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Gordon Campbell on the bogus Syrian peace deal, and Scalia

Gordon Campbell on the bogus Syrian peace deal, and Judge Antonin Scalia

The good thing about the Syrian peace deal announced on Friday is that it might create a small space for humanitarian relief, but… the ceasefire is clearly a sham. Russia has agreed to stop fighting for a week, as long as it can make an exception for all the people it has actually been fighting. Russia has declared that it will keep on fighting Islamic State, the al-Nusra Front, the Freemen of Syria, and the Army of Islam – ie, all the main rebel forces in the Syrian civil war. Russia would spare only those mythical ‘moderates’ that the West wants to encourage, but who rarely show up on the battlefield. Also, Russia says it intends to take Aleppo from Islamic State and its ilk, as soon as possible. Not much room for peace on that busy schedule. Any space for humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees will be within a context where Russia will be creating more of them, from around Aleppo.

Talking of Aleppo, if these guys qualify as moderates, they've just been given new weapons – Grad missiles – by their good friends in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the CIA. So you can bet that they will be re-defined as ‘terrorists’ by Russia, and bombed to pieces accordingly, in their hideouts in east Aleppo. Meanwhile, Syrian tyrant Bashir Assad has just repeated his intention to re-take the entire country and Saudi Arabia has just restated its intention to overthrow the Assad regime by force.

So far, the Saudis have been the main losers from the “peace deal.” Beforehand, they had been huffing on the sidelines about the military advances being made by the Syrian Army (and its Iranian allies) under Russian air cover… and were even threatening a military intervention in Syria. That nightmare prospect would see Russia and Iran pitted against the Saudi kingdom; in which case, US President Barack Obama would come under intense pressure to defend the Saudis. With good reason, Russia has described the mooted Saudi intervention as a “World War III” scenario. So…if it can help to avert that outcome, even a sham peace deal should be encouraged.

Antonin Scalia, R.I.P

In death, Justice Antonin Scalia is already being canonized as a larger-than-life loveable old codger whose intellectual brilliance and pep somehow condoned his jeering contempt for the rights of minorities, women and their access to abortion. Only last November, Scalia was suggesting that courts had invented a homosexual minority that had “ rights.” True, Scalia wasn’t a one note conservative dullard like his bench-mate Clarence Thomas, but the few instances where Scalia put his intellect at the service of the vulnerable – as in his rulings in favour of the free speech rights to desecrate the flag – were far outweighed by his deployment of those same constitutional principles for damaging ends.

Scalia for instance, defended the extension of free speech rights to corporations, and via the same logic (in the Hobby Lobby case) he defended the constitutional “rights” of corporations to override the constitutional rights of their workers to the family planning methods of their choice. Scalia may have become famous for his dedication to a form of constitutional fundamentalism – called “originalism” – which claimed to frame the Supreme Court reading of statutes rulings in terms of what the Founding Fathers intended. (In our neck of the woods, we call this kind of literal judicial thinking “Diceyism”, and there’s a good critique of it by Justice Michael Kirby here.

Even if this form of mindreading was possible (or desirable) in the 21st century, Scalia himself was inconsistent in how he applied it. If you followed Scalia’s logic in the Hobby Lobby case you would arrive at, as this article suggests, a very weird vision of America’s Founding Fathers:

In Scalia’s historical originalist terms, if there had been a tea shop run by two former employees of the British East India Company in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1791, would Thomas Jefferson and James Madison have agreed that under the First Amendment religion clauses its owners could have imposed their Church of England religious views on their American employees in opposition to a federal law dealing with the personal autonomy choices of their workers? Of course not. It is hard to imagine that the same people who fought and won a revolution against the economic enterprises of King George III and Parliament, believed that the Bill of Rights were intended to protect the free speech and religion rights of such corporations.

Finally, Scalia’s death should enable Barack Obama to appoint a more liberal candidate to the Supreme Court, and thereby change its conservative/liberal balance. Predictably, Republicans have vowed to block any Obama appointee. Scalia, surely, would be amused to trigger such a crisis. The constitutional right of a sitting President to name a Supreme Court replacement is something that the Founding Fathers clearly stated and defended. Yet it is being brushed aside by the very same Republicans who are already canonising Scalia, and who worship at the altar of the Constitution and the aims of the Founding Fathers – but clearly, that’s only when it suits them politically to do so.

Gavin Friday

Now in his mid 50s, the Irish painter/actor/ musician Gavin Friday has a pretty impressive and diverse track record. He co-composed the score for Jim Sheridan’s movies The Boxer, In America and In The Name of the Father, on which he shared the composing credits with his childhood chum, Bono. He’s also worked on film projects with Quincy Jones. In 2007, he and the English composer Gavin Bryars teamed up with the Royal Shakespeare Company in a production that radically re-interpreted some of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

This striking video is for the track “Able” from Friday’s fifth album, released in 2011.

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