Saturday, April 23, 2005

Standing Alone

The Volokh Conspiracy alerts us to a Colorado school which switched "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to "one nation under your belief system." I'm inclined to agree with The Moderate Voice that it was somewhat ridiculous (though frankly, not much more so than saying "under God"). It doesn't even make much logical sense (and let's not go into it's poetic rhythm).

However, Kevin Drum made by far the most interesting observation.
And so the worm turns. After all, if it's OK for biology teachers to decline to teach evolution and for pharmacists to refuse to dispense certain medications, why shouldn't teachers have the right to modify the pledge for reasons of personal conscience?

It's quite a little rabbit hole we have here, don't we?

This is extremely thought provoking. After all, you and I both know that there is simply no prayer the "defenders of conscience" will stand up to protect this teacher. The reason is that her statements don't fall into accepted Christian patterns of thinking. This dovetails with a general hostility to non-Christian religions in free exercise jurisprudence.

It has been noted by University of Wyoming Law Professor Stephen M. Feldman that while Christians have a mixed record on free exercise challenges, non-Christians have never managed to win a single case with the exception of Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah. In Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, for example, the court uphold the county's policy of only allowing Judeo-Christian(-Muslim) prayers before the board in the face of a first amendment challenge by a Wiccan. The court justified itself by saying:
In seeking to invalidate the Chesterfield system, Simpson effectively denies the ecumenical potential of legislative invocations, and ignores Marsh's insight that ministers of any given faith can appeal beyond their own adherents. Indeed, Marsh requires that a divine appeal be wide-ranging, tying its legitimacy to common religious ground. Invocations across our country have been capable of transcending denominational boundaries and appealing broadly to the aspirations of all citizens. As Marsh and other cases recognize, appropriately ecumenical invocations can be "solemnizing occasions" that highlight "beliefs widely held."

In other words, the Court argued that Judeo-Christian prayers have some sort of transcendental appeal that other religions do not. Wiccans and atheists are seen as "deviant," their beliefs particularistic and specific only to them as opposed to the universality of Christian-style prayer. The effect of this is to utterly close off the first amendment to minority religions. A cursory look at the opinion should reveal its logical inadequacy, as I wrote in my analysis of it:
The Court here is caught in a bind: Either Simpson's Wiccan faith shares...common ground with Judeo-Christian faiths, in which case she should be allowed to stake her claim to it same as any other religious person, or her faith doesn't share common ground, in which case it isn't common ground but sectarian ground "common" only to the religious majority.

Since Wiccans don't fit the religious norm we've set up for ourselves, any discrimination against them, even as blatant as it was in that case, is seen as permissible, even neutral.

Atheists have it particularly bad. Their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are almost universally condemned (see Appendix I). There is no protest to politicians deeming atheists to be inherently unequal citizens, or accusing them of being more likely to be immoral. Such actions, if said about a Jew or a Muslim (though probably not a Wiccan) would be intolerable. The closer a religion can be related to Judeo-Christian norms, the more protection it gains. The farther away it is (and Atheists represent the absolute farthest distance away), the more tolerable discrimination becomes, a perverse inversion of what constitutional protections are supposed to guarantee.

The Colorado case is a case in point. For all one can say about the judgment of the teacher, the most one can say about her modification was it made the Pledge more inclusive. However, despite this, it will most likely be characterized as an "assault" on Christianity--despite the fact that Christianity is still a "belief system" and thus completely included under the change. The conscience of the teacher--whom, after observing Columbine, believed that inclusiveness was key to preventing the ostracization that leads to school violence--dictated to her that she not say "under God." If she was a pharmacist whose religion demanded she not give a birth control prescription, Christian groups would anoit her a hero. As it stands, she will undoubtedly become a devil. It appears that once again, "conscience" is something only Christians can have.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Sanity and Insanity

Charles Krauthammer has a very interesting column on the judiciary in today's Washington Post (Orin Kerr, among others, with the link). There were loads of points made, some which will anger liberals and others which are clear shots at conservatives. Kicker quote, from my end:
Have that independence and supremacy been abused? Grossly. What other advanced democracy would radically legalize abortion by judicial decree rather than by democratic will expressed through legislatures or referendums? What sane democracy allows four unelected robed eminences in Massachusetts to revolutionize the very definition of marriage, the most ancient institution in society?

This is not just deeply undemocratic. It is politically crazy. Democracies work as stable social entities because when people are allowed to settle issues themselves by debate and ballot, they are infinitely more likely to accept the results when they lose. To deny them that participation is to risk instability and threaten social peace.

It was Ruth Bader Ginsburg who said that Roe v. Wade "halted a political process that was moving in a reform direction and thereby, I believe, prolonged divisiveness and deferred stable settlement of the issue."

Now, obviously, I disagree about what constitutes "radical." But the idea that persons need to have a say in the decisions that effect their lives is important--counter-balanced by the fact that when it comes to people's basic rights as persons, elections are neither necessary nor relevant (while we're on the subject, Prawfs Blog had two great posts on whether it's better to be right or have rights). Obviously, the line drawing issues raise dilemmas (I'll once again recommend John Hart Ely's spectacular Democracy and Distrust for some guidance there), but it appears that at least some liberals are starting to take the question seriously.

The other prong of Krauthammer's argument is plea for perspective by conservatives who apparently have been infected by a rabid form of judge-hatred. The Supreme Court is not akin to the Mafia, references to international law are not the sign of the beast, and Anthony Kennedy is certainly not the anti-Christ. Yet the far right seems intent on bringing down the judiciary--and America too if need be. As TMV says, "The judges aren't the ones displaying behavior betraying longtime American traditions and the defense of the constitution..."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Short of It

If you'd prefer a post on gay rights that's shorter than my last treatise, here you are.

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon might revamp its sodomy laws, bringing them in line with Lawrence v. Texas.

Meanwhile, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback (R) is threatening retaliation if D.C. officials try and recognize gay marriages (link: Andrew Sullivan). If Mayor Williams did choose to endorse gay marriages and/or civil unions, that would be a move by a popularly elected official. But then, I suppose this would be more of that activist democracy I've been hearing so much about.

Of course, this whole drama is all the more absurd in D.C., because they don't even have the same democratic rights as the rest of the country. But don't expect the self-righteousness advocates of the popular will to make that argument.

Easy Cases and Bad Law

The Uncivil Litigator points us to a Texas Law under consideration that would ban gay couples from serving as foster parents. UCL asks how the law could not be held unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's precedent in Romer v. Evans. The answer lies in the 11th Circuit's abysmal ruling in Lofton v. Department of Children and Family Services, upholding Florida's prohibition on adoption by gay couples. The case isn't binding in Texas (it lies in the 5th Circuit), but both Court's are overwhelmingly conservative and I'd imagine the latter will latch onto any case which would support their position, no matter how erroneous it was.

In December of 2004, an Arkansas state judged ruled a similar law unconstitutional in Howard v. Arkansas, saying it violated separation of powers. Though brief, there are several issues to note in that opinion that deserve discussion.

The opinion gave an excellent overview of the testimony presented to the court. Dr. Michael Lamb, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, superbly analyzed the body of literature on homosexual parenting, concluding that being raised by gay parents:
(i) does not increase the risk of problems of adjustment for children; (ii) does not increase the risk of psychological problems for children; (iii) does not increase the risk of behavioral problems; (iv) does not prevent children from forming healthy relationships with their peers and others; (v) does not cause academic problems; (vi) does not cause gender identity problems; and (vii) does not cause any adjustment problems at all. [op. at 19]

Dr. Lamb also addresses one of the most salient, and misleading, claims put forward by "pro-family" groups on the issue: that "children do better with a mother and a father." Lamb correctly notes that what that research actually says is that children do better in two parent homes than single parent homes. However, there is no statistical disparity between two-parent heterosexual homes versus two-parent homosexual ones.

In contrast to Dr. Lamb, whom the court characterized as "the most outstanding of the expert witnesses" and "the best example of what an expert witness is supposed to do at trial," the opinion characterized Dr. George Rekers--the primary expert witness for the state--as "there primarily to promote his own personal ideology" even at the expense of the facts, refusing to directly answer questions, and giving inconsistent testimony throughout the case. Rekers, in addition to being a tenured Professor of Psychology at The University of South Carolina, tries to "cure" homosexuality in his private practice, an attempt characterized as "unethical" by the APA. In all, the expert evidence given in the case was overwhelmingly in favor of allowing qualified homosexuals to adopt. Because the statutory authority given to the advisory board was solely related to the best interests of the child, then, the board exceeded its authority by prohibiting qualified homosexuals from adopting without any scientific basis to do so.

Unfortunately, when the opinion proceeded to analyze equal protection claims (an endeavor the court admitted was "moot" due to the separation of powers judgment but undertaken anyway for the sake of completeness), the court held that there was no violation. The Court first held that homosexuals are not a suspect class as a matter of "well-settled law." I'm not sure if that's true, and even if true it strikes me as badly misguided, but I can understand the reluctance of a state circuit judge to be the one to say it outright. It seems clear that Homosexuals, if not subject to strict scrutiny, are at least within the realm of heightened scrutiny. The standards for applying heightened scrutiny are whether the group has:
"experienced a 'history of purposeful unequal treatment' or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities." [Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 313 (1976), quoting San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 28 (1973)]

It seems self-evidently clear that homosexuals meet this test, and thus the proper standard of review is heightened scrutiny, not rational basis.

Beyond that, though, the court misapplies the rational basis test. The rational basis test was explicated most clearly in City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center. Applying rational basis, the court found that the cities restrictions on a group home for the mentally retarded "rest on an irrational prejudice against the mentally retarded" and thus was impermissible [473 U.S. 432, 450]. The supposed rational basis for the Arkansas law, by contrast, was "public morality." The court here seemed to feel that in absence of any quantifiable measure of what "public morality" means here, or even a statement by the legislature to that effect, the court should just assume public morality is the justification for the law and thus conclude the law was rationally related to that objective. But this is patently absurd. First of all, it represents a peculiar quasi-attempt to divine the thoughts of legislature, assuming without proof that the legislature believes this law to be related to public morality without in anyway explicating what the connection is. What moral concern of the state of Arkansas is implicated or furthered by this bill? It can't be simple moral disapproval of homosexuality without cause, for that would be an "irrational prejudice" and thus would be barred via Cleburne. The court concedes that showing the health, safety, or welfare of children was implicated would satisfy rational basis, but the opinion specifically rejects that due to the testimony of Dr. Lamb and others. The only "moral" issue of relevance here, it seems, is to seek to legally hamper homosexuals to show the state feels their actions are wrong. It is true that nobody in Cleburne was labeling retarded people "immoral" (though it is at least conceivable that a given set of people might believe God punished immoral people by making them developmentally disabled). This just encourages vague statute writing, however, the state by virtue of it’s silence can later argue any challenged law relates to “public morality. ” Society cannot hide its pre-existing biases by labeling them "morality," and the very least, the Court cannot just assume those biases exist.

Second, even granting that the state could, in general, could legally constrain someone because of "immoral" actions, they can't in this case because Lawrence v. Texas precludes it. The Arkansas court argues that the rights implicated in Lawrence were far more extensive than in the present argument, so the cases aren't analogous. That would be true, except the state is punishing persons for precisely the action Lawrence said was protected, IE, it is punishing them for constitutionally protected behavior. As Lawrence stated: "When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice." The Court specifically referenced the "stigma" (see here, infra Part V, for more on this) that legal restrictions against homosexuals place upon them. The Court clearly dismissed the idea that morality was able to outweigh this:
"[F]or centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral. The condemnation has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations do not answer the question before us, however. The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society..."
The Arkansas statute specifically defined the disabling act as homosexual conduct by anyone present in the house. Not only does that prevent practicing homosexuals from getting foster children, but it prevents even non-homosexuals from this as well if they live with a homosexual (one of the plaintiffs in this case was a heterosexual married couple who lived with their adult gay son). Far from being an oversight, the testimony makes it clear this was an explicit goal of the statute. The testimony of James Balcom of the Child Welfare Agency Review Board indicated that he had not just an objection to homosexual behavior, but "to people being in a household where a same-sex relationship is going on." In otherwords, being in the presence of a practicing homosexual is morally condemnable. This raises troubling free association claims unaddressed by the court, not to mention the disturbing implication that homosexuals should never be allowed in the presence of any "moral" individual.

In its dismissal of the equal protection and privacy claims, the court relied heavily on Lofton, which lends credence to the fears that Texas Courts will do the same. Furthermore, I do not think the 5th circuit will find the "separation of powers" argument compelling (if it is even applicable to the case at all). So although the judgment was a victory, it could turn into a mixed blessing.

The sponsor of the Texas law, State Representative Robert Talton, said that
"It is our responsibility to make sure that we protect our most vulnerable children, and I don't think we are doing that if we allow a foster parent that is homosexual or bisexual."
With all due respect to Representative Talton, it is not protecting the most vulnerable children when we leave them to languish in the foster system, without loving parents, without any parental figures at all. Removing qualified candidates from the foster system hurts children, and Talton should be ashamed of himself.

I'll conclude with the memorable words of Judge Birch, who gave the majority opinion denying rehearing en banc of the Lofton case:
"If I were a legislator, rather than a judge, I would vote in favor of considering otherwise eligible homosexuals for adoptive parenthood. In reviewing the record in this case one can only be impressed by the courage, tenacity and devotion of Messrs. Lofton and Houghton for the children placed in their care. For these children, these men are the only parents they have ever known. Thus, I consider the policy decision of the Florida legislature to be misguided and trust that over time attitudes will change and it will see the best interest of these children in a different light."

May we all see that different light in the very near future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Wild Blue Yonder

Talking Points Memo directs us to a distressing article in The New York Times detailing religious discrimination against non-evangelical Christians at the Air Force Academy.
Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.
More than 90 percent of the cadets identify themselves as Christian. A cadet survey in 2003 found that half had heard religious slurs and jokes, and that many non-Christians believed Christians get special treatment.

"There were people walking up to someone and basically they would get in a conversation and it would end with, 'If you don't believe what I believe you are going to hell,'" Vice Commandant Col. Debra Gray said.

Critics of the academy say the sometimes-public endorsement of Christianity by high-ranking staff has contributed to a climate of fear and violates the constitutional separation of church and state at a taxpayer-supported school whose mission is to produce Air Force leaders.

Marshall warns us, correctly, to take the article with a grain of salt, as it is somewhat vague and does not say who the "critics" are. Furthermore, while the article insinuates that the academy is trying to shove the issue under the bed, apparently the superintendent has admitted there is a problem and in doing so, said something very wise:
The superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, conceded there was a problem during a recent meeting of the Board of Visitors, the civilian group that oversees the academy.

"The problem is people have been across the line for so many years when you try and come back in bounds, people get offended," he said.

And the response to that statement was very interesting too:
The board chairman, former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, warned Rosa that changing things could prove complicated. He said evangelical Christians "do not check their religion at the door."

I would hope that Mr. Gilmore is not suggesting that religious tolerance by evangelical Christian requires them to "check their religion at the door." It seems to me that is extraordinarily disrespectful to those religious denominations. I certainly hope that one can respect people of other faiths and avoid gratuitously degrading them without sacrificing Christian faith.

But while Gilmore's words may have just been inartful, the response by radical rightwing Christian groups was simply outrageous:
Two of the nation's most influential evangelical Christian groups, Focus on the Family and New Life Church, are headquartered in nearby Colorado Springs. Tom Minnery, an official at Focus on the Family, disputed claims that evangelical Christians are pushing an agenda at the academy, and complained that "there is an anti-Christian bigotry developing" at the school.

"Anti-Christian bigotry"? At the Air Force Academy?!? They cannot be serious. Only James Dobson's outfit (Focus on the Family) considers an inquiry against religious bigotry to be discrimination against Christians. But I guess that shows you what Dobson's view of Christianity really is.

Haha...Oh, Wait

Nothing is funnier than one of Wonkette's parodies of conservative activists! Take this sample ad about what the extreme right is saying about Senator George Voinovich.
Wife: Honey, were you watching C-SPAN today? Did you hear how disloyal Senator Voinovich was to Republicans and President Bush? Voinovich stood with the Democrats and refused to vote for John Bolton, the man President Bush has chosen to fight for the United States at the UN!

Husband: No, I was streaming it on the Internet at the office, but from what I could tell, Senator Voinovich played hookey from the hearings?

Wife: Yeah that’s right. He’s missed most of the Bolton confirmation hearings, but then shows up at the last minute and stabs the President and Republicans right in the back.

Husband: That’s ridiculous – the United Nations needs reform, we need someone who will stand up for the United States and fight the UN’s corruption and anti-Americanism.

Wife: Shame on Senator Voinovich. After the Democrats smeared Condoleeza Rice for Secretary of State and Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, how could Voinovich side with the Democrats in smearing John Bolton?

Husband: It seems like Senator Voinovich has become a traitor to the Republican Party.

Wife: Enough’s enough. I’m logging on to Move America Forward dot com to register my protest with Senator Voinovich’s office.

Husband: What was that site? Move America Forward dot com ?

Wife: Yep, Move America Forward dot com

"Disloyal," "stab in the back," "traitor," yep, those are the stereotypical Republican talking points on dissenters. Wonkette sure nailed this one on the head.

Oh wait. The ad is real.

UPDATE: The ad is being forwarded by a group called Move America Forward. Legal Fiction reminds us just what they really are opposed to.

UPDATE AGAIN: The Drez raises some of his own questions.

UPDATE REDUX: Now Wonkette has a real parody up.

New Columns

My latest columns are up. "Saving Grace" is at The Carleton Progressive, and for you debaters out there, "The Critical Congressman" is headlining over at The Victory Briefs Daily.

A New Hope

Well would you look at that. The House Ethics Committee is going to probe Tom DeLay after all.
Retreating under pressure, Republicans on the House ethics committee said Wednesday they were ready to open an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing against Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Four of the five Republicans on the committee were ready to move ahead, said Rep. Doc Hastings, the panel's Republican chairman. The panel also has five Democratic members.

The Republicans were ''prepared to vote at the earliest opportunity to empanel an investigations subcommittee to review various allegations concerning travel and other actions'' by DeLay, he said.

The ethics committee has authority to start an investigation based on information it receives ''through public and other sources,'' Hastings said."

As Obsidian Wings tells us, this is "a good opportunity to clear his name." Heh. My thoughts exactly.

Actually, I'm somewhat convinced that this is a cynical ploy to take the heat of DeLay so the committee can bury and/or whitewash the allegations later. But then, I'm a pessimist.

And fun factoid: The one Republican not willing to "move ahead" with the panel? It's Representative Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and Tom DeLay's replacement speaker at the infamous conference hosted by the "Judeo-Christian" Council for Constitutional Restoration. You know, the one that called for Stalinist tactics to be used against "activist" judges? Yeah, same guy.

Ah, what tangled webs we weave.

UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge jumps on board, saying "DeLay has become an embarrassment to the Conservative movement. (Far more so than Newt ever was, in my book.) It's time to throw him to the wolves." The trigger for him? DeLay's bizarre screed against Justice Kennedy that included an attack on the internet.

Doonesbury's "DeLay Political Death Watch" is looking more and more prophetic.

And while not perfectly topical, Howard Bashman of How Appealing offers a "DeLay disclaimer" warning that "this post discusses foreign law that I learned about by using the internet." Well, Howard, looks like you're a traitor aren't you?

Update #2: Well, that was over quick. Looks like the Dems thought it was just a ploy too.

This is the New Heresy?

Surely this is an eminently reasonable position to hold:
"The issue is not change itself. The Church has changed dramatically - and will continue to change dramatically. The issue now is whether the Church can even debate its own issues and future. Some caricatures of my position, for example, say that I oppose this Pope because I want the Church to endorse gay marriage. Puhlease. I cannot see any basis within Catholic theology for granting the sacrament of marriage to gay couples. Such a simple inclusion strikes me as completely out of bounds. What many of us are asking for is simply the ability for lay Catholics and indeed priests and theologians to be able to debate respectfully such pressing issues as mandatory celibacy for the priesthood, a less rigid biological understanding of the rights and dignity of women, and a real dialogue with gay Catholics about how we can practically live lives that reflect our human dignity and our profound human need for intimacy and sexual expression. We'd also like to see greater autonomy for national churches, a respect for political secularism, and a more open hierarchy that cannot get away with a criminal conspiracy to hide the widespread sexual abuse of children and teens. None of this is that radical in the context of change in the last fifty years. None of it is subject to infallibility. And what we object to is the arrogant notion that lay people - let alone theologians or priests - do not even have the right to raise these questions within a formal church context. But our opponents want to construct a straw man in which Ratzinger presents orthodoxy and critics represent revolution. The truth is almost the direct opposite. Ratzinger's views on freedom of thought within the church are deeply authoritarian; his views on what conscience is are totalitarian; his conflation of his own views with the Holy Spirit are offensive. But he is Pope now. And fairness suggests we should wait and see. I can only say that I do so with dread and fear."

I'll say it again, yesterday was not the day to jump on the newly elected Pope. However, Sullivan's position itself is far from the heresy it is being characterized as by the conservative right.

Jeffords Retiring

Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords (I), who became a liberal hero when he defected from the GOP in 2001, is retiring from the Senate after the conclusion of his term in 2006. Many thanks to a dedicated public servant.

More interesting is CNN's claim that the state's sole Representative, Bernie Sanders (I), is going to run with Jeffords out of the race. Sanders is quite popular in Vermont. He also happens to be a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (not affiliated with the Democratic party in any way whatsoever). If Sanders wins (and he very much could), this would make him the first openly socialist senator in, well, in my recollection of American history.

UPDATE: I'm not really sure who believes otherwise, but The Moderate Voice assures us that Jeffords really is retiring for health reasons, not because he's politically vulnerable.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Proving the Naysayers Right

When the quite unhappy Andrew Sullivan said of the new Pope's reign
For American Catholics, I foresee an accelerating exodus. But that, remember, is the plan. The Ratzingerians want to empty the pews in America and start over. They will, in that sense, be successful

I was inclined to dismiss it as hyperbole and slight paranoia. Then I see this post by Feddie at Southern Appeal which literally is cackling at Sullivan while advising him to not "let the door hit your hindquarters on the way out, Sully." Professor Bainbridge is (just) slightly more conciliatory, saying of reformist Catholics
"If I were feeling uncharitable today, I'd tell those folks not to let the door hit them in the ass on their way out of the church. Since I'm feeling sort of charitable at the moment, however, I'll simply advise them to get over themselves."

SA and Bainbridge (whose direct response to Sullivan's protests is worth a read, anyway) should remember that the conclave is not a political election, and the outcome should not be seen as an opportunity to take political cheap shots, much less hopefully looking toward a purge of one's philosophical opponents in the church. If Michelle Malkin can rightfully denounce "the vile Pope-bashing on the Left," then we should be as quick to attack the conclave results being used as a front for liberal-bashing by the right. Forgive this non-Catholic for saying so, but does that not miss the whole point of this day of joy? This whole exercise has been in bad taste, and it is utterly appalling that the election of the Pope has managed to bring out the worst in everyone.

The Moderate Voice's second round-up of coverage is even better than the first go around.

Pope Benedict XVI

The former Joseph Ratzinger of Germany has been elected Pope Benedict XVI. He who enters the conclave as Pope, leaves as...Pope, apparently.

From around the 'sphere:

Andrew Sullivan is very, very unhappy. Just one excerpt:
And so the Catholic church accelerates its turn toward authoritarianism, hostility to modernity, assertion of papal supremacy and quashing of internal debate and dissent. We are back to the nineteenth century. Maybe this is a necessary moment. Maybe pressing this movement to its logical conclusion will clarify things. But those of us who are struggling against what our Church is becoming, and the repressive priorities it is embracing, can only contemplate a form of despair. The Grand Inquisitor, who has essentially run the Church for the last few years, is now the public face. John Paul II will soon be seen as a liberal. The hard right has now cemented its complete control of the Catholic church. And so ... to prayer. What else do we now have?

The Moderate Voice gives us some background and also appears nervous about the status of dissent in Benedict's reign.

The Political Animal excerpts a portion of the Washington Post's profile, emphasizing his opposition to abortion and "liberation theology."

Professor Bainbridge thinks the coverage is biased.

E.J. Dionne called the pick in advance, so his column came out this morning.
Erica Walter gave the extended defense of Ratzinger a few days back.

I must say, I'm at least somewhat surprised by the profoundly negative reaction by American liberals (and in Sullivan's case, non-liberals too). I, for one, am willing to give Ratzinger a chance. I think it is telling that the Vatican has elected two straight bona fide intellectuals now, which to me is always a good thing. One of my friends asked me why I was so excited about Ratzinger, who after all, is "pretty conservative." I said that I was never all that hopeful for Pope Kerry I, and as long as we had a thoughtful, sensitive, and dedicated Pope, I'd be happy. I won't shy from being critical of the new Pope. But I won't rush to judgment either. He has some large shoes to fill, but he may very well be up to it.

50 Cent Does Passover

For Passover, I give you the new, revised, ghettoized Seder.

What is with me and rap adaptations?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Saints and Heroes

Iraq'd brings us word of the tragic death of Marla Ruzicka, a humanitarian worker killed by a suicide bomber while working in Iraq. There are all too few humanitarian workers in Iraq today, and unfortunately they live in a state of constant danger from the very populace they are trying to help. Even in this praiseworthy group, though, it appears Marla went above and beyond the call of duty. And unlike many on the idealistic left, Marla was explicit in affirming the good that our soldiers do in Iraq, a fact made more impressive since one of her pet projects was reimbursing innocent victims of US attacks (mistaken intelligence or collateral damage).
"To Marla, the U.S. had simply incurred a responsibility to take care of Afghans and Iraqis, and she took it upon herself to ensure that we lived up to our burden. She also stood up for the troops who aided the Iraqi people and who helped her carry out her mission. After Marine General James Mattis remarked that "it's fun to shoot some people," Marla wrote to The New York Times, "I have worked with many of our servicemen who have helped me assist innocent civilians injured accidentally by American forces. It is not fair that their acts of kindness and care are misrepresented." Insisting on basic human dignity was the imperative for Marla, whether it was the dignity of the soldier or the civilian."

Marla started off as an opponent of the Iraq war, originally in Baghdad with the virulently anti-war Code Pink group. Yet once the war started, rather than returning home to yell and scream about how awful the United States is, she realized that the greatest good she could do would be to help people. Help victims, help innocents, and help rebuild. What Marla taught us was that we have an obligation to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. We can yell at each other until we are blue in the face about whether we should have gone, or should have stayed at home. None of it will change the fact that we are there, and that millions of lives now depend on our benevolence. America must rise to the challenge.

The Moderate Voice rounds up coverage. Marla's organization, Civic Worldwide, is certainly worthy of your support, regardless of whether you fall on the liberal or conservative end of things.

Just Add Nicotine

How do you bring Western values to the Arab World? Just make them addictive.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Thanks to The Moderate Voice

I just want to say thanks to The Moderate Voice for its very kind words. As this blog approaches its one year anniversary (this June!), it is wonderful to gain accolades from such a note-worthy site as TMV. I still remember the first time that anybody who wasn't in my immediate circle of friends read The Debate Link--I was so excited I bounced around for hours. Being linked to by one of the heaviest hitters on the net is a step beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Thanks to everybody who's written, emailed, and otherwise contributed to make this blog the best it can be. I couldn't have done it without you. And for everyone's benefit, I present the self-selected "Best of The Debate Link" link set, as a homage to all y'all.

If you are going to read anything by me, read this set of pieces on the War on Terror. I'd be arrogant if I said they were seminal, or particularly excellent, or anything like that. But I do think they raise points I want to see discussed, and it is a rare opportunity to get that discussion. So, the posts are:
Statecentrism and the War on Terror and Left Cross. They articulate what I feel are fundamental flaws in the way conservatives, and the US in general, conceptualizes and fights the war on terror.

And the best of the rest...
On Conservative Abuses of Power:
Crossing the Line
Uncivil Procedures
On Foreign Policy:
Calm Like a Bomb
War of Liberation
Humanitarian Intervention
On Gay Rights:
Values Based Debate
Another Step Back
Gay Adoption
On Genocide:
Not on my Watch
It's Only Genocide Part II
Deaniacs on the Warpath
On Law:
Original Sins
Diplomatic Justice
Defending Detainees
Revisting Booker Already
On the Liberal Academia:
Where to Professor Zywicki?
Novelty and the Liberal Academia
On Philosophy:
Blinded by Mirrors: Fetishizing Our Own Oppression Parts I and II On Politics:
The Bland Leading the Bland
On Religion:
Playing the Grinch
Which Witch?

Thank you all, blog long, and prosper!

The Real Problem

Every year since 1985, the State Department has published Patterns of Global Terrorism, which, among other things, measures the growth and contraction of terrorist activities around the world. Pretty important, right? Well, according to the Bush administration, only if it gives you the answers you want to hear. If, for example, the report says that terrorism is at its highest point since the report began, then the only logical solution is to stop publishing the report.

This fits two observable patterns about the Bush administration. First, it has either no clue or no interest in how to measure what "winning" the war on terrorism means. Second, it confirms that for the Bush administration, truth is far more threatening than terror. And for those of us who take seriously the dangers posed by al-Qaeda, Bush's lack of seriousness in facing it is the real problem facing the nation today.

The Moderate Voice gets the hat tip on this one. Media Lies and Dean's World have more.


Ah, Barack Obama. Is there anything he can't do?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I don't like politicians. I find them to be insensitive, power-hungry, often corrupt, and the few that aren't actively working against the public interest are usually too stupid to even know what the public interest is. Barack Obama is one of a very few politicians who can inspire me; who restores my faith in this lovely system we call democracy. If America has any sense whatsoever, this man will be President one day.