Thursday, March 3, 2011

Live Ammo in Madison

Law enforcement authorities discovered dozens of rounds of live ammunition outside the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin this morning:
Dane County deputies found 11 rounds near the State street entrance Thursday morning, said UW-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling. Twenty-nine rounds were found near the King Street entrance, and one round was found near the North Hamilton Street entrance, Riseling said.
Well, of course. Wasn't there a group of tea-partiers there a week or so ago? Who else would be bringing firearms to a political protest? Surely not the gentle folks of SEIU or any of the other leftist groups who populated the grounds throughout the last two weeks. Progressives, as we all know, abhor guns and violence.

Snyder v. Phelps

Not being familiar with the relevant case law I'm loath to comment on the Supreme Court's ruling in Snyder v. Phelps. I certainly sympathize with Mr. Snyder who, while grieving a son killed in Iraq, had the young man's funeral service disrupted by the truly execrable people from Westboro Baptist church led by Mr. Fred Phelps.

Mr. Snyder sued Phelps and his church and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court which just ruled on Wednesday in favor (8-1) in favor of Phelps. The majority decided that the First Amendment gives people the right to engage in disgusting behavior and to make complete asses of themselves.

The majority may be right, for all I know, but Samuel Alito's dissent was very compelling, and, in my untutored opinion, superior to the argument of the majority. Here's a summary of the heart of the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts. I've omitted the legalese to make it easier reading, but the complete ruling can be read here:
Whether the First Amendment prohibits holding Westboro liable for its speech in this case turns largely on whether that speech is of public or private concern, as determined by all the circumstances of the case. [S]peech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values and is entitled to special protection.

Although the boundaries of what constitutes speech on matters of public concern are not well defined, this Court has said that speech is of public concern when it can be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, or when it is a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.

A statement’s arguably inappropriate or controversial character . . . is irrelevant to the question whether it deals with a matter of public concern.

To determine whether speech is of public or private concern, this Court must independently examine the content, form, and context, of the speech as revealed by the whole record. In considering content, form, and context, no factor is dispositive, and it is necessary to evaluate all aspects of the speech.

The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to public, rather than private, matters. The placards highlighted issues of public import—the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of the Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—and Westboro conveyed its views on those issues in a manner designed to reach as broad a public audience as possible. Even if a few of the signs were viewed as containing messages related to a particular individual, that would not change the fact that the dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke to broader public issues.

The “context” of the speech—its connection with Matthew Snyder’s funeral—cannot by itself transform the nature of Westboro’s speech. The signs reflected Westboro’s condemnation of much in modern society, and it cannot be argued that Westboro’s use of speech on public issues was in any way contrived to insulate a personal attack on Snyder from liability.

Westboro had been actively engaged in speaking on the subjects addressed in its picketing long before it became aware of Matthew Snyder, and there can be no serious claim that the picketing did not represent Westboro’s honestly held beliefs on public issues. Westboro may have chosen the picket location to increase publicity for its views, and its speech may have been particularly hurtful to Snyder. That does not mean that its speech should be afforded less than full First Amendment protection under the circumstances of this case.
Alito opens his dissent with this:
Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.

Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right. They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event. They then appeared at the church,approached as closely as they could without trespassing,and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability.

As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury. The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.
Read the rest of his reasoning at the link. Whose side the law is on I can't say, but I'm pretty sure that the hearts of 99.5% of Americans are in agreement with Justice Alito and Mr. Snyder.

Anyone who would do what these Westboro Baptists did, people who call themselves Christians but who behave in the most unChristlike fashion imaginable, don't deserve the victory they won yesterday.

Intervening in Libya

Libyan rebels are calling for America to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and to attack from the air the camps of murderous African mercenaries. This would, of course, be an act of war against Libya. Moreover, we would be intervening in a civil war. Why would we want to do this? What's the upside?

The humanitarian concerns are certainly compelling, but it was humanitarian concerns that led us into Somalia, and that didn't work out so well. If there was genocide being committed in Libya, if the oil fields were at risk, or if Libya was harboring active terrorists there'd be a strong case for intervention, but I don't know that any of these obtain, at least not yet.

If, however, conditions change and we find that citizens are indeed being slaughtered or that Ghadafi's forces are torching the oil fields, and the Obama administration opts for intervention they should do so only if the following are met:
  • Other Arab and NATO nations participate in military operations.
  • We have United Nations approval.
  • We have ultimate authority for how operations are conducted (to avoid another Somalia which was a disaster because we were under a timid U.N. authority).
  • Arab states pay the cost.
  • We get Ghadafi, if he survives, to put on trial for the murder of the passengers on Pan Am 103.  
We've spent trillions of dollars and a ton of blood liberating Kuwait, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq from tyranny and have largely gotten nothing but contempt from the Muslim world for our sacrifice. The imperative to rescue those who are being tyrannized is strong, but it's time for the rest of the Arab world, which is awash in cash, to both finance and to contribute materially to the cause. If we can reduce the long-term bloodshed we should, but the world can no longer expect us to both supply the firepower and manpower and foot the bill as well.

Especially when the Arab world is sitting on trillions of our petrodollars.