Monthly Archives: May 2009

What Would Jesus Do?

A number of evangelical leaders have made opposition to torture without exceptions a moral cause over the past three years, part of a broadening of the movement’s agenda beyond traditional culture war issues.

But others, like my neighbor, think otherwise.

Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate affiliated with several Christian right groups over the years, said the discussion should not come down to "Would Jesus torture?"

"There are a lot of things Jesus wouldn’t do because he’s the son of God," he said. "I can’t imagine Jesus being a Marine or a policeman or a bank president, for that matter. The more appropriate question is, ‘What is a follower of Jesus permitted to do?’"

Bauer said the answer is "it depends" — but the moral equation changes when the suspect is not a soldier captured on a battlefield but a terrorist who may have knowledge of an impending attack. He said he does not consider water-boarding — a form of interrogation that simulates drowning — to be torture.

"I think if we believe the person we have can give us information to stop thousands of Americans from being killed, it would be morally suspect to not use harsh tactics to get that information," Bauer said.

I Love Dick Cheney

Just listening to chatter on cable TV about Dick Cheney’s comments regarding torture and how Obama has made us less safe, etc.  And I’ve got to say, “I love this guy.”  There is no better way to keep the GOP tied to the failed, discredited, incompetent former administration than have this guy out there day after day reminding the American people of why they voted for Obama.

Are These People Democrats?

Even the headline on the AP story tonight looks like it might be a mistake:  “Obama, Dems Press Unified Message On Health Care.”  It’s not often we see Dems and “unified message” in the same paragraph, let alone in a headline.  But there it is.obama pelosi  Of course, before you get too excited, the lede includes the word “scrambled.”

“The White House scrambled to unify Democrats behind a single health care appeal Wednesday — lower costs, plenty of choice — amid concerns Republicans could scare votes away with images of a ghastly system run by bureaucrats.”

But there is hope.

“{President Obama] spoke to reporters after he and other Senate Democrats met with White House political adviser David Axelrod as the White House pressed to get the party behind a unified message on health legislatiaxelrod, davidon.

Senators emerged with agreement on emphasizing affordability and choice. The issue of coverage for the uninsured would be tied to affordability for all, as when uninsured people drive up costs when they go to emergency rooms for routine care.

‘This is an effort to coordinate our messaging so we present a health care reform effort that the American people trust,’ said Sen. Dick Dirbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat.”

But wait! Did the Dems really think about coordinating their message all by themselves?  Was this a seminal moment when they realized that it helps if you don’t step on each other’s message?  Nah, we didn’t think so.

“Last week political strategist Frank Luntz gave Republicans detailed advice on how to attack the Democrats’ health plan, even though it doesn’t yet exist in anything approaching final form.

Luntz’s advice included the use of lines like "a committee of Washington bureaucrats will durbin dick establish the standard of care for all Americans."

Luntz’s memo to Republicans served as ‘an interesting catalyst for us,’ [Sen. Dick] Durbin said.”  (emphasis added)

Oh well, at least they got the message from Luntz’s message, which is:  plan, coordinate, execute.

(We’ll see how well they execute.)


Now the GOP is planning to have a meeting of the Republican National Committee to officially brand Democrats as “Democratic Socialists.”  I guess that’s going to replace “Democrat Party” as a common epithet.  I’m sure it will get under some Democrats’ skin, but on the whole, I think it will further marginalize the GOPer Party (rhymes with doper).  It makes them look petty in the absence of any substance.  But then who am I to say, heh?

Meanwhile, Steve Pearlstein of The Washington Post, hits it out of the park in describing the frustration of community bankers, who feel they are being punished for the sins of their larger brethren, a socialistic spreading of the pain.

The prudent bankers are right to be angry about having to pay for the recklessness of their competitors. What they conveniently overlook, however, is that their complaints are virtually identical to those being made by their credit card customers who have never missed a payment but are being hit with high interest rates because of the reckless borrowing of others.

After all, if it is unfair for prudent banks to be punished for the sins of reckless lenders, why is it any less unfair for prudent consumers to be punished for the sins of reckless borrowers?

We are now knee-deep in the metaphysics of risk pooling, which, as it turns out, is what both insurance and credit cards are all about.


Best Stealer

The Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth singled in the bottom of the eighth seventh in the game against the L.A. Dodgers tonight.  He then stole second base.  He then stole third.  And then he stole home.


He Said, She Said

I’ve been writing for awhile about my frustration with “he said, she said” journalism. (Here and here are examples.)  Press Think’s Jay Rosen discussed the problem last month – extensively – as he is wont to do.

[W]hat are the advantages of the newswriting formula I have derisively labeled “he said, she said?” Rather than treat it as a problem, approach it as a kind of solution to quandaries common on the reporting trail. When, for example, a screaming fight breaks out at the city council meeting and you don’t know who’s right, but you have to report it, he said, she said makes the story instantly writable. Not a problem, but a solution to the reporter’s (deadline!) problem.

When you kinda sorta recall that Hank Greenberg is a guy who shouldn’t necessarily get the benefit of the doubt in a dispute like this, but you don’t know the history well enough to import it into your account without a high risk of error, and yet you have to produce an error-free account for tomorrow’s paper because your editor expects of you just that… he said, she said gets you there.

Or when the Congressional Budget Office issues a report on ethanol and what it’s costing us in higher food prices, the AP reporter to whom the story is given could just summarize the report, but that’s a little too much like stenography, isn’t it? So the AP adds reactions from organized groups that are primed to react.

This is a low cost way of going beyond the report itself. A familiar battle of interpretations follows, with critics of ethanol underlining the costs and supporters stressing the benefits. Of course, the AP could try to sort out those competing claims, but that would take more time and background knowledge than it probably has available for a simple “CBO report issued” story. “Supporters of ethanol disagreed, saying the report was good news…” gets the job done.

Rosen thinks the times they are a changin’, and cites The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin, who argues for more “bullshit calling.”

It takes a while to slog through, but as usual, Rosen covers all the bases.

What Is a Marriage?

Marc Fisher has a column this morning asking why Marion Berry and Barack Obama seem to be dragging their feet on gay marriage.  The problem I see is the definition of gay marriage.

In 1996, Barack Obama responded to a Chicago newspaper’s questions about the issue with these words: "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

Yet during his presidential campaign and on to today, the president has said his religious faith leads him to oppose same-sex marriage (he favors civil unions for homosexual couples).

I don’t know what the difference is between a gay marriage and a gay civil union.  If you argue that marriage is a religious sacrament, I don’t think anyone is arguing that churches must marry whoever asks.  Pastors are always free to say no and often do to straight couples for a variety of reasons.

(When I was planning to be married for the second time and wanted to ensure that our future children could be baptized in the Catholic Church, my wife and I met with a nun of a church.  When we both told her we were married before, she gave a grave “Hmmmm,” and when my wife told her that her previous husband was a Jew, the nun gave a louder “Hmmmm” with a wrinkle brow thrown in.  But the church relented.)

I asked a leader in the gay rights movement in Virginia about this, and he seemed to agree that this debate is obfuscated by terminology.

This question would be less confusing if we had not yoked civil marriage to the religious sacrament of marriage: We empower ministers, etc. to simultaneously perform the duties of religious officiant and agent of the state, and then refer to both institutions by the same word. In fact, a civil marriage is a civil union. A religious marriage is whatever a given religious community wants it to be, regardless of whether it’s civilly recognized.

Indeed, my second wife and I were married by a judge.  Therefore, I guess we’re not married, but “civil unioned.”  And I’ll bet that union would not prevent us from exercising our full rights as a “married” couple.

It seems this semantic dance we’re doing is silly, unless there is something I don’t understand about the difference between a civil union and a marriage.

White Girls

Bob Herbert had a good column yesterday critical of journalists propensity to think that a life is valued based on the color of skin, gender and beauty.  If the victim is a pretty white girl,the media will Chandra Levy-ize it. 

And let’s be clear about why young black male and female victims get much less coverage:  The prevailing attitude is that black deaths are the fault of black culture.  Funny that when a white guy goes on a rampage and kills his entire family (and note that it usually is a white guy), you don’t hear people blaming “white culture.”  Bob Herbert says it’s been going on a long time.

I remember as a young deputy city editor at The Daily News attending my first “sked meeting,” a large gathering of editors held every afternoon to consider which stories would go into the next morning’s paper and how they would be played.

I was sitting at the far end of a conference table from the editor who was conducting the meeting. The News had very seldom had a black person at those gatherings. Mine was the only black face in the room.

One of the stories being pitched was about a baby that had been killed on Long Island. The editor running the meeting was completely relaxed. He was sprawled in his chair and was holding a handful of papers. His legs were crossed.

“What color is that baby?” he asked.

A tremendous silence fell over the room. Everyone understood what he meant. If the baby was white, the chances were much better that the story was worth big play. It might be something to get excited about.

Annoyed at not getting a response, the editor repeated himself. Then his eyes caught mine staring down from the other end of the table.

…[T]he press is still very color conscious in the way it goes about covering murder. Editors may not be asking, “What color is that victim?” But, on some level, they’re still thinking it.

Which is why we’ve heard so little about an awful story out of Chicago. Some three dozen public school students have been murdered since the school year began, most of them shot to death. These children and teenagers have been killed in a wide variety of settings and situations — while riding a city bus, playing in parks, sitting in the back seats of cars, in gang disputes, in robberies, in the crossfire of sidewalk shootouts.

It’s an immense and continuing tragedy. But these were nearly all African-American or Latino kids, so the coverage has been scant.

Herbert might have added that even if the victim is a young, pretty, educated black girl, her death would not command the attention Chandra Levy or a whole host of white female victims received.  There is no explanation for it other than pure, blatant racism.