Monthly Archives: October 2007

Some Thoughts On Iranian Nukes

After reading Doug’s post on the latest poll about a possible strike on Iran, I would like to give my view on a possible strike plus my thoughts on American-Iranian relations in general.

1) Obviously Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. An Iranian nuclear weapon would encourage the Arab states to develop their own bombs, disrupt the fragile military balance in the Middle East, and create a larger risk of nuclear terrorism through either giving the weapon to a terrorist organization like Hamas or Hezbollah and/or destabilization of the Iranian government.

2) Going to war with Iran is not the answer to Iran’s nuclear program. What should be tried is seven-party talks based on the Six-Party Talks that have been used with North Korea (and have been mostly successful). The United States, UK, France, Germany, Russia, the Arab League, and Iran should start having regular meetings to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear situation.

3) At the end of the day, talk of an American attack on Iran is probably moot because the Israelis will probably strike if they think the Iranians are close to having the bomb. The Israeli nuclear weapons program exists for the same reason why the NATO countries maintained tactical nuclear weapons:* to make up for superior potential enemy conventional numbers. Like the Cold War where the Warsaw Pact outnumbered NATO forces conventionally, the Arab/Islamic states outnumber Israel conventionally. Justifiably, the Israelis will do whatever it takes to maintain this advantage.

4) The Iranians will be key in helping US forces withdraw from Iraq. They have a vested interest in a political solution, like all of Iraq’s neighbors, that will shore up the Iraqi central government and/or stabilize the violence enough so American forces can exit more rapidly. This is an opportunity to engage the Iranians on this issue and possibly open the door to eventual normalization of relations.

5) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is nothing more than a puppet of the Iranian Ayatollahs and should be seen and treated as such.

*The NATO/Warsaw Pact analogy is not the best, but I only brought it up to illustrate how nuclear deterrence can be used to offset conventional numerical inferiority.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

More On The Funeral Protestors Saga

Much has been written about the Rev. Fred Phelps and his merry band of protesters who travel the country staging demonstrations outside the funeral services of American soldiers killed in Iraq expressing their apparent belief that the soldiers died because of America’s toleration of homosexuals.

Today, a Federal Jury in Maryland awarded $ 2.9 million in damages to the father of a fallen Marine in connection with a protest:

A federal jury in Baltimore awarded nearly $11 million in damages yesterday to the family of a Marine from Maryland whose funeral was disrupted by members of a Kansas-based fundamentalist church.

One of the defendants said the civil award was the first against the church, whose members have stirred anger across the nation by picketing at funerals for service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, often carrying placards bearing virulent anti-gay slogans. The church maintains that God is punishing the United States, killing and maiming troops, because the country tolerates homosexuality.

Fred Phelps, pastor of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, scoffed at the jury and the award.

“It was a bunch of silly heads passing judgment on God,” he said. “I don’t believe anyone in the courtroom knows what the First Amendment is. Religious views are expressly protected by the First Amendment. You can’t prosecute a preacher in civil law or in criminal law for what he preaches.”

Phelps said the church would appeal, and he predicted that a higher court would overturn the award “in five minutes.”

In the lawsuit, the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder argued that it had suffered invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress.

“The fact of the matter is, a funeral’s private,” said one of their attorneys, Sean Summers. “There was no public concern when [church members] showed up with a ‘God Hates You’ sign.”

No, but the protests didn’t occur on private property, they occurred on public property while the church members were expressing their protected, though entirely stupid and repugnant beliefs.

Technically, this is not a First Amendment issue at all, because it doesn’t involve an attempt by the state to censor speech or punish, in a criminal sense, the right of the church members to express their beliefs. There is something troubling, though, when civil causes of action as ephemeral and hard-to-define as “invasion of privacy” (notwithstanding the fact that the events in question took place on public property) and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” (notwithstanding the fact that the church does the same type of protest at every funeral, thus suggesting that there’s no evidence they intentionally targeted the father in this case) are used to punish someone for actions that are clearly Constitutionally protected.

It will be interesting to follow this case through the appellate courts, because a reversal would seem to be the most likely outcome.

In the meantime, if the jury thought that their verdict would deter these people from continuing their protests, they are clearly wrong about that:

Shirley Phelps-Roper said the verdict made her 50th birthday yesterday a happier one. She said the verdict would help the church, many of whose members are from the Phelps family, get its message out.

“We’re making new signs: ‘Thank God for $10.9 million.’ Listen to that amount. It’s so laughable,” she said. “It was all I could do not to laugh. You guys think you can change God?”

Like I said, I find these guys offensive and stupid, but that doesn’t mean they should be punished for being either.

Update: Greg at Rhymes With Right makes an excellent point about this verdict:

I already see the next suit — filed by some pro-abortion woman against picketers in front of the local abortion clinic After all, doesn’t she have the right to seek medical care unharassed, without her privacy being invaded and emotional damage intentionally inflicted? Or a couple of summers back when local Democrats picketed the home of SwiftVets’ John O’Neill on his daughter’s wedding day — I could see a suit being filed to suppress that speech, which I found disturbing but recognize as constitutionally protected.

Turning what I would submit is already a troublingly vague cause of action like Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and tort law in general into a weapon to suppress politically or personally offensive speech is a dangerous road to go down.

And if you don’t think that cases like the one Greg posits could someday be filed, then you haven’t spent enough time talking to my fellow members of the legal profession.

Internet Free From Taxation For 7 More Years

God help us if Hillary is elected…

Congress approves Internet-tax moratorium

The House unanimously approved a seven-year extension of a moratorium on Internet-access taxes, which the Senate passed last week. The move cleared the way for President Bush to sign it before the current ban expires Thursday.

For consumers, the legislation largely maintains the status quo: No Internet-access taxes except in the nine states that were grandfathered when the ban was first put in place in 1998. California is not among them.

The legislation applies only to Internet-access taxes, not to sales taxes for online purchases. But it addresses a concern by many lawmakers, technology companies and Internet-service providers that consumers could see the same itemized taxes on their Net-access bills that now appear on their phone and TV cable bills. A monthly phone bill can include as much as $10 in taxes.

“This legislation will help keep the cost of Internet access down so that all individuals can continue to use the great informational tool that is the Internet,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said. He and other lawmakers said the legislation would give telecommunications companies the certainty they needed to continue investing in the infrastructure to extend high-speed Internet access throughout the country.

I suppose it’s needless to say that I’m happy about this development. It seems that the proponents of the moratorium were asking for a permanent ban, but even a 7 year extension is a victory, as the longest extension they’d previously secured was 4 years.

However, I saw one interesting piece of the puzzle here, that was, to reuse a word, quite puzzling:

For the young technology industry, the lengthy extension is a legislative victory that shows its clout has grown in Washington during the last decade. Still, the industry continues to have trouble when facing a formidable lobbying opponent.

In this case, it was state and local governments, which were concerned that they could lose the ability to tax phone and TV services as more consumers get them delivered over the Internet. Governors and local officials, who have strong ties to many members of Congress, successfully derailed the push for a permanent ban and got the definition of Internet access changed to make clear that phone and TV services delivered online are taxable. Many state and local governments depend on money from taxing those services.

Very interesting. One can likely make the argument was that the previous taxes on phone service and television lines were related in some way to the government granting monopolies to the providers of those services, and/or related to the infrastructure involved. I’m not sure of the whole history of how telephone and television service taxes arose, but I can’t see them being sold to the public as if using a telephone or watching television were– by themselves– taxable activities.

But that apparently is the argument that must be made to support such an exemption. The telephone service and television service, when provided through the internet, is clearly a component of internet access. To create this exemption, the Governors & states must be arguing that talking on the telephone or watching television– by themselves– are taxable activities regardless of the media over which the signals are delivered.

Let that sink in for a minute. I think the initial concern was the loss of an existing revenue stream to state governments. But in the long term, what are the implications of such an exemption?

Groups such as the National Governors Assn. and the California Assn. of Counties said they knew of no governments planning to tax Internet access, but they argued that a permanent ban would make it difficult to change the definition in the future to avoid exempting other taxable services.

In a change pushed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the legislation also clarifies that services related to Internet access, such as instant messaging, e-mail and personal online storage, are not taxable.

Aha! Clearly this is the camel’s nose in the tent, a way to create the precedence for exemption of services and open the door to taxing them in the future. It may be such that “internet service” in the future remains tax-free, but I highly doubt that the services provided over the internet will remain free from taxation.

The internet tax is highly unpopular. After all, this is a service that we’ve all been enjoying tax-free for years, and for governments to all of a sudden offer to increase the price of the service through taxation is one that doesn’t go over too well in American homes and offices. But as long as something remains tax-free, politicians can’t sleep at night, and they’re constantly dreaming up ways to get their claws in. Call this a success in that the moratorium was extended, but keep a wary eye on where things go from here, or you’ll soon find that your “tax-free internet service” seems to involve sending a lot of money to your state capitol and to Washington DC.

Zogby: 52% Of Americans Would Support A Strike On Iran

The latest Zogby poll has bad news for those of us who think that preemptive military action against Iran would portend worse consequences for the United States than the Iraq War has:

A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows.


Democrats (63%) are most likely to believe a U.S. military strike against Iran could take place in the relatively near future, but independents (51%) and Republicans (44%) are less likely to agree. Republicans, however, are much more likely to be supportive of a strike (71%), than Democrats (41%) or independents (44%). Younger likely voters are more likely than those who are older to say a strike is likely to happen before the election and women (58%) are more likely than men (48%) to say the same – but there is little difference in support for a U.S. strike against Iran among these groups.

There are, I think, several reasons for these results.

First, most Americans, quite rightly, seem to believe that allowing a regime like the Islamic Republic of Iran to possess weapons of mass destruction would be contrary to the interests of the United States. I agree with this to the extent that, to me, it isn’t important whether Iran could threaten the mainland United States or not; the prospect of an Iranian regime in possession of nuclear weapons and thus possessing a significant strategic advantage over all of its neighbors with the exception of Israel and Pakistan (and Pakistan’s nuclear program exists primarily as a counter to India’s) would not be good for the Middle East or the world as a whole.

Second, we’re talking about Iran here, and the memory of the American public runs deep. November 4, 1979 isn’t that long ago; and Iran’s role in things such as the Marine Barracks bombing in Lebanon and other terror attacks in the 80’s and 90’s is fairly clear.

Finally, even though they have largely come to the conclusion that the Iraq War was a mistake and that we need to disengage, poll results like these are a fairly strong indication that the American people are not isolationist and would not necessarily endorse a foreign policy that could basically be summed up as “bring all the boys home from everywhere,” or support a candidate who advocated such a strategy.

The same poll also indicates that the War on Terror could play a role in the 2008 election:

As the possibility the U.S. may strike Iran captures headlines around the world, many have given thought to the possibility of an attack at home. Two in three (68%) believe it is likely that the U.S. will suffer another significant terrorist attack on U.S. soil comparable to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – of those, 27% believe such an attack is very likely. Nearly one in three (31%) believe the next significant attack will occur between one and three years from now, 22% said they believe the next attack is between three and five years away, and 15% said they don’t think the U.S. will be attacked on U.S. soil for at least five years or longer. Just 9% believe a significant terrorist attack will take place in the U.S. before the next presidential election.

In 2004, it was public misgivings about John Kerry’s ability to lead the nation in the War on Terror that, largely, gave the election to Bush. What impact continued anxiety over future terrorist acts, whether those fears are justified are not, is unclear, but it would seem to suggest that a candidate who emphasized such issues would have an advantage.

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