Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Thought

Regarding newly-minted conservative community organizer Glenn Beck's 100-year plan for America:

If five-year plans are bad, aren't 100-year plans 20 times as bad? So is Beck 20 times worse than a communist?

Now I'm not saying I believe this or anything. But isn't it interesting?

Jon Stewart's Beck parody here. Worth a click if you haven't seen it yet.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy With No Teeth

The Get Off My Lawn Lobby strikes again, this time wanting to ban the hallucinogenic herb Salvia just because... well, the reasons they present aren't exactly coherent. So I'll just assume it's because it's weird and new and icky and anything weird and new and icky must be banned.

It's this same stupid mentality that we should ban everything we find bizarre or distasteful or offensive, and - yes - in my experience, it's mostly held by old people. New rule: a ban cannot go into effect unless over 50% of those aged 18-29 support the ban, and if 50% of those aged 18-29 support removing a ban, it's gone. Old people have no right to control the behavior of young adults.

You See Dimensions in Two

The New York Times reveals that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) claims that in 2007, the Catholic bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, told priests under his authority to not administer communion to Kennedy. Tobin doesn't remember barring priests from administering communion, but says that Kennedy shouldn't be taking it. Tobin claims that Kennedy's geographical quasi-excommunication is related to his support for abortion rights.

I used to be bothered by this sort of thing, but as of now, I have no opinion one way or another on whether it's right or wrong for a Catholic bishop or priest to deny communion to someone because of their political beliefs. I'm not Catholic, and I don't come from a religious tradition that values hierarchy, so the whole thing is just kinda weird to me. But just to make sure Tobin's acting in earnest here, let's check on a few facts. The diocese of Providence consists of the state of Rhode Island, which sends four people to national office - Kennedy, Rep. James Langevin, and Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse is Episcopalian, but Langevin and Reed are both Catholics, neither of which appear to have been denied communion or chewed out by Tobin. Langevin is legitimately pro-life, but Reed? The Wikioracle speaks:
He is strongly pro-choice, and he has rejected proposals to limit late-term abortion, such procedures from occurring on military installations, and the ability of minors to cross state lines to obtain abortions.
Tweeeeeet! Inconsistent application of principles, Bishop Tobin of the Church. Fifteen yard penalty, replay third mass. Whatever this fight is about, it's clear that there's one thing it's definitely not about - abortion.

The Times article has an interesting passage that might tell us why:
Their dispute began in October when Kennedy criticized the nation's Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose an overhaul of the nation's health care system unless lawmakers included tighter restrictions on abortion, which have since been added to the House version of the bill. Tobin said he felt Kennedy made an unprovoked attack on the church and demanded an apology.

Since then, their feud has played out in public. Tobin, who has said he might have gone into politics were he not ordained, has written sharp public letters questioning Kennedy's faith and saying his position is scandalous and unacceptable to the church. Kennedy has said his disagreement with the church hierarchy does not make him any less of a Catholic.

Two weeks ago, after a planned meeting between the two fell through, Kennedy said he wanted to stop discussing his faith in public. But then he told The Providence Journal in a story published Sunday that Tobin instructed him not to receive Communion. He also claimed the bishop had told diocesan priests not to give him Communion.
Ah. So Kennedy started a food fight with Tobin, and Tobin's escalating it. A lay Catholic is challenging the Church hierarchy, and the bishop feels the need to put him in his place. How quaint, in that 13th-century sort of way.

I don't know that I would completely rule out the ambition of Tobin here though. Tobin claims in the article that he would have run for political office if he hadn't gone into the clergy. Seems to me that Tobin is understandably distraught that Catholic clergymen have been left behind by the political Christianity that has been ascendant in the past few decades. By engaging in a highly public culture-war fight with a high-profile liberal, he's aspiring to a more powerful role for himself and his fellow clergymen in a culture war debate that has so far been dominated by Protestant clergy and lay Christians.

(I have no evidence for that assertion, of course, so it's kind of a Glenn Beck-style "isn't it interesting" conjecture. Take this theory with a grain of salt - or a whole shaker.)

Question for y'all, though - is there any inconsistency in kicking someone out for voting in favor of abortion rights but not for supporting other political positions that the Church opposes?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Is It Good For?

The NY Times quotes Orrin Hatch on health care:
Republicans have vowed to fight the legislation at every turn, saying it represents a dangerous expansion in the role of government that would increase taxes and insurance costs for millions of people. “It’s going to be a holy war,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah.
Oh, Orrin. You especially should know that there's already one Holy War scheduled for this month. There can't be two holy wars in such a short period of time - it'd just be unseemly. Perhaps a "holy police action"?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Say It Right...

One more quick moment of hilarity: according to the literal wording of Texas' anti-gay marriage amendment, there's no such thing as marriage in Texas, period. Of course no court would ever actually read the amendment that way, its intent being pretty crystal-clear... but it's still really, really funny.

It's All In Your Head

Here's another story I missed this weekend. Several anti-gay preachers decided to attempt to get arrested by... preaching on the corner of 10th and Pennsylvania. The predictable failarity ensued.

Turns out, if you want to perpetrate an act of civil disobedience, you have to do something illegal. And preaching on a street corner isn't illegal! Imagine that - in America, it's legal to say something on a street corner! It's almost as if there's some bedrock Constitutional concept that allows people to speak freely, some sort of "free speech" thing...

The preachers were trying to protest the new hate crimes law, which puts the preachers in a bind vis-a-vis their attempt at civil disobedience. See, the point of civil disobedience is to protest an unjust law by breaking that law and portraying yourself as a sympathetic lawbreaker. But to break the hate crimes law, the preachers would have had to commit an actual hate crime - like beating up a gay guy while screaming Bible verses at him or something. Which, yeah, doesn't exactly make you sympathetic. Future conservative preachers, perhaps, might want to learn the law before they try to challenge it.

Bonus fail points: at one point toward the end of the event, the podium got hijacked by some of the pro-gay rights counterprotesters. So not only did the preachers completely misunderstand the law and fail at getting arrested, they gave their opponents a soapbox while they were at it.

Bonuser bonus fail points: Oh, and the guy they hired to do the sound donated the fee for the podium to the gay rights activists. So not only did they fail at getting arrested, not only did they give gay rights activists a platform to speak, but they also paid gay rights activists for the opportunity to do so. (Dayenu?)

Facepalms all around.

And a link to the video for the song mentioned in the post title, featuring Martin Sheen as an eccentric preacher.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And I Confess, I Shiver

A few things apparently happened during my blog hiatus. Let's take a look-see:

- Seems our Attorney General has decided to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed his day in court. Standard supporters and critics apply. Supporters claimed victory for the rule of law, critics stammered something about "but... but... but he's a terrorist!" You can guess which side I'm on here, though I don't think it was anything remotely resembling a victory for the "rule of law." As Adam Serwer points out, there's no chance KSM will ever be released. Remember, Obama has a three-tiered system* in place wherein the outcome is predetermined and the process is chosen based on that outcome. Holder wouldn't be trying this case in a civilian court if that trial wouldn't certainly result in a conviction. It's a slam dunk, and not a George Tenet one either.

The point is this. Conservatives have long accused liberals of treating terrorism as a law-enforcement issue, an accusation at which liberals have historically shuddered. But my response has always been "why is that a bad thing?" Terrorism, even at its absolute worst, is a large organized crime syndicate. The only difference between John Gotti and Osama bin Laden is one of degree. Crimes committed by al-Qaeda may be gruesome, but they're still crimes and should be treated as such. We don't need all this extralegal scaffolding that has been in place over the past eight years. We have a legal system that is pretty damn good at putting people in jail - why not use it?

It's a fear thing, of course, and that fear arises from not putting terrorism in perspective as a threat. Loose nukes? Huge threat. Nuclear proliferation? Also bad. Terrorism? In the grand scheme of things, not so much. Relying on intel and policework to build cases against terrorist conspiracies and put them behind bars doesn't come with a huge cost. Working outside our legal system does, however, as Johann Hari documents.

That said, creating a section of federal crimes known as terrorism isn't wholly illegitimate. The motivation behind al-Qaeda attacks does make them more potentially disruptive to society than your average St. Valentine's Day Massacre. It's the same idea behind hate-crimes legislation - think of terrorism as a hate crime against Americans. (Which is why it cracks me up when conservatives support massive federal programs to fight terrorism and then balk at hate crimes legislation. It's the same thing, people.)

Anyway, the KSM trial is about perception. Hari reports - and numerous other studies concur here - that one of the things that makes jihadists give up the fight is learning that, shockingly, Americans aren't out to get them. Treating KSM as a criminal instead of as some Muslim warrior that we have to fight a "war" against is important in that regard. So Obama's walking a tightrope - he doesn't want freaked-out Americans thinking he's going to let potentially violent people go, and he doesn't want potential jihadists thinking that America's fighting a war on Muslims. Thus the KSM trial - it's a show with a guaranteed outcome designed to encourage jihadists to give up the fight and undermine jihadist recruitment efforts.

Instant update: This guy says basically what I said about conservatives and terrorism, he's just a hell of a lot meaner and more sarcastic about it.

- From The Times of London on Obama's visit to China:
It appeared that only the party faithful were allowed to raise their hands, since most questions came from members of the Communist Youth League. However, one of the thousands that had been posted online was put by the US Ambassador, Jon Huntsman. Did Mr Obama know, he asked, about the “Great Firewall of China” — the blocks that China’s censors impose on internet traffic to separate the country’s 350 million web users from content deemed inappropriate?

Mr Obama seized his chance. “I have always been a strong supporter of open internet use. I am a big supporter of non-censorship,” he said, adding that a free flow of information was a source of strength.


China’s propaganda tsars may have been displeased with Mr Obama’s comments: they relegated coverage of his first full day in China to the sixth item, some 20 minutes into the half-hour evening news programme, and then devoted less than 60 seconds to his arrival.
And from the AP wire via Yahoo:
BEIJING – President Barack Obama is pushing China on human rights, telling President Hu Jintao the U.S. believes all men and woman [sic] have "certain fundamental rights."
Obama met with his counterpart during two meetings Tuesday and pushed for improved treatment of Chinese ethnic and religious minorities. Obama said they agreed to continue the discussion in a session scheduled for early next year.
A little tweak on human rights? Not bad. Not a full-throated blaze-of-glory denunciation, but a minor diplomatic fuck-you nonetheless. Good stuff.

- Doug Hoffman, the loser of the NY-23 special election back in November, is doing his best Al Gore impression. Manbearpig will soon have two stalkers.

- Apparently Carrie Prejean made a solo sex tape and her d-bag boyfriend released it to the media. I don't agree with Prejean a lot, but dude, you have to be kind of a dick to take a very private, very personal tape someone made just for you and make it public. Jeff Fecke calls it sexual assault, and Amanda Marcotte agrees (relating another story of naughty picture madness from Indiana while she's at it). While there's certainly nothing legally that can be done, morally Fecke and Marcotte are right on. Prejean, presumably, didn't want the entirety of America to watch her get herself off. This guy is essentially forcing Prejean to engage in an act of public sexuality in order to humiliate and intimidate her. From a moral perspective, if that's not sexual assault, I don't know what is. (Remember, sexual assault is more about exerting power over someone than it is about the actual sex.)

So that's all the stuff I would have posted on if I had been around this week. And major kudos to anyone who remembers the song in the post title.

*There's also a "three-tiered system" for distributing alcohol in place in most states that causes ridiculous distortions in the market for no apparent reason but to enrich alcohol distributors. Can we all just consign "three-tiered system" to the "Phrases That Set Off Automatic Alarms" dustbin where "five-year plan" now resides and be done with it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All's Quiet on the Front

I'm heading to Nashville for a conference through Friday, so not a lot of blogging until then. Two quick November 11-related things:

1) Happy Veterans' Day. I guess it was observed on the 9th this year, but it has historically been on the 11th for a reason and I'm stubborn. So thanks to all the veterans and current servicemen and women out there who stumble across this blog (and to all those who don't, for that matter).

2) And we remember the day, 81 years ago at 11 AM, when the guns fell silent, putting an end to one of the dumbest wars in world history.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Crumblin' Down

20 years ago today...

Anyway, here's an article Balko linked to claiming that totalitarian communism killed 100,000,000 people over the course of the last century, mainly through forced-labor camps but also through massacres, genocide, and famine. Worth remembering.

Obligatory Jesus Jones link here.

Update: Just for Mike, here's the Scorpions.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

Remember that survey from a while back that claimed that Oklahoma high school seniors are Teh Stoopid? The one that claimed that only 23 percent of them could name George Washington as the first president? Well, Nate Silver's been on the case, and has apparently discovered that the pollster, Strategic Vision LLC, was just making shit up.

According to Oklahoma Rep. Ed Cannaday, he administered the exam to every high school in his rural eastern Oklahoma district, and the results were much, much better than the ones Strategic Vision reported. The number of students who could identify America's first president is 98%, not 23%. Only two questions - the number of judges on the Supreme Court, and the length of senators' terms - got correct responses from under 70% of students.

I can't remember if I posted on this or not, but this is the kind of story that gets around the blogosphere and can really do some damage. People read this and it fits into a narrative of how kids are getting dumber and less politically involved, that our country's going to shit, etc etc. The truth is that kids aren't stupid, that for the most part they are informed and capable citizens.

What confuses me is why Strategic Vision would make up those numbers. The poll, it seems, was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, who Silver describes as a "conservative-leaning think tank." But it seems to me that liberals have more of an interest in such numbers than conservatives, since such a poll could easily be used to justify increased government spending on education. Why would conservatives want a poll that shows that high school seniors are leaving schools without any knowledge? How do the results of this poll help conservatives? Silver doesn't explain this - I wish he would, because I'm at a loss.

Update: A commenter on the FiveThirtyEight thread, who works as the communications director for the Oklahoma Democratic Party, explains:
There has been an ongoing Republican-led legislative fight to dismantle public schools and essentially create a charter school system instead. Pushing the notion that public schools are failing would help their misguided argument. I still don't doubt that certain GOP legislators will quote the SV results on the floor next session, sadly.
That's certainly plausible - these results would seem to suggest that the schools are failing. But the results could easily be interpreted as an impetus to support increased funding for public schools. So these data, in and of themselves, aren't uniquely useful to conservatives if that's the case.

Note that I doubt OCPA is responsible for cooking the data. SV probably wanted numbers that would play well so OCPA would come back to them for other results. Note also that Cannaday is a Democrat - if the bizarre nature of OK politics means that conservatives want bad numbers while liberals want good ones, Cannaday's survey numbers might be a bit on the high side. Wouldn't explain the entire discrepancy, of course, but Cannaday's numbers might be a little high.

Don't Whisper Prayers

Thomas Friedman has a new column out, and he actually says something intelligent. I won't bother trying to quote it, because Friedman's, er, unique writing style makes quoting him comprehensibly all but impossible, but the gist of it is this: Israelis and Palestinians don't want peace. Let's stop trying to impose it on them.

This is interesting coming from the generally interventionist Friedman. It is, perhaps, a lesson taken from Iraq - you can't impose your will on an entire population unless most of that population really wants what you're providing. It ought to be clear to most observers that neither Israelis or Palestinians want peace. Sure, they talk a good game, but in the end something else is always more important. Israelis want a good chunk of the West Bank more than they want peace. Palestinians want part of Jerusalem and a right of return for their refugees before they want peace. Peace simply won't happen unless that becomes both sides' first priority. Israel will have to give up its settlements. Palestinians will have to lay down their rockets and learn to share. We can't do that for them.

Two other commentators, Glenn Greenwald and Joe Klein, go further. Both the liberal Greenwald and the moderate Klein think that the U.S. ought to put a hold on "all economic and military aid to Israel" (Klein's words) until the Israelis want peace. This wouldn't be a bad idea if we weren't also helping Palestinians. Or Egypt. Or Jordan. Or... you get my drift.

But if we keep our aid open, what's our leverage? Aren't we enabling both sides to keep the status quo in place by sending them money and, in Israel's case, guns? It's a sticky wicket for sure, and there's no good answer.

So maybe Friedman's right - the best thing to do is simply to disengage from the whole thing. Stop making trips over there, stop making proclamations that aren't listened to by anyone, stop trying to force peace. If there are complaints, don't try to settle them, and if there's violence, don't intervene. Clearly, taking the direct approach isn't working.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Everybody Knows...


I spend a lot of time on this blog whining about stupid people. Well, point taken, xkcd. Stupid people have been around since the beginning of time, and panicking about their effect on our society is just as dumb as panicking over what the queers are doing to our soil. That's not to say we shouldn't call out idiots or make fun of them when they do stupid crap - just that we shouldn't infer that we're somehow getting collectively dumber as a result. We're as stupid as we've ever been, folks, and we'll be stupid tomorrow. So let's just enjoy the ride.

"More harm has been done by people panicked over societal decline than societal decline ever did." Words well worth remembering.

A Sick and Twisted Game

By now we've all read about the shootings at Fort Hood, where a deranged Army psychiatrist - apparently in need of psychiatric help himself - shot up an Army readiness center, killing 13 before he was shot himself. (The shooter remains alive in a civilian hospital in Killeen.)

Of course, the shooter's religion has set a few wingnut blogs all atwitter - professional green-baiter Donald Douglas is hardly able to contain his excitement at the prospect of another Moooooooslim terror attack.

Blaming the shooter's religion - by all accounts, he was a devout Muslim who prayed damn near every day - is convenient, but probably not particularly instructive. In fact, this WaPo profile of the shooter reveals that there are other things to blame that make just as much sense as blaming his religion. For example:
Hasan was born in Arlington
He's from Arlington. The Virginia Tech shooter was from Centreville. That's it - Northern Virginians are all murderous maniacs. Stop me before I shoot someone, readers!

Or maybe it was Obama's fault?
Lee told Fox News that Hasan "was hoping that President Obama would pull troops out. . . . When things weren't going that way, he became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there. . . . He made his views well known about how he felt about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan."
See? Obama killed those troops. I just knew it.

And, well, we Washington-area natives blame everything else on Dan Snyder, might as well blame this on him too:
Hasan is an avid Redskins fan. "That was his main entertainment," his aunt said. "He was not a movie watcher. He worked hard and had been studying for years. He buried himself in his work."
If only Snyder had drafted decent offensive linemen and a receiver, the shooter wouldn't have been so depressed...

Truth is, of course, none of those things make any sense. A more comprehensive reading of the Post's profile gives us a picture of someone who was deeply disturbed, a smart but isolated, depressed, and fragile man, scarred by the stress of his job, who couldn't deal with the added stress of his impending deployment, and just snapped. In short, he bears more resemblance to Eric Harris than to Mohammed Atta.

Anyway, let's pause a moment to remember those who died in the massacre. You expect danger abroad when you're a soldier. You don't expect it at home, on a heavily guarded base, from someone who wears your own uniform.


Also, let's give a warm ONAF round of applause to the Fort Hood civilian policewoman, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who ran into the readiness center and took down the shooter despite having been shot herself. In the process, she saved heaven only knows how many lives. And an extra round of applause to the soldiers who immediately began tending to their wounded comrades after the shooting was over. Heroes, all.


(Wow, second Unexpectedly Sober reference in a week. WTF?)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ignorance Is Your New Best Friend

Election hangover time. Here's a few thoughts on last night's vote-o-rama. Nate Silver does some good analysis here, so if you want some intelligent thoughts, make with the clicky. But for you who set sail with the Good Ship Rant, we'll start south and move up:

Virginia: McDonnell won, and won big here. No surprises - Creigh Deeds' campaign was so weak and so negative that one could be forgiven for thinking that this guy was the actual candidate. And as much as was made of McDonnell's woman-hating graduate thesis, he actually ran as more center-right than anything - or at least he kept his distance most of the far-right national luminaries like Sarah Palin. And the people who actually turned out to vote were a conservative lot - according to Silver, they voted for McCain 51-42. Anyway, this continues a bizarre trend in Virginia politics - the party controlling the White House has lost every governor's race in my lifetime (1977 was the last time it didn't happen). I don't want to dismiss the role of Virginia's fierce regional rivalries in this result either - McDonnell, from Fairfax, was probably thought of by a lot of Northern Virginia voters as better on NoVa issues than Deeds, who hails from Appalachia.

New Jersey: This douchebag-turd sandwich challenge went to Republican Chris Christie, a moderate who defeated one of the most reviled governors in the country, Democrat Jon Corzine. Corzine had a perception of sleaziness that wasn't helped by the fact that his former employer, Goldman Sachs, isn't exactly at an acme of popularity right now. Christie, whose reputation as a corruption-buster was called into question in past weeks, was just better enough to win. Independent Chris Daggett was a non-factor. This reminds me of nothing more than the last time a Republican Christie won the NJ governorship - Christie Todd Whitman, back in 1993.

NY-23: The North Country gets its first Democratic representative since... since... hell, I don't know if anyone can remember the last time a Democrat won up there. Bill Owens was the beneficiary of a civil war among conservatives so fierce that when Republican Dede Scozzafava dropped out last weekend, she actually endorsed Owens instead of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. A sizeable chunk of Scozzafava's voters appear to have followed her, which is what drove Owens to victory. It's tempting to look at this race as a rebuke to far-right conservatives, but I don't think we can discount a major factor - the sheer incompetence of Doug Hoffman. An MSNBC reporter last night said that not only did Hoffman go into an interview with NY-23's largest newspaper not realizing that Ft. Drum was the district's largest employer and that he'd be responsible for fighting to keep its funding if he won, he seemingly went into the interview not knowing what Ft. Drum was. When there's a one-on-one battle between a guy who knows the district and a guy who doesn't, always bet on the former even if his party hasn't won a race there since God-knows-when.

Oh, and is there any doubt that Scozzafava runs away with this race if not for Hoffman's presence? It's a district tailor-made for moderate Republicans.

Maine: In by far the most depressing result of the night, Maine voters chose to take away gay people's right to enter into a legal contract with one another by a 52-48 margin. I was crunching some numbers on this race last night and I noted a couple of bizarre trends. One was that the vote had a distinct urban-rural split. Portland and environs generally held to their liberal lean; the numbers from Portland basically track those of Obama last year. However, the rural areas were a disaster. In Caribou, a town in the sparsely populated northern reaches of the state, Obama won 56-44 last year - but voted to overturn gay marriage 72-28.

Second is that conservatives were far more motivated than liberals (again). Raw numbers for the anti-marriage voters generally tracked McCain's raw numbers for the state - remarkable for an off-year election - while pro-marriage numbers were well below Obama's numbers last year. For the life of me, I can't understand why conservatives are so motivated on an issue that doesn't affect them at all, but there you go.

Anyway, I see two, and only two, ways forward for marriage equality from here. One is to wait until all the old people die off. Opposition to gay marriage is generally driven by cranky meddlesome old people who think they know everything (what I call the Get Off My Lawn Lobby) - young people are generally okay with the idea. The other is to figure out what's causing so many people to think that gay marriage actually affects them. I read an article a while back (I can't find the link for the life of me) that argued that the main problem with democracy was that it's trivially simple for the majority to take away rights from minorities, because they have the numbers. I don't think we can blame widespread malice for the failure of marriage equality in Maine and California though - in my experience, most people don't just to want to take away rights from others out of spite, especially when they're not affected by the decision one way or the other. So people must be convinced that they are affected by marriage equality - but how? How do straight people conceivably think that two gay guys signing a legal contract actually affects them? Answer that riddle and a strategy for achieving full legal rights for gay couples will emerge.

Finally, a fun conservative contradiction: why are conservatives so in favor of the right to free contract when it comes to businesses and employment but not when it comes to personal matters?

Update: Just checked the census data for Maine - it was projected to be the third oldest state by 2010, behind only Florida and West Virginia. As I noted, there's a huge generation gap on this issue, which put equality deep in the hole in Maine before the fight even began...

Assorted other issues: It wasn't all bad news for our LGBT brothers and sisters - Washington voters approved full legal rights for same-sex couples, and the city of Kalamazoo, MI passed its anti-discrimination ordinance.

Democrat John Garamendi, to no one's surprise, beat Republican David Harmer to become CA-10's new congresscritter, replacing Democrat Ellen Tauscher.

And if you like gambling, you have a new vacation spot... Toledo. Yes, Ohio voters approved a measure that would allow one - and only one - casino in each of Ohio's four largest cities (Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo). Only one casino per city? Isn't basically granting a monopoly on gambling to one company asking for trouble? Why not just make gambling legal and allow cities to decide whether or not they want casinos, and how many they want? Just a ton of weirdness all around there.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What You Want Said, It Ain't Clear

In which I offer an extremely tepid defense of Virginia Foxx.

Foxx is the representative from North Carolina's 5th District, a rather heavily Republican part of the state that includes the suburbs of Winston-Salem and some of the hinterlands in the state's northwest corner. She has a tendency to say some, well, nutty things, like when she called the Matthew Shepard murder a "hoax." She's a few donuts short of a dozen, to be sure. But the latest Foxxism to draw left-wing ire isn't really all that nutty, considering:
And I believe the greatest fear that we all should have to our freedom comes from this room — this very room — and what may happen later this week in terms of a tax increase bill masquerading as a health care bill. I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country.
OK, let's get the crappy stuff out of the way. Needless fearmongering? Check. Exaggeration of a threat? Check. Gratuitous invocation of terrorism? Check.

But let's parse a little further and see if she isn't on to something here. The conservative view of the health-care reform package is that it'll create a massive entitlement program that will end up destroying us budget-wise. That'll force us to either raise taxes or go even further in hock to China. Also, conservatives believe that higher taxes will seriously injure our already fragile economy. Put it all together, and conservatives view this health-care reform bill as a serious threat to our country's economic well-being. We can argue about whether or not conservatives are right to fear reform, but for now let's accept that fear for what it is.

(As an aside, my opinion is that the budget concerns are legitimate, but the taxation concerns are not, so if the cost of health care reform rises too much we can raise taxes without really hurting the economy. But that's off topic, and I can post on that later if anyone's interested.)

But note Foxx's comparison to terrorism. She says that the consequences of health care reform - prolonged economic sluggishness and higher taxes - are worse than terrorism. In saying this, she's doing something quite welcome - she's tacitly admitting that terrorism isn't really an existential or serious threat to Americans' well-being. And in that sense, she's right. Botched health-care reform that seriously injures our economy is more worth fearing than terrorism, because terrorism isn't really worth fearing that much anyway.

(Another aside: Foxx's ideological opponents could also point out that abdicating health care reform is a worse mistake than giving up the fight against terrorism, for much the same reason.)

So let's look past the bombast of Ms. Foxx's statement and recognize that the main thrust of the statement is correct. The debate over health care reform is a far more consequential struggle than our "war on terror" against al-Qaeda; it will certainly have a greater overall impact on our lives than any terrorist could possibly have. Now that's not to say this is what Foxx meant when she was saying what she said - it's more likely that she was just trying to score cheap rhetorical points by invoking everyone's favorite bogeyman than it is that she actually views the terrorism threat soberly and rationally. But even the blind mouse finds the cheese sometimes.