Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Moral Authority vs Justice

What is the importance of U.S. moral authority or reputation outside our boarders? Wouldn't it be the same for the country as for the individual? As humans, we rely on our relationships with others to ease the struggles of life. On the world stage, countries protect their existence similarly.

What reputation do we want as individuals and nations? Of course, we want that which allows us to work cooperatively with others without being victimized. It's no better to be thought the doormat than the bully. We don't want others to ban against us because of our tyranny; neither do we want to invite attack because of perceived weakness.

It is with this balance I approach this story of a Mexican national who was executed in Texas this morning. Consider this excerpt from the story.

"It's important to recall this is a case not just about one Mexican national on death row in Texas," one of his lawyers, Sandra Babcock, said after watching him die. "It's also about ordinary Americans who count on the protection of the consulate when they travel abroad to strange lands. It's about the reputation of the United States as a nation that adheres to the rule of law."

What reputation has the U.S. created in this case, and what reputation does Babcock have in mind? Were we the bully? Should we have been the doormat? I'd say we were neither.

The defendant, Jose Medellin, moved to the U.S. when he was three, and was raised in Houston. One hardly can claim he was "[traveling] abroad to [a] strange [land]". Furthermore, the criminality of gang-rape and murder, of minors no less, shouldn't strike any one as an unsuspected quirk of local law the hapless traveler could not have anticipated.

Medellin lived his life in the U.S., and was tried the same as U.S. citizens. Indeed, the intervention of the Mexican Consolate would have been an extra protection. Certainly, that protection is just in many cases. In Medellin's case, it seems like a technicality and a Hail Mary Pass.

What effect has the Medellin case had on our reputation and therefore the treatment of U.S. citizens in the world? We neither railroaded a foreigner, nor abandoned justice. We were neither the bully, nor the doormat.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Congress Knows Best? Cell Phone Ban

No surprise here, Congress is exercising its power over our personal behavior. Not any power granted them by our constitution, mind you, but that power which we allow them by not standing up for what's right.

You may agree with them regarding the cell phone ban, but your crazy if you think banning cell phone use will prevent people from annoying you on planes. All the people who've annoyed me on planes were intent on conversing not on their phones, but with me. Gazing at an open, nearly finished novel has not deterred them. Listening to music on head phones has not deterred them. Closed eyes and my head on a pillow has not deterred them.

Like many laws of this kind, the in-flight cell phone ban one will fail in its objective while punishing the innocent. In the close and terribly uncomfortable confines of airplanes, we will still be annoyed by annoying people, and polite cell phone use will still be banned.

Of course, as always, people will excuse this blatant overreach of power with the tired old rationale: Well, we don't need to use our phones in flight. Think that's true? Imagine you're away from home, and a loved one has been rushed to the hospital. You'll not be able to send or receive calls in flight to check on them.

Or better yet, remember 9-11-01 and the passengers of flight 93, who used their cell phones to speak their last words to their loved ones. Also, because of cell phones, they learned of the other attacks that morning. As we know, without this information they believed they simply were being hijacked. Because of what they learned on cell phone calls, those heroic Americans subverted their hijackers ultimate plan to crash them into hundreds more innocent people.