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Showing posts from July, 2012

Larry Mendte is wrong about Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A

My Philly Post colleague Larry Mendte says this morning that people who boycott Chick-fil-A over Dan Cathy's stance on gay marriage are probably being hypocrites.
I need to get my car inspected this week, but first I have to send my mechanic a short survey to find out where he stands on a number of controversial issues. If he disagrees with me, I can’t possibly give him my business. And when I go to the supermarket, I need a grocery list of how the makers of each of the products I plan to buy stand on gun control, abortion rights and immigration.  It sounds awfully silly, but that seems to be where we are heading after the Chick-fil-A gay marriage controversy. Well, no.

The reason Mendte doesn't know about the political positions of his mechanic or grocers is because those folks probably haven't actually publicized those positions.  Dan Cathy, on the other hand, sat down for an interview with the Baptist Press that was explicitly designed to promote the link between the bu…

Jonah Goldberg, the death penalty, and James Holmes

UPDATE: Welcome, National Review readers! You can find my response to William Voegeli here.

Jonah Goldberg has a column at NRO, saying that death penalty opponents are noticeably silent after the Aurora massacre because, hey, James Holmes is pretty inconvenient for their cause: "I say, let us give Holmes a fair trial. If convicted, execute him swiftly. If you disagree, explain why this man deserves to live."

The reason the death penalty debate hasn't flared up, post-Aurora, is because the debates have been focused on actions and policies that might've prevented the massacre in the first place. There are cases to be made both for gun reduction and arming citizens more thoroughly; there are arguments to be made about our mental health care system. Is anybody making the argument that the threat of the death penalty would've deterred Holmes? Even Goldberg isn't making that case. So the death penalty debate is kind of beside the point, as far as our current discus…

Death of football watch

New York Times:  An autopsy report released this week, just before N.F.L. training camps opened, concluded that the former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who committed suicide in April, had a degenerative brain disease widely connected to athletes who have absorbed frequent blows to the head.  Easterling, who played for the Falcons for eight seasons in the 1970s, began coping with apparent dementia and depression about a decade into his retirement. Easterling was 62 when he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his longtime home in Richmond, Va.  The autopsy by the medical examiner in Richmond found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, progressive damage that has been linked to blows to the head, and determined that it was the underlying major condition that accounted for Easterling’s difficulties.

Local governments shouldn't crack down on Chick-Fil-A

I'll outsource my commentary to Adam Serwer:
Blocking construction of Chik-fil-a restaurants over Cathy's views is a violation of Cathy's First Amendment rights. Boston and Chicago have no more right to stop construction of Chik-fil-As based on an executive's anti-gay views than New York City would have had the right to block construction of an Islamic community center blocks away from Ground Zero. The government blocking a business from opening based on the owner's political views is a clear threat to everyone's freedom of speech—being unpopular doesn't mean you don't have rights. It's only by protecting the rights of those with whose views we find odius that we can hope to secure them for ourselves. Yup. I'm not going to go out of my way to boycott Chick-Fil-A, because I've never actually had a meal there that I recall. But that's my private choice. A government decision to punish somebody's political or religious beliefs is wrong.

Maybe Noam Scheiber should pipe down

If you're going to adopt modest, smart, common-sense changes to gun ownership rules in this country, there's going to have to be one guiding mantra for liberals: "We're not going to take your guns away. We're not going to take your guns away. We're not going to take your guns away." Repeat.

Why? Because the NRA types out there are sure that every tiny move in the direction of regulation isn't merely a slippery slope, but a cliff over which the government pushing them straight into the jowls of tyranny and other purple-prosey mixed metaphors. The ability to stop psychos from ordering 6,000 rounds of ammunition online, like they're so many baby wipes, depends greatly—entirely—on the ability of advocates for such rules to convince those NRA types that we're not going to take your guns away. 

So while I'm the last guy who would ever tell a journalist to pipe down with his or her opinions because they don't actually help anything get accomp…

One more thought about Jonathan Haidt and 'The Righteous Mind'

There was a moment at the end of our podcast with Jonathan Haidt when I wanted to leap up from my seat indignantly and shout, "You just don't get it sir!" I was restrained by a couple of things A) time constraints and B) the collegiality that is our default mode during these podcasts.

Some background: Haidt is a proponent of the "Moral Foundations Theory," which posits that humans essentially have six areas of morality that they care about. How does this make a difference in our politics? Well, Haidt says that conservatives tend to score highly in caring about all six areas of morality—but that liberals seem to care mostly about three. (Liberals apparently care less about proportionality, purity, and loyalty—and this puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to engaging their fellow citizens and earning their votes)

It was the loyalty part—conservatives care about it, liberals don't—that got me tripped up. I explain why in an early part of the podcast: Beca…

Who is behind the gun violence stalemate?

Craig Whitney's gun-violence op-ed in today's NYT is probably just a little too even-handed. "Unless gun-control advocates and gun-rights supporters stop screaming at each other and look for common ground on how to deal with gun violence, the next massacre is only a matter of time," he writes, and that sounds right. Let's dig out of our polarized mindsets and find some common ground!

Only there's this:

Liberals have to deprive the National Rifle Association of its core argument, that the real aim of all gun control measures is to strip Americans of their right to have and use firearms. Gun-control supporters must make clear that they accept that Americans have had this individual, common-law right since Jamestown and the Plymouth Colony; that this right was recognized in the Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1791; and that the Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality in 2008. Here's the thing: That's pretty much exactly what liberals—those in…

Who loses their freedom over gun violence?

There has been, of course, quite a bit of debate the last few days about gun violence and how to address it. At City Journal, Heather Mac Donald offers one effective solution: Stop and frisk.  The police are heavily deployed in certain neighborhoods because that’s where incidents like Sunday’s shooting occur. Toddlers and recreational basketball players are not getting shot in the West Village; if they were, the police would be making stops there as well. Once in a high-crime area, the police use every tool they have to send the message that law and order remains in effect. Had the ordinary means of social control—above all, the family—not broken down in those neighborhoods, the police would not need to look out for and intervene in suspicious behavior. If communities don’t control their teenagers, however, the police will have to. And until mothers and fathers start socializing their children so that shooting someone no longer seems a normal response to a dispute, the choice will rem…

Penn State: 'Question What It Is You Revere'

Shortly after I posted about Penn State this morning, Daniel Victor—media maven, Penn State alum, and (from what I know of him) all-around good guy—tweeted:

That's a great point.

Here's the underlying truth for me: I advocate harsh punishment for Penn State largely because I don't actually believe that Paterno, Spanier, etc. were all that unusual in their failure to report Jerry Sandusky. I am terrified by how banal evil can be, how easily bureaucratized and accommodated, and the truth is that I don't fully trust myself to be an exception to this rule. I advocate a harsh punishment because I suspect it will provided a much-needed jolt to the consciences of the vast majority of us who usually go along to get along. The pain of accommodation needs to exceed the the reluctance to rock the boat.

As a young reporter in Lawrence, Kansas, I covered a case where two players on the University of Kansas football team were accused of sexually assaulting a female soccer player, wh…

Why I'm OK if Penn State football gets eviscerated today

I have several friends who are Penn State alumni--good people who not so long ago revered Joe Paterno, good people who have been devastated by the Jerry Sandusky scandal and everything that has followed. I feel bad for my friends today.

On the other hand, I also hope that today's NCAA sanctions cripple the Penn State football program. 
Penn State defenders point out that if the program is hobbled, it will punish students and a new coaching staff and others who didn't do anything wrong, who didn't let Jerry Sandusky molest children. And they're right.

On the other hand, there's this scene from Sunday's removal of Joe Paterno's statue. Margaret Walsh knelt in prayer before the stumps of metal that remained, tears streaming down her face. An obstetrician/gynecologist and Penn State alumna who once baby-sat Paterno's children, she had driven nearly six hours from Chesterfield, Va., to pay the statue her respects. "Everything is being done so fast,"…

Barack Obama may have the better of the tax argument

Raising Taxes on Rich Seen as Good for Economy, Fairness - Pew Research Center: "By two-to-one (44% to 22%), the public says that raising taxes on incomes above $250,000 would help the economy rather than hurt it, while 24% say this would not make a difference. Moreover, an identical percentage (44%) says a tax increase on higher incomes would make the tax system more fair, while just 21% say it would make the system less fair.

Most Democrats say raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 would help the economy (64%) and make the tax system more fair (65%). Republicans are more divided: 41% say this would hurt the economy, while 27% say it would help and 24% it would make no difference. And while 36% of Republicans say raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 would make the tax system less fair, 30% say this would make no difference and 25% say it would make the tax system more fair."

'via Blog this'

Ramesh Ponnuru on Republicans and defense cuts

I've written a couple of times about the hypocrisy of Republicans who worry that defense spending cuts will hurt the economy. That's Krugmanesque Keynesianism under the rubric of "national security," and it deserves to be labeled as such.

Today, conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru does the labeling, though he comes to a slightly different conclusion than I do:
Needless to say, on the theory that the Republicans are advancing, the federal budget can never be cut. The U.S. Conference of Mayors will be able to say that cuts in social spending will devastate the economy of our cities with at least as much justice as defense-heavy areas can complain about cuts to the military. Rural areas can say the same thing about farm subsidies. (Snip) Yet the purpose of the defense budget shouldn’t be to subsidize particular people or areas. We don’t buy tanks and train soldiers to keep beauty salons in business. The Republicans resisting big defense cuts generally think that they wou…

Walter Kirn and the Mormons

If you haven't already, please read Walter Kirn's TNR piece, "Confessions of an Ex-Mormon." It touches only lightly on the subject of Mitt Romney's religious beliefs and the role they play in this election season and instead focuses on biography: How a brief conversion to Mormonism helped Kirn's father stabilize a life that was spinning out of control, and how (a generation later) Kirn's residence in a house full of Mormons helped him find his own foundations.

Kirn's somewhat ambiguous about the state of his own faith in the piece, but I found it a useful reminder: In the public sphere, we treat religion like it's merely a set of beliefs and doctrines. I've written--and still think--it's fair to test how Romney's own adherence to Mormon beliefs and doctrines affects his views of public policy.

But Kirn's piece reminds me that religion is more than a set of fit-slot-A-into-tab-B rules for getting into heaven: Very often it's a s…

How John Roberts killed the Affordable Care Act, continued

Me, last month:
Now. I doubt Republicans would mount a campaign to get everybody to pay the tax and avoid health insurance in order to undermine the purposes of he Affordable Care Act. But if the mandate is now framed in the popular mind as a "cheap tax I can pay" instead of a "rule that I must follow," it's possible that many young, poorly paid people will opt to pay the tax--and that insurance companies will drown over time as a result. James Capretta and Yuval Levin, today at National Review:
In the wake of the Roberts decision, participation in Obamacare’s insurance scheme is optional. Rather than a requirement to buy coverage backed with a penalty for violators, the law now offers Americans two equally lawful and legitimate options: buy expensive insurance (which Obamacare will make all the more expensive), or pay a modest (and still largely unenforceable) tax and just buy insurance for the same price later if you need it. Presented as a choice, not a comm…

Dear Democrats: Stop bluffing about the fiscal cliff*

No, no, no:

Democrats are making increasingly explicit threats about their willingness to let nearly $600 billion worth of tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January unless Republicans drop their opposition to higher taxes for the nation’s wealthiest households. Emboldened by signs that GOP resistance to new taxes may be weakening, senior Democrats say they are prepared to weather a fiscal event that could plunge the nation back into recession if the new year arrives without an acceptable compromise. In a speech Monday, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the Senate’s No. 4 Democrat and the leader of the caucus’s campaign arm, plans to make the clearest case yet for going over what some have called the “fiscal cliff.” Ain't gonna happen.

Listen, when Republicans threaten to scuttle the nation's fiscal infrastructure by not raising the debt ceiling, they've got a plausible reason for doing so: Their constituents won't punish them for not raising the debt, and they might …

Are 10 percent of American students sexually victimized at school?

Today's Philadelphia Daily News has an op-ed from Terri Miller, president of SESAME Inc.--an acronym for "Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation"--about how we need to do more to protect our children from predators like Jerry Sandusky. No problem there: Who disagrees with that?

But one thing she said in the op-ed jumped out at me: "Overall, an estimated 1 in 10 students will be the victim of educator sexual misconduct during their school career, a ratio that equals about 4.5 million current K-12 students."

This appears to be a statistic she uses regularly: She also used it during testimony before Congress in support of the Jeremy Bell Act, which requires schools to report suspected incidents of educator sexual misconduct.

If she's right, then American parents need to press the panic button: 10 percent of all students are being sexually victimized at school? That's a huge problem, one that would--should--be devastating to the very system …

How the White House censors journalists (And a solution)

Turns out that when you read quotes from White House officials, you're only reading quotes that have been pre-approved for publication by the White House. This is some kind of obnoxious: It is a double-edged sword for journalists, who are getting the on-the-record quotes they have long asked for, but losing much of the spontaneity and authenticity in their interviews. Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager, can be foul-mouthed. But readers would not know it because he deletes the curse words before approving his quotes. Brevity is not a strong suit of David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser. So he tightens up his sentences before giving them the O.K. Stuart Stevens, the senior Romney strategist, is fond of disparaging political opponents by quoting authors like Walt Whitman and referring to historical figures like H. R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s chief of staff. But such clever lines later rarely make it past Mr. Stevens. Many journalists spoke about the editing only if grant…

Dennis Prager's case for God

I think, after today, I'm going to try to stop writing about Dennis Prager. I have conservative friends who deeply respect him, and I admit to being somewhat confused by that: To me, his liberals are always straw man liberals (who always seem to be pulling the country toward Stalinism) and his atheists are always straw man atheists. We won't even talk about his straw woman feminists. There's always an audience for such things, of course, but the people who give credence to Prager are usually thoughtful. I'm obviously missing something.

If Prager has or attempts a moral imagination that lets him consider lives and viewpoints other than his own in non-hyperbolic, non-stereotypical fashion, it is not evident in his writing. And while I admit that my conservative friends might say the same thing about me from time to time, the effect of Prager's style is that it is impossible to really constructively disagree. That means he's mostly irritating, and almost never—in …

'The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama': A discussion

The following is a chat transcript with my friend Lex Friedman about Tom Junod's Esquire piece examining how President Obama uses drone warfare—and how his actions might be infringing on American civil liberties.

Lex: So I read that long long piece you linked yesterday. About the Lethal Presidency. I am above making a joke about how the worse crime by far is the overwrought writing style the author brought to the piece.
me: Heh. Fair enough.
9:24 AM Lex: I understand the author's argument. But I do not agree.
me: How so?
9:25 AM Lex: I see targeted killings as he (negatively-ish) paints the administration as seeing them: an evolved form of war. Instead of killing soldiers with little stake in the battle, or putting our own soldiers with limited stakes at direct daily risk, you go for the people who are actively involved in plotting against you. 9:26 AM If we grant the president the right to send troops to fight wars—and we do!—then we're trusting him with lots of lives on both side…

Latest podcast: Robert Draper

Ben and I chatted with Robert Draper for the latest podcast, on his newest book about the House of Representatives. It's a good read, and a good discussion. Take a listen here.

Netflix Queue: 'Goon'

Not a bad flick. Not a masterpiece, but it's the kind of thing I can see 17-year-old guys gathering in basements to watch for the next couple of decades:



I'm not really a hockey fan, and it's hard to watch this movie without thinking of guys who have sacrificed their health--and maybe even their lives--to this kind of way of living. But 'Goon' does (or almost does) one really interesting thing: It asks us to consider the options available to people who simply aren't that gifted. For Sean William Scott's Doug Glatt, the option is to fight. And that's about it. We're allowed to see him use that option as a kind of triumph for the little guy. But it's hinted to us--through Liev Schreiber's character--that what comes after isn't so pretty. But mostly we're meant to have a good time, so those themes are touched upon lightly. Like I said: Not a great movie. But not the worst, either, if you're prepared to stomach some extreme profanity…

How books—even cookbooks—make our worlds bigger.

I felt a sense of loss this morning, reading in the New York Times that the western wildfires had destroyed the Flying W Ranch in Colorado.

Why the loss? I'd never personally visited the ranch. As a child, my mom had the "Cow Country Gourmet" cookbook—essentially a compilations of recipes from the Flying W Ranch. It seems to me that she used it regularly, though my memory might be faulty on that front.

But I remember staring at the cover from time to time: What kind of world did it come from, that one could have a sit-down dress-up dinner under the open sky? Next to cattle? In front of a teepee?

 I've never personally opened the cookbook to make a recipe from it. Yet that cover, which got a little bedraggled over the years, burned itself into my mind's eye. It made the Flying W Ranch—or some fantasy version of it, at least—a part of my childhood. I am sad to see it go.

Netflix Queue: 'Wing Chun'

Yes, we've been watching a lot of Chinese movies lately. Here's one of my favorites on Netflix: It's got young Michelle Yeoh, young Donnie Chen—in the only movie that I've seen of his in which I find him halfway charming—and orchestrating it all: Woo-ping Yuen, the man who choreographed the stunts in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the "Matrix" films, and "Kill Bill." This early-1990s pic doesn't have the production values of those films—listen to the cheesey soundtrack music above—but the fight choreography is inventive. Don't expect anything epic or narratively complex: This is a light comic piece in the tradition of "The Legend of the Drunken Master." It's a trifle, but a fun, well-made trifle.

'Jayhawkers' on Kickstarter

I'm not in the habit of pimping my friends' work, as a rule, but my former Lawrence Journal-World colleague Jon Niccum contacted me to let me know about a movie project he's working on—one that's crowdsourcing its funding from Kickstarter.

The movie is called "Jayhawkers," and yes it's got some University of Kansas stuff going on, but it also sounds pretty cool. It tells the story of how Wilt Chamberlain went to KU—changing not only college basketball, but helping alter race relations in Lawrence, Kan.:
The movie’s emotional climax comes during the triple overtime 1957 National Championship bout between the Jayhawks and their bitter rivals from The University of North Carolina, a game that is decided in the final seconds, and one that has been called the greatest in college history.

Jayhawkers tells the powerful fable of how a small group of unlikely allies modernized college sports and changed a small Midwestern town, serving as a parallel to the Civil Rig…

Threading the needle on public unions

In a recent piece for PhillyMag, and more recently here, I've suggested that public unions bear more scrutiny than their liberal allies have generally given them. But I've also said—much, much less prominently, admittedly—that the problems afflicting municipalities these days can't be blamed solely on those unions. In my Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk this week, I flesh out the rest of it a bit with a look at the bankruptcy of Stockton, California.
Public unions aren't perfect. Too often, they act as constituencies to whom favors are owed rather than partners in building the cities they serve. Democrats are often loath to acknowledge such flaws, for a couple of reasons: a) Unions are a critical source of campaign funding; and b) You never really see Republicans biting the corporate hand that feeds them. Why alienate allies and disarm unilaterally?  Public unions didn't solely create the problems faced by Stockton, or any other city facing financial trouble…

Netflix Queue: 'Submarine'

Great movie: It's kind of like "Rushmore," only if Max Fischer were Welsh, had a complete set of parents, and was much less able to overwhelm people with the force of his personality. Oliver Tate also has a way of being alienating, but it's more in the mode of the usual dumb antics of a teen boy than in Fischer's attempts at being precocious. Charming movie.

Walter Russell Mead and the lost Christianity of America's elites

I actually found Walter Russell Mead's post--about how American elites have lost their way by losing Christianity--to be somewhat compelling, if not entirely convincing. This was the passage I found challenging and a bit moving.
Serious Christians have to struggle continually against the temptation to view “merit” uncritically. To begin with, any gifts that you have are just that — gifts. Your ability to score 800 on the math section of the SAT is something for which you can personally take no credit whatever. It’s like a pretty face or perfect pitch: it’s very nice to have, but it’s God’s sovereign choice, not your sublime inner nature, that is responsible for this. And of course, he doesn’t give his gifts without a purpose.  And guess what: the reason God made you smart wasn’t to make you rich and to make you special and to allow you to swank around in the White House or at Davos. He made you smart so that you could serve — and the people he wants you to serve are exactly all t…

Netflix Queue: 'Let The Bullets Fly'

What a bizarre movie: I'm still scraping my thoughts together about this, but: It's a cross between a gangster film and a Shakespeare mistaken-identity farce, featuring about 13 or so twists and double crosses along the way. It kept doing things that I completely did not expect it to do: For example, Chow Yun-Fat played the villain with queeny ostentation. So I'm going to have to watch it again.

Why I'm still grumpy about National Review and the false 'Obama in Paris' story

My piece for The Philly Post, documenting how and why a good number of Republicans believe that Barack Obama is spending today--July 4--raising campaign cash, had a good run this week: Mentions at New York Magazine, Slate, and last night on the Rachel Maddow show. Both NY Mag and the Maddow show featured a tweet from Andrew McCarthy acknowledging he'd made a mistake.

But that's not quite good enough for me.

Maybe it's the old newspaper guy in me, but I think you should acknowledge and correct and error in the venue that you made it. And in this digital era, you should acknowledge and correct and error by noting it on the very post you made it.

As of the morning of July 4, Andrew McCarthy's original, incorrect post remains uncorrected.

So it's fine he tweeted his correction--it means he's not totally disengaged from the truth. But leaving the original post uncorrected means that it'll sit there, evidence for any activist who Googles it a year from now to mak…

The New York Times normalizes John Yoo

Perhaps this is my bugaboo, but I cannot stand the way the New York Times mentions torture advocate John Yoo this morning. My problem? They don't mention the torture advocacy. And it seems relevant.
Why? Because the mention comes in a story about how conservatives are angry with Chief Justice John Roberts' vote on the Affordable Care Act.
By Saturday, John Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer, was suggesting in The Wall Street Journal that there had been a catastrophic vetting failure in 2005 when the administration was considering Chief Justice Roberts’s nomination. “If a Republican is elected president,” said Professor Yoo, who teaches law at the University of California, Berkeley, “he will have to be more careful than the last.” But Yoo isn't just a "former Bush administration lawyer" who "teaches law" at Berkeley. He's the lawyer who campaigned for an exceptionally expansive reading of the president's commander-in-chief duties under the…

'Liberals Against Labor Unions'

That’s the title of a very short essay I have in the July issue of Philadelphia Magazine. (It’s not online, that I can find, but it’s on newsstands now.) It’s a piece I fear will cost me a few friends in this town--and possibly beyond--and so I hesitated to write it. I don’t like making my friends mad!

But: I wrote it. And I stand by it. Now I’d like to elaborate.

The central point of the essay is that the city’s public labor unions--in virtually every sector of public governance--contribute to the sclerotic can’t-do-much-but-do-it-expensively-and-slowly-but-intrusively nature of Philadelphia governance. Let’s face it: Governance in this city sucks. They’re not the only culprits, but mostly public unions appear to act as constituencies that are owed favors and pandering instead of partners in making the city better.

It hurts to write that, because I believe it’s not a coincidence that the decline of unionization in America has coincided with stagnating middle class wages. And I don’t thi…