Saturday, March 26, 2005

Pledge Dispute in the 4th Circuit

How Appealing links to a report that the 4th Circuit is hearing an establishment clause challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance. Interestingly, the challenge is to the entire pledge, not just the "Under God" clause, and it is being made by a Mennonite Christian, not an atheist as in the Newdow case. The gist of the argument is that the Pledge creates a "civic religion" (buttressed by the intermingling of religious and patriotic messages in the text), which violates the first amendment. Furthermore, as applied in the district, the pledge coerces the students by, among other things, rewarding those who say it with coupons and other perks (which discriminates against conscentious objectors by virtue of omission).

To me, the district court's opinion seemed to give the pledge an awfully leinant standard of review. I do think the "under God" clause of the pledge is unconstitutional--although not the whole pledge. I think that the system of "rewards" tied to reciting the pledge is problematic as well. Still, the odds that the most conservative appeals court in the land (the 4th) will follow in the steps of the most liberal (the 9th) seems unlikely.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Culture of Death

Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan caused quite a stir on the blogosphere when she alleged that persons who wanted to remove Schiavo's feeding tube were promoting a "Culture of Death" (helpfully linked to, summed up, and taken down by The Moderate Voice). Persons of good will and moral values can disagree over the right choices for Terri's plight (see, for example, this guest editorial by William Stothers, and Dahilia Lithwick for Slate). But, as TMV says, to allege that all those who wish to see her die with dignity wish to construct a "Culture of Death" is grossly demeaning and a hideously inaccurate ad hominem.

If Ms. Noonan wishes to see a real "culture of death," perhaps she might take a look at our inner cities. A nine year old boy is currently in a coma after being shot while playing on the sidewalk in Northwest D.C.. Easy access to firearms, mixed with inadequate policing and non-existent economic opportunities create an environment where criminal activity flourishes. Young men turn to crime at epidemic levels, not because they are inherently prone to illicit activity, but because there is often literally no other choice. Social isolation is a severe barrier to economic advancement, and unstable foundations make corporations reluctant to invest. This creates a feedback loop of poverty, desperation, and despair. And even the innocents, those who have taken "personal responsibility," or worse, never grew old enough to get the chance to do it, still are victimized. Oh, and I'd be very surprised if this boy's family could afford to pay for his medical care without some form of the government assistance "pro-life" legislators want to cut. An outcry over this would strike a greater blow to the "culture of death" in our society than 1,000 Terri Schiavo marches ever could. And yet, I'm waiting to hear a word from the "pro-life" crowd.

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

The Real Conservative Jew

Poor David Bernstein. He keeps forgetting that even amongst "Conservative Jews" he's still likely to be the only actual Conservative. For better or for worse, Jewish law places a heavy emphasis on care for the poor and underprivileged, and is not the slightest bit statephobic--part of which makes the religion so overwhelmingly liberal. The grogger to Hilary Clinton was a nice riposte (though I have to ask again, why the Conservative anathema to a relatively hawkish, centrist Senator?). But alas, you are still wanderers in an unholy land (or from my perspective, deniers of the True Path to political enlightment).

Hope everyone had a happy Purim, though if you did you're probably too drunk to read this post. Back to Carleton on the 27th (can't hardly wait)!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Death's Bad Rap

Andrew Sullivan's Quote of the Day consists of the following statement by the Jesuit Theologian Rev. John J. Paris:
"Here's the question I ask of these right-to-lifers, including Vatican bishops: as we enter into Holy Week and we proclaim that death is not triumphant and that with the power of resurrection and the glory of Easter we have the triumph of Christ over death, what are they talking about by presenting death as an unmitigated evil? It doesn’t fit Christian context. Richard McCormick, who was the great Catholic moral theologian of the last 25 years, wrote a brilliant article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1974 called "To Save or Let Die." He said there are two great heresies in our age (and heresy is a strong word in theology — these are false doctrines). One is that life is an absolute good and the other is that death is an absolute evil. We believe that life was created and is a good, but a limited good. Therefore the obligation to sustain it is a limited one. The parameters that mark off those limits are your capacities to function as a human."

Now, this really doesn't impact to me in any way, because I'm not Christian. But it does give me at least some pause in terms of my theological debates with Christians. I often ask them explain the clear-cut murdering of innocents God engages in throughout the bible (the "two year old first born son" in the 10th plague, the Book of Job). One of the common responses (though not the only) is that death isn't the ultimate evil--all that is happening is these innocents are returning to God. However, then when we get back down to the modern world, abortion and euthanasia become the ultimate of moral evils. How do those two issues co-exist? Sure, one could argue that the actions in the bible are God's and thus beyond reproach, but I think that dodges the question--the "good" caused by death (returning to God) is caused regardless of whether the source is God, or an illness, or a freak accident, or the hand of mankind. Perversely, it seems this logic could be used to justify murder on a grand-scale--which is worse: letting humans continue to live in the stench of sin, or returning them to their merciful and just God?

As a Jew, I don't believe in the primacy of the immortal kingdom over the one established here on earth. So I can happily believe death is the great moral evil, guilt-free. But for those who do, this strikes me as a fundamental tension in the moral doctrine of Christianity. Millions of persons have died on Christian crusades, at least in part motivated because they were doing God's will and that their mortal life was a mere crucible for the world-to-come. It seems difficult to pick and choose where death is okay, and where it isn't.

This isn't to indict Rev. Paris. I think his point--that life, in the moral sense, means a functioning life, and when life is not functioning it can be killed. Nor do I think he means this in a callous sense. If you believe in reincarnation, it gives what must be a tortured soul "take two," another chance at life. If you don't believe in that, but still believe in an afterlife, it allows a soul the immediate chance to experience the life-as-afterlife, something an incapacitated, non-functioning human being cannot. And if you don't believe in any form of religion, surely the prospect of an entirely non-conscious existence, divorced from the capability of rational thought, is a scary prospect. There is a reason why polls overwhelmingly say, if in the same situation as Schiavo, the vast majority of American's would not want to be artificially kept alive. Regardless of whether they want to meet their maker, or just be released from a life not worth living, they same to agree that Schiavo's situation isn't really a life at all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Obstruction of Justice

I joined the Coalition for Darfur a little while ago, but never got a chance to do anything about it. The CfD is a multipartisan blog dedicated to exposing the horrific atrocities in the Darfur region and provoking the international community to action.

Today, the CfD links to a report of a USAID volunteer shot in the face by unknown assailants, in broad daylight, while traveling in a clearly marked humanitarian convoy. Sudan expert Eric Reeves (who spoke at Carleton, see my thoughts on his incredible lecture here) believes that this is part of a strategy by Khartoum to obstruct humanitarian aid, thus starving the Darfur refugees to death in a slow, but equally lethal, genocide. As CfD reports:
"If such a plan is truly in the works, it will have dire consequences for the people of Darfur. Last year, Jan Egeland, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned that as many as 100,000 people could die in Darfur every month if those providing humanitarian assistance were forced to withdraw due to insecurity."

When even the notoriously "even-handed" UN starts mentioning death tolls of 100,000 people per month, we should admit there is a crisis.

Meanwhile, yesterday's Washington Post contained a...interesting...interview with Sudanese Vice President (and architect of the cease-fire that ended the 30 year civil war between the northern and southern regions of Sudan--that's a separate conflict) Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha. He essentially denied there was any genocide taking place, and said that the international community needed to put more pressure on the rebels to lay down their arms. As CfD notes, the AU has estimated 90% of the cease-fire violations in the Darfur region have been instigated by the Janjaweed militias. But sure, let's blame the victim. Meanwhile, Joseph Goebbels is demanding that resistance fighters in Warsaw lay down their weapons before there is any talk of dismantling the concentration camps.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

CNN Weighs In on DeLay

CNN runs a piece on Tom DeLay's growing political radioactivity. This lends some credance to Etc.'s claim that DeLay's grandstanding on the Schiavo issue will backfire by bringing attention to his plethora of ethical shortcomings. And if you feel like indulging in more GOP scandals, check out this David Brooks editorial in the New York Times.

As always, be sure to check out the uncomparable Daily DeLay for the latest on this walking embarassment to our nation.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Killing Them Softly

The Daily Kos uses the terms "Bush" and "lie" a bit too often in my opinion. But they certainly nailed it here. The law Bush signed in Texas allows patients to die no matter what their family wants--the only pertinent issue is whether the family can pay (see here for an example). For Scott McClellan to describe it as "ensur[ing] that actions were being taken that were in accordance with the wishes of the patient or the patient's family" is flatly untrue. The media's lack of attention to this--while giving a veritable orgy of attention to Ms. Schiavo's plight--is outrageous.

More on Schiavo here and here. Also, check out The Moderate Voice, Southern Appeal, and Professor Bainbridge.

Oh, and while looking up links for this post, it appears the spectacular Legal Fiction blog is hanging up the spikes. Publius will be sorely missed as a superb commentator and a sharp analyst.

Politics of Schiavo

I just blogged on what I thought should be done regarding Terry Schiavo's tragic situation. Specifically, I said that in absence of a clear indication that she'd desire otherwise (which I don't believe is present here), I think we should default to saving her life. To be honest, I think President Bush hit the right note here: "This is a complex case with serious issues. But in extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life."

The politics of the situation, however, are another matter entirely. Conservatives are up to their eyeballs in hypocrisy here, and Democrats should make them put their money where their mouth is. As Barbara O'Brien noted (tip: Kevin Drum), somehow all this support for "life" flies out the window once the government has to step in and make sure the poor have access to the care necessary to sustaining and protecting their lives.
"We need a list of politicians and commentators, including bloggers, who have been calling for cuts in Medicaid but who now have joined in the 'save Terri Schiavo' cult. These people need to be challenged to take her off Medicaid and pay for her maintenance themselves. If you know of any such people, please add their names to the comments.

The righties are going to say, it's not about money, it's about principle. But the principle is that there are people right now who are not receiving health care that they need because they can't afford it, and their lives may be shortened as a result. But there is plenty of taxpayer money to keep Terri Schiavo alive, even though she has no hope of ever being conscious.

Why? Because she's politically useful, that's why. That's your 'principle.'"

Even the American public, notoriously gullible with regards to GOP culture war putsches, isn't buying the facade that DeLay and Company actually care about Schiavo and others like her. Indeed, when the choice is between saving money and prolonging life, Conservative activists have been mysteriously silent. Much hay has been made over the fact that Schiavo's parents are willing and able to pay for her care. That's wonderful, but what of those who don't have the bankroll to care for their loved ones? Apparently, the answer is: pull the plug.

Nobody should die simply because they cannot afford to live. If there is one, basic obligation of our society, it is to ensure life to all citizens. We can debate about the other stuff later, but life has to be a baseline. It's why I consider myself pro-life on abortion, and why I consider programs like Medicare/Medicaid to be moral imperatives on society, not just "liberal entitlement programs."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Schiavo Thoughts

CNN reports that the House has just passed a bill authorizing federal courts to reinsert a feeding tube into Terry Schiavo while Court cases are pending. My own thoughts are very similar to Ross Douthat of The American Scene: Since there is someone willing to take care of Terry (her parents), and her husband could get a divorce easily enough, we should default to prolonging her life in absence of clear proof showing that she would not want to be kept in such a state (IE, a living will). I do agree with Will Baude's admonishment that we should consider the wishes of the dead or dying--and indeed, if Schiavo had put down, on paper, that she did not want to live in such conditions I'd support her being removed from the feeding tube. But with the evidence unclear, I think we should err on the side of keeping her alive. That seems to be the path dictated by the precautionary principle and the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm." Baude is right that completely ignoring the clear wishes of a suffering patient is a harm. However, I think in this case it is still speculative, versus the very real harm of having her dead.

Incidentally, I just saw former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman on "Real Time With Bill Maher." She very, very briefly, so quickly you might have missed it, registered her opposition to the GOP's use of a Congressional subpoena to keep Schiavo alive (which is different than the bill just passed). From the context of her statement, it was impossible to tell whether she opposed just that procedural tactic, or whether she felt that in general Schiavo should be allowed to die. If it's the former, I agree with her, the use of a subpoena here is way beyond the scope of congressional powers. If it's the latter, I obviously disagree as noted above.

Sorry for the paucity of blogging lately. I've been very, very stressed out. Hopefully I'll get back on track soon. In case y'all care, my latest debate column is out on Victory Briefs, though you probably won't get the references unless you have some relation to HS debate.