This is a copy a Guest Editorial with links to references cited that appeared in The Coast News.
Darrell E. Issa, our new Congressman
Under the new redistricting for the House of Representatives, the cities of Carlsbad and Encinitas will have a new incumbent for the next election, The last thing that Issa wanted was to have his new constituents introduced to him by a critical article in the left leaning N.Y. Times.
If you know that a major newspaper is about to do an article that is part of a series on Congressional corruption, you could work with the reporter to make sure it's accurate. The other strategy is to refuse to answer any questions, trusting that errors would seep through that could be used to refute the entire article as an irresponsible smear. This was Representative Issa's strategy, and it looks like it worked. Not only has the substance of the article been overshadowed by his claim that the article was libelous, but it has made most local media gun shy about reporting another newsworthy story.
The series of articles (available from the Time's web site) had included two legislators from each party to make the larger point; the individuals being examples of the damage that was done by the current lax ethical norms. The other featured legislators engaged in a dialog with the paper to improve accuracy; only Issa refusing to even respond to phone calls.
As chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Issa has the broad authority to look at every aspect of our vast federal government. In such a forest of agencies there is abundant low hanging fruit; some such as the ill conceived Mexican gun running sting approved under the Obama administration, and others of vastly greater importance, that represent endemic corruption of both parties by powerful special interests such as the financial industry.
In 2008 the repeal or lack of enforcement of laws overseeing financial institutions brought our country, and the world, to the brink of financial collapse. One company representative of this industry, Goldman Sachs, not only survived, but benefited greatly from the TARP bailout that was initiated under the Bush administration and continued under Obama. In order to prevent such a disaster from occurring again the “Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010” was signed, which has become one of the targets for repeal or evisceration by the new Republican majority in the house, with the effort lead by Issa's committee.
The very day that the Times article came out, Atlantic Monthly Online disclosed a relationship between Issa and Goldman Sachs. Going beyond the corrupting effect of battalions of lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, Issa seems to have pushed the envelope. He hired a lawyer who had been a vice President of Goldman Sachs under the name of Peter Simonyi to be in charge of writing revisions of the 2010 law. The reason this was not known to the public is that he had subsequently changed his name to Peter Haller.
The New York Times can ignore spurious accusations of libel, but smaller media outlets are hesitant to incur the wrath of a powerful legislator threatening lawsuits who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. So, we can be sure that the Union Tribune, on whose pages the libel claim appeared, will not follow up with a challenge that Issa actually initiate such a suit-or withdraw the accusation; as the Times, after correcting two items, has defended the substance of its article.
The Supreme Court under the recent Citizens United case has opened the floodgates of corporate wealth dominating campaign advertising. We know that corporations such as Goldman Sachs can finance the ads that inundate us during elections, but we didn't know that one of their recent executives was drafting the laws under which they will operate.
North Coast San Diego now has a member of Congress with the power to make a difference in political life. This gives us, the voters, the potential to influence the direction of the committee that he chairs-- whether it shall be focused on partisan gains for next election, or on reforming the endemic corruption of government that threatens us as a nation. This is the ever greater historical challenge, one that will only be undertaken if we, Issa's constituents, demand it.
Full Text of N.Y. Times response to Issa's claim of inaccurate article
There are two approaches to eliminating blasphemy. which includes desecration of revered objects such as a Bible or Koran. The traditional way to prevent such blasphemous actions is through punishment, historically quite severe . We are now seeing this in the ongoing homicidal response to Reverend, no I won't use the honorific term, to Terry Jones' burning of a copy of the Koran at his Florida church.
Blasphemy is inextricably tied to the concept of the sacred, and can be extended to similar reverence for symbols of a nation or a people. The metaphysical aspect of such object is recognized in their essence being extended beyond the original artifact to any representation of it; thus a printed copy of the Koran, or a mass produced flag is imbued with such sacredness.
Those enraged Muslims, presently only in Afghanistan, make the assumption that, as would be the case in their own countries, because Terry Jones is allowed to do this act he has the tacit support of his government.
They are not completely wrong.
In this country we do not murder those who defile our own sacred objects, but we are not that far from doing so. I'll focus on one of these objects, a secular sacred symbol that is so revered by America that the legality of its treatment is decided by decisions of the highest court in the land.
The most recent Supreme Court Decision U.S. v. Eichman was a reiteration of the landmark more extensive decision Texas v. Johnson summarized in this conclusion:
The government's interest in preserving the flag as a symbol did not outweigh the individual right to disparage that symbol through expressive conduct.
These decisions that articulate a principle at odds with values that are entrenched in fundamentalist Muslim circles only passed by a hair's breath, Texas v. Johnson by a single vote of the court. The vast majority of Americans dearly want to punish those who burn our highest sacred object, the American flag. One state tried to get around the freedom of speech protection of the Court by proposing a law that the maximum penalty for any individual who violently attacked a flag burner would be a twenty five dollar fine. It was a law to foment mob revenge.
Flag burning is exceedingly rare in this country as the reaction against it can still be violent. The symbol is so powerful that almost every political figure wears a representation of it on their lapel, including the current President who had earlier publicly rejected this. It is a type of amulet to ward away the curse of "unpatriotism" that can be dangerous to life and lethal to a political career.
The last try in 2006 for a constitutional amendment that would have made this country more similar to those controlled by Muslim fundimentalists on this issue, by allowing punishment of those who burn our sacred object easily passed the House, but failed to get the required two thirds majority in the Senate by a single vote.
So what do we do about future Terry Jones wannabees, who now know that they can become a world figures, just like those such as James Earl Ray and Lee Harvey Oswald, by causing death and chaos, but without any possible punishment for their action. Do we want to carve out exceptions to our first amendment right to absolute freedom of speech. It's an option, but a bad one, as it taken to its extreme it could allow any group ruthless enough to commit mass murder protection against criticism.
This opinion happens to be shared by Antonin Scalia, the most conservative member of the Supreme court, as he said in this interview from last year that I happened to have watched days before the Koran burning.
When asked about the possible, then potential, reaction of Muslims to the burning of a single Koran should it be an exception to the rule of unfettered freedom of speech, Scalia responded,
Unless it's going to cause a riot here, which the police can not effectively stop, No, It may be a very bad idea, nevertheless it's perfectly constitutional (meaning it's constitutionally protected)
I had the privilege of meeting Justice Scalia, right after he had joined in the decision that protected the right of those who burn the American Flag. It was at a speech at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan, where the audience was won over by this man who publicly proclaims that America is, in fact, a Christian country.
Scalia is an unusual man, as brilliant as they come yet also as down to earth, folksy, and warm hearted as can be. While widely despised by liberals, he maintains a strong personal friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsberg the justice who is most consistently, and vehemently opposed to his court opinions.
When Scalia proclaimed that burning of the Koran is protected by the Constitution, the act--and the reaction by Muslims, the taking of innocent lives had not yet occurred. As of this writing this article describes the carnage sparked by this action in Florida, so far twenty dead and eighty injured.
Now, I will switch the mode of this essay to addressing Justice Scalia directly, on the off chance that the senior official that I know on the Court should read this and choose to call it to his attention. It is my answer, the only answer I can think of to the conundrum between supporting the first amendment or protecting the investment of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to avoid the clash of civilizations between the Western World and Islam.
I happen to personally agree with your stand as a self described "first amendment absolutist" which shaped your decisions on the two flag burning cases.
I was gratified to learn that one of your most respected Justices is Robert H. Jackson, whose decisions were cogently decided and articulated, yet there was a time when duty required his stepping outside of the court, to be the chief U.S. prosecutor for the Nuremberg Trials.
This is such a time for you. While you were the deciding vote to keep our country from defining as a secular blasphemy the desecration of our national emblem, by this decision you could not change the de facto law, more powerful than statute, that does in fact make this object sacred.
You personally are on the horns of a dilemma, caught in a logical inconsistency defined by cultural norms that are only indirectly affected by law. We do, in fact, protect our secular icons and we do condone violence against those who breach this strictures. Certainly not to the degree of the murderous mobs in Afghanistan, but given what has gone before and what is yet to come in this region, that protection of our first amendment means not only death of innocents, but perhaps the animosity of those very people whom we have sacrificed so much to bring to our side.
Freedom of speech as a constitutional protection does not translate well into Arabic. Your courage in voting to allow flag burning, which implies allowing defaming any symbol of any group, is not convincing to those whose hatred for Americans is based on the belief that it is their religion that is being defamed, and not America's.
You may point to precedent, the refutation in law, yet it will not stop the slaughter this time, or any future time that one who emulates the Florida pastor chooses this quick way to fame. Words won't do the job. Protection of our first amendment right to freedom of speech, and our ability to avoid a disastrous clash of civilizations requires action outside of not only the court, but of existing institutions.
You, as an individual, as a patriot and as a Catholic, must participate in the desecration of your own icons, which would not be a desecration at all since that which is sacred remains so even after representations of them are destroyed. You, along with those who you can bring to such an event, must have a "book burning" but in this case not to destroy, but to liberate. The very pain, the distastefulness of such a ceremony is essential, as it reflects the pain of Muslims who see their own sacred icon defamed. Only by your own pain can you show, can you illustrate that we do not accept blasphemy as a concept, in our own religion any more than we do in theirs.
With each Holy Bible, with each American Flag, with each Christian Cross or Jewish Star that goes up in flames you would be proclaiming that no object shall have protection, that it is the ideas that are sacred. America will not prevent the burning of the Koran, as we should not. But we must demonstrate, in vivid dramatic imagery, that as we allow the defiling of their icons we do so to ours also.
I wish this could be done without Scalia, as a bottom up movement to show the world what America stands for. But I have doubts that such a movement, desecrating patriotic and religious icons could happen without the support of those such as him. And as much as those on this website may revile Antonin Scalia, I'm hot sure I can think of any other figure who is part of the religious right who would be a candidate for showing the world that even if we are a Christian country, we are also one that values the Enlightenment ideals of freedom of expression. And when push comes to shove, it is those ideals, that happen to be those of our founding fathers, that we will give priority to.
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As I get older, it is easier to discern the collection of memes that define American public culture. We all exist in a moment of history that we assume encompasses ultimate truth. Getting beyond this takes some degree of effort