Monday, March 26, 2012

Bill Donohue and the Catholic League don't like my advice to Archbishop Chaput

Well, I guess I didn't expect this:

There's a database connection problem at the site, currently, but luckily the Catholic League e-mailed me a press release chastising ... me.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on an article that appears today as a post on the Philadelphia magazine blog site by Joel Mathis:

Joel Mathis isn’t Catholic, but that doesn’t stop him from giving some heady advice to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput: just tend to the problems in the archdiocese and drop your criticisms of the Obama administration. Mathis is angry that Chaput has a new e-book coming out tomorrow, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America, that addresses recent attacks on religious liberty. Mathis counsels Chaput to “concentrate on fixing the Catholic Church in Philadelphia,” adding that the archbishop’s alleged “anti-Obama crusade” amounts to “a distraction.”

Catholics like to lecture the outspoken archbishop as well. Last September, no sooner had Archbishop Chaput taken over in Philly when Catholic attorney Nicholas Cafardi offered his instructions. Noting that Chaput likes to comment on the big issues of the day, he said, “Chaput would be well-advised to leave politics aside.”

But Archbishop Chaput will have none of it: he will not be silenced. Indeed, he is delightfully insubordinate—nothing will stop him from opining on anything he wants, and nothing will stop him from faithfully serving his archdiocese. That’s precisely why the Catholic League loves him—he’s a man of steely determination and incredible fortitude.
This, of course, being a response to my column today at The Philly Post. I suggested that Chaput's priorities—which seem to come down mostly to "making war" on Obama—probably weren't doing much to fix a diocese afflicted with pedophile scandals and lawsuits, massively declining enrollment in the parochial schools, and declining attendance at mass. That still seems true to me.

I wasn't really trying to silence the archbishop—I doubt, in fact, that I have any ability to do so. That said: "Delightfully insubordinate?" To whom is Chaput actually subordinate and cheeky? Is he sassing the pope? No? Maybe Donohue's comments are a bit outlandish.

Then again, it's Bill Donohue, last seen in the New York Times urging bishops to treat the victims of priest sex abuse as enemies of the Catholic Church. “The church has been too quick to write a check, and I think they’ve realized it would be a lot less expensive in the long run if we fought them one by one,” Mr. Donohue said. That's a Christ-like ethic, no? If I've irritated Bill Donohue, then it's frankly a happy day.

About the Constitution, divinity, and Mennonites

The latest edition of The Ben and Joel Podcast is, well, kind of weird. In it, we interview Larry Arnn about his new book, "The Founders' Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It." Arnn's main point is that the Declaration and the Constitution don't have opposing philosophical foundations—despite what some scholars say—but I got hung up on the "divine and natural part" and you can hear so in the podcast.

The word "God" appears in Arnn's text 64 times. He references the Declaration's appeal to "the laws of nature and of nature's God" 21 times. And so, for me, the book reads much like a theological declaration as much—or more—as it is a work of history or political science. Is there room for a secular-minded person in a "divine" understanding of government? What's wrong with believing the Founders were a group of smart men—but also human and imperfect, people whose work was great but still leaves room for improvement? You can hear Arnn's answers in the podcast.

You can also hear him, jokingly, refer to me as a "defector" from the principles of my alma mater, Tabor College. And, well, guilty as charged. Tabor is a largely conservative, evangelical Christian college. I fit none of those descriptions anymore.

But after we finished recording, as I continued to digest Arnn's work and the podcast, I realized I'd still find his constant invocation of the divine troubling, even if I were not a "defector."

The Mennonites I grew up around had an interesting history. They were pacifists, believing that the example of Jesus precluded them from taking up arms. Because of that theology, the fled as a group from Germany, their original home, to Russia. And then from Russia, in the late 1800s, to Kansas, where I grew up.

The mix of theology and experience—recent enough that churches in my hometown were still worshipping in a Russian-inflected version of German into the 1950s—led many of the Mennonites to be skeptical of nationalism, in particular, but certainly any brand of patriotism that seemed to claim God on its side. As Christians, the felt duty-bound to be respectful of the authority of government--but I'm dubious they'd spend much time reflecting on the "divine" foundations of man-made government. Even when that argument is made, as Arnn does, in the service of limited government.

The problem with invoking "divinity" as the source of a form of government is that it really ends the discussion. You can't argue with God, usually. But there are plenty of arguments to be had, as evidenced by our discussion. Arnn seems like a good and pleasant man; I've no wish to quarrel with him! And he's right that the Founders referenced God quite a bit in their discussions; what that proves is that ... they referenced God quite a bit in their discussions. It doesn't mean the Constitution is marked with divinity.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

John McCain never wants to leave Afghanistan

I feel like most of today’s McCain-Lieberman-Graham op-ed about the need to stay the course in Afghanistan could’ve been written four or five or six years ago. But I really want to focus on this particular paragraph:
At the strategic level, our effort continues to be undermined by the perception that the United States will again abandon Afghanistan. This suspicion makes everything our troops are trying to achieve significantly harder. It creates perverse incentives for the Taliban to keep fighting, for the Pakistani army to hedge its bets by providing support to the Taliban, and for our Afghan allies to make counterproductive decisions based on fears of a post-American future.
But here’s the thing: Eventually the United States will leave Afghanistan. The Afghans will remain, and Pakistan will be next door. Everybody knows this.

Now, I don’t know how long it will be before that exit takes place. It might be next year, 10 years from now, or even another 100 years. But history seems to suggest that America will not occupy another country halfway around the world from its own soil infinitely into the future. At some point we will withdraw.

The wisest thing to do is to figure out the best way to withdraw, a manner that best mitigates the possibility of future attacks on America originating from Afghanistan. To hope that we can guarantee 100 percent safety is futile—but there’s a cost-benefit ratio to these things, and if a cash-strapped America has decided that ratio is out of whack after nearly 11 years, well, that’s not unreasonable.

McCain, in particular, would have more credibility if he’d ever demonstrate that there was a war he didn’t want, or want more of. But he’s always urging more, more, more. I get frustrated with President Obama often, but McCain does his best to remind me that we avoided a much worse president, one with a propensity to over-commit American troops to never-ending action.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is Obama the 'affirmative action president?'

Though his politics are not mine, I'm friendly with and very much like Steve Hayward, a prolific conservative writer who these days blogs at Power Line. Ben and I had him on our podcast this weekend to discuss his new book, "The Politically Incorrect Guide To Presidents," in which Hayward gives each president from Woodrow Wilson on a letter grade for their constitutional fealty. Democrats, as you might surmise, don't do well.

I let myself sound a bit exasperated at one main point during the discussion. In the book, Hayward says that President Obama can be fairly called the nation's first "affirmative action president." He suggests that Obama had a thin resume, and benefited from the nation's desire to elect a black man to the country's highest office.

Today, at Power Line, Steve affirms that stance by quoting Jim Geraghty at National Review:
It ties to a theory I’ve had for a while, that most apolitical voters desperately want to avoid concluding that the first African-American president of the United States is a failure, on par with a second term for Jimmy Carter. As a result, they will give Obama until the very last minute to demonstrate an ability to get the job done, to demonstrate that he can generate tangible improvements in their lives. But, if around October 2012, people don’t see tangible improvements in their lives, well, the bottom may fall out of his numbers. He’ll still have his loyal base, but the vast majority of independents will decide he just can’t get the job done.
There's an interesting discussion to be had about the role of Obama's race in his political fortune. But labeling him an "affirmative action president" is loaded terminology, suggesting that Obama's accomplishment in being elected is somehow tainted. Steve, I suspect, knows that. Interestingly, it doesn't just insult the president—it also insults the voters, who are presumably so fuzzy-headed with political correctness that they'll ride a sinking ship until it's too late. Obama's approval numbers over the last two years, I think, indicate otherwise.

In any case, the underlying conceit here is that Obama only benefits politically from his race. That's probably not the case: One study suggested the president lost as much as 5 percent of the 2008 vote based purely on his race. Certainly, the desperate attempts by Breitbart-style conservatives to link the president to the most obnoxious sorts of black nationalism—despite no real hint of such leanings in the president's actual governing record—suggest they're aware of the dynamic.

Like lots of black men, Obama had to overcome a racial headwind to achieve what he has, politically. (We have, thankfully, arrived at a point in our nation's history where that headwind was not determinative.) And like lots of black men, there are a few whites who tend to attribute those accomplishments to coddling and bleeding hearts rather than smarts and hard work. But it's a strange idea that a black man can only win politically, and almost never lose, because of his race. We haven't come that far, yet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rendell and Iran: Why no mention of his media activities?

Over the last month, former Philadelphia Mayor/Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has mostly been in the news for leading a group of investors trying to buy the Philadelphia Daily News, Inquirer, and Late last week, though, he abruptly dropped out of the group bidding on those news properties.

And then it became public that Rendell was under investigation by the feds for taking speaking fees from an Iranian (alleged) terrorist group.

Since then, we've had several stories in the Inquirer and one today in the Daily News about Rendell's troubles with the feds ... and not one of them mentions that he was just days ago the leader of the group trying to buy those newspapers.

I don't mean to impugn the hard-working reporters at either newspaper, some of whom I'm Twitter-friendly with. But it's an odd omission—particularly in light of the very public in-house battles about those papers' coverage of their own sale. It's perhaps a minor thing, but it doesn't really create confidence in those papers, does it?

CORRECTION: There is a mention at the end of this story. But most of the coverage has omitted such mentions.

When Does Adulthood Begin?

One possible byproduct of the economic challenges today's young adults face may be shifting societal norms about when adulthood begins. When asked what age children should be financially independent from their parents in a 1993 survey, 80% of parents said children should be self-reliant by age 22. In a survey conducted in December 2011, only 67% of parents (with children age 16 or under) say their children have to be financially independent by age 22.

Monday, March 12, 2012

America's future workforce

Daily Number: Hispanics Will Account for an Increasingly Large Share of Labor Force Growth - Pew Research Center: "Between 2010 and 2020, Hispanics are expected to add 7.7 million workers to the labor force. In contrast, the number of non-Hispanic whites in the labor force is projected to decrease by 1.6 million.

As a result, Hispanics will account for the vast majority -- 74% -- of the 10.5 million workers to be added to the labor force in this ten-year period. Hispanics accounted for a much lower share -- 36% -- of the total labor force increase from 1990 to 2000 and between 2000 and 2010 (54%)."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More on Rush Limbaugh and crybaby politics

Over at The Philly Post yesterday, I lamented "The Era of Martyrdom Politics" in which we try to advance our cause by being offended by what our rivals have to say about us. I mentioned the whole Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke thing, writing: "Suddenly we weren’t talking about contraceptive policy anymore, but about how a man who made his career two decades ago by coining the term 'feminazi' and crossing numerous other lines is, no kidding, really, a very obnoxious sexist and this time we mean it."

In other words, Rush has always been a jerk—there's nothing new to see here! And I think Gawker probably gets at this point a little better than I did:
So here comes Rush Limbaugh—a media entity who has repeatedly, almost monthly, reveled in a transparent strategy of uttering whatever racist, sexist, homophobic slur comes to mind for the explicit purposes of riling his antagonists—to utter a sexist slur for the explicit purposes of riling his antagonists. And his antagonists got riled! This dynamic is very, very old. (And I have certainly fallen for it). It used to be a somewhat sloppy process. Limbaugh would say things, and maybe some people would notice and write an angry newspaper column. Over the years the calumnies would build up until Al Franken cataloged them in book form.

Limbaugh claims that he does not hate women. But his critics know that he does. So when he lets slip a "slut," it can become valuable evidence in proving your case. ("He claims that he doesn't hate women, but look! He calls them sluts.") The trouble here is that Rush Limbaugh obviously and unambiguously hates women. His utterance of the word slut in the present context adds no new information about Limbaugh or his beliefs. Pre-"slut" and post-"slut" Limbaugh are identical in all respects.
I think that's right. I think Sandra Fluke was right to be very offended by Rush Limbaugh. It's the difference between the generalized bigotry of the term "feminazi" and a specific accusation leveled at a specific person.

But there's still an element of kabuki to the whole cycle of offense and umbrage, and, well, meh. Making a big deal about Rush won't make Georgetown University offer Sandra Fluke health insurance that covers contraceptives—I'm not sure it will even push the needle very far. And that's what the debate is supposed to be about.

Netflix, Amazon, and the 'problem' of streaming movie choice

At The AV Club, Tasha Robinson makes the case for continuing with physical media instead of relying on cloud-based streaming services like Netflix. Some of what she says makes sense, but not this:
And then there’s the fact that DVD/Blu-ray selection is still far greater than streaming selection. For example, check out this comparison list from September 2011, showing that only about a fifth of the movies on the IMDB top 250 are available via Netflix streaming—a percentage that dropped recently with the lapse of the Starz deal. Or consider Netflix’s Alfred Hitchcock library: More than 40 films available on disc, but only six available on Netflix Instant, and only two of those (The Lady Vanishes and The Man Who Knew Too Much) among his classics. Not only is any given film still far more likely to be available in disc form, those discs are still more likely to have options like subtitles, alternative languages, and disc extras.
That's only true if you consider Netflix the end-all, be-all of streaming movies. That's not the case.

Just to use Robinson's example: No, Netflix doesn't offer much in the way of streaming Hitchcock flicks. But Amazon Instant Video actually has a fairly complete roster of Alfred Hitchcock movies available to rent or own in a streaming format, including biggies like "Psycho" and "Rear Window."

If you lock yourself into one service, yes your choices will be limited. But that's not really necessary for most folks. On Friday night, I used Netflix to watch "Brokeback Mountain." On Saturday, I paid $4 to rent "Hugo" from Amazon. No, cloud-based services aren't complete. But if you're willing to take a buffet approach to your movie streaming, they're a lot closer than Robinson's example suggests.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

You can have your low gas prices, or you can have a nuclear Iran

It's not quite so dire as that, probably, but with Republican candidates hitting President Obama so hard on the price of gas, it's worth noting some of the factors that are driving that price up:
The Iran situation has already raised the price of crude oil as much as 20 percent, according to oil experts.

That fear is tempered by optimism — if tensions ease in the Middle East, experts predict that energy prices will fall, with gasoline at the pump potentially dropping 50 cents a gallon or more because supplies are relatively strong in many parts of the country. Some analysts say the world price of oil could fall to $80 a barrel if tensions eased.
So gas prices are at least partly the result of America's tough anti-nuke sanctions against Iran. What else?
Despite a fall in gasoline demand in the United States and Europe, global oil markets are tightening because demand for energy from Asian countries, particularly China and India, is rising at surprisingly strong rates even as output is declining from several important producing countries.
So: Gas prices are rising because of the law and supply and demand. Capitalism is doing its thing!

A cynic would suggest Republicans should be portrayed as soft on Iran and anti-markets to boot, if they continue to demagogue the gasoline issue. I'd hate to be that sort of cynic.