians and the military. The Administration’s supporters have argued that there is precedent for trying terrorists in civilian court. That others before have been tried successfully by civilian courts does not necessarily mean it is a good idea.

Indeed, civilian trials of terrorists represent a return to the pre-September 11 mentality that terrorism is a crime, not an act of war. That mentality emboldened the terrorists to launch the September 11 Terrorist Attacks while the United States considered itself at peace, which its policies reflected, despite Osama bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa tantamount to a declaration of war. The one post-September 11 civilian trial of an al-Qaeda terrorist linked to the September 11 conspirators, Zacarias Moussaui, which took a year to conclude after he indicated that he wanted to plead guilty, should have given the Obama Administration pause. Instead, the Administration is citing this Bush Administration mistake as precedent.

Other concerns about a civilian trial for terrorists include the danger that the evidence will wither force either a revelation of American sources and methods of intelligence or an unwillingness of the U.S. to submit such incriminating evidence, which would jeopardize the possibility of a conviction, unlike in a military tribunal. In fact, the revelation of bin Laden as an un-indicted co-conspirator in a civilian terrorist trial during the Clinton Administration tipped the al-Qaeda founder off that the U.S. considered him a prime terrorist suspect. Another major concern is the federal rules of criminal procedure, unlike the rules for military tribunals, which were not applied to suspected terrorists caught on the battlefield. The terrorists could argue that their charges should be dismissed for any number of legal technicalities, which would not be applicable on foreign soil, which is one of the advantages of Guantanamo Bay. The concern, however, about the inadmissibility of evidence obtained from terrorist suspects through harsh interrogations without the presence of attorneys is not great because there had been sufficient evidence against these terrorists beforehand that caused the U.S. and its allies to capture them in the first place, and the information was obtained in order to thwart other terrorist attacks, not for evidence of guilt. Finally, another procedural concern is that the terrorists would be unable to be tried by an impartial jury in New York, which could be used by the terrorists as a reason to dismiss the charges against them or to appeal a conviction.

Unlike military tribunals, terrorists can turn civilian trials into show trials, which would give them a public platform to explain their rationale for their evil deeds – just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. Moussai turned his case into a show trial, for example.

Despite these concerns, the Obama Administration has expressed a certainty that the terrorists will be convicted. But the outcome of criminal trials is never a certainty, especially one with such high risks for the prosecution, as opposed to a military trial, let alone all the other dangers this return to a “September 10” policy would represent. The Obama Administration also seems to be politically motivated to appear to foreigners as fairer than the Bush Administration.

These reasons do not outweigh the risks and dangers of conducting civilian trials for the September 11 terrorists and the damaging message being sent to Americans and to their allies and enemies, that the United States no longer considers itself at war with those who are at war with the U.S.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

First Anniversary of My Blog; Happy Thanksgiving

Among many other things for which I am thankful, I am grateful for this blog and for your patronage of it. I have enjoyed the opportunity to express my views and appreciate your support.

I have not been posting as frequently as I would like recently, as I have been concluding my service as an elected official. I have avoided that subject on this blog, preferring to keep them separate, but once my term ends soon, I intend to post my observations on implementing conservative principles in an urban environment. I have been thankful for the opportunity to serve, but am looking forward to a break from the commitment of my time. I hope to be able to post to my blog more often.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. God bless you and God bless America!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pennsylvania Considers the Castle Doctrine

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is considering the adoption of the “Castle Doctrine,” which gives citizens the right to use deadly force against an attacker, if reasonably necessary, to defend themselves wherever a citizen has a right to be.

Pennsylvania House Bill 40 would clarify the state's existing self-defense law by clearly adopting the standard derived from English Common Law that regards a man's home as his castle. The Castle Doctrine includes the abolition of the “duty to retreat” currently in Pennsylvania law, which would guarantee citizens the right to “stand their ground.”

Current Pennsylvania law forces citizens to prove that that the use of a deadly weapon in self-defense -- even only brandishing a firearm -- was justified. Citizens who defend themselves justifiably are often arrested, especially in Philadelphia County. Indeed, justice is unequal in Pennsylvania, as the use of a deadly weapon in self-defense is less prosecuted in many other counties. Under Pennsylvania House Bill 40, the burden will be on the prosecution to prove that the use of deadly force was not reasonable.

House Bill 40 would also provide citizens with immunity from lawsuits brought by criminals against citizens who use deadly weapons to defend themselves.

The adoption of the Castle Doctrine would safeguard citizens better than current Pennsylvania law by removing any fear of prosecution or litigation for justifiably defending themselves, which also would thereby better deter crime. Pennsylvania law should guarantee the rights of citizens to use deadly force to defend themselves and their property reasonably, which is why Pennsylvania House Bill 40 must pass.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

1,000th Visit to My Blog

My blog has now been visited over 1,000 times since April 2! I am pleased that it only took seven and a third months to pass this milestone, even though I have hardly advertised my blog at all. Thank you for your patronage. I am especially grateful to those of you who are loyal visitors.

Here are the statistics: I do not count my own visits, and do not count hits from the same person that occur less than one hour apart as a visit. If I were to include the latter total of hits, the total hits would be over 1,400.

Sixty people started their visits to my blog on its homepage. Many of them are loyal visitors; twelve of them alone visited my blog around 225 times! I appreciate that some of them posted links to my blog on the Internet.

Over 720 others either started their visit by directly linking to a post or by landing on it through web searches. Many of them returned for more visits or viewed my homepage or other posts. They landed on a total of 64 posts, going as far back as January, and viewed 10 additional posts. These visitors have come from 47 States in the Union, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; the most have come from CA, followed by FL, NY, TX, PA and NJ. Visitors have come from 48 foreign states and Hong Kong on 6 continents; the most have come from Malaysia, the UK, Canada, Algeria, India and Pakistan. One of the last hits this morning came from the Peoples' Republic of China -- the first visit from a communist state (not counting Chinese-owned Hong Kong, which is still free).

The most popular posts are Rise and Fall of Islamic Civilization, with over 200 hits, and the Economy, Deficit and Debt at George W. Bush's Administration, with over 100. Other popular posts are Obama did not Inherit the Economy from Bush; Lepanto, by GK Chesterton; Father Stanley Jaki, Rest in Peace; Two Big Myths About the Founding Fathers; Follow-up on the Fall of Islamic Civilization; Radicals in the Obama Administration; and Analysis of Obama's Economic and Fiscal Policies.

Visitors have come from interesting places. Many are from colleges and universities. Some are from governments; although hits to posts had come from searchers at the U.S. House of Representatives before, for the first time since my last blog hit report, another visitor from there landed on my homepage after searching for my name and other information. I had mentioned a hit before in an early blog report from the Holy See, Vatican City, but another one since then came from a parish church (Ave Maria, Colorado). There have even been hits from the media; I had mentioned in an early blog hit report that one visitor came from the New York Times, who used my blog as background reading for a story, but another visitor since then came from CBS.

Again, thank you for visiting my blog and making it successful. Please continue to visit it regularly and to post comments or to submit suggestions for further topics. I have many more posts planned. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Berlusconi Defies European Court, Keeps Crucifixes in Italian Schools

The European Court declared crucifixes in Italian state-run schools illegal, but Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will defy the court and keep the crucifixes in the schools.

Although Catholicism is no longer the state religion of Italy, other Christians and even many non-Christians such as Muslims believe in the Scriptural account of the Crucifixion of Jesus, while many others at least recognize its historicity. Crucifixes have long been in Italian school classrooms, except during the Fascist regime, when they were replaced by large portraits of dictator Benito Mussolini.

Indeed, Crucifixes are the Italian way to remind them that their equal rights come from our Creator, not the state, just as American schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the Flag of their republic “under God.” Thus, even non-believers are dependent for their liberty on the faith of those who do believe. Therefore, it is only right that those believers publicly declare their faith from time to time, in order to reaffirm the commitment of the state to protect the liberty of all the people.

But the Italian school Crucifix issue is part of a larger issue: the potential loss of sovereignty of member states to the European Union. These states, like Italy, have surrendered much of their sovereignty already, but it is not yet clear just how much they have lost. Berlusconi stated that he intends to defy the court order because it lacks any authority. He is right to stand up for federalism within the “United States of Europe,” just as conservatives in the United States of America must do.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Conservative Analysis of the 2009 Elections

The 2009 elections were more favorable to Republicans and conservatives than the 2008 elections. Although Republican and conservative candidates did not win every major race, they did win both of the most significant offices on the ballot: Bob McDonnel was elected Governor of Virginia and Chris Christie was elected Governor of New Jersey.

Both states had voted for Barak Obama for president and had Democratic governors for eight years. Although the 2009 election was not a referendum on Obama, it suggests – at least – that his waning popularity is not transferable to other liberal Democrats. At most, it could suggest voter dissatisfaction with the excessive spending, borrowing and taxing by liberal Democrats in both the federal and state governments. It also suggests that the strategy of campaigning against George W. Bush, such as incumbent New Jersey Governor John Corzine employed, no longer works.

McDonnel’s campaign was a particularly good example of a positive, issues-oriented campaign. His historic landslide produced GOP coat-tails in Virginia: Republicans swept all three statewide offices, including lieutenant governor and attorney general, and won several more seats in the state legislature.

One commonality to both Republican victories is that both nominees were former prosecutors. McDonnel was a state attorney general and Christie a U.S. Attorney. Christie’s election is particularly noteworthy because he had prosecuted successfully scores of public officials, including mostly Democrats, for corruption. Indeed, he never lost a case! Although Democratic-dominated New Jersey had developed a reputation as one of the most corrupt states, voters continued to elect Democrats. The 2009 elections suggest that voters prefer Republicans viewed as tough on crime.

Gubernatorial races are significant beyond suggesting the mood of the American electorate. Even though they are state elections, they have federal implications. For example, governors make appointments to the U.S. Senate when there are vacancies. In some states, like New Jersey, the governor appoints appellate judges, who rule on elections for federal office and congressional redistricting. The party of the governor is given preference on all of the state’s election ballots in some states, including for federal office. Also, governors are often presidential or vice presidential nominees. Moreover, their success at implementing reforms can serve as examples to other states.

There were other conservative Republican victories across the United States. In Pennsylvania, for example, strict-constructionist Republicans won at least six out of seven statewide judicial races, including a seat on the state Supreme Court that determined which party controls the majority on the highest court of appeals in the Keystone State. Republican judges will now be the referees in Pennsylvania of the congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census.

Conservatives must build on the momentum generated by these encouraging victories by recruiting and supporting candidates in Republican primary elections in 2010. In those elections for state and federal offices, voters will elect all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one third of the seats in the Senate. Many states will elect governors and state legislators. In the meantime, conservatives must continue to speak out in favor of liberty, limited government, virtue and strong defense.

Jihad at Ft. Hood

The massacre by a Muslim soldier of other soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas was an Islamic militant attack in furtherance of Jihad (Islamic holy war). Although the killer may have been suffering from some mental problems, those who would dismiss this attack as merely the actions of a madman cannot deny the facts: the killer’s statements and writings indicate not only his opposition to the War on Terrorism as a “war against Islam,” but even his support for suicide attacks against the soldiers of non-Muslim states.

Because many jihadis are driven by despair, it would be wrong to focus overly on any despair the killer felt instead of on his ideological beliefs. Indeed, the Ft. Hood killer suggested that to conduct a suicidal attack would not be suicide, which is prohibited by Islam, if it were not motivated by “despair,” meaning that jihad could provide an excuse to commit suicide for one who already had feelings of despair. In short, it is the militant Islamic ideology of jihad that is the sine qua non for suicide attacks.

The Ft. Hood massacre, however, was not an act of terrorism because it was an attack primarily on the military, not innocent civilians, although there were civilians in the area of the attack (See my post, Follow-up on the Definition of Terrorism). That the Ft. Hood attack was not terrorism makes it no less representative of jihad, as it is part of a pattern with al-Qaeda and other terrorists of targeting U.S. military forces (e.g. the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1995, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and the attack of the Pentagon as part of the September 11, 2001 Attacks), regardless of whether the attack was intended to terrorize innocent civilians.

The Ft. Hood massacre is also part of a pattern of domestic attacks by Muslims, usually operating individually, within the United States. Regardless of whether these attacks are acts of terrorism, they clearly represent acts of Islamic militancy in furtherance of jihad. These attacks began before September 11, but have continued since. They are usually dismissed by the media and other commentators, many liberal politicians and some Islamic leaders as isolated events not related to “terrorism.”

The same tolerance of terrorist and other militant Muslim attacks against Americans abroad before September 11 is being practiced domestically, as each attack is seen in isolation and not as part of a pattern, and dismissed as the acts of those who are insane, instead of recognizing the ideology of militant jihad (See my post, An Attack on Americans Anywhere is an Attack on Us). We ignore these threats at our own peril. We must not make the same mistake here in the United States as we did abroad.

The Federalization of Health Insurance is Dangerous to Liberty

The United States House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill to federalize health insurance and require all American residents to purchase health insurance or face a fine and larger employers to provide health insurance benefits. The massive new welfare entitlement would provide health insurance for most, but far from all, of those who currently do not have health insurance, including illegal immigrants, even though many of those who are uninsured neither need nor want it and most people who have private health insurance are satisfied with their coverage.

The bill would do so by creating an optional federal government-run health insurance program and by subsidizing private plans Americans will be forced to purchase, often at a higher premium than they are currently paying. In other words, the redistributionist bill would essentially take money from one group of Americans and give it to another. Redistribution of income denies the liberty of the pursuit of happiness because it denies the fruits of one’s labor. Because it would take money from those who earn it and gives it to those who do not, it would subsidize unemployment. Subsidizing something only encourages it, as those who are lazy will have even less incentive to work.

The federalization of health insurance would therefore represent a takeover by the federal government of a large sector of the economy, which would lead to higher taxes and deficits and more bureaucracy. The only way the federal government would be able to reduce costs is to ration care, as happens in other states with socialized healthcare, which means that healthcare for seniors, for example, would be reduced, and there would be waiting lists for many procedures. As a welfare program, it would make people even more dependent on government, and thereby less free. Indeed, the federalization of health insurance would reduce the liberty of all Americans because the federal government would be empowered to regulate more and more areas of the lives of Americans that might possibly affect the costs of health care. Thus, the “pro-choice” liberals who propose this bill, led by President Barak Obama and Congressional Democrats, would reduce choices about both health insurance and health care for all Americans.

Health insurance, however, is not a federal issue. There is nothing inherently federal about it. Government exists to protect the rights of the people. The federalization of health insurance would distract the federal government, which is primarily responsible for protecting Americans from foreign threats, from fulfilling its purpose. The federal government, which was already large and inefficient, has been taking over more and more sectors of the private economy. There is no effort whatsoever by the proponents of federalized health insurance to explain what is federal about health insurance in order to justify federalizing it. These liberals cannot even find in the constitution where they get the authority to require purchase of something as a condition of residence in the United States, which would be unprecedented. Indeed, they dismiss the question of constitutional authority as irrelevant or stretch its meaning to such a degree as to render it irrelevant. For example, they use the constitutional clause granting the power to the federal government to regulate interstate commerce to mandate how employers compensate their employees, even if they only engage in intrastate commerce.

The federalization of health insurance is the latest example of how the federal government recognizes no limit in its authority at all, at the expense of the rights of the states and the people. The liberals who support the federalization of health insurance do not believe in the principle of federalism established by the Framers of the Constitution which limits the powers of the federal government only to federal matters. They have effectively repealed that document by ignoring it. And there are few conservative voices who even cry out against this centralization of power that violates the constitutional principal of checks and balances by proclaiming such liberal schemes as inappropriate matters for the federal government with which to interfere, let alone control.

The Senate is considering a bill similar to the one that passed the House to federalize health insurance. If the Senate bill passes that body in a different form from the one passed by the House, a conference committee will work out the differences and submit the compromise bill for the final approval of both bodies to send to the President for his signature into law. Conservatives must act to stop this bill that is dangerous to liberty from ever becoming law.