Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Steve King Isn't Racist, Just Ignorant

Steve King is getting some heat for referring to then-Senator Obama as a "very, very urban senator" on the floor of the House today, in reference to a farm bill Obama introduced that would correct discrimination against black farmers. Bloggers saw racism in the "very, very urban" comment, but King defends himself in National Review:
For his part, King is flabbergasted. “I had hard time figuring out what they meant,” he tells National Review Online. “If you’re determined to be offended, I can guess you are determined to find offense in anything.”

What did he really mean? “If Barack Obama had been a rural senator, within a state that had a significant amount of black farmers, he would have introduced this bill,” King explains. “But it’s pretty obvious to me that he didn’t have a legislative interest in this that could have been rooted in his Illinois constituency."

Ever been to Illinois? Get outside of Chicago and its suburbs, and it is thousands of square miles of the flattest farmland you have ever seen. It's boring. It makes Nebraska look charming. It's an agricultural state -- and ag interests were thus part of Obama's portfolio when he went to the Senate. There is no senator from just Chicago, after all.

Steve King is from neighboring Iowa. He surely knows all of this. His defense is that he's not racist, but that he's completely ignorant of his own region. That doesn't seem like a good defense.

I wouldn't bother with this. Fights over ambiguous references to race aren't usually fruitful. But man, Steve King's defense just is so insulting to the intelligence. I couldn't let it go.

The Legal Case Against Wikileaks

Kevin Drum: "In any case, I doubt the United States has any legal recourse against Assange or WikiLeaks. Assange is an Australian national not living in the U.S. and WikiLeaks is a distributed site not dependent on any single country's goodwill. What's more, despite some huffing and puffing to the contrary, I find it extremely unlikely that Assange has actually broken any existing laws. Perhaps new laws could be written, but it's hard for me to conceive of a law prohibiting actions like this that was both (a) effective and (b) not so broad that even Bill Kristol would oppose it. The United States has considerable control over actions by its own citizens on its own territory, but not over noncitizens who reside overseas and work primarily in cyberspace."

Wikileaks and the Toughness Meme

I keep seeing comments like this: "Assange is a rank coward.  If he really wanted to show his bravery, he should expose the secrets of Russia, or China.  There’s plenty of dirt there from the trafficking of the organs from imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners to the murder of Russian investigative journalists.  But no, he targets the US, because he knows that if he went after Russia or China, her would be dead in two days.  Instead he attacks the US, a country that respects the rule of law and will not come after him until we can make a reasonable legal case against him. "

Even granting the premise, the correct answer to this is: so what? The United States is the biggest power in the world, with troops in more than 100 countries and the power to influence (if not steer) the destinies of many more. What our government does, then, is of interest -- not just to taxpaying citizens, but to the entire world. The United States might not be quite as willing to assassinate Julian Assange for digging into its secrets, but that fact doesn't make our secrets any less relevant to many people around the world. Julian Assange isn't tough enough to go after the Russians? Really, who cares?

Let The Public Have Its Say

This Inky editorial is dripping with the right amount of sarcasm.

Elmer Smith and Wikileaks

I don't get this point from Elmer Smith about Julian Assange:
"But if this is an act of civil disobedience, he should be willing to face the consequences, the way Freedom Riders did when they willingly went to jail for defying unjust Jim Crow laws. Assange, on the other hand, seems willing to let Pfc. Bradley Manning rot in jail. Manning is being held in military detention for allegedly passing the cache of documents off to him while Assange seeks asylum in a place without an extradition treaty with the U.S."

I don't know. Civil disobedience is an act of defying the authorities. Getting arrested by them proves that they have the authority, but if you see your actions in terms of power and resistance, I'm not sure why it would be noble to defy the authorities and then submit yourself to them for punishment. Why be a martyr if you can keep on fighting?

UPDATE: A friend comments: "Yeah, that Rosa Parks totally had the wrong idea."

Er... let me clarify. What Rosa Parks did was noble and, ultimately, empowering. It was also probably the right strategy for the time and place: Submitting to arrests worked, ultimately, to shame the authorities who were acting oppressively. But while that's the most prominent example of civil disobedience in our society, it's not the only model. And if you grant that Assange sees himself in this mode, as Smith does, I'm not sure why you'd advocate that it's the right model for him -- aside, of course, from the fact that Smith merely wants to see Assange behind bars.

Quote of the Day!

Philadelphia Daily News:
"'Brian didn't receive oral sex from calves; he only lawfully possessed firearms,' Nappen said."

Philly Police Crime Watch

Tyrone Wiggins goes on trial today:
"Wiggins, a former Marine and volunteer youth-karate instructor, retired from the police force Nov. 18, 2009, one day before he was arrested after a two-year investigation by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau.

The investigation was launched when the woman told authorities how Wiggins had befriended her family when she was 10 and she began taking karate lessons from him at the Olney Recreation Center.

She told of how - when she was 12 - Wiggins allegedly began raping her regularly at the recreation center, at her home, at his house on Chew Avenue near Front Street, in hotels and in his van in Fairmount Park.

She told of how - when she was 18 - he allegedly began to beat her, even causing an eye to swell shut."

There's an amazing, maybe uplifting element to this story: The woman Wiggins is accused of raping all those years? She's a cop now.

Philly's War on German Christmas

I think I know what the letters to the editor are going to be about for the next few days...:
"It's that season again, which means that for the third year in a row, the German Christmas Village has set up a cozy collection of wooden booths and tree vendors in Dilworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall.

But a few shoppers noticed something amiss yesterday on the tall metal archways signaling the entrances to the shops. The archways had just one word on top - 'Village.'

Sounds festive, eh?

It turns out that the letters spelling 'Christmas' were removed yesterday afternoon from the archways on the north and west sides of the plaza, at the request of Managing Director Richard Negrin. They will be replaced with the word 'Holiday.'

City spokesman Mark McDonald said Negrin asked for the change after the city received complaints from workers and residents."

Meh. I can't bring myself to get as worked up as the talk radio hosts are surely going to get today, but then again I think it's important for city government not to favor one religion over another -- and I'd rather it tred carefully, even a bit stupidly, in being faithful to that precept. Rather than make them change the name, though, the city could've done two things: make the German Christmas villagers go elsewhere next year, or make sure that every religious group gets a chance to publicly celebrate its major holidays at Dilworth Plaza. The city's action -- after hosting the village for two years already -- seems designed to elicit the maximum anger possible.

Would You Buy Your Kid A Michael Vick Jersey?

Vick is having a great season for the Eagles, but not so good that Dom Giordano has forgotten why Vick went to federal prison: "The Vick jersey has a way to go before it reaches the status of an acceptable jersey for kids to wear. I think his rehabilitation should go through three stages, and he's only just coming out of stage two."

This isn't a problem for me. We don't really watch football. And we really don't watch the Eagles. If my son ends up an Eagles fan, much less a Vick fan, it will be an act of rebellion.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Netflix Queue: Casino

Three thoughts about "Casino"...

* This seems like a Martin Scorcese movie that he decided to direct in the style of Martin Scorcese. Gangster voiceovers? Check? Montages? Check. "Gimme Shelter?" Check. Joe Pesci throwing a tantrum and dying horribly? Check. It verges on self-parody.

* This movie is so montage- and voiceover-driven, in fact, that it seems that music and exposition really substitute for character development and storytelling. As a result, "Casino" doesn't feel like a movie so much as it feels like pieces of a movie that were pasted together.

* That said, the movie looks great. It's fun to watch De Niro and Pesci play off each other. It's fun to remember that Sharon Stone was once a bona fide movie star. It's fun to see Don Rickles play it straight. And minor Scorcese is generally better-crafted than 95 percent of the crap that's out there. What else was I gonna watch? "Human Centipede?"

Philly Police Corruption Watch

Philly.com: "A Philadelphia police officer was arrested this weekend for domestic assault on his girlfriend, making him the 17th cop arrested in the department in little more than a year."

Bill Keller on Wikileaks

The New York Times editor explains himself:
We get to decide (to cover the documents) because America is cursed with a free press. I’m the first to admit that news organizations, including this one, sometimes get things wrong. We can be overly credulous (as in some of the reporting about Iraq’s purported Weapons of Mass Destruction) or overly cynical about official claims and motives. We may err on the side of keeping secrets (President Kennedy wished, after the fact, that The Times had published what it knew about the planned Bay of Pigs invasion) or on the side of exposing them. We make the best judgments we can. When we get things wrong, we try to correct the record. A free press in a democracy can be messy.

But the alternative is to give the government a veto over what its citizens are allowed to know. Anyone who has worked in countries where the news diet is controlled by the government can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted remark that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers. And Jefferson had plenty of quarrels with the press of his day.

As for why we directed our journalistic attention to these cables, we hope that will be clear from the articles we have written. They contribute to our understanding of how American foreign policy is made, how well it is working, what kind of relationships we have with allies and adversaries. The first day’s articles offered the richest account we have yet seen of America’s attempts to muster a regional and global alliance against Iran; and disclosed that the State Department has increasingly put its diplomats in the uncomfortable position of gathering intelligence on diplomatic counterparts. There is much more to come. We sincerely believe that readers who take an interest in America’s conduct in the world will find this material illuminating.

Regarding Wikileaks, Max Boot Gets Silly

He's usually more serious and less silly than this: "Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to."

I don't debate that the Times is an important institution in our public life. Nonetheless, the Times is also not the government. Differing standards are ok, because the Times and the government have different roles to play. That said, if Max Boot wants to publish internal Times correspondence about matters of public concern, I invite him to do so.

Bad Idea: Apple Pulls 'Anti-Gay' App

I can't say I'm thrilled with this:
"After some controversy and complaints, Apple has reportedly pulled an application from the iTunes App Store after claims it was anti-gay. Highlighted by The Huffington Post and others last week due to its reportedly objectionable content, the Manhattan Declaration iPhone application has been quietly removed sometime in the last few days."

Now, I don't really agree with anything that's in the Manhattan Declaration. But it strikes me as a relatively thoughtful statement of mainstream evangelical Christianity's beliefs regarding abortion and marriage. It doesn't call for violence or cast slurs against people who disagree, but it doesn't pussyfoot around its own point of view, either.

I'm fine if such beliefs, regarding gay marriage particularly, are pushed to the fringe. I'm not comfortable trying to silence them entirely. It's Apple's sandbox, so they get to decide who plays in it. But I'd rather be part of a movement that responds to the Manhattan Declaration with forceful -- but respectful -- counterarguments. Hell, I'd rather be part of a movement that ignores the Manhattan Declaration entirely and lets the people behind it do their own thing. I don't want to be part of a movement that tries to erase conservative evangelicals from the digital universe.

And for what it's worth, it's also tactically problematic. Part of the reason for evangelicals' resistance to state-sanctioned gay marriage is because they believe it might infringe on their ability to practice their religion as they believe it. Getting the Manhattan Declaration booted from the App Store confirms that point-of-view, and probably gets conservative Christians to dig their heels in against the otherwise-secular decisions of the state.

Wikileaks: Victor Davis Hanson Makes Stuff Up

VDH writes at The Corner: "Under Bush, press discussion of leaks focused on their embarrassing contents (after all, it was supposedly a higher calling that made brave whistle-blowers release confidential communications emanating from the Bush-Cheney right-wing nexus). In contrast, the press now seems more interested in responses of “How dare they” to the WikiLeaks methodology — as in, how could one be allowed to break laws and leak things from the Obamian State Department, if doing so might harm liberal diplomats, human-rights activists, etc., and embarrass a progressive government?"

Except this is demonstrably not true. Here's the Times' "complete coverage" of the latest round of Wikileaks revelations. Where's the "how dare they?" story? There is none. It's entirely focused on the (ahem) contents of the cables. Here's a roundup of the Washington Post's coverage. Same story. Here's the Guardian's coverage. Same story.

In fact, the main umbrage at the release seems to be coming from Hanson and Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg and ... other people on the right. There's no problem with that. But it would be nice if Hanson didn't make stuff up and offer no supporting evidence whatsoever.

Simon Jenkins on Wikileaks

At The Guardian: "Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets. Were there some overriding national jeopardy in revealing them, greater restraint might be in order. There is no such overriding jeopardy, except from the policies themselves as revealed. Where it is doing the right thing, a great power should be robust against embarrassment."

'Empire' Director Irvin Kershner: RIP

Cinema Blend: "Irvin Kershner, director of the almost universally best-loved Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back, has died at age 87, according to The Associated Press. Taking over for George Lucas to make the sequel to the mega-hit Star Wars, Kershner crafted a film that felt far more grown-up and fully realized than its predecessor, setting a standard for sci-fi and adventure films that carries on to this day."

Wikileaks and Max Boot

Max Boot at Commentary: "One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks."

Boot goes on to commit what Glenn Greenwald has pretty accurately described as mode of operation of Wikileaks critics: He says there's nothing important to be seen here while at the same time warning of terrible consequences for the release of this supposedly inconsequential information.

For me, what's interesting is that Boot wants the New York Times, in particular, to become a much more ideological newsgathering operation than it is. Think about it: The Wikileaks information is out in the public domain. It was going to be whether or not the Times participated in the embargo or not. (And in fact, Wikileaks tried to exclude the Times this time.) What Boot is suggesting then is that the Times refrain on reporting on information that's clearly in the public interest because the potential impact is undesirable. In any other context, he'd rightfully sneer at Times' efforts to keep information from its reading public. In any case, the Times has tried to balance its obligations to citizenship and public-interest reporting by redacting and omitting names from documents it has seen. But just because the government declares something secret doesn't mean it should be. Boot's view of all this is, to use a conservative term that's recently been in vogue, rather statist.

Wikileaks, Valerie Plame and Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg: "Honest question: Is there any prominent person or editorial board (outside of the administration) on the left who made a huge stink about Valerie Plame’s outing who is remotely as horrified by the ongoing Wikileaks travesty?"

I'm not remotely as horrified. Plame's outing, you'll recall, was committed by government officials as vengeance for her husband's truth-telling about the Bush Administration's (er...) missteps getting us into war with Iraq. It was done, in other words, to discourage people from telling the American public what there government was up to. The Wikileaks disclosures are telling the American people what their government is up to. I think one can be horrified by the Plame outing, not horrified by the Wikileaks disclosures, and still be perfectly consistent.

Friday, November 26, 2010

TSA Backlash Watch: Roger Cohen

The Real Threat to America:
"I don’t doubt the patriotism of the Americans involved in keeping the country safe, nor do I discount the threat, but I am sure of this: The unfettered growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A. represent a greater long-term threat to the prosperity, character and wellbeing of the United States than a few madmen in the valleys of Waziristan or the voids of Yemen.

America is a nation of openness, boldness and risk-taking. Close this nation, cow it, constrict it and you unravel its magic."

Turn Market Street East Into Philly's Times Square?

That seems like a bad idea, for a number of reasons -- not least of which is that Philly is Philly and any attempt to "New Yorkize" the part of Market between Seventh and 13th streets seems doomed to fail by dint of drawing side-by-side comparisons, highlighting Philly's inferiority complex with regard to the Big Apple. It even sounds bad when promoters try to make it sound good:
"It's a way to enliven Market Street East and give it a more exciting sense of vitality," said Carl Primavera, an attorney who represents billboard companies.

"Now [conventioneers], get on a bus and go to King of Prussia," Primavera said. "But what if they could go one block to Market Street to do some shopping and then walk over to see the Liberty Bell?"
Now, I think lining up the crassest versions of commercialism alongside America's most treasured historical relics is, well, a perfectly American thing to do. But it also ought to be resisted. The area under discussion is certainly not the finest foot forward to the city's visitors, but it would be nice if there were some other viable option between "urban ennui" and "trying way too hard."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why Don't We Just Invade North Korea?

Jamie Fly talks North Korea at The Corner: "As long as the current despotic regime remains in place, these incidents will continue to occur and the threat of nuclear-weapons proliferation (either to other rogue regimes or to terrorists) will loom large in the fears of Western policymakers. Forcing the current regime from power is the only way to resolve the security and proliferation challenges posed by Pyongyang."

Oh, is that all it takes? Knocking a government out that's been in power for 60 years? That has a huge army and tons of artillery aimed at the capital of a U.S. ally? And replacing it with the government of our choice? No problem! Why didn't anyone think of that sooner? Let's get right on it.

I'm no fan of the North Korean regime -- in fact, I'll go ahead and join George W. Bush in professing my loathing of the government there. It's awful. But the lesson of the last decade should be this: We can't magically make the world the way we want it by knocking over odious regimes. In fact, we can often make things worse! We don't possess the resources to do all the stuff that would remake North Korea to our liking, and history should tell us that neighboring China might not stand for it anyway. If North Korea mounts an invasion, then let's go to war. Short of that, we're going to have to figure out how to manage the situation instead of eliminate it -- and, perhaps, by playing for time, the North Korean regime will collapse from it's own ricketyness, like the Soviet Union did. Chest-beating proclamations like Fly's won't lead to a solution, and in fact actively obscure the path to problem-solving.


I'm thankful to have learned this year that my small family is more resilient in the face of adversity than I'd imagined.

I'm grateful to have discovered how much our community and friends in Philadelphia have come to mean to me.

I'm thankful for a wife who wouldn't let me give up when I wanted to stick my tail between my legs. I'm thankful for a son who regularly gives me kisses on my forehead.

I'm thankful that even in a rough professional year, I've had the pleasure to continue doing the thing I want to do: journalism.

I'm thankful, frankly, for the wisdom and forgiveness of people who have no good reason to offer either to me.

This has been a humbling year, in all senses of the word. But there's more good than bad in it. And I thank all of you, readers and friends. Thank you.

Brother, You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile

Why is this stuck in my head today?

Tom Friedman Sure Can Sound Stupid Sometimes

An editor might've encouraged him to reconsider this opening line.: "For me, the most frightening news in The Times on Sunday was not about North Korea’s stepping up its nuclear program, but an article about how American kids are stepping up their use of digital devices."

Let This Be China's Problem

Reacting to news of North Korea shelling South Korea, Conor Friedersdorf yesterday tweeted: "Can this be the start of when we start thinking of some things as China's problem?"

Good question, and that -- along with today's story about China's difficulties managing North Korea -- raises a good issue for those concerned about the rise of China in the Pacific. That rise is usually portrayed as a challenge to the United States, both in terms of prestige and in access to markets and materials needed to drive the economy. But why can't it also be a process that burdens China with wearying and expensive issues?

Look what being the "world's policeman" has done for the United States. We're stuck in two wars through a combination of folly and, when you get down to it, being the biggest kid on the block. As China becomes one of the other biggest kids on the block, it's going to attract the attention and demands of the same problematic individuals and nations that now make being No. 1 such a pain in the butt for America. Let them have it! And good riddance!

Afghanistan Quagmire Watch

Robert Wright offers up two nuggets of information about the Afghanistan War that make me wince:
• At just over nine years of age, this war is already the longest in American history. And this Saturday we’ll eclipse the Soviet Union’s misadventure in Afghanistan; the Soviets brought their own personal Vietnam to an end after nine years and seven weeks.

• And the cost of the Afghanistan war already exceeds the cost of the Vietnam and Korean Wars combined, even in inflation-adjusted dollars. At $100 billion a year (seven times the gross domestic product of Afghanistan) this war is feeding a deficit that will eventually take its toll in real, human terms.
Wright makes a pretty good case that America's presence in Afghanistan does more to hurt our security than to help it. Read the whole thing.

Philly Schools Don't Have Libraries? Maybe It's Time To Buy iPads For The Students.

I'm still getting to know the city, obviously, because this is shocking to me:
"Nearly half of all city public schools have no libraries, a fact that has long galled Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan.

Tuesday, at a news conference at University City High School, Jordan called for the district to ensure that each of the district's 258 schools was equipped with a library.

'There's nothing more important in educating your children than developing them into great readers,' Jordan said in an interview. 'Librarians work with teachers and help support curriculum across disciplines.'

Students whose schools have libraries score better on crucial standardized tests. And because city libraries have had cutbacks in hours and staff, having such resources in schools is especially crucial now, Jordan said."

As it happens, I recently wrote about a similar situation involving a charter school in Colorado. Pikes Peak Prep addressed its problem by getting iPads for all its students.The idea was to expose kids to current technology while putting an entire library at their fingertips.

“The decision we made was based on: Do we build a library and a science lab, then buy books and a bookshelf and hire a librarian? You can do the math,” said Kevin Teasley, president of the GEO Foundation, an Indianapolis-based charter school management group that runs Pikes Peak Prep. “Or do we look at some more economical approach in which we can achieve essentially the same outcome at a reduced cost to the taxpayer?

I'm not sure whether stocking and maintaining a fleet of iPads in Philadelphia would be more or less than building, stocking and maintaining a series of school libraries. But to shrug your shoulders and cite "budget constraints," as local officials do, means you've given up on the kids who attend those library-less schools.

Philly Convicts Can't Read Or Write

Not sure why this is surprising: "A test of reading skills among inmates in Philadelphia's prison system yielded some worse news than expected: About 25 percent to 30 percent of prisoners read at a second- or third-grade level. The average reading level was at a fourth-grade mark, but city Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla said he had previously assumed that the average was between a sixth- and eighth-grade level."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TSA Backlash Watch: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Oh, come on:
"The next step in tightened security could be on U.S. public transportation, trains and boats.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says terrorists will continue to look for U.S. vulnerabilities, making tighter security standards necessary.

“[Terrorists] are going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through,” Napolitano said in an interview that aired Monday night on 'Charlie Rose.'

“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”"

This isn't going to end well. The ability to move freely about the country -- about one's own city, even -- appears likely to be restricted. Somebody needs to take a deep breath.

How Obama Created The Tea Party

Interesting critique on the London Review of Books. I found this passage gave me the most to think about:
Obama’s largest rhetorical miscalculation – and it bears part of the responsibility for 2 November – was to suppose he could move people to admire and sympathise with government even as he encouraged them to disdain and deprecate politics. By holding himself above politics he cleared a path for an insurgent movement that put itself below politics. Obama echoes Reagan in speaking often of ‘Washington’ in a tone of assumed displeasure. The difference is that Reagan had so little grasp of the details of his administration that the disavowal in a sense showed consistency. For Obama, the same posture is transparently inauthentic. And in a democracy like the United States, as in any representative government, a contempt for politics whets the people’s appetite for sudden remedies.

A Reagan-loving friend of mine isn't so hot on the disparagement there, but otherwise I wonder if this isn't getting at something. In a representative democracy, politics is how we make government go. If you're always grumbling about the mud that you're in, is it any wonder if people think you're a pig?

That said, there are limits to this theory. I still stick with the theory that the Tea Party originated as a gathering of sore losers from the 2008 election; I don't imagine there's much President Obama could've done to win them over.

Murphy Brown and Bristol Palin

I'm not interested in politicizing Bristol Palin's single motherhood. I wish Bristol's mother was the same. Via The Corner, we get news that Sarah Palin has decided to revive the Dan Quayle-Murphy Brown debate: "“I’m biased, of course, but given a choice of role models between Bristol and Murphy Brown, I choose Bristol.”"

Well, sure, if it's a choice between accidental motherhood after you've established a career and and income that can take care of the baby, and accidental motherhood before you've even finished your own childhood, it's not even a contest is it?

Good for Bristol for keeping her child and raising it. And good for the Palin family for supporting Bristol and her child! Seriously. But Sarah Palin's smugness on this issue is a bit much to take.

Glenn Reynolds Advocates Genocide

Instapundit: "JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: North Korea fires artillery barrage on South. If they start anything, I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs. They’ve caused enough trouble — and it would be a useful lesson for Iran, too. We can’t afford another Korean war, but hey, we’re already dismantling warheads. . . ."

TSA Backlash Watch: What Fallows Said

James Fallows:
"Every society accepts some risks as part of its overall social contract. People die when they drive cars, they die when they drink, they die from crime, they die when planes go down, they die on bikes. The only way to eliminate the risks would be to eliminate the activities -- no driving, no drinking, no weapons of any kind, no planes or bikes. While risk/reward tradeoffs vary between, say, Sweden and China, no nation accepts the total social controls that would be necessary to eliminate risk altogether.

Yet when it comes to dealing with terrorism, politicians know that they will not be judged on the basis of an 'acceptable level of risk.' They know that they can't even use that term when discussing the issue. ('Senator Flaccid thinks it's 'acceptable' for terrorists to blow up planes. On Election Day, show him that politicians who give in to terror are 'unacceptable' to us.') And they know for certain that if -- when -- a plane blows up with Americans aboard, then cable news, their political opponents, Congressional investigators, and everyone else will hunt down any person who ever said that any security measure should be relaxed."

This is why I don't expect TSA's measures to be loosened much, if at all. There's not much electoral price to pay for squeezing America's nether regions in the name of "security," and plenty to be paid when an attack happens. It doesn't actually matter if the measures are effective or not; all that matters is that it looks like something is being done.

TSA Backlash Watch: Americans Are Smarter Than Marc Thiessen

Torture apologist Marc Thiessen is enraged by American complacency: "Can any of us imagine the debate we’ve had in recent weeks unfolding in the days immediately following Sept. 11, 2001? Would any of us have objected to the deployment of millimeter-wave scanners had the technology been available then? The current uproar could happen only in a country that has begun to forget the horror of 9/11. Indeed, it appears many in the country have forgotten. A new Washington Post–ABC News poll found that 66 percent of Americans say that “the risk of terrorism on airplanes is not that great.” Sixty-six percent."

Emphasis is Thiessen's. Here's the poll, and the full wording of the question that was asked:
2. Are you personally worried about traveling by commercial airplane because of the risk of terrorism, or do you think the risk is not that great? (IF WORRIED) Would you say you are very worried or only somewhat?

If two-thirds of Americans aren't worried about their flight being part of a terrorist incident, it's because they're being entirely rational. Nate Silver actually did the odds on all of this about a year ago:
The odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

Now Thiessen perhaps adhere's to Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine" approach to security matters, which suggests that if there's a one percent chance of a bad thing happening, the United States should treat it as a total certainty. Such thinking led us into a fruitless war against Iraq's WMD program, of course, but nevermind. If one accepts that doctrine, then a person's odds of being on a flight involving a terrorist incident are substantially less than one percent. The disparity between the threat and the resources being marshaled to meet that threat, then, is nearly infinite.

I'm not suggesting that a terrorist incident involving a plane can't or won't happen. But if the last decade has shown us anything, it's that A) it's hard to hijack or attack a plane in the post 9/11 era, because attackers who get past security still have to deal with the passengers and crew of a plane, and boy do those people want to live; and B) there's probably not a real large group of people interested in attacking us anyway. Thiessen gives terrorists too much credit, and the American people too little respect.

TSA Backlash Watch: One Last Thought About Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum worries about the GOP:
"For seven years, Republicans insisted that every security procedure ever conceived was absolutely essential to keeping the American public safe, and anyone who disagreed was practically rooting for an al-Qaeda victory. Now a Democrat is in office and suddenly they're outraged over some new scanners. Helluva coincidence, no? But this is no surprise: this issue works for them on every possible level. In the short term, it gives them something to pound Obama about. In the medium term, it gets the chattering classes chattering about something other than the fact that Republicans have no remotely plausible plan for improving the economy. And in the long term, if a plane does come down, they will absolutely crucify the Obama administration for its abysmal and cavalier approach to national security."

I think there's some truth to what Drum says toward the end of this paragraph. One reason the Obama Administration isn't backing down on this issue, I suppose, is that the political fallout will probably be ferocious if they do and then there's a successful attack.

However: I don't ever want to be in the position of dismissing a civil liberties issue because it otherwise gives undue advantage to one's political rivals. That way lies hackery. Are Republicans making hay out of the TSA backlash? Sure. Do I care? Not so much. Maybe they're doing it cynically, but in this case at least they're on the side of angels. It's the principle that matters, not the party.

TSA Backlash Watch: What About The Other Civil Rights?

I've mostly avoided using the TSA backlash as a cudgel against conservatives because A) they're on the same side of this issue and B) it seems to be a teachable moment about the broader issues of civil liberties versus security. Adam Serwer, though, detects tribal privilege at work in the current controversy: "Of course, if you're Sami el-Hajj, it's perfectly cool for the government to violate your dignity by shoving you into an island prison for seven years without charge.  There's no mystery here. The application of constitutional rights, for some conservatives, is a completely tribal affair. What's really frustrating of course, is the lack of recognition of the connection between justifying the imprisonment el-Hajj faced and the TSA procedures Burlingame finds humiliating. It's a long slippery slope, but for first time people like Burlingame see themselves at the end of it."

A Thing Obama Has Done For Gay Rights

I've given the president a hard time over unkept promises with regards to gay rights, so let me praise him for this unambiguous advance: "The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare issued new rules yesterday that require all hospitals that participate in Medicaid and Medicare to allow patients to designate who shall be allowed to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. The order will allow for same-sex partners to have the same rights as other immediate family members. The new rules will be published in the Federal Register on November 19."

There's still more to be done, of course. But that's something that should've happened a long time ago -- and didn't until Obama was president. So good on him.

Mr. Mom Chronicles: An Update

Tobias can't be expected to
interrupt his work to deal with me.
When I first started the "Mr. Mom Chronicles," documenting my new life as a stay-at-home freelance writing dad, I expected it to be cute. Oh, I also expected there to be challenges, but I expected them to be cute challenges, making for entertaining stories that people would smile at and pass along to their friends.

You might notice it's been more than a month since I updated this series.

A little math: Parenting is hard. Work is hard. Combine the two? Days full of exhaustion and never catching up. And I'm afraid it's my son who is paying the price.

Here's what the typical day has been like the last couple of months: I wake up and go straight into office mode. The boy wakes up, generally an hour later. I get him up, diapered and fed, then return to writing mode. This is how we spend the day: I work. He lets me know when he needs something. I yell at him when he does stuff I don't want him to. And we both pray for the moment that momma gets home.

This is where I've done a lousy job: I haven't routinely set aside time that's just me and him. Parenting has been a subset of my day, but I haven't really let it dominate any part of my day, to where other duties -- to myself and my freelance employers -- get put totally aside. The boy, it seems, has been completely screwed by all this.

I stayed home, in part, so that we wouldn't have to resort to daycare. Not just for cost reasons, but because we weren't ready to have him hanging with strangers all day. At the rate I've been going, though, he might be better served by the attention he'd be getting in an institution.


Or I could dedicate myself a bit more to the task of parenting. This morning, I took him to breakfast and then a walk through the neighborhood. Nothing fancy, but it was time that we hung out and I didn't have my nose buried in a computer. I think it was good for him. I know it was good for me. We'll just have to keep on trying.

Richard Cohen On Sarah Palin's Empathy Problem

I think Richard Cohen is on to something here:
It's appalling that Palin and too many others fail to understand that fact - indeed so many facts of American history. They don't offer the slightest hint that they can appreciate the history of the Obama family and that in Michelle's case, her ancestors were slaves - Jim Robinson of South Carolina, her paternal great-great grandfather, being one. Even after they were freed they were consigned to peonage, second-class citizens, forbidden to vote in much of the South, dissuaded from doing so in some of the North, relegated to separate schools, restaurants, churches, hotels, waiting rooms of train stations, the back of the bus, the other side of the tracks, the mortuary, the cemetery and, if whites could manage it, heaven itself.

It was the government that oppressed blacks, enforcing the laws that imprisoned them and hanged them for crimes grave and trivial, whipped them if they bolted for freedom and, in the Civil War, massacred them if they were captured fighting for the North. And yet if African Americans hesitate in embracing the mythical wonderfulness of America, they are accused of racism - of having the gall to know more about their own experience and history than Palin and others think they should.
There's a large sect of the American people for whom the only acceptable narrative of our nation's history is one of ever-greater triumphs. Oh, sure, they acknowledge some bad times in the past, but anybody who lets those bad times define the meaning of "America" -- even in the slightest -- becomes guilty of an "America hatred" that disqualifies them from the mainstream of public discourse.

The irony, of course, is that we Americans spend a huge amount time celebrating our past. There's nothing wrong with this. But it does mean we define ourselves by our collective heritage. That's normal. But Cohen is right: Americans who define themselves by the grimmer moments of our heritage are routinely shunned. We don't want to think about that stuff. We are allowed to be proud that our great-grandfather fought in the war, but we are not allowed to be angry that our other great-grandfather spent a lifetime in bondage, or that his children and grandchildren lived lives that denied them their full personhood. It's an unbalanced approach to life and history.

Me? I think there's far more right about America than is wrong, on balance. But to define that heritage purely in terms of the triumphs, it seems to me, is arrogant and chauvinistic. And it leads us down paths that are bad for the nation. A sense of the possibility of tragedy is, generally, a useful thing.

Palin Is The GOP Front-Runner

Jim Geraghty, Liberal Pundit:
"The two Republicans whose names came up most often on the NR cruise? Sarah Palin and Chris Christie.

In my interactions with only a fraction of the 700+ NR cruisegoers — mostly older, mostly well-off, passionate about politics, and many heavily involved with the tea parties — I found about two-thirds wildly enthusiastic about Sarah Palin; you could hear the gasps when Scott Rasmussen predicted she would not be the 2012 Republican nominee.

...it’s easy to picture a half-dozen GOP candidates quitting the race the day after Palin jumps in. She’ll suck most of the oxygen out of the room, almost all of the media attention, the donations, etc. The 2012 Republican presidential primary could quickly shift from a wide-open free-for-all to a one-on-one match between Palin and the anti-Palin."

Like I said yesterday, the Palin phenomenon is not liberals trying to set the GOP up for 2012 loss. There are lots and lots of Republicans who love her already.

Why Is North Korea Shelling South Korea?

This can't be good:
"South Korea's military is on its highest non-wartime alert level after North Korean troops fired dozens of rounds of artillery on to a populated island near disputed waters, reportedly injuring civilians and soldiers.

It has scrambled F-16 fighter jets to the western sea and returned fire after the North shot off artillery towards South Korean waters and Yeonpyeong at around 2.30pm today, officials said."

Afghanistan Quagmire Watch

New York Times:
"For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chris Christie's Theater of 'Plain Talk'

Part of the intrigue surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is his apparent willingness to dispense with niceties and tell the truth, as he sees it, in unvarnished -- even bullying -- fashion. Jason Zengerle's profile of Christie for New York magazine reveals that these moments, usually distributed widely on YouTube, are actually pretty varnished:
But Christie was holding the town hall to do more than just promote his agenda; he was also trying to gin up some Internet content. While his fellow governors tend to use their official YouTube channels to show ribbon-cuttings and speeches, Christie, a former federal prosecutor who relishes the thrust and parry of political debate, has turned his into a video library of gubernatorial smackdowns—which, after just ten months in office, are already so numerous that his admirers are able to rank their favorites. Like the one he delivered at a town hall in Rutherford, where he told a public-school teacher complaining about her salary that “teachers go into it knowing what the pay scale is” and that if she didn’t like what she was being paid, “then you don’t have to do it.” Or another he dished out to a reporter who asked him about his “confrontational tone.” “You must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America,” Christie replied, “because you think that’s a confrontational tone? Then you should really see me when I’m pissed.”

Almost everywhere Christie goes, he is filmed by an aide whose job is to capture these “moments,” as the governor’s staff has come to call them. When one occurs, Christie’s press shop splices the video and uploads it to YouTube; from there, conservatives throughout the country share Christie clips the way tween girls circulate Justin Bieber videos. “The YouTube stuff is golden,” says Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “I can’t tell you how many people forward them to me.” One video on Christie’s YouTube channel—a drubbing he delivered to another aggrieved public-school teacher at a town hall in September—has racked up over 750,000 views.
I don't have any reason to believe that Christie is anything other than sincere when he delivers his rants against school teachers. But the fact that he goes looking for teachers to shout at on camera surely makes Christie seem much less like a roll-up-his-sleeves-and-tell-it-like-it-is ingenue and more like an old-fashioned pol who's figured out a 21st century way of creating his own free advertising for the Christie brand. This shouldn't be surprising: You don't get to be governor of a state as big as New Jersey without a certain level of ego and cunning. But it does make Christie's videos -- previously a source of fascination for me -- a little less interesting, a bit more tawdry. Chris Christie, it turns out, is just filming a reality show for the Republican Party. He's the Puck of New Jersey politics.

'Buffy' Gets A Movie Remake. Without Joss Whedon.

EW.com: "Today, Warner Bros. announced plans to remake 1992′s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which gave birth to the much-loved Sarah Michelle Gellar-headed TV series (which we all still worship unashamedly)."

As it happens, 2010 was my year of "Buffy" immersion. I watched the entire series on Netflix Instant, then went back -- for the first time in 16 years -- and watched the original movie staring Kristy Swanson. What's remarkable about that movie is that you can see a lot of great elements in it (and certainly, Paul Reubens' performance makes the movie worth watching on its own) but it never quite comes together. The people who made that movie are making the remake, not the people who made the TV series. I don't expect the new flick to be much good, either.

TSA Backlash Watch: Talking With My Dad

TSA administrator John Pistole is making vague noises about backing down from the invasive security measures his agency is undertaking at the nation's airports. While we wait to see if those noises turn into action on this Thanksgiving holiday travel week, I decided to talk to the person I know who travels more than any other: My dad.

David Mathis is the senior vice president for sales and marketing at Golden Heritage Foods, located in my hometown of Hillsboro, Kan. He gets on a plane a couple of dozen times a year -- something he's been doing for, well, a couple of dozen decades now. And he's not all that bothered by the TSA's procedures. Weirdly, he agreed to let me interview him about this. Take a listen.

TSA Backlash Watch: The Shirt Off His Back

The TSA Blog:: "A video is being widely circulated showing a shirtless boy receiving secondary screening from a Transportation Security Officer (TSO). A passenger filmed the screening with their cell phone and posted the video on the web. ... It should be mentioned that you will not be asked to and you should not remove clothing (other than shoes, coats and jackets) at a TSA checkpoint. If you're asked to remove your clothing, you should ask for a supervisor or manager."

Will Saletan Is Wrong About Kinect and the Future of Innovation

While I'm in the business of talking about Slate's Will Saletan, let's examine this tweet: "Microsoft yields to the unpredictable creativity of the collective human mind. http://j.mp/d0KTB5 This, not R&D, is the future of innovation"

Follow the link, and you'll find this morning's Times story about how hackers are taking Microsoft's new Kinect technology and taking it places that Microsoft didn't expect. Some of those places are really cool. But Saletan's wrong to cast the future of innovation in either-or terms. It was a big huge company, Microsoft, that created the foundational technology and the people at home who are taking it new places. That would suggest that the future of innovation isn't just in big research labs or in somebody's home office, but in both places, building off the possibilities revealed by the other.

TSA Backlash Watch: William Saletan's Backlash

Slate's William Saletan grumbles about the "imbecils" protesting scanners and pat-downs: "Wednesday is the busiest air travel day of the year, and a horde of paranoid zealots—techno-libertarians, Tea Partiers, rabble-rousers, Internet activists, and congressional demagogues—has decided to make it even worse."

Saletan can get away with this string of insults because he's arguing against straw men. He disdains the health argument against the scanners, which is fine: I don't really buy that line of reasoning myself. But he invokes the menace of the underwear bomber -- all while failing to mention that it's questionable whether the scanners would've detected the underwear bomber in the first place.

And he grumbles about the idea that "National Opt-Out Day" will make air lines slower and air travel less secure. We'll see about that. Certainly, I'd agree that there needs to be a balance between keeping the system running smoothly and safely, and letting passengers retain a sense of liberty and dignity. Saletan treats the last consideration as though it's completely negligible in light of the first two factors. It's not, or at least it shouldn't be.

The Coming GOP Overreach

Republicans like to say that Barack Obama overinterpreted the mandate of the 2008 election. It's easy to see that Republicans are about to start doing stuff the voters didn't really intend:
"Liberal groups in Wisconsin are bracing for a fight over contraception coverage under Medicaid. Battle lines are being drawn over sex education in North Carolina. And conservatives in several states intend to try to limit the ability of private insurers to cover abortions.

Social issues barely rated in this year's economy-centric midterm elections. More than six in 10 voters who cast ballots on Election Day cited the economic downturn as their top concern, according to exit polls. And this year was the first in more than a decade in which same-sex marriage did not appear on a statewide ballot.

But major GOP gains in state legislatures across the country - where policy on social issues is often set - left cultural conservatives newly empowered"

The voters were thinking economy. The GOP is thinking about gay marriage and abortion. Let us know how that works out for you, Republicans.

The Party of 'Real America'

Slatest: "November's elections showed that the country is getting increasingly politically divided. Unlike the big GOP win in 1994, Republicans this time around won back the House without any real help from metropolitan areas, which remained largely Democratic. The GOP gains came mostly in districts 'that were older, less diverse and less educated than the nation as a whole,' notes the Washington Post. The good news for Democrats is that they continue to win among minorities and whites with more education, but they are increasingly losing working-class voters. While that's good news for Republicans it's also a shrinking percentage of the electorate."

Facebook Makes You Have Threesomes Before Facebook Was Invented

The Guardian:
"A pastor who said Facebook was a 'portal to infidelity' – and told married church leaders to delete their accounts or resign – once testified that he took part in group sex with his wife and a male church assistant.

Rev Cedric Miller confirmed the information reported yesterday by the Asbury Park Press of Neptune, New Jersey, which cited testimony he gave in court in 2003. The activities had ended by that time."

Difficult not to be mildly amused by a man who creates rules for other's behavior when he's played by rather more expansive rules. But seeing this in the best light: Rev. Miller might be very sincere in wanting to put up barriers to future infidelity for himself and the people around him. He's like the reformed alcoholic who becomes an anti-drinking zealot. (I've known a couple.) Hey buddy: Just because you can't handle the stuff doesn't mean the rest of us can't.

Is Sarah Palin A Liberal Plot?

That seems to be David Boaz's belief:
"Talk about Sarah Palin running for president continues to mount — in the liberal media. Conservatives smile and look away when the topic is raised. They want to watch her on TV, they want to turn out for her lively speeches, but they don’t see her as a president.

Liberals, on the other hand, are jumping up and down at the prospect of a Palin candidacy. She could win! they urgently insist to skeptical Republicans; you should get behind her. Don’t throw us Democrats in that Palin briar patch! The latest example is the star columnist of the New York Times, Frank Rich. His Sunday column is titled “Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha.” Palin’s got a huge television presence, Rich says — 5 million viewers for her new TLC series. Which is slightly less than the 65 million it would take to win a presidential election. She’s running, he says; her upcoming book tour “disproportionately dotes on the primary states of Iowa and South Carolina.” Well, yes, she’s going to both those states, along with 14 others."

Oh, poppycock. Liberals didn't put her on the 2008 ticket. We didn't put her on Fox News. And we're not the ones making her books into bestsellers. We're not in the party that's giving her an 80 percent approval rating. And we're not the ones scouting office space in Iowa for her. There's something going on there, and it's not the left's fault.

Undoubtedly there's a few liberals who would like to see Palin win the GOP nomination because they think she'd be easy for Obama to beat in 2012. I'm not one of those people: I'd like to see the Republican Party put forth a credible, non-demagogic leader who is capable of leading the entire country. But the reason many, probably most, liberals talk about Sarah Palin is because she's clearly connected to the id of the GOP, and would seem to thus have a realistic chance of contending for her party's nomination. A conservative friend says: " I'd wager she raises more money for Democrats than she does for Republicans." And that may be true. But one could say the same thing about Hillary Clinton's profile among Republicans for most of the last 20 years; she nearly became president, and it's not because conservatives were secretly trying to push her into being the Democratic Party's mistake. Sarah Palin is a real phenomenon, but she's not a liberal one.

Afghanistan Quagmire Watch

The Washington Post reports from a refugee camp outside Kabul:
"Helmand refugees living in this squalid camp, known as Charahi Qambar, offer a bleaker assessment. They blame insecurity on the presence of U.S. and British troops, and despite official claims of emerging stability, these Afghans believe their villages are still too dangerous to risk returning.

'Where is security? The Americans are just making life worse and worse, and they're destroying our country,' said Barigul, a 22-year-old opium farmer from the Musa Qala district of Helmand who, like many Afghans, has only one name. 'If they were building our country, why would I leave my home town and come here?'"

Republicans Won't Repeal Health Care

New York Times:
"More than a few Republicans know that while the politics of trying to nitpick provisions and curb funding are appealing, any wholesale repeal of major provisions of the health care overhaul is likely to generate a backlash.

Even the Republican-leaning electorate on Nov. 2 was evenly split on repealing Obamacare, the exit polls showed. And many of the major provisions of the bill command broad support or could expose critics and repeal advocates to embarrassing contradictions."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Federalist 40: A Strict Reading of the Rules

In the tradition of James Madison?
The men who created the Constitution didn't gather at Philadelphia with the purpose of creating a constitution, actually. They were there to try to fix the old constitution, the Articles of Confederation, that bound the United States together loosely but imperfectly. This was their commission:
"Resolved -- That in the opinion of Congress it is expedient, that on the second Monday of May next a convention of delegates, who shall have been appointed by the several States, be held at Philadelphia, for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein, as shall, when agreed to in Congress, and confirmed by the States, render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union."
But the men who gathered at Philadelphia didn't actually do the specific job they were given. Rather than fiddle around trying to fix the (apparently) unfixable Articles of Confederation, they more or less ripped up the document and started over with a blank piece of paper. And it's important to consider that act, very carefully, because what it means is this:
The Constitution was created because the Founders decided not to be "strict constructionists" about the rules they were given. Instead, they decided to act in the spirit of their commission, for the good of their country. The Constitution -- and the country -- we have is the result of their expansive reading of a plainspoken document.
Seems to me that this fact should have some bearing on how we decide to read the rules the Founders gave to us. Do we rely on a strict or originalist reading of the Constitution and bind ourselves very tightly to the vision of men who died more than two centuries ago? Or do we act in what we perceive to be the spirit of that document, allowing the government some leeway in acting for the collective good? And if we do that, where can we say the line is drawn, where the government has gone beyond the bounds a free people should allow it? Tough questions, often treated simply. But the experience of the Founders suggests, really, that there isn't a simple answer.

TSA Backlash Week: Mennonite Backlash!

Young Anabaptist Radicals:

"When you find yourself in a situation of being scanned, you should voluntarily, in public, strip down naked.

This act would not be disobeying the command of the TSA but rather it would be going the ‘second mile’, if you will.  While on one hand it is submitting to the invasiveness of the screenings it is also doing it in such a way that takes control and power back in the situation.  And I would also venture to say that if such an act were done in front of all of the other passengers waiting in line, it would expose the true invasiveness of the procedure and thus place the ultimate shame on the TSA, not on the individual.

Creative.  Non-violent.  Resisting."

Thanks to the friend who shared this with me. Don't know if she wants her name associated with this, but she knows who she is!

Friday, November 19, 2010

TSA Backlash Week: Emmett Tyrrell, Modern Patton

Good stuff: "John Tyner, missed his flight completely owing to his protest. He greeted the Transportation Security Administration staff, camera in hand, in San Diego. He had opted for the pat-down in place of the scanner, but he warned, 'If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested.' Yes, he referred to his genitalia as 'junk.' Well, speak for yourself, Mr. Tyner. Now he is threatened by the TSA with an $11,000 fine. That is a bit stiff. He missed his plane. That is enough, but Tyner might keep things in perspective. America is at war."

Emphasis added. The opening speech of George C. Scott's "Patton," as rewritten by Emmett Tyrrell:

MAN: Ten-hut!



Be seated.

PATTON: Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb bastard feel him up in line for the 6:25 am flight to Wilmington.

Men all this stuff you've heard about America not wanting to take a flight, wanting to stay out of the scanners and security lines is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love a flight. All real Americans love the sting of battling their way through shoe-removal checkpoints.

When you were kids you all admired the champion marble shooter the fastest runner, big-league ball players, the toughest boxers. NOW it's time to find out who really does have the toughest boxers. I kid, I kid.

Now some of you boys, I know are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty -- that you will, in fact, get very comfortable brushing your hands against the inner thighs and genitals of dozens, perhaps hundreds of passengers a day. Thousands per week! Uncountable thousands in a month!

The airline passengers are the enemy. Wade into them! Feel their junk! Carress them in the belly!

There's another thing I want you to remember. I don't want to get any message saying we are "holding John Tyner's testicles. " We're not "holding" anything. We're advancing constantly. We're not interested in holding on to anything except the passenger's balls. We're going to hold on to him by the nose and kick him in the ass. We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we're going to go through him like crap through a goose!

All right, now, you sons of bitches, you know how I feel. I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into Denver International Airport anytime, anywhere.

That's all.


Obama: Crony Capitalist or Socialist Hack?

I have a few friends who need to listen to Dave Weigel:
"Since inauguration day the Dow is up 41 percent, and the S&P is up 49 percent.

Can you use this to argue that Barack Obama's presidency has been an economic success? Oh, I don't think so. Unemployment, foreclosures, bank closures, and other much more important metrics are much worse than they were when he was inaugurated. But the recovery of the stock market, outpacing the recovery of the economy, is unusual. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated at the start of a growing recession with the Dow at 950.68; it closed at 1,021.25 on November 19, 1982. That was a rise of 7.4 percent from inauguration to the post-midterm weeks.

I see two things here. One: The lefty critique of Obama as an incompetent crony capitalist continues to make more sense than the conservative critique of the president as a radical anti-capitalist. Two, politicians are hacks who'll use any economic data they can find to make their points, and ignore the data once it stops making the points."

TSA Backlash Week: OK, Smart Guy, What Do We Do Then?

Mother Jones' Nick Baumann talks to security experts about how to make flying safe without making security procedures so damned invasive: "All three experts favor scrapping most of the security measures that people hate—and not necessarily replacing them with anything. Ideally, the money that was saved wouldn't be spent on airport security at all: it would be spent on trying to stop terrorists before they got to the airport. That means better-funding law enforcement and intelligence."

A couple of suggestions in Baumann's piece -- which, really, read the whole thing -- caught my attention. One is that airport lines actually need to move much more quickly, because those stagnant queues are themselves a pretty good target for an airport attack. The other is to introduce truly randomized screening of passengers:
That means that while the majority of passengers wouldn't face the invasive security checks they face now, every passenger would face the risk of a thorough search. Terrorists can't avoid or plan for truly random enhanced searches, like they can with protocol-, background-, and profiling-based searches. You don't want terrorists to be able to plan their way around your security. You want them to have to get lucky.

That's probably not as race-based as Charles Krauthammer would prefer, but still.

The Best Health Care In The World

Not here:
"Britain's health service makes it the only one of 11 leading industrialised nations where wealth does not determine access to care – providing the most widely accessible treatments at low cost among rich nations, a study has found.

The survey, by US health thinktank the Commonwealth Fund, showed that while a third of American adults 'went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of costs', this figure was only 6% in the UK and 5% in Holland."

David Brooks Knows The Internet Happened, Right?

David Brooks laments the loss of the American middle-brow, and the resulting demise of Newsweek and other magazines that could show the rubes in flyover country how to aspire to New Yorkiness.. But he completely and utterly misdiagnoses what went wrong:
These magazines also inflamed a million imaginations. Smart boys and girls got a glimpse of a wider world. The implication was that their current lives were insufficient, but they could read about John Foster Dulles or Georgia O’Keeffe and gain access to a higher realm that they might someday join.

About a generation ago, this earnest self-improvement ethic came under attack. People no longer believed that there was such a thing as a common culture that all educated Americans should study and know. The new ethos valued hipness, not class.

Moreover, the self-esteem hurricanes blew across the landscape. You don’t have to read or listen to boring stuff to possess character. You are wonderful just the way you are.

I won't deny the influence of the cults of hipsterdom and self esteem here, but Brooks is being remarkably obtuse. They're not the reason that smart boys and girls don't read Newsweek anymore. (Believe it or not, I had my own subscription when I was in high school, waaaaaay back in the 1980s.) What happened is that the Internet happened. I've written about this a million times.

Want to know about politics? Well, a smart kid can read Brooks' own New York Times online, every day, the way I never could in the 1980s. Want to learn about or listen to opera? (Brooks laments that Albuquerque kids no longer get much national opera coverage.) You can watch the best opera in the world live on the Metropolitan Opera's website. Want to know more about literature, avant garde dance, indie bands, politics, foreign affairs, fashion? There's no end to the possibilities! Brooks is wrong to suggest there's no audience for this stuff anymore, even if he's right that it's fragmented. The truth is that more people have more access to the high- and middle-brow culture than ever did during his Golden Age. Newsweek hasn't suffered because people stopped caring about self-improvement. It suffered because there were faster, better, more direct ways to do it. Brooks sometimes sounds like a doctor who only knows how to diagnose one disease; it doesn't matter at all what the symptoms actually are.

U.S. Deploying Tanks in Afghanistan

It's true that, as part of counterinsurgency, you still have to kill the enemy. And it's furthermore true that Pete Mansoor, the first director of the counterinsurgency center at Fort Leavenworth -- back when it was run by Gen. Petraeus -- came from the armored brigades. I got to interview him during that period and asked him how tanks could make a good counterinsurgency tool: it struck me as counterintuitive. I don't recall his answer, but it must not've struck me as terribly convincing. (It was otherwise a great and enlightening conversation. Mansoor, as history has already recorded, is pretty smart.)

You fight a war with the tools you have, I suppose. But U.S. forces have eased up on long-range bombing from the air in Afghanistan because it too easily can kill innocents instead of the targeted insurgents. I guess I'm skeptical that a tool that allows you too hit targets a mile away will be a significant improvement on that.

TSA Backlash Week: An Excuse For Racial Profiling?

If Charles Krauthammer has his way:
"We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches."

TSA screening is a bad, ineffective policy. Racial profiling would be, too. Instead of alienating everybody with invasive measures, let's just alienate the brown people! And without actually improving our security! Forbes' Abigail Esman:
According to a recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group, statistically speaking, the one most likely to be a Muslim terrorist is the sandy-haired guy in jeans. In fact, according to the report, the majority of Muslim jihadists in America are white and born in the USA (21%) – the one exception being Somali immigrants, who top the list at 31%.

That fact explains such figures as Colleen LaRose, aka “Jihad Jane,” and Daniel Patrick Boyd, the North Carolina drywall contractor indicted in 2009 on charges of training others to wage jihad.

Terrorist ideology is just that: an idea. It's not genetic, can't be seen in the color of a person's skin or the length of their beard. TSA Backlash Week has a good reason for existing, but the answer to the problem isn't to shove it off onto foreigners and minorities.

Leaving The Middle Class For Poverty

A very depressing article:

"The Census Bureau recently reported that the poverty rate in the United States rose to 14.3 percent last year, the highest level in more than 50 years.

Texas and Florida saw the most people fall below the line. In Florida alone, 323,000 people became newly poor last year, bringing the state's poverty total to 2.7 million.

The numbers tell another tale as well: Nationwide, in black households such as Walker's, income plunged an average of 4.4 percent in 2009, almost three times the drop among whites. The number of blacks living below the official poverty line - $21,756 for a family of four - increased by 7 percent in just one year."

Public Won't Be Silenced At Philly City Council Meetings

I've not covered City Council in Philadelphia, but I have elsewhere, and I can tell you that public comment sessions can be a mix of the provocative and tedious. Still, I've got to think thatthis is good news for Philly governance: "The state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling made public yesterday, says Council has been violating the state's Sunshine Act by refusing to allow people to comment on legislation during Thursday's weekly sessions. Council argued that allowing people to comment in committee hearings before legislation is considered by the full Council was adequate."

I don't know that this will lead to any improvements around town. And some of the council members do a pretty good job of listening to their constituents, from what I can tell. But I don't have a problem reminding everybody that it's our government, not theirs.

Philly Police Corruption Watch

That's expensive: "Over the past three fiscal years, city taxpayers have shelled out $31.6 million to settle lawsuits brought against the department. The majority of the payments - $20.8 million - went to settle complaints of civil-rights violations by police officers, according to figures provided by the city's Department of Finance."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Good Morning!

May be slow blogging today. I'm certain there will be TSA Backlash Week entries, however.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TSA Backlash Week: John Pistole Gets The Business

The leader of the TSA went before the Senate today to defend his agency's invasive airport screening techniques. Apparently he demanded to be given pat-down before giving the green light to the technique:
"“Yes, it was more invasive than what I was used to,” said Pistole. “Of course, what’s in my mind … is what are the plots out there, how are we informed by the latest intelligence and latest technology and what do we need to do to ensure the American people that as they travel that we are being thorough.”

“So yes, it is clearly more invasive. The purpose of that is obviously to detect the type of devices that we had not seen before last Christmas. I am very sensitive to and concerned about people’s privacy concerns and I want to work through that as best we can.” 

Pistole told a separate panel of senators yesterday that the pat-down technique is so thorough that, had it been used, it would have thwarted the suspected Christmas Day bomber, who allegedly hid an explosive device in his underwear. "

Is it churlish to note that the Christmas Day bomber actually was thwarted? Sure, he got through airport security, but once he started trying to accomplish his evil act, the plane's passengers and crew intervened. And it seems to me that ought to be OK. The man was stopped without body scanners and without invasive patdowns -- as, incidentally, was Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" who forced all of us to take off our footwear every time we go through security. Al Qaeda keeps failing, and we keep ratcheting up security anyway. God help us when and if they're successful again. The anal probes probably won't be far behind.

TSA Backlash Week: Col. Nathan Jessup Gives Us An Earful

Emaw channels Nathan Jessup, now working for TSA:
"You want the truth? You want the TRUTH!? You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has airports, and those airports have to be guarded by men with latex gloves. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Mr. Jillette?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom! You weep for your groped genitals and you curse the TSA. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that the groping of your private parts, while tragic, probably saves lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives!

You don't want the truth, because deep down in places you don't talk about on your blogs and on Twitter, you want me in that airport! You need me in your underwear! We use words like 'bend over', 'spread 'em', 'cop a feel'. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something."

Will Congress Pass An Internet Censorship Bill?

Funny what Congress can pass when it gets the gumption. Not unemployment benefits. Not tax cuts for the middle class. Not a nuclear arms treaty with the Russians.But this?:
A bill giving the government the power to shut down Web sites that host materials that infringe copyright is making its way quietly through the lame-duck session of Congress, raising the ire of free-speech groups and prompting a group of academics to lobby against the effort.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) was introduced in Congress this fall by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). It would grant the federal government the power to block access to any Web domain that is found to host copyrighted material without permission.

Opponents note that the powers given the government under the bill are very broad. Because the bill targets domain names and not specific materials, an entire Web site can be shut down. So for example, if the US determines that there are copyright-infringing materials on YouTube, it could theoretically block access to all of YouTube, whether or not particular material being accessed infringes copyright.

Activist group DemandProgress, which is running a petition against the bill, argues the powers in the bill could be used for political purposes. If the whistleblower Web site WikiLeaks is found to be hosting copyrighted material, for instance, access to WikiLeaks could be blocked for all US Internet users.

Apologies to Raw Story for quoting so much of their story. Good news for them: If the bill passes, they can shut down my blog!

That said, I don't know if Raw Story is being alarmist here or if the bill has a real chance of passing during the lame duck session. If so, the public should raise holy hell. Congress can pass bills that serve powerful interests, but sits on its hands for stuff the rest of us want? You can't possibly be cynical enough.

Hat Tip: Emaw.

NJ Pastor: Quit Facebook or Leave The Church

Inky: "The world's biggest social network can lead married people astray, says the head of the Living Word Christian Fellowship Church in Neptune, N.J. So, in his Sunday sermon, the Rev. Cedric A. Miller will announce that married church leaders have to log out for good, or get kicked out."

I'm not the position of offering church leaders advice, but in this socially networked age it seems to me that telling people that Facebook is sinful is like telling them that, oh, walking downtown is sinful. It's a semi-public square that can be used for good or ill.

If I were a church-goer, my recommendation would be to encourage couples to use Facebook in a way that's mutually accountable -- like, say, everything else in their marriage. But temptation can find you anywhere. If you're not going to use Facebook because of that, you'd best not even walk outside. There's really attractive women out there.

Rush Limbaugh and Race

Adam Serwer:
"I think it's wrong to suggest that opposition to Obama's agenda is 'race-based,' because that suggests conservatives would feel differently if Obama weren't president. I think the GOP's general positions on the issues would be the same if Hillary Clinton were president.

What's clear, though, is that conservatives deploy racially tinged rhetoric against liberal policy priorities and Democratic politicians, and that Obama being president has a lot to do with these arguments being used. Rush Limbaugh wouldn't be comparing him to gang members if he weren't black. With Clinton, Limbaugh's sexism, rather than his racism, would be amplified. So while it might be unfair to suggest people are conservatives because they're racists, it's entirely fair to ask why conservatives are comfortable with their most prominent ideological figure's casual use of racism as a political bludgeon"

TSA Backlash Week: Kevin Drum's Meh

Kevin Drum can figure out what the big deal is: "In fact, I think it's a pretty good sign of a country gone insane that this — TSA screeners occasionally viewing a vague outline of your body — is what's finally driven everyone over the edge. Shoes, laptops, liquids, wands, special screenings, warrantless wiretaps, you name it. They annoyed us, but we accepted them. But this! Finally left and right can unite in outrage over government run wild."

I take his point: We've been headed to this moment for awhile. But there's an element of political snobbery when you roll your eyes at people protesting the invasion of their privacy because they didn't protest soon enough for your tastes. Rather than see this as an opportunity, perhaps, to re-open the discussion about what government is doing to us in the name of security, Drum becomes the political version of a hipster who liked Arcade Fire's older stuff. I respect and rely on his work, but this rant is a little silly.

TSA Backlash Week: The LA Times Thinks Anal Probing Would Be Going Too Far

In a provocatively titled editorial, "Shut up and be scanned," the LA Times asserts that body scans and pat downs aren't too intrusive at the nation's airports. Luckily, the paper does offer an answer to the question, "How far is too far." Unfortunately, the answer is: "Pretty far":
"In reaction to the new high-tech scans, suicide bombers may well switch to buses and trains rather than airplanes, or airborne killers might resort to inserting explosives into their body cavities, where the machines can't detect them. So, it's reasonable to ask, what's next? Anal probes at the airport? It's safe to say that if the TSA gets to that point, it will have crossed the line, and it might be time to explore less invasive methods."

I think that's a joke. Is that a joke? I ... can't really tell.

Dunno. Seems to me that reasonable people can agree that a reasonable level of privacy starts somewhere farther from your person than your colon. But I'm not certain the LA Times is being reasonable here. The headline offers up the peevish counterresponse of those who are so afraid of terrorism they're willing to give up just about any level of personal freedom to avoid it. Anal probes? That might be too far, but go ahead and look at me naked. JUST SHUT UP AND BE SCANNED! And there's no point in such cases suggesting to such folks that their chances of dying at the hands of terrorism is roughly the same as being struck by lightning in a car crash. The fear is already there, embedded like a particularly persistent tick. One hates to use a cliche, but it's true: In such cases, the terrorists really have won.

A Small Word In Defense of George W. Bush

Ruth Marcus, I think, largely has this right: "In short, Bush inherited a budget in healthy shape. He left it in tatters. The faltering economy played a supporting role, but the chief factors were of Bush's making: his tax cuts, his wars, his prescription drug bill. Without these, the country would have been running surpluses during his tenure. The wars will wind down, but the price of the tax cuts and prescription drug bill will climb even higher over the next decade."

The only thing I'd say in even mild defense of Bush is to suggest that the formulation "his wars" is only half right. Iraq was a terrible blunder, but the decision to go to war in Afghanistan was a rational reaction to the 9/11 attack; there's something off-note about calling it his war when Americans were all on board, and in fact probably would have chased from office any president who didn't respond to the attack in similar fashion. Marcus is right, though, that Bush is the first president to put a war on the credit card. His attempts to evade responsibility for the country's budget problems is very far from convincing.

We Had To Destroy The Village In Order To Save It

NATO is demolishing entire Afghan villages because some houses have been booby-trapped by the Taliban:

"While it has widespread support among Afghan officials and even some residents, and has been accompanied by an equally determined effort to hand out cash compensation to homeowners, other local people have complained that the demolitions have gone far beyond what is necessary.

It would also seem to run counter to Gen. David H. Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy, which calls for respecting property as well as lives, and to run up against recent calls by President Hamid Karzai for foreign forces to lower their profile and avoid tactics that alienate Afghan civilians. There have been no reports of civilians casualties from the demolitions."

Counterinsurgency is about protecting and winning the support of the population. Wonder how well home demolitions will achieve that goal?