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Showing posts from July, 2010

The ADL, Ilario Pentano, the Ground Zero mosque, and what it means to be an American

A few years ago, a friend of mine -- an editor, only about 10 years older than I, a man of some Italian lineage -- looked ahead to the 2008 elections and declared, flatly, that Barack Obama would never be president.

"Nobody becomes president whose last name ends in a vowel," he said.

The remark struck me, because I wasn't really used to thinking of my friend in ethnic terms.(He'd was a little over-rhapsodic about "The Sopranos," but then again, what man wasn't?) But my friend was heir to a not-so-distant history, the son of a family that -- thanks to its Mediterranean origins -- had just a few decades previous been considered not-quite-fully American. By 2005 or 2006, whenever I had that discussion with my friend, those days seemed past -- but he still felt it in his bones.

I thought about my friend last night, when I read the New York Times' story about how the Anti-Defamation League has decided to oppose the Cordoba House, better known as the Grou…

The Cordoba House mosque, Ground Zero, and all you religious people trying to run my life

That's the topic of my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week. Since you already got most of my take in blog form last week, let me do something different and focus on Ben's take.

An excerpt:
Now let's contrast Washington with Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the Cordoba House project who wrote a fascinating book in 2004 called "What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America." In it, Rauf casually argues that the U.S. Constitution and the core principles of Islamic law (sharia) are not in conflict at all and, indeed, the "American political structure is sharia-compliant."

"Islamic law and American democratic principles have many things in common," Rauf wrote, stressing that sharia's support for "political justice" and "economic justice ... for the weak and impoverished" "sounds suspiciously like the Declaration of Independence."

To the casual reader, maybe. Fact is, sharia doesn't …

I still don't believe the Tea Party: Eavesdropping edition

I've long believed the Tea Party phenomenon is mostly about sore loserdom -- the people who've been taking to the streets and raising hell at Congressional town meetings these last 18 months say they're alarmed at deficits and runaway government spending. But they were nowhere to be found while those same things were getting started under George W. Bush.

The complaints of Tea Parties have, generally, fallen under the rubric of "tyranny." The Obama Administration is infringing on our freedoms, it is said, to a degree unimaginable outside of historically extreme circumstances. But really, I don't believe the Tea Partiers on this front, either. Why? Well, let's look at today's Washington Post:

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

Critics say…

Tom Corbett still really thinks that unemployed people are lazy

Looks like Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett has decided to double-down on the "unemployed people are lazy" theme in fairly cowardly fashion:

Speaking to reporters after a campaign stop in Delaware County, the Republican nominee for governor noted that newspapers across the state are carrying line after line of help-wanted ads.

"Are there jobs out there? . . . How would you interpret that?" he asked.

Corbett reported seeing one newspaper page that he said promised thousands of jobs listings in print and online.

"You guys asked me if there are jobs out there," he said to a pair of reporters. "If I am a common citizen, the average citizen, and I look at a newspaper . . . and I see jobs - what's the answer to that question."

Asked if he was implying that the unemployed were not taking advantage of these listings, he said no-adamantly no-he wasn't saying that.

But he clearly is saying that. And he's being a punk by not owning …

This is why I won't read the Philadelphia Inquirer in print

At right is today's front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's a demonstration of why -- much as I'd like to support local journalism -- I can't bring myself to subscribe to this paper in print.

The big main story? The one that occupies the two-thirds of the space above the "fold" and is thus the main selling point to buy the paper off the rack?

It's a two-day-old story.

And it was written by the Los Angeles Times.

The first issue is one that print newspapers will always deal with. They simply can't hit the news with the same speed as the web. (The story broke late enough Sunday that the Inky, apparently, couldn't or didn't get it on Monday's front page.) And the Inky's editors, in all fairness, went with a story that analyzes the fallout from the WikiLeaks document dump instead of reporting it as "new" news.

The second issue, though, goes to the heart of the Inky's problems. It used to be one of the newspapers of natio…

Dennis Prager: Liberals hate conservatives

National Review's Dennis Prager departs from dispensing invaluable marriage advice to offer similarly valuable insight into human nature. Liberals, he says, hate conservatives.

Granting the exceptions that all generalizations allow for, conservatives believe that those on the left are wrong, while those on the left believe that those on the right are bad.
I'll grant that there are lots and lots of liberals who feel this way. But Prager's blithe dismissal of similar phenomena on the right suggests he's not dealing with the issue honestly. Because there's lots of conservatives who think that liberals are evil. For example: I was attending a conservative evangelical Mennonite college in 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected president. I was one of the few students to openly support Clinton for president that year; many of my fellow students and faculty warned of literally Biblical, literally Apocalyptic consequences if he attained office. (The night of the election, a st…

The Trig Truther Theory: Why I'm Giving Up on Andrew Sullivan

Here's what we've always known about Andrew Sullivan, blogger: He's smart, but he's also passionate, contrarian, paranoid and reckless. On his best days, that's made him an entertaining -- if sometimes annoying -- read. (And important: His work on the Bush Administration's torture policies was crucial.) On his worst days as a blogger (we'll put aside his career as an editor) it's led him down the path of outright calumny.

But I've kept reading. Why? In part because he's just about the biggest thing going in the political blogosphere. His traffic, it's well known, forms the cornerstone that keeps other very smart blogs alive at The Atlantic's website. He's a one-man industry. In recent years, he's added staff that allowed him to function as a kind of meta-blogger -- he didn't necessarily comment on every story or debate out there, but at the very least he would point you to the most important debates happening elsewhere on the…

Yes to birthright citizenship

That's the topic of my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk. My take:

What does the 14th Amendment really mean with regard to "birthright citizenship?" Tough to say. Even the men who wrote and passed the amendment in 1868 weren't in full agreement on that point.

The amendment says that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" are citizens." But the legislative debate over that language was fierce - some senators argued it surely didn't mean that children of American Indians or gypsies or Chinese would be granted the same citizenship as white people.

Other senators - notably John Conness of California - believed otherwise.

"The children of all parentage whatever, born in California, should be regarded and treated as citizens of the United States, entitled to equal civil rights with other citizens," Conness said.

The debate continues today. But birthright citizenship - a long American …

WikiLeaks and Afghanistan: Why were civilian casualties kept secret?

Quite coincidentally, I posted earlier today on why it's important to keep civilian casualties low in the Afghanistan conflict -- even if the result is that American troops sometimes find themselves more endangered than their weaponry suggests they need to be.

Now The Guardian goes into some detail about how the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan has been more widespread than reported:

The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed "blue on white" in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents.

Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers.

At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely…

WikiLeaks and the Afghanistan War: First Thoughts

I obviously haven't had time to go through the 90,000 Afghan war documents that WikiLeaks dumped on the public today, so I'll have to rely for now on the New York Times' overview:

As the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, tries to reverse the lagging war effort, the documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.
Let's take that piece-by-piece. The war, the Times says, is hamstrung by...

* The Afghan government.We knew that.

* The Afghan police force.We knew that.

* The Afghan army "of questionable loyalty and competence."We knew that.

* And a Pakistani military that might be an "unspoken ally" of the anti-American insurgent forces.We knew that.

Again, these…

Civilian deaths, rules of engagement and the war in Afghanistan

It's become something of a meme among portions of the right (and in the military) in recent months that American troops in Afghanistan aren't really allowed to defend themselves, and that those troops are thus more exposed to danger than they should have to. It's an argument that ignores, completely, one of the central points of counterinsurgency doctrine: The people of a country are the "battlefield" that is to be won -- and if you kill innocent civilians, you're probably losing that battlefield.

Via BBC, proof of the concept:

The authors of the report by the Massachusetts-based National Bureau of Economic Research say they analysed 15 months of data on military clashes and incidents totalling more than 4,000 civilian deaths in a number of Afghan regions in the period ending on 1 April.

They say that in areas where two civilians were killed or injured by Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), there were on average an extra six violent incid…

Andy McCarthy: War is peace, up is down, Islam is no religion

Andy McCarthy has a beaut at The Corner today:

The Ground Zero mosque project is not about religious tolerance. We permit thousands of mosques in our country, and Islam is not a religion. Islam is an ideology that has some spiritual elements, but strives for authoritarian control of every aspect of human life — social, political, and economic.
Get that? Islam is not a religion. That's probably a surprise to the people who pray five times a day.

But you know what? Even if you grant McCarthy his outlook -- even if you believe that Islam is an ideology -- guess what? Still protected by the First Amendment.

Marc Thiessen lies about defense spending "cuts"

This is a theme that gets repeated a lot, but I'll pick on Marc Thiessen for repeating it. Here he is at The Corner today:

The New York Times has a front-page story today on the growing momentum on Capitol Hill to cut defense spending. It is not surprising that in an age when the Democrats are showering money on almost every domestic initiative known to man, the one area they would seek spending cuts is the defense budget.
But Thiessen is lying. Let's look at the New York Times story for an explaination:

Mr. Gates is calling for the Pentagon’s budget to keep growing in the long run at 1 percent a year after inflation, plus the costs of the war. It has averaged an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 7 percent a year over the last decade (nearly 12 percent a year without adjusting for inflation), including the costs of the wars. So far, Mr. Obama has asked Congress for an increase in total spending next year of 2.2 percent, to $708 billion — 6.1 percent higher than the peak under t…


Four years ago today, we got married. In some ways it was a mere formality -- an excuse for getting dishes and coffee makers -- because we'd already been each other's family since, well, less than a month after we'd met. But this is a good date for remembering, and for letting the rest of you know what she means to me.

Coincidentally -- at least, I think coincidentally -- the last four years have been the most tulmutuous of my life. Jobs have changed, cities have changed, we became parents and, well, almost none of it has been easy.

But she has made it easier. She's been unwavering in her support, determined and optimistic when my confidence failed, a cheerleader -- but also completely willing to challenge me when I say something stupid. She likes watching silly Asian action flicks with me, and we enjoy going to art exhibits and the orchestra together. She's my friend, but she really is -- in ways I never dreamed -- a real partner.

She's also an amazing mother.…

Netflix Queue: 'Die Hard: With A Vengeance' is almost a better movie than you think

If "Die Hard: With A Vengeance" had been a standalone movie, instead of the third installment in a franchise...

...and if it had been made in 1975 instead of 1995...

...and if its second-half hadn't been overstuffed with the cliched tropes of 1990s overstuffed action movies...

...then the movie might be fondly remembered as a great heist movie instead of a middling entry in the Bruce Willis/Samuel Jackson oeuvre, one that's not all-that-remembered and even less-watched today.

But it's shocking how close the movie comes to a kind of "Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (the original) Hollywood greatness. (Here's a synopsis if you need a refresher.) In some respects, it's the best of the "Die Hard" bunch.


* For one thing, the movie stands alone in its real-world texturing. Whereas the first installment took place in a generic LA office building and the second in a generic airport, much of DHWAV is identifiably set on the streets -- and…

Sarah Palin, the Ground Zero mosque and the American presidency

More than most American leaders who might run for president someday, Sarah Palin has made a career of dividing "us" and "them." Most famously, she spent parts of the 2008 dismissing her opponents and their allies as residing somewhere outside the "real America" -- and while she apologized for it, her constant grievance-mongering suggests she sees the world, and this country, mostly in terms of its divisions.

Don't get me wrong: Other leaders can be "divisive." Palin is different: The divisions animate her.

I mention all of this because of a recent posting to her Facebook page, which features this title: "An Intolerable Mistake on Hallowed Ground." She is, of course, talking about the proposed mosque to be located 600 feet or so from Ground Zero in New York.

I agree with the sister of one of the 9/11 victims (and a New York resident) who said: “This is a place which is 600 feet from where almost 3,000 people were torn to pieces by Is…

Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, and the JournoList "scandal"

So Spencer Ackerman, Michael Tomasky, Joe Conason, Chris Hayes, Katha Pollitt, Mark Schmitt and Kevin Drum are liberals who, in 2008, wanted to see Barack Obama elected president? Shocked! I am very very shocked!

Actually, I'll go ahead and say that Tucker Carlson -- the guy behind the Daily Caller -- is a liar. His headline -- "Documents show media plotting to kill stories about Rev. Jeremiah Wright" -- is wrong on two counts, and Carlson must know it: It wasn't the "media" having a discussion about the Rev. Wright story, but a group of liberal journalists who write from openly liberal perspectives. This wasn't the "straight" reporters from mainstream media outlets, it was the people who get paid to do opinionated journalism. Furthermore, from the Daily Caller's own reporting a good chunk of the people involved in the conversation argued against a response proposed by one or two members of the group. So it wasn't the "media"…

Federalist 23-29: Freedom, and the national security state

Find all my Federalist Papers blog posts here.

There's a conservative narrative of the last 100 years or so that goes something like this: America started to become a little less free -- a little less tethered to its Constitution -- about the time that Franklin D. Roosevelt took power during the Great Depression and started creating the welfare state. Every new entitlement -- "ObamaCare," say -- and every slight tax increase represents a near-tyrannical intrusion of the state into realms that should be private. Every time a Medicare check goes out, then, freedom dies a little more and somewhere in the great beyond, Friedrich Hayek sheds a tear. Or maybe Ayn Rand.

There's an alternative narrative -- one that doesn't get as much attention -- and in the last year it's been most famously advanced by onetime conservative author Garry Wills. In this reading of history, it was indeed Franklin D. Roosevelt who expanded the state at the expense of the individual -- b…

Eric Cantor's piddly YouCut site proves Republicans aren't serious about cutting the deficit

Via Twitter, Peter Suderman points out that Republicans plan on campaigning this fall against the federal deficit, but have no plans to actually do anything about it if they take Congress. See Sunday's "Meet The Press" for confirmation. In response to such complaints, National Review's Robert Costa points to Eric Cantor's YouCut website, which he describes:
Cantor debuted YouCut [in May]. Its premise is simple: Each week, Americans can vote for their favorite of five potential spending cuts on the web (or via text message to 68398). Cantor works to bring the winner to the House floor. With one click, you can help to shape the House GOP agenda.

“It allows us to focus on out-of-control federal spending, the number-one issue for millions of Americans,” Cantor says. “For us, it is an unprecedented online project.”Unprecedented? Whatever. It's also incredibly piddly and lame. Look at the current options YouCut offers for a vote.
* Eliminating unnecessary Congression…

Today in Judeo-Christian justification: Immigration

Late in the New York Times' story about how evangelical leaders are teaming up with President Obama to reform immigration law -- including a sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants already on American soil -- we hear from Bryan Fischer of the conservative American Family Association.
Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, a national conservative Christian organization in Tupelo, Miss., said, “What my evangelical friends are arguing is that illegal aliens should essentially be rewarded for breaking the law.

“I think it’s extremely problematic from a Judeo-Christian standpoint to grant citizenship to people whose first act on American soil was to break an American law,” said Mr. Fischer, who hosts a daily radio show on which immigration is a frequent topic.Well, sure. It's not as though the core doctrine of Christianity involves redemption and forgiveness for a lifetime of sins.It's certainly not like Jesus told his human followers to off…

George Will's silly plan for Republican outreach to Latinos

George Will thinks the GOP can capture some of the Latino vote by ... making Puerto Rico a state. He uses his Sunday column to profile Luis Fortuno, the Republican governor of Puerto Rico:
Conservatives need a strategy for addressing the immigration issue without alienating America's largest and most rapidly growing minority. Conservatives believe the southern border must be secured before there can be "comprehensive" immigration reform that resolves the status of the 11 million illegal immigrants. But this policy risks making Republicans seem hostile to Hispanics.

Fortuno wants Republicans to couple insistence on border enforcement with support for Puerto Rican statehood. This, he says, would resonate deeply among Hispanics nationwide.But why would that be the case? Latinos aren't abandoning the Republican Party over concerns about the citizenship of other Latinos 1,000 miles away from U.S. shores. They're abandoning the GOP because they don't like how Republ…

Bag O' Books: "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman

Despite being very, very, very nerdy, I've never been much of a reader of fantasy books. I've got friends who are all up in Robert Jordan's house, and I feel like I should be there with them. But I'm not.

I occasionally -- thanks to the influence of my wife -- make an exception for the books of Terry Pratchett. He's an English fantasy writer, creator of the "Discworld" series of books that tell fantasy stories filtered through the lens of British humor. It works for me. And a few years ago, I greatly enjoyed "Good Omens," a novelistic collaboration about the Apocalypse from Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, who's probably better-known for his graphic novel work.

Which is why I picked up Gaiman's "American Gods" a few weeks ago. And I wish I'd enjoyed it more than I did. Which, ok, I did enjoy it a little bit. But it wasn't really absorbing. Without Pratchett's collaboration, Gaiman comes across as a very, very smart guy who…

Arizona will stop enforcing a controversial law

No, not that law:
At the first tick of the clock Friday, an array of automated cameras on Arizona freeways aimed at catching speeders were to stop clicking.

There is no glitch. The state, the first to adopt such cameras on its highways in October 2008, has become the first to pull the plug, bowing to the wishes of a vocal band of conservative activists who complained that photo enforcement intruded on privacy and was mainly designed to raise money.

It was a tumultuous, impassioned run here. A man wearing a monkey mask racked up dozens of tickets, fighting them in court, to protest the system.

Some of the loudest critics were conservatives, who organized protest groups and prodded legislators to impose restrictions on their use, arguing the cameras amounted to, as one put it, the “government spying on its citizens.”The data suggested that the system led to a 19-percent drop in fatal collisions. But it's good that Arizona officials see the wisdom of backing away from an intrusive law…

Once again, Andy McCarthy wants Iraqis to be grateful for being invaded

There's not a lot I'm going to say about Andy McCarthy's latest column in National Review, except that I want to note -- again -- the amazing and repugnant way he characterizes Iraqis:
When the WMD did not materialize, the result of “look forward, not back” was to portray nation-building — a goal the public never agreed to — as the dominant purpose of our prohibitively costly presence in Iraq, an ungrateful Muslim country that generally despises Americans. This isn't the first time that McCarthy has called Iraqis "ingrates" -- and really, there's a (can't get around this word) imperialist presumption to his attitude that's quite simply breathtaking. "You'll take our invasion -- and the years of bloody violence it unleashes -- and you'll like it!"

As McCarthy notes, we didn't actually invade Iraq in order to bestow the blessings of freedom -- even in the anger that permeated America after 9/11, there probably wouldn't have …

Why Philly?

As my wife and I have contemplated what our futures hold -- now that we're seeking ravenously after full-time employment -- we've had to figure out our priorities. And it's emerged that one of the top priorities is trying to stay in Philly. But why?

Part of it might be inertia: It's expensive and energy-consuming to move. But part of it is that we've become fond of the city. And I don't always understand that: In some ways, the two years we've spent here have been the roughest, hairiest, least-fun years of my adult life. We want to stick it out.

Again, why?

Maybe because -- despite the challenges -- there's a lot to love. I like Philly. I like Cafe Lutecia and Almaz Ethiopian restaurant and the art museum and the orchestra and Rittenhouse Square and Jafar Barron and the Monday jazz jam with Orrin Evans and Cafe L'Aube and Grace Tavern and Shakespeare in Clark Park and Skorpion and Makael and Ekta and Gusto and Paolo's and the Phillies and Andrew…

Gabriel Schoenfield, the Pentagon Papers and democratic self-governance

Gabriel Schoenfield, writing in the summer issue of National Affairs, revisits the Pentagon Papers incident and makes an extraordinary claim: Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers leaker, undermined democracy by showing the American public how their government worked.

No really:
Whatever one thinks of Ellsberg's motives — and however one might appraise the harm his actions inflicted on American foreign policy — the fact is that, at its root, Ellsberg's leak was not just an assault on orderly government. In a polity with an elected president and elected representatives, it was an assault on democratic self-governance itself.

For better or worse, the American people in the Vietnam years had elected Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon; they had acted at the ballot box to make their leadership and policy preferences clear. Yet here was a mid-level bureaucrat, elected by no one and representing no one, entrusted with secrets he had pledged to the American people to protect, abusing that trust…

On the value of low-skill, low-wage labor

Believe it or not, there's a lot to recommend about John Derbyshire's column today at National Review. It's ostensibly about how Obama Administration policies are drying up the number of unpaid summer internships for teenagers, but it drifts into a meditation on how -- even in these recession days -- American elites don't seem to value manual labor the way they once did. The whole thing should be read, even if you don't agree with everything. But some of Derbyshire's anecdotes rang true for me.
I have noticed that if, among 30-something colleagues, I mention one of my own school or college summer jobs — factory or construction work, dishwashing, retail sales, bartending — my colleagues will look amused, and a bit baffled. How come a guy as well-educated as Derb was shoveling concrete? Boy, he’s a real eccentric! No, I’m not. Those experiences were perfectly normal for a person of my generation. They’re just not normal any more, not for children of the American m…