Thursday, March 31, 2005

Keeping a New Year's Resolution.

A couple of months ago, I encouraged all left-leaning folks to talk more about national defense. And then promptly...didn't. Because I'm totally ignorant on national defense and, in a rare show of humility, don't think it's a good idea to bloviate on a subject about which I know so little.

Good news! The fine people at Democracy Arsenal are doing the work for me! Look. Read.

And I now amend my initial promise and will instead link at least once a week to these guys or other similarly informed people.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Still Waiting for the Magic Johnson Hit Piece

So, I was thinking about Magic Johnson. I took a look at some of his (ahem) Johnson Development projects, and it seems like every damn piece on him makes Magic out to be a modern-day Robin Hood, revitalizing entire inner city communities with sustainable development through win-win projects that improve the community and turn a tidy profit (sadly, no pics of Magic in tights and quiver.).

So, where's the piece that unceremoniously cuts him down, and (justly or unjustly) calls all his achievements into question, putting him under a cloud of self-serving mendacity?

If such a piece does not present itself in a major publication within the next year, I think it represents a sea change in US journalism. I mean, you could never rely on those guys for the truth, but you could at least rely on them to never accept any millionaire who says he's going to start and business and dedicate himself to the betterment of the underprivileged. Whether it's a good thing, with fewer decent rich people pilloried for trying to do good things; or it's a bad thing, with credulous acceptance of exploitation of the poor when it's framed in a business model that only wants what's "best" for them; I don't know. But it's definitely a change.

(Sure, they let that Mother Theresa get away with public heroism on behalf of the poor, but she was, like, totally poor and celibate. This is a different thing entirely.)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

America--NOT a Swedish Theocracy!

I was reading the comments in a recent Pandagon post on the villification of single mothers. (Read the post, too--Amanda is a most fabulous addition and I heartily endorse this post). Anyway, a commenter made a very stupid point that Swedes "don't believe in a God who can tell people what to do," and in the US we do, therefore it's OK for the US to have policies make it harder for women to get divorced, becuase that reflects what religious interests want.

Which brought me to a thought. Sweden is not considered a theocracy, but it's not really clear to me why. I mean, there's a Church of Sweden. Heck, there's lots of "secular" states with official religions--Denmark's got their official religion written into the Constitution and hey, Norway's official state church just ordained a gay priest. Which leads me to argue two things: first, God's policy positions are far less clear than those promoting a "Christian Nation" would have us believe, and second, that liberals' defense of the separation of Church and State is not necessarily a defense of liberal values but is unquestionably a defense of American values.

Plenty of people have pointed out the pluralistic society's "Well, which God" problem with arguing for governance via God's will, and plenty of others have pointed out the, um, sacrelige of claiming to know God's will. But even if we assume we can know God's will as revealed through Christianity and we should use that to govern, we've still got a big problem when it comes to creating a "more Christian" nation. Jesus, Christianity's central figure, preached mainly in parable so, unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity doesn't have a lot of explicit rules that its adherents can refer back to and formally debate. So, to be inexcusably reductionistic, while a fundamentalist Islamic or Jewish theocracy could easily outlaw cannabilism because it's not Kosher or Halal, theocratic Christians wouldn't be able to point at a hard and fast rule and would have to argue in a different way that eating other people is terribly, terribly unchristian. The current demands from the Right Wing for a greater "recognition" of Christianity in our laws and government seem to miss the fact that Christianity is very flexible religion, equally useful to tyrants and saints, and that their cries for a "more Christian" nation would justify everything from an America that looks like Norway to one that looks like El Salvador.

The second point stems from the first--while a Christian nation is neither inherently conservative nor liberal, inherently just or unjust, a Christian nation is inherently unamerican. People have made entire careers opining upon the First Amendment's implications, as well as the implications of other constitutional quirks such as the prohibition against a religious test as a condition to hold office. But frankly, the document's pretty clear--the government should stay out of the religion-promoting business, and it shouldn't use Godly authority to justify its exercise of power. Or, as the legally non-binding Declaration of Independence put it: while the legitimacy of our rights are divine, the legitimacy of our government is mundane--it derives from the consent of the governed.

As someone whose name I've forgotten and who I'm shamelessly plagarizing pointed out: Religion in government does not make politicians more divine, it makes priests more profane. Today, when liberals confront conservatives who demand laws that better reflect our "Christian values," they're defending American values.

On the other hand, maybe conservatives argued the same thing when Civil Rights activists were organizing in churches and in 40 years when liberal Christian churches are in vogue, we'll find liberals' commitment to the separation of Church and State is as cynically convenient as Republicans' commitment to states' rights and limited government. Hopefully not.

Oh, yeah, use this as a "Happy Easter" post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

And we're torturing them because...?

So, this is interesting. Put simply, torture doesn't work. But we're doing it anyway. Why?

Because if, like George Bush, you're not willing to take on the chemical industry and put in proper safeguards, if you're not willing to roll back tax breaks to pay for port inspections, you can't have people just talking about that. Every B-school flunkie knows that if you don't have the policy chops or the political courage to actually be effective, you need to look busy.

And nothing makes you look more busy than torture.

Torture is hard work. It keeps your intelligence guys busy--not just with the business of torturing (ropes! electrical prods!), but also busy analyzing all the "data" you're gathering. And even better, you don't have to capture more people in order to stay busy with analysis! See, a tortured man will keep changing his story, becuase he'll say anything to make the pain stop. So if, for example, you can't catch Bin Laden, you can still keep yourself busy analyzing the contradictory stories that his childhood gardener tells when you put the screws to him.

Also, torture gets you the right headlines. You get to make the terms of the debate about "who's soft" vs. "who's tough" instead of "who's effective" vs. "who's ineffective." This is good, because when people start talking about "effective," you're going to be in trouble're not really doing anything (see above re: no policy, no courage).

Of course, there's a downside. You endorse the enemy's torture of your own people. You turn your soldiers into sadistic monsters who will one day come home. And there's the thorny problem of what to do with the innocent guys you pick up and torture--if they weren't plotting against you before, they are now.

Oh and also, it's evil. And if you think you can contain this sort of evil, that it's going to stay in a little box in Cuba...well, you'd best hope that it's never in anyone's political interest to leave your pretty little ass dangling from a hook in the ceiling.

When we allow political expediency to surpass inalienable rights, we've repudiated everything that we as a people hold dear. There's consequences to that sort of thing.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Making Excuses for Torturers

Okay, I'm no interrogration expert, but this explanation of extraordinary rendition is bullshit.

Sorry, we have to send terrorists to their home countries so they can be confronted by their families? Because...we can't bring their families here? Does the CIA not understand how planes work? Not only can you bring people from the US to Syria, but you can also bring them from Syria to the US! Shocking, really, the wonders of modern technology.

More seriously, arguments like these need to be challenged because they provide cover for a bad policy. America has already sent an innocent man to Syria where he was tortured. Do you think this makes Osama bin Laden more or less credible to recruits when he claims that the Middle East is run by evil puppet regimes that hurt Arabs in order to make America happy? Naive and credulous defenses of bad policies like these are a big part of the reason "America is losing a public relations war in the Muslim world to people sawing off the heads of other Muslims."

And what's even more appalling is that all the arguments in this article are tremendously weak, so weak that they're laughable. They remind me of the arguments used to justify slavery in the 1800's--they would only be persuasive to an audience that wanted to be persuaded, that desperately wanted an excuse to continue to pursue an evil and destructive policy.

Gak, it's one thing to make excuses for torturers. It's quite another to accept transparently false ones.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Seriously y'all, WHAT is up with Kansas?

Last week, we heard that the Kansas AG was subpoenaing the medical records of teenaged girls and adult women at clinics, ostensibly so he and his deputies can comb through them and look for evidence of child rape. Why someone would need look through the medical records of a 30-year-old adult woman to see if she's been the victim of statutory rape is, quite frankly, beyond me...

This week we hear that, apparently, Kansas prosecutors secretly took a DNA sample from a woman's pap smear in order to prove her father was a serial killer.

I can imagine the signs in Kansas will soon read: "Um, hi! Welcome to Kansas! Ladies, you may want to think twice before seeing a doctor, as it's becoming standard operating procedure for us to paw through your medical records (and your tissue samples, ewww) for evidence of crimes you had no connection to. Because, you know, there's absolutely no other way for us to catch serial killers or child rapists than invading the privacy of completely innocent women who had nothing to do with the crime! Yep, it's our only option, and we just feel sick to death that we keep using it all the damn time."

Hey, why don't we make this whole process more efficient and have every GYN in the state start sending copies of medical records and bits of tissue directly to the DA's office at the end of every workday? That way, the police can review it and follow up as they deem appropriate. I don't see why anyone would have a problem with that. Unless they had something to hide...