Friday, May 29, 2015

Controlling the Muslim Population in Myanmar

Rohingya Muslim girls in Myanmar's strife-torn Rakhine state

It is hard to imagine a more inhumane policy than China's one-child policy. But there is one: the two-child policy imposed on Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims. In 2013, the Myanmar government reaffirmed a 2005 policy which punishes Rohingya women who bear more than two children with hefty fines and loss of legal rights for the children.

Here is more on this attempt to control ethnic minorities.

Burma (or Myanmar) has recently passed a law that seeks to control the country's population. According to this report from Deutsche Welle:

“The president of Myanmar has signed a controversial population control bill into law, state media reported on Saturday. The law requires mothers to have their children three years apart. It was passed over the objections of rights activists, who say that it not only represses women, but also religious and ethnic minorities.”

Now, currently Burma's population is about 60 million, but its current total fertility rate is at only 2.23 children per woman, not too far above the replacement rate of 2.1. So where is the crisis of burgeoning population growth to justify such a measure? Well, apparently the Act (The Population Control Health Care Act) was drafted under some pressure “from hard-line Buddhists with anti-Muslim sentiment in mind” according to Burmese media. It is the belief of some that the Muslim proportion of the population (around 10 percent of the whole) has such a high birth rate that it could end up becoming the majority in the future. The head of Human Rights Watch's Asia office, Brad Adams, certainly thinks that this is what is driving the measure and is not afraid of pulling any punches in saying so:

"Activists with a racist, anti-Muslim agenda pressed for this population law, so there is every reason to expect it to be implemented in a discriminatory way"

The power has been given to local authorities to implement the three-year birth spacing requirement in areas with rapid population growth, but as the statute doesn't describe any punitive measures for non-compliance, I presume it will be up to the local authorities to tailor their own penalties.

Once again we can see a government seeking to regulate the most intimate decisions that families can make. Presumably if the new Act is to have any effect on people’s decisions the authorities will have to come up with some way of enforcing it and placing people in impossible situations of bending to the law or facing the consequences. Presumably this Act will fall on the poorest most heavily (particularly if the penalty is pecuniary) and presumably will further exacerbate feelings between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority. Whether it will have a deleterious effect on Burma’s fertility rate remains to be seen.

From here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Quote of the Week - Rt. Rev Patricia Storey

“I believe that civil partnerships give gay people clear civil rights and recognition as people committed to one another, and I fully endorse this. However, I do not think that this requires the redefinition of marriage to uphold it, and I do not believe that marriage should be redefined.”-- Rt. Rev Patricia Storey, in a letter to the clergy in the United Diocese of Meath and Kildare

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Death for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The death penalty as punishment for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings of April 2013 was always on the cards for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev once his case was put in the hands of a federal court. Massachusetts, the state where Tsarnaev and his older brother made their fatal attack on the famous marathon run, does not allow the death penalty. But federal law does – and 60 percent of Americans, according to a CBS poll, support this fate for the young murderer.

Is the federal jury’s decision the most just and reasonable response to a horrendous crime? Or have they missed an opportunity to deal a decisive blow to a kind of justice that Americans are increasingly rejecting as inhumane and unnecessary? After all, if the crime of a would-be mass murderer could be adequately punished in another way, there would no reason to execute anyone else.

There is no question that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev planned lethal harm to many people and executed their plan in cold blood, killing three people and injuring more than 260 at the event. They also shot a policeman, and another policeman died during the pursuit of the bombers, as did Tamerlan himself. Theirs was a terrible crime and deserves a heavy punishment – something that America’s toughest jails are, from all accounts, well able to provide.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Private Ownership vs Public Access

Karl D. Stephan

Let me present a contrast between an ownership lifestyle and an access lifestyle.

Exhibit A for the ownership lifestyle is my late father-in-law Ben. Following his marriage in 1946, he built not one, but three different small houses with his own hands, selling each one and building another while holding down surveying and drafting jobs. Once he found steady employment with the Texas Highway Department, he bought a new contractor-built house in a growing subdivision and a new 1955 Oldsmobile, which he still owned when he died earlier this year.

From that point on, he lived the American dream of ownership. Anything he needed and could afford, he bought: TVs, lawnmowers, appliances, and (much later in life) computers for his wife to pursue her genealogy hobby with.

Contrast that lifestyle with that of a hypothetical 30-something single living in Austin—call him Brad. He rents a stylish apartment near the Metro rail that he rides to work, so he doesn't own a car. He calls vehicle-for-hire services like Uber when he needs to go anywhere that he can't get to in the city with public transportation.

His biggest single expenditure this year was for a three-week European tour with some friends. His most expensive single possession is a mechanical watch. Brad spends most of his discretionary income on experiences and services rather than things. He pays for access, not for stuff.

Brad is part of the reason that rates of new-vehicle ownership, home ownership, and even possession of a driver license are all declining in the age group of U. S. citizens centered around 30, according to an article by James Poulos in a recent issue of The New Atlantis, “Losing Liberty in an Age of Access”. Poulos is concerned that the decline of ownership among young people will lead to a corresponding decline in freedom. Will it?

Before exploring that question, we should admit that technology has played a major role in the rise of the access economy. Technically, software is leased, not owned. "Buying" software (already a fading trend in contrast to ongoing service contracts favored by many software firms) really just gives you the privilege of using it. The planned obsolescence of many products, whose useful life is measured in months rather than years, is enabled by rapid advances in digital technology and manufacturing techniques, even when hardware is involved.

The services so favored by Brad and his friends are usually intermediated by the internet, and would be much harder or impossible to offer without it. So if we are looking for guilty parties in the case of the movement from ownership to access, technology is a prime suspect.

Who is more free?

To the question of whether Brad, the access guy, is more free than Ben, the ownership guy, one might respond, free to what? And here we step into some deep philosophical waters.

Superficially, Brad looks a lot more free—no burdensome car or house payments or other long-term obligations (unless you count student loans), free to up and run off to Antigua or Bermuda or you name it for a vacation—the ideal young-urban-professional life. Only, if everybody in the country acts like Brad, with no wife or kids and no plans for same in the future, the country would die out in a generation. Something like this is already happening in Japan, whose population declined by 268,000 (0.2%) in 2014.

Even people Brad's age seem to have a sense that they are missing something that an earlier generation had, without knowing exactly what it is. I've been invited to the upcoming wedding of a Brad-generation couple who have erected an elaborate wedding website, complete with a list of things to do for out-of-town guests coming to Dallas. One of the items is a visit to a museum about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, and the prospective couple attached this curious comment to it: "As many of y'all know we were born in the wrong era." What does it mean when a whole generation thinks it was born in the wrong era?

To answer the question of human freedom, you must have some idea of what human beings are for. There are varying opinions on the purpose of human life. In 1992, as part of its decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the US Supreme Court regarded the core of liberty as the right to "define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That idea would be fine with Brad, whose concept of existence may change from year to year, or even month to month, as he ponders his next appealing experience.

But there are others who regard human beings as marked with the divine image. I came across a fine word the other day in a book by the English professor and translator of Dante, Anthony Esolen, Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching. The word is "theomorphic," meaning "formed in the image of deity." Esolen says that "the right of private property is grounded, not in practical economics, but in the theomorphic nature of man." Because man is made in the image of God, anything that is a product of man's labor is owned, and ownership is something only humans can lay claim to.

And only people can choose whether to use their ownership of the fruits of their labor to live lives of superficial pleasure, spending their income on transient experiences and then ultimately passing out of existence, like Windows 98; or to found a family—either literally or by playing the role of father or mother to the younger generation—and serving those who come after us, passing the torch of human life and its best meanings to those who come after us.

Doing the latter requires a longer-term vision than the next expensive vacation. Those who work simply to enjoy the access to services provided by giant concentrations of ownership, are ultimately slaves to the owners of those service providers, whether it feels like slavery or not.

The classic image of this type of slavery is Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World. But those who work not just for themselves, but to provide for others, using ownership as a means of providing for a real or metaphorical family—they are those who, while appearing to lose their lives in service to others, can actually save them.

Karl D. Stephan is a professor of electrical engineering at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. This article has been republished, with permission, from his blog, Engineering Ethics, which is a MercatorNet partner site.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore's "Dirty Little Secret"

"Yes, the dirty little secret that no one wants to admit is that Baltimore, and so many other urban areas and inner city communities in America are a reflection of the abject failure of liberal progressive socialist policies as advanced by the Democrat party." --Allen West (From here.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Nepal Valley a Dangerous Place

Simon Redfern

For some time scientists have realised that the Kathmandu valley is one of themost dangerous places in the world, in terms of earthquake risk. And now a combination of high seismic activity at the front of the Tibetan plateau, poor building standards, and haphazard urbanisation have come together with fatal consequences.

The magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit Nepal hit just before noon, local time, on Saturday around 48 miles north west of Kathmandu. The Indian tectonic plate is driving beneath the Eurasian plate at an average rate of 45mm per year along a front that defines the edge of the Tibetan plateau. This force created the Himalayas, and Nepal lies slap bang along that front. The quake was shallow, estimated at 12km depth, and devastating as the Indian crust thrust beneath Tibet one more time.
Shake map released by the US Geological Survey. USGS

Historic buildings in the centre of Kathmandu have been reduced to rubble. Brick masonry dwellings have collapsed under clouds of dust. Weakened buildings will now be vulnerable to aftershocks, which continue to rattle Nepal through the day. Multiple aftershocks above magnitude 4 hit in the six hours following the earthquake.

Read the article here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Buhari and Nigeria's Future

Buhari’s victory in Nigerian election has global significance

Muhammadu Buhari’s convincing defeat of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in the Nigerian presidential election is an event of global significance. To his credit, President Jonathan promptly conceded defeat, thereby discouraging any attempt to impede the transfer of power.

The election was held even as the world’s attention was further drawn to the gruesome brutalities committed by the Boko Haram insurgency. Inexplicably, Africa’s largest armed force, which has been given enormous financial outlays, has not been able to subdue a ragtag militia.

The world desperately needs a victory against cultist jihadism. Nigeria can provide it. As commander-in-chief, Buhari can oversee a coordinated effort to squelch the insurgency.

His victory is also significant because it has been achieved via democratic elections.

In no other large country, with an almost equal number of Muslims and Christians, is such a process conceivable. The subsiding of the Arab Spring deflated hopes for a new concordance between Islam and democracy.

A Nigerian constitutional democracy, led by a former military dictator and avowed supporter of Shari’a law, will be a powerful counterpoint to the autocratic upswing symbolized by Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

New hope that corruption will be reduced

A third notable fact about Buhari’s victory is the hope it rekindles for drastically reducing corruption. You cannot build capable state institutions when the prime motivation of office-holders is to drain the public purse into their pockets, and those of their cronies and kinfolk.

Three decades ago I called this bane of Nigerian political life “prebendalism.” Goodluck Jonathan, with no claim to high office except his luck in finding himself in the chain of regionalized political patronage, was unable to get off this tiger. The more his administration sought to accomplish, the bigger the problem became, until the surfeit of financial scandals and depletion of government revenues eroded his presidency.

Buhari first came to power in December 1983 in a coup d'├ętat as a military disciplinarian determined to punish those accused, and then summarily convicted, of corruption.

In the three decades since he was toppled from the presidency in 1985, he has demonstrated that his passion for public service is not fueled by greed. For example, as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund in the 1990s, he oversaw the use of its resources primarily for development projects. At 72 years of age, he has the opportunity to accomplish something that few of his predecessors, military or civilian, have even attempted: serving the nation and its citizens rather than members of the political-business-military class.

Politics in Nigeria often resembles a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, seats are snatched, and the looting commences. In the past, martial tunes would sometimes be heard, and the constitutional edifice would be constructed anew – all at enormous cost to the treasury.

This time around, after the ballot box became the music box, corruption can again be rigorously but lawfully tackled.

Plaudits to the Nigerian people

Among the champions of the 2015 national elections, the Nigerian people, collectively, must be saluted.

As Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka once stated: “The Nigerian people have always approached democracy and the elites have always turned them back.” Nigerians have often been enticed to the polls by the promise of holding elected officials accountable and even changing them. But politicians, with their well-heeled patrons, thugs-for- hire, and the complicity of electoral staff could usually warp the process.

To obtain more than an “election-like event,” to quote the words of the former US ambassador to their country, John Campbell, Nigerians needed an electoral commission that lived up to its name of being “independent” and “national.”

Thanks to Professor Attahiru Jega, an American-trained political scientist who served as Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigerians are finally endowed with such a commission.

Professor Jega withstood unimaginable pressures as the Jonathan political and security team realized that their man’s prospects were dimming. In the face of the acute tensions of catering to nearly 30 million voters, including displaced communities, Jega conducted himself with grace and high professionalism. The Nigerian nation owes him a great debt of gratitude.

Campaign money tossed around like confetti

The election campaigning itself, as Soyinka declared, was “an embarrassing exercise,” with money thrown about like confetti.

Despite the Boko Haram atrocities, the sharp decline of oil income, missing billions in government revenue and two-thirds of the population mired in poverty, Nigerians were deluged incessantly with campaign giveaways.

In the midst of it all, however, they saw that the gates of political freedom were opening. They came to believe that a born-again democrat, who thrice sought the presidency and now led an historic reconfiguration of political forces, was their best chance to shed the carcass of a crippled giant.

They also took Goodluck Jonathan at his word that, if he lost the election, he would be the first Nigerian president to yield power peacefully to the opposition.

No one should expect that the way forward will be smooth.

Nigeria remains a complex and contentious polity. Nevertheless, the Jonathan administration had become a bridge to nowhere. The manner of his going can now match in dignity how he skillfully wrested power five years ago.

Meanwhile, the victor, Muhammadu Buhari, can begin restoring the tattered image of Nigerian governance at home and abroad.

Professor Richard A. Joseph teaches at Northwestern University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.