June 2nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

I just read this piece by Mark Steyn, one of my favorite commentators, on Congress’s latest attempt to “fix” our oil problems, and found myself in complete agreement with everything he said. Here’s an excerpt:

“It shall be illegal and a violation of this Act,” declared the House of Representatives, “to limit the production or distribution of oil, natural gas, or any other petroleum product … or to otherwise take any action in restraint of trade for oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product when such action, combination, or collective action has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on the market, supply, price, or distribution of oil, natural gas, or other petroleum product in the United States.”

Er, okay. But, before we start suing distant sheikhs in exotic lands for violating the NOPEC act, why don’t we start by suing Congress? After all, who “limits the production or distribution of oil” right here in the United States by declaring that there’ll be no drilling in the Gulf of Florida or the Arctic National Mosquito Refuge?

Precisely. Congress wants to “help” us with this problem? Don’t intervene more, or posture because you know that no intervention is really going to help. Get out of the way! Lift the restrictions on drilling and refining and shipping oil and oil products here in the US. Allow the oil companies to get more of the stuff that’s just sitting there under American soil and waters waiting to be dug up and poured into someone’s SUV instead of forcing us to put up with the unnaturally high prices caused by OPEC’s latest squeeze on supply. Ronald Reagan famously said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” How true that is in the case of this Congress.

February 16th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Canada has been demonstrating that it is really quite different from the US in some ways – notably in the protection of free speech. Two prominent Canadian residents have been investigated by various Human Rights commissions in Canada – both at national and province level – for publications relating to Islam.

Ezra Levant, editor of the Western Standard newspaper, made the decision to republish the (in)famous cartoons of the prophet Mohammed which originally appeared in a Danish paper. Mark Steyn, political commentator and columnist, was investigated for excerpts from his book America Alone which were republished in a magazine available in Canada (the book addresses, among other things, the huge disparity between the growth rates of the Muslim and non-Muslim populations in Europe).

The only offense that has to be committed under these Canadian laws is to say something that might give offence to someone else. At that point, the person making the complaint gets a free lawyer to argue his/her case, while the “defendant” has to cough up his/her own defence money and find a lawyer.

There are so many things wrong with this scenario that it is hard to know where to begin, but here goes. First is the biggest problem, which is the idea that forms of speech other than those traditionally banned – i.e. slander, libel and fraudulent statements – are being banned here. Second is the fact that these are not investigated through the standard legal process but rather are dealt with by a quasi-legal process which dramatically favours the complainant. Third is the fact that the process can be so abused by people with an agenda, such as Syed Soharwardy, the man who brought the cases against Ezra Levant. And the list goes on and on – the abuses of these Human Rights commissions go well beyond these specific cases, as has been well documented by Levant himself and others.

Soharwardy has now written a piece in Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail, explaining why he has now dropped his case. The very reasoning he uses is cause for further concern, since he seems (or at least claims) to have had so little knowledge of the purpose of the Human Rights commissions or the consequences of his actions that he effectively acted with reckless abandon and no thought for what he was subjecting Levant to:

Having no previous experience with any human rights commission, I was unaware of the ongoing debate about whether such commissions should have narrower or broader mandates, or of the doubts many Canadians have about whether such commissions are the right venue in which to argue questions about hate speech.

“I’m just an ignorant fellow trying to do his best,” he seems to be saying. “How was I to know what deep waters I was wading into?”

Subsequent discussions with several Muslim leaders, and more particularly with some of my Christian and Jewish friends, have led me to conclude that my complaint was beyond what I now believe should be the mandate of such a commission. I now am of the view that this matter should have been handled in the court of public opinion.

Really? How enlightened! I wonder if Ezra Levant or anyone else ever thought of that? Oh wait, that was the point of publishing the cartoons in the first place, wasn’t it? And that has been Levant’s argument all along. The poor innocent man finally had some kindly friends explain the proper procedure for dealing with such an issue – lucky fellow. The disingenuousness is astonishing.

Perhaps our elected leaders should, indeed, legislate a narrower role for human rights commissions, but the campaign by Mr. Levant and others to have such commissions abolished is going too far.

Apparently, the problem here is that Soharwardy was rightly interpreting the currently legislated role of these courts, and the solution is new legislation which would clarify their role for poor confused individuals like him. Phew – glad we got that figured out…

And if you [Levant] really believe the central issue is that human rights commissions have over-broad mandates, then that is an issue on which we may now be able to converge.

Ah – almost Obama-nian in its unifying power, that last sentence. How high-minded. Glad they can at last agree on something. To the end, this character appears to be suggesting that this – and not his willing participation in the annihilation of free speech in Canada – was the problem. What a relief.

The newspaper, of course, published all this, presumably unedited, and without commentary. I wonder if they’ll publish a response from Levant?

The most worrying thing for me about all this is that most Democrats and other assorted liberals in the US believe that Canada has much to recommend it, and of course in Europe this sort of thing is all the rage too. The premise of Mark Steyn’s book is that America may eventually be “alone” in that it is the only country willing to resist the encroachment of these ideas and policies. I only hope that, if it does end up being alone, it doesn’t end up succumbing too.

February 11th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Immigration is of course a major topic in the current election cycle, although at this point it seems unlikely to be an issue on which much will turn, with Iraq, the economy, social/moral issues and others taking precedence. But it’s certainly one of the most complex issues over which there’s serious debate at this point, and it’s worth looking at in detail. (Update – it appears this issue has just been resurrected in Congress).

My own position on this issue is, I think, more nuanced than that of many others, and it’s strongly influenced by my status as a recent legal immigrant. I arrived here in the US three years ago and received my green card just last year. The process involved in getting that green card was long, difficult and expensive. And I’m about as high-scoring a candidate as exists, since I’m married to a citizen, in my early 30s, am well qualified and working in a sector with high demand for my skills.

This is the main reason why the idea of “amnesty” (one of those words which no-one but its detractors actually uses) or anything like it grates badly for me. The idea that someone who came here illegally and is making every effort to continue to elude the authorities now, illegally, should somehow be let off the hook and allowed to stay for around the same amount of money I paid to become a legal alien through the proper channels just winds me up in a big way.

Mark Steyn, a fellow Brit and conservative commentator, opened his remarks to the CPAC conference with these words:

As you can tell [from my accent], I’m an immigrant. I hasten to add, I’m not an illegal immigrant. I’m a legal one, and boy, I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

He’s joking, of course, but for those of us who arrived via the legitimate route (the modern day equivalent of Ellis Island rather than the Rio Grande), the proposed solution to the problem of illegal immigration does make us wonder why we went to all that trouble.

My other main problem with the proposals put on the table by John McCain and others is that they feed into the much wider problem of “unenforceable laws”. It has become more and more common for the statute books to say one thing, and the actions of the police and the courts to say another on a given issue, because there is a mismatch between the intention of the law and the resources dedicated to enforcing it. Drug policy is an obvious example, but illegal immigration is another.

Yes, we need immigrants, both at the top and the bottom of the economic ladder. There really are jobs which most American citizens consider beneath them, and if there are immigrants willing to do those jobs, we should let them. At the other end of the spectrum are the Asians and to a lesser extent others who come here for a world-class education and then can’t stay, so they take their American-made skills back home with them in a new form of the brain drain, further bolstering their countries’ ability to compete with the US. But we don’t solve either of these problems by simply failing to apply current policy adequately. The latter group don’t come in illegally if they can’t get in legitimately – they just don’t come at all. While the former group simply comes anyway, and then fails to pay taxes, vote, drive with a licence or otherwise become a fully-fledged part of society.

The solution is to sit back and decide what level of immigration is appropriate among both those groups, and others inbetween (including relatives of those already here). We need a proactive immigration strategy, and then we need to enforce that strategy appropriately. Yes, we need to deal with the 10+ million who are already here, but we need to make it easier and cheaper for those who are willing to take the proper route and arrive legally than we make it for those who are already here illegally, to preserve incentives for those yet to arrive. And we need to tighten up the borders to ensure that we – and not the hordes of illegal immigrants who arrive each year – make the decision about who gets in and who doesn’t.