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Showing posts from May, 2010

John Waters is less obnoxious than Deborah Solomon

I've mentioned before my abiding distaste for the Deborah Solomon's Sunday interviews in the New York Times. Her questions tend to be confrontational -- even rude -- to no great purpose.

So I was delighted to see today that she interviewed John Waters. Who would come off more tasteless -- the man who got Divine to eat dog feces on film? Or a New York Times reporter?

You already know the answer. Highlights:
It has been more than a generation since your films “Pink Flamingos” and “Polyester” established you as a champion of the trash-into-art aesthetic. But now that bad taste is so prevalent in America, does it still carryan artistic charge for you?
Bad taste per se does not, because today it’s reality television and gross-out, big-budget Hollywood comedies. Everything we export — it’s all about bad taste, so it’s not new anymore. You have to know the rules to break them with happiness, and thank God my mother taught me proper table manners.It gets better:
We should mention that y…

At The Corner, Shannen Coffin smears the New York Times

Over at The Corner, Shannen Coffin -- Dick Cheney's lawyer during the Bush Presidency -- goes after the New York Times for its apparent hand-wringing over the "unauthorized disclosure" of the so-called "Climategate" e-mails. The post is called "Propriety in Newsgathering" and it deserves to be fisked a little bit.

Let's start at the beginning:

Since at least the Pentagon Papers case (and surely before even then), the New York Times has made many a nickel on unauthorized leaks of sensitive national security information.
It's true the New York Times is a for-profit concern, but I think it's unseemly to suggest the Times tries to profit from -- as Coffin is going to get around to implying -- killing American soldiers. Most newspapers operate with two missions: A) to turn a profit and B) to serve the public. At their best, for-profit media has offered defenders of capitalism a success story: Doing well by doing good. Sometimes, "doing good…

Federalist 14: Something old, something new

The entire live-blog of "The Federalist Papers" can be found here.

My friend Ben is fond of distinguishing American conservatism from its European forebears; American conservatives, he has told me on several occasions, are conserving a revolutionary heritage. I thought about his statement quite a bit while reading James Madison in Federalist 14.

This chapter is, ostensibly, about whether the United States is too big to be governed effectively. (Madison's answer: If we were a pure democracy, with every man given a direct voice in governing, sure. But since we're a republic -- with representatives sent from the 13 states to the heart of the union -- we'll do fine. And hey, we managed to pull off a revolution together!)

But as we near the end of 14, it's apparent that Madison has another topic on his mind: Whether the type of government embodied in the proposed Constitution is so new, so radical, so unfamiliar that its very novelty increases the risks of failure.…

Should BP end offshore oil drilling?

That's the topic of my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week -- and a trickier topic than usual. Because I want the answer to the above question to be "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" But given the realities of American politics and the country's energy consumption, it seems impossible to end offshore drilling entirely.

So my answer? Regulate the hell out of the industry, and rigorously enforce those regulations.

It would be nice if we could unilaterally end offshore oil drilling. Nobody likes to see the oily bird carcasses washing up on beaches, nor the plaintive looks in the eyes of suddenly idled Louisiana fishermen. The widespread damage being done right now in the Gulf of Mexico should be intolerable.

But we will tolerate it. We have to. America's energy demands are simply too great to give it up - our politicians are not going to ask us to sacrifice our comfortable lifestyles; we won't let them in any case - and the country isn't anywhere…

I didn't draw Mohammed today

I've got nothing against blasphemy -- in fact, I kind of love it.

I love "South Park," enjoyed "The Last Temptation of Christ" more as a novel than as a movie, think "Dogma" is overrated but enjoyable and, generally, like to see sacred cows nudged a little bit. I think it's wonderful, essential and necessary that we can do such poking in America -- and it pisses me off, frankly, when the "South Park" guys come under threat for depicting Mohammed. Or, looking abroad, when European cartoonists face violence, threats and censorship for doing the same.

Still, I didn't draw Mohammed today. And I won't be publishing any of the cartoons. At least, not for now.

Why? Simple. I have Muslim friends and acquaintances -- at least one of whom, I know, is very offended when Mohammed is drawn or otherwise depicted. Not to the point of threatening or undertaking violence, thank goodness, but still: It's an act that wounds her.

And that, I t…

Federalist 11 - Federalist 13: Moneymoneymoneymoney! Money! (Also: The persistence of Euro-bashing in American politics)

I don't have a lot to say about Federalists 10 through 13. They're chiefly about how a unified United States will fare economically. Considering the United States went on to become the richest nation the planet's ever seen, I don't know that there's much to argue about here, even with hindsight fully engaged. But just to recap, keeping the states together will:

* Make it easier for everybody to make money. A unified America will be able to fend off competition from Europe, bargain from a stronger vantage point and -- very importantly -- be able to field a navy capable of protecting its commerce. Alexander Hamilton:

Under a vigorous national government, the natural strength and resources of the country, directed to a common interest, would baffle all the combinations of European jealousy to restrain our growth. This situation would even take away the motive to such combinations, by inducing an impracticability of success. An active commerce, an extensive navigation, …

A quick, final thought about Arlen Specter

Unlike Gov. Ed Rendell, I doubt very much that yesterday's rain in Philadelphia sent Arlen Specter to his defeat in the Democratic primary. And unlike a lot of other people, I'm not so sure that generalized anti-incumbent sentiment was all that big a factor either. I think that after 30 years of watching Arlen Specter put political advantage over principle at seemingly every turn, Pennsylvania voters were simply tired of the guy.

It doesn't have to have a bigger meaning than that.

Federalist No. 6 - Federalist No. 10: Let's not fight with each other

I said last time that the shadow of the Civil War would loom heavily over my reading of "The Federalist Papers" -- and starting in Federalist No. 6, it really, really does. Because it's here that Alexander Hamilton starts to make the case that a strong union won't just protect the individual states from wars with external powers -- it'll also keep the states from making war on each other.

So, ummm ... how did that work out for you?

No. Wait. Snark is a little too easy here. Truth is, Hamilton's got history on his side -- but he's going to take his time getting to the most useful parts of it. Instead, he tells us in No. 6 that the problem with leaving the states to proceed forward as autonomous nations is that each small state will be more likely to see the rise of a leader who makes war on neighboring states for his own vainglorious reasons.
Men of this class, whether the favorites of a king or of a people, have in too many instances abused the confidence t…

On government eavesdropping: Just because you can't find the body doesn't mean there wasn't a murder

Over at No Left Turns, Justin Paulette drops a bomb in the middle of a complaint about Great Britain:
I've previously mentioned several of his examples on NLT, but Mark Steyn sums up the absurd charade of "rights"-based oppression prevailing in Great Britain. It's shamefully ironic that George Bush was consistently denounced for rights-depleting policies by which (as in the "domestic spying program") not a single American can be located who was in any manner harmed in the slightest - yet Democrats merrily seek to silence conservative talk-radio and liberals would arrest pro-life prayer groups as organized crime syndicates without the slightest sense of contradiction or hypocrisy.I think the last bit of Paulette's claim here is either overstated or outright wrongheaded, but let's leave that alone for his second. I'm struck by his claim that we can't find a "single American" who was harmed by the domestic spying program.

Well of cours…

Federalist Interlude: On the Perils of Public Autodidactism

Here's the problem with a project like live-blogging your way through the Federalist Papers -- it quickly becomes apparent to everybody else how much you might not know. In a classroom, you can mostly hide -- and when the moments come to prove your knowledge, well, often those tests are literally tests, and the results of them remain between you and your instructor.

Here, I'm liable to embarrass myself before literally tens of people. Some of them my friends.

I mention this because several people -- Glomarization in the comments, another friend behind the scenes -- have gently suggested that perhaps I'm reading the Federalist Papers in a bit of a vacuum: That I'm not really accounting for or explaining how badly the Articles of Confederation (America's constitution before the Constitution) were broken while I toss around insults like "douchebag" at Alexander Hamilton and "strawman" at John Jay.

And, well, they're right.

Part of this, I think,…

Federalist No. 2- Federalist No. 5: "Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence"

If you were a late 18th-century resident of New York reading the Federalist Papers for the first time, I think there's a small-but-not-insignificant chance you'd only be a few pages into Federalist No. 2 before you started wondering if "Publius" -- the supposed author of these papers -- is a touch bipolar. Behind the scenes, of course, "bad cop" Alexander Hamilton has turned over the writing duties to "good cop" John Jay. The shift in tone is abrupt, even if the goal is the same.

Still, if Detective Hamilton looks bad because he's bringing rubber hoses and lead pipes into the interrogation room, we can't let Jay off the hook too lightly. Because his job here is to make the case that -- despite what opponents of the proposed Constitution tell you -- it's important that the United States actually remain united states. So Federalists No. 2 through 5 are all about the wisdom of sticking together. Unless I'm missing something, though, J…

John Yoo's weird column about Elena Kagan

I'd say that John Yoo's Inquirer column about Elena Kagan is fairly standard talking points stuff -- hates the military, loves her ivory tower, mean to Clarence Thomas -- except for one kind of weird point that he makes. He's critical of Kagan's now-famous decision to support efforts to keep military recruiters off the Harvard Law campus because of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Which is fine, except...
I happen to agree that the president and Congress should allow gays to serve in the military. But Kagan announced her policy while the United States was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. And she defied a federal law - the Solomon Amendment - that ordered schools to provide equal access to the military for campus recruitment or risk losing federal funding.Remember: John Yoo once suggested the president has the power to suspend even the First Amendment under his war powers, so it's no surprise that he criticizes Kagan for sharing his opinions -- but acting on those opin…

Federalist No. 1: America's Founding D-Bag

Alexander Hamilton has always seemed to me to be America's Founding Douchebag. That's probably unfair, but there's something about duelling -- Hamilton's involvement in an act that conferred "civilized" rules on a savage, life-taking act -- that struck me as ur-fratty. And though he's now celebrated for helping bring about the Constitution's ratification as one of the co-authors of "The Federalist Papers," his apparent monarchist streak still strikes me as at odds with the democratic nature of the government he actually helped launch.

Plus, there's the whole $10 bill thing.

So I'm not surprised, just a page into Federalist No. 1 -- written by Hamilton -- to discover that he was also possible America's Founding Negative Campaigner. Writing under the "Publius" name, he tells New Yorkers that backers of a new Constitution just want candy and kitties and charity for their fellow Americans. Opponents, he suggests, are merely …

LeBron James and Ohio: Why President Obama might not be that smart

You know, if you're planning on running for president in 2012, alienating the population of Ohio might not be the smartest thing to do:
Include President Obama as another Chicago Bulls fan rooting for LeBron James to move to Chicago.

"He doesn't want to tamper," senior adviser to the president -- and former Bulls season-ticket holder -- David Axelrod said. "But as a Chicago fan, the president thinks LeBron would look great in a Bulls uniform."Tens of thousands of Cleveland fans are beside themselves with worry that LeBron James will flee to a bigger market and the president -- or his representatives -- tweak that anxiety? It's not like Ohio is a swing state or anything. Voters notice these kinds of things. Jeebus.

Bag O' Books: 'The Federalist Papers'

I've never read "The Federalist Papers."

This is a little bit embarrassing to admit. I've spent a considerable portion of the last few years thinking and writing about government and politics, with arguments about the nature of the American Constitution often residing somewhere near the center of my debates. Yet I've never delved into the document that -- outside the Constitution itself -- does more to illuminate the thinking of the Founders who created the government that we still live with today.

It's even more embarrassing because many of those debates have been with my conservative friend and collaborator Ben Boychuk -- and, well, he has read "The Federalist Papers." And he's drawn on them, not infrequently, to make his case against the arguments I've made. I've felt slightly overmatched at times, as a result.

In my defense, I don't think I'm alone in this. I might be wrong, but I've noted that smart conservative commentat…

Do President Obama's Supreme Court nominations discriminate against parents?

Via Julie Ponzi, Jules Crittenden wonders why Barack Obama can't nominate "soccer moms who went to a state school" to the Supreme Court:

I’d add that President Obama seems bent on packing the court with people who never had children, and would suggest that if you haven’t had your sleep disturbed for years on end; haven’t subjugated everything in your life to someone else’s interests … as opposed to subjugating everything to your career interests … and neve changed a diaper except, say, as a boutique experience; if you haven’t seen your hopes and dreams grow up, charge off in their own direction and start talking back to you; if you haven’t dealt with abuse of authority and human rights issues sometimes encountered in dealings with obtuse school officials, class bullies and town sports leagues; then there’s a high risk your understanding of life may be somewhat … academic.

It’s a humbling experience, parenthood. As well as an inspiring one that gives life meaning. It also,…

Elena Kagan and the Supreme Court: Time to start electing justices

In this week's Scripps Howard column with my colleague Ben Boychuk, I say we don't know enough -- and won't know enough -- about Elena Kagan before she's confirmed to the Supreme Court. And I suggest we can solve this ongoing problem by forcing Supreme Court nominees to face American voters directly:

Heck no, we don't know enough about Elena Kagan. Then again, we didn't really know enough about John Roberts or any other Supreme Court nominee of recent vintage. That's the way the game is played: Smart nominees shut their mouths, still their pens and aim for an air of patriotic inscrutability. Barring scandal, they end up confirmed anyway -- and only then do we find out what they really believe. Kagan will probably be no exception.

Americans deserve to know more about the thinking and philosophy of the nominees who receive lifetime appointments to one of our nation's most powerful institutions. It's time to start putting our Supreme Court nominees to a…

Bob Corker, mortgages and down payments: I wish the Republicans had won this battle

I think Sen. Bob Corker has the right idea with his proposal to require home buyers to put 5 percent down on the purchase of a new home in order to qualify for a mortgage. And I can honestly say I'm disappointed with Democrats for defeating the proposal.

Opponents of Corker's measure apparently say it disproportionately affected minority communities. Seems to me that it really affects people who simply cannot afford to buy a house. And that's unfortunate: In my perfect socialist world, everybody would have the resources to own their own. That's not the world we live in, though, and it seems Corker's proposal would have gone a little way toward saving potential homebuyers and banks, both, from their own worst practices. The alternative is bailout culture and/or massive rounds of foreclosures. That can't be good for anybody, can it?

Let Cam & Mitchell kiss on 'Modern Family!'

Turns out I'm not the only one to notice that "Modern Family's" gay couple isn't very affectionate. Now there's a Facebook group -- nearly 6,000 members strong -- devoted to letting the pair kiss. And the producers have responded:

"Cameron and Mitchell are a loving, grounded, committed, and demonstrably affectionate couple and have been from the beginning of the series. It happens that we have an episode in the works that addresses Mitchell's slight discomfort with public displays of affection. It will air in the fall and until then, as Phil Dunphy would say, everyone please chillax."

Hey: I love "Modern Family" -- along with "Community," the funniest show of the 2009-10 season -- but that "slight discomfort with public displays of affection" is ... narratively convenient. And I don't think it's going to fool anybody. Certainly, we see Cam & Mitchell in private moments together, yet they still don't k…

Can you be a Hillary Clinton fan and a Tea Partier?

Over at Slate, Hanna Rosin asks if the Tea Party is a "feminist" movement. To the extent that "feminist" isn't used as a synonym for "liberal woman," I think the answer is probably ... no. Yes, women are taking lots of leadership roles in the Tea Party movement -- and good for them! -- but I'm guessing that movement might lose some of its coherence if it became focused on "women's issues."

That said, I'm always perplexed when journalists turn up these types of folks:

For the last few years Anna Barone, a Tea Party leader from Mount Vernon, N.Y., has used the e-mail handle "The way they treated Hillary is unforgiveable, and then they did it to Sarah Palin," she said. "I've been to 15 Tea Party meetings and never heard a woman called a name just because she's powerful. I guess you could say the Tea Party is where I truly became a feminist."
Wait. Really?

Don't get me wrong: I think…

Elena Kagan, Ralph Reed and the Second Amendment

This Ralph Reed -- remember him? -- post at The Corner, about Elena Kagan's radical tendencies, deserves a thorough fisking. But there's one point in particular that I found interesting. And by "interesting" I mean "dishonest."

In response to questions during her confirmation as solicitor general, Kagan argued the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, like freedom of speech, enjoys “strong but not unlimited protection.” This is a dangerous view of the law when it leads to the creeping erosion of the Bill of Rights.
Why is this dishonest? Because if you check what Kagan said at her solicitor general hearings, it's clear that she was citing DC vs. Heller, the 2008 case that upheld gun rights. This is a fuller and untruncated quote of what she said:

Once again, there is no question, after Heller, that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to keep and bear arms and that this right, like others in the Constitution, provides strong altho…

Elena Kagan and the undergraduate gotcha game

When I was 21, it's fair to say that I was to the left of my evangelical Mennonite college campus on the question of homosexuality. It's not that I didn't think homosexuality was sinful -- I did, and thought the Bible fairly clear on that point; I just felt that my fellow Christians were making too big a deal about it.

I've ... changed quite a bit since then. I've left the church, so "sin" doesn't really enter the equation for me; I've been -- for the past few years -- as vocal a proponent of marriage rights for gays as I know how to be. The person I was at 21 was aiming at the person I am at 37, to be certain, but the distance between here and there is considerable.

All of which brings me to this: You'll be hearing a lot over the next few days about Elena Kagan's undergraduate thesis on the "sad" demise of socialism in early 20th century New York City, a kind of knowing "proof" of her (and by extention, President Obama…

Christopher Hitchens is wrong about the French burqa ban -- but maybe for the right reasons

Christopher Hitchens almost makes sense with his defense of the French burqa ban:

The French legislators who seek to repudiate the wearing of the veil or the burqa—whether the garment covers "only" the face or the entire female body—are often described as seeking to impose a "ban." To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face. The proposed law is in the best traditions of the French republic, which declares all citizens equal before the law and—no less important—equal in the face of one another.
Hitchens appeals to my humanist-slash-libertarian side here, briefly, by casting the proposed burqa ban as a blow for women, letting them cast off their subjugation by forcing them to remove the veil from their faces. But that's not what the proposal does -- at least,…

Our victory in Iraq (an ongoing series)

Via Matt Yglesias, the Center for American Progress offers an "Iraq War Ledger" tallying up the financial, human and other costs of the Iraq War. Bottom line: Not good.

But a couple of data points interested me more than the others:

Empowered Iran in Iraq and region. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the primary strategic beneficiary of the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. The end of Saddam Hussein’s regime removed Iran’s most-hated enemy (with whom it fought a hugely destructive war in the 1980s) and removed the most significant check on Iran’s regional hegemonic aspirations. Many of Iraq’s key Iraqi Shia Islamist and Kurdish leaders enjoy close ties to Iran, facilitating considerable influence for Iran in the new Iraq.

Stifled democracy reform. A recent RAND study concluded that, rather than becoming a beacon of democracy, the Iraq war has hobbled the cause of political reform in the Middle East. The report stated that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neigh…

Typo nearly wipes out your retirement savings

That 1,000-point drop on Wall Street today? Guess how it happened?

In one of the most dizzying half-hours in stock market history, the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points before paring those losses in what possibly could have been a trader error. According to multiple sources, a trader entered a “b” for billion instead of an “m” for million in a trade possibly involving Procter & Gamble [PG 60.75 -1.41 (-2.27%) ], a component in the Dow.
That set off a chain-reaction panic on trading floors. As Daniel Foster at National Reviewnoted:

P&G's 37 percent nosedive was only responsible for 172 points of the 992.60 the Dow lost in the slump. The rest was market reaction — and part of that was computerized and automated.
You know, capitalism and free trade generally make a lot of sense. But our current method of allocating capital -- Wall Street being the big mover in that process -- keeps finding new ways to make itself look dangerously insane. Terminator was about how computers and ro…

The right to trial? Optional. The right to bear arms? Inviolable. (Or: Why Lindsey Graham is indefensible.)

A friend points me to this Huffington Post article, where Sen. Lindsey Graham defends allowing people on terror watch lists to buy guns -- but doesn't want American citizens accused of terrorism to be given their criminal defense rights:

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's appeal to what he called "common sense" at a congressional hearing Wednesday morning failed to sway two Republican senators who said that giving the government the ability to block the purchase of guns by suspected terrorists would undermine the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.

Graham described the bill as an instrument of those who would ban guns altogether. "We're talking about a constitutional right here," he said, explaining that he could not support a bill that would force "innocent Americans" to "pay the cost of going to court to get their gun rights back."

Graham wasn't nearly as concerned about rights when he launched into a disquisition…

Are head injuries the reason Ben Roethlisberger is such a colossal jerk?

That's the theory floated by Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein, in an interview with neuropsychologist Dr. Jordan Grafman -- Roethlisberger, after all, has suffered four concussions on the football field during his NFL career.

According to Grafman, two particular behaviors are endemic to people with moderate or severe frontal lobe injury, or to people with more mild but repetitive injury: 1) violating social rules by saying inappropriate things, and 2) saying appropriate or typical things in an inappropriate context.

"If you're married and you're flirting with another woman in an elevator with your wife next to you," Grafman says, "that's the kind of clearly inappropriate behavior." Roethlisberger is not married, but one man told me that Roethlisberger had asked out his wife while the man was present.

Granted, as Grafman notes, "we all say inappropriate things sometimes," but "it's the frequency with which it happens, and the…

Podcast: Joyce Lee Malcolm and the Second Amendment

Ben and Joel are joined by Joyce Lee Malcolm to discuss McDonald v. Chicago, a Second Amendment case before the Supreme Court, and the history of the right to bear arms. Malcolm is a professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. She is a historian and constitutional scholar. She is the author of seven books including To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right and Guns and Violence: The English Experience. Her work on the Second Amendment and the right to be armed has been widely cited in court opinions and legal literature including the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 opinion, District of Columbia v. Heller This coming week -- on May 5 -- she'll appear in Philadelphia at theNational Constitution Center for a discussion about "RETHINKING THE SECOND AMENDMENT: THE CHICAGO GUN CASE AND THE FUTURE OF GUN RIGHTS." The event is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and is free, but reservations required. Check for details. CLICK TO PLAY THE…