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Showing posts from August, 2010

A Quick Note About The ACLU

Regarding that gun confiscation story, let me note this tidbit near the end:

Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania's Philadelphia office, said that the cases seem "pretty outrageous."

"This idea of taking people's guns who are carrying them legally and arresting them is absurd," she said. "The police don't get to decide what is a crime - they only get to enforce what is a crime.

"They are simply acting as vigilantes here and deciding they know better than the law."

Roper said that citizens should remain wary of police who arrest people complying with the law and take their property, even if it is a gun.

"The public may be saying, 'You're getting guns off the street,' " Roper said.

"But there's got to come a point where you want your police, of all people, to respect the law.

"This isn't technical, it's fundamental."
Conservatives lik…

"Officers' safety comes first, and not infringing on people's rights comes second."

I'm pretty much on record that I find gun ownership the most ambiguous of all the civil rights. It's not that I dispute the meaning of the Second Amendment -- that debate, I think, is for all intents and purposes over -- but, let's be frank: Guns are instruments of violence. Period. I'm not at all certain that the Second Amendment is always and everywhere a good thing.

But I like civil rights a whole bunch, and it seems to me that if I call on folks to defend them when they don't like it, I should do the same thing. That's why I find this story in the Philadelphia Daily News so disturbing:

In the last two years, Philadelphia police have confiscated guns from at least nine men - including four security guards - who were carrying them legally, and only one of the guns has been returned, according to interviews with the men.

Eight of the men said that they were detained by police - two for 18 hours each. Two were hospitalized for diabetic issues while in custody, o…

Netflix Queue: 'Tetsuo: Iron Man'

Really. I don't even know how to discuss this movie. What I can say is that I thought about Takashi Miike's horrifying "Ichi The Killer" tonight, and opted for what I thought would be the less-disturbing flick.

I was wrong.

I won't even attempt a summary. Here's the Netflix description:

Soon after he accidentally runs down a man with a fetish for implanting scrap metal into his body (Shinya Tsukamoto, who also directs), a businessman (Tomorowo Taguchi) begins eerily morphing into a hybrid man-machine, accompanied by twisted, metal-related nightmares. Is the metal fetishist somehow controlling the transformation? Now, the businessman must track down the man he thought he killed before the horrific metamorphosis is complete.
But that makes the flick sound much more benign than it is. A friend called it "torture porn," but that doesn't seem quite right. It also doesn't seem inaccurate, either. There's a lot of phallic imagery in this movie;…

Irshad Manji's Questions for the 'Ground Zero Mosque'

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Irshad Maji suggests that both sides of the "Ground Zero Mosque" debate have been emoting more than thinking. To cut through the clutter, he she suggests that the following questions be posed to the Cordoba House/Park 51/Whatever Is Is This Week organizers:

• Will the swimming pool at Park51 be segregated between men and women at any time of the day or night?

• May women lead congregational prayers any day of the week

• Will Jews and Christians, fellow People of the Book, be able to use the prayer sanctuary for their services just as Muslims share prayer space with Christians and Jews in the Pentagon? (Spare me the technocratic argument that the Pentagon is a governmental, not private, building. Park51 may be private in the legal sense but is a public symbol par excellence.)

• What will be taught about homosexuals? About agnostics? About atheists? About apostasy?

• Where does one sign up for advance tickets to Salman Rushdie's lecture a…

Federalist 37-38: Making Government Is Hard! (A Two-Part Blog That Includes Supreme Court Musings)

James Madison is sure a whiny sonofabitch.

Sorry. That's crass and vulgar, not at all in keeping with the high-minded aspirations of this project of reading all the way through The Federalist Papers, which is the Founding Fathers' gift to us, the best explanation we have on hand of why they did what they did in crafting the Constitution of the United States.

But in Federalist 37 and 38, we're reminded that the Founders weren't actually demigods who met at a modern Mount Olympus and received the text as a gift from some even higher power. (Not that Madison and others weren't interested in promoting that storyline: "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.") They were politicians, really, and very human. And like all humans who have worked really hard on a project, they got irritated at the c…

Is It Time To Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-Bomb Iran?

That's the question raised in The Atlantic's September cover story, and is also the topic of my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week. My take:

An attack on Iran, whether by Israel or the United States, would have devastating consequences for the rest of us: Iran would almost certainly respond by unleashing its terrorist proxy groups to make war on Western targets, and it could easily make life miserable for shipping in the Straits of Hormuz -- a critical passage for oil exports from the Middle East to the rest of the world. Many people would die, and a shaky world economy might be plunged into depression.

And that's what would happen if the attack worked.

Iran learned the lessons of Israel's attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria during the last three decades. The country has spread out and buried its key nuclear facilities. Western intelligence probably doesn't know where all those facilities are located. Even proponents of an attack admit tha…

The Weekly Standard, the 'Ground Zero mosque' and selective McCarthyism

The Weekly Standard, July 26:

Many who object to construction of an Islamic facility so close to the site of the World Trade Center feel that a large, if not dominating Muslim presence there would be at best insensitive and at worst a symbol of the very Islamist supremacy that is the goal of al Qaeda and other jihadist killers. Such sentiments are hardly the last word in a question of public policy. But the background support and financing for this ambitious undertaking are matters that deserve to be addressed. The Weekly Standard, Aug. 18: Nancy Pelosi yesterday: "There is no question there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded."Follow-up: Speaker Pelosi announces that she is reviving the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), abolished in 1975. Hearings on the Opposition to the Mosque, featuring inquiries, under oath, as to whether witnesses are…

Managing My Digital Life (Or: How I Learned To Love The Internet Without Surrendering To It)

I've spent the last few months trying to figure out how to live a thoughtful, contemplative life in a digital age. There's been a lot of talk lately about Nicholas Carr's book, "The Shallows," and about how The Google Life is one of endless multitasking and short-circuited thoughts that, not so slowly, is robbing us of the ability to think or read deeply, or at length.

For awhile, I tried a little bit of cold turkey -- deactivating my Facebook and Twitter accounts -- and pondered the idea of giving up the digital life entirely. I discarded that idea ultimately: Giving up the Internet is, frankly, impractical. Twitter, it turns out, is a useful networking tool. And Facebook, well ... Facebook connects me with my friends, old and new. I would miss them.

Plus: I like blogging.

Instead, I've had to set limits for myself. The problem for me isn't so much the Internet -- there's tons to love about the Internet -- but my own capacity for endless, shallow far…

Is it bad if Bill Gates gives away half of his estate?

That's the question I tackle with Ben Boychuk in our column for Scripps Howard News Service. You already got an early version of my take on this blog, so I'll give the floor to Ben.

The problem here isn't charity. The problem is Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Americans tend to disdain the gaudy rich and ostentatious displays of wealth. Gates and Buffett are what might be called ostentatious donors. Through his family foundation, Gates has donated tens of billions of dollars to causes ranging from education reform to vaccinations for poor women in third world countries. Buffett has given $8 billion alone to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Have they helped people? Probably. Have they shaped public policy? Almost certainly. The question is whether those billions have shaped policy for the better.

To the extent Gates and Buffett have pushed for reforms that expand the scope and reach of national governments, that's not positive change. Gates and Buffett both have us…

"Bang 'em": How the death penalty reduces us to the level of criminals

Even if I favored the death penalty, I'd feel a little bit sick at the display that occurred in a Philadelphia court today:

"Walk back into this courtroom and say: 'Bang 'em, bang 'em.' "

Using the words uttered by convicted cop killer Eric DeShann Floyd against him and codefendant Levon T. Warner, a Philadelphia prosecutor today asked the jury to return two death sentences for the 2008 shooting of Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski.

In an impassioned 35-minute speech to the Common Pleas Court jury of seven men and five women, Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy argued that Floyd and Warner forfeited their right to life on May 3, 2008 when they advanced their long criminal careers to include bank robbery and the killing of a pursuing police officer.

He then turned to the jury and told them to return the double death penalty "not out of vengeance" but because "it's what the law requires and it's what justice demands."
But Conroy …

Why civilian agencies can't help counterinsurgency succeed in Iraq

This isn't probably all that widely known, but a key aspect of the counterinsurgency doctrine Gen. David Petraeus helped develop back in his Fort Leavenworth days -- before he became a celebrity superhero in Iraq, and now Afghanistan -- is this little point: The military can't do it alone.  The American government's civilian agencies -- ranging from Treasury to (seriously) the Department of Agriculture -- all have a vital role to play in helping win over a secure the population where the insurgency is taking place.

This doesn't happen as well as it should -- at least, that's what military types say with a fair amount of frequency. But part of the reason that may be the case is this: where political types back home in Washington are frequently willing to write blank -- or, at least, very big -- checks to fund military efforts abroad, they're stingier when it comes to those civilian agencies. Here's a story in today's Washington Post:

Beginning in Septembe…

The Weekly Standard doesn't want "our" Muslims talking to "their" Muslims

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the so-called Ground Zero mosque, is apparently set to take a State Department trip to "to help people overseas understand our society and the role of religion within our society.” John McCormack of the Weekly Standard responds with confusing pugnaciousness:

If the purpose of the junket is to "help people overseas understand our society"--and not to help Rauf raise the $100 million for his mosque--wouldn't it make sense to send someone representative of the vast majority of Americans who oppose the Ground Zero mosque? Perhaps the State Department could send someone--maybe Juan Williams or Rich Lowry or Abe Foxman or Bill McGurn or Neda Bolourchi or Sarah Palin or Rod Dreher or Christopher Caldwell or Bill Kristol--to explain to the people of the world that Americans aren't bigots but simply find it offensive and insensitive to build a mosque two blocks from the site of a horrific Islamist terrorist attack?
This is simply bra…

Obama, Gibbs, Ungrateful Liberals and the Art of Politicking

President Obama on Monday:

"We have spent the last 20 months governing. They spent the last 20 months politicking," Obama said of Republicans. With three months to go before the election, Obama all but said "bring it on": "They've forgotten I know how to politick pretty good."
Back in Washington, his spokesman Robert Gibbs:

The White House is simmering with anger at criticism from liberals who say President Obama is more concerned with deal-making than ideological purity.

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”
All I can say is: Way to motivate the base, guys. Part of politicking …

Conservatives Against Philanthropy: Are Bill Gates and Warren Buffett Socialists?

I confess I don't get this reaction to the June story in Fortune about how Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are trying to persuade other billionaires to leave half their estates to charity:

As it turns out, however, the writer, senior editor-at-large Carol Loomis, struck a raw nerve with Fortune readers. Most were outraged – regarding the philanthropy plan as grandstanding that would do nothing to create jobs or to address horrific problems, including runaway government spending, the spiraling deficit, and the near-comatose state of the economy. As Fortune notes in its July 26 issue, “When Carol Loomis reported on Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ plan to pledge half of their wealth away, the comments – nearly 500 of them – came in fast and, literally, furious.”

According to Fortune’s own tally, the comments ran 2-to-1 against Buffett and Gates. The included 36 percent of who readers described the philanthropy plan as “a publicity stunt/dangerous/the work of socialists” an…

Federalist 30-36: This Government Was Made For Taxin'. And That's Just What It'll Do.

The farther I read into the Federalist Papers, the more I'm convinced the Tea Partiers only know about half their history.

Back up: I didn't start reading the Federalists with the aim of debunking the Tea Partiers. But it's impossible to read historical documents about the nature of governance in America when there's a coalition of folks out there who so strongly identify with those historical personages.

Their narrative, I believe, goes something like this: America was born, essentially, in a tax rebellion. And the Founding Fathers then created a limited government in order to avoid oppressing the people either with burdensome taxes or directly tyrannical rule. And maybe, just maybe, if the tax burden gets too large -- well, maybe, Americans have the right to resort to rebellion again.

Like I said: I think that's only partly right. Because the Federalist Papers -- the documents we most use, aside from the Constitution itself, for insight into the Founders' th…

Now that Proposition 8 has been struck down, will gay marriage become the law of the land?

That's the central question of my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week. My take:

Whether the Supreme Court strikes down gay-marriage bans may depend entirely on the attitudes and disposition of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who tends to be the swing vote on controversial issues. Reading his 2003 opinion in Lawrence v. Texas -- the ruling that struck down laws making homosexual sex a crime -- it's difficult to see how state bans on gay marriage will survive.

It is true that Kennedy, in his 2003 ruling, was careful to state that decriminalizing such sexual practices did not require formal government recognition of gay relationships. But the logic of that ruling is compelling in the context of gay marriage.

The logic was this: To use the law to set apart homosexual conduct "demeans the lives of homosexual persons," and thus is at odds with the guarantees of liberty provided by the U.S. Constitution.

Kennedy was right then, and he would be right now to say the same…

Proposition 8 and judicial activism

This excerpt from Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling strikes a proper balance, I think:

An initiative measure adopted by the voters deserves great respect. The considered views and opinions of even the most highly qualified scholars and experts seldom outweigh the determinations of the voters. When challenged, however, the voters' determinations must find at least some support in evidence. This is especially so when those determinations enact into law classifications of persons. Conjecture, speculation and fears are not enough. Still less will the moral disapprobation of a group or class of citizens suffice, no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious recknong that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval. As such, Proposition 8 is beyond the constitutional reach of the voters or their representatives.
Emphasis added.

Obama Disappointment Watch: Cordoba House Edition

I'm starting to wonder if President Obama can give nuanced speeches on controversial topics only when his own bacon is in the fire. Because in the history of cowardly question-ducking, this one goes pretty high on the list:

As the proposal to build a 13-story Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero moves forward and controversy surrounding the plan grows, top New York Democrats are maintaining radio silence on the matter.

President Obama is also declining to take a position on the issue. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today the decision to build the mosque next to Ground Zero is "rightly a matter for New York City and the local community to decide."

When a reporter asked why Obama would use his powers of moral suasion on other issues where religious freedom is concerned, but not this issue, Gibbs ducked the question and said it was a local matter.
This is Grade A political cowardice. And it's furthermore nonsensical: The First Amendment is a "local matter?&…

Dear Steve Levitan: Don't take 'Modern Family' offline!

James Hibberd reports:

If it was up to Steve Levitan, his ABC hit "Modern Family" wouldn't be available online.

During an ABC-sponsored coffee break at TCA, Levitan said he's unsuccessfully lobbied Disney-ABC TV Group president Anne Sweeney to remove online versions of his hit show.

Noting there's roughly 2 million people watching "Modern Family" episodes online whose viewership is not fully monetized Levitan said that, in theory, those viewers could be watching the comedy on regular ad-supported TV.
I'm one of those 2 million viewers. And I need to let Mr. Levitan know something: I'm not going to watch "Modern Family" on TV if you take it offline. I don't have a TV. (I don't say that snobbishly; I'm obviously watching TV shows anyway.)

If you take "Modern Family" off Hulu, then, one of three things will happen.

* I will stop watching "Modern Family" entirely. There's no money in that for you!

* I mi…

A reader challenges me on the Cordoba House and religious freedom

"Capt. Jack Gilles," a reader of the Scripps Howard column, writes to challenge my position in favor of the Cordoba House mosque at Ground Zero.

If there is no debate then:Shouldn’t ground zero not contain a Synagogue and a Church as well as a mosque ?
And my response to this is: Of course! If any Jewish or Christian congregations want to build near the site and there's a space for them, let them build! I don't advocate for the Cordoba House because I'm an evangelist for the Muslim faith; I advocate for the Cordoba House because I believe in American values and laws, particularly as represented in the First Amendment.

Gilles also repeats the canard that the the Cordoba House mosque amounts, essentially, to trophy-claiming by Muslims for their "victory" on 9/11. It's a common view -- one, again, that assumes that American Muslims are indistinguishable from Osama bin Laden in their beliefs and sympathies. I do not believe that and I do not grant that.

Tom Corbett and me in the Philly Daily News

If you saw my blog last week, you already know what I think about GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett's ongoing "unemployed people are lazy" meme. I expand those thoughts in today's Philadelphia Daily News -- and even add a little research to show just how bad the jobs situation is in Pennsylvania right now:

Between June 2009 and June 2010, this is what happened:

* The state lost roughly 9,000 professional and technical jobs that had a prevailing annual wage of $73,808.

* Another 10,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in a sector that typically pays $51,529 a year.

* And the construction industry - which pays on average $51,928 a year - cut another 5,000 jobs.

So where did the state's job growth come from?

* The biggest growth was in "administrative and waste services" - 23,000 new jobs. But they paid just $30,887 a year.

* Pennsylvania added another 15,000 "leisure and hospitality" jobs, with prevailing wages ranging from $14,848 for food-ser…

The persecution of Christians in Indonesia

Terrible story in Sunday's New York Times:

For Luspida Simanjuntak, the Christian congregation’s leader, the problem is simple: Her flock of 1,500 has no church, and no one here will let her build one. In Indonesia, houses of worship can be built only with permission from the surrounding community. This is a measure that critics say contributes to a tyranny of the majority and forces minorities to hold services in private homes, hotels, shopping malls and streets.

“We’ve been worshipping for 15 years, more or less, moving from house to house because every time we try to build a church, we’re faced with mobs who won’t let us build,” Mrs. Simanjuntak said.

On the Muslim side of the police cordon, a speaker warned that the Christians were trying to provoke Muslims into violence and were seeking to turn local children into kafir, or infidels.
It's a good thing nothing like that could ever happen in the United States!

Andrew Breitbart comes to Philadelphia

Andrew Breitbart came to Philadelphia on Saturday; I missed the event, unfortunately, but this Philadelphia Inquirer article crystallized what about Breitbart, exactly, troubles me so.

It's not his willingness to peddle misleadingly edited videos, or his well-documented arrogance (some would call it flair) or the fact that he gives shelter, on his Big Government site, to conspiracy peddlers like Frank Gaffney. (No, I'm not going to link to that.) These things bug me, but they're not the thing that bugs me about Andrew Breitbart.

This is the thing that bugs me: Andrew Breitbart has made himself famous and influential by raging against (he says) a liberal establishment colossus. But he's used his power, essentially, to try to crush ants. He's done that loudly, sure, but that doesn't change the essential dynamic.

Let me elaborate, by referring to the Inky article. Here's Breitbart describing his mission, echoing statements he's made elsewhere:

Andrew Breit…