Saturday, July 31, 2010

Show me the money on illegal immigrant violence

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer
Show Me The Money…

In April, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona said that the state was going through a crime wave because of illegal immigrants. Illegal’s had “invaded” the state over the last decade and pushed crime up, especially murder and kidnapping.

Well, show me the money, as the expression goes.

The fact is, crime is down. According to the latest reports from the FBI, the four large cities in the U. S. (that is, cities with population over 500,000) with the lowest violent crime are all in the southwest, San Diego in California, Austin and El Paso in Texas and yes, Phoenix, Arizona. Larry Dever, sheriff of Cochise County, where a popular farmer was killed a few months ago and blamed on illegal immigrants says that, “we’re not seeing the [violent crime] that’s going on” across the border.

Arizona has an illegal immigration problem that is only second to California. But, last year, the state’s overall crime dropped 12%. Between 2004 and 2008 it experienced an ever higher drop in crime of 23%. The city of Phoenix had a drop of 17% in violent crime last year and over 33% drop in the past decade.

States, according to the constitution, have not been granted the power to decide who belongs here and who doesn’t. It is the Federal government’s responsibility. Even given some disagreement with the responsibilities, if each state determines citizenship for the country, we will end up with a patch work of legislation that would confuse honest residents and leave gaping holes that could be exploited by those that would do the country harm. (Image, a cop in Michigan determining whose citizenship laws he should know about when arresting an individual.)

The country does have an illegal immigration problem. As with any issue, let’s face the problem on honest and real terms. By making grand statements that are at best just not true, we confuse the issue and raise fears that have no basis. Government has a responsibility to create legislation that is limited to the problem. Unsupported claims of violence in this case only promotes legislation that goes well beyond the limits of government responsibility.

Additional reading:


Friday, July 30, 2010

It's not Sharia Law it is Constitutional Law

A video playing on You Tube has raised the anger of some Christians because of apparent violation of First amendment directed by Muslims and carried out by the police in Dearborn, Michigan. In reality, when the facts are examined, it is the full exercise of the First Amendment right of assembly and as an extension, association.

In a video playing on You Tube entitled, “Sharia in the US” (1), two people, Nabell Qureshi and David Wood visited an Arab Festival in Dearborn, Michigan. There, they found a booth with a banner that said, “Islam: Got Questions? Get Answers.” Qureshi and Wood approached the booth and picked up a pamphlet that stated that Islam promotes peace. When they read the pamphlet they found that they disagreed with the piece and Qureshi and Wood stated that they, “noticed… it was full of poor logic and errors.” They then returned to the booth with cameras running to ask them to defend the opinions in the pamphlet. At this, security from the festival approached them. As the video shows, they eventually are escorted off the grounds by Dearborn Police.

That would seem to be the end of the story. But, Qureshi and Wood assert unfounded assumptions about the reasons for being asked (escorted, forced) to leave the grounds. A statement associated with the video in part reads:

“We [Qureshi and Wood] ask you, is it a coincidence that the city with the highest percentage of Muslims in the United States is the city where Christianity is not allowed to be represented (let alone preached) on a public sidewalk? Is it coincidence that in this city, people will say "No way!" when we say "This is the United States of America"? Is this what will happen when Islam takes over the United States?”

Qureshi and Wood’s assertion is that they were asked to leave because Muslims are forcing Sharia Law in the United States and they are supported by the Dearborn police department. The two say they are believers in the First Amendment right to free speech and the free practice of their religion. According to them, they should have been allowed to stay so they could preach about their religion.

The response by the Dearborn Police to ask Qureshi and Wood to leave was the correct response because of First Amendment rights for the Arab Festival organizers.

Let’s first take a look at the exacting reading of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In this case, the most important part of the First Amendment is, “the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” For whatever else can be assumed about the situation that is describe above, it is about freedom of assembly and as an extension of that, freedom of association.

The Constitution guarantees the right to peaceable assemble, that is clearly stated. Over the two centuries since those words were written, the courts have determined that you can’t fully enjoy the freedom of assembly if you can’t assemble with the people that are like minded. After all, the following statement after freedom of assembly in the First Amendment is, “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Groups can’t petition for a redress of their grievances if there are competing factions within the group. It would be confusing at best if at one time speakers were taking one position and then the next speaker was taking the opposite position.

This has been supported in the last few years by important Supreme Court decisions. The first is Hurley v. Irish American GLIB Association (1995 – No. 94-749). The St Patrick Parade organization in Boston was asked by the Irish American GLIB Association, a group that supports rights for gays, lesbians bi-sexuals, to include them in annual Boston St Patrick’s Day Parade. The St Patrick Day Parade organization refused on the grounds that to include them would not properly represent the organization. The Irish American GLIB Association sued. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that to force the parade organization to include them would, “be a form of coerced speech and violated the organizers’ First Amendment rights” of freedom of assembly. The reasoning was that if we have the right to assemble, it must be with like minded people. Since the parade organization had the required assembly permits, they were in control of who paraded with them.

The second ruling was in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000 – No. 99—699). A gay man wanted to be admitted to the Boy Scouts of America. The organization, as in the above case, refused on the grounds that it would be forced association and would not represent the organization in the way the membership intended. To do so, the court ruled, would, violate the private organization’s rights to freedom of association and expressive association.”

In both cases, the justices favored allowing members of an organization to chose the membership of their organization and participants of their events. To restate the clear intention of the First Amendment, it was to allow people to gather with like minded people to support their point of view. To allow those that would not fully support their point of view would be forced association, something the authors of the Constitution knew about and wanted to avoid.

In the video Qureshi and Wood assert that they were asked to leave because Muslims are forcing Sharia Law in the United states and they are supported by the Dearborn police department. The truth is, because of the Supreme Court rulings and a conservative interpretation of the First Amendment, is simply not the case. The Arab organization clearly had petition the City of Dearborn to assemble on public grounds. It is clear they filed the same paperwork as any other organization or individual would have had to that allow them to assemble with like minded people. This is the same thing that the St Patrick Day Parade organization does every year to march down the streets of Boston since 1762. It is also the same thing the Boy Scouts of America do every time they use public school class rooms for meetings.

The Arab group in Dearborn did not want others that were not like minded at the assembly, so they asked Qureshi and Wood to leave. When they didn’t they were escorted out of the area. The St Patrick Parade organization and the Boy Scouts of America had already asked the Supreme Court to not be forced to associate with people they didn’t agree with. The Supreme Court also fully supported their request.

What appears on the surface to be an infringement of the Qureshi and Wood’s First Amendment rights and that of all Christians, wasn’t. The Supreme Court in this case not only correctly supported the St Patrick’s Parade Organization and the Boy Scouts of America (which, by the way, state on the website of each organization is a Christian organization) and by precedent the Arab organizations right to assembly, but also would allow Qureshi and Wood to hold their own assembly and exclude who they wanted.



Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Filibusters should end

The filibuster may come back into the news in the next couple of months. The senate is considering changing the rules of the senate for the next term, which would start in January after the upcoming election. The current filibuster rules were created to block legislation and appointments with no other reasonable purpose. Congress should abolish it.

The modern filibuster’s creation came out of the 80’s when republicans wanted to block some judicial nominations by then President Clinton. With the support of what could be called the “Super Majority Minority”, just 40 senators, legislation and appointments can be block. This means that a minority of senators can keep action from being taken that 59 senators, a near super majority, deem important.

Filibusters in a simple form have been with human organizations since the beginning of time. Up until the 80’s, it meant that someone who was granted the right to speak could do so until they couldn’t speak anymore. In most cases it stopped the organization from moving forward on all of its business until the filibuster was over. Since this usually lasted from a few hours to a day at most, it provided time for the opposition to gather their supporters or time for information about the decision to reach the constituents. The plan for the filibusters was that the opposition could change the outcome of a vote if they just had a little more time.

Pressure not only came from the both sides of the issue but also because no other business could get done. Everything stopped and people worked at finding a solution.

But, the modern filibuster in the U. S. Senate is different. Now just 40 people can oppose cutting off debate and no vote will be taken. As long as the votes aren’t there to cut off debate, the issues goes nowhere. No deadline for a vote. No debate of the issues. And 40 people can stop the will of the senate from being expressed. Other business that the senate needs to get done just continues.

It is completely legal for 40 senators to control the senate business in a United States. The Constitution says that the senate and the house of representatives can set their own rules with only a couple of exceptions. If it was the will of the senate, they could make it so that just 5 senators in support of legislation could pass it into law.

The senate should change the rules on a filibuster that it takes no more votes to stop debate and vote on an issue than it takes to pass. If it takes a simple majority to pass legislation, it should only take a simple majority to end debate.