Saturday, July 26, 2014

The truth about Republicans and amnesty

amnestyWhenever the subject of immigration reform comes up, a charge that is certain to be bandied about is that Republicans are trying to foist amnesty on the country. Almost every Republican of note has been accused of supporting amnesty at some point in recent years. Are these charges true? What is the truth about the Republicans and amnesty?

First, what is amnesty? Merriam Webster defines “amnesty” as “a decision that a group of people will not be punished or that a group of prisoners will be allowed to go free” or “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” Similarly, Merriam Webster defines “pardon” as the “act of officially saying that someone who was judged to be guilty of a crime will be allowed to go free and will not be punished.” Is this what prominent Republicans are advocating?

Perhaps no name is more synonymous with amnesty charges than John McCain. The Arizona senator has long been a proponent of immigration reform. During the George W. Bush Administration, McCain fought for the Bush-backed reform efforts of 2005 and 2007. Opponents accuse McCain of saying that “not granting amnesty” is a “stain on America’s honor” and that it will require “open borders” for Republicans to defeat Hillary in 2016 among other examples.

Both examples cited above from Breitbart include sources for their claims. In the first example, McCain was responding to a question. His unedited answer is as follows (starting at 43:30 on this video):

“I think that the Republican Party will never win another nationwide election unless we enact comprehensive immigration reform. That’s not the reason why I support this reform. I support it because there’s 11 million people living in the shadows in this country without the rights and privileges of citizenry and they’re being abused every day and they can contribute an enormous amount to our society just as the Irish and the Poles and the Jews and the Italians and every other wave that came to this country contributed to it.

“The point is that if you’ve got 11 million people living in this country illegally, there’s not enough buses to deport them, then it’s de facto amnesty…. You know, they’re not going home, okay? They’re not going home. And so why don’t we give them a path to citizenship, and my friends, if you look at that legislation, it is tough. It’s 10 years before they get a green card, thousands of dollars in fees. This is no amnesty. It’s really tough. But if you keep these people in the shadows in this nation, it is a stain on America’s honor. By the way, I am insistent on one thing and that is, when we pass it, and I still think we will one of these days, it will be named the Edward M. Kennedy Immigration Reform Bill.”

In his own words, McCain points out that the illegal aliens are not being pardoned, that they will instead pay thousands of dollars in fines and endure a 10 year waiting period. In the other example from Breitbart, it doesn’t even take a trip to the source link to determine that McCain never uttered the words “open borders,” but had again merely advocated immigration reform. The authors of the two pieces took it upon themselves to put words into McCain’s mouth, substituting the phrases “amnesty” and “open borders” for the more accurate phrase that McCain had actually used: “immigration reform.”

What is John McCain’s position on immigration reform? According to On the Issues, McCain has advocated securing the border first and then implementing a guest worker program. He supported Arizona’s immigration law in 2010. As noted earlier, he supports a path to citizenship, but not amnesty. McCain has voted to make English the official language of the U.S., to build a border fence, and against a bill requiring health care for illegal aliens.

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is another frequent target of immigration reform opponents. He is often derided by his critics as “Lindsey Grahamnesty.” When it comes to backing up the charges that Graham is an amnesty supporter, again the evidence seems to fall short.

For example, a 2013 Breitbart article says that Graham said that “amnesty” was the only way to prevent a “demographic death spiral.” A closer look at the article, however, reveals that Graham ‘s words addressed immigration reform, not amnesty. Graham’s opinion has merit. While Republicans do very well among white voters, the share of white voters in the electorate has declined markedly. In the Obama era, Republicans have had a notoriously poor performance among minority voters and this has cost them elections. Examiner’s analysis of 2012 exit polls found that immigration was one of the most damaging issues for Republicans and may have cost Mitt Romney the election.

Marco Rubio, Florida senator and former darling of the Tea Party movement, is now often derided as a RINO and amnesty supporter. The break seems to have occurred in January 2013 when Rubio proposed an immigration reform plan that fell short of deportation for all illegal immigrants. Examiner noted at the time that Rubio’s plan called for securing the border as well as increasing legal immigration.

Rubio would have dealt with illegal aliens by encouraging them to come forward and undergo background checks. Illegals with serious criminal histories would be deported. Those with clean background checks would pay fines, back taxes, do community service work and be subjected to a long waiting period before they would be eligible for citizenship.

Another frequent target of the anti-amnesty crowd is Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman and Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee. Any linkage of Ryan to amnesty seems very tenuous. A January 2014 article on Twitchy claimed that Ryan “wants amnesty first, border security second. “ This claim is sourced to a Washington Post article that details a Ryan interview on MSNBC.

In the interview, Ryan says that under a House Republican plan for immigration, current illegals would be granted “probationary status to make sure that a person is not rewarded for having broken our laws and not preferenced over people who did follow the laws, meaning legal immigrants.” When asked if citizenship is on the table, Ryan replies, “What I’m saying is that you’ve got to make sure this isn’t amnesty.” Ryan goes on to say that “we feel very strongly about securing the border” and how Republican distrust of Obama means that “we need to write a law that he can’t avoid.” Ryan specifically rejects an amnesty.

More generally, a 2013 article by Rich Lowry in National Review asks, “Does the Republican establishment support amnesty?” Lowry promptly answers “you bet” and cites this article in Time. What Lowry neglects to mention is that the Republican National Committee resolution discussed in the article specifically rejects a pathway to citizenship while calling for increased border security and law enforcement patrols. The resolution called for work permits for current illegal aliens, but no citizenship and no amnesty.

Once again, it is apparent that the anti-immigration reform activists are taking words out of context and twisting the meaning to tar Republican representatives with the amnesty brush. Anti-reform crusaders might not believe that bills under consideration are harsh enough on illegal immigrants, but, by definition, they are not amnesty because they would force illegal aliens to pay fines and undergo background checks and waiting periods. As Ryan noted, Republican proposals also include a probationary period for illegal aliens who choose to come forward.

Republicans and Tea Party supports would do well to note the facts about Republicans accused of amnesty and question why those who fraudulently throw out the charge of amnesty feel the need to twist the facts and lie about their fellow conservatives. Politicians, talk show hosts and news outlets that sow such division should be remembered and avoided.

Read the full article on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

If you disagree and would like to provide specific evidence about Republican support for amnesty, contact me on Facebook or Twitter

Democrats competitive in Georgia polling

A pair of new polls released on Friday, July 25 paint different pictures of the upcoming Georgia general election. A Landmark/WSB poll paints a stark picture for Republicans David Perdue and Nathan Deal, while a Rasmussen poll is more optimistic for the GOP.

The Landmark/WSB poll addresses both the race for the seat of retiring Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss and Gov. Nathan Deal’s reelection campaign. The poll of 750 “active Georgia voters” found that both Republican candidates trail their Democratic challengers. Newly anointed Republican Senate nominee David Perdue trails Democrat Michelle Nunn 43 – 46 percent. Incumbent governor Nathan Deal trails Democrat Jason Carter 40 – 46 percent. Margin of error in the poll is 3.8 percent.

A Rasmussen poll released the same day of 750 likely Georgia voters found a different result. In the second poll, Republican David Perdue leads Michelle Nunn 46 – 40 percent. The Rasmussen poll did not ask about the gubernatorial race.

Both polls found four percent of voters preferred another candidate, identified as Libertarian Amanda Swafford in Landmark poll. Both polls also found 10 percent of voters undecided. In the gubernatorial race, Andrew Hunt garnered almost six percent.

David Perdue clinched the GOP nomination earlier this week after a bruising runoff against Rep. Jack Kingston (R- Savannah). Perdue is a graduate of Georgia Tech and is a former CEO of Dollar General. Michelle Nunn has a history of volunteer work and was the CEO of the Points of Light Foundation.

In the governor’s race, Carter has been aided by allegations by Holly LaBerge, the secretary of Georgia’s ethics commission that Deal’s representatives had pressured her to help resolve ethics complaints about Deal in 2010. Jason Carter, a state senator, has called for a full investigation of LaBerge’s accusations.

In addition to their party affiliation, both Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter have something else in common. Both are related to prominent Georgia Democrats from the past. Jason Carter is the grandson of former Georgia governor and U.S. president, Jimmy Carter. Michelle Nunn, is the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn. Senator Nunn served as Georgia’s senator from 1972 through 1997.

Both of Georgia’s senate seats have been held by Republicans since Zell Miller retired in 2005. Republicans have served as Georgia’s governor since 2002 when Roy Barnes left office.

Read the full article on Elections Examiner

Monday, July 21, 2014

A common sense approach to immigration reform

By now it should be clear to everyone that the current immigration system is broken and beyond repair. Illegal immigrants flock across the border with seeming impunity. Businesses depend on the labor of these immigrants, even as many US citizens leave the work force or are forced to work part-time jobs. Even legal immigrants like the Tsarnaev brothers can travel between the United States and terrorist training camps abroad without the knowledge of federal authorities. Perhaps worst of all, at President Obama’s implicit invitation, many unaccompanied immigrant children have made a dangerous journey the southern border to throw themselves on the mercy of the American welfare state. A solution to these problems requires a common sense approach and a bipartisan compromise

Democrats and Republicans disagree on the solutions to these and many other problems faced by Americans. What’s more, the current balance of power in Washington in which Republicans control the House of Representatives and Democrats control the Senate and White House guarantees that neither party can force its own solution on the other. Many conservatives hold out hope for a Republican Senate majority after this year’s elections, but, even with the most optimistic projections, the GOP will not hold a majority large enough to override President Obama’s almost certain veto of a partisan immigration bill. The only viable solution to the immigration problem requires compromise.

To reach a compromise, leaders of both parties must overcome the angry voices of fringe elements of their base. Republican leaders answer the demagogues of the right who attack any attempt at immigration reform as “amnesty.” Democratic leaders must work around those on the left, including the president, who see immigration as a wedge issue with which to paint Republicans as racists and who would prefer to have open borders.

A wise man once said that a true compromise means that everyone is equally unhappy. In a compromise, both sides have to give up something. The thing that conservatives must give up is the notion that a border security bill must come before any other aspect of immigration reform.

There are two reasons that this is true. First, immigrant labor is needed by the businesses that make up a large part of the Republican coalition. Cutting off the supply of immigrant labor will only succeed in pushing these businesses toward the Democrats in spite of the left’s anti-business policies. Second, it is mathematically impossible for the GOP to pass a standalone border security bill with Democrats in control of the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House.

For their part, the Democrats must agree to enforcement triggers and border security provisions that cannot be reversed or ignored by the president or future Congresses. No one trusts President Obama to do the right thing on immigration. No one trusts Congress not to defund border security in the future.

Any immigration bill must include border security measures that would prevent a future influx of illegal aliens. In the age of terrorism, this is a national security issue rather than an economic one. Fencing is needed along much of the southern border along with increased numbers of Border Patrol agents. A better system of tracking legal immigrants who overstay their visas is also desperately needed. Like a standalone border bill, a bill that focuses solely on bringing current illegals into the system could not pass the current Congress.

Both parties must bend on how to address the problem of illegal immigrants already in the United States. Hard-line conservatives insist on deportation while hard-line liberals want a quick path to citizenship. The path to a compromise lies in the middle.

There are many reasons that deportation won’t happen. The American people are sharply divided with many polls showing a majority in opposition to deportation. Many illegal immigrants who came here as children don’t even speak the language of their native countries. Many adult illegal aliens have been here for years or decades and have established homes and businesses. In many cases, they tried to immigrate legally, but would have had to wait for years or decades. Public opinion will not tolerate families being split up as illegals are deported and legal resident aliens remain.

Public opinion also does not favor amnesty and granting citizenship to illegals. Most Americans agree that illegal immigrants did break our laws and must pay their debt to society. Although most Americans support a path or legalization or citizenship, such support is often contingent on meeting requirements such as passing a background check, paying back taxes and fines, and showing English proficiency.

The answer lies in the middle path of granting a measure of legalization to illegal aliens that is short of citizenship. This does not mean amnesty, which is a pardon or forgiveness for a crime. Under a path to legalization, which is supported by a majority of Americans as well as a majority of Republicans, illegal aliens would have to prove residency and show a clear criminal history, pay fines, and be subject to long waiting period before having any chance at citizenship.

This middle path would ensure that the punishment would fit the crime. Entering the United States illegally is a crime, but it is not a felony or a misdemeanor. According to the US code, it is an infraction akin to a traffic ticket and is punishable by a fine of not more than $250. Deportation or jail time is an excessive punishment for the crime of illegal immigration as currently defined by US law. This is especially true in light of the fact that illegal immigration has, for decades, been conducted with the tacit approval of both the US government and the American people.

The punishment for current illegal aliens must be severe enough to discourage future illegal immigration, but fair enough that illegals will choose to take part in the process rather than remain in the underground economy. There should be a grace period after which penalties for applying for legal status are more severe.

Conservatives must realize that if the current crop of illegal aliens are denied a fair chance at the American dream, their children will be birthright citizens who will bear a strong grudge against the Republican Party. If it is to remain relevant, the GOP cannot continue to write off large majorities of minority voters.

Once there is agreement on the major points of securing the border and how to handle illegal immigrants already in the US, agreement on other details should be easier to obtain. The law should be amended to elevate the crime of crossing the border illegally to felony status with automatic deportation for future illegal aliens.

In return for a secure border, legal immigration should be increased dramatically. Migrant workers should be encouraged to work in jobs that Americans won’t take as part of a guest worker program. Graduates of American colleges and universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math should automatically receive a visa with their diploma. Currently, many US educated students are forced to go abroad after they graduate where they take jobs that directly compete with American companies. It should be easier, faster and safer for an honest, hardworking immigrant to enter the US legally than illegally.

A strong majority of Americans believe that immigration reform is desperately needed. In the current climate of Washington, a bipartisan compromise is the only plan that has any chance of becoming law. A compromise bill that includes enhanced border security, a tough but fair approach to current illegal immigrants and an increase in future legal immigration should be able to win support of majorities of both parties and houses of Congress, while proving to the American people that the federal government is not totally and irretrievably broken.

Read the full article on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Friday, July 18, 2014

Details of the Malaysia airline shootdown

For the second time in less than a year, the previously little known Malaysia Airlines is the subject of intense scrutiny after a mysterious crash. In March, Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared and has never been found. On July 17, Malaysia Flight 17 was shot down over a disputed area of the Ukraine. At this point, who shot the airliner down and why is not known.

According to Flight Aware, MH 17, another Boeing 777, departed from Amsterdam at 12:19 p.m. local time and was bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The 11.5 hour flight was estimated to arrive at 6:00 a.m. Malaysia time. Instead, Flight Aware’s tracking map shows the flight abruptly terminating over eastern Ukraine near the Black Sea.

According to early reports from NBC News, the plane, which was carrying 298 people, was cruising at 33,000 when it was attacked. Many of the passengers were Dutch nationals since the flight was operated under a code share with Royal Dutch Airlines. Malaysia was originally colonized by Holland in the 1600s. The International Business Times reports that the victims include 23 Americans.

The wreckage from the plane came to rest in several fields about 31 miles from the Russian border. Photos posted online show that the plane broke into a large number of small pieces. Yahoo reported that debris fields were reported to be at least six miles apart, indicating that the plane broke up in flight. There were no reports of survivors.

A miner who witnessed the crash told NBC that he saw a surface-to-air-missile strike the plane. Andrey Tarasenko said, “You know how you see a trail from a plane — it was the same, but it was a missile launched from the ground.” Tarasenko said he heard an explosion in the air seconds after he saw the missile’s smoke trail and then heard a larger explosion on the ground several seconds later.

Ukraine has been at war since February when Russian soldiers invaded the Crimea region in support of ethnic Russian separatists. On national television, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, said, “I would like to draw your attention that we do not call it an incident, not a disaster, but we call it a terrorist act” according to NBC.

Russian president Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the tragedy saying that it “would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy” according to Yahoo.

Mounting evidence points to either Russia or the separatist militants supported by Russia being responsible for the attack. Ukraine released audio clips of intercepted communications between Russian and rebel commanders in which the rebels tell their Russian allies that “We have just shot down a plane.” Over the course of several calls, the rebels report that the airplane was civilian and unarmed.

Two days earlier, there were reports of another aircraft being shot down. According to Al Jazeera, on July 15, a Ukrainian Antonov 26 cargo plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine. All eight people on board survived. The An-26 was flying at about 20,000 feet when it was shot down by either a missile or a Russian fighter plane according to a Ukraine Security Council spokesman.

Two more Ukrainian attack jets were also attacked by missiles from Russia on Wednesday according to the Ukraine. One Sukhoi Su-25 was shot down and another was damaged, but both pilots survived according to ABC News.

According to Defense Tech, the most likely weapon to be used in the attack was the M-2 Buck surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. Called the SA-11”Gadfly” by NATO, the Buk was developed in 1979 by the Soviet Union. The Buk has a range of up to 19 miles and can engage targets at altitudes up to 46,000 feet. It is not known for certain whether the Russians have supplied the rebels with Buk missile systems, which are mounted on tracked vehicles, but the Voice of Russia claimed in June that the Donetsk militia had taken control of Ukraine air defense base equipped with the missiles.

Several of the plane’s “black boxes” have already been recovered. Yahoo reports that most of the black boxes had been found by the rebels. Indications were that at least some of the boxes had been turned over to Russia.

Following the shootdown, Business Insider noted that Ukrainian airspace was largely empty. Much of the air traffic between Europe and Asia normally flies over the country, but most civilian traffic seemed to be staying clear of the disputed area.

Read the full article on Aviation Examiner

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lois Lerner tied to another erased hard drive in a federal investigation

On Monday, July 14, the House Oversight Committee linked embattled former IRS agent Lois Lerner with yet another erased hard drive connected with a federal criminal investigation. In a letter to the chairman of the Federal Election Commission, which can be found on the House Oversight Committee’s website, relates to April Sands, an employee of the Federal Election Commission during the 2012 presidential campaign.

The letter details how Ms. Sands posted twitter messages during work hours “soliciting or endorsing political contributions to Democratic candidates, including President Obama.” The letter then provides screen shots of several of Ms. Sands’ tweets from an account known as “Reign of April:”

July 18, 2012: "Our #POTUS's birthday is August 4. He'll be 51. I'm donating at least $51 to give him the best birthday present ever: a second term. #p2"

Aug. 21, 2012: "Donate to @clairecmc [Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)] today. RT @HuffPostPol BREAKING: Todd Akin[Republican challenger to McCaskill] is not dropping out of his Senate race, he tells Huckabee. #MOSen' #p2"

Sept. 18, 2012: "Romney is toast. But POTUS can't do it all on his own. Don't forget Congressional races. We need a Democratic sweep. Stay focused. #p2"

June 4, 2012: "I just don't understand how anyone but straight white men can vote Republican. What kind of delusional rhetorical [sic] does one use? #p2"

May 1, 2012: "Dear every single Republican ever, When will U learn that Barack Hussein Obama is simply smarter than U? Signed, #Obama2012 #p2"

Aug. 25, 2012: "If you're still calling yourself a Republican after the #WarOnWomen, their stated RNC platform, & Birtherism, you are my enemy. Done. #p2"

All Americans enjoy the free speech protection of the First Amendment, but unfortunately for Ms. Sands, her political advocacy ran afoul of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law which, according to the House Oversight letter, “prohibits Executive Branch employees from engaging in partisan political activity while on official duty at a federal workplace. Certain employees, including FEC employees, are further restricted by the Hatch Act from engaging in partisan political campaigns or management. Additionally, federal law makes it a crime for a federal employee ‘to solicit or receive a donation of money or a thing of value in connection with a Federal, state or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties….’”

The House letter further states that Ms. Sands admitted to Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) that she had violated the Hatch Act by conducting political activity and soliciting donations “via webcam from an FEC conference room… while on duty.” The FEC Office of the Inspector General (OIG) sought to prosecute Ms. Sands, but the Oversight letter notes that before the OIG could seize Ms. Sands’ hard drive, the FEC “recycled” the computer. Without the hard drive, the OIG was unable to prove that Ms. Sands’ political activities were carried out on a government computer and the U.S. Attorney made the decision not to prosecute.

April Sands, the letter notes, “worked for former IRS official Lois Lerner when Ms. Lerner served as the FEC’s Associate General Counsel for Enforcement.” Lerner worked for the FEC from 1981 through 2001.

In 2013, the Weekly Standard and National Review reported that Lerner had a history of partisanship and harassment during her tenure at the FEC. Also in 2013, Judicial Watch, a nonpartisan group focused on government transparency, announced that it had obtained emails between then Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, Lois Lerner, and enforcement attorneys at the FEC in which she “provided detailed, confidential information concerning the tax exempt application status and returns of conservative groups to the FEC in violation of federal law.” In May 2014, Lerner was held in contempt of Congress by a bipartisan House vote.

At this point, according to the Oversight letter, “it is unclear whether Ms. Sands ever communicated with Ms. Lerner after Ms. Lerner moved to the IRS; however the [Oversight] Committee is aware that Ms. Lerner maintained communication with some former FEC colleagues.”

Read the full article on National Elections Examiner

Monday, July 14, 2014

Amending Constitution by convention of states unlikely to succeed

In recent years, some conservatives have responded to the gridlock in Washington with a call for a convention of states to amend the Constitution. Conservative author and talk show host, Mark Levin, has compiled a laundry list of “liberty amendments” that he would like to see ratified at a convention of the states. Those unfamiliar with the concept of such a convention might wonder how, as Levin told CNS News, Americans can “turn to the Constitution, to save the Constitution, if you love the Constitution, before there is no Constitution.”

The idea of a convention of the states comes from Article V of the Constitution, which describes the amendment process. Amendments have traditionally been proposed by Congress, but the Constitution does provide an alternative method. If the legislatures of two-thirds of the states call a convention to propose constitutional amendments, then those amendments will take effect when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. This means that agreement of 34 states would be required to call a convention and 38 states would be required to ratify any proposed amendments.

Alternatively, only 13 states would be needed to block any amendments proposed by a convention of the states. It is safe to assume that any Democrat-controlled state legislature would not ratify Levin’s amendments. lists state legislatures by party control. State legislatures that are currently controlled by the Democrats include:

1. California

2. Colorado

3. Connecticut

4. Delaware

5. Hawaii

6. Illinois

7. Maine

8. Maryland

9. Massachusetts

10. Minnesota

11. Nevada

12. New Jersey

13. New Mexico

Even though Republicans control more state legislatures than the Democrats, the Democrats clearly have control of enough states to block any proposed constitutional amendments from a state convention. There are, however, even more states under Democratic control. The list continues:

14. Oregon

15. Rhode Island

16. Vermont

17. Washington

18. West Virginia

With control of 18 state legislatures, the Democrats have the ability to go further than blocking ratification. They can block the convention of states itself. Only 17 states are required to block a convention.

The true picture is even worse for proponents of a convention of states. Of the remaining states, not all have legislatures controlled by Republicans. Even controlling only one house of a state legislature would be enough to block the convention in most cases. Another five states have legislatures where control is split between the two parties (Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and New York).

Split legislature states combined with Democratic states make a total of 23 states that could not be counted on to call a convention or ratify amendments. This means that convention proponents would need to persuade Democrats (as well as conservatives and moderates) in at least 11 of the above states to call a convention. Fifteen states from this list, at minimum, would be needed to ratify any amendment.

Even if a convention was called and the states present could agree on proposed amendments, it might take years for ratification. Lexis Nexis notes that the ratification time for amendments varied between three months and more than 202 years. In this time of divided political beliefs, longer is probably more likely.

In order for conservatives to make the proposed changes to the Constitution, they must win a war of ideas in the states and elect more Republicans to state legislatures. If conservatives can win this battle of ideas at the state level, they may also gain control of Congress and the White House, eliminating the need for a convention of states in the first place.

At present, according to the Convention of States Project, the total number of states whose legislatures have passed laws calling for a convention of states stands at precisely… three. Only Georgia, Florida and Alaska have issued the call for a state constitutional convention. By the time that enough states can be persuaded to call a convention, the direction of the United States, whether advancing toward big government or returning toward a limited constitutional government, is likely to already be decided.

Read the full article on National Elections Examiner

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What you need to know about the crisis in Gaza

The current flare up of violence in Gaza is simply the most recent confrontation in a long history of battles between the Israelis and the Arab occupants of the Gaza Strip, a tiny area on the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Egypt that is about the size of Montgomery, Ala. and is home to 1.8 million Palestinian Arabs. To fully understand the current situation, one must look back almost 50 years to 1967 and the Six Day War.

In antiquity, Gaza was ruled by a number of empires including the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Israelites, the Romans, and the Ottomans. The home of the ancient Philistines, it was also the location of Samson’s imprisonment in the Old Testament. After World War I, control passed from the Ottoman Empire to the British. After Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, an event referred to by Palestinians as “al Nakba” (the catastrophe), Gaza was occupied by Egypt even though the United Nations partition plan for Palestine had set aside the area to be an Arab state. Gaza was ostensibly governed by the All Palestine government during this time until 1959 when Egyptian President Nasser assumed overt control.

In 1967, an Arab alliance consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq with the backing of the Soviet Union attempted to launch a surprise attack against Israel. The Israelis learned of the Arab intentions and, after Arab forces had illegally blockaded Israeli ships from the Straits of Tiran, launched a preemptive attack on June 5. The attack was a stunning success, destroying most of the Egyptian air force on the ground. As a result of this initial success, Israel captured the territories of Gaza, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Golan Heights from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria respectively.

Israel governed Gaza from the end of the Six Day War until 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed by the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The agreement established limited self-government for the Palestinians living Israeli-occupied territories. Yasir Arafat, a terrorist and founder of al Fatah and the PLO, was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority, a post that he held until shortly before his death in 2004.

In 2005, Israeli President Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew Israeli soldiers and settlers from Gaza. Although Israel did build some Jewish settlements in Gaza during its occupation, the goal of occupying Gaza in 1967 may have been to trade land for peace or an end to the blockade of the Straits of Tiran. In any event, Israel ended up occupying the Gaza Strip for almost 40 years until the 2005 disengagement.

Under Arafat’s rule, as well as that of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian National Authority became known for corruption and links to terror. Public infrastructure crumbled and the people became destitute. In 2006, after more than a decade of PLO rule, the people of Gaza voted for change in the form of a government by Hamas, an Iran-backed terrorist group. The election ushered in a period of fighting between supporters of the PLO and Hamas known as the Palestinian Civil War. Today, the Palestinian National Authority is still split between the two groups with Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah, the PLO, in control of the West Bank.

In 2006, Hamas terrorists launched a raid into Israel that captured a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Galid Shalit. The kidnapping, combined with increasing numbers of rocket attacks using more sophisticated and longer range rockets, drove Israel to launch an aerial campaign against Hamas targets in Gaza in 2006. Shalit was ultimately exchanged for 1,027 imprisoned Palestinian terrorists after five years of captivity, but rocket attacks continued.

In 2008, the rockets prompted Israel to launch a full-scale invasion of Gaza. Known as the Gaza War, the campaign was a military success for Israel and the resulting damage to Hamas caused a lull in the rocket attacks. Before withdrawing, the IDF also destroyed many of the tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

Since the end of the Gaza War, the Gaza Strip has been effectively sealed off by both Israel and Egypt. The border crossings with Israel are frequently closed. The border crossing in Rafah, which leads into Egypt, the only border crossing with a country other than Israel, is almost always closed by the Egyptians as well.

The recent upheaval in the Gaza Strip comes in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers in June. The murders were celebrated by Palestinian Arabs and sparked Israeli air attacks on Hamas in the West Bank as well as a possible revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by three Jewish Israelis. In turn, Hamas has increased rocket attacks on Israeli cities.

Joel Rosenberg reports that 520 rockets have hit Israel so far. Many of the rockets that threatened population centers have been shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. There are also indications that Iran is supplying longer range rockets than were previously available to Hamas. The M-302 rockets from Iran have a 115 mile range, which means that they can be fired from Gaza to Israel’s capitol of Tel Aviv.

It is unclear at this point what the next step in the current conflict will be. Many observers expect another Israeli incursion into Gaza. In the past, Egypt has often mediated ceasefires, but the chaotic situation in Egypt makes that unlikely.

Read the full article on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What you need to know about Hobby Lobby and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

This week’s Hobby Lobby decision has brought the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that most people never knew existed, into the spotlight. The decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby could not be required to provide its employees with health insurance that covered abortifacient drugs, hinged on the obscure 1993 law.

In contrast with the thousands of pages of the Affordable Care Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is only three pages. In spite of the fact that it is the political left that is now voicing strong opposition to the law, it was passed with the bipartisan support of a Democratic congressional majority and signed into law by a Democratic president.

In the 1980s, several cases involving the religious beliefs of American Indians were decided in which the Supreme Court ruled for the government. The Court held that Native Americans could not prevent a road from being cut through sacred lands (Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association) and that the use of peyote in religious worship could be prohibited under state law (Employment Division v. Smith). Public opinion was against the Court in these cases, which disregarded the Sherbert Test.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees Congress shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion. According to NPR, legal exemptions for religious believers go back to the founding era of the United States. One well known example involves deferments from military service for conscientious objectors.

In 1963, the Supreme Court clarified this right in Sherbert v. Verner. The Sherbert Test is used to determine whether a person’s right to the free exercise of religion has been violated. First, the court must determine whether the person has a sincere religious belief and whether the governmental action places a substantial burden on the person’s ability to act on that belief. If the plaintiff passes the first two tests, the court must then determine whether there is a “compelling state interest” and whether the governmental action is applied in the least burdensome manner to the religious beliefs.

The RFRA was enacted in the wake of the Native American religious cases to codify the traditional Sherbert Test. According to Govtrack, the bill was sponsored by Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on Nov. 16, 1993. An identical Senate version of the bill was introduced by Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). The bill passed the House by a unanimous voice vote. Only three senators voted against the bill. They were Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Harlan Mathews (D-Tenn.), and Robert Byrd (D-W.V.).

The entire text of the RFRA can be read in a matter of minutes. The core of the law is Section 3 which stipulates that the “Government shall not burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the government demonstrates that the burden “furthers a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” In the Hobby Lobby case, it was the second test, that of being “least restrictive,” that the Obamacare mandate failed.

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the RFRA was unconstitutional when applied to the states (City of Boerne v. Flores). As a result, some states have enacted their own religious freedom statutes into state law.

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito notes that under the federal Dictionary Act, a corporation is treated as a person unless Congress specifies otherwise in a specific law. The RFRA contains no such exception. “The plain terms of RFRA,” he writes, “make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.”

Alito assumes but does not rule that the government has a compelling interest to provide “cost-free access” to contraceptives. It is not necessary to test whether the interest was compelling because the mandate failed the test of the being the “least restrictive” method. This is because the government had already implemented an alternative system for religious nonprofit groups. The mandate could not be the least restrictive method if a less restrictive, alternative method was already in existence.

In contrast to many claims from the left, the ruling does not allow bosses to control the bodies of female employees. Nor does it ban contraceptives or allow corporations to prohibit their employees from using them. It merely holds that the government must allow a religious accommodation for companies that are opposed to providing abortion-inducing drugs.

Alito also writes, “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

“We do not hold, as the principal dissent (Ginsburg’s opinion) alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can ‘opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs,’” Alito continues. “Nor do we hold, as the dissent implies, that such corporations have free rein to take steps that impose ‘disadvantages . . . on others’ or that require ‘the general public [to] pick up the tab.’”

Anticipating the objections from the left that the ruling will harm women, Alito points out that the effect of the legally required accommodation “on the women employed by Hobby Lobby and the other companies involved in these cases would be precisely zero. Under that accommodation, these women would still be entitled to all FDA-approved contraceptives without cost sharing” just as women who currently work at religious nonprofits have cost-free access to abortion-inducing drugs and traditional contraceptives.

In the final analysis, the case was not about the availability of contraceptives, or even abortifacient, drugs. It was about who pays for them and the power of government to compel Americans to violate their religious beliefs.


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