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Saturday, September 23, 2006

How Both Parties Have Failed America

The leaders of both of the major political parties in Washington have a vested interest in not addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time--immigration reform. The Democrats have long favored immigration as a means of expanding their voting base. The Republicans have long favored immigration, albeit not publicly, as a means of getting cheap labor. Now that it has been clearly stated what everybody has known all along but refused to admit, it is easy to see why this problem is not easily fixed.

For the past 26 years or so the shifting sands of the political landscape have not favored Democrats. They have held the White House only eight of those 26 years, and their majorities in the houses of Congress were either shortlived or non-existent during the same period of time. Those who peer into future political shifts have long noted that the Democrats' main voting base is shrinking and that the percentage of the populace that resonates with the Party's message is down significantly from 60s. The one thing that the Democrats have had in their favor is the nation's immigration policy, which has tended to be a haphazard endeavor with gaps so deep and broad that terrorists could enter and leave the country practically under the radar screen. And with the majority of those who immigrate being from impoverished nations, the Democrats could find a willing audience among the millions who have come to our shores over the past 20 years.

The Republicans' record is no better. In fact, one can make the case that it is a worse record than the Democrats because the Republicans have been the ones putting the issue on center stage year after year, and yet doing nothing. The reason is not far to find. Cheap labor. Employers of illegal immigrants can save millions of dollars per year by employing people who will work in the hot sun for much less than minimum wage and who do not demand 'fringe benefits.' In the housing sector alone, it is estimated that the average cost of a home in southeastern Texas, for example, would rise by at least $20,000 were it not illegals. In other words, give an American a job, pay him right, treat him right, and your costs will soar. Despite the rhetoric of some within the Party, the Republicans have the dubious record of talking a good game but doing very little to control the flow of illegals to this country. The current President and the U.S. Congress have plenty of blame to share on this issue.

Perhaps we should stop for a moment and ask ourselves some sobering questions as a society--Is this ultimately good for America? If so, who does it benefit mostly? If not, then what are the damaging effects of continuing with business as usual in our immigration policy?

Should we expect people who immigrate here to obey the law? If not, then why should we expect ANY citizen to obey the law, ever? What makes an immigrant so special that this society can wink and nod at illegal activity associated with them, while affording law-abiding citizens who have been here all along no such break?

At what point does the practice of employing cheap labor outside the bounds of U.S. law become unAmerican? Is it not more important for the long-term stability of the nation that we have a law-abiding populace rather than providing them a temporary break from costs by employing law-breakers?

And finally, to the Democrats who see votes in all this, how many years does it take in selling your soul to expediency for you to cease to be a viable political party working for the good of America?

The answers to these questions will require much soul-searching and a gut-wrenching honesty that one is not likely to see in politics. But we must consider these issues and amend our policies accordingly. Time is running out.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gas Prices Down, Bush Numbers Up

Is it really just the economy, stupid?

One can make a case that there are many other weightier matters on the political agenda since the war on terror ensued. However, when it comes to the President's everyday poll numbers, apparently one need look no further than the trends in gas prices. As the prices at the pump go up, Bush's numbers go down. As the prices at the pump plumment, Bush's numbers start back up.

The Presiden't popularity now stands at 44%, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll. This represents a five-point gain since the last poll was taken. Within that short period of time, the one variable that changed was the price of oil. For example, in one area of the country gas prices topped out at $2.94 per gallon at the end of August. Today that figure is $2.35 per gallon. Some areas of the country are reporting a much steeper decline. One pundit who follows trends in oil prices suggested the possibility of a nationwide average of just $1.15 per gallon at the pump by the time the declines in prices are over.

Consumer confidence has been emboldened by the latest trends. As oil prices decline Americans feel more confident about the economy. And the more confident they feel about the economy the more confidence they tend to have in their elected officials. This would seem to improve dramatcially the prospects of the Republicans retaining majorities in both houses of Congress. Recent polls show that the Republicans are quickly closing the gap on early Democrat leads in key races around the country, in both the House and Senate.

However, it is probably too early for the Republicans to start their victory celebrations just yet. It is still quite a long time until the November elections. Much can happen in that period of time to change the nature of the political landscape. We still face a ticking timb-bomb in Iraq as Americans increasingly grow weary of our seemingly endless campaign there. Iran may perhaps pose an ever greater threat than Iraq as they stand on the brink of becoming a nuclear power. The tension between Isreal and the Muslim world is not going away, and one has to wonder how long it will take for the violence to flair in that region once again.

These landmines and others can be very tricky during an election cycle. The bit of good news for the President, however, is that local races tend to be about local issues. Certainly this is not always the case as Congressional and Senate candidates are prone to hitch their wagons to issues of national interest. The problem so far has been that each time the Democrats have pushed the notion that midterms elections are a referendum on the President's handling of his job, they lose. Yet they continue down this path, even today, making George W. Bush the 'star' of their latest ad campaign, as if this is somehow doing to help them gain seats in Congress.

It may well be that one of these days their ill-fated plan may work. On the other hand, it has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

And, as long as gas prices continue downward, particularly over the Fall and Winter, it may well turn out to be a very long season for the Democrats.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Muslim Rage Against the Pope

I will say at the outset that Muslim extremists all over the world are not doing themselves any favors by their blatant and violent overreaction to a quote that the Pope made during a recent lecture. Let's take a look at the reasonable vs. the unreasonable for a moment.

The Pope had returned to his alma mater recently to deliver a lecture to the theologians present. Within the theological world all historic documents are considered. Granted, much of what was written in years passed has been repudiated. Yet it is the mark of a good theological school and a good theologian to consider past statements from others who were considered major voices in the field. The Pope offered a quotation that clearly delineated the differences between Catholicsm and Christianity on the one hand, and Islam on the other. The intent was to provide a basis for discussion and dialogue with other theologians. The quote, admittedly, placed Islam in a very negative light. Yet no one as of yet has been able to show that what was said in that quotation was not true. In fact, the reaction of the extremists Muslims to the quotation only proves that the quotation IS true.

The statements cited in the Pope's lecture centered on the concepts of holy war and the spread of Islam by the sword. The result has been a venomous and hate-filled reaction among many Muslim sectors around the world, including death threats against the Pope, the desire to assassinate the Pope and other Catholics, and the hanging and burning of the Pope in effagy. These extremists have vowed holy war against the Vatican.

This being the case, then how is the quotation the Pope used in his lecture erroneous in any way? The extremists' reaction is only serving to prove the point.

Admittedly, not all Muslims stand in accord with the extremists, and this cannot be stressed enough. There have been many voices among Muslim populations that have disavowed any association or approval of the actions and words of the Fundamentalist extremists. Further, the Catholic church has had its own seasons of less-than-admirable tactics in the desire to spread Christianity, i.e., the Crusades. However, the Pope made it clear in the lecture that Catholicism has come a long way since that time, resting on a rational and reasonable approach of peace, acceptance, open dialogue, and understanding. Perhaps his point was that Muslims can do the same thing since both groups have had their experience with more violent methods. Sadly, this point has been lost in the hostility that has ensued among Muslim extremists.

In the meantime, we must bear in mind that the extremists are very dangerous. This IS a life and death matter. As long as there are those who are intent on wiping 'the Infidels' from the face of the earth, we all must take heed. I am afraid that even more violent times are ahead.

Monday, September 18, 2006

U.S. Policy on Illegal Drugs

William F. Buckley, long-time conservative columnist, author, and magazine publisher raised more than a few eyebrows several years ago when he advocated for a revamping of U.S. policy on illegal drugs. Buckley's premise in a nutshell was that the policy itself is ill-conceived and reminiscent of Prohibition, which was an abject failure. Government should not be in the business of regulating the private behavior of private citizens. Experience has been a great teacher. When government has attempted such ill-fated schemes in the past, the result has been an increase of the very behavior it was seeking to squelch, i.e. the consumption of alcohol, and a dangerous proliferation of illegal activity on the black market. The speak-easies were the only ones making huge tax-free profits during Prohibition.

The same principle applies to illegal drugs.

The illegality of these substances has created a massive underground black market where shadowy figures overseas, and their foot-soldiers on U.S. streets, rake in millions of dollars per year that pass under the radar screen. Such a dubious enterprise is not subject to regulation or taxes. The purity of the substances sold is often questionable, resulting in untold numbers of deaths. The means by which the collection of the huge price tag of these subtances is procured creates an ever heavier strain on the already crime laden streets of our largest metropolitan areas. Thus, our decades old so-called 'war on drugs' has been deemed every bit as much a failure as Prohibition.

Alternative approaches to this still-growing problem are long overdue. Perhaps we could learn a few lessons from our Dutch counterparts who have discovered that the de-criminalization and legalization of certain illegal substances has resulted in observable benefit to society. For one, prisons are not overcrowded due to simple possession charges. In addition, these drugs are sold in certain specified shops, under government regulation, and subject to government taxes. Dutch society as a whole has been enhanced by such a public policy.

It is difficult to imagine the United States legalizing the sale of such substances, in spite of the fact that the tax revenues from such a policy could ease the tax burden on individual citizens. Our historic sense of moral responsibility is so deeply ingrained that one is hard-pressed to imagine any such change in the near future. However, a good start could be made by the de-criminalization of simple possession and use.

Estimates from the most reliable sources indicate that upwards of 60% of the prison population in America is drug-related, and most of this is attributed to charges of simple possession. In an era where prison overcrowding has led to dangerous decisions to release violent criminals and to overburdening the taxpayers with the costs of building new prisons, or even worse, forcing prisoners to live under massive tents in 100-degree heat, leading to violent confrontations between inmates, it would seem that implementing a reasonable policy of decriminalizing the use and possession of illegal drugs is the prudent course. It is much more vital to the security of our society to keep violent criminals behind bars than to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders who are presently inhabiting prison space that could be free for the imprisonment of the truly dangerous ciminals. Prison overcrowding would immediately become a non-issue. The burden on the taxpayers to build new prisons would be eased.

California's practice of sentencing non-violent drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison is an idea worth considering. What sense does it make for a pot-smoking 20 year old college student to occupy a cell next to a violent criminal? There are numerous and effective programs that help drug addicts get clean and sober. The medical community considers the problem a disease. This being the case, treatment is the answer rather than imprisonment. Leave the jail cells to the truly violent criminals.

The costs of the present public policy toward illegal drugs to the society is staggering. Surely we can do better. By implementing prudent measures to decriminalize non-violent drug offenders we can begin to address a decades old problem that isn't going away but getting worse. We can all do ourselves as citizens a big favor by writing to our state and national representatives and expressing our desire to see a change in public policy toward illegal drugs.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Interrogating Terrorists

The big debate in Washington this week focussed on the Bush Administration's request that Congress clarify the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, General Article 3, concerning the treatment of non-military personnel who are involved in acts of war. Three major U.S. Senators--John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham broke with the President on the issue, insisting that the wording of the Geneva Conventions remain intact as they have stood for decades. The President came out swinging at a news conference this week, delineating his case that the present CIA methods of interrogating terrorists have yielded life-saving information that has prevented another terrorist attack on U.S. soil and that to suggest we have lost our moral authority in the world is tantamount to lumping us together with the terrorists.

The major news organizations have tended to overplay the debate as a major rift among Republicans in Congress who have apparently decided to defy the President on this issue. Perhaps there is a story on that somewhere in the mix, but it misses the point. The point is that both the White House and Senate Republicans have succeeded in placing on center stage the issue of the war on terror...and with good reason. Recent polls have suggested that the fear of another terrorist attack on American soil is still at the forefront of the minds of most Americans and that the war on terror ranks in the top three most important issues facing voters in the upcoming elections.

That being said, removing yet another layer of the public discourse on this issue reveals several key considerations--the interface of U.S. Law and International Law,
the protection of both the safety of U.S. citizens AND the rights of detainees, and the legal protection afforded to CIA interrogators who must receive concrete assurances that their tactics are legal.

One must bear in mind that the law of the land in this country is the United States Code. It is not unusual for this nation to clarify provisions of International Law for the purposes of conformity to U.S. Code. Given that the wording of General Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is vague and open to speculation and interpretation, and given that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that methods of interrogating terror suspects must conform to the Geneva Conventions, it is perhaps prudent that Congress take a look at spelling out in black and white what, exactly, is acceptable. The U.S. Supreme Court has essentially mandated adherence to a provision of International Law that is too vague. It is up to the Legislative Branch to thus clarify General Article 3 so that the interface between International Law and the U.S. Code is consistent with U.S. Law. This can be done without tampering with or violating the wording of the Geneval Conventions. Senator McCain stated this morning on ABC News with George Stephanopolis that he believes such a compromise can be accomplished.

In addition, one must not forget that the fact that we have not been the recipient of a terrorist attack since 9/11 is a major argument in the President's favor. Americans are still afraid, and they still expect their government to pursue reasonaable means of providing protection and security. The fact that we have remained relatively unscathed since 9/11 does give one some sense of gratification. However, most of us are yet ever so aware of the prevailing threat. At the same time, one must bear in mind that detainees are misguided and dangerous human beings, but human beings nonetheless. Our methods of interrogation must not be so over the top that we lose our sense of values. America must always take the moral high road. That is who we are. Part of the reason for the respect and admiration we have historically received in the world is due to our values. If we lose that then we lose any moral authority we have earned in the eyes of the world.

Finally, we must take seriously the expressed needs of CIA intelligence officials on the front lines of the war on terror. They have asked for clarification. This is the least we can do for them. Anything less will subject dedicated American patriots to the looming threat of prosecution. It is not fair to ask our CIA personnel to do all they can to protect American lives without giving THEM the protection of clarity in U.S. Law. The boundary lines must be spelled out in such a way so as to assure interrogators that their methods are within the bounds of the law while at the same time affording them the clear knowledge that anything outside those bounds is illegal and makes them subject to prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. This would seem to be reasonable and fair.

At this juncture in the war on terror, clarification of law is essential in order for us to proceed in an orderly fashion to protect our society from the ravages of terrorism. This can be done without in any way changing or amending the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. Senator McCain and the Administration seem to think such a thing can be done. Let's hope that they are right.

Let's Get Started

The world today is at a crossroads of sorts that could determine the future of civilization for many years to come. Never before have there been such opportunities for freedom to flourish, yet never before have the forces opposed to human liberty mounted such herculean efforts to thwart the progression of freedom and advancement. Cultures and societies clash on values, concepts, world-view, religion, philosophy, and ideology. Henry Kissinger has recently suggested that there lies before us the stark possibility of a war of civilizations. I would like to suggest that perhaps that war has already begun.

The recent ABC News docu-drama, 'The Path to 9/11,' portrayed for us in striking detail the challenge that we face. This controversial film raised the ire of many politicians, leading to a media feeding frenzy that served to bury the basic message of the film beneath all the rhetoric.

This film was not about fixing blame. Neither was it intended to create scapegoats for a mindset in American culture that, prior to 9/11, was based upon a false sense of security that has prevailed ever since the end of the Cold War. Granted, the Clinton Administration's handling of the threat of terrorism was fraught with missteps, oversights, and a rather cavalier attitude that was indicative of American culture in general at the time. It is doubtful that any administration would have acted with any more resolved, except perhaps on a limited level. One can imagine a George W. Bush administration reacting proactively to the attack on the USS Cole, for example, but it is questionable that a Bush administration would have been any more prepared for an attack such as 9/11 when the entire society at the time lived under the assumption that we were invinsible. Little did we know how vulnerable we really were. Even the lone voices within the Clinton Administration who sensed that vulnerability were no doubt taken by surprise when the Towers actually fell. And thus, those who would seize upon 'The Path to 9/11' as a path to indictment or to seek vindication miss the point entirely.

The point is we are in grave danger as a society.

We are somewhat more prepared to deal with the threat of terrorism than we were prior to 9/11, but we are, after all, a free society. Freedom places limits on what governments can do in dealing proactively with threats that are posed by terrorists, who work covertly and with no single state sponsor. Their backing comes from a variety of sources both in and outside of recognized governments. Never before in the history of modern civilization have we faced such an enemy. Our vulnerability does not stem primarily from a failure of government but from the limits of a free society.

The question, thus, remains, how do we forge a path that both protects the precious liberties we cherish as Americans and yet protects the security that we have come to cherish as well?


Hello, and welcome to the Liberty Sphere...a website dedicated to the preservation and promotion of human liberty all around the world. I invite you to share your insights, concerns, opinions, and reflections here as we strive to inhabit this planet together amicably.

I am your host, D. Martyn Lloyd-Morgan. I am a consultant on public policy to various political and social organizations that are expressly interested in the cause of liberty.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you here on this vastly important subject, and I look forward to reading yours.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Morgan