enator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

It’s been a remarkable aspect of the foreign policy “debate” over the last month that I haven’t heard a single leading Republican express misgivings about a new Iraq war’s impact on fiscal policy. And yet, for a few years now, we have been subjected to endless drama about the mounting debt when it comes to anything the government wants to do. Cost was one (ludicrous) reason to oppose Obamacare; it’s behind cutting off 3 million long-term unemployed from any benefits; it has led to proposals to turn Medicare into a premium support system and for cutting social security. Some of this fiscal vigilance I find useful – if it weren’t so transparently a way to dodge GOP responsibility for the debt and to blame Obama for all of it and if it weren’t raised as a matter of urgency when the world economy was deeply depressed (the one time when fiscal lenience is warranted). But it is hard to resist the conclusion, after the last few weeks, that it’s all a self-serving charade.

I mean: where are the fiscal conservatives now? The ISIS campaign is utterly amorphous and open-ended at this point – exactly the kind of potentially crippling government program Republicans usually want to slash. It could last more than three years (and that’s what they’re saying at then outset); the cost is estimated by some to be around $15 billion a year, but no one really knows. The last phase of the same war cost, when all was said and done, something close to $1.5 trillion – and our current travails prove that this was one government program that clearly failed to achieve its core original objectives, and vastly exceeded its original projected costs.

If this were a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure project for the homeland, we’d be having hearing after hearing on how ineffective and crony-ridden it is; there would be government reports on its cost-benefit balance; there would be calls to end it tout court. But a massive government program that can be seen as a form of welfare dependency for the actual countries – Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Kurdistan – facing the crisis gets almost no scrutiny at all. And what scrutiny it gets is entirely due to partisanship and the desire to portray this president as effectively useless.

Now take a look at the international disgrace that is the resilient torture and detention camp at Gitmo. It has been kept in operation – despite the huge damage it does in our campaign to restrain Jihadism – by the same people who have been hyper-ventilating about a British loser decapitating innocents in the deserts of Mesopotamia. Its cost? They don’t care. But ask yourself: if this were a domestic program, would there really be any debate? Some context:

Read On

A Hundred Thousand Displaced

Sep 22 2014 @ 1:23pm

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-REFUGEES

The Guardian explains how this state of affairs came to be:

The border region of Kobani, home to half a million people, has held out for months against an onslaught by Islamists seeking to consolidate their hold over swaths of northern Syria. But in recent days, Isis extremists have seized a series of settlements close to the town of Kobani itself, sending as many as 100,000 mostly Kurdish refugees streaming across the border into Turkey. “I don’t think in the last three and a half years we have seen 100,000 cross in two days,” the representative for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Turkey, Carol Batchelor, told Reuters. “So this is a bit of a measure of how this situation is unfolding, and the very deep fear people have about the circumstances inside Syria and, for that matter, Iraq.”

A Kurdish commander on the ground said Isis had advanced to within 9 miles (15km) of Kobani. A Kurdish politician from Turkey who visited Kobani on Saturday said locals told him Isis fighters were beheading people as they went from village to village. “Rather than a war this is a genocide operation … They are going into the villages and cutting the heads of one or two people and showing them to the villagers,” Ibrahim Binici, a deputy for Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP), told Reuters.

Juan Cole marvels, “I lived to see the day when thousands of Kurds take refuge in Turkey”:

Read On

Can The Church Survive In America?

Sep 22 2014 @ 12:50pm


I used to believe – and a part of me still does – that the question of homosexuality was not that big an issue for Catholicism. Gays are only a tiny minority of the population at large; the power and beauty of the church’s core understanding of heterosexuality sustains most people’s interest and commitment; and the central teachings of Jesus – of forgiveness of sins, redemption, charity, mercy – are so much more important than issues relating to human sexuality and romantic love.

When I was asked – with mind-numbing regularity – how I could remain happily gay and a Catholic, I answered honestly that, for those very reasons, I could live with institutional dissonance, as any thinking member of a hierarchical church has to, from time to time. But I think now that I misread a couple of things – and that the whole question may be a much bigger deal than I once believed and hoped. Here’s a story that underlines the problem:

A Catholic church in Montana has told two gay men that they can no longer receive communion simply because of their gay marriage and, in order to do so again, they must file for divorce. The two men, Paul Huff, 66, and Tom Wojtowick, 73, have been together for over 30 years and were married in Seattle in 2013. They’ve attended Saint Leo The Great Catholic Church in the town of Lewistown since 2003 and have also been members of the church’s choir. The’ve also now been denied participation in that church group.

Maybe years ago, removing two faithful choir members because they’re gay would have passed some kind of muster. First off, the couple wouldn’t have been out of the closet and so the entire don’t-ask-don’t-tell paradigm would have allowed the pastor to ignore the fact that two gay men were in the choir – or to keep their expulsion on the down-low; second, they would probably have been too ashamed to protest, and their peers too embarrassed to support them. But those two conditions are now no longer close to being met:

Huff and Wojtowick have received support from many of the church’s congregation. Forty members have reportedly either voiced their disapproval of the church’s offensive decision or have quit attending mass there altogether. One parishioner has suggested the title of a song sung at the church be changed from “All are Welcome” to “Some are Welcome.” How apt.

The controversy has now led to the bishop intervening and holding a meeting with 300 parishioners to air views. The bishop claims there is polarization in the congregation over this and is now mulling the decision to bar the couple from the sacraments and from participation in their church – unless they get a civil divorce and sign a statement supporting civil marriage as exclusively heterosexual. Yes, the church is now in favor of divorce as a condition for being a Catholic! If that sounds perverse, you’re not wrong.

Here’s the problem: maintaining doctrinal orthodoxy requires penalizing two men, aged 66 and 73, who have been committed to each other for thirty years and are pillars of the local community. Here’s a brief profile of who these two men are:

Huff and Wojtowick have both historically been active in their community and in their church. Huff is a two-time past-president of the local Kiwanis Club, chairman of the Fergus County Fair Board, board member of the Lewistown Art Center and formerly served as an organist and cantor in the St. Leo’s church choir.

Wojtowick recently retired as executive director of the Central Montana Council on Aging, and has served as either a board member or chairman of the Lewistown Public Library, Lewistown Art Center, and as an adviser to the Central Montana Medical Center Home Health and Hospice Program. Wojtowick is a four times elected representative of the Fergus County Community Council.

It’s kinda hard to portray these two as some kind of subversive force. More to the point, the core reason behind the church’s position is the natural law teaching barring all non-procreative sex. I don’t know how much non-procreative sex the two men are now having, but it’s not entirely crazy to assume it’s no more than any heterosexual couple past menopause and in retirement. So the sodomy question has to be pretty moot.

Read On

Saving The Planet On The Cheap

Sep 22 2014 @ 12:35pm

Last week, Krugman contended that it can be done:

I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.

He noted the “dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010.” But Michael Levi points out that the “optimistic cost estimates have little to do with cheap solar.” Those estimates are possible only when you figure in the impacts of nuclear power, carbon capture technology, abundant bioenergy, and increased efficiency:

Read On

Some things are worth quitting your job for:

I have to say I’m sensing a groundswell around this issue – of a kind I once saw with marriage equality. Once an issue hits around 50 percent, the consensus doesn’t stand pat; it tends to evolve more swiftly to a definitive resolution of the question at hand. Even MoDo is hanging out with Willie Nelson, who makes a simple case for his own use of cannabis over alcohol:

“Everybody’s got to kill their own snakes, as they say. I found out that pot is the best thing for me because I needed something to slow me down a little bit.” He was such a mean drunk, he said, that if he’d kept drinking heavily, “there’s no telling how many people I would have killed by now.”

Know dope.

The Nonprofit Football League

Sep 22 2014 @ 11:57am

Philip Klein calls the NFL’s tax-exempt status “bad policy that exemplifies the problems with the nation’s disastrous tax code”:

The NFL’s nonprofit status was enshrined into law in a 1966 act meant to protect the league from antitrust issues surrounding its merger with the rival AFL (which was considered a lesser league until my Jets pulled off the greatest upset in football history in the 1969 Super Bowl). The same law added, “professional football leagues” to the part of the tax code listing entities granted nonprofit status.

Though the league distributes lucrative television and licensing revenue among the 32 teams, which do pay taxes on their earnings, the teams also send dues to the NFL league office. The office does not pay taxes on those dues, and the fees could be deducted from the teams’ taxes.

The NFL reported total revenue of $326 million for the 2012 tax year, according to its most recent publicly available filing with the Internal Revenue Service. During that year alone, the NFL paid $44.2 million in compensation to commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell earned $105 million over the course of the five-year period from 2008 through 2012, according to a CNN report – more than any player.

Well, it might fall under the religious exemption, no? At this point, it requires blind faith to believe in its future. But Jordan Weissmann notes that revoking the NFL’s tax-exempt status “wouldn’t drastically change its finances”:

Read On

“It’s On Us”

Sep 22 2014 @ 11:42am

Katie Zavadski flags a new White House campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence on college campuses:

Officials are hoping the new ads will be screened on youth-oriented television networks and shown at sporting events. In order to appeal to the collegiate demographic, the White House recruited celebrities like Questlove, Jon Hamm, Rose Byrne, and Cleveland Cavaliers center Kevin Love to film spots.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who has addressed campus rape in the past, has some doubts:

Reading [Jeffrey] Zients’ post, I was reminded of author and professor Joel Best speaking on the hallmarks of how media hype (and the attendent bogus statistics) get promulgated: First there is a high-profile tragic event, then the need to define the event as part of an identifiable Problem (“the heroin epidemic”), and then a desire to quantify the problem so as to place it in a larger context. I put “campus rape crisis” in quotes not to diminish the seriousness of sexual assault but because I think the phrase is a prime example of the phenomenon Best describes. Rape is a problem wherever it happens, which is sometimes on campus and more frequently not. The “campus rape crisis” is a thing perpetuated by people interested in profiting from the fear in various ways.

Read On

Ted Cruz’s Brand Of Foreign Policy

Sep 22 2014 @ 11:18am

Beinart fears it:

[W]hile Cruz resembles McCain and Graham in hyping threats and dropping bombs, he morphs into Rand Paul when the subject turns to political engagement overseas. McCain and Graham want to train and arm the Free Syrian Army so that when America bombs ISIS, non-jihadist rebels seize their territory and eventually pressure Bashar al-Assad into a political settlement. Cruz doesn’t. When it comes to Syria’s “moderate” opposition, he’sdoubtful that the United States “can tell the good guys from the bad guys.”

That may be true. But most commentators who share Cruz’s skepticism about arming the rebels are skeptical of a bombing campaign too, arguing that it won’t do much good on the ground. Cruz doesn’t care. He wants to pulverize Syria from the air without any effort at political change on the ground. America’s strategy against ISIS, he insists, should not be “laden with impractical contingencies, such as resolving the Syrian civil war.”

The World’s Biggest Climate March

Sep 22 2014 @ 10:59am

Over 300,000 turned out in NYC yesterday:

Bill McKibben isn’t holding his breath for an international climate deal:

The collapse of the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 was a signal event in diplomatic history, calling into question the ability of our societies to act cooperatively in the face of clear scientific warnings. There is no prospect of anything much happening next week at the climate summit, either. As Mark Bittman memorably put it in the New York Times: “The summit is a little like a professional wrestling match: There appears to be action but it’s fake, and the winner is predetermined. The loser will be anyone who expects serious government movement dictating industry reductions in emissions.”

Which is why McKibben helped organize Sunday’s climate march. His reasons for marching:

As individuals, there’s not much we can do. We can change our light bulbs—and we should—but doing so won’t change global warming. It’s a structural, systemic problem that needs to be addressed structurally and systemically. The most important rule for an individual in this fight is to figure out how not to remain an individual, how to join a movement big enough to change the politics. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to win, because it’s a timed test. In this case, if we don’t win pretty soon, it’s going to be a moot point.

Amy Davidson asks, “Whom did the march change?” She figures this is possibly “a more enduring question than what it changed, which, on an immediate policy level, might not be so much”:

Read On

Scotland Stays, Ctd

Sep 22 2014 @ 10:34am

Clive Crook contends that last week’s vote “settles nothing”:

Here’s the problem. If the nationalists had won, they’d have started a risky, costly transition, but the final destination would have been clear. The unionists’ victory avoids that short-term pain but prolongs the constitutional uncertainty indefinitely. Cameron might wish things were “settled,” but they aren’t. The demand for independence isn’t going away. When you consider the apocalyptic predictions of the No campaign, the Yes campaign’s transparent dishonesty (on taxes and spending) and incoherence (on the currency), the threats of Scottish businesses to move south, and the rock-solid consensus outside Scotland that leaving the union would be a tragic error, 45 percent support for independence suggests a certain resilience.

Larison agrees that the conflict is not yet over:

As we have already seen, instead of settling anything the referendum has produced new promises of devolution for Scotland and increased demands in England for significant changes to the current system. The former probably can’t or won’t be honored, since they were made on the fly without the consent of the rest of the U.K., and that will eventually mean another referendum. In that case, unionists won’t be able to make credible offers of greater devolution, and that would make it more difficult to avert independence later on.

But Keating begs to differ:

Read On