Monthly Archives: July 2012

Freedom Of Expression: Anthony Lester’s Thoughts On America’s Influence Across The Atlantic And our Inability To Be Influenced In Kind

Anthony Lester, human rights advocate, Harvard Law School graduate and member of the British parliament sat down with The Atlantic‘s Jonathan Peters this weekend for an interview in which he shared his thoughts and experiences on the rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment and how they have been exported and expounded upon oversees.  In the interview, which can be read in its entirety here, Lester tackles several issues, including the recognition of foreign libel settlements, hate speech, Wiki-Leaks as journalism and the seemingly great amount of danger faced by journalists today.

What I found most interesting was Lester’s observations on the American legal systems emphasis on give and lack of take when it comes to the exchange of ideas with our international partners.  As Lester said:

The problem is that the trade in legal ideas is not a two-way trade. American ideas are for export, and there’s very little effort in the U.S. legal system to import ideas. With respect to constitutional issues involving human rights, it’s virtually impossible to persuade a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court to look at case law from other countries. The political and legal influence of the United States has been profound in favor of human rights around the world. American ideas have inspired the rest of the world. But jurists in the U.S. are not ready to be inspired by others.

What is it that fuels this refusal to be inspired?  Shortsightedness?  Hubris?  Or is there an honest consensus, born out of rigorous assessment of empirical data, that we have nothing to learn?  I don’t know, but I sincerely doubt that the latter is the case.

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The Politcal Aftermath of Aurora, Colorado

In the wake of the the tragic incident in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured, I found my Facebook newsfeed to be congested with various opinions about the shooting.  There were, here and there, expressions of shock, grief, prayers for those affected, etc.  But the main topic of conversation seemed to be, as it almost always is following such an incident, gun control.

Now, I would classify myself as a fan of the Second Amendment.  I grew up around guns, I learned to shoot and respect them at a young age, I carried them in peace keeping and in combat, and I believe that anyone of sound mind and clean legal background should be permitted to own and carry one for sport or protection if they so desire.  However, I find it very hard to jump on the bandwagon with my like minded comrades who are lamenting the fact that there was no one in the movie theater in Aurora that was legally carrying a weapon and could have stopped the shooter, and who are decrying any calls for a reexamination of gun control legislation.

Let’s assume that there was someone in the theater who was legally carrying a firearm, would that have prevented the shooting?  Probably not.  The argument that citizens carrying firearms acts as deterrent against criminals is debatable at best, but it breaks down entirely in a situation like this.  There is nothing but speculation as to the mental state of James Holmes at this time, but given the amount of planning and preparation that went into the act (from the use of body armor to booby-trapping his apartment) it is apparent that he was prepared for a confrontation and ready to see it through.

What if someone was able to shoot back and take out Holmes?  That is a big “what if”.  Becoming certified to carry a firearm is not the same as having the wherewithal and skill skill to use it effectively in a situation like this.  In order to qualify for a concealed carry permit in the state of Ohio (which is comparable to other states around the country, and where my mother recently got her permit, go mom!), one must complete a certification course consisting of 10 hours of classroom training and 2 hours of training at a shooting range.  While the course doe include classes like “Use of Deadly Force” and “Introduction to Basic Handgun Tactics”, it is not exactly thorough instruction on how to win a shootout.  Neither does 2 hours of range qualification make one combat ready.  Shooting rounds at a paper target, under optimal conditions, does not prepare one for confronting a violent and well-prepared attacker in a dark theater filled with tear gas and a surging, screaming, panicked crowd of innocent bystanders.  If a Samaritan had been present in that theater with a gun, it is more likely that they would have added to the carnage, rather than diminished it.

The first victim in the aftermath of tragedies like this is any useful discourse on gun control.  While anti-gun advocates will take the opportunity to mount a renewed attack on the rights of law-abiding citizens to carry guns, this is a fool-hardy en devour that is bound to fail.  Prohibition has never been the answer to anything (see our Great experiment, the War on Drugs, etc) and the sport shooting/hunting/collecting culture is too ingrained.

On the other side of the debate are the hardcore gun lovers who see any restriction or tightening of gun control laws as an infringement on their Constitutional rights.  The old adage that, if we outlaw guns, only the criminals will have them is trotted out frequently.  Recent history, however, has not born this out.  James Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner (the would-be assassin of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords), MAJ Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter), and Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter) all obtained their murder weapons legally.

So how do we proceed?  We can start by getting real.  Forget the half-cocked fantasies about gun-toting cowboys. Men in white white hats that move about the population righting wrongs and deterring violence against the innocent make for great spaghetti western schtick, but that’s about it.  Also, stop pretending that rational, sane, law-abiding citizens who own guns are a threat to everyone else.  They’re not, period.  Nor is making the process for people to legally acquire firearms more strenuous a dangerous proposition.

I support the citizen’s right to own and carry a weapon.  I also support any reasonable effort to make sure that said citizen is not a psychopath or a criminal.  If there is a need to enact or amend gun control legislation in the aftermath of Aurora, I hope that there can be a rational, open-minded dialogue that is not fueled by the same emotion and one-upmanship that has been clogging my social media outlets lately.  But I fear that I ask too much.


Black Lung On The Rise, Just Don’t Expect House Republicans To Do Anything About It

Black Lung, the horrible, debilitating disease that plagued the mining community for generations is on the rise again, according to a joint report from National Public Radio (NPR) and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).  The disease, once thought to be headed towards extinction following tough regulations enacted in the late 1960’s, has seen a resurgence in the last 30 years, with cases of the worst stages of the disease tripling since the 1980’s.  The NPR/CPI report attributes this increase to more efficient mining equipment that has lead to greater output, but also produces more of the toxic mining dust to which miners are exposed during an average work week that has increased almost 11 hours since the 1980’s.  This combination of longer exposure to more toxins is proving to be very deadly.

Then why are House Republicans attempting to block funding that would go towards increasing miner safety and decreasing the impact of this epidemic?  In addition to holding multiple “symbolic” votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Republicans in the House of Representatives have attached a rider to the FY 2013 appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services that specifically blocks any funding for a program that would limit miners’ exposure to toxic mining dust.  Section 118 of the bill reads as follows:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to continue the development of or to promulgate, administer, enforce, or otherwise implement the Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Coal Mine Dust, Including 20 Continuous Personal Dust Monitors regulation (Regulatory Identification Number 1219-AB64) being developed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor.

It could be assumed that, by denying the funding for a regulatory program, Republicans are simply sticking to their meme of smaller government, less intervention, and self-regulation for business in the interest of economic growth.  However, the National Mining Association (NMA), a group that lobbies Washington on behalf of the industry, believes that the program for which Republicans wish to deny funding does not go far enough.  The NMA is calling for more regulation and more government intervention on behalf of the industry.  According to NPR, the NMA has called for the following actions in addition to the current program:

· Encourage the use of proven technology — (supplied air helmets,) used in occupations other than mining — to provide miners with a stream of fresh air across their breathing zone;

· Allow work practices that permit miners to be rotated across alternate work locations to minimize exposure during the shift;

· Require that all miners participate in an x-ray surveillance program so that intervention measures can be taken promptly should a miner develop respiratory impairment during his career;

· Recognize that longer working periods impact exposure by adopting a weekly, cumulative dose exposure limit rather than the current shift-by-shift approach;

· Revise the rule to address the localized nature of the problem (as identified by NIOSH x-ray surveillance data) and the specific conditions it represents rather than impose a general requirement across the entire industry.

· Complete the additional research and development needed to ensure integrity of personal dust monitors.

It is obvious that industry representatives want this program and that the afflicted miners need this program.  But for a political class that, in a time of real economic hardship, is content to hold symbolic votes, real action appears to be an unattainable (or unwanted?) ideal.


Dan Drezner on Comic-Con

If Daniel Drezner would quit posting interesting and entertaining stuff, I would quit sharing.  Unfortunately, it does not appear that he is capable of doing so and, as such, neither am I.  His latest blog entry on what the international relations community can take away from Comic-Con is a fun read.  Number 5 on the list is especially poignant:

5)  Zombies still rule.  I mean, c’mon — they were everywhere at Comic-Con.  Everywhere.

Read the whole thing here.


Hitchens Introduces Orwell

The world lost a great writer and great thinker last December when Christopher Hitchens succumbed to the esophageal cancer that had robbed him of much of his energy, though not of his keen wit and ability to spin delicious prose.  One of his last, and for him perhaps most satisfying, works was an introduction to a volume of diaries written by George Orwell from 1931 to 1949.  That volume is set to be published next month and Vanity Fair has posted Hitch’s entire foreword online.  The essay (as it is much more so that than a mere introduction) seeks to give the reader some basic insight into Orwell’s mindset, his motivations and his outlook on the world.  Hitch sets the tone wonderfully from the introductory paragraph:

At different times he instanced what he called his “power of facing unpleasant facts”; his love for the natural world, “growing things,” and the annual replenishment of the seasons; and his desire to forward the cause of democratic socialism and oppose the menace of Fascism. Other strong impulses include his near-visceral feeling for the English language and his urge to defend it from the constant encroachments of propaganda and euphemism, and his reverence for objective truth, which he feared was being driven out of the world by the deliberate distortion and even obliteration of recent history.

The entire essay is worth a read for any fan Christopher Hitchens, George Orwell, or mastery of the English language.


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