Browsing the blog archives for December, 2008.


Be Happy

holiday

happy-new-year-copy

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E.J. Dionne

Obama Administration

Good column today.

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Joe Scarborough Smackdown

Middle East

Joe Scarborough is a prick. But you knew that.

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Tolerating Intolerance

American History, big picture stuff, conservatism, Europe, liberalism and progressivism, multiculturalism

Yesterday I wrote about the liberal approach to sex ed to be found in The Netherlands and how this has resulted in world-record low rates of pregnancy and STDs in young people. The Netherlands also often is cited as having close to the lowest rate of abortion among all nations — I think Iceland edges it out by a decimal point — while allowing liberal, legal access to abortion.

Today we read in the International Herald Tribune that the problems caused by Muslim immigration into The Netherlands is causing the Dutch to re-think their liberal ideals of tolerance.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Netherlands had lived through something akin to a populist revolt against accommodating Islamic immigrants led by Pim Fortuyn, who was later murdered; the assassination of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, accused of blasphemy by a homegrown Muslim killer; and the bitter departure from the Netherlands of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman who became a member of Parliament before being marked for death for her criticism of radical Islam.

Now something fairly remarkable is happening again.

Two weeks ago, the country’s biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch “tolerance.”

Naturally, this story is being celebrated by The Usual Mouth Breathers on the Right as a sign that Europeans are wising up to the evils of allowing brown people with funny accents to live among them. One goes so far as to predict this position paper is the beginning of the end of the European Union.

A genuinely liberal culture is a rare thing. The default position of human civilization seems to be some form of authoritarianism. The challenge to any liberal society is to maintain liberal ideals even while factions within that society are undermining them (e.g., Freepers). Is that possible? Is there a middle ground between using authoritarian government to enforce cultural “norms” and standing by smiling while one’s country is taken over by thugs? Does being liberal mean having to be a patsy?

To me, the absolute foundation of liberalism is the value of human equality and all its permutations — civil liberty, social justice, equal protection under the law. For this reason, liberalism can accommodate cultural differences, but it cannot tolerate intolerance. Historically, genuine liberalism has not flinched from using the power and authority of government to protect civil liberties from whatever thuggish forces violate it.

This is where liberalism and libertarianism part company. In its passion for “small government,” libertarianism is perfectly happy to chuck civil liberties out the window. It is no coincidence that probably the most purely libertarian political document America ever created was the Confederate Constitution, the ultimate purpose of which was to ensure protection of the institution of slavery.

And I still believe much libertarian antipathy toward “big government” was kick-started by the showdown between federal troops and segregationists in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957. But a liberal nation cannot tolerate racial discrimination.

We should be clear that multiculturalism is not the problem. The United States always has been a multicultural nation, right-wing revisionist history to the contrary. Conservatives cherish a mythical past in which all America (except for a few fringes, of course) was populated by English-speaking Anglo Saxons. This was never true. In the 19th century, English was rarely heard in large regions of the country. I’m not talking about city neighborhoods; I’m talking about vast stretches of territory across many states. In big chunks of the upper Midwest, for example, German was far more commonly spoken than English. During the Civil War, some Union volunteer regiments were German speaking, and Lincoln had to appoint German-speaking officers to lead them.

Much of what is distinctive in American culture — music, food, language — in large part comes from African American influence. The Southwest had a thriving Latino culture before the first Anglos showed up. There have been ethnic Chinese in the West for more than 150 years. And, of course, native Americans were here first.

Human history can be seen as one vast multicultural dance. Various cultures are forever moving, mingling, changing. Sometimes a culture can be isolated for a time, but never forever. Cultures that are isolated too long become stagnant. On the other hand, expose some European Crusaders to Middle Eastern arts and sciences, and the eventual result is the Renaissance.

Although Islam seems to encourage authoritarianism, Islam is not necessarily the problem. An article in today’s Christian Science Monitor describes Muslims and non-Muslims living harmoniously together for generations in Cambodia. The articles describes a society in which Muslims are thoroughly integrated, even though the nation is more than 90 percent Buddhist.

“Integration” is the key word, I think. In other Buddhist nations, such as Thailand, Muslims are not integrated, and there is perpetual violence.

But let’s go back to The Netherlands. What happens when people with an authoritarian cultural orientation move into a non-authoritarian, liberal society? Messy and ugly things happen, that’s what. The Dutch are going to have to find their own way through this problem, but the issue before them is how to protect liberal values without violating liberal values.

The message, seems to me, is We don’t care how you worship, and we don’t care how you dress, but you may not oppress or forcibly coerce other people, including those in your own communities. And if you can’t live with that, you will go away and live somewhere else.

The other half of a liberal counter-offensive against illiberalism is to encourage integration and, to be sure those Muslims who are trying to fit into Dutch culture are given help if they need it.

The mistake made in many European countries — France in particular comes to mind — is that they’ve adopted a policy that discrimination against the ethnic newcomers doesn’t exist, even though it does, and they’ve taken no pro-active measures to enable integration and fairness. As a result, Muslims in France are ghettoized, alienated, and have little hope they can work within the system to better their lives.

It’s nearly always the case that there is conflict and enmity when cultures collide. However, the only constant in human civilization is change. Human societies cannot be frozen in amber, nor can they remain healthy walled off from other human societies.

At the same time, the cultural strife being experienced in The Netherlands is not a sign the liberalism has failed, so we must give up on it and revert to authoritarianism. I think it’s a sign that liberal societies are rare, that they are constantly under threat from authoritarianism, and that it takes work to maintain a liberal society. But the work does pay off in the long run.

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Everything You Feed Will Grow

Obama Administration

A couple of days ago Ezra Klein wrote something very wise about the Israeli strikes. I urge you to read all of it — it is short — but here is one bit:

Hamas lacks the technology to aim its rockets. They’re taking potshots. In response, the Israeli government launched air strikes that have now killed more than 280 Palestinians, injured hundreds beyond that, and further radicalized thousands in the Occupied Territories and millions in the region. The response will not come today, of course. It will come in months, or even in years, when an angry orphan detonates a belt filled with shrapnel, killing himself and 25 Israelis. At which point the Israelis will launch air strikes killing another 70 Palestinians, radicalizing thousands more, leading to more bombings, and so the cycle continues.

I think it’s time people got into their heads that movements, ethnic groups and causes cannot be bombed into submission. I’m not saying a great power should never use military force to strike back at terrorists or subversives. However, I do think that a military response is useful only under very limited circumstances.

Naturally, Ezra got slammed by people who think every criticism of the government of Israel is tantamount to condoning the Holocaust. His response is equally good.

Long ago I heard a saying, “Everything you feed will grow.” I think that applies here. Israel needs to ask itself, What are we feeding? Hamas should ask itself the same thing, of course, but as Ezra says Hamas lives “off Palestinian hatred of Israel. Their currency is the oppression of their people. It is oxygen to their cause.” Put another way, Hamas lives because Israel is feeding it. Until Israel figures that out, Hamas will thrive.

In other news, President Bush is on vacation.

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Be Prepared

Social Issues

There’s another new study out saying that teenage ‘virginity pledges’ are ineffective. In fact, they are counter-effective. Teenagers who pledge abstinence until marriage are just as likely to have sex as those who don’t, but they are less likely to use contraceptives than those who don’t.

The fact is that in spite of all our puritanical shudderings about sex, the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. The lowest? For several years running, it’s been the ultra-liberal Netherlands. And it’s a big difference, too. The teenage pregnancy rate in the U.S. is 44 pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls per year. In the Netherlands, that number is 5.

In other words, the little country infamous for legal drugs and prostitution does a better job of keeping its teenagers from getting pregnant than the good ol’ USA, Land of Sexual Repression. I believe the Netherlands also has the lowest rate of STDs among young people on the planet.

From reading several articles I take it the Dutch have what we would call a “permissive” attitude toward sex, and they also provide the kids with frankly explicit sex and birth control education. Middle-school age children practice putting condoms on broomsticks, for example. It seems all the parents are OK with this. Here, it would start riots.

I do not know if teens in the Netherlands are likely to begin having sex at an earlier or later age than American teens, but when they do have sex they are prepared for it. Our teens wrap themselves up in so much denial some of them probably can’t admit to themselves they have sex even while they are having it.

I don’t think most teens have sex because they read about it somewhere and they are curious. I think they have it because nature built into us all manner of bells, whistles and hotspots that make the act extraordinarily compelling. And I don’t think we’re being helpful to young people to allow them to spend time alone with potential sex partners and expect them to just say no. This takes self-discipline and maturity, and we’re talking about teenagers. Be real.

If it’s of paramount importance to parents that their children remain chaste until marriage, or at least until they graduate high school, the kids are going to have to be chaperoned. Our great-grandparents realized that. If we could dig them our ancestors and reconstitute them, they’d tell us we are nuts to allow young people of opposite sexes to spend so much time alone together.

If they’re not going to be chaperoned, then teach them to be prepared.

My personal opinion is that promiscuous behavior among emotionally immature young people is not good for their psychological and emotional development, and I would encourage them to postpone sexual activity as long as they can stand it. But HIV or pregnancy isn’t good for them, either.

Maybe we should be thinking about how to provide young people with more supervision while Mom and Dad are both working. But our current policy of allowing teenagers to be unchaperoned and unprepared at the same time doesn’t seem to be working.

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Yes, Virginia, Bloggers Are Not Journalists, Usually

Obama Administration

Paul Mulshine has pissed off a lot of rightie bloggers with “All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper: Bloggers are no replacement for real journalists.” After outlining the economic problems of newspaper journalism, he says,

The problem is that printing a hard copy of a publication packed with solid, interesting reporting isn’t a guarantee of economic success in the age of instant news. Blogger Glenn Reynolds of “Instapundit” fame seems to be pleased at this. In his book, “An Army of Davids,” Mr. Reynolds heralds an era in which “[m]illions of Americans who were in awe of the punditocracy now realize that anyone can do this stuff.”

No, they can’t. Millions of American can’t even pronounce “pundit,” or spell it for that matter. On the Internet and on the other form of “alternative media,” talk radio, a disliked pundit has roughly a 50-50 chance of being derided as a “pundint,” if my eyes and ears are any indication.

The thing is, there’s reporting, and there’s commentary, and neither Reynolds nor Mulshine seem to be able to distinguish the two. This in itself is a sad commentary on the state of reporting. Yeah, anybody can offer opinions, but not everybody can be a news reporter.

The conceit on the Right Blogosphere — I really haven’t seen as much of this nonsense on the Left — is that an army of “Davids,” or little-guy bloggers, could replace journalism. If by “journalism” one means “reporting,” I say, not likely. Reporting for the most part is the daily slog of going forth to cultivate and talk to sources, interview insiders, assume the sources and insiders are all lying and talk to other sources and other insiders, check police blotters, chase ambulances, and otherwise dig through a lot of boring documentation so that you are as certain as you can be that what you say is true before the copy deadline, because your highest mission is to be accurate. That’s what reporters do.

There are bloggers who have done real reporting. I am thinking of Marcy Wheeler and her work on the White House sandbagging of Valerie Plame. Several bloggers sat through Patrick Fitzgerald’s prosecution of Scooter Libby and gave us first-hand reporting, with context. That was first rate. That also was not the norm. The norm is that most of us are doing commentary, not reporting. We are offering opinions, not news stories. And I do not think an army of amateur partisans working in their spare time can replace full-time, professional journalists at gathering news.

“When enough bloggers take the leap, and start reporting on the statehouse, city council, courts, etc. firsthand, full-time, then the Big Media will take notice and the avalanche will begin,” Mr. Reynolds quotes another blogger as saying

And if these bloggers are not working for someone, exactly how are they going to make a living? And if by chance these same individuals get good at newsgathering, how would they be any different from the people doing newsgathering now?

A reporter learns to be a good reporter, or not, by working for a real hard-ass city desk editor who questions everything he writes, makes him check and re-check his sources, and hands him his ass on a plate when his bylined story gets the facts wrong. I had that experience many years ago and decided I was too emotionally fragile to be a newspaper reporter (although I think maybe I could handle it now). I swear I can pick out reporters who have been properly initiated into the tribe and those who have not. Someone working independently of editors is unlikely to be properly humbled, which is the first step of learning the craft.

I know what good reporters do and I have respect for it. I also don’t do it. Neither does Glenn Reynolds. I can’t think of anyone on the Right Blogosphere who does. (Little Lulu’s “investigations” are harassment, not reporting.) On the Left, beside the above-mentioned Marcy Wheeler and the Libby Trial crew, there are sites like Talking Points Memo taking on paid staff to do news reporting, so sometimes the lines blur.

But most blogging is commentary, and commentary is not reporting. Good reporting does require some analysis, as Mr. Mulshine says. A good reporter has solid background knowledge of what he is reporting combined with an ability to zero in on what the news consumer needs to know to understand the story. Yes, there are a lot of bad reporters who don’t do that.

However, Mr. Mulshine loses it when he says “the type of person who is going to offer great insight into complex issues” is unlikely to be found on the Web. When Glenn Greenwald Josh Marshall are writing for the Web and Jonah Goldberg is writing for the Los Angeles Times, newspapers have lost the right to be proud.

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Worst Predictions of 2008

Obama Administration

Foreign Policy is running a top ten list of the most wrong predictions for 2008. The list of people who made bad predictions is, um, predictable. Here ’tis.

  1. William Kristol. Really, Bill should be his own list of bad predictors. Everything he says is wrong. In this case, he predicted Hillary Clinton would easily win the Democratic nomination, which is actually one of the least stupid predictions he has made.
  2. Jim Cramer of CNBC’s “Mad Money” — yeah, the guy who yells perpetually — who advised someone not to take money out of Bear Stearns. “Bear Stearns is fine!”
  3. Dennis Blair and Kenneth Lieberthal, for pooh-poohing the risks of piracy to oil shipments.
  4. Donald Luskin, the pathetic little creep who has made a career of bashing Paul Krugman. In the Washington Post, Luskin wrote, “[A]nyone who says we’re in a recession, or heading into one—especially the worst one since the Great Depression—is making up his own private definition of ‘recession.’” The day after this appeared in print, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the financial crisis became official.
  5. The Economist, for praising elections in Kenya as a model of democracy that would set an example for Africa. The election was followed by a month of rioting and bloodshed that killed more than 800 people.
  6. BusinessWeek, for predicting Mayor Mike Bloomberg would become a third-party presidential candidate.
  7. Walter Wagner, who predicted that activating the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) would destroy humanity. It didn’t.
  8. Arjun Murti of Goldman Sachs, who predicted the price of oil would reach $150 – $200 a barrel. It didn’t, quite, but seems to me it came close.
  9. Charles “The Turtle” Krauthammer, for his Russia v. Georgia commentary.
  10. Henry Paulson. Need to ask why?

Any more bad predictions anyone can think of? Can you think of predictions somebody got right?

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Righties Can’t Get Anything Right

Obama Administration

From time to time I complain about “movement conservatives” who speak of Theodore Roosevelt as if he were one of them. He was not. I explained this most recently in “The Usual Slop From David Brooks” and “Spreading the Wealth Around.” So when I found an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Theodore Roosevelt Was No Conservative: There’s a reason he left the GOP to lead the Progressive Party,” I wondered if someone on the Right had finally caught on to, you know, actual history.

Of course not. What was I thinking?

A history professor named Ronald Pestritto writes,

The fact that conservative politicians such as John McCain and writers like William Kristol and Karl Rove are attracted to our 26th president is strange because, if we want to understand where in the American political tradition the idea of unlimited, redistributive government came from, we need look no further than to Roosevelt and others who shared his outlook.

Progressives of both parties, including Roosevelt, were the original big-government liberals. They understood full well that the greatest obstacle to their schemes of social justice and equality of material condition was the U.S. Constitution as it was originally written and understood: as creating a national government of limited, enumerated powers that was dedicated to securing the individual natural rights of its citizens, especially liberty of contract and private property.

Excuse me while I pound my head against a wall and scream for a moment.

Like most Dead Historical White Guys, TR was a mixed bag who doesn’t fit neatly into 21st century political thought. His interventionist foreign policy ideas push him closer to current-day Republicans than Democrats, but his domestic policy ideas were decidedly progressive even by the standards of current-day Dems. Sticking labels like “conservative” or “liberal” on him doesn’t help us understand him. Trying to hammer square-deal TR into a “free market” dogma hole doesn’t work, either, although you can say the same thing for reality in general.

Behind the rhetoric about “redistributive government” and “liberty of contract and private property” are some assumptions that you will never, ever get a rightie to acknowledge honestly. These are —

“Redistributive government” means valuing people for the work they do to create wealth as much as for their capital investments.

“Liberty of contract” refers to the ability of the few to enrich themselves by exploiting the many.

“Private property,” in the mouth of a rightie, refers to the idea that the principal purpose of government is to become a protector of inherited wealth and privilege at the expense of upward mobility.

TR came from a financially comfortable family. He wasn’t wealthy by Vanderbilt standards, but I doubt he ever spent much time wondering how to pay the light bill. He had an almost romantic attraction to “rough” working men (read into that whatever you like, I suppose, although he appears to have been thoroughly heterosexual), hence the time he spent with cowboys and woodsmen. From this he seems to have picked up an appreciation of the dignity of working people and the genuine hardships people face when they lack money.

Professor Pestritto has no such appreciation. He is lost in some netherworld of constitutional originalism, where the Constitution is smothered under the weight of cockamamie theory and not allowed to be a living instrument for self-government in the 21st century. The real needs of the citizens of he United States can hang; if the Founders had meant us to leave the 18th century, they would have said so.

Here Professor Pestritto shows us what planet he lives on:

Many who respect individual liberty and the free market believe that the electoral tide has turned, and that an era of big government is inevitable. But recall that John McCain gained traction in the closing days of his campaign only when he attacked Mr. Obama’s desire to “spread the wealth” through higher tax rates on the upper-income earners. His attack clearly resonated among the public. But it came too late, and truth be told, his heart wasn’t really in it.

The attack clearly resonated among some part of the public, the same part either so stupid or so demented that it accepted Sarah Palin as a serious candidate for Veep. The “spread the wealth” gambit actually seems to have helped Obama more than McCain, if I correctly remember how the polls went.

Never mind. If the Right wants to live in Fantasy Land, who am I to argue? It might keep them out of the way for a while.

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Real World Vs. Rightie World

Obama Administration

I’ve already written about the new “conscience” rules that would allow just about everybody working in most hospitals and pharmacies to second guess doctors and refuse to follow medical procedures for “moral” reasons. Better to kill a few patients than to morally contaminate oneself by cleaning instruments that might terminate a pregnancy, right?

We have plenty of real-world examples of the many ways “conscience” (note to righties: the quotation marks indicate irony) puts the health of patients at risk. These include an ambulance driver refusing to transport a patient in pain and pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions — prescriptions prescribed to treat disease, btw, not contraceptives — from disapproved-of clinics. The Bush Administration’s rules could create chaos in the delivery of medical care and put many patients at risk, sometimes for reasons that have nothing to do with sex. Not that there are any excuses where sex is involved.

An editorial in the New York Times addresses this:

A parting gift to the far right, the new regulation aims to hinder women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and the information necessary to make decisions about their own health. What makes it worse is that the policy is wrapped up in a phony claim to safeguard religious freedom.

The law has long allowed doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. Mr. Leavitt’s changes elevate the so-called right to refuse beyond reason to an increased number of medical institutions and a broad range of health care workers and services — including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of emergency contraception, even to rape victims.

Commenting on this travesty is one of our favorite candidates for the character disorder hall of fame, William Teach, who comes by here to comment from time to time. I don’t remember if I’ve banned him, and if he drops in again y’all can have fun with him, as you usually do.

Teach is, of course, in denial about the danger these “rules” pose for everyone’s health care — I mean, who cares about the real world when you’re a rightie? — and the injustice of denying rape victims contraceptive information. I thought this passage in particular was illuminating:

So, let me see, Bush has, to paraphrase Ann Coulter, undermined a women’s “right” to have casual, irresponsible, unprotected sex with men she doesn’t want to have children with.

Earlier this week, Dennis Prager revealed a sexual backwardness that defies description — I’d call it sexual autism, except that’s an insult to autistics — and our buddy R.S. McCain chimed in (same link) with an apology for sexual exploitation and forced marriage of girls as young as 12.

I’m beginning to think that movement conservatism is, at base, a kind of psychological-sexual dysfunction. You know these guys are terrified of women’s sexuality. They’d have us women in burqas and condone stoning of rape victims if they could get away with it. They’d deny that, but in fact, what is the difference between denying a rape victim reproductive rights and stoning her for unchastity? It’s a difference purely in degree, not in kind, rooted in the same twisted views of women and sexuality.

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