Sunday, December 28, 2014

Some desultory post-Christmas thoughts on Christianity versus Islam

I first read the Koran in my teens and, over 50 years later, I still have a copy handy -- in the Pickthall English translation.

You cannot read the Koran without noticing what a hostile document it is.  It is filled with anger and commands to attack unbelievers.  A small excerpt from the very angry Surah 9:

"Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.... Fight the disbelievers! Allah is on your side; he will give you victory"

In the Koran people are sharply divided into believers and unbelievers.  And only believers deserve any respect or goodwill.  Contrast that with Luke 2:14:  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men". Christianity is a much kinder, more peaceful and more universal religion, with very little hostility in it.

And Christians have absorbed that Gospel of kindness and gentleness.  A few lines from a very famous Christmas carol -- "Away in a manger":

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me for ever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there.

And to this day both sets of scriptures are influential.  Not all Muslims are Jihadis and not all Christians are kind but the  bloodthirsty attacks by Muslims on those they disagree with are just as their Koran commands -- while Christians extend forgiveness to Muslims who attack them, as advised in Matthew 5:39.

I think I prefer an older code of justice:  "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".  Be kind to begin with but, if kindness is mocked, give the mocker back some of his own medicine

"William Dalrymple" is normally most erudite but he has an article here that suggests he has not read Surah 9.  He points to the old Mogul empire in North India as a place where Muslims practiced tolerance and respect for Christianity and concludes  from that that "Christianity and Islam are not far apart".

In so concluding he is overlooking the sharp distinctions that Sura 9 makes between what Muslims can do when they rule the roost and what they can do before that.  There can be a modicum of civilization and condescension once you are in a supreme position (which the Moguls were) but until then conquest and slaughter is what is commanded. When the conquest is still going on there is no pity or mercy for unbelievers.

There is a sense in which Jihadis are Muslim Protestants:  They take their holy book seriously.  That their holy book serves the evil side of human nature is the pity.  Freud was not far out in saying that there is a "Thanatos" (death) instinct in human nature.  Lucifer?  I think a Christian could well make a case that Islam is the work of the Devil.


Oklahoma takes on Obama and his minions

Obamacare, the EPA and the water grab are all targeted

Scott Pruitt enjoyed owning a AAA baseball team here, but he is having as much fun as Oklahoma’s attorney general, and one of the Obama administration’s most tenacious tormentors. The second existential challenge to the Affordable Care Act began here.

In the first, decided in June 2012, the Supreme Court saved the ACA by reading it imaginatively. The court held that although Congress could not, in the name of regulating commerce, penalize people for not engaging in commerce (buying insurance), the penalty linked to the individual mandate actually could be considered – although Congress did not so consider it – an exercise of Congress' enumerated power to tax.

That same year, Pruitt lit another fuse, this one involving statutory rather than constitutional construction. He filed a suit that in June may contribute to the most seismic domestic development of 2015.

The suit asks the court to read the ACA unimaginatively, as meaning what it plainly says: Subsidies, in the form of tax credits, are available only to persons who purchase insurance through exchanges “established by the state.” Thirty-seven states have refused or failed to establish their own exchanges. The justices may be disinclined to use the ACA’s legislative history, or the candor of MIT’s loquacious professor Jonathan Gruber, to inform their deliberations. If, however, the justices do, they will see that Gruber, an ACA architect, says it was written to “squeeze the states” into establishing exchanges: “If you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”

If the court holds that the ACA means what it plainly and purposively says, then billions of dollars have been disbursed through federal exchanges contrary to the law. The ACA will be crippled until Barack Obama negotiates help from a Republican-controlled Congress.

The Founders' bargain, Pruitt says, was that the states would surrender some sovereignty in exchange for representation in the federal government. But the growth of federal power has tended to reduce states to administrative extensions of the federal government, leaving them with “pre-emption without representation.” So Pruitt has established within his office a “federalism unit” aimed at revitalizing federalism as a system of “vertical checks and balances.”

Oklahoma is among 24 states in a suit initiated by Texas Attorney General (and Gov.-elect) Greg Abbott charging that Obama’s unilateral changes in immigration policies are unconstitutional. The complaint is that Obama has injured these states by usurping the legislative power of Congress, in which the states' interests are represented, and by creating, through executive fiat, policies that will impose substantial costs on the states.

Another target in Pruitt’s sights is the Environmental Protection Agency, which claims to have discovered in the Clean Air Act of 1970 a hitherto unnoticed authority perhaps sufficient to eliminate existing coal-fired power plants. Joined by 16 other state attorneys general, Pruitt argues that the federal government has the power to institute a national energy policy, which implicates the entire economy. But it cannot do so, pre-empting various of the states' powers, simply by locating authority in the creative reading of a 44-year old statute.

And then there is the matter of puddles. Pruitt and other attorneys general are resisting the EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers' contention that the 42-year old Clean Water Act has a hitherto unsuspected capaciousness. The act, which allows regulation of “navigable waters,” was passed under Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce, so “navigable waters” have been understood to be those suitable for transporting people and products between the states.

But M. Reed Hopper and Todd F. Gaziano of the Pacific Legal Foundation, writing in The Wall Street Journal, say the EPA now wants to control not just wetlands and other non-navigable waters but any water or normally dry land with a “hydrological connection” to actual navigable waters. These include, Hopper and Gaziano say, “arroyos in the desert as well as ditches and culverts hundreds of miles from” actual navigable waters. Pruitt and other attorneys general are contesting this bureaucratic imperialism whereby the EPA, by aggregating almost all the nation’s water and much of its land into EPA-designated “ecoregions,” could regulate – and stifle – much of the nation’s economic activity.

The good news about the ACA, immigration and the EPA is that federalism remains a fact. Come January, federalism’s vitality will be an increasingly inconvenient truth for Obama. Twenty-seven states will have Republican attorneys general who can try to restrain the federal Leviathan much as the Lilliputians restrained Gulliver.



Wisconsin bureaucrats target the media

A secret political speech probe looked into radio talk-show hosts.

The Wisconsin assault on political speech has been in a lull, but it reappeared with a bang on Friday with a fresh document release by a state court. The disclosures include evidence that Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board wanted to go after Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes and Sean Hannity of Fox News.

The information was unsealed as part of a complaint in Eric O’Keefe and Wisconsin Club for Growth v. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. The case is a complaint against the GAB, a state body that has made enforcing campaign-finance laws its mission in ways that trash the First Amendment.

As we’ve been reporting for more than a year, Mr. O’Keefe has been the target of a secret John Doe probe investigating alleged “coordination” between Gov. Scott Walker ’s 2012 recall campaign and independent conservative groups. He was subpoenaed and others had their homes raided by prosecutors in October 2013. Mr. O’Keefe has fought back in court, and his complaint refers to GAB documents that were obtained during discovery in the case.

The documents support the charge that the GAB was working with Democratic prosecutors to smash the political operation of anyone defending Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms. And in the fevered ambitions of investigators, the supposed conspirators included Messrs. Sykes and Hannity.

The unsealed complaint notes that prosecutors and investigators contemplated including the two conservative talk-show hosts as targets of subpoenas or warrants. “Many more warrants and subpoenas were planned for other targets throughout the country, including media figures such as Charlie Sykes and Sean Hannity,” the complaint says. The full meeting notes are not included.

Consider the printed notes from a September 2013 conference call. The notes refer to a discussion and legal research to assist the John Doe. One section notes a “Discussion raised by David regarding media exemption and identifying what the standards are before Sykes/Hannity coordinate with FOSW and Walker as well as potential equal time violations.” The “Charlie Sykes and Sean Hannity connection to investigations” was also listed on the agenda for an August 15, 2013 meeting.

The September call’s participants aren’t listed, but the notes include “to-do” assignments for Milwaukee Assistant District Attorneys Bruce Landgraf and David Robles, investigator Bob Stelter, Special Prosecutor Fran Schmitz, and GAB staff counsels Shane Falk and Nathan Judnic. Mr. Falk has since left GAB.

Another suggested research subject was the possibility of “freezing subject bank accounts,” also suggested by “David,” who is likely a reference to Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Robles, whose full name appears elsewhere on the documents. These documents remain under seal but we obtained a copy.

Defenders of the GAB board tout its bipartisan credentials because it is made up of retired judges. But the unsealed complaint notes that by the time the judges voted to investigate the campaign coordination of conservative groups, the agency had already been up to its elbows in the issue for 10 months.

Wisconsin attorney Paul Schwarzenbart, who is representing the GAB, said in a statement over the weekend that the judges knew about the GAB staff’s participation in the probe, but we’ve seen no evidence to document that claim. Mr. Robles and GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy didn’t respond to requests for comment.

All of this matters far beyond Wisconsin because it shows how far from the Constitution the campaign-finance police have wandered. Their theories of supposedly unlawful “coordination” with candidates include even media figures who clearly are protected by the First Amendment.

The media liberals who have been cheerleaders for these prosecutions may not worry if the targets are conservatives like Messrs. Sykes or Hannity. But they should wake up. Such coordination theories could as easily extend to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter or MSNBC host. And what constitutes illegal coordination would be based on the subjective judgment of prosecutors and GAB bureaucrats.

The documents show that Wisconsin’s speech police are abusing their power with little regard for the First Amendment. The state legislature should shut them down.



Vermont Leads the Way away from Obamacare

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, announced that his state is tabling the idea of pursuing single-payer health care – a more pleasant term for socialized medicine – citing that it would be too big a burden for his state’s citizens and businesses to bear. It would have cost the small state $2 billion to pull off the leftist magic trick of providing “free” health care for all its inhabitants. The only way to pay for that would have been an 11.5% payroll tax on businesses and a hike on the income tax to 9.5%. Thank goodness for federalism.

Though Shumlin called the decision “the greatest disappointment of my political life so far,” he bitterly clings to hope. “Medicare took 31 years to become law,” he said, “Medicaid took 50 years to pass. Social Security took 25 years. Our time will come.” Not exactly great examples to cite, since those very same entitlements are driving state and federal budgets off a fiscal cliff.

Shumlin, a lifelong statist, is unashamed of his stance, despite the fact that he has not technically been elected to a new term. He beat Republican Scott Milne by just 2,095 votes out of nearly 200,000 cast in the November election. And Vermont law states that any race without a clear majority must be decided by the state legislature.

Vermont’s heavily Democrat state legislature is sure to re-elect its enfeebled incumbent governor, but that isn’t stopping Milne from proudly proclaiming the death of the single-payer initiative. “I said during the debates,” Milne told National Review Online, “The difference between Peter Shumlin and Scott Milne is that I will tell you before the election that single-payer is dead.”

In fact, Shumlin likely wouldn’t have won had he disclosed the cost of single-payer health care before Election Day.

Milne campaigned against single-payer insurance, saying it would bankrupt the tiny state. Despite its history of being a haven for just-this-side-of-socialist crackpot ideas, many Green Mountain State citizens were concerned about the hit to their wallets necessary to make single-payer a reality. For many, “free” health care just wasn’t worth the high price.

Shumlin’s other big plan of offering universal pre-K went down in defeat for the same reason. It seems that this governor likes to offer his citizens programs that sound rosy, but when it comes time to put pen to paper in the accounting department he gets a dose of reality.

Milne called out Shumlin not only for his unworkable single-payer plan, but also for spending precious state fiscal resources on research to implement the plan. Vermont paid some $400,000 alone to a certain MIT professor who professes expertise in health policy. Yes, that would be the infamous Jonathan Gruber.

The fact that Vermont couldn’t pull off single-payer health care doesn’t bode well for the great leftist experiment nationwide, though it certainly highlights the indispensable virtues of federalism. Not only has Socialist Bernie Sanders represented the state in the House and Senate since 1991, but the small state prides itself as the nation’s “workers paradise.” If Vermont can’t make this socialist dream happen, then who can?

Single-payer is simply not a workable option in the U.S., despite the best attempts of the Obama administration through ObamaCare. It’s less efficient and more expensive than private care, and we can thank Vermont for displaying that so clearly.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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