Distributed Mind

March 12, 2005

Momentum Against Torture?

by ben

A bill by Rep. Markey of Massachusetts, H. R. 952, which would prevent the the government from sending prisoners to countries where they are likely to be tortured, was introduced on February 17. The bill would require a list, based on the State Department's list of countries that practice torture, to be made and submitted to relevant Congressional committees once a year. Persons held by the government could not be submitted to those countries, or any country that they would have reason to believe might be put on the next list, unless they have some way, beyond the mere word of that country, to ensure that the prisoner will not be tortured.

The bill is hardly perfect, but would be a vast improvement over nothing. It is currently still in the House Committee on International Relations. I doubt this would ever pass - shoot, it may not make it out of committee - but I certainly hope it does.

The issue of torture and rendition, issues covered here many times in the past, have apparently been getting some serious attention in the press and on television lately, as Body and Soul reports. Hopefully, this will build some impetus for change, though I am somewhat skeptical.

19:33:55 - Politics - ben - No comments

March 11, 2005

Illegal Aliens

by ben

I am not an expert in the subject, but, as I understand it, around 400 years ago, the first permanent English colonies were established in what was to become the United States. Sometimes, they bought the land from the indigenous residents, though frequently for unfair prices; sometimes, they took it via military means whether punitvely or preemptively. Eventually, the larger part of the current area of the United States was acquired by such methods.

Around 150 years ago, the United States won some rather vast territory in the war with Mexico, which was considered by some (including apparently U. S. Grant) to be a war primarily about expansion.

Regardless of the legal technicalities of early American immigration, a case can certainly be made that in a greater moral sense, and even frequently in a broader legal sense, that the pattern of settlement by citizens of the colonies, and then the States, was illicit. In short: we came, we took the land.

Don't talk to me about illegal immigration; we were illegal immigrants. Lest you ever be tempted to look down on some Mexican or Central American who entered our country illegally, think of the natives we uprooted and shoved to Oklahoma. Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone, no?

And just for the record, most of my ancestors were legal immigrants, and they never took land from anyone (there was not really anyone to steal land from in turn of the century Chicago, as it happens). Not that any of that makes me a better person; but if you think that one's ancestors should determine one's status, well, I'll claim moral superiority on my side, in a self-righteous sort of way.

Oh, and isn't it ironic that all that land we got from Mexico is precisely the area we are all worried about illegal immigration today? (Although I realize many in those states are less worried about ilegal immigration than many people in the rest of the country, and to those people, I salute their patience and open-mindedness.)

If that were not argument enough, we might look at the fact that almost every person in this country has broken some law at some point in time, and we do not demand they cease to be citizens, at least in general. Now, perhaps entering the Untied States illegally is substantially worse than a moving violation, but then again, maybe it isn't that much worse. Either way, people heading north in the hopes of making some money to send to their families living in areas where poverty runs rampant - at least their motives are good. The case becomes even stronger if you believe, as many do, that the United States and its corporations is in part responsible for many of the problems in Mexico. Add to that that I for one believe that the right to movement is almost as fundamental a right as the right to free speech or protection from illegal search and seizure. Borders seem to me inherently undemocratic. Considering all of this, whether these people are right or wrong, I am willing to cut these people some slack. Are you?

Now, having said all of that, I do not claim that immigration will have no cost in the long run. It may or may not. I hope it does not, but I cannot claim that I know that or even have good reason to believe that will be the case. Indeed, given that I opened this argument by bringing up the settlement of this land by the English in the seventeetch century, it would be naive of me to ignore the kind of impact that had on the native population. Frequently - not always, but enough - when a new group of people settles an area previously occupied, the native populace develops a sever resentment of the new people, and this resentment can often last for centuries. This is true regardless of how the land was settled, though the more violent the means, the more likely and deeper the resentment. I find it quite likely that white Americans will resent hispanics for some time to come, if they do soon come to be the largest single segment of the population (of course, many of those hispanics will have come from places other than Mexico, or have lived here many years, but, how well people will be able to recognize those facts is an open question). Nor is there necessarily no reason for this resentment. Even before English settlers fought the natives, they had given them enough diseases to wipe out large populations; this was followed by years of wars, questionable dealings; and the displacement that naturally resulted from a large influx of new colonists. No Mexicans are attacking us, but there may be effects of the large influx of immigrants, legal or illegal. Not all effects though, were bad; certainly, for all of its problems, the United States was, at least at its founding, an invaluable political experiment that was to contribute indirectly to democracy in many other countries. So, the effects of such migrations are both positive and negative. They always bring change, though - but I think we have shown we can handle that here.

(This is a rather rough argument; I know it could be improved, and I am sure there are serious holes in some lines of reasoning, though I am sure they could be patched. I post this in its relatively crude state though to let you all see how I feel about the issue - not that you didn't probably know already. Some day perhaps I will return and clean it up; I would like to have a persuasive argument in favor of immigration, or at least one that would give people pause. This may not be it, but I hope it is a step in that direction.)

21:16:37 - Politics - ben - No comments

March 05, 2005

Avoiding the Issue

by ben

So... I was thinking about my sort of response, and just as much, my lack of response to the Terri Schiavo case, about which I only finally actually verbalized my thoughts. And even when I did that, I didn't really say anything. And I wondered why... Well, I didn't really wonder, because I already had some ideas, it was just a matter of organizing those ideas. So let me think through this out loud fot the benefit of everyone else as well.

[Remainder of article]
12:10:21 - Politics - ben - No comments

Upcoming Political Issues

by ben

Heads up on what I am thinking about right now... The blog that I linked to in my last post, had a post yesterday about the Lancet's series on neo-natal health which apparently concludes with an article which apparently concludes that "To provide selected, high impact neonatal health interventions at 90% coverage, an extra $4.1 billion per year is estimated to be needed on top of the $2.0 billion spent currently, giving a total of $6.1 billion in the 75 countries with the highest mortality." The author, Jeanne, mentions this in a context criticizing the absence of any "pro-life" voice on this issue. Quite. Let's see if we can do better.

I want to research the claim made in The Lancet. Knowing claims that have beenmade by other authors and organization in the past, this sounds reasonable. It this sort of plan is reasonable, or if some similar plan is reasonable, I think it should be pursued with the sort of resources we pursue other issues - it only makes sense. And the efficiency would be practically obscene to waste, even if the loss of human life weren't. So, I am saying, take a look, and if this seems to be something worth pursuing let's make a push to publicize it; let's turn our rhetoric into practical actions. Not that other causes aren't important too, but this one is as well.

I know I have heard other ridiculously low numbers for things like, say, eliminating poverty in Africa. I can't seem to remember how little money was predicted to be required (or, just as important, who made the prediction), but I remember it was very low. (And even for the money-loving, ending poverty in Africa has to be cost effective; after all, that's more consumers...) This prompted me to check one of my favorite sources of information (and analysis and opinion) on these sorts of things, the UN Human Development Report. Okay, since it is from the UN, none of my conservative friends will want to read it but, oh, well. I haven't read it in a couple years, but I checked back to see what was available. These are the ones I want to check out as I have time (and I recommend them to you all as well):

And finally, on a distantly related note, I have been informed through the familial information chain (which was getting its information from the Family Research Council) that apparently Congressman David Weldon of Florida intends to introduce a piece of legislation called the Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act, or Terri's Law. A little search produced what looks to be the text of the propsed bill on the NRLC's web site. Obviously, this law is designed to save Terri Schiavo of Florida, a story you doubtlessly already know. It appears that all it does is to extend court (some court) custody (or something like that) to an "incapactitated person" which for its purposes the bill defines as "an individual who is presently incapable of making relevant decisions concerning the provision, withholding, or withdrawal of food, fluids or medical treatment under applicable state law," unless such person had in advance a written statement allowing the withholding of food or medical care, etc. Apparently this extension of custody is designed to require due process rights for the individual, or something. I am not entirely certain how that will extend protection to people like Terri Schiavo, though apparently it would. The idea is good, I guess, but I am not sure how the legal technique in this bill will work. I sense trouble ahead on that count, but I am certainly not a lawyer, and I am paranoid, so I could be wrong. Anyway, this if passed, might be a good solution to the sort of problem evinced by the Schiavo case in Florida. Thus, it couldn't hurt to take the advice of groups like the FRC (even if it is the FRC) and support it, I would think. Though, before throwing my full endorsement of it, I would like to see some analysis of it by someone who does understand the legal implications of it. (Yes, one of my great failings in life is that I am not a person who automatically writes my Congressman about every great idea some advocacy organization tells me to. And I mean no disrespect to the plight of Terri Schiavo by saying that, just to clarify. What I am concerned about is that this not become an ineffective political soccer ball.)

[The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation has more information on this bill and the propsed text. The way they put it, it sounds like the law would allow federal courts to review the decision of state courts when they decide that a person can be allowed to die (by extending habeas corpus). Supposedly, there is precedent for that. It makes more sense the way they put it. Since I am still not a lawyrer (okay, I am not half bad at copyright law, but that took me a while), I still don't get how their explanation relates to the actual bill text, but their explanation makes a little more sesnse. Weldon intends to introduce the bill next Tuesday, the 8th.]

[I think I am getting paranoid. Why would this law be a bad thing?]

[Naturally, there are other takes on the issue (I do find it interesting the courts keep taking Michael Schoavo's side, though of course, if there were an injustice, that would be expected), though whether this particular case is lousy or not does not necessarily affect the usefulness of the law. Indeed, if this case were to go to a lower federal court, and if the case were really as bad as it is presented here, the federal court could always kick it out, and we would be right back where we are. The only remaining question would be, do we need federal courts involved? Sure, why not, I guess? Whatever... I don't think I am smart enough to figure this out. This is the first I have really heard anybody say anything about this on the left, though, I note. I was sort of hoping I wouldn't though it was also creepy not to have.]

[And, finally having said all of that - last addition, really! - I find the amicus brief filed at one stage of the Terri Schiavo case interesting.]

00:50:51 - Politics - ben - No comments