Precarious life, restricted liberty, unhappiness 4

In a free country, the liberty of everyone is protected by the rule of law. If freedom is indivisible, no country is free. Some protect freedom to some extent. Many don’t do it at all.

The United States was founded on the principle that the law should protect individual liberty. But all too often, and increasingly, it fails to do so.

Let’s look at just one case where the principle was violated.

Jeff Jacoby writes at Townhall:

Nearly nine years have elapsed since the US Supreme Court, in one of its most notorious rulings, decided that seven homeowners in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., had no property rights which City Hall was bound to respect. Today Fort Trumbull is a wasteland, as a detailed new report confirms.

The court’s 2005 holding in Kelo v. City of New London gave local officials a green light to seize and demolish private homes through eminent domain, then turn the land over to developers itching to build something more lucrative. In Fort Trumbull, those private homeowners included people such as Susette Kelo, a local nurse who bought her little Victorian cottage on the Thames River because she loved its waterfront view; Wilhelmina Dery, who was born in her house on Walbach Street in 1918 and had been living there all her life; and Pasquale and Margherita Cristofaro, whose home on Goshen Street was the second New London property they lost to eminent domain, the first having been taken 30 years earlier because the city intended to construct a seawall. (The seawall was never built.)

Their homes, like those of their neighbors, were targeted at the urging of Pfizer, Inc. The pharmaceutical giant was building a major research facility nearby and wanted city officials to pave the way for a “world-class redevelopment” that would appeal to the business leaders, scientists, and other professionals the new headquarters was expected to attract. “Pfizer wants a nice place to operate,” a supercilious executive said in 2001. “We don’t want to be surrounded by tenements.”

The Fifth Amendment’s “Takings Clause” authorizes eminent-domain takings, but only when property is needed “for public use” — for example, to build a post office, widen a road, or create a reservoir. Fort Trumbull’s homeowners argued all the way up to the Supreme Court that their homes weren’t being seized for “public use” but for private use. Under the Constitution, they insisted, the city had no right to forcibly transfer their property to a private developer in the hope that new development would yield higher tax revenues or new jobs. 

But five justices — John Paul Stevens, Steven Breyer, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Anthony Kennedy — decided otherwise. With their imprimatur, New London confiscated the modest but well-cared-for homes of Fort Trumbull. The last remaining owners were forced out. The bulldozers moved in. The land was cleared for the kind of upscale redevelopment that Pfizer and its political allies in New London craved: a posh hotel, a conference center, a condominium complex, a health club, and high-end shops.

And how did it all end up?

When journalist Charlotte Allen went recently to New London to find out, what she found, as she reported in the Weekly Standard, was “a vast, empty field —  90 acres — that was entirely uninhabited and looked as though it had always been that way”. There is no hotel, no health club, no condos. The neighborhood that for generations had been home to working-class families like the Derys and Cristofaros is now a “deserted incline”,  where the only signs of life are “waist-high dead weeds”.

The homeowners were dispossessed for nothing. Fort Trumbull was never redeveloped. Pfizer itself bailed out of New London in 2009. Kelo was a disaster, as even the city’s present political leaders acknowledge. Allen writes that the current mayor, who was elected in 2011, has formally apologized to the Kelo plaintiffs, calling the decision a “black stain” on New London’s reputation. City officials agreed to install a plaque on the heights above the Thames in memory of Margherita Cristofaro, who died during the long legal battle. It notes that she and her family “made significant contributions to the Italian-American community, sacrificing two family homes to the eminent domain process”.

If anything good came of Kelo, it was the furious nationwide backlash, which led a number of states — Massachusetts, unfortunately not among them — to pass new laws protecting property ownersfrom abusive eminent-domain takings. But such still happens, and will go on happening until Kelo is overruled.

The founders put the Takings Clause in the Bill of Rights for a reason. The desolation that is Fort Trumbull is a grim reminder that where property rights aren’t secure, neither is freedom — and without freedom, there is nothing the government can’t destroy.

In the flames of Communist paradise 3

There are millions of people in the Western world, hundreds of thousands of them in the universities, the media, the “Occupy” movement, in comfortable houses and apartments in the great cities, and at  least a few hundred in the present US administration, who “think” that Communism is really really good. The best. The ideal. The golden future that good people must work to establish.

Yeah, yeah – Paradise on earth.

They may know how the Russians suffered under Stalin, the Chinese under Mao Zedong, the Cambodians under Pol Pot. But they won’t allow such right-wing narratives to change their minds. No siree! “Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,” they declare bravely to each other over their well-loaded dining tables, “we’ll keep the Red Flag flying in our faithful hearts and hopes and dreams.” Besides, they say, that wasn’t true Communism, what Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot did.

You know the names of some of them: Anita Dunne, Van Jones, Bill Ayers, Bernadine  Dohrn, Saul Alinksy, Richard Cloward, Frances Fox Piven, Noam Chomsky …

They love humanity and Che Guevara. They feel sorry for the poor and downtrodden and are willing, eager, to kill policemen. They wish heroically to overthrow the rich, capitalism, bankers, the military-industrial complex, dead white men, Bush, Sarah Palin, and … and … you know …

Here’s an extract from an article by Jeff Jacoby at Townhall. It provides more information about life under Communism for them to brush aside:

SHIN DONG-HYUK grew up in North Korea’s Camp 14, one of the monstrous slave-labor prison complexes in which the world’s most tyrannical regime has crushed hundreds of thousands of its citizens, working them to death in conditions of excruciating brutality and degradation. Though the North Korean concentration camps have lasted far longer than their Soviet or Nazi counterparts did, Shin is the first person born and raised in one of them to have successfully escaped abroad. His story is told in journalist Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14, a heart-crushing reminder that man’s inhumanity to man has no limit.

It is a book filled with harrowing passages. At the age of six, Shin was forced to watch as one of his classmates — a short, slight, pretty girl — was beaten to death by their teacher when he discovered five kernels of corn in her pocket. When Shin accidentally dropped a sewing machine while working at the camp’s garment factory, half of his middle finger was chopped off as punishment. Time and again he sees other inmates maimed or killed when they are forced to work under appallingly dangerous conditions. And time and again he joins in collective punishment, unhesitatingly obeying when ordered to slap and beat a classmate or some other prisoner singled out for abuse and discipline.

When Shin was 14, he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother for attempting to escape. His dominant emotion as he watched them die was not sorrow, but anger: He was furious at what they had caused him to be put through. Because of their infraction, he had been savagely tortured, suspended in mid-air over a charcoal fire as interrogators demanded information about where his mother and brother were planning to flee after their escape.

“Shin, crazed with pain, smelling his burning flesh, twisted away from the heat,” Harden writes. “One of the guards grabbed a gaff hook from the wall and pierced the boy in the lower abdomen, holding him over the fire until he lost consciousness.”

North Korea’s slave-labor gulag would be horrific even if its inmates were guilty of actual crimes. But most prisoners are guilty of nothing except being related to the wrong family.

Under a demented doctrine laid down by Kim Il Sung, the communist tyrant who founded North Korea, “enemies of class … must be eliminated through three generations.” The regime therefore fills these unspeakable camps not only with “enemies” who dared to practice Christianity or failed to keep a picture of Kim properly dusted, but with their entire families, often including grandparents and grandchildren. Shin’s father ended up in Camp 14 because two of his brothers had fled south during the Korean War. He and Shin’s mother were assigned to each other by camp guards years later as prizes in a “reward” marriage. They were allowed to sleep together just five nights a year. Shin was thus conceived — and spent the first 23 years of his life — behind the electrified barbed wire of Kim’s ghastly hellhole. …

There is no cruelty so depraved that people cannot be induced to do it, or to look the other way while it is being done.

Or deny that it is being done. Or will assure you that even if it is, it’s better than … than … being exploited in “employment” by people whose only aim in life is to make a profit. Yucks!

Mercenary values 1

The profession of warrior is as respectable as any other, unless the warrior sells his skill to serve an evil cause.

The government of Somalia considered hiring Saracen International, a South African mercenary firm, to fight pirates and Islamic militants. A disapproving report in the New York Times may have squashed the idea.

Jeff Jacoby writes at Townhall:

That negative publicity may have undone the deal. The Times subsequently reported that Somali authorities “have cooled to the idea” of hiring private militiamen. “We need help,” a government official was quoted as saying, “but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Somalia certainly does need help. It is one of the world’s most unstable and violent countries. … It has been wracked for years by bloody insurgencies, and the central government, what there is of it, is under constant assault by al-Shabab, a lethal jihadist movement closely tied to al-Qaeda. Pirates plying the waters off Somalia’s shores menace international shipping.

The place is a hellhole, and each day that it remains one is another day of death and devastation for more innocent victims. Who is going to help them? The 8,000 peacekeeping troops sent in by the UN are inadequate to the job. “Western militaries have long feared to tread” there, as even the Times acknowledges. So why shouldn’t the Somali government turn to private militias for the help it so desperately needs?

It is fashionable to disparage mercenaries as thugs for hire, but private-sector warriors are as old as combat itself. Americans may dimly remember learning in grade school about the Hessian mercenaries who fought for the British during the American Revolution, but other mercenaries fought for American independence. … Many mercenaries have been heroes of American history. Among them are John Paul Jones, who became an admiral in the Russian Navy; the Pinkerton security firm, which supplied intelligence to the Union and personal protection for Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War; the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of American airmen who fought for France in World War I; and the Montagnards, the indigenous tribesmen who fought alongside American soldiers during the war in Vietnam. …

This is not an abstract argument. When Rwanda erupted in mass-murder in 1994, the private military firm Executive Outcomes offered to stop the slaughter for $150 million The Clinton administration turned down the offer. In the ensuing carnage, some 800,000 Rwandans were killed.

In 1995, by contrast, the government of Sierra Leone hired Executive Outcomes to put down a savage rebellion by the brutal Revolutionary United Front. Within a year, the company had quelled the uprising and driven the rebels out.

It may not be politically correct to suggest letting mercenaries deal with nightmares like Somalia and Darfur. But political correctness doesn’t save lives. Sending in mercenaries would.

For a state or nation to hire the expertise it lacks is eminently sensible. Somalia should hire mercenary soldiers; Zimbabwe and California should hire mercenary free-market economists; the Palestinians and Pakistanis should hire mercenary brains; the Germans should hire mercenary humorists.

But why stop there?

Many a failed state could turn into a law-and-order polity with a thriving economy if it would hire an administration.

It need not pick the personnel from one country only. It should make up a team consisting of the most competent administrators from a number of countries, most obviously the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

And why not hire a judiciary as well – from the same pool of mostly Anglophone lands where commonsense, rationality, learning, fair-mindedness, humane restraint, probity, and the capacity to adjudicate objectively may still be found?

The hiring state would continue to make its own laws, but would have to be open to the advice of the imported administration and judges as to what laws could and should be enacted if it wasn’t to waste its money.

We float this idea on the ether because it is a good one. We mean it seriously, but would be astonished if it were taken seriously by any failing state. We know that we don’t yet have the clout even of the failing New York Times.

Only think 6

In a recent article, the Townhall columnist Jeff Jacoby discusses the proposition, put forward by the American Humanist Association in a series of TV and press ads, that people “can be good without God”.

Jacoby concedes that “people can be decent and moral without believing in a God who commands us to be good”. However, he argues, that is not because they reason their way to ethical behavior but because they “reflect the moral expectations of the society in which they were raised”.

He writes:

In our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization. …

In a world without God, there is no obvious difference between good and evil. There is no way to prove that murder is wrong if there is no Creator who decrees “Thou shalt not murder.’’ It certainly cannot be proved wrong by reason alone.

Now then, now then (as British policemen used to say when approaching an area of rising excitement). Every moral law ever taught, whether or not as a divine injunction, came out of the heads of human beings. They may have claimed that a god inspired them, or instructed them, addressed them in dreams, or snatched them up for a brief sojourn in heaven and “revealed”  the message to them, but what they were actually doing was thinking.

Jewish sages bade people to obey the moral laws because, they warned, it was God’s will that they should. Disobey and you offend a terrible power! The Christian churches promised everlasting reward in paradise to those who obeyed and eternal punishment in the flames of hell to those who didn’t. The hope and the dread probably kept a lot of people behaving decorously a lot of the time.

The more sensible moral laws of Judaism and Christianity  – do not kill, do not steal, do not lie (“bear false witness”)  – are sound principles and are to be found in other cultures which do not claim that they were issued by a deity. They are precepts of Buddhism, for instance. It’s more than probable that many a forgotten tribe, whose gods were not of a kind to be drafted into law enforcement, penalized murder and theft and deception.

As for “doing unto others as you would be done by”, or refraining from doing to them what you wouldn’t like done to you – “the Golden Rule” that many religions preach -, was divine inspiration necessary for its conception? Common sense prompts it, experience teaches it, and reason approves it. It’s an excellent example of a moral idea arising out of intelligent self-interest.

Yet Jacoby opines:

Reason is not enough. Only if there is a God who forbids murder is murder definitively evil. Otherwise its wrongfulness is a matter of opinion.

Atheists may believe — and spend a small fortune advertising — that we can all be “good without God.’’ History tells a very different story.

The story that history tells is that religion has been the greatest source of human suffering next to bacteria, viruses, and natural disasters. And until quite recently, Christianity in all its major branches inflicted more agony on human bodies and minds than any other religion since Baal required babies to be thrown into the iron furnace of Moloch’s belly.

Jacoby is right that “in our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization”. For good or ill, that must be the case. But there have been far better influences.

To men of reason since the dawn of the Enlightenment, to their skepticism, their enquiry, their science, their commerce, their exploration and invention we owe what is best in our civilization.

Jillian Becker  November 17, 2010