200911

November 30, 2009 2:52PM

Tacoma Police Killings

National Review Online invited me to offer comments on the four police officers who were murdered in Tacoma, Washington.  Here's an excerpt:

The vicious killing of the police officers in Tacoma, Washington, may well have political repercussions for Mike Huckabee, as others have noted here. The primary suspect is Maurice Clemmons, who in 1989 received a 95-year prison sentence that was later commuted, in 2000, by then–Governor Huckabee. Whenever Clemmons has been free, he seems to have perpetrated still more violent crimes, according to the news stories.

I would, however, caution against a blanket condemnation of pardons, as well as any hasty move to simply abolish parole. The American criminal-justice system is thoroughly swamped. Right now there are more than 7 million people under criminal-justice “supervision.” About 2.5 million are behind bars, and about 4.5 million are on probation or parole. This system is greatly overburdened by non-violent drug offenders. Conditions vary by jurisdiction, but in general there is no prison space left. So it is unrealistic for us to say, “If a prisoner violates parole, send him back to jail immediately!”

Liberals thought it was unfair for Bush 41 to attack Michael Dukakis for his decision to release violent offenders like Willie Horton.  It was not unfair at all because it raised good questions about Dukakis's judgment.

The best way to curb violent crime is to lock up violent criminals.  Sounds like a no-brainer but our system is swamped with drug offenders.  Problems fester while the pols try to deflect criticism away from themselves.

November 30, 2009 1:43PM

The Swiss Minaret Ban: Some Things Never Change

minaret

In the Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke wrote,

Nobody... neither single persons, nor Churches, nay, nor even commonwealths, have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other, upon pretence of religion. Those that are of another opinion would do well to consider with themselves how pernicious a seed of discord and war, how powerful a provocation to endless hatreds, rapines, and slaughters they thereby furnish unto mankind. No peace and security, no, not so much as common friendship, can ever be established or preserved amongst men, so long as this opinion prevails, that dominion is founded in grace, and that religion is to be propagated by force of arms.

A lot has changed since 1685, of course, but some things never will. Even today, the only way that people of different faiths (and of no faith) will ever be able to coexist in the same society is to divorce religion from state compulsion. Separation of church and state is a bargain that everyone can live with. It might just be the only bargain that treats everyone fairly, which is why it's so important in a globalized, multiethnic world.

For the most part, we in the West have moved steadily toward Locke's advice. This week the Swiss took a serious step backward:

In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

The Swiss government said it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population — mostly immigrants from other parts of Europe, like Kosovo and Turkey — that the minaret ban was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”

...Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer. There are about 400,000 Muslims in a population of some 7.5 million people. Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland.

“Most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote,” said Farhad Afshar, who runs the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland. “Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community.”

It's transparently false to say that the minaret ban is "not a rejection of the Muslim community." Of course it is a rejection of the Muslim community. It is a calculated, symbolic rejection. They didn't go banning cloisters or mikvehs, after all. And because none of the existing minarets perform the daily calls to prayer, they can't even say that the measure prevents noise pollution. (An excuse that would, if we were at all serious about it, ban Catholic church bells, while leaving the silent minarets untouched.)

As Locke might have observed, the Swiss ban on minarets isn't going to calm religious tensions. It's only going to make them worse, because now we know that the state is willing and able to use its power to disfavor a religion. It's an open invitation, yet again, to everyone with a religious agenda: Use force, not persuasion. After all, that's how they do it in (civilized, peace-loving) Switzerland!

Still more unfortunate is that Muslims feel the need to ask the government for acceptance in the first place. Someone should tell them that this is totally unbefitting a proud faith like their own, which should stand or fall on divine truth, not on popular referendum. A government that kept out of religious matters would neither restrict Islam nor feel the need to be falsely reassuring about it. And, under such a government, people of all religious persuasions would have a lot less to worry about.

Again, Locke is instructive:

Is it permitted to speak Latin in the market-place? Let those that have a mind to it be permitted to do it also in the Church. Is it lawful for any man in his own house to kneel, stand, sit, or use any other posture; and to clothe himself in white or black, in short or long garments? Let it not be made unlawful to eat bread, drink wine, or wash with water in the Church. In a word, whatsoever things are left free by law in the common occasions of life, let them remain free unto every Church in divine worship.

And, for the squeamish, Locke adds:

If anything pass in a religious meeting seditiously, and contrary to the public peace, it is to be punished in the same manner, and no otherwise, than as if it had happened in a fair or market.

Some things never change.

November 30, 2009 1:37PM

Is Cato ‘Liberal’ on Criminal Law Issues?

Kent Scheidegger, who blogs over at Crime and Consequences, takes issue with the recent New York Times article that said liberal and conservative groups are finding common ground on criminal justice issues.  He makes some fair observations but then he had this to say about Cato:

The picture is somewhat complicated by the existence of libertarian groups such as Cato that side with conservatives on economic issues and liberals on criminal law issues, but that is an issue of taxonomy rather than realignment.

I don't think that's accurate at all.  To begin with, Cato has been very critical of gun control regulations.  A few other issues where we part company with our liberal friends include hate crime legislation (and the role of the federal government more generally), welfare/social spending, and the rights of businesspeople.  There are doubtless more issues, but this should suffice.  I might add that ending the misguided drug war is a major objective, but there are plenty of conservatives who agree with libertarians on that topic.

More Cato scholarship here.

November 30, 2009 12:37PM

Lula’s Diplomatic Embarrassment in Honduras

One of the big losers from yesterday’s successful election in Honduras has been Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who demonstrated that under his presidency, Brazil is not ready to play a positive leadership role in the hemisphere.

Not only did Lula seem to be complicit in smuggling deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya into the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa—an irresponsible move that risked the possibility of major confrontations and bloodshed in that country—but he stubbornly refuses to recognize yesterday’s election as legitimate.

Lula’s grandstanding has nothing to do with a supposed commitment to democracy, of course. After all he continues to lavish praise on the Castro brothers’ dictatorship in Cuba, has said that Hugo Chávez is the best president Venezuela has had “in one hundred years” and was one of the first world leaders in congratulating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s blatant rigged election in Iran. Indeed, the same week he announced his refusal to recognize the elections in Honduras, he gave Ahmadinejad a warm welcoming in Brasilia.

Some had hoped that due to its size and recent assertiveness in world affairs, Brazil could play a constructive role in Latin American affairs. It’s quite clear that this won’t happen under Lula’s watch.

Instead, Lula continues to be much more responsible on domestic matters—supporting market democracy in Brazil—and reckless in foreign affairs. Or, as Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner says, a sort of Dr. Jekyll y Mr. Hyde.

November 30, 2009 10:53AM

A Few Foreign Policy Items

1) Commandant of the Marine Corps announces part of justification for sending more troops to Afghanistan: "where we have gone, goodness follows."  Pat Lang is displeased.

2) Glenn Greenwald observes that in Foreign Policy magazine's survey of leading public intellectuals who write about foreign policy, the United States is tied with Somalia and Iran for second place in the category "Most Dangerous Country in the World."

3) Afghanistan is an ideologically cross-cutting issue.  Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) praises Cato's Afghanistan study on Fox News' On the Record, saying

...I'm against any further taxes to pay for this war. But I think it has to be pointed out, this isn't a left-right issue. I mean, here's the Cato Institute, hardly a left-wing organization, wrote a piece called "Escaping the Graveyard of Empires," and they have a plan, and I've met with them, that gets us out of Afghanistan, with advisers and a new approach to intelligence and also a new drug policy.

Meanwhile, the liberal Center for American Progress has produced a statement on Afghanistan that offers some empty rhetoric about an exit strategy but contains no actual plan--or even a call for a plan--for exiting.  Instead, their proposal for when to leave is limited to calling for a multinational effort that merely will "have all Afghan forces in the lead within four years, or the 12-year mark of our engagement."  CAP is also offering a pretend plan to cut the Pentagon budget, urging Obama to spend more than $600 billion on defense for each of the next several years.

November 30, 2009 10:41AM

Remembering the Reporter Who Sued the Fed

With the Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets publishing endless defenses of "Federal Reserve independence" and proclaiming the Fed as savior of our financial system, it is all to easy to dismiss much of the media as simply defenders of the status quo.  There were many, however, willing to challenge this orthodoxy.  Standing out among them was Mark Pittman, reporter for Bloomberg.  It was Mr. Pittman who sued the Federal Reserve, winning a victory on August 24, as the Manhattan Federal Court allowed the suit to proceed.  Sadly, Mark Pittman passed away on November 25th. 

Mark Pittman and his employer, Bloomberg News, sought details on the Federal Reserve's numerous special lending facilities.  Which firms were getting loans, and for how much and at what terms?  These were all details the American public were entitled to, yet were denied by the Federal Reserve.  We all remember the Fed's warnings that if AIG counter-parties were named, there would be market disruptions.  Yet, after much public and Congressional pressure, those firms were named, with no adverse market consequences. 

While Mark Pittman's efforts will be greatly missed, his suit continues, as does the efforts by Rep. Ron Paul and others in Congress, to bring transparency to the activities of the Federal Reserve.

November 30, 2009 10:31AM

Monday Links

  • Nancy Pelosi: "The power of Congress to regulate health care is essentially unlimited."