Thursday, July 30, 2009

Re: <i>Taken</i>

Alas, no anti-torture absolutists chose to reply to my invitation to watch the movie Taken and explain why the Liam Neeson character was wrong, immoral, or unjustified to use torture in interrogating the men who had information on his daughter's whereabouts. A couple of readers did endorse Neeson's methods, however, and asserted that the circumstances of their use justified their employment. You can read their comments on the Feedback page.


Paramilitaries, Theirs and Ours

The New York Times has an article that reveals the horrors Iranian detainees swept up in the aftermath of the massive protests over voter fraud several weeks ago underwent. Eyewitness accounts of atrocities perpetrated by military and paramilitary groups like the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij that are outside the structure of civilian law enforcement are now leaking out:

Some prisoners say they watched fellow detainees being beaten to death by guards in overcrowded, stinking holding pens. Others say they had their fingernails ripped off or were forced to lick filthy toilet bowls.

The accounts of prison abuse in Iran's postelection crackdown - relayed by relatives and on opposition Web sites - have set off growing outrage among Iranians, including some prominent conservatives. More bruised corpses have been returned to families in recent days, and some hospital officials have told human rights workers that they have seen evidence that well over 100 protesters have died since the vote.

On Tuesday, the government released 140 prisoners in one of several conciliatory gestures aimed at deflecting further criticism. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a letter urging the head of the judiciary to show "Islamic mercy" to the detainees.

I'm glad Mr. Ahmadinejad is concerned about the welfare of the detainees, but I thought the fact that their murders numbered only in the hundreds was already a sign of "Islamic mercy."

Anyway, more details of the abuses - which make Abu Ghraib look like a Sandals resort - can be found at the link.

One of the especially disturbing revelations about the events in Iran is the role played by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij. Why is this particularly disturbing? Because one of the things President Obama wants to do once he has passed the legislation that is currently before us - health care reform and cap and trade - is to establish a civilian security force that will rival the military in its training and funding. In other words, he envisions a paramilitary force at the government's disposal pretty much like the Iranian mullahs have at theirs:

I wonder if he plans on calling it the Basij. I guess we'll see.


Can't be Bothered

It seems like the only people in favor of the Democrats' plan for health care reform are people who haven't read the bill.

During a speech at a National Press Club luncheon, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), who has apparently decided himself not to read it, questioned the point of being expected to do so. He said:

"I love these [House] members, they get up and say, 'Read the bill.' What good is reading the bill if it's a thousand pages and you don't have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?"

Well, the point, of course, is that you're getting paid by the taxpayers to read it Mr. Conyers, and if you don't have time to do it then it is criminally reckless of you to vote for it. Indeed, anyone who does vote for such a revolutionary piece of legislation without having read it should be subject to impeachment for malfeasance.

Many of those who have read the 1000 page monstrosity tell us that it's a looming disaster. It will, according to many analysts, end private insurance, putting tens of thousands of people out of work. It will take medical decisions away from you and your doctor and place them in the hands of some anonymous bureaucrat in Washington. It will cause procedures like colonoscopies to be rationed so that rather than getting screened every three years screenings could be extended to, say, every six years, thereby increasing your risk of colon cancer. It will increase waiting times for procedures like MRIs and CAT scans from days to months. It will deny certain procedures like joint or heart valve replacements to people who are judged too old, too feeble, or too heavy. The bright, clean clinics and hospitals that make our stays reasonably pleasant today will likely be deemed superfluous and too costly to maintain. And all of these blessings will cost us trillions of dollars over the next two decades.

Before you and your colleagues kill the best medical care system on the planet, Mr. Conyers, please at least have the decency to learn what you're voting for.


Gangster Government

Rep. Michelle Bachman calls our attention in this video to the economic brutality and corruption involved in the closing of GM car dealerships across the land:

If you're politically connected, you can survive. If not, tough luck. If the Democrats behave this way with the people who own and work for car dealerships, how will they behave when government health care is the only game in town? How much bribery do you think there'll be as people seek to curry favor with congressmen in order to get moved up on the waiting list for a procedure? How much bribery will there be if cap and trade is passed and government bureaucrats control how much carbon a business can use and emit? When government runs things the opportunities for corruption will be massive.

If we want a model of what life will be like if the Democrats get their legislation passed, we might look toward the old Soviet Union. How's that for hope and change?


Disparate Impact

Shelby Steele, author of White Guilt and Affirmative Action Baby, has a column in the WaPo that I commend to anyone interested in the conversation about race in this country. As he does in his books Steele argues that affirmative action is not so much about helping blacks, it's more about relieving largely white institutions from the burden of guilt for past racial injustice. It's a way of gaining for themselves a kind of racial absolution. Steele writes, for instance, that:

It is important to remember that the original goal of affirmative action was to achieve two redemptions simultaneously. As society gave a preference to its former victims in employment and education, it hoped to redeem both those victims and itself. When America -- the world's oldest and most unequivocal democracy -- finally acknowledged in the 1960s its heartless betrayal of democracy where blacks were concerned, the loss of moral authority was profound. In their monochrome whiteness, the institutions of this society -- universities, government agencies, corporations -- became emblems of the very evil America had just acknowledged.

Affirmative action has always been more about the restoration of legitimacy to American institutions than the uplift of blacks and other minorities. For 30 years after its inception, no one even bothered to measure its effectiveness in minority progress. Advocates of racial preferences tried to prove that these policies actually helped minorities only after 1996, when California's Proposition 209 banned racial preferences in all state institutions, scaring supporters across the country.

But the research following from this scare has .... has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. And failing in this, affirmative action also fails to help blacks achieve true equality with whites -- the ultimate measure of which is parity in skills and individual competence. Without this underlying parity there can never be true equality in employment, income levels, rates of home ownership, educational achievement and the rest.

In order to account for the elusive competitive parity latent racism and discrimination are assumed to be lurking insidiously in the nooks and crannies of society, always working to keep blacks from getting ahead. The proof that these malefactors are still in play is the occurrence of "disparate impact," an indicator not of black failure but of an indelible white racism.

We are headed now, it seems, into a legal thicket created by the incompatibility of two notions of equality: "disparate impact" and "equal protection under the law." The former is a legalism evolved from judicial interpretations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the latter is a constitutional guarantee. Disparate impact lets you presume that an entire class of people has been discriminated against if it has been disproportionately affected by some policy. If no blacks do well enough on a firefighters promotion exam to win advancement while many whites do (Ricci v. DeStefano), then this constitutes discrimination against blacks.

Disparate impact and racial preferences represent the law and policymaking of a guilty America, an America lacking the moral authority to live by the rigors of the Constitution's "equal protection" -- a guarantee that sees victims as individuals and requires hard evidence to prove discrimination. They are "white guilt" legalisms created after the '60s as fast tracks to moral authority. They apologize for presumed white wrongdoing and offer recompense to minorities before any actual discrimination has been documented. Yet these legalisms are much with us now. And it will no doubt take the courts a generation or more to disentangle all this apology from the law.

We blacks know oppression well, but today it is our inexperience with freedom that holds us back almost as relentlessly as oppression once did. Out of this inexperience, for example, we miss the fact that racial preferences and disparate impact can only help us -- even if they were effective -- with a problem we no longer have. The problem that black firefighters had in New Haven was not discrimination; it was the fact that not a single black did well enough on the exam to gain promotion.

Today's "black" problem is underdevelopment, not discrimination. Success in modernity will demand profound cultural changes -- changes in child-rearing, a restoration of marriage and family, a focus on academic rigor, a greater appreciation of entrepreneurialism and an embrace of individual development as the best road to group development.

I'd like to post Steele's complete column, but I refer you instead to the link. There's much more there that's worth considering.