Monday, June 26, 2006

Rights & Wrongs

The UN Small Arms Review Conference continues to generate controversy. MSM stories tend to take the UN's official line that the meeting is only concerned with illegal small arms, e.g. Reuters:

Ahead of the U.N. meeting, the U.S. National Rifle Association, a strong supporter of President Bush, warned its members of a July 4 plot to finalize a U.N. treaty stripping citizens of all nations of the right to own guns -- a charge with no basis in fact.

Americans mistakenly worried about the U.S. Independence Day conspiracy have flooded the United Nations with more than 100,000 letters demanding the nonexistent treaty's defeat.


Annan again reassured the conference that no global gun ban was under consideration.

"Nor do we wish to deny law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms in accordance with their national laws," he said "Our energy, our emphasis and our anger is directed against illegal weapons. Our priorities are effective enforcement, better controls and regulation, safer stockpiling, and weapons collection and destruction."

Just because the official purpose doesn't infringe on legal gun ownership, that hardly means that some participants don't have hidden agendas! Sundry opinion pieces point out those agendas, such as this one by Joseph Klein in FrontPage Magazine, referring to Rebecca Peters, who is Director of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA):
Peters’ strategy, with the help of the chairman of the UN review conference and the Parliamentary Forum, is to enshrine international norms against civilian gun possession in an interpretive document that gun prohibitionists can label ‘customary international law.’ Such a document would legitimize Peters’ dogma that “gun ownership is not a right but a privilege.” IANSA can then use the international norms in our own courts to attack the notion that an individual right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment. They are counting on sympathetic federal judges, right up to the Supreme Court, to interpret the scope of the Second Amendment’s protections by deferring to ‘international norms’ against individual gun possession. In short, the stealth strategy here is for IANSA to drive the UN review conference’s agenda, obtain the wording they seek on curtailing private gun possession in the review conference’s official Outcome Document that they can point to as an ‘international norm’, and then argue that this ‘interna­tional norm’ should be incorporated into our courts’ interpretation of the Second Amend­ment -- converting a constitutionally protected individual right into a government-bestowed privilege.

Ironically, IANSA is headquartered in London. One of its UK-based member organizations called International Alert showed no compunction at all in boldly declaring that “the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee individuals the right to possess or carry guns.” Apparently some British folks have forgotten from whom we won our freedom — and why we sought it in the first place. We should as a nation celebrate our Declaration of Independence by telling the gun prohibitionists who are assembling in New York from all over the world during our Independence Day holiday to either stay out of our business or stay out of our country.
(Italics in original).

Speaking of Britain, there's a debate on whether they need to legislate a "Bill of Rights" to counteract the more pernicious aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights. From the BBC:
Tory Bill of Rights bid slammed

The Conservatives' plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a US-style Bill of Rights has been described as muddled and dangerous by the government.

Tory leader David Cameron says current legislation is inadequate and hinders the fight against crime and terrorism.

He believes a British Bill of Rights would strike a better balance between rights and responsibilities.

But the Lord Chancellor says Mr Cameron is trying to rewrite human rights because "they seem inconvenient".

In a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies in London, the Tory leader argued that the Human Rights Act had prevented Britain deporting suspected terrorists whatever the circumstances.

It was "practically an invitation for terrorists and would-be terrorists to come to Britain" he said.

One argument is that unless Britain withdraws from the European Convention on Human Rights, the legislation won't really accomplish much. The Daily Mail comments:
[H]uman rights law is a veritable article of faith (and rich pickings) for the many lawyers at the core of New Labour.

Now, however, even Mr Blair seems to be dismayed by its perverse effects — or perhaps it is more accurate to say he is dismayed by the mounting outrage among voters, who are horrified by the way it is thwarting attempts to deal with crime and protect this country against terrorism.

But because human rights are so totemic, he refuses to repeal his own law — not least because we would still be signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, and so English law could be overturned as a consequence of rulings made by the Strasbourg court.

And he is certainly not prepared to countenance leaving the Convention.

So he has taken refuge instead in the weaselly excuse of blaming not the law, but the way it is being interpreted.

This cop-out has given David Cameron a headline-grabbing opportunity. ...

Mr Cameron's criticisms of human rights law are very well made. But his proposals for dealing with it seem to owe more to the impulse to strike a political pose than to produce a workable policy.

Previous post: Beware Creeping Tyranny

Friday, June 23, 2006


Nothing like a successful test of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system to make North Korea's Dear Leader nervous.

From MDA's press release:

22 June 2006

Missile Defense Test Results in Successful “Hit To Kill” Intercept

Air Force Lieutenant General Henry “Trey” Obering, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director, announced the successful completion today of an important missile defense “hit to kill” intercept test conducted jointly with the U.S. Navy off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. The test involved the launch of a Standard Missile 3 (SM-3 Block IA) from the USS Shiloh, an Aegis-class cruiser, modified to perform the ballistic missile defense mission, and a hit to kill intercept of a ”separating” target, meaning that the target warhead separated from its booster rocket. It was the seventh successful intercept test involving the sea-based component of the nation’s ballistic missile defense system in eight attempts. “Hit to kill” technology uses only the direct collision of the interceptor missile with the target, totally destroying the target using only kinetic energy from the force of the collision.

“We are continuing to see great success with the very challenging technology of hit-to-kill, a technology that is used for all of our missile defense ground and sea-based interceptor missiles,” said General Obering.

At approximately 12 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (6 p.m. EDT), a target missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. USS Shiloh’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense 3.6 Weapon System detected and tracked the target and developed a fire control solution. This was the USS Shiloh’s first missile defense test since completing the necessary modifications and upgrades to its SPY-1 radar and advanced communications system to make it capable of serving as a sea-based missile defense platform. It was also the first time the new weapon system configuration, ballistic missile defense 3.6, and a new missile configuration were used during the intercept mission.

Approximately four minutes later, the USS Shiloh’s crew fired the SM-3, and two minutes later the missile successfully intercepted the target warhead outside the earth’s atmosphere more than 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and 250 miles northwest of Kauai.

Three Aegis destroyers also participated in the flight test. One Aegis destroyer, equipped with a modified version of the Aegis ballistic missile defense weapon system, linked with a land-based missile defense radar to evaluate the ability of the ship’s missile defense system to receive and utilize target cueing data via the missile defense system’s command, control, battle management and communications architecture. Two other Aegis destroyers, including one from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, stationed off Kauai performed longrange surveillance and track exercises. This data can also be used to provide targeting information for other missile defense systems, including the ground-based long-range interceptor missiles now deployed in Alaska and California to protect all 50 states from a limited ballistic missile attack. Another U.S. Navy Aegis cruiser used the flight test to support development of a SPY-1B radar modified by the addition of a new signal processor, collecting performance data on its increased target detection and discrimination capabilities.

This event marked the first time that an allied military unit participated in a U.S. Aegis missile defense intercept test.

The Lockheed Martin press release is here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Beware Creeping Tyranny

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." -- Justice Louis Brandeis, 1928

Liberals in the US have been decrying the "erosion" of constitutional rights under the Bush Administration, arguing loudly against the NSA surveillance program and the renewal of the Patriot Act. Yet Conservatives and Libertarians see a quite different erosion — one due to left-leaning courts that create "emanations and penumbras"or cite other countries' laws to interpret the United States Constitution, and legislation that restricts political speech, gun ownership, property rights, and freedom of religion. (Go read the Bill of Rights!)

The European experience with well-meaning legislation has, over time, produced chilling results. Consider this WSJ Op-Ed (subscription required) on the legal lunacy in the British criminal "justice" system:

How did things come to a pass where law-abiding citizens are treated as criminals and criminals as victims? A giant step was the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act, making it illegal to carry any article for an offensive purpose; any item carried for self-defense was automatically an offensive weapon and the carrier is guilty until proven innocent. At the time a parliamentarian protested that "The object of a weapon was to assist weakness to cope with strength and it is this ability that the bill was framed to destroy." The government countered that the public should be discouraged "from going about with offensive weapons in their pockets; it is the duty of society to protect them."

The trouble is that society cannot and does not protect them. Yet successive governments have insisted protection be left to the professionals, meanwhile banning all sorts of weapons, from firearms to chemical sprays. They hope to add toy or replica guns to the list along with kitchen knives with points. Other legislation has limited self-defense to what seems reasonable to a court much later. [...]

It may be crass to point out that the British people, stripped of their ability to protect themselves and of other ancient rights and left to the mercy of criminals, have gotten the worst of both worlds. Still, as one citizen, referring to the new policy of letting criminals off with a caution, suggested: "Perhaps it would be easier and safer for the honest citizens of the U.K. to move into the prisons and the criminals to be let out."

A similar sentiment republished in the Brussels Journal caught my eye, "Why Citizens Should Be Allowed to Bear Arms:"
The right to keep and bear arms for defence is as fundamental as the rights to freedom of speech and association. Anyone who is denied this right – to keep and bear arms – is to some extent enslaved. That person has lost control over his life. He is dependent on the State for protection.

The default reaction to this argument is to cry out in horror and ask if I want a society where every criminal has a gun, and where every domestic argument ends in a gun battle? The short answer is no. The longer answer is to say that more guns do not inevitably mean more killings. There is no evidence that they do. What passes for evidence is little more than an excuse for not trusting ordinary people with control over their own lives.

Why is gun control an issue in Britain? The fact that the UN will convene the "Small Arms Review Conference" next week probably has something to do with the surge in opinion pieces. The official Conference website is here. The conference program sounds benign:
Five years after the adoption of the United Nations Programme of Action to address the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, some 2,000 representatives from Governments, international and regional organizations and civil society will meet at United Nations Headquarters from 26 June to 7 July 2006 to review progress made; to address future cooperation and activities; and to assess challenges on the road ahead.

By unanimously adopting the Programme of Action in 2001, the United Nations Member States committed themselves to collecting and destroying illegal weapons, adopting and/orimproving national legislation to help criminalize the illicit trade in small arms, regulating the activities of brokers, setting strict import andexport controls, taking action against violators of such laws, and better coordinating international efforts to that end.

The small arms Review Conference should reinforce the momentum for action among Member States, civil society, international and regional organizations. The Conference is also expected to welcome the establishment of a group of governmental experts who will meet in November 2006 to tackle the issue of reining in illegal arms brokers.
Not everyone is sanguine about the conference. Mary Katharine Ham interviewed Wayne LaPierre, author of “The Global War on Your Guns: Inside the U.N.’s Plan to Destroy the Bill of Rights.”
The philosophy of these groups, LaPierre said, is that the right to own a gun should be solely the right of governments, and they despise the fact that the United States remains a country in which private citizens can keep a handgun at their bedsides.

In a recent debate LaPierre did with Rebecca Peters, who is heading up the NGOs’ gun-ban efforts, Peters told him that Americans need to give up on the notion of self-defense because it’s something that only happens in movies.

The problem is, of course, that a disarmed people can do nothing when its armed government or militias turns on it. The U.N. has no response about what to do about that, LaPierre said, citing the Tutsis in Rwanda, the people of Darfur, and the Muslims of Bosnia.

“All they offer is a global socialist fantasy…If there were no guns, there would be no poverty, there would be no child hungry, there would be no violence. It’s the same global socialist fantasy we saw in the 20th century, “ he said. “Under the U.N. gun-ban policy, they have no solution for when the government goes bad; they have no answer for how to be liberated from a tyrant or a dictator; they have no answer for what oppressed people should do…Their whole philosophy is give up your arms and your freedoms and we’ll protect you.”

The pernicious influence of UN group-think on traditional freedoms isn't confined to gun control. Another piece from the Brussels Journal discusses the state of homeschooling in Belgium (HT Instapundit):

The fact that a growing group of children seems to be escaping from the government’s influence clearly bothers the authorities. Three years ago a new school bill was introduced. The new bill refers to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and it obliges homeschooling parents to fill out a questionaire and sign an official “declaration of homeschooling” in which they agree to school their children “respecting the respect [sic] for the fundamental human rights and the cultural values of the child itself and of others.”

The declaration does not specify what “respecting the respect for the fundamental human rights and the cultural values of the child itself and of others” means. It states, however, that government inspectors decide about this and adds – and here is the crux of the matter – that if the parents receive two negative reports from the inspectors they will have to send their child to an official government recognized school. [...]

Under the Convention severe limitations are placed on parents’ right to direct and train their children. Under Article 13 parents could be subject to prosecution for any attempt to prevent their children from interacting with material they deem unacceptable. Under Article 14 children are guaranteed “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” – in other words, children have a legal right to object to all religious training. And under Article 15 the child has a right to “freedom of association.”

[Update 6/22: The author above has a follow-up post, "Crackdown on Homeschoolers: It’s the UN Wot Done It"]

While idealists consider democratic governments a bulwark against tyrannical dictators, democracies are not immune to the tyranny of the well-meaning. Democratic governments around the world are falling prey to socialist-tainted liberalism that elevates the interests of the state above those of the individual citizens. There's a kernel of truth in the assertion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his letter to President Bush that,
"Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems."
Dr. Sanity diagnoses the pathology thusly:
Those glory days when the Left believed in freedom and individuality; and that the content of one’s character was more important than the color of one’s skin-- are long gone. Nowadays it seems that the Left only pretends to believe in those values and feels it necessary to mouth the words.

But my observation is that today’s Left pretty much stands for nothing—not freedom, not equal opportunity; not individual rights; not even peace. Trying to right the wrongs and injustices of the world is truly ethical and noble goal, but something happened on the road to that beautiful utopia. The Left made a wrong turn and got lost--somewhere in the vicinity of Vietnam, I think. [...]

At this very moment, every issue supported by the Left, and almost all of the behavior exhibited by the Left is completely antithetical to classical liberal philosophies. There is no longer a commitment to personal liberty or to freedom. The Left is far too busy to promote freedom for the common man or woman, because their time is taken up advocating freedom for tyrants who oppress the common man; terrorists who kill the common man; and religious fanatics who subjugate the common woman.

The intellectuals who once promoted the IDEA of freedom, now are ensnared in an IDEOLOGY that depends for its very existence on the silencing of speech; the suppression of ideas; and the persecution of those who dare to refute its tenets.

Patriotism and love of one’s country is mocked by those who once fought to bring the American Dream to all American citizens; and who once championed those who were prevented from sharing in that Dream. Slowly and inexorably those idealists who once shouted, “we shall overcome,” morphed into a toxic culture promoting a never-ending victimhood that cannot possibly be overcome. Love of American ideals and values was transformed into the most perverse and vile anti-Americanism –where all things originating or “tainted” as American are uniquely bad; and where America became the source of all evil in the world.

The classical liberal tradition is now almost exclusively upheld by what are called “conservatives”. Once “liberal” was synonymous with the “left”. No longer.
A final pithy quote from Freedom Keys:

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do." -- Edward Everett Hale

Earth's Climate Is Always Warming or Cooling

From the WSJ Letters page today (subscription required):

Earth's Climate Is Always Warming or Cooling

Roger C. Altman ("The Beltway's Energy," editorial page, June 16), a Treasury official in the Clinton administration, says he is no climatologist, but then calls for energy policies that assume catastrophic global warming from carbon dioxide emitted in fossil-fuel burning. He doesn't reveal his sources of information -- perhaps they are just various "experts" quoted in the press, or perhaps even Al Gore. But Mr. Gore, in his movie and elsewhere, never asks the key question: How much of current warming is due to natural causes? And how much is really human-caused? Anthropogenic warming is simply taken for granted as part of a claimed but nonexistent "complete" scientific consensus.

The current warming trend is not unusual: Climate is always either warming or cooling, and ice is either melting or accumulating. But thermometers can't talk and tell you the cause of climate change. This requires a comparison of the patterns of the observed warming with the best available models that incorporate both anthropogenic (greenhouse gases and aerosols) as well as natural climate forcings.

Fortunately, the U.S.-Climate Change Science Program, funded at $2 billion annually, has done just that in its first report:

It is based on the best current information on temperature trends. So how well do observations confirm the results of greenhouse models? The answer: not at all. The disparity between theory that predicts a climate disaster and actual data from the atmosphere is demonstrated most strikingly in the report's Fig. 5.4G (p. 111), which plots the difference between surface and troposphere trends for a collection of models and for balloon and satellite data.

Allowing for uncertainties in the data and for imperfect models, there is only one valid conclusion from the failure of greenhouse theory to explain the observations: The human contribution to global warming appears to be quite small and natural climate factors are dominant.

This conclusion should have a crucial influence on shaping our energy future. We hope that Mr. Altman, and the Bush team in Treasury, will pay attention to the science before advocating drastic energy policies that would kill economic growth.

S. Fred Singer
Arlington, Va.

(Mr. Singer, an atmospheric physicist, is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service.)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Stifling debate?

This afternoon, Michael Medved had on Harry Knox (of Human Rights Campaign) who was expounding on the Democrat's talking points about the Marriage Protection Amendment. The guest went off-script, however, commenting that a Constitutional Amendment was a bad idea, because it would stop the debate, which was still developing "nicely" around the country.

Stop the debate? What does he think the Massachusetts Supreme Court did when it mandated that the Commonwealth's legislature rewrite the marriage law to suit the judges?

Mr. Knox obviously forgot that approving Constitutional Amendments can take years, with debates in each state. Lots and lots of debate, all across the country, with no guarantee that the Amendment will ever pass. Remember the Equal Rights Amendment?

And if the Amendment passes, it can be nullified later through the same process. Think Prohibition.

[Updated 6/6/06, 1730 EDT, with correct name of Michael Medved's guest and bio link.]

Rationing by any name

There's an Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) by Martin Feldstein entitled "Tradeable Gasoline Rights". He gives his basic thesis in the first paragraph:
The rapid rise in the price of gasoline has produced calls for tougher fuel economy standards on new cars and trucks. Although reduced gasoline consumption would be good for the environment and for national security, such a regulatory change would be a mistake. A far better approach would be a system of tradeable gasoline rights, or TGRs. These could be distributed in a way that actually raises the income of a majority of households while giving everyone an incentive to reduce gasoline consumption.
I about jumped out of my chair when I got to the third paragraph and read this:
The government would decide how many gallons of gasoline should be consumed per year and would give out that total number of TGRs.
Why in the world does Mr. Feldstein believe that inserting more government bureaucrats and regulations into the gasoline market would improve life for Americans? Oh wait, he throws in a sweetener: the TGRs will be tradeable, leading to the assertion that they could raise "the income of a majority of households."

Right. Let's appeal to greed to push a really bad idea.

He claims that TGRs are a better solution for reducing consumption than legislating higher fuel economy standards, and more palatable than higher gasoline taxes. TGRs would raise the effective cost per gallon like a tax, but "the TGR system creates winners as well as losers." Meanwhile, he says that "[h]igher gas mileage standards would reduce gasoline demand in a very inefficient way by focusing exclusively on the rated mileage of new cars." But he also says that car companies have been known to respond to changing consumer tastes by changing their product mix.

What Mr. Feldstein doesn't discuss are the social and economic costs of implementing such a system. A rationing system, which is what the TGRs really are, requires new regulations, new government organizations to administer the program, and more law enforcement to counter the inevitable black market. Those costs have to be paid out of our taxes too. At least a higher gas tax has the merit of just making the existing tax bigger without adding a new bureaucracy; it would merely change the marginal cost of buying gasoline.

For the oil companies, they will incur compliance costs such as modification of their pumps to deal with double transactions for each purchase: the TGR "debit card" plus your actual payment. Those business costs will, surprise, raise the cost of gasoline too. And do you doubt that the legislation and complex TGR allocation rules will become a bonanza for litigators?

I don't see that TGRs accomplish anything that high prices aren't already encouraging: less driving, focus on conservation measures like keeping one's tires properly inflated, and a preference for better gas mileage when replacing one's vehicle. (Fuel economy standards may be misbegotten economic policy, but they have led to major improvements in technology since they were first implemented that perhaps would have come more slowly without the regulatory prod. Because of this, the average fuel economy of all cars in the US has increased over time as older cars are replaced with newer, more efficient models.)

TGRs may "raise the income" for many, but the implementation costs will eat away at that tiny raise. This proposal deserves a rapid burial!