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“Arab Spring” – The Morning After

By William Ng | Counterpoint | July 10th, 2013 |

 

We all remember the rallying cry that sparked a wave of revolutions throughout the Arab world.  The people were tired of being held down by oppressive government rulers, and they wanted to be a part of the decision making process. In short, they wanted to become a democratic country.

Through a string of civil protests, uprisings, and civil wars, a handful of countries were able to successfully overthrow their rulers.  It was something the world had marveled at, the beginnings of democratic order that will eventually lead to peace in an often chaotic region of the world.

Here, in the U.S., our eyes were glued to what was happening in the summer of 2011.  The feeling that something grand was happening was inescapable.  President Barack Obama had described this phenomenon as “a historic opportunity” for us “to pursue the world as it should be.”  Some even thought we have finally won the war of ideology with radical groups like Al Qaeda.

It has been two full years since the phenomenon known as the “Arab Spring” began.  Where are these countries now? Was democracy the magical pill that these countries needed?

The answer can be gleamed in the recent crisis in Egypt, where the dubious transition of power that began last week still remains unresolved.  Despite having a constitution that was approved through referendum about half a year ago, the people revolted and whispers of a military coups are running wild.

The process of a thorough democratization process for these countries certainly looks dim.  Most countries in the Arab world (that have “succeeded” since the beginning of Arab Spring) are now struggling to maintain order and to push forward without loosing what they have gained so far.  Aside from social instability, the economic outlook also provides another major road bump.  The region’s economic growth has been sluggish.  According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, majorities in several countries value a strong economy more than a democratic government.  This makes their situation particularly concerning.  Despite all the changes that have occurred,  the region comprising the Middle East and North Africa still remains the least free in the world, with Freedom House estimating that 72 percent of the countries and 85 percent of the people there still lack basic political rights and civil liberties.

I am not saying that authoritarian governments in this region will endure forever.  The series of protests in recent years have shown that changes to their political infrastructures can happen.  The timetable of when and how is still to be determined, and maybe Egypt will be the best example to look at in the meanwhile.  If Egypt does not fall back into chaos, and actually continue with what they had started in 2011, then the outlook is good.

There are some positives with the recent ousting of former President Morsi by the military.  It’s found in the protests that seemed to have lead to the recent events in Egypt (notice that I said “seemed”, time will tell whether this was a coup or not).  The protest was larger than any protest in 2011, and it spoke out against the situation that the Muslim Brotherhood had placed them.  In Egypt, crime rates are higher than it was before.  And truth to be told, Egypt seem to be nowhere better off than it was in 2011.  But the people have found a voice that seem to be much more powerful than it was in 2011, now it’s just a waiting game to see what will be the outcome of the military intervention that had occurred.

Two years into the Arab Spring, we can now look at the situation in its face and call it for what it is.  The truth is that yes, the uprisings of the last two years have certainly challenged authoritarian rule in the Arab world.  But there still exists structural conditions that seem to be preventing further political liberalization in the region.  On top of that, factors such as war, corruption, and economic stagnation could further undermine the Arab Spring progress.

The role of the U.S. in dealing with what is happening has to be realistic.  We are going to have to deal with the Arabic world with what it currently is, not what it was or will be.  We will have to be in bed with some unsavory nations, but we have to focus on attainable goals.  That does not mean we should give up either, it merely means that we have to help where we can without overstepping.  That is a hard line to discern, something both former-President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama can tell us.

So now that all the glam and make up has come off, and it’s now the morning after.  What the Arab Spring originally looked like still exists… but the truth is that it’s just not as gorgeous and perfect as we thought last night.

 

SCOTUS Decision: I’m Pleading the 5th

By William Ng | Counterpoint | June 26th, 2013 | SHOW COMMENT(1)

On June 17th, the Supreme Court decided to pass a “landmark decision” in regards to Salinas v. Texas which impacts how one can go about claiming the right to not incriminate oneself (otherwise known as “pleading the fifth”).  The decision essentially stated that when an individual is not placed under arrest, the individual must explicitly evoke their 5th amendment right and that simply remaining silent does not mean their right has been evoked.  Depending upon the circumstances, this silence can be used to infer possible guilt of the party in question.

To really understand the context of this ruling, let me first start with a quick background to this decision.

This all started with a murder case conducted in a Texas state court.  In 1992, Houston police officers found two homicide victims.  The investigation had then led officers to Genovevo Salinas. Salinas voluntarily agreed to accompany the officers to the police station, where he was then questioned.  At this time, Salinas was not under arrest and had not been read his Miranda rights.  Salinas had the ability to leave at any point while he was being questioned.

Salinas answered every question until an officer asked him whether the shotgun shells found at the scene of the crime would match the shotgun found in Salinas’ home.  At this point, the defendant fell silent and “looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, clenched his hands in his lap, and began to tighten up” (according to the statements made by the state prosecutor).

A ballistics analysis later matched Salinas’ gun with the casings at the scene.  Police also found a witness who said Salinas admitted to killing the victims.  In 1993, Salinas was charged with the murders, but he could not be found until 15 years later.

During the trial, the prosecution introduced the evidence of Salinas’ silence and body language in response to the question about the gun casings.  Salinas objected, arguing that he could invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.  The trial court admitted the evidence and Salinas was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The question boiled down to whether or not Salinas’ body language is allowed to be presented as evidence.

I say YES!

First of all, Salinas had the ability to leave the questioning period any time he liked.

All of his answers from this questioning period were applicable to be used in court as evidence.  Since he did not leave nor claim his right to not self incriminate, I believe that the answer his body language gave is also admissible in court.

There’s been plenty of dissenting chatter in the public sphere about Supreme Court’s decision to allow this piece of evidence stand.  Personally, I think it’s time for these chatters of dissent to stop. Ladies and gentlemen please plead the fifth!

Now we are all very familiar with our fifth amendment rights.  Just to recap a bit, the pertaining part of the 5th amendment in this case is “No person shall be…compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”.  There are other things the amendment guarantees such as our right in regards to double jeopardy, due process, and eminent domain. The important thing here to focus on is the ability to not self incriminate.

Some people will argue that to not self incriminate is a natural right.

I think they are only partially right.

If one really focused on the language of the Constitution, the key word is compelled.  We are allowed the right to not be forced into incriminating ourselves but that does not stop you from doing it freely.

The Miranda rights are read to you because you are in custody, and you can’t just get up and leave.  If you had incriminated yourself without explicitly knowing your rights under these conditions, the law enforcement officers are essentially forcing incriminating evidence out of you.

Under a different circumstance where you basically waltz into a police department and partake in a questioning period willingly then… anything you say or may do are going to be used against you! (sound familiar?)

There has been all types of people have used their 5th amendment rights in the past, and some of them have gotten off clean while others haven’t.  People such as Don King, Colone Oliver North, Casey Anthony, and even O.J. Simpson have all claimed their right to not incriminate themselves when they were questioned, as well as they should have (and O.J. I’m talking about you especially).

Look, we have all watched enough Law and Order and CSI to know that when you are being questioned, and you get asked that one question where you might start to incriminate yourself…

What do you do?

You shut up and ask for a lawyer.

Salinas paid for his slip up during the questioning period, and he couldn’t answer because he got nervous.  The police had hit the nail on the head.  If he was really trying to evoke his 5th amendment right, we would definitely all be made aware of it (it’s really not that hard).  He got nervous and couldn’t answer because the bullet casings did fit his shotgun.  He got nervous and couldn’t answer because he did murder two innocent people in their own home.  He got nervous and couldn’t answer probably because he started planning for his 15 years of hide-and-seek with law enforcement.  

The take away from this Supreme Court decision?

You have the right to not self-incriminate.

USE IT.