Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Exploring Jeff Jacoby’s Call For Arms In Syria

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2013 at 12:12 am


It was in Shakepeare’s Henry IV where Lord Hotspur declared, “Now, for our consciences, the arms are fair,/ When the intent of bearing them is just.”

Such timeless words capture the question of today:  What is just for Syria?  Should America respect Syria’s national sovereignty or seek to intervene through the United Nations — or should it take unilateral action in the interest of human rights?  There are many arguments on every side, and surely they cannot all be addressed here.

One facet will be addressed however, as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby has written on this topic.  He has boldly asserted that America is the only nation capable of being the “World’s Policeman,” because America is in fact “the world’s best policeman.”  Casting those who may disagree into the Dark Ages, he invokes the restrained foreign policy views in the post-colonial world of President John Adams, who uttered that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

Today, things are different, he argues, lauding America as “the mightiest, wealthiest, and most influential nation on the face of the earth.”  Because of this stated fact, Jacoby proclaims that America has an inherent duty to police the entire world.  He recalls the rise of Nazi Germany, the defense of Kuwait during the Persian Golf Conflict in 1990, military assistance in Kosovo, and how America “faced down the Soviet Union.”

As we have seen before, he omits critical facts which would be characteristic of a balanced perspective.  Jacoby fails to mention Vietnam, Haiti, or Nicaragua as unsuccessful intervention efforts, nor does he note that America has already committed to arming rebel forces, as we did during the Cold War.

He dismisses the United Nations by casually stating that the UN, brainchild of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, is pointless.  Jacoby notes that policing the world “is clearly something the United Nations cannot do” and refers to its “bloody trail of failure.”  What about the 2005 RAND Corporation report, which compared “nation-building” activities of the UN to those of the USA, and concluded that UN efforts actually had a higher frequency of long term success?

Jacoby’s most fatal mistake comes when he compares America to NYPD officers walking their beat to “suppress crime and reduce fear.”  He argues that America’s police role must be in the interest of “deterring aggression, maintaining the flow of commerce, and upholding human rights.”

What is so flawed here is a concept apparently far beyond Jacoby’s grasp: jurisdiction.  The NYPD has jurisdiction over New York City.  The NYPD cannot go into New Jersey to enforce New Jersey laws or even New York laws.  The NYPD cannot go into Connecticut to enforce laws, nor can the NYPD make arrests outside of New York City.  That would be beyond its jurisdiction and exceed the scope of its authority.

To enforce laws in other states and jurisdictions, the NYPD must partner with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.  To apprehend individuals wanted in other jurisdictions, there is an established process known as extradition.

Even though it is the largest police force in the United States, the NYPD cannot anoint itself to be “America’s Policeman.”  Other jurisdictions already have law enforcement apparati in place; surely they may not have as many human and technological resources as the NYPD, but that doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if it could even be said that New York City is the “mightiest, wealthiest, and most influential” city in America.

There’s something about the “rule of law” which means if you lack the authority to do something, then you can’t do it.  You can’t break the law to enforce the law; that is inherently antithetical and compromises the very principles which anyone — or any “policeman” — seeks to defend.

The same debate occurs today with the question of whether the NSA exceeded its surveillance authority: the defense is that it keeps us safe, but does the invasion of privacy in fact threaten us even more?  How can we, as a nation, defend the rule of law and then seek to act outside of it?

As one pair of Yale Law School professors recently pointed out, “In the absence of Security Council authorization, international law prohibits the use of military force to enforce international law.”

While others believe that United Nations chemical weapons inspectors should be permitted to complete their evaluation, Jeff Jacoby believes that America should break the law to enforce the law.  In another article entitled “Yesterday’s Atrocities Are Happening Again,” Jacoby compares North Korea, Egypt, and Syria to Nazi Germany.

Like a singing bard, he sadly laments: “The burning of houses of worship didn’t end with Kristallnacht, nor the gassing of civilians with Halabja, nor concentration-camp butchery with Dachau…”  While the events in Nazi Germany were one of the darkest moments in modern world history, Jacoby’s vigilant warning is that the world cannot stand idly by while injustice spreads.

Yet the method he asserts — for America to invade Syria, North Korea, and presumably, Egypt — is inherently wrong.  While Syria has not signed the UN Chemical Weapons Convention, Syria has signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which bans the use of chemical weapons.  Chemical weapons are the “red line” drawn by President Obama determining whether direct American involvement may be warranted.

The core issue is not whether chemical weapons were used — it is instead, “who used them?”  Was it the government of President Assad or was it rebels, as the Syrian government officially claims?  That comes down to a question of evidence, and that process is ongoing at this very moment, although it is admittedly “no slam dunk.”

Now there are fears that more chemical attacks are on the horizon, and time is of the essence.  Jeff Jacoby argues that a failure to act will lead to widespread conflict, while others believe that taking action may lead to a World War III.  To act, or not to act: that is the question.

While there can be no answer to that here, what should be clear is that America should not police the world any more than the NYPD should police Detroit, MI, Oakland, CA, St. Louis, MO, or any other jurisdiction with a high rate of crime which would benefit from such intervention.

Jacoby should understand this already, as it was he who recently criticized President Obama’s administration for “federal overreach” and abusing its authority on the domestic front.  Yet he aggressively pushes for apparent military intervention abroad in Syria, Egypt, and North Korea.

Instead of exceeding its military authority, America must work together with its political partners, under the rule of law.  We must lead by example.  If there is a legal justification for taking action in Syria or anywhere else, then it must be defensible.  To enforce the law, a police officer must have legal authority while also having legitimacy from the community.

Jeff Jacoby’s noteworthy pride in America is misplaced, because even being the “best policeman” still does not bestow an inherent power to police.



Why “More Fertile” Doesn’t Mean “More Intact Families”

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2013 at 12:23 am


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a lightning rod of controversy today after lauding America’s immigrant women for being “more fertile” than native-born women at a “Faith and Freedom Coalition” event.  Now, let’s dissect this debate and try to distill truth and justice.

First, the fact that Bush used the word “fertile” was quickly analyzed by some diligent reporters, some of whom immediately consulted the dictionary and concluded that Bush intended to use the biological sense of “fertile,” which would mean “more capable of reproduction.”  However, in the statistical sense, “fertility” is the term used to designate “births per woman,” which would make more sense as the intended meaning behind Bush’s choice of words.  This understanding was identified by CNN commentator Jake Tapper.

However, this opens a whole new road less traveled which shall undoubtedly make all the difference now as we walk down its uncertain path.  While immigrant women do have higher rates of fertility than native-born women in America, it is also true that fertility rates among immigrant women dramatically dropped according to a Pew Research Center study published in November of 2012.  While native-born women between the ages of 15 and 44 had a fertility rate of 58.9 per 1,000 women, foreign born (i.e. immigrant) women had a fertility rate of 87.8 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years.  The combined average for all women in the United States was 63.2 children per 1,000 women.  Yet immigrant women had the largest drop in fertility rates, which was a 14% reduction compared to the 6% reduction for native-born women in America.  What else does fertility reveal?  These statistics cannot be presented in a vacuum.

Indeed, on the global scale, Niger is the “most fertile” nation in the entire world, with each woman bearing an average of 7.1 children.  Also in the “Top Ten” for most fertile countries are Somalia and Afghanistan.  Ethiopia comes in at #14, Syria is at #72, Mexico is #99, and the United States is a distant #122 with an average of 2.06 children born per woman.  Puerto Rico comes in at #177 with an average of 1.64 children born per woman in this U.S. territory.  The World Bank has prepared a comparative chart by country for the years 1980-2012 for those wishing to learn more about fertility trends.  The world’s fertility rate is an average 2.47 children per woman, which means that the United States is even below the world average.

Yet another factor to consider is infertility; that is, the number of women who have “impaired ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term,” formally referred to as “impaired fecundity.”  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10.9% of all women in the United States aged 15-44 have “impaired fecundity.”  That is a significant number; interestingly, 40.8% of woman bearing children were unmarried — also a significant number.

Finally, because these fertility statistics start counting from age 15, these statistics cannot neglect to address teen pregnancy rates as well — how “fertile” are they?  According to data from the CDC, the birth rate for women aged 15-19 was 34.2 live births per 1,000 women, which is a rate of 3.4%.  Compared to other countries, the United States reportedly has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of 20 other top industrialized nations in the world.  According to this same report, Mississippi is the State with “more fertile” teenage women, with its teen pregnancy rate of 64.4 children per 1,000 women aged 15-19 — slightly higher than the average rate for all pregnancies nationwide for the 15-44 age group.

What does all of this mean?  Jeb Bush correctly noted that immigrant women have a higher fertility rate than native-born women; however, he neglected to mention the purported reasons for why the immigrant fertility rate is dropping so dramatically.  One sociologist named William H. Frey opined that, “‘When you hear about a decrease in the birthrate, you don’t expect Latinos to be at the forefront of the trend.’  Mr. Frey feels that the decrease is more about the aspirations of young Latinos to join the middle class, rather than being affected by a poor economy.”  When it comes to teenage pregnancies however, “Indeed, while the share of births to teenage mothers has dropped over the past two decades across the country, the highest teenage birth share is among native-born Hispanics.”

Of course, raising children is expensive and demands that caregivers make sacrifices.  So it follows that the drop in fertility rates was also attributed to the economic recession, as families sought to reassess priorities and escape or at least mitigate the effects of poverty.  There is also the issue of infertility, for which no woman can be disparaged.  Finally, if fertility is, standing on its own, an indicator of strong economic vitality and promise, then it would appear that Niger, Afghanistan, and Somalia are role models for America to look towards for guidance, as is the State of Mississippi a guide for other States as well.  Yet Niger is a country with 63% of its entire population living below the poverty line, and Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of all 50 States.  The clear answer is that high fertility rates are not evidence per se of strong family values or business acumen, as Bush improperly asserts.

While his plain words were factually accurate, they obscured the larger point which he could have made by invoking George Santayana: “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”

When Privacy Is Security

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2013 at 11:36 pm


Earlier this week, I wrote an entry entitled “Edward Snowden and the Common Defense of Privacy” which raises the endless question of how much privacy is necessary to keep individuals private, and how much security is demanded to keep the Nation secure.  How can federal, state, and local governments ensure concurrent justice in both privacy and security?  Shall these two forces be a pendulum, forever swinging, or can they one day live in harmonious equilibrium?

Even before the recent allegations involving the National Security Agency (NSA) and Snowden, this debate raged, as it ever has.  Former Senate Juduciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has invoked the words of the farsighted and sage U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren who opined, “[T]he fantastic advances in the field of electronic communications constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual.”  While Warren wrote that in 1963, before the Apollo moon landing had even occurred.  Given the concerns he expressed then, it is a very good thing for his sake alone, that he’s not around to see the world in which we live today.

One recent opinion piece written by Daniel J. Solove at The Washington Post presents five common reasons for why security should trump privacy and then refutes these, one by one.  A recurring theme is the need for oversight — checks and balances which very well may be the saving grace of American government since its founding.  James Madison, writing as Publius in Federalist Paper #51, stated how “The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”  Indeed, this advocates for a gentle balance between opposing forces.  Individual privacy is, inherently, the nemesis of public security; without some governmental intrusions into individual privacy, then preparations, preventions, arrests, and prosecutions could not occur.

Writing in the eloquent voice which had breathed so much life into the United States Constitution (As its principal drafter, Madison was, after all, the “Father of the Constitution”), Madison continued,”The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”  Perhaps it is from this that we are reminded that the government is comprised of “We the People…”

The most important statement is also most relevant to today’s debate of privacy and security, as “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Therein lies one answer to this question.  It is in this very spirit that Solove’s Post article advocates for greater oversight, for checks and balances, and rather than choosing privacy as outweighing security, it asserts that greater privacy shall fortify security.

Federalist #51 continues: “We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights [emphasis added].”  Thus, it is by privacy that there is security, for the institution of Government is ultimately comprised of individuals — together, they are the People.  While his fate remains unclear, perhaps Snowden is one such sentinel.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who reminded us above all about the importance of character.  Writing in 1857 — the same year the dreaded Dred Scott v. Sandford decision was handed down by the United States Supreme Court, he recognized the importance of privacy: “Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth…Speak as you think, be what you are, pay your debts of all kinds…A little integrity is better than any career.”

While his career is over, some may still say that Edward Snowden has a little integrity.

Edward Snowden and The Common Defense Of Privacy

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm


Edward Snowden is the U.S. citizen allegedly hiding somewhere in Hong Kong after he announced concerns about the intelligence community’s surveillance practices.  For him, he stated that he “…certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal e-mail.”

With the question of legal or technical authority aside, the larger question becomes, is Snowden’s announcement just; did he “do the right thing”?  Should Snowden be himself subject to prosecution for violating national security?  Then again, he has not thus far disclosed specific details of whom he has investigated; he has merely stated capabilities.  Stating that the United States possesses nuclear armaments capable of wreaking widespread environmental and biological harm is a statement of fact.  How these devices work is another matter altogether.  Has Snowden disclosed specific details on how PRISM works?  In reply, companies such as Google are following up by requesting the U.S. government be more forthcoming on explaining Snowden’s allegations.

The root of what has happened today dates back to the enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 which provided statutory authority for the creation of the specialized Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).  One recent news report points out that the FISC has rejected a mere .03%  of government intelligence requests.

Another report laments not only Snowden’s disclosures but also the fact that core intelligence functions are being outsourced in general but specifically to individuals like Snowden who is “a high school dropout.”  Issues of justice abound here.  Has Snowden disclosed anything we do not already know — that is, that the government is watching us?  Moreover, with the amorphous nature of the Internet, how can any intelligence agency distinguish between domestic and foreign email accounts or web traffic in general?  Would it be based on the street address the user has registered, the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the computer sending or receiving the information?  How exactly do we determine what’s foreign and what’s not when it comes to the Internet?

After 9/11, there was great criticism towards the government that it wasn’t doing its job, and what happened was attributed to “intelligence failures” and a lack of coordination among government agencies.  Now, the news media trend appears to be not that government hasn’t done enough but is instead doing too much.  Where can one find justice here?  Justice for Snowden, who is facing likely criminal prosecution; administering justice by “providing for the common defense” and protecting national security; and also by preserving individual privacy.

We must not forget those words from the U.S. Constitution in which the Founders declared among its six core purposes, that it is intended “to establish justice.”  The question asked here, again and again, is how to establish justice again and again, by its true and due administration.  Perhaps the answer will change based upon the decider’s role; the role of this blog is to ask, to observe, and to opine.

Yet, what does one do when the lofty task “to provide for the common defense” conflicts with that “to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity…”?  Should one ever outweigh the other?  Indeed, it was Benjamin Franklin who once wrote, “Those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  Yet, what if the subsequent safety is not small, nor temporary at all — what then?