A Matter of Sovereignty

Let me say up front that I agree with David Cameron: Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi should not have been released from prison. I think he was a fall guy for what was a Libyan government planned and executed operation, but he was convicted and barring a successful appeal, he should have stayed in prison.  However, I think the U.S. Senate is way out of line in investigating his release.

This goes back to my most recent post: it is consistently the view of the US government – at least of the Executive and Legislative branches – that the sovereignty of other countries is always secondary to American interests. The Senate has invited Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, Scottish prison health director Andrew Fraser, former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair to appear before it to answer questions as to how and why Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate ground. (This despite the fact that Blair had been out of office for nearly two years at the time of the release.)

Though I have no political affinity to any of the Brits invited, I have to agree with the assessment of Jack Straw:

“It is, in my experience, highly unusual for the legislature of one sovereign state to conduct an inquiry into decisions of another sovereign state, including, as in this case, decisions by a devolved administration on the release of a prisoner. There are therefore important issues of principle here which could affect UK governments of any party, and which will need carefully to be considered before I come to a final view.”

In other words, it is none of their business. The crime occurred over Scottish airspace. Even if the bomb was put on the plane somewhere else, at no time in question was the plane in the United States or its airspace. Neither was it even in international airspace, as the death of 11 Scots killed on the ground in Lockerbie made clear. Scotland had jurisdiction then and it has jurisdiction now. It may come as a shock to a lot of Americans, but killing Americans somewhere in the world does not give the government of the United States jurisdiction over that place or the power to investigate their killing. If Americans leave the sovereign territory of the United States, they assume the risk that they may come to harm without the US Government having the right to vindicate their cause.

Perhaps it is David Cameron’s admission that the UK is the junior partner in the Special Relationship both now and for at least the past 70 years that has emboldened the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to think its senior status carries some sort of weight.

Even if, as has been strongly insinuated by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, BP lobbied – or even, as has been suggested – bribed UK or Scottish officials or ministers, it is not the business of the US Senate. That is true even though BP is responsible for that terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and apparently needs to be punished further, whatever excuse can be found. If there has been impropriety, it is for the UK government to investigate.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, since 67 British people died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker, has been tortured and charges against him have been dropped, re-instated, and dropped again.  Should the British Government open an inquiry and invite US officials to appear before it to answer for how they have dealt with it? Should British parliamentarians and ministers be demanding explanantions? If the American public learned of such an inquiry – that is, if the American press even took it seriously enough to report it – the public would be everything from bemused to outraged that another country would think it had jurisdiction to demand American officials explain themselves.

Sovereignty is sovereignty. It’s time the US respected the sovereignty of other nations to the extent it demands respect for its own.

Why I’m Giving Up My American Citizenship

This might have been a better post for the Fourth of July, but most readers were probably out watching the fireworks and wouldn’t have seen it. So perhaps it is better to write it and post it today.

Yes, it’s true. Soon I will no longer be an American citizen.  Don’t worry, I won’t be a British citizen either. I’m giving up both citizenships. But then again, so are you. Whichever one you have. The reason is very simple. I’ll be dead and so will you. Heaven doesn’t take passports. Hell doesn’t either for that matter. (And if you are one of my atheist friends who doesn’t believe in either and thinks you will just cease to exist, annihilation brings loss of citizenship, too. But I’m going to continue in a Christian perspective…)

I say soon, because this life is but a moment, whether you live one year or one hundred. Kerry Livgren described us as dust in the wind. Moses, in Psalm 90, says were are like grass that grows up in the morning and in the evening whithers away.

Even in that moment, it will have mattered very little. If there was pride to be had in American citizenship, I think I could have it. I could sound like St Paul in Philippians 3:5 describing his Jewishness. I am of the stock of the United States, of the state of Texas, an American of the Americans; concerning the law a Strict Constructionist; concerning zeal, persecuting the liberals; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, a law-abiding citizen. I can trace my lineage in North America to before the American Revolution several times over.

If God has so chosen, I may be an American for another 46 years, maybe even a bit longer. I’m going to be stateless for eternity. In between is the Judgement Seat of Christ. As far as I know, the relative zeal of my flag waving will not be mentioned. My committment to national sovereignty probably won’t be challenged. There may not even be a query about whether I supported and defended the Constitution. Now I don’t know all the questions that Jesus is going to ask me or you, so you may dismiss this as pure speculation. However, I believe there is a practice exam with the correct answers in Matthew 25.

For as long as I’m an American and living inside the United States, I will participate in civic activities, including voting in elections for those candidates I think will best preserve the good things about the United States for future generations of blown dust and whithering grass. After all, living in the US provides one of the best opportunities for a life of relative ease and safety and modern conveniences. And liberty and justice for all, of course.

Now as I understand it, this life of relative ease and safety and modern convenience is a scare commodity and can’t be spread too thin, or people start to suffer. Well, not suffer, exactly, but their quantum of relative ease and modern convenience could be marginally reduced. Therefore if anyone is going to be allowed come along and enjoy it (along with that liberty and justice for all, of course), they need to prove that they will be net contributors, and we’ve set up rules to make sure that’s the case.

People who arrive with needs will only be a drain on the whole system of relative ease and modern convenience (though not necessarily on liberty and justice for all, but that’s secondary, really). So as it has been explained to me by those with minds greater and sharper than my own, it is my civic duty to keep them out. An example of drain is having to print things in other languages. (I’m guessing this causes massive demands on both the ink and paper industries, with a domino effect on the rest of the economy.) A country needs to have everyone speak and write one language. Otherwise we end up like Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK. Where would we be then? Even if some people get in who have needs, but I’m sure Jesus is going to understand if we insisted that they learn English first.

Real Americans don’t like socialism. Except for Social Security. Even the most conservative Republicans will not touch the socialist/ponzi scheme that is Social Security. It is possible that those who come here to drain the system will end up getting a Social Security number, working forty quarters, paying in, and drawing benefits. Benefits that are for American citizens who worked forty quarters and paid in. There’s no actual legislation pending that would give the drainers a chance to do this, but all good Americans are upset that it could happen, and I’m sure Jesus understands that.

Social Security is one thing, but health care is another. While we tolerate providing minimal health care to the poorest of the poor, people who arrive with needs have been known to receive health care this way. Once again, they are putting a drain on the relative ease of those born here or invited here because they are net contributors.  Jesus understands this.

I hope so, because after I give up my American citizenship, I will have to answer for how I used it. No, there won’t be questions on the flag, sovereignty and the Constitution, but there is an awful lot covered on that practice exam in Matthew 25.

In sermons, my father often quotes a couplet from his childhood for which the source is unknown, but the sentiment entirely biblical:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last

What’s done for Christ?

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.

Standing before Christ, it may be possible to plead that while being personally supportive of those in need, volunteering at the soup kitchen, putting change in the poor box at church, and sending a check to the charity of your choice (those people who look after other people for a living so as not to interfere with your relative ease and convenience), as a voting member of the State, your civic duty was to look after the relative ease and modern convenience of your former fellow citizens and keep others away from liberty and justice for all, at the point of a gun or the barbed wire of a fence if necessary.

You go ahead and try that approach. I’ll have enough on my plate that I won’t have a chance to look over, give you that Sarah Palin wink and say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

American Pride

Soon the season of patriotism will be upon us. Memorial Day will be followed shortly by Flag Day and the Fourth of July. Songs of civic glory will cause chests to swell. My children will cringe as always when I burst spontaneously into “America the Beautiful”.

However, you may cringe when I say I am not proud to be American. No, not the liberal “I’m ashamed of all the bad things my country has done” hogwash. But honestly, how can I take pride in an accident (or Providence) of birth? For the record, I’m not proud to be British either. There is no great accomplishment in living in a place long enough to be allowed to pay the government a substantial amount of money for the right to live there whenever I choose and vote.

Most national pride is an attempt to take some measure of credit for someone else’s meritorious actions. I recently heard an American mention to a Brit, “If it wasn’t for us, you’d be speaking German.” It was as if he had led a platoon onto the beaches of Normandy. We all want to be along for the ride. That would be the ride in the ticket-tape parade, not the the ride in amphibious landing craft or the armored personnel carrier.

There is a big difference between pride we assume for ourselves and the pride we have in others. The biblical example of the latter is voice of the Father at the baptism of Jesus saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The biblical examples of, and admonitions against, the former are manifold. It was, after all, the first sin.

I am not proud to be an American, but I’m  proud of lot of Americans. I’m thankful for my ancestors who fought  in various conflicts to defend their country. Some fought to stop unjust taxation without representation by Parliament and helped to form this nation. Some had to fight their own countrymen who misunderstood the voluntary compact of the US Constitution by the several sovereign states. They fought for a freedom still misunderstood and mischaracterised.

I’m not proud “we” beat the forces of Nazi Germany. I was not there. I am proud of my uncles and others who did, and I’m not ashamed to shed tears standing amongst the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. Lately I’ve been watching The Pacific mini-series and I’m proud of a lot of men who went through a lot of hardship and experienced dreadful things for a just cause.

I’m proud of men today like Capt. Jared Carter. I’ve known him since he was born and pray for him every day.  He and the soldiers for whom he is responsbile do their duty and serve their country wherever they are sent into harm’s way. My pride in them is not diminished by whether I agree with the policy decisions made by the administration of a Commander-in-Chief who often does not seem to look out for the best interests of the nation and of whom I am frequently less than proud.

During patriotism season we often focus on those in uniform, but I’m proud of a lot of other Americans who may not have assisted others in defending freedom, but have contributed in so many ways to make the United States a better place to live. They are farmers and factory workers, entrepreneurs and executives, and others in doubtless countless aliterative couplets of vocations who have made America great. There have even been  those who arrived from elsewhere and were unwelcomed by those already here because they were from Ireland or Italy,  Manchuria or some other place.

Because I have not achieved being an American though any heroics of my own, I am loathe to put stumbling blocks in front of those who have suffered hardship to also enjoy the American way of life. I am proud of those who have taken risks to bring their families to a place where there is greater opportunity for prosperity, even when the risk is being imprisoned and sent away by those who received those opportunities by accident or Providence. (I’m not sure if the greater shame is on those who believe in random chance or those who don’t.)

On the other hand, I’m not proud of those who have passed legislation to place greater (and often insurmountable) demands on those who would share in a prosperity and freedom not of the legislators’ own making. Yet their legislation is backed by the righteous indignation and incredulity of those who can’t understand why some people would rather live in the shadows and margins of America than in the place where, again by chance or Providence, they were born.

While I will try hard not to be proud, I am very thankful that I was born an American. I have been blessed to live most of my life in a place and under a government, that while far from perfect, is pretty good compared to the regimes under which most of the world’s population live. I’m very thankful to have been born American because otherwise it is more than likely I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be one.