The mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan isn’t to trample upon native sensibilities—it’s to hunt terrorists and help the locals build their country so that it never again serves as the base for an attack on the United States. That involves the (tricky) winning of hearts and minds. Treating the Koran with disrespect—even if it’s an accident—actively works against achieving those goals. Apologizing isn’t just the right thing to do, in this case; it’s an act of strategic military necessity.Follow the link to read the whole thing.
So the rush by Mitt, Rick, and Newt to condemn the president for apologizing isn’t just contemptible: It’s dangerous and juvenile. It signals that all three men see the world as a series of cartoon caricatures, that they are bullies who demand respect but believe that giving respect means showing weakness. Maybe Republicans won’t ever apologize for America—but all that proves is that they are very sorry, indeed.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
So, a movie about eight-year-olds competing in a dance competition somehow ends up turning those eight-year-olds into physically violent gang members? And their mentors declare the dance competition to be "war?"
Fuck. That. Shit.
Sorry for the language. But really. I know I'm getting old. But I do pine for the old days when the idea of eight-year-olds as gangsters was treated with as a comic idea, not as something to aspire to. Remember "Bugsy Malone?"
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Should affirmative action go away? Probably not. Will it? Probably.Ben expresses his own desire to end affirmative action in his take, and you'll have to click the link to read it. I'd like to expand on my own take a bit, if I may.
The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts seems to have its knives sharpened.
So while liberals should mount a defense of affirmative action in college admissions, they must also prepare for its probable demise.
What comes after? Texas -- where the current case originates -- offers one way forward. The state's public universities offer automatic admission to the top 10 percent of graduating students from every high school in the state.
Because those schools have wildly varying economic and racial compositions, the result is that Lone Star colleges have a fairly diverse student population. That kind of creativity will be needed going forward.
Wait: Why should diversity be a goal? That's easy. America is diverse. Unless you believe that white men possess all the talent and smarts -- and some people really do believe that --it's criminal not to foster the resources and resourcefulness of all our country's citizens.
"Even right-wingers get nervous with racial homogeneity," Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy told the magazine Mother Jones. "If Patrick Buchanan were elected president of the United States, there would have been a person of color in the Cabinet."
For more than 300 years, America's culture and law enforced racial preferences -- whites, of course, were preferred. We still live with the ramifications: A few decades of affirmative action don't make up for the fact that many minority groups weren't allowed to start the 100-yard dash until whites got a 50-yard head start. Critics of affirmative action say they want the law to be colorblind and advancement based on some notion of "merit." That sounds good, but also conveniently preserves the advantages created by 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow.
Those critics appear on the verge of victory, however. But affirmative action is a battleground, not the whole war. So liberals must ask themselves: What's next?
It doesn't surprise me that conservatives don't like affirmative action. I think there are principled non-racist—even anti-racist—reasons for doing so. What bothers me, though, is how little I see my righty friends acknowledge that affirmative action sprung up as a response to an actual problem: That the aforementioned 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow left a lot of folks without sufficient resources—take that word however you like—to achieve and succeed on society's new colorblind terms.
Conservatives like to talk a lot about how "culture matters" and often it sounds like a bit of a dogwhistle to liberal ears, a way of suggesting that bourgeois whites really are superior to pathology-afflicted blacks, but in ways that (maybe) have less to do with genetics than the poor choices that whites as a group and blacks as a group just happened to make. And they also talk quite a bit about the distorting effects that big government can have on culture. Yet you never really hear them put two and two together when it comes to race, and acknowledge again that a longstanding legal-cultural regime enforced both by senators and sheriffs for hundreds of years might've caused damage that still needs repair. Instead—and this is giving my conservative friends the best benefit of the doubt—they seem to have believed that Martin Luther King Jr. came to save everybody, 1968 happened, everything was fair after that, and anybody who can't make it must be to blame for their own problems. This is either stunningly naive or, well, something more pernicious. Among conservatism as a whole, it's probably a bit of both.
My friend (I'll make the presumption) and sometimes vigorous critic William Voegeli has written an entire book about how liberalism doesn't have a limiting principle that makes it possible for conservatives to do welfare-state business. (That would make liberals conservatives, but that's another conversation.) But taking conservatives at their word that all they want to do is maximize liberty and opportunity for all Americans, then this issue is a huge blind spot for them: Simply put, conservatives don't seem to have an animating principle that moves them to address problems of this sort.
Maybe their answer is simply: Study hard and get married. (Or, in the case of the occasional black conservative like Thomas Sowell: Leave us alone, government.) And I'm sure there are smart folks who do see a problem here and have come up with conservative-minded solutions. But conservatism, broadly, seems to treat affirmative action as a government program meant to oppress whites—and not as a well-meaning-but-misguided attempt to offer opportunities to those who otherwise have none. I can see that, theoretically, there might be two problems: That racism made opportunity hard, but that affirmative action compounds the problem. Listening to conservatives, I get the impression that only the latter problem exists. And that, I think, is also a problem.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The authors try to offer a "feminist" reason for doing so:
Authentic sexual equality requires that men understand with their bodies (as women do) the procreative potential of the sexual act. And this is exactly what natural methods of family planning do. By frequenting sex only during infertile times when a child is unwanted, men learn to coordinate their desires for intimacy with the natural rhythms of the female body. Feminist scholar and theologian Angela Franks notes that “[this] is unheard of in a society in which male desire appears to set the guidelines — especially in the ‘hook-up’ culture. Indeed, such a reorientation ofdesire is more revolutionary than any secular feminist project.” Those who practice this approach to family planning report that its use tends to make husbands more sensitive to the sexual and emotional needs of their wives — a sensitivity that many women have long found wanting.I'm going to admit here that my sexual experience isn't widespread: My bachelor years weren't all that swingin'. So maybe I'm going to sound stupid here. I'll risk it.
But my limited experience tells me that a woman's desire for sex often (but not always) peaks around that time of month that they're most fertile. (Evolutionarily, this makes sense, no?) And my limited experience also suggests to me that desire for sex and enjoyment of sex are somewhat related. If you're not in the mood, you're not in the mood.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying: National Review's writers apparently believe that men can best practice birth control and respect women by having sex during those periods in which women will desire and enjoy it least. "Be attentive to the sexual and emotional needs of your wife, men: And then do the opposite!"
Put aside the questions of whether the rhythm method is all that effective. A big problem here is that National Review's authors essentially remove a woman's sex drive from this equation. No surprise there, I guess. If you believe that a big problem with contraception is that it enables women to act on their own sexual desires (and the authors clearly do) this proposed solution makes a lot of sense.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Religious liberty is a paramount American value; it's even written into our Constitution. A woman's right to make her own health choices doesn't explicitly appear in the document, it's merely a common-sense human right no less deserving of protection and consideration.Ben says: "The argument isn't about a woman's 'access' to contraception. ... No, this is all about who pays and why it matters." But we've decided—in a law that was modeled on legislation that Republicans originally crafted, and which was passed into law by a Republican governor now running for president—that for the most part, employers will pay for employee health insurance. If that's the route we're taking, then it really does become a denial of access if the person with the wallet gets to decide you don't get birth control. Conservatives don't want the government making your health decisions—remember death panels? It's beyond me why they'd grant that power to private employers instead.
So the Obama administration is right to mandate that employers include contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance programs. And the administration is also right -- if a little late -- to offer an accommodation that ensures access to birth control while permitting religious institutions to adhere to their own teachings.
If only that were the end of the debate.
Unwilling, it seems, to ever take "yes" for an answer from President Barack Obama, Republicans are now pressing ahead with proposals to exempt any employer from having to pay for contraceptive coverage. GOP leaders say this is about "religious freedom" -- but, as other commentators have noted, they're not pushing to exempt, say, employers who are Jehovah's Witnesses from having to pay for blood transfusions.
It's easy to conclude, then, that Republicans are mostly interested in hindering women's access to birth control.
"Obamacare" is one of the administration's great achievements. But as recent developments have shown, it is imperfect and leaves most Americans at the mercy of their employers when it comes to health coverage.
That's not the system that most liberals desired. We wanted to see either a fully government-run "single-payer" health insurance system -- or, failing that, a "public option" government insurance plan to stand alongside private insurance, both to drive down costs and to give individuals a wider range of health choices.
Such a system would've allowed American women to choose (or not to choose) birth control with little hindrance. A woman's health decisions should be between her and her doctor, not her and her church, nor her and her employer. That important concept -- and not religious liberty -- is what faces the greatest threat today.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Maybe that was true a decade ago, but now? Republicans won a lot of elections at the state and Congressional elections in 2010 largely because people were so frustrated with the economy and wanted something done. Instead of economic turnarounds, though, we've been given...action on abortion.
That certainly seems to be the case in Pennsylvania, where the Legislature is working on a bill that would compel doctors to show women ultrasounds of their fetuses before performing an abortion. What has the Legislature—or Gov. Tom Corbett—done to advance the economy here? Beats me.
I'm not one to belittle culture war issues. But I can't help think we got bait-and-switched. I remember Tom Corbett talking (somewhat stupdly) jobs during the 2010 campaign, not abortion. And certainly exit polls in 2010 indicated that the economy was a big reason voters were turning to Republicans.
Don't get me wrong: Pennsylvania Republicans have also been hot on the trail of helping big corporations and giving the poor the shaft. Overall, though, it sure seems like we were voting for an economic agenda—and the social agenda snuck in under that cover. Time for Thomas Frank to revise his thesis.
The ACLU’s stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Given its record, however, one would be forgiven for concluding that its copy of our charter is incomplete. Unfortunately, the ACLU appears to base its actions on the text of a tattered and torn document, from which the Second and Tenth Amendments are missing entirely, the Fourth was re-written in 1973, and the words “more or less” are appended to each paragraph along with an explicit invitation to interpret the document as broadly as humanly possible.Emphasis added.
Randy LoBasso, Philadelphia Weekly, today:
Here’s something you weren’t expecting: The ACLU, along with the law firm of McCausland Keen and Buckman have filed a federal lawsuit today against the City of Philadelphia on behalf of Mark Fiorino, a Lansdale resident who was allegedly harassed by Philly cops for carrying a gun, despite his license to carry. Last time Philadelphia Weekly wrote about Fiorino and his ordeals with Philadelphia Police, he noted he was most offended by the officers’ not understanding their own city and state’s gun laws, which state one can obtain an unconcealed weapon license.Hey, the ACLU's interpretation of the Constitution is obviously to the left of National Review's. I think that's a good thing. But the ACLU also goes to work on behalf of gun-loving Second Amendment advocates. I think that's also a good thing, frankly. The ACLU frequently advocates for folks who don't necessarily line up ideologically on the left. I wonder: Would the righty ACLJ stick up for anti-gun activists using their First Amendment rights? I'm skeptical.
The lawsuit alleges Fiorino’s rights were violated when he was repeatedly detained longer than necessary to make sure he had a license to carry. His weapon was also confiscated and not returned for five months; it’s also alleged the police used excessive force against him.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Here's the good news: Somebody influential on the right -- and Murray is beloved by many conservatives -- is acknowledging the growing class divide in America. That is a breakthrough.Ben says "America's ruling elite has much to answer for." Mostly, they have to answer about sex. You'll have to go to the link to read his take.
The bad news: Murray is big into victim blaming. If life among America's working class has declined during the last 50 years, Murray says it's because its members have abandoned the habits of work and marriage that made the country great. He offers a lot of statistics to prove his point.
But there's a crucial piece missing in Murray's story.
It is most apparent when he describes the "real" Fishtown, a Philadelphia neighborhood several miles from where I live. Murray describes in great detail the rise of single motherhood and jobless men in the neighborhood.
But he never mentions Fishtown's most-defining feature: It was once a center of manufacturing and industry -- particularly the textile industry -- and now it isn't. The factories are gone. Residents can no longer walk out of the neighborhood school and into a decent job that can sustain a family.
That's precisely what happened across the country over the last 50 years: The manufacturing sector withered -- jobs went overseas -- and so did the wages of many Americans. Read The Atlantic's January cover story, "Making It In America," and you'll find many manufacturing jobs that mostly go to Americans with a costly college degree in science or math.
Simple hard work doesn't get you as far as it used to. This matters.
Murray talks about the disintegration of the working class, but not the disintegration of the work. "I focus on what happened, not why," Murray writes. Without the "why" though, he cannot and does not offer plausible solutions.
Instead, Murray urges the elites to preach more about virtue to the working class. Workers don't need a lecture, though. They need real opportunity. That can't be found in Murray's book.
UPDATE: The sex comment was kind of a cheap oversimplication on my part. I apologize to Ben.
If the audience is paying attention, for example, it will notice that Republicans are not proposing to allow employers and plans to refuse to cover blood transfusions if they conscientiously object to them (although there are religious groups that do). Or vaccinations (although there are individuals who conscientiously object to those as well). Or medicines derived from animal experimentation. (Ditto.)
No, Marco Rubio's Religious Freedom Restoration bill provides for one conscientious exemption only: contraception and sterilization.
Truth be told, I've been torn.
On the one hand, I'm a big believer in religious liberty. E.J. Dionne—no squishy liberal—makes a lot of sense to me when he upbraids the Obama Administration for its choice. He wrote: "Speaking as a Catholic, I wish the church would be more open on the contraception question. But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here."
On the other hand, I believe that women have a right to contraception and to make their own choices about their health care—and that's a choice effectively denied many women if their employer's health coverage won't cover contraception. Charlie Pierce makes this case more pungently than I would, but he's succinct: "Of course, you're not a Dominican Episcopalian making $16,000 a year cleaning bedpans in a Catholic hospital who can't afford the $600 a month co-pay for the birth control she needs to control her heavy bleeding and yet who, through no fault of her own, finds that she has to live with the theological horse-pucky of Humanae Vitae as enshrined as an 'exemption' in American secular law."
Right. And actually, that highlights the real problem here: ObamaCare is kind of a mess.
There were always going to be conservatives who protested universal health care as a tyrannical threat to liberty. But the way the law actually has been implemented—between this rule and the individual mandate that forces individuals to buy health coverage—seems designed to make many Americans feel like conservatives were right.
It is too late to re-fight this battle. But...
We'd be avoiding a lot (not all) of these problems if we simply had a single-payer system provided by the government. Since that seems to be politically untenable—since the preservation of private health insurance companies was apparently a major goal of the process that created the Affordable Care Act—the next best choice would've been a "public option"—a cheap government-run insurance option to stand right beside private options in the marketplace. Either option would've given folks an easy way to obtain the coverage they needed or wanted without trampling on the consciences of their employers. Despite the rhetoric of the right, the government-centric options are those which would've been most compatible with the interests of liberty.
That's what I wish would've happened. That's what I wish would happen still. But we're years away from such developments—if not decades. And we have to decide what to do with the laws we have now.
And ultimately, I have to come down—somewhat reluctantly—on the side of the Obama Administration. Not because I don't believe in religious liberty—but because I believe that in weighing the competing claims, I must side with individuals over institutions. It is not optimum for the federal government to require Catholic charities to go against their conscience. But it is even less optimum, I think, for the government to stand back and let Big Religious Institutions make that choice for their employees.
If those employees do not want contraception, they do not have to obtain it. No harm done. But if they want or need it, they won't have the choice denied them by their employer. Individual choice is preserved.
I know that some of my conservative friends will A) be disappointed in me and B) point out the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, while it does not confer a positive right to cheap contraception. I don't have a good answer to that objection, frankly. But if it is wrong for government to override the consciences of individuals, I'm not sure it's much more correct to let non-governmental institutions do so. Both have immense power over the lives over the lives of individuals.
Again, we wouldn't be having quite this argument if government were providing the insurance instead of requiring others to provide or obtain it. (I have no doubt there'd be spectacular fireworks over whether government-run insurance would cover abortions and the like, however.) But this is where we're at. And the Obama Administration's ruling is the best of several bad choices.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Depressingly, Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35. Those numbers were provided to me by the Post polling team.That's right. I've already written about my angst about President Obama and the way he's gone against my hopes and expectations, where civil liberties are concerned. But Sargent is right: If George W. Bush was commanding drones to assassinate American citizens, the left would be up in arms. But somebody from our tribe is pulling the trigger now, so no big thing, right?
It’s hard to imagine that Dems and liberals would approve of such policies in quite these numbers if they had been authored by George W. Bush.
If you trust Obama with that power, liberals, understand: Eventually there will be another Republican president. Maybe not in 2012. But it will happen. Will you trust that president—Rick Santorum, say, or Paul Ryan—to use that power in a way that you also trust? And if not, how do you craft a reasonable rule that gives Obama the go-ahead while leashing President Bachmann? It's probably not possible. If you roll over for Obama, you'll have little standing to complain a few years from now. I certainly won't want to hear it.
This, of course, makes me feel quite curious. If you're my D.C. reader, feel free to drop me a line!
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Last year, I read "The Federalist Papers" for the first time. The book is a collection of 200-year-old newspaper essays from Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison -- Founding Fathers all -- explaining and defending the Constitution of the United States. I read almost none of it on paper..
Instead, I read the venerable document on these devices: a netbook, an iPhone, my iPad, a desktop computer and a Kindle. I took notes and made highlights, and many of the ideas I discovered and engaged in that book, on those devices, later became the basis for points I make in this weekly column.
According to Franzen, though, my experience is impossible. According to Franzen, I should've opted to use those devices to play "Angry Birds" instead.
When new technologies come along, old technologies are replaced. It's true that sometimes we lose something of value as a result. I've been an avid reader since I learned how to read; I love bookstores and I love having shelves of books. It makes me sad to see stores like Borders go out of business because times have changed.
Here's another truth: The rise of e-books has opened up worlds of opportunity for writers whose work didn't fit the templates of old-school publishers. A friend of mine, Justin Blessinger, self-published a comic novella at Amazon, because print publishers don't have much use for novellas. More famously, writer Amanda Hocking got rich selling her fantasy novels as e-books -- and only then was signed to a major publisher. Similar stories abound: Publishing has become more egalitarian, and democratic, thanks to e-books.
The Founders didn't need books, exactly, to break away from Britain and create the Constitution -- they needed the ideas contained in those books. E-books are just a new way to create and pass down those ideas.
They're doing the job quite well
I tried to avoid utopian-type talk in my take; Ben gives in to his dystopian side, basically suggesting us e-book readers will rue our proclivities when the revolution comes and electricity is denied the masses. Less darkly, he also notes that cloud-based reading puts readers at the mercy of the cloud providers. A good objection. Not, at this point, a fatal one for me.
The truth is, Anthony Bevilacqua was no saint. If the grand-jury allegations are true and he transferred known sex offenders to other parishes instead of notifying the police that crimes were occurring on his watch, his conduct was criminal.
Stop right there, Christine, that's great. No need to elabora—
And yet, perhaps it was his sense of propriety - and redemption - that led him to shuffle priests as if they were chess pieces, believing that the interest of the church, the priests and the alleged victims would be better served by silence. It's a concept that doesn't carry much weight in a society that now rewards shouts and exhibitionists, and calls anything less than full exposure a "cover-up."Oh, hell.
Maybe Bevilacqua really did believe that stuff. It does not redound to his credit.
The idea that child rape should be reported, so that authorities can prosecute it, is not the product of reality-show television culture—is not a sign that our society has become frivolous and flighty. It's an idea born of the idea that children are innocent, deserve our protection, and that forcing sex on them—or on anybody, child or not—is a criminal act, among the very worst acts it is possible to commit.
Child rape is against the law. It is also a sin.
There is nothing honorable about shielding priests from prosecution. There is nothing honorable about putting families at risk—families that rely on your authority and guidance!—in order to protect the interests of the church. And if a "sense of propriety" kept Bevilacqua from taking other, better, actions, then that "sense of propriety" was twisted into a criminal—evil—series of actions.
Flowers is so eager to stick it to liberals that she is sometimes incapable of simply calling a wrong thing wrong. She makes excuses for the cover-up of child rape. How sad. How wrong. So let's be clear: Anthony Bevilacqua died a disgraced man. That disgrace was well-deserved.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Since Chaput seems to be putting his muscle behind this effort, though, I feel it's important to point out something: Chaput was the archbishop in Denver when a Catholic school there rejected a student because that student had two mommies.
Now: I don't like that, but that's certainly the right of a church-affiliated private school.
But I also don't really want my tax dollars to subsidize discrimination against my gay neighbors, either.
If Chaput can promise that Catholic schools will take any student—basically, if Catholic schools will take any student that public schools take, and respect their rights to conscience like any public school would—I might sign on to his efforts: I wouldn't mind have some options beyond Philadelphia's public schools. But I don't think Chaput can or will do so—Catholic organizations are increasingly abandoning public service rather than have to serve or recognize the rights of gays. I don't begrudge them that choice: They have to obey their own consciences. I don't choose, however, to subsidize the Catholic conscience with public money.
But aside from an oblique reference to governing the archdiocese during a time of "crisis," the Inquirer's obit doesn't explicitly reference the sex abuse scandal until the 12th paragraph.
It's an odd choice. But to be fair, it appears to be one that the Inquirer makes regularly: It's recent news story announcing Joe Paterno's death made no direct reference to the Jerry Sandusky scandal until the sixth paragraph.
Whenever a public figure endures a major scandal, it's often said of him: "Well he did a lot of good things, but his role in Watergate will always be in the first paragraph of his obituary." It's perhaps unfortunate for Richard Nixon that he didn't die in Philadelphia—his resignation might've been omitted entirely from the Inquirer's obit.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”This isn't a "screw the poor" moment. Romney is clearly saying that the safety net has covered the poor, so he wants to focus on getting the middle class moving again. It may be awkwardly phrased, but it's actually a pretty Clintonesque formulation.
Now: It's not been so long since Romney's campaign had great fun taking a quote from President Obama wildly out of context, so if this new quote dogs him in the campaign, it'll be hard to be sympathetic. But an honest evaluation of his comments doesn't really come out quite as anti-poor as it initially seems.