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George Mitchell: A Profile in Political Courage

There's a nice little story in our local paper about the Kennedy family delivering its Profile in Courage award to former president George H. W. Bush for his role in the 1990 budget compromise that cut spending, raised taxes and---along with the 1993 Clinton budget---laid the foundation for the federal budget surpluses of the late 1990s.

Unfortunately for both the Kennedys and the Bushes, the historical record undercuts the notion that Bush acted courageously.  As his granddaughter pointed out when accepting the award on his behalf back in May, "Candidly speaking, my grandfather didn’t want to raise taxes in 1990...".  Well then, with all due respect, it's hard to conclude it was an act of political courage on his part to do so, isn't it?

Especially because Bush had painted himself into that particular political corner with his craven (and unnecessary) "Read my lips; no new taxes" pledge at the 1988 Republican national convention.  "The Pledge" didn't get him elected in 1988; and breaking it was not the cause of his defeat in 1992.

No, if any politician deserves a profile in courage award for the 1990 budget deal it's then-Senate Majority Leader---and Commonweal's 2014 "Catholics in the Public Square" honoree---George Mitchell.

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Graham Greene's (Catholic) hopes for Charlie Chaplin

In marking one hundred years of publication, the New Republic is featuring a number of its most memorable articles and this week has uncovered what it calls one of “the wackiest things” in its archives: A 1952 open letter from Graham Greene to Charlie Chaplin, penned three weeks after Chaplin’s return to England amid allegations by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the FBI of communism and the revocation of his visa by the attorney general. Greene expressed hope that at least one group in the U.S., and perhaps a certain publication now celebrating its ninetieth anniversary, might publicly stand with Chaplin:

Remembering the days of Titus Oates and the terror in England, I would like to think that the Catholics of the United States, a powerful body, would give you their sympathy and support. Certainly one Catholic weekly in America is unlikely to be silent—I mean the Commonweal. But Cardinal Spellman? And the Hierarchy? I cannot help remembering an American flag that leant against a pulpit in an American Catholic Church not far from your home, and I remember too that McCarthy is a Catholic. Have Catholics in the United States not yet suffered enough to stand firmly against this campaign of uncharity? 

(The) Commonweal seems not to have come through with quite the vocal backing Greene might have anticipated, though some years later it did comment on Chaplin’s plight. This from the editors in 1958, in a piece on the Soviet “campaign of vilification” against Boris Pasternak after the publication of Dr. Zhivago:

There are some observers of the American scene…  who are as dismayed and disapproving as anyone else over this latest example of Communist brutality but who seize upon it to remind Americans of their own failings in the area of tolerance for unpopular views. It has been suggested that America's treatment of Charlie Chaplin or, even more, of artists and writers who suffered from professional "blacklisting," is much like the Soviet treatment of dissenter Boris Pasternak….

The case of Charlie Chaplin seems … inapplicable. Most of the criticism of Mr. Chaplin is wholly unofficial; and, if his critics have sometimes taken the tone or the assumptions of the critics of Pasternak, they are in the minority. (It might also be noted that Mr. Chaplin's strictures on conditions in America lack the reasonableness and the weight of evidence that Boris Pasternak brings forth.) And if Mr. Chaplin has suffered economically for his unpopular views, it is because he has flouted public opinion--a freedom which must always be paid for--not because of any campaign to seek vengeance.

Which isn’t to say that the magazine was not critical of McCarthy, or that the Catholics of the United States in whom Greene placed his faith were as a whole particularly supportive of the senator—a fact noted in 1953 by the same New Republic, which after conducting a poll “estimated that McCarthyism was not representative of Catholic thought,” according to Rodger Van Allen in The Commonweal and American Catholicism. And though a January 1954 Gallup Poll “showed 58 percent of American Catholics favorable to the senator,” that number dropped to 46 percent by April, during the Army-McCarthy hearings. As for the hierarchy, and Cardinal Spellman specifically, Greene was probably right to be pessimistic about their support.

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Using 'Hobby Lobby' to refuse a subpoena about child labor

During oral arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sibelius and subsequent written opinions, the Supreme Court debated the case's unintended consequences.

Would laws requiring vaccinations or prohibiting child labor, for example, now be affected by the new interpretation of RFRA? Or would the "parade of horribles" never come to pass?

A new case from Utah provides a surprising early glimpse: a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) has successfully refused a federal subpoena based on his religious belief in secrecy.

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Henry Kissinger Does Not Care for Your Unserious Questions

Henry Kissinger has a book to promote, and so he found himself appearing on The Takeaway -- a news magazine program that airs on the New York City public radio station WNYC.

In the book, World Order, Kissinger offers his thoughts on the present state of foreign policy, drawing on his long career observing and advising on same. But he bristled, to put it mildly, when that long career prompted a few pointed questions from interviewer Todd Zwillich. It seems the Nobel Peace Prize winner isn't accustomed to being asked to defend his role in some of the uglier episodes of the 1970s.

That Kissinger doesn't want to talk about such things is no surprise. It is surprising that he hasn't come up with a better way to deflect questions about, say, Allende or Vietnam by now. The grounds on which he objects to Zwillich's bringing up the past are pretty flimsy: first of all, it happened a long time ago, and therefore is not something contemporary audiences should be interested in or consider themselves able to assess; and second, it is unfair to the people who were involved in making the decisions that are now being questioned.

In response to this from Zwillich:

One passage in your book says that idealism is a critical part of American policy, but that the most sustainable course will involve a blend of realism and idealism, [which is] too often held out in the American debate as incompatible opposites. It made me think of your history in places like Chile. Was it the case that realism trumped democratic idealism there when you engineered the coup against Salvador Allende, was that an example of that?

Kissinger replies:

Ahem. You know one trouble with discussion of this...You’re referring to an event that happened 50 years ago, and so it’s very hard to reconstruct…

Zwillich presses on, correcting the timeline ("forty years") and noting that, despite Kissinger's disavowal of any involvement with the coup, "Many other people testified in front of the Church Commission in the Senate later on that in fact you were well informed of that operation even after officially turning it off in a memo –"

Once again, Kissinger falls back on his not-quite-an-argument about how it's all off-limits for discussion because it happened a long time ago.

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An abusive "culture of violence" at Rikers's youth prisons

The front page of today's New York Times reports on the findings of the U.S. Attorney's Office that there is a “deep-seated culture of violence” in the prisons that hold adolescent inmates on Rikers Island.

The report, addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and two other senior city officials, singled out for blame a “powerful code of silence” among the Rikers staff, along with a virtually useless system for investigating attacks by guards. The result was a “staggering” number of injuries among youthful inmates, the report said.

The report, which comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the jail complex after a stream of revelations about Rikers’s problems, also found that the department relied to an “excessive and inappropriate” degree on solitary confinement to punish teenage inmates, placing them in punitive segregation, as the practice is known, for months at a time.

The report also enumerates "systemic deficiencies that contribute to, exacerbate, and indeed are largely responsible for the excessive and unnecessary use of force by DOC staff. Many of these systemic deficiencies also lead to the high levels of inmate violence."

The picture is grim, especially given the youth of the inmates and the possibility that they might be rehabilitated -- released after their sentences to be successful and productive members of society. How much harder will it be for these young men to put their lives back together after suffering or even witnessing the treatment described in the report? How can they be expected to trust law enforcement, or any authority? Whatever we imagine prison is "for," it should not be a place where "adolescents" -- or any inmates -- "are at constant risk of physical harm while incarcerated."

One major factor is inadequate oversight. The report notes "several areas in the jails where adolescents are housed have no camera coverage whatsoever. Additionally, critical videotapes frequently go missing."

The missing video surveillance is alarming, given that the Department has a specific policy requiring any video recording of a use of force or alleged use of force to be retained in the office of the Deputy Warden for Security for no less than four years, as well as detailed procedures for documenting the chain of custody for any such recordings. The frequency with which video evidence disappears either indicates an unacceptably blatant disregard for the Department’s policies regarding the safeguarding of video evidence, or even more disturbingly, possible tampering with important evidence.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Attorney's Office also found that internal investigations into the use of force by staff against inmates (when it is reported) are "inadequate." Staff members, the report says, have no reason to expect that they will be held accountable for violations of policy, and "expect that their version of events will be accepted at face value with little scrutiny" -- even if an inmate's testimony and/or medical evidence contradict it.

Reading the article and the report, particularly the section on the overuse of "punitive segregation," reminded me of Derek Jeffreys's recent Commonweal article on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, "Cruel but Not Unusual." (See also this recent NYT article by Erica Goode about the practice of "cell extractions.") As Jeffreys wrote, "The dehumanizing conditions in which inmates are held—the lack of sensory stimulation and human contact; the petty control over inmates’ daily lives; the disorientation with regard to time; and the threat of indefinite isolation—are, in the minds of prison officials, essential to solitary’s power as a disciplinary tool. Contemporary solitary confinement is a policy designed to do harm to the men and women subjected to it."

It seems clear that the United States has a prison system that regularly, systematically violates the dignity of the human beings in its custody. It also seems designed to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to address: violence, anti-social behavior, lawlessness, unstable communities. Reading about the treatment of adolescent prisoners makes that grim irony especially clear. Now, what can we do about it?

Hillary’s reading, reading Hillary

Why do we care what political figures are reading? Do the books on their nightstands say something about them that the ones on ours can’t, or won’t? Maybe it’s reasonable to believe that one can draw general inferences about a politician who cites the Bible as his or favorite, different from those drawn when someone mentions Aurelius’s Meditations, Kagan’s The World America Made or Morrison’s The Song of Solomon (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Jeb Bush, respectively). But that could just as easily suggest we’ve internalized all the cultural signifiers and can pick up on the dog whistles: the titles are meant less to tell us about those figures as real people than to present them as packagable, electable brands to a core constituency or group of donors. Or perhaps I’m being cynical.

A little over a week ago the New York Times Book Review asked Hillary Clinton about the books she’s reading, likes to read, remembers reading, and wants to read. How you view her responses, both individually and in sum total, may depend on your feelings about Hillary Clinton in the first place. Some might see intellectual voracity, others a general and generous capaciousness; some might sense a lack of discrimination, and still others (and they’re out there) a carefully considered, maybe even market-tested, cataloging of titles meant to tickle the vanities and excite the particular interests of a range of existing and emerging constituencies—even if as far as I can tell no one’s actually called it triangulation.

Rarely content to provide one answer or a single example when several (or more) will do, she also exhibits the Clinton penchant for surfeiting the audience. The one book she wishes all students would read? Pride and Prejudice, Out of Africa, and Schindler’s List. The last truly great book she’s read? The Hare With Amber Eyes, The Signature of All Things, Citizens of London, and A Suitable Boy. Favorite genre? Cooking, decorating, diet/self-help and gardening books. Her roster of favorite contemporary authors runs to twenty, from the literary to the less-so, from Mantel and Morrison to Grafton and Grisham. She mentions poets and pundits and politicians, from Neruda to Dionne to Sen. John McCain. Kids’ books? You got ‘em: Winnie-the-Pooh and Nancy Drew and Little Women, and, from her time reading to daughter Chelsea, Goodnight Moon and Curious George.

And then comes… the Bible.

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Meet your newest Tea Party Catholic

If you haven’t already collected your share of fast facts on David Brat, who primaried congressional majority leader Eric Cantor out of office yesterday, here are some worth starting with:

He ran with strong Tea Party support and largely on an anti-immigration message, referring to undocumented migrants as “illegals.”

He’s a professor of economics at Randolph-Macon University in Virginia, where he also teaches ethics; he holds a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary; he describes himself as a "free-market, Milton Friedman economist" and his scholarship includes work with titles like "God and Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?" and "An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand"; he says he stands for the main tenets of the “Republican creed: free markets, equal protection under the law, fiscal responsibility, constitutional restraint, strong military and belief in God.”

He is a Roman Catholic, though his position on immigration puts him politically far more in line with white evangelicals, among whom support for immigration has dropped to 48 percent; 63 percent of Catholics support immigration reform, as do 68 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

He is either still celebrating or may need to brush up on actual policy, if this exchange from "Morning Joe" is any indicator. A snippet of his answer to a question from Chuck Todd about the minimum wage: 

"Minimum wage, no, I'm a free market guy," Brat responded. "Our labor markets right now are already distorted from too many regulations. I think Cato estimates there's $2 trillion of regulatory problems and then throw Obamacare on top of that, the work hours is 30 hours a week. You can only hire 50 people. There's just distortion after distortion after distortion and we wonder why our labor markets are broken."

Todd then pressed Brat on the question.

"Um, I don't have a well-crafted response on that one," Brat finally conceded. "All I know is if you take the long-run graph over 200 years of the wage rate, it cannot differ from your nation's productivity. Right? So you can't make up wage rates."

As for arming Syrian rebels: “I'd love to go through all of this but my mind is — I love all the policy questions but I just wanted to talk about the victory ahead.”

And as of 10:50 a.m. eastern, his website is down.

The post-mortems on Cantor also make for good reading, starting with E. J. Dionne Jr.'s take, now featured on our homepage.

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Engagement or retreat? Joseph Bottum responds

Right now on the homepage, Joseph Bottum takes his turn in our special feature, "Engagement or Retreat? Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage." Bottum responds to Ross Douthat and Jamie L. Manson, who themselves were responding to Bottum's controversial Commonweal piece from last summer, "The Things We Share: A Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage." An excerpt from Bottum's response:

Sometimes same-sex marriage has been described as a natural outcome of the removal of sex from the realm of morality. Sometimes it has been praised as a wonderful transgressive rebellion, good because it helped undo bad Western norms. Sometimes it has been described as a useful expansion of an old idea, helping preserve the marriage culture. Occasionally it has been promoted as a way of returning ethics to sexual relations, drawing gays and lesbians away from support for the demoralization of sex, to which, it is claimed, they were forced by the repressions of a premodern morality that lasted into the modern world.

In other words, the arrival of legal recognition of same-sex marriage was over-determined in America. And that’s why I think it makes a terrible object for the Catholic Church to pick as the synechdoche for all the objectionable things in contemporary society. Our problem as Catholics isn’t that same-sex marriage somehow uniquely represents Western society’s recent turns; our problem is those turns themselves: the disenchantment of the world, the systematic effort to hunt down and destroy the last vestiges of old metaphysical and spiritual meanings in the world.

Read the whole thing here; read Douthat here, and Manson here.

Who will visit the 9/11 museum?

A featured reader comment at the New York Times’s review of the September 11 Memorial Museum, which was dedicated Thursday morning, began like this: “Having lived here in NYC during that time I most assuredly will never visit this museum. I do not need it to remember nor do I want to remember it.”

I lived in New York City at the time, and I still have competing desires to forget and remember. Two years ago this spring, I visited the museum while writing for a company involved in its design. Work was well underway and the opening was considered imminent—this before Hurricane Sandy and the damage it caused adding further delay to a project already long beset by problems, not the least of which were reasonable questions over the advisability of building it in the first place. What would it contain (“exhibit” certainly didn’t sound like the appropriate verb)? What would it accomplish? And would visitors really be charged admission to a place also functioning as a repository for the remains of those killed in the attacks? (Yes: $24, as it turns out.) Publicized political tussling and construction setbacks didn’t help matters, nor did announced estimates of $60 million in annual operating costs. 

It was warm and sunny the day I visited; I was given a hardhat to wear and, along with a few colleagues, followed a project manager down into the site.

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A tale of two cities, seventies-style

You don’t need to be a New Yorker to appreciate the 1981 documentary Tighten Your Belts, Bite the Bullet, which chronicles the near default of the city in 1975, or to be from Cleveland, which the film also features and which took a much different approach in confronting its own insolvency three years later. You could be from Detroit or Stockton or San Bernardino or Camden, or any municipality in bankruptcy, on the brink, or simply operating within a set of ever-tightening creditor constraints. Thirty-three years after its release, the documentary’s take on how private business interests exert a controlling hand in the financing of public services makes it perhaps even more timely now than it was then.

I saw it at the Queens Museum a couple of weeks ago, and readers in the New York area will have a second chance to catch up with it Monday, May 12, when it’s screened at the Bronx Documentary Center. The film mixes interviews from the period with archival footage to help viewers understand the scope and severity of the financial crisis New York faced in the 1970s, now too often recalled via the reflexive shorthand of the infamous Daily News headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Intercut with stories from the frontlines of de-staffed hospitals, daycare centers, and firehouses are clips of a black-tie gala at Lincoln Center celebrating the acclaimed saviors of the city, including Felix Rohatyn of the Municipal Assistance Corporation and members of the Emergency Financial Control Board, whose cuts to public funding are portrayed as having disproportionately affected the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. A tuxedoed attendee climbing from a limo tells an interviewer of the EFCB’s work: “It's great. It puts an intervening layer in there. It separates the politicians from the constituencies.”

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Capital Punishment Watch, Cont'd--UPDATED

Last night marked another horrific chapter in our nation's practice of capital punishment. In Oklahoma, two executions were scheduled for last night, following a new three-drug protocol. The first drug administered was midazolam, already used as part of a botched execution in Florida. (see my previous post on this topic for pharmacologic details and links.)

About 10 minutes into the first execution, 38-year old Clayton Lockett was declared unconscious by a physician.  According to CNN, Lockett sat up and tried to speak 16 minutes into his execution. He was seen to be writhing or convulsing on the gurney, and about 20 minutes into the process, his vein "exploded," executioners said, causing them to halt the process. At that point, guards closed the windows so the witnesses could no longer see what was happening. 43 minutes into the process, Lockett apparetly suffered a massive heart attack and died. 

The legal battle centered around a prisoner's right to know the source of the drugs to be used to execute him or her. A stay on Lockett's execution was lifted last week when a judge ruled that there was no such right. After last night's experience, executions are again on hold in OK for at least 2 weeks.

The plan was to render Lockett unconscious with midazolam, then stop his breathing (and all muscular activity) with the paralytic drug vercuronium bromide, then stop his heart with potassium chloride.

What could have gone wrong? Of course, I wasn't there, and can't speak with certainty, but here are two possibilities. 

Benzodiazepines like midazolam can rarely have paradoxical effects: a drug that usually renders one deeply sedated and relaxed, and has anti-convulsant properties, can cause agitation, anxiety, aggression, talkativeness, rage, violent behavior, and delirium, often states not recalled by the patient upon recovery. The midazolam dose used for sedation is much lower than that used for execution, but since Mr. Lockett's vein "exploded," it's unclear what dose he actually received, or, from the information given, what his actual state of consciousness was. The effects of midazolam can be reversed with Flumazenil, (a benzodiazepine-receptor antagonist) but did the executioner have a reversal agent on hand? Reversal of midazolam with Flumazenil can cause seizures. When the execution was stopped, efforts were made to resuscitate Lockett, but details aren't clear.

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Dumb guns

On our website now, E. J. Dionne Jr. on Georgia’s new “guns everywhere” legislation that expressly allows people to bring their weapons to church, among other places:

Nothing better reveals the utter irrationality of our politics for the whole world to see than this madness about guns -- and no issue better demonstrates how deeply divided our nation is by region, ideology, and party…. Nowhere else in the world do the laws on firearms become the playthings of politicians and lobbyists intent on manufacturing cultural conflict. Nowhere else do elected officials turn the matter of taking a gun to church into a searing ideological question. But then, guns are not a religion in most countries.

Dionne’s latest comes on the heels of the National Rifle Association’s “Stand and Fight” rally, held in Indianapolis over the weekend, where Sarah Palin with Christian motherly charm declared that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” And she demonstrated glancing acquaintance with transitive logic in getting to the red-meat portion of her remarks: “If you control oil, you control an economy. If you control money, you control commerce. But if you control arms, you control the people, and that is what they’re trying to do.” [Applause]

They, being the Obama administration, which at last check had taken action on gun reform off the legislative docket. But faith of course is famously resistant to fact and reason.

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College, receding from reach

One of our most-read stories in recent weeks has been Hollis Phelps’s piece on student loan debt -- the total of which nationwide now surpasses $1 trillion (second only to home mortgage debt), with the average student owing close to $30,000 on graduation. As Hollis notes, a big reason for that is that in real dollars the cost of attending a four-year school has more than tripled in thirty years, while family incomes have stagnated. Commencement is a rite of passage closely associated with this time of year, but for many new college grads and rising freshmen (along with their families) it’s now accompanied by the jolting reminder of just how much is owed or will need to be financed.

During a recent college visit with my son, the voluble and eminently capable tour guide was ultimately asked a general question about financial aid. She prefaced her general response with uncharacteristic bloodlessness: “We are a private, high-priced liberal arts college.” Commend her for being forthright, but the framing—no doubt formulated and tested by the administration—hints at what in a different context might be called multitudes: some people can afford this school, but it may be unaffordable for you; we can help arrange a financial aid package that relies in no small part on loans, but you might be better off applying to a public university.

Of course, paying even for a public, “low-priced” college presents, for many people, a financial burden. A big reason is that public schools are themselves becoming more private in terms of how their operations are funded. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers’ latest annual report, states are covering less and less of the costs they used to, with students now on average providing almost 50 percent of what’s known as educational revenue—the money that goes to teaching and administration; in some states, students cover as much as 85 percent of those costs. Jordan Weissman at Moneybox:

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Losing my religion? I blame the Internet!

This is kind of an old story in online time, dating all the way back to last week, on a study that links declining interest and participation in religion to the rise of the Internet. Of course, there's been handwringing over the weakening of interest in religion almost as long as there's been organized religion, something Elizabeth Drescher tidily sums up (again) at Religion Dispatches: from the piper on the English green to colonialism in the New World to Industrial-age indifference to--according to "research" from 2010--Facebook, there's always something steering people away from church. And she doesn't even mention radio, TV, professional football, or kids' soccer games. 
 
Never mind whether any of these have been definitively linked to "the problem" anyway; like video games and gun violence or vaccines and autism, blaming the Internet for [insert name of ailment here] has that easy intuitive appeal that comes with any simple, single-cause explanation for something that had seemed too complex or concerning to consider more deeply.
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Climate change & 'the afterlife'

There’s an interesting quote from Jonathan Schell in the New Yorker’s recent remembrance of the late author. Schell, who in his book The Fate of the Earth “brought home the sheer reality of what it would mean to explode our atomic arsenals, summoning up not the mainly visceral, personal fear of the duck-and-cover drill but the far deeper horror of a world permanently sterilized and impoverished,” had late in his life come to apply his thinking about nuclear war to climate change. “Both crises,” the article quotes him as saying, “reveal a kind of bankruptcy at the crucial hour of many of the things we place our faith in… . I can easily imagine that in six months the whole earth will be blazing with anger at what’s going on. I can imagine that, but I can’t imagine how it will happen.” 

About a week has passed since the release of the latest and correspondingly more dire report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—things are only getting worse and “no one on this planet is going to be untouched by the impact”—which means about one less week for the world to muster the anger Schell was hopeful about. The media has generally performed well, at least according to Media Matters, which approvingly notes the amount of coverage the report has received from cable outlets like Al Jazeera and MSNBC and even broadcast networks like NBC. CNN largely ignored the report, however, devoting less than two minutes to it, in contrast to the twenty-plus minutes elsewhere; Fox, in giving it more time, also provided “coverage that largely denied the danger of climate change.” (An aside: Roger Ailes, who runs Fox News, was arguably at one time a relative environmentalist, using his position as media consultant to the Nixon administration to encourage the president to promise a Kennedy-esque mission to eliminate water and air pollution in America by 1980.) Related articles and analyses continue to appear, including this BBC item on Exxon’s breezy lack of concern over the impact of new climate data on its profits—although even it “does not dispute that global warming is happening.” 

Would that the rest of the world could be so nonchalant.

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What’s up with 59 percent of white Catholics?

A new Pew survey shows “modest decline” in support for the death penalty, with 55 percent of U.S. adults saying they favor it for people convicted of murder and 37 percent opposing, as opposed to 62 percent favoring and 31 percent opposing in 2011, the last time Pew asked the question.

Any drop comes as good news for those opposed to capital punishment, but as usual the drill-downs turn up the interesting information. Take race: Many more whites (63 percent) continue to support the death penalty than do Hispanics (40 percent) or African Americans (36 percent). Or religion-and-race: 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 64 percent of white mainline Protestants support the death penalty; for Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants, support is 37 and 33 percent, respectively. And white Catholics? Support for capital punishment is higher than the overall number, at 59 percent.

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An April Fools' Day Joke? Paul Ryan Proposes a Budget

More of the same from Paul Ryan

A full repeal of the ACA? Check. Cuts in food assistance? Check. Medicaid cuts? Check again. All these cuts add up in Ryan's mind to economic growth and a balanced budget. It boggles the mind. 

I think I've plumbed the depths of the impoverished libertarian vision; what I find baffling about Ryan's proposal is its purported moral (and even religious) message. It seems like nothing more than a mobilization of the Calvinist distinction between the damned and the Elect. And what a wonderful world in which to be one of the latter. Has conservative Catholicism crossed over to the side of radical puritanism?  

All is well: voting restrictions are really about ‘uniformity’

One of the first things you learn in high-school political science is that high voter turnout tends to favor one party while low turnout favors the other. Back when this was basic enlightening fact was made known to me, there weren’t the early voting, weekend voting, extended polling, or same-day registration-and-vote options as we’ve come to know them– although there were still plenty of fresh tales about the kind of suppression efforts, from the comprehensive to the spontaneous, that had spurred passage of the original Voting Rights Act in 1965 and given Congress in the intervening years ample reason to reauthorize it multiple times. Still, for a class of high-schoolers grappling with the particularities of the most recent reauthorization (this was 1982, for the record), it was generally much easier to view the axiom in meteorological terms: sunny voting days favor Democrats; rainy and snowy ones, Republicans.

Currently unable to dictate the weather, Republicans in swing states are finding ways to make conditions as inclement as possible. “Uniformity” is now the stated objective of their mission, which has gained urgency and speed since last summer’s Supreme Court ruling rolling back the preclearance requirements of the VRA. In places like Ohio and Wisconsin and Texas, making everything uniform basically means making it harder for the people who don’t fit a certain (shall we call it “uniform”?) demographic to cast their votes.

As a justification, it’s probably a less impeachable one than limiting fraud—evidence of which has been scant to nonexistent. It’s harder to argue against efforts to restore an unquantifiable “orderliness” to a process that for some has grown too unruly.

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Can't be too careful

Governor Chris Christie, otherwise known as Governor Bridgegate, personally misspoke (he can't blame Bridget Kelly) at a Republican gathering in Las Vegas, otherwise referred to as the Sheldon Adelson Republican primary. The major potential Republican 2016 candidates were auditioning their ideas to some of the richest men in America, along with the richest, Adelson himself.

Christie referred to the "Occupied Territories," let it be said, in way wholly sympathetic to Israel. But the phrase is forbidden in Adelson land, and Christie quickly apologized for the slip-up--unlike some of the other slip-ups he's made. The territories, i.e., the West Bank, are not occupied because they belong to Israel from time immemorial, or so Adelson insists. Politico

The potential anti-Semitic fall-out from the whole meeting has been thoroughly discussed by J.J. Goldberg at The Jewish Daily Forward under the headline: A GOP Plan to Save the Jews: Buy White House.

Where is George Orwell when we need him?

Juan Cole offers five signs that the West Bank might be said to be occupied:

1. The UN General Assembly partition plan for British Mandate Palestine in 1947, which was extremely generous to the Jewish settlement community of the time, did not award them Gaza or the West Bank, where there were at that time virtually no Jews!

2. Israel militarily conquered Gaza and the West Bank only in 1967. Typically you refer to territories not belonging to a country, which it holds during wartime, as “Occupied Territories”

3. Israel is in violation of over 30 United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding what the UNSC explicitly calls the Occupied Territories....

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Americans and the ‘obnoxiously different’

Writing in the current New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell offers a reliably pat pronouncement in his assessment of the conflict at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, which culminated in the deaths of seventy-four people on April 19, 1993. He says the lesson of “the battle of [Waco]… is that Americans aren’t very good at respecting the freedom of others to be so obnoxiously different.” He goes on to write that “many Mormons, incidentally, would say the same thing,” and then as supporting evidence provides a tidy, three-sentence recap of the death of Joseph Smith at the hands of an armed mob while awaiting trial in Illinois in 1844.
 
It’s not really the words “obnoxiously different” that are the problem; Gladwell notes the construct comes from historian R. Laurence Moore, who about the Mormons wrote: “[They] said they were different and their claims, frequently advanced in the most obnoxious way possible, prompted others to agree….” The problem is that the spirit of lazy assertion (“the lesson of Waco is that Americans aren’t good at respecting…” and “many Mormons, incidentally, would say the same thing”) undermines the larger if perhaps equally tossed-off observations Gladwell makes in the piece.
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