Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama and Crimes Against Humanity

President Obama at his Hundred Day White House séance proclaimed waterboarding to be torture. His was a clear, unambiguous, declarative statement. In making that statement, he opened up former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney to criminal prosecutions, here and before an international criminal court. And not just these men, but possibly hundreds of others, including members of Congress from his own party.

Cliff May, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, takes a different approach to the question of whether waterboarding is torture or not. May was badgered by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. May’s answer is not as yes/no, as on/off as President Obama’s. May said it depends. May’s answer was more nuanced. Liberals used to like nuance, but that was when John Kerry was nuancing. Here’s how it went:

Jon Stewart: But answer my question: Is waterboarding torture? Yes or no?

Cliff May: Defining torture is not easy. A simple legal definition is that it “shocks the conscience.” Cutting off Daniel Pearl’s head on videotape — that shocks my conscience. Sending a child out as a suicide bomber — that shocks my conscience. People jumping off the World Trade Towers because they’d rather die that way than by burning — that shocks my conscience. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 atrocities, gagging for a few minutes and, as a result, providing information that saves lives, then going back to his cell for dinner and a movie — no, my conscience is not shocked by that.

Are our consciences shocked by subjecting KSM to waterboarding? Apparently, this enhanced interrogation technique didn’t shock the consciences of members of Congress who were briefed on its planned use. Some of us need to re-play those tapes of cell phone calls by people trapped in the World Trade Towers.

The question keeps coming back to whether we extend all the rights of American citizens to captured terrorists. And the question also comes back to whether the terrorists are to be accorded all the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

Increasingly, our courts are saying terrorists are to be given constitutional protections, here, in Afghanistan, and at Gitmo. Geneva is another matter. This treaty binds nations to humane treatment of prisoners of war. In order to be counted as a prisoner of war, you must be in uniform (John McCain was, Nathan Hale was not), you must be subject to military discipline, and you must be taking part in a war conducted by competent authority.

The Geneva Convention also governs respect for medical treatment of prisoners and wounded soldiers. Take Al Qaeda in Iraq, for example. When one of their IEDs went off in 2003 near Baghdad and killed and wounded a number of American soldiers, a U.S. Army medical HUMVEE raced to the scene. Waiting for the medics to arrive, the terrorists set off a second IED. It had been planted there specifically to target the medical help. Inside the HUMVEE, an American female nurse was burned beyond recognition.

The purpose of the Geneva Convention was to give warring nations a strong, positive incentive to behave according to international norms and not to engage in conduct that “shocks the conscience.” When we give Al Qaeda or Taliban terrorists prisoner of war status and Geneva Convention coverage—without demanding anything of them in return—we abandon one of the great achievements of the Geneva Convention.

Of course, some humans are not accorded human rights. Our courts have seen to that. President Obama named Justice Stephen Breyer as his ideal jurist. In 2000, Justice Breyer wrote the majority opinion in Carhart v. Stenberg. That was the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Nebraska’s law against partial-birth abortion. Justice Breyer’s opinion is worth quoting at length. He described various techniques of late-term abortion that do not shock his conscience. Nor do these techniques--unlike waterboarding, unlike slapping, unlike sleep deprivation--shock President Obama’s conscience, or the consciences of our liberal rulers.

During a pregnancy’s second trimester (12 to 24 weeks), the most common abortion procedure is “dilation and evacuation” (D&E), which involves dilation of the cervix, removal of at least some fetal tissue using nonvacuum surgical instruments, and (after the 15th week) the potential need for instrumental dismemberment of the fetus or the collapse of fetal parts to facilitate evacuation from the uterus. When such dismemberment is necessary, it typically occurs as the doctor pulls a portion of the fetus through the cervix into the birth canal. The risks of mortality and complication that accompany D&E are significantly lower than those accompanying induced labor procedures (the next safest mid-second-trimester procedures). A variation of D&E, known as “intact D&E,” is used after 16 weeks. It involves removing the fetus from the uterus through the cervix “intact,” i.e., in one pass rather than several passes. The intact D&E proceeds in one of two ways, depending on whether the fetus presents head first or feet first. The feet-first method is known as “dilation and extraction” (D&X). D&X is ordinarily associated with the term “partial birth abortion.”

A little translation may be required: “at least some fetal tissue” translates to the unborn child’s arm, a leg, or maybe her head. “Dismemberment of the fetus with nonvaccuum surgical instruments” means cutting off her arms or legs with razor-sharp implements while the child, still alive, is capable of feeling excruciating pain.

Rest assured, this is not torture. It doesn’t meet the legal definition of torture because under the rule of Roe v. Wade, the unborn child does not meet the legal definition of a person.

Terrorists were once defined—like pirates and slave traders—as hostis humani generis, enemies of all mankind. As such, they received no due process rights. They had no right to counsel. They received no protections under international agreements. When seized on the high seas by the Royal Navy, they could be promptly hanged upon determination that they were engaged in the proscribed activities.

It would have shocked the consciences of our ancestors, however, to dismember even such low characters as pirates, to cut off their arms and legs, and to let them bleed profusely to death. The most inhuman of humans in the nineteenth century could not have been treated as the least of humans are treated in our enlightened United States, by order of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our new president abhors torture, unless it is the torture of the unborn. In that case, it is not torture at all, but simply inducing fetal demise. This great international uproar over what is and is not torture has been generated because of the treatment of three known mass murderers. The slaughter of innocents in their thousands elicits no international outrage. This is part of what Justice Breyer sees as evolving international standards of decency.

In my opinion, the Obama Administration’s abortion agenda is indeed a crime against humanity.

This weekend, President Obama will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Notre Dame. There, he will be honored, among other things, for his brave stand against torture. He has appointed Kathleen Sebelius to head our nation’s health system. She is a disciple of the most notorious late-term abortionist in the county, a dismemberer, by his own count, of 60,000 fetuses. The President and Secretary Sebelius want to force us all to pay for abortion-on-demand. They want to force doctors and nurses to take part in killing unborn children. They will doubtless tell us our consciences should not be shocked. They’re only inducing fetal demise. Heaven help us all. And Heaven help Notre Dame.


A Bad Economy's Silver Lining

By Michael Medved

The economic downturn has brought hurt and hardship to millions of Americans, but is it always a terrible thing when hard times force more of us to stay put in our homes and neighborhoods?

The Census Bureau reports that fewer folks than ever moved to new residences last year, and some alarmists in the news media seem blind to the silver-lining benefits from the current recession.

The New York Times ran the most misleading headline: "Slump Creates Lack of Mobility for Americans" suggesting that the miserable economy had stopped socioeconomic, not just residential, mobility. The Wall Street Journal used a more accurate headline: "Fewer in U.S. Move as Economy Falters," but it also portrayed the situation in dire terms. Reporter Conor Dougherty announced: "Americans changed residences less often last year than at any time since the Census Bureau began keeping track in 1948, the latest sign of how the recession and falling house prices are keeping more people in place."

Prominent accounts of the new numbers never acknowledged the advantages for society when fewer people move, or mentioned gains in stability and continuity for both families and neighborhoods. Long-term residence in the same house facilitates a sense of community and connection that's impossible to achieve with a more transient lifestyle. Involvement in local organizations and institutions including churches and synagogues usually suffers when a community's citizens move frequently.

In his brilliant 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Harvard's Robert Putnam decries the isolation and disengagement that result when migrating Americans repeatedly find themselves the "new kids on the block." No wonder so many of us know fictional families on TV far better than we know our neighbors.

For children in particular, moving presents a daunting prospect, with potentially damaging social, educational and psychological consequences. My parents dragged us to new cities just before I began first grade, and then again immediately before my junior year in high school. In both cases, I reacted with typical horror at the challenge of finding new friends and adjusting to intimidating, unknown environments.

A powerless existence

The traditional restlessness of American seekers who regularly pursue new homes, new jobs and new luck comes at a cost contributing to a feeling of personal and political powerlessness. Arriving in a new environment where no one knows your name can heighten impressions of alienation and impotence emotions that in turn feed our national sense of out-of-control change and vulnerability.

In this context, the Census Bureau report brought additional good news: Moves between states fell most sharply, dropping by a third since 2000. Among the 35 million moves from March 2007 to March 2008, a higher percentage than ever chose new homes in the same county. The reduced flow of out-of-state newcomers including the lowest number of immigrants from abroad since 1995 might help relieve strains on local schools, hospitals and social services.

At least The New York Times noted that the sharp drop in residential mobility resulted from some positive developments, not solely the dreary economy. "Homeownership rates have risen, and owners are typically less likely to move than renters," the journal of record reported.

In fact, the percentage of Americans who own their homes reached all-time highs of 70% under President Bush, and renters are five times more likely to move than buyers.

In addition, increasing life expectancy and low birthrates mean a rapidly aging population. Despite the lure of "retirement communities," older people move to new homes far less often than young people. It should be grounds for celebration, not alarm, when graying Americans prefer to remain in their old hometowns, surrounded by neighbors (and, ideally, family members) of every age, rather than planting themselves in synthetic communities populated entirely by their fellow codgers.

When individuals make rational adjustments to cope with economic challenges, those changes might hurt some sectors of the economy at the same time that they help others. For instance, the sharp decline of Americans on the move is undoubtedly a disaster for Realtors and movers, but it might simultaneously enrich remodelers, landscapers and construction companies, as strapped families decide to improve or beautify their existing residences rather than grabbing a new Xanadu.

'Unanticipated blessings'

Too often, news reports ignore the unanticipated blessings that flow from the tough business climate. Numbers suggest a dramatic drop in revenue for lotteries and casinos meaning less money squandered on gaming and less risk of gambling addiction. Other figures suggest fewer divorce filings as fewer couples can afford legal bills and separate residences.

Most significantly, the downturn has been linked to a dramatic increase in the national savings rate with many Americans wisely spending less in order to put away more funds for the future. This might mean short-term problems for the consumer economy and credit card companies, but an increasing tendency to cut back on luxuries and build a nest egg brings profound benefits in moral, psychological, cultural and even long-range economic terms.

Analyst William Frey of the Brookings Institution struck a gloomy note when he told The Wall Street Journal: "We are normally thought of as a country on the move, but now all levels of migration have almost come to a standstill. People are just staying put."

He might have intended this startling pronouncement as a warning of still more doom and pain, but viewed in the proper context, the dramatic decline of residential mobility also offers grounds for encouragement and reassurance.


What's Elevated, Health-Care Provider?

Economy of language would be good for the economy


The indecipherable language of government has actually become dangerous to the well-being of the nation. As the federal government claims ever greater powers, its language has become vague to the point of meaningless and meaningless to the point of menacing.

The other day I was watching "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, came on from Washington to talk about health care. A reporter on the set, Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, asked a few clear and direct questions: What is President Obama's health care plan, how would it work, what would it look like? I leaned forward. Finally I will understand. Ms. Sebelius began to answer in that dead and deadening governmental language that does not reveal or clarify but instead wraps legitimate queries in clouds of words and sends them on their way. I think I heard "accessing affordable quality health care," "single payer plan vis-à-vis private multiparty insurers" and "key component of quality improvement." In any case, she didn't answer the question, which was a disappointment but not a surprise. No one answers the question anymore.

As she spoke, I attempted a sort of simultaneous translation, which is what most of us do now when we hear our political figures, translate from their language to ours. "Access health care" must mean "go to the doctor." But I gave up. Then a thought crossed my mind: Maybe we're supposed to give up! Maybe we're supposed to be struck dumb, hypnotized by words and phrases that are aimed not at making things clearer but making them more obscure and impenetrable. Maybe we're not supposed to understand.

I shouldn't pick too hard on Ms. Sebelius specifically. Most people in the administration, and many in government, speak as she speaks, and have for many years. In her case there's reason to believe it's a quirk. A New York Times profile recently had her recalling with self-deprecating charm the time her child ran a high fever and she caused a bit of confusion by forgetting to say, "We have to go to the hospital!" and announcing instead, "This unsustainable increase in body temperature requires immediate access to a local quality health-care facility!" I made that up, but it was believable, wasn't it?

New Class gobbledygook, which is more prevalent than ever, is also more destructive than ever because the government itself is doing more than ever. The Journal this week had a front page story reporting that the Obama administration is attempting to come up with ways, including federal regulations and "moral suasion," to change the way employees and executives are paid in the financial services industry "including at companies that did not receive federal bailout money." This is rather stunning, and is just one very small area of the new activism.

But back to language. Lately it is as if the American government, having decided in its programs, assumptions and philosophy to become more European, has at the same time decided it would be amusing to speak to the American people only in French.

Which would give rise to a simple and wholly understandable suspicion that the government doesn't speak clearly about what it's doing for the reason that they know that if people fully understood they would say, "Oh that's not a good idea," or, "The cost of that will kill us."

I think there are two major but not fully formed or fully articulated fears among thinking Americans right now, and the deliberate obscurity of official language only intensifies those fears.

The first is that Mr. Obama's government, in all its flurry of activism, may kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This is as dreadful and obvious a cliché as they come, but too bad, it's what people fear. They see the spending plans and tax plans, the regulation and reform hunger, the energy proposals and health-care ambitions, and they—we—wonder if the men and women doing all this, working in their separate and discrete areas, are being overseen by anyone saying, "By the way, don't kill the goose."

The goose of course is the big, messy, spirited, inspiring, and sometimes in some respects damaging but on the whole brilliant and productive wealth-generator known as the free-market capitalist system. People do want things cleaned up and needed regulations instituted, and they don't mind at all if the very wealthy are more heavily taxed, but they greatly fear a goose killing. Economic freedom in all its chaos and disorder has kept us rich for 200 years, and allowed us as a nation to be generous and strong at home and in the world. But the goose can be killed—by carelessness, hostility, incrementalism, paralysis, and by no one saying, "Don't kill the goose."

Complicating all this is the fact that so many of the Obama people seem to be extremely bright and pleasant academic types with no particular and personal knowledge of business in America. They are not messy businessmen with a love for the system that lifted them. Mr. Obama himself, like John McCain, has shown no particular interest in making money in his life, with the latter preferring military and then political glory, and the former preferring political power.

The second great fear is that the balance between those who pay taxes and those who need benefits will be left, after the great flurry, all out of whack. When this balance is deeply disturbed or distorted, when the number of those who need to take truly overwhelms those who need to make, a tipping point occurs. People become disheartened. Generations become resigned. Tiredness steps in. We will miss irrational exuberance.

Is anyone in the Obama administration watching this? If they are, they're not saying, certainly not clearly. I continue to be astounded by how much Mr. Obama reminds me in his first few months of George W. Bush in his first few years. There is a sense with both men that they always pushed too hard, were always revolutionizing and doing "the work of generations," as Mr. Bush put it. They appear to share an insensitivity to the delicacy of even so great a nation as ours, an inability to see limits, and to know at a certain point that what you do with a nation becomes what you do to it.

Do members of the administration speak obscurely because they can't help themselves, or do they speak the way they speak because they really aren't all that keen to have people understand them? Maybe they calculate that lack of clarity ensures maximum ability to maneuver. But maybe they should think less about maneuvering. They're not helping the prevailing sense of national anxiety by speaking in a special lingo all their own. After all, it's not their health-care system they're reforming, it is America's. It would be nice if America were allowed to know what exactly the plan is, and how it would work, and who would pay, and how.

As for the Republicans, the administration is giving them an opening. There could be gain in becoming the party that speaks with concrete honesty, and in a known human language, on the great issues of the day. The GOP could become the party that doesn't make you translate, and doesn't leave you giving up. I wonder if the party right now, for all the battering it's experienced the past few years, is still quick enough to see an opening like this.


Freedom of assembly and freedom of association under serious threat in Australia -- says NSW chief prosecutor

For once I fully agree with Mr. Cowdery

THE Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, has condemned the Government's new bikie laws as "very troubling legislation" that could lead to a police state and represent "another giant leap backwards for human rights and the separation of powers - in short, the rule of law".

Mr Cowdery's warning comes after a second wave of anti-bikie laws passed through Parliament this week, this time providing for penalties of up to five years' jail for members of a proscribed gang who "recruited" members. Last month the Premier, Nathan Rees, insisted the first set of laws be rushed through Parliament after the death at Sydney Airport of Anthony Zervas during a bikie brawl. Those laws allow the Police Commissioner to move in the Supreme Court to proscribe criminal gangs and jail members who associate with each other. But the laws are yet to be used and the Government will not say when they might be.

In a paper published on his website, Mr Cowdery says: "There may be a need for better enforcement [rather] than for legal powers." He warns that the law "does not apply only to bikie gangs but 'to any particular organisation' in respect of which the Police Commissioner chooses to make an application. "Where will the line be drawn?" he asks. "These words cast a very wide net … Why should the responsibility for identifying which organisations warrant being declared under the act be vested in the Police Commissioner, an unelected official? "The spectre of a police state lurks here: an unacceptable slide from the separation of powers by linking the powers of the Police Commissioner with those of 'eligible' judges."

Mr Cowdery says the fact the Attorney-General has the power to declare which "eligible" Supreme Court judge could hear an application to proscribe a gang meant an attorney-general could have "unfettered power to 'stack' the hearing of applications for declarations of organisations under the act with judges willing to enforce it". The Attorney-General could also "revoke or qualify the authority of a judge to determine applications for declarations if he or she does not perform to the Government's satisfaction'.

He says that while this may not be the intention of the present Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, "a provision so drafted left on the statute books is extremely dangerous and potentially open to serious misuse".

Mr Cowdery writes: "It matters not that the motives of the urgers or policy makers may be honourable … we all need constantly to be alert to the erosion of rights and be proactive in preventing it … This is especially a time for vigilance in NSW. Someone once described it as the price of liberty."

When Mr Rees rushed through the laws, he said it was "proportionate response to an escalation in violence [involving] outlaw motorcycle gangs". He said bikie gangs had "crossed the line" with the Sydney Airport brawl in March and subsequent shootings on "public streets". The laws received initial internal opposition from Mr Hatzistergos.

Last year, the the fiercely independent Mr Cowdery described the Iemma government as as "ruthless" and guilty of "grubby" tactics and said Mr Hatzistergos was a "micro-manager" who had lost sight of the "bigger picture". Recently, the Government legislated to give a future DPP a 10-year-term in the job, rather than open-ended tenure.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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