Questions About Syria Remain

Julien:            After much deep and profound brain things inside my head, I have decided to thank you for bringing peace to our home.  And to make you feel good, I’m going to give you this lovely parting gift.

Alex the Lion: No, I couldn’t.  Really, I can’t take your crown.

Julien:            Oh, that’s OK.  I’ve got a bigger crown.  It’s got a gecko on it.  Look at him shake!  Go, Stevie, go!

            —Sacha Baron Cohen as the voice of King Julien, and Ben Stiller as the voice of Alex the Lion in Madagascar

 

While President Obama continues to work through the machinations of his considerable intellect (read: ego), I remain sorely troubled about our potential action in Syria.

Over the last couple of days, the administration has trotted out Secretary of State John Kerry to make a speech, and has released a report from the “Intelligence Community” purporting to make the case that the Assad regime used chemical weapons in a rocket attack on August 21 outside Damascus.  As an initial point, why is it John Kerry that’s addressing the American people on this issue, and not the President?  This is a big deal, and a leader needs to lead, not send out his lackeys.  And if the case is as strong as they claim it to be, then a great lawyer/scholar/orator like Obama should have no problem wrapping himself up in it before the American people.  That he isn’t in itself casts doubt on the whole thing.

Further, while the intelligence report and Kerry’s speechifying appear to make a strong case that Assad used chemical weapons, that case still remains a matter of taking their word for it.  They claim to have reports, and videos, and eyewitness accounts, and intercepted communications,  but they haven’t actually shown us any of it.  If it’s all as damning as they say it is, why not lay them out for all the world to see?  Surely if there is a universally-recognized “international norm” against the use of chemical weapons, if the evidence is as good as they claim there would be an immediate global consensus for taking action against the Assad regime.  Surely if the case is as iron-clad as they tell us, they would have no trouble getting authorization from Congress to take that action.  Surely if they have Assad as dead-to-rights as they are advertising, they would easily persuade the American people to support an attack.

All of which begs the question: why haven’t they put their actual cards on the table?

Unfortunately, the intelligence brief suggests a troubling possible piece to that puzzle.  Part of the supposed case against Assad includes evidence of preparations of chemical weapons in the days prior to the attack:

“We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.”

This is part of the logical case that (a) we know we have these weapons, (b) we know they prepared these weapons, (c) we know they used something, and (d) the aftermath was consistent with the use of chemical agents.  But notice something here.  The intelligence community doesn’t say they obtained evidence of preparations after the fact; they say “[i]n the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.”  In other words, taking the report at face value, we knew the Syrians were getting ready to use chemical weapons before they actually did it.

Now, if it’s as critically important to stop the use of these things as we’re being told, it is criminally inexcuseable that the administration had this information before the attack and did nothing to prevent it.  There was no pre-emptive strike.  There was no leak to the New York Times.  There was no phone call to Damascus or Moscow.  There was no warning to the rebels on the ground.  You can be sure that had there been, the administration would be beating you over the head with it.  Their silence on this count is deafening, and damning; they aren’t even attempting to lie about it.

Further, even if we give the administration the benefit of the doubt and indulge in the assumption that Assad deliberately used chemical weapons, there remains the enormous issue of what business that is of ours.  We’re told it’s all about enforcing “international norms,” but if that’s the case, there’s a strange absence of anyone in the international community standing with us.  Not Germany.  Not Canada.  Not Australia.  Not even the Brits.  The French might or might not support us, but no one has much cared what the French do or say since about 1940.

One suspects the Israelis would just as soon we didn’t attack Syria, but they’re too busy preparing for the retaliation from Damascus and Tehran to comment right now.

Then there’s the matter of the bizarre dilly-dallying and the constant leaks of everything about an attack except the exact moment and location.  If this were truly about protecting some legitimate American interests, how can you explain waiting what is now eleven days and counting before responding? 

We’re probably going to hit you.  Really.  Maybe.  We really mean it this time.  Sort of.  But if we hit you, it’ll only be once.  Lightly.  We’re not kidding.  We think.

By now, Assad has had plenty of time to secure anything of consequence and take himself and his family on a vacation out of the country.  And he knows that if we attack, it’ll only last a day or two, so he knows that once we stop it’s over and he’s safe to come back and return to business as usual. 

It isn’t apparent to me—and the administration hasn’t articulated—what, exactly, a strike in Syria would accomplish at this point.  They swear it’s not about regime change, and if they keep their word that any strike would be short-term and limited it’s doubtful that it would achieve that.  If it were about significantly weakening Assad’s ability to wage war, the delay and leaks have all but eliminated any potential for achieving that.  I don’t see it as being any sort of meaningful punishment, and I’m not sure it sends any kind of message to Assad or to Iran, particularly the longer we take to send it.  There’s no argument that launching an attack is going to make the situation in Syria or in the region better.  What is certain is that it will result in yet more dead people.

At the end of the day, I fear this is all about Obama’s internal tension between his political sensibilities and his gigantic ego.  At his core, he’s loathe to use any kind of military force; it’s just not in his DNA to fight.  But he shot off his mouth by issuing his galactically stupid “red line” ultimatum, and now having been called on it (so we’re told), he’s painted himself into a corner.  This is why it’s taking him so long to make a decision; he can’t bring himself to launch an attack, but he now has little choice if he is to save face.

This is what happens when you hand the keys to an amateur.

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BENGHAZI NOTE:  It’s been 355 days since a military-style attack on sovereign U.S. soil killed four Americans, and there has yet to be any response from this administration.  There’s been no missile strike, no bomber attack, and still no address by the President to the American people.  Yet it’s critical that we take military action to respond to an attack in Syria by Syrians against Syrians.

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Who’s Who In Syria?

 

You love me, but you don’t know who I am

I’m torn between this life I lead and where I stand

And you love me, but you don’t know who I am

So let me go, let me go

            —3 Doors Down, Let Me Go

 

Consider this as the Obama administration is preparing to begin military intervention in the civil war in Syria.

Last week the New York Times published a piece telling the story of Matthew Schrier, an American free-lance photojournalist imprisoned for seven months in Syria.  Schrier was attempting to travel to the city of Aleppo when his cab was stopped and he was taken into custody.  He was told he was on trial before an Islamic court, but was not told what the charges against him were.  His prison guards looted his bank accounts and shopped in his name on eBay.  They hacked his email account and sent messages to his mother.  They beat him so badly he could not walk, and he could regularly hear the screams of other prisoners being similarly beaten.

Rusty, isn’t this why we have to go in and get rid of Assad?

The problem is, Schrier was a captive/victim of rebel forces, not the Assad regime.  And his story highlights the basic problem with the administration’s blindfolded and naive policy in the Middle East:  it’s a dangerous game to go picking winners and losers when you don’t really know who the combatants are, because it’s nearly impossible to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Yet the administration has for some time verbally supported the rebels in Syria, even if it doesn’t know exactly who the rebels are or what (if anything) they represent. 

But the current positioning of naval assets to launch strikes into Syria represents a new escalation of involvement.  Ostensibly, any strikes would be in retaliation for what we’re told is Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Haven’t we heard the whole crusade-against-WMDs tale before?

The administration assures us that it’s virtually certain that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons last week, killing between 300 and 1300 people, depending on who you ask.  Of course, we’ve previously seen dubious and even false claims of this nature before.  Secretary of State John Kerry—he of the “seared—searedin me” memory† of being in Cambodia in Christmas 1968, except that it didn’t happen—tells us it is “undeniable,” but offers no proof other than his say-so.  And, conveniently, we’re already being warned that the actual evidence to support the allegation that (a) chemical weapons were used, and (b) it was Assad’s forces that used them may have been destroyed.  So we’re left to accept on faith this administration’s claim that military intervention in someone else’s civil war in which we do not know who the combatants are is justified because the administration says one side has used WMDs.

At least Bush 43 made some attempt to demonstrate his case for moving into Iraq.

You’ll forgive us if we’re just a wee bit skeptical at this point of anything anyone in this administration says:

  • It has yet to tell the truth about Benghazi, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It has yet to tell the truth about Fast & Furious, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It has yet to tell the truth about NSA spying, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It has yet to tell the truth about the IRS being deployed as a political weapon against conservative groups, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It lied about the practical and fiscal effects of Obamacare (“if you like your coverage/doctor you can keep it,” “I won’t sign anything that adds one dime to the deficit,” “premiums will go down under Obamacare”).

For those of you true believers, recall that Obama promised you he’d end the war in Afghanistan, and close Guantanamo Bay, neither of which has come to pass.  In fact, I defy you to give me a single example of anything over the last six or seven years on which this administration has told the truth or kept its promise, other than the promise to enact “fundamental change,” (and notice they never told you what that change was going to be).  And now Obama wants us to take him at his word that new military intervention in Syria is justified.

Trust me.

The fact of the matter is this administration has been consistently and spectacularly on the wrong side when it comes to sticking its nose in to pick winners and losers in the rash of civil wars in the Middle East.  The situation is not better, and U.S. interests are not more secure as a result of Obama’s support of rebels in Libya and Egypt; Libya turned a relatively benign but stable regime into a chaotic maelstrom of fundamentalism, ultimately costing the lives of four Americans in the military-style assault on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, and in Egypt a stable and pro-U.S. regime was replaced with an unstable soup of military control and Islamist extremism.  In both instances, the administration seems to have been woefully ignorant as to just what they would be getting as a result of regime change.  And in the one instance where there was a clear “bad guy” to remove that would have resulted in real and positive change for American interests in the region—Iran 2009—the administration did . . . nothing.

Obama has made no case for intervention in Syria.  He has offered no explanation as to what risk of harm the Assad regime posed or poses to American interests or those of any of our allies;  Assad never threatened the U.S. or Israel.  Indeed, I don’t recall that Obama’s made any effort at all to communicate to his employers—the American public—what’s going on, why it matters, and what he proposes doing.  It is impossible for this administration to make an intelligent choice in taking sides, because when it doesn’t and can’t know who the players are or what they represent, it can’t know on which side U.S. interest—if any—lies.

I hear the human rights argument.  But it is not our business—nor is it a legitimate function of the federal government under our Constitution—to be the world’s policeman, particularly if it’s going to involve the expenditure of vast amounts of taxpayer money or cost so much as a single American life.  Otherwise, why aren’t we also deploying to Sudan, Somalia, Burma, the Philippines, Kashmir, Balochistan, Nigeria, Yemen, and the many other places around the globe where there are ongoing armed domestic conflicts?

And the stakes are much, much higher this time.  Nobody was really all that bent over American involvement in Libya and Egypt.  But Syria’s different.  They are a client state of Iran, and pretty chummy with Russia.  One suspects Vladimir Putin is itching for a chance to assert himself on the global stage, and you know he’s morally certain that when push comes to shove, our Commander-in-Chief is a pussy.  Iran and Syria have both made clear that they will respond to a U.S. attack by retaliating against Israel.  All three of them know perfectly well that the American public does not have the stomach or attention span for a fresh military engagement in the Middle East.  This isn’t the time or place to be provoking either the Russians or the Iranians, especially with so little U.S. upside, if any.

At the end of the day, the conflict in Syria is a civil war.  It’s their fight, and they need to be left to fight it, particularly when we can’t possibly have enough information to take sides.

_______________

† Ironically, when Kerry said this in 1986, he was giving a speech denouncing U.S. military involvement overseas when the White House wasn’t—in his view—telling the American people the truth about it.

Enforcing Freedom

“And you’re in a tough spot, Jimmy, because you didn’t read the Playtone contract that you, yourself, signed.  And it says you do what I say.  And I say you record these songs from the Playtone catalogue.  You record That Thing You Do! in Spanish.  You get one cut per side of the L.P., but I don’t want any of this lover’s lament crap. I want something peppy, something happy, something up-tempo. I want something snappy.

            —Tom Hanks as Mr. White in That Thing You Do!

Back in 2006 Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, owners of a small Taos photography studio, declined Vanessa Willcock’s request to shoot her same-sex “commitment ceremony,” citing the conflict between their Christian beliefs and same-sex unions.  Although Willcock found another photographer to do it—for cheaper—she sued the Huguenins anyway for illegal discriminatory practices.  On Thursday the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the their refusal to take the assignment violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act.  In his opinion for the unanimous court, Justice Richard Bosson trumpeted the case as highlighting the compromise and accommodation that he says is the essence of what America is about:

“At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others . . . But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life . . . The Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.”

As an initial matter, let me say that if you accept the Rule of Law, as I do, the court appears to have gotten this one correct.  Under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, it is an unlawful discriminatory practice for

“any person in any public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services, facilities, accommodations or goods to any person because of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spousal affiliation or physical or mental handicap[.]”

N.M. Stat. 28-1-7 (F).  The statute defines a “public accommodation” as “any establishment that provides or offers its services, facilities, accommodations or goods to the public[.]”  N.M. Stat. 28-1-2 (H).  Thus, taking the statute on its face, by opening their doors and offering their services to the public, the Huguenins were forbidden from making any distinctions—for whatever reason—in offering or refusing to offer those services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  This is the statute the court was given to work with, and under the Rule of Law the court was bound to enforce it.  The court did its job.

But notice the inconsistency the application of the New Mexico statute in this case highlights.

Justice Bosson says that the essence of America is that “all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others,” but apparently that’s a one-way street; the Huguenins have to compromise to accommodate lesbian unions, but neither the lesbians nor the State of New Mexico have to compromise to accommodate the Huguenins’ Christian beliefs.  To the contrary, they punished the Huguenins for adhering to their religious convictions and withholding their services.  And there’s the rub.

Say what you want about this being a natural extension of the Civil Rights era.  This case is VERY different than, say, a diner refusing to serve lunch to blacks.  Eating lunch has nothing to do with race, thus the service of the meal isn’t in any way condoning the thing to which a racist diner owner objects.  The diner owner isn’t participating in the patron’s blackness.   But the nature of the Huguenins’ services—wedding photography—requires them not only to tolerate or even accept a same-sex union, they actually have to participate in it, thus taking part in the very activity to which their religious conscience objected.  Justice Bosson pays lip-service to the Huguenins’ rights, saying they only need channel their conduct, not their beliefs, but his sentiment is hollow: in sum, they can believe whatever they want as long as they don’t act on those beliefs.

In a different context, this case would be patently shocking.  Imagine the Huguenins were approached by a Satan-worshipper to photograph a Satanic wedding.  Very few would go so far as to say that they should be compelled to accept that assignment, yet that’s what the New Mexico statute would appear to require.  Or let’s reverse the case and suppose a gay photographer were approached by a vocal opponent (on religious grounds) of gay rights to shoot his Southern Baptist wedding.

You’d never hear the end of that one.

With the PC crowd, it’s always all about individual freedom and individual rights . . . as long as it’s their freedom and rights we’re talking about.  When it’s your freedom and rights and they conflict, well, you understand we all [read: you] have to make compromises to accommodate different points of view. 

In this instance, the Constitution should have protected the Huguenins.  They have a First Amendment right to the free exercise—that’s their “conduct,” Mr. Justice Bosson—of religion.  They have a Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of their liberty or property without due process and just compensation.  They have a Thirteenth Amendment right to be free from involuntary servitude.

More fundamentally, whether you like it or not individual freedom necessarily includes the freedom to discriminate; to choose with whom you will associate, and with whom you will do business.  It has to.  You may disagree with the bases for my particular prejudice; I may even be morally, fundamentally, and in every other way wrong.  But so long as I am not harming another or infringing upon another’s rights, the concept of individual freedom, if it is to mean anything, must mean I am nevertheless free to indulge in it.  If you disagree with me, you are equally free to refuse to associate or do business with me.

But in this age of political correctness run amok, it doesn’t work that way.  And now we see it taken to its logical conclusion, that it’s no longer enough to have to accept the views and behavior of those in PC-favored groups with whom you disagree, apparently now you have to condone or even forcibly take part in them, your rights and freedom be damned.

The Huguenins didn’t prevent Vanessa Willcock from having her same-sex ceremony.  Nor did they keep her from having it photographed—indeed, she got that done for less money than the Huguenins would have charged, thus arguably doing her a favor.  All they did was decline to participate in an activity to which they had a moral objection based on their religious beliefs.  And for that, the State of New Mexico has ordered them to pay thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

American liberty at its core should be about live-and-let-live.  Justice Bosson is correct in that sense when he writes that we must “leave space for other Americans who believe something different,” and support “the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.” 

But that space and tolerance has to go both ways.

The Land Of Opportunity

 

Holly came from Miami, F-L-A

Hitchiked her way across the U.S.A.

Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her legs and then he was a she

She said, “Hey, Babe, take a walk on the wild side.”

            —Lou Reed, Walk On The Wild Side

 

Just when I thought they couldn’t get any weirder, the left-coastians in California manage to surpass themselves.

On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill requiring California public schools to allow transgender students to choose for themselves whether they will use boys’ or girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, and whether they will participate on boys’ or girls’ athletic teams.  The idea, I gather, is to reduce bullying of transgender kids, and ensure they are comfortable being themselves at school.  As Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center said:

“Now, every transgender student in California will be able to get up in the morning knowing that when they go to school as their authentic self they will have the same fair chance at success as their classmates.”

Really?

First, let’s understand what “transgender” means.  “Transgender” does not have anything to do with sexual orientation; transgender people are not necessarily gay or lesbian (or bi).  The term “transgender” refers to people who, to varying degrees, have a gender identity that differs from their gender assignment at birth.  This may manifest itself in any number of ways, from cross-dressing, to using opposite-gendered pronouns, to full-blown hormone therapy and living life completely as the opposite gender.  The common thread, however, is that transgender people self-identify with the opposite gender from the biological gender with which they were born. 

And there’s the root of the problem with the new California law.

Transgender status is self-selecting, but impossible to verify; ultimately a person is transgender because he or she says so.  Steve may have all the physical attributes of being a boy, but sees himself as a girl, and you’ll just have to take him at his word on that.  The trouble is we have a law in California that allows Steve, simply by claiming transgender status, unlimited access to girls’ restrooms, girls’ locker rooms, and girls’ athletic teams.  But because transgender status is self-conferred, the whole concept behind the California law is at the mercy of Steve’s honesty and intentions.  And the Pandora’s Box here should be obvious.

Take restrooms and locker rooms.  Maybe Steve is transgender and would feel more comfortable in the girls’ lavatory and the girls’ shower.  Somehow I doubt that allowing him in there will do much to save him from the threat of bullying, to the extent he’s in legitimate danger of that.  But what if Steve really isn’t transgender?  What if he’s really just looking for a peep?  What if he wants a snapshot he can put on the internet?  What if he’s a pervert?  Or worse.  And if you think that’s far-fetched, I suggest you re-examine the hormone-crazed nature of teenaged boys, particularly in our modern era of easy-to-access porn, and hyper-sexed movies and video games.

There’s a reason we have gender-specific facilities.  I bet you it’s not one year before there’s a significant incident arising out of a boy being allowed in a girls’ locker room in California.

Then there’s this nonsense about choosing which gendered sports teams in which to participate.  Some time back I wrote that at least it was easy to tell male athletes from female ones.  But under the new California law, telling the difference no longer makes a difference.  If Steve says he’s transgender, he’s now eligible for girls’ golf, girls’ soccer, and girls’ basketball. 

Of course, the problem with that is his being transgender doesn’t erase the fact that physiologically he’s still a male, and thus is almost certainly at a distinct competitive advantage.  Scream all you want about females being capable athletes; that’s not my point.  My point is that there is a very high probability that Steve is bigger, stronger, and faster than the girls.  He’s likely to hit a golf ball considerably farther.  He’s likely to be able to outrun a girl to the ball, and kick it harder when he gets there.  He’s likely taller and able to outjump a girl for a rebound.  That’s not misogyny, that’s just the physical reality.  And it’s why we have separate girls’ teams in the first place: so the girls don’t have to compete against the boys.

But the new California law throws that out the window; suddenly it’s no longer making sure transgender students have “the same fair chance at success as their classmates,” but in fact it’s giving them a leg up.  I can even see hyper-competitive schools starting to field “girls’” teams made up of substantial numbers of “transgender” boys.  And you know it’s only a matter of time before the Ninth Circuit rules that Title IX scholarship rules have to be extended to cover transgender male athletes on women’s college teams.  Then there’s a financial incentive to self-confer transgender status, at least until graduation.  Meanwhile, you have transgender males displacing females on teams created and protected for the express purpose of ensuring that females had the same access to opportunities to compete as males.

This is the sort of lunacy you get when uber-progressive political correctness supplants common sense.  How many girls now have to be made uncomfortable even going to the bathroom in order to ease the discomfort of what has to be a comparatively miniscule minority who are confused about their gender identity?  How many girls now will be denied previously legally-protected opportunities to play for their school because Steve now wants to be called Loretta?

The fact is you can’t accommodate all people in all things.  You particularly can’t do it when the thing to be accommodated isn’t some objectively obvious condition, but a subjective one known only to and existing only by virtue of a declaration by the one to be accommodated.  Taken to its extreme, the California notion would require inconveniencing—or even endangering—almost unlimited numbers of people to salve every conceivable whine.  Victimhood, with all its benefits and claims upon society, becomes available simply for the asking.

Sometimes life is uncomfortable.  Sometimes people are mean.  And no, I don’t think that means we need to not only accept but facilitate that girls will be boys and boys will be girls.  But that’s where you are now in California.

It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  I missed this, but July 31 marked the two-year anniversary of Chasing Jefferson.  Thanks to those who have stuck with me.  RDW 

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Bureaucracy

 

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

            —The Beatles, Carry That Weight

 

Meet John Pozsgai.  

Mr. Pozsgai was a felon.  He did time in a federal penitentiary for acts he readily admitted he committed, but went to his grave refusing to acknowledge as wrong. 

But let’s back up.

John Pozsgai emigrated to the United States in 1956 as a refugee from the communist regime in Hungary.  He learned a trade as a mechanic, and eventually became self-employed.  He didn’t exactly become John Rockefeller, but Mr. Pozsgai was a living embodiment of The American Dream.

In the 1980s, Mr. Pozsgai was living in Morristown, Pennsylvania, across the street from an illegal car dump.  But he saw the potential some hard work could bring, so in 1987 he bought the 14 acre lot in hopes of cleaning up the site and developing it for use in expanding his truck repair business.  And with the blessing of local officials, he proceeded to do just that, removing thousands of old tires and tons of rusting hulks from the property.  He then brought in clean fill and topsoil in preparation for developing the site.

There was just one problem.

Somewhere along the way, Mr. Pozsgai’s work cleaning up his private property at his own expense caught the attention of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, who were more than a little put out that they hadn’t been consulted.  And they began making all sorts of enforcement demands under the Clean Water Act that he stop bringing in fill and that he “restore” the site—yes, by turning it back into a dump. 

Now, you might be asking yourself what cleaning up an old dump has to do with the Clean Water Act, and you’d be right to do so.  In order to squeeze the regulation within its power under the Commerce Clause, Congress had to tie EPA’s authority to “navigable waters,” the idea being that waterways useable for commercial traffic have potential effect on interstate commerce.  But through judicial creep, the idea of “navigable waters” has been expanded to include “wetlands,” which basically means anything EPA says it does.  In Mr. Pozsgai’s case, even that idea was stretched to the impossibly thin.

Mr. Pozsgai’s lot bordered on a drainage ditch that, when there was anything in it, fed a stream that was a tributary to the Pennsylvania Canal, which fed into the Delaware River and back in the 19th Century had been used for commercial traffic.  What does that have to do with the property?  It seems that some of the tires on the lot had blocked the drainage ditch, which would occasionally cause the ditch to back up and artificially flood Mr. Pozsgai’s property.  Of course, once he removed the tires, the flooding stopped, but no matter;  EPA cried WETLANDS!, and thus the entire property was subject to federal bureaucratic control.

EPA ordered Mr. Pozsgai to stop “discharging pollutants”—read: putting clean topsoil on the surface of his private property—onto the “wetlands,” and to put the tires back.  They put him under video and air surveillance.  When he did not comply, they arrested him, and searched his home for weapons.  They charged him with criminal violations under the CAA, and he was eventually sentenced to three years in prison and fined over $200,000.  At the time that was the most severe criminal punishment ever imposed under the CAA.  The sentence was later upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  United States v. Pozsgai, 897 F.2d 524 (3d Cir. 1990). 

Mr. Pozsgai came to this country to flee the oppression of a communist regime.  He made himself productive, and built a life.  Then the United States federal government, through the abusive overreach of an unelected bureaucracy, branded him a felon and put him in prison.  He spent a year-and-a-half in jail, another year-and-a-half in a halfway house, and five years on probation.  As a result, he could never legally possess a gun in the United States, and for a time he was forbidden from voting.  He was bankrupted, lost his home, and even his ability to earn a living was forever impaired.

All because he cleaned up a dump and put clean topsoil on his own private property.

And his experience is not unique or a relic of the 1980s.  Mike and Chantelle Sackett bought a 0.62 acre lot in Priest Lake, Idaho, where they planned to build a house.  When they began bringing in clean fill material, they received a cease-and-desist order from EPA—a precursor to an enforcement action—without a hearing.  The Supreme Court recently overturned a Ninth Circuit ruling and held that the Sacketts did not have to wait for EPA to arrest them before they could challenge EPA’s jurisdiction.  Sackett v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 566 U.S. ___ (2012).  Meanwhile, their private property remains a hostage of the system.

These are not the industrial polluters or environmentally-sensitive navigable waterways to which the CAA was directed.  Did we really need to spend the resources to prosecute a couple all the way to the Supreme Court because they wanted to build a home?  Did we really need to send a man to jail because he cleaned up an illegal dump?

But this is what happens when Congress abdicates and turns over control to an unelected bureaucracy.  No one is holding the reins, and there’s no one to pull back and tell them they’ve overstepped their mandate, that they’ve gotten too big for their britches.  Like Audrey II, they’ve metastasized out of control into an all-consuming beast with an insatiable appetite for power.

And it’s the liberty of individual citizens that ultimately suffers.

Dropping Birth Rate Is Trouble

 

Declining numbers at an even rate

At the count of one we both accelerate

My Stingray is light, the slicks are starting to spin

But the 413’s really diggin’ in

            —The Beach Boys, Shut Down

 

Last Thursday I found myself in waiting room hell, pending surgery to repair a ruptured biceps tendon (hazards of starting martial arts training in one’s mid-40’s).  All three TVs (plus the one in pre-op) were mercilessly tuned to ABC’s The View.  As a side note, Thursday’s episode featured guest host Katherine Schwarzenegger, whom ABC billed as an “author and activist”—she in fact has written a book titled Rock What You’ve Got: Secrets to Loving Your Inner and Outer Beauty from Someone Who’s Been There and Back, whatever that has to do with anything—but who in reality is a 23 year old recent college graduate with two famous actor parents.  I am at a complete loss as to what she could bring to the table, although I suppose her level of insight and expertise fit right in with Whoopie Goldberg (actor/comedian), Barbara Walters (faux journalist), Joy Behar (actor/comedian), and Sherri Shepherd (actor/comedian—anyone seeing a pattern here?).

Despite my best efforts to run or hide, I was unable to avoid a segment entitled “The Child-Free Life.”  Goldberg introduced the segment by referring to a recent piece in Time—she gave no specifics as to the date, issue, author, or even the title, which I soon learned is apparently standard procedure on the program, but I think I found it here—that noted the U.S. birth rate has dropped to significantly low levels.  The general premise of the segment, it became immediately apparent, was that this was OK, maybe even a good thing.  And for the next four minutes, the ladies discussed the evils of having children and the virtues of not, all to the intermittent cheering of the studio audience.

I’m not sure when children, as an abstract concept, became such anathema in this country that we cheer their non-existence.

Among the arguments offered by the esteemed panel:

  • It costs $295,000, before college, to raise a child (Walters, spouting a very official-sounding exact figure, but citing nothing);
  • Years ago someone did a poll showing that 100% of parents of adolescents regretted having children (Walters, operating from memory);
  • Child-free is happier and stress-free (Schwarzenegger, citing her own personal observation from her vast 23 years of life experience, with which she expressly disagreed in the very next breath);
  • Not everyone should have children (Schwarzenegger, to spontaneous roars from the audience);
  • Mommy has to be the conflict-resolver whether there’s one child or multiple (Goldberg, never explaining why that’s a problem); and
  • Children nowadays don’t/won’t take care of their parents (Walters, again citing nothing).

The level of analysis and intellectual depth of the discussion was just staggering.  To her credit, Behar—in her lone contribution to the conversation—did argue that you should have one child “in case you need a matching donor.”  I’m not even sure she wasn’t serious; if it was a joke, no one laughed.

Now, I will agree with Miss Schwarzenegger that not everyone should have children, and I won’t argue that we should enforce some kind of mandatory birth quotas.  But the tenor of the discussion on The View, I fear, reflects a growing societal aversion to children.  And that’s troubling indeed.

The Time piece Goldberg apparently used to kick off the segment centered on 2009 data from the National Center For Health Statistics, and took the position based on loose generic anecdotes to Europe and the idea that lost births can simply be replaced with immigration, that a dropping fertility rate was no problem.  But The Washington Times recently did a piece using the same study updated to 2011 data, and the necessary conclusions are problematic.

The general fertility rate fell to 63.2 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, a historic low.  The total fertility rate fell to 1.89 births per woman.  The reason this is trouble is it’s well below the statistical replacement threshold of 2.1 necessary simply to maintain a population.  In other words, all else being equal, a birth rate that low means population decline.  And in a society dependent upon multiple ponzi-scheme-driven entitlement programs, what that means is the economic engine is running out of gas.

Consider Social Security, which even the Social Security Administration openly admits is dependent upon having perpetually growing numbers of payors paying into the system in order to fund future outlays; in debt parlance this is referred to as an “unfunded liability”—an obligation to pay in the future for which there is no present savings or revenue stream.  With a declining population, there simply aren’t enough future young people paying in to fund the benefits payments to the larger number of retirees.  The system becomes upside-down, and it necessarily collapses on itself.

Medicare is in largely the same situation, with benefits payments to seniors being dependent upon funding from a sufficiently large base of younger taxpayers.  In a different way, Obamacare will eventually also face the same problem, as there are fewer and fewer younger healthy premium contributors to offset the disproportionate benefits payments to the older and sicker cohort.  None of which is sustainable.

That’s assuming all else is equal, which, of course, it’s not.  And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

As noted above, the Time piece assumed that any declines resulting from low fertility rates will be made up through immigration.  Query whether they should.  I have previously noted that the bulk of our immigration does not consist of wealthy skilled people likely to be large net contributors to our entitlement system, but of impoverished low-skilled laborers, mostly from Latin America, likely to be net consumers.  Rather than curing the fiscal imbalance in the system, the immigrant population increases an already unsustainable draw on ever-depleting funding resources.  But there’s another issue.

While the population as a whole is at fertility rates below replacement levels, consider that the Pew Center reports that the fertility rate among U.S. Muslims is around 2.8, meaning that the muslim population is increasing—in addition to immigration—while the general population is decreasing.  And when you add in the fact that the Muslim population is younger, thus further increasing their potential for total births—a 20 year old is more likely to have additional children over her lifetime than a 35 year old—and the potential for dramatic demographic shift is clear.  One need only look to Europe, where the declining birth rate phenomenon has been playing out for decades, to see the consequences.  Much of Europe has already become Islamicized, with many countries expecting to see Muslim populations exceed 10% within the next 15 years.  In Britain, some predict a Muslim majority by 2050.  

Why is that a problem?

Leave aside the fact that in a 2011 Pew Research poll nearly 20% of U.S. Muslims found themselves unable to say that violence in defense of Islam was never justified, and that a similar percentage had either a “favorable” view of Al Qaeda, or did not know.  Never mind that 20% said they did not want to assimilate—then why the hell are you here?—and another 16% said they wanted to both assimilate and remain distinct from larger American society—query how you have it both ways.  And forget that while Pew didn’t publish U.S. results for this question, globally the overwhelming majority of Muslims favor making Sharia the law of the land (it’s impossible to give a figure because Pew deliberately broke the results down by region to mask it, but except for Southern/Eastern Europe, regional majorities in favor ranged from 64% to 84%).

No, don’t worry about that.  Forget how women and homosexuals fare in places where Muslims wield political control.    Pay no mind to the fact that the only tolerance Islam admits is of itself, and they will sue for all things accommodating Islam, while at the same time accommodating no one else.  Leave all that aside, because worrying about such things makes you an Islamophobe, and the ladies of The View simply can’t have that.  Just consider this:

76% of U.S. Muslims approved of Barack Obama’s job performance as of 2011

68% of U.S. Muslims favor even bigger government and more services.

Even the DNC doesn’t get those kinds of numbers.

This is where we’re heading with current birth trends and immigration.  Thought you might want to know.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  I am in a cast following my surgery, making typing difficult.  Will try to post when I can, but traffic is likely to be slow for awhile.