Archives For: Keepers

Isn’t there something quite delicious in the House Intelligence Committee’s conclusion that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – scandalous about “Benghazi” apart from what we knew already: that the outpost was poorly protected and that the State Department had been complacent about consulate security? Even Paul Mirengoff has to take his lumps:

The Committee concludes, among things, that CIA personnel on the ground in Benghazi during the attack behaved bravely and made reasonable tactical decisions that saved lives, and that the CIA received all military support that was available. It further concludes that after the attack, the administration’s initial public narrative (via Susan Rice) on the causes and motivations for the attack was not fully accurate. In addition, edits made to the Benghazi “talking points” were not fully accurate, and the process that produced the talking points was flawed. However, the Committee stops short of finding misconduct or bad faith on the part of Susan Rice or any other administration official.

Butters, who’s long been having a series of primary-enhanced conniptions about the whole thing, nonetheless evinced the classic Republican denial response: “I think the report is full of crap.” His only basis for saying that is that the report relied on the testimony of Obama administration officials – even though it also sought testimony from a bunch of Republican conspiracy theorists, even though it was packed with Republican ideologues, even though it had enormous reach and subpoena power.

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Yes, Obama Is A Phony On Torture

Nov 21 2014 @ 3:51pm

The Obama administration, it is now beyond dispute, is in thrall to the CIA. The president, through his chief-of-staff, Denis McDonough, has been doing all he can to render the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on torture unintelligible, if he cannot prevent its publication entirely. And he is not giving an inch in his now two-years’ war against the transparency and accountability he once said he favored. Readers know I’ve almost given up on them, and am deeply concerned that next year, a Republican-run Senate will bury the report for ever. That’s clearly John Brennan’s strategy, as it has been from the start. It’s also, clearly, Obama’s.

I once saw Obama as a way out of our torture shame. If he was never going to investigate and prosecute, as is demanded of any signatory to Geneva, I never thought he would actively prevent even some small measure of accountability. How wrong I was.

Senator Rockefeller calls it like it is after yet another meeting with John Brennan’s best friend, Denis McDonough, a Catholic for some reason dedicated to ensuring that torturers not only face no punishment or reproach, but that their crimes are protected from public accountability for ever:

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Illiberal Feminism Strikes Again

Nov 21 2014 @ 1:30pm

This is a truly clarifying argument:

The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if it’s a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue. It may seem harmless for men like Stanley and O’Neil to debate how and if abortion hurts them; it’s clearly harder for people to see that their words and views might hurt women.

Access to abortion impacts the lives of women, trans and non-binary people every day, and the threat pro-life groups pose to our bodily autonomy is real, not rhetorical. If you don’t believe me, visit any abortion clinic and witness the sustained aggressions of pro-life pickets. In organizing against this event, I did not stifle free speech. As a student, I asserted that it would make me feel threatened in my own university; as a woman, I objected to men telling me what I should be allowed to do with my own body.

The context for this is the inability of a group called Oxford Students For Life to find a place on campus for a debate on abortion between two men. They were planning an event in Christ Church’s Junior Common Room, a typical place for a small-scale discussion. The group has had similar debates including women in the past. The pro-choice side was represented. But men, it seems, are not allowed to debate abortion at all, according to a fem-left group at my alma mater. Because: men. Even pro-choice men. In a country where pro-choicers greatly outnumber pro-lifers, and where the right to an abortion is deeply rooted in law. And their contempt for even the idea of free debate is palpable:

This Tuesday Oxford Students for Life are putting on a super cute debate with two cis guys on whether people with uteruses deserve to have any choice over their own bodies. We don’t think this is okay so (assuming the event is still going ahead) we thought we should go and say hi! … We are still hoping this gets shut down by the college (Christ Church).

The college canceled the debate in part due to concerns about “physical security” of the students – the danger that the college would be mobbed by protestors, making a debate impossible – and their “mental security” as well. What on earth does “mental security” mean? This apparently:

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Well, I should confess something up-front. I found the president’s peroration deeply moving as an immigrant myself who has experienced a little of the fear and insecurity that being in some way on the wrong side of the immigration services can incur. The paradox of living somewhere and building a life and knowing that it can all be suddenly swept away; the thought of being separated from those you love – for ever; the stresses within families and marriages that such a shadowy existence can create. We need a full-throated defense of immigration in these cramped and narrow times, and the president was more than eloquent on that tonight – and made his case with a calm assurance and intensity. I’m gladdened by it – and I can only begin to appreciate how his words will have felt to millions of others.

Did he make the case that a mass deferral of deportations was the only option for him? Not so effectively. His strongest point was simply the phrase: “pass a bill.” Saying he is doing this as a temporary measure, that it will be superseded as soon as a law reaches his desk, gives him a stronger position than some suppose. There is more than one actor in our system. The president and the Senate have done their part; the House has resolutely refused to do its – by failing even to take a vote on the matter. Why, many will ask, can’t the Congress come up with a compromise that would forestall and over-rule this maneuver? What prevents the Republicans from acting in return to forestall this?

At the same time, he did not press the Reagan and Bush precedents. And his description of the current mess as a de facto amnesty was not as effective as he might have hoped. His early backing of even more spending on the border, his initial citing of the need for the undocumented to “get right with the law” by coming out of the shadows to pay back taxes, among other responsibilities, was a way to disarm conservative critics. It almost certainly won’t. But it remains a fact that the speech – in classic Obama style – blended conservative stringency with liberal empathy in equal parts.

Objectively, this is surely the moderate middle. Obama’s position on immigration – as on healthcare – has always been that. It’s utterly in line with his predecessor and with the Reagan era when many conservatives were eager for maximal immigration. His political isolation now is a function, first and foremost, of unrelenting Republican opposition and obstructionism. From time to time, then, it is more than good to see him openly challenge the box others want to put him in, to reassert that he has long been the reasonable figure on many of these debates, and to remind us that we have a president whose substantive proposals should, in any sane polity, be the basis for a way forward, for a compromise.

They are not, of course. And this act of presidential doggedness, after so long a wait, may well inflame the divisions further. I still have doubts about the wisdom of this strategy. But I see why this president refuses to give in, to cast his future to fate, to disappoint again a constituency he has pledged to in the past, and why he is re-stating his right as president to be a prime actor rather than a passive observer in the last two years of his term. That’s who many of us voted for. And we do not believe that the election of a Republican Senate in 2014 makes his presidency moot. Au contraire.

The branches are designed to clash and to jostle over public policy. And the Congress has one thing it can do now that it has for so long refused to do. It can act. And it should. The sooner the better.

The Culture Wars And … Manners

Nov 20 2014 @ 11:59am

We really are back to the 1990s when I find myself agreeing with Jonah Goldberg:

We live in an age of diversity, defined not merely by gender and race, but by lifestyles and values. That’s mostly a good thing — mostly. Like all other good things in life, diversity comes at a cost. And a big part of the tab is a lost consensus about what constitutes good manners and propriety. So instead of knowing how to behave, we spend vast amounts of our time worrying and arguing about it, with combatants on every side insisting it’s “Live and let live” for me but “Shut up! How dare you!” for thee.

In this age of unprecedented cultural liberty, we’ve lost sight of the fact that common standards of decency and decorum can be liberating. They inconvenience everyone — a little — but they also free us from worrying about who we might offend or why. School uniforms, remember, constrain the wealthy kids for the benefit of the poor ones.

For millennia, good manners were understood as the means by which strangers showed each other respect. Now, too many people demand respect but have lost the ability, or desire, to show it in return.

One way to defuse the issue of, say, cat-calling is to insist on decent manners, rather than to turn the question into a bloody fist-fight over patriarchy. One way to have avoided “shirtgate,” for example, would have been to parse that micro-aggression as a failure of appropriate taste in the context of a public appearance, rather than seeing it as another micro-aggression against an entire gender. Of course, this can obscure deeper issues. And I’m sure not advocating that we constrain robust feminist critiques of clueless or sexist boorishness. But a question of manners can be neutral and less emotive grounds for actually achieving what we want to achieve in creating a culture more aware of what the world feels like for many women. Demand that men be gentlemen, rather than something other than men.

I wonder also if our digital life hasn’t made all this far worse. Conor has a typically smart and nuanced take on this in its particulars. When you sit in a room with a laptop and write about other people and their flaws, and you don’t have to look them in the eyes, you lose all incentive for manners.

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I’ve been struggling with the issue of precedents for Obama’s proposed deferral of deportation initiative, so it behooves me to link to Mark Krikorian’s argument that the Reagan and Bush deferrals should not be counted as apposite. His first point is numerical:

Despite claims at the time that “as many as 1.5 million” illegal aliens might benefit from the policy, the actual number was much, much smaller. In 1990, Congress passed legislation granting green cards to “legalization dependents” — in effect codifying the executive action Bush had taken a just few months earlier. That (lawful) measure actually cast the net wider than Bush’s action, and yet only about 140,000 people took advantage of it — less than one-tenth the number advocates claim.

But could it be that the purported beneficiaries of the current deferral are also being over-estimated? What matters, surely, is how many children Reagan and Bush thought would be protected by their executive actions, if we are looking for a precise precedent of presidential intent. And the Reagan/Bush precedent did give the deferred the right to work. There’s also the argument that as a percentage of the total population of illegal immigrants, the numbers are not so dissimilar. In 1990, there were an estimated 3.5 million illegal immigrants in the US – so deferring deportation for 1.5 million meant deferring it for 43 percent of the relevant population. In 2014, there are 11.7 million illegal immigrants, of which up to 4 million would be affected by the proposed deferral. That’s 34 percent or 42 percent if you include the DREAMERs. Seems like a rough precedent to me.

Then Kirkorian argues that the Reagan/Bush precedent was a mere tidying up after the 1986 amnesty – and not a unilateral attempt to bypass the Congress:

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Some Suggestions On Gender Wars

Nov 18 2014 @ 1:57pm

Here’s a modest proposal that might help us bridge some differences: an avoidance of arguments in the gender debate that there is no legitimate debate to be had. There is always a debate to be had in any area of human inquiry or life – because most social and political questions weigh one good against another. So, to take an obvious example, the fight over “affirmative consent” balances the security of women from assault and rape against the due process rights of the accused. These things conflict in a liberal polity – because in a liberal world, moral, collective imperatives cannot properly come at the expense of individual injustice.

And it is simply a fact that there are cases of false allegations of rape, just as there are false accusations of every sort of crime. They’re very small in number, and we may exaggerate the problem, but they do exist. My instinct, for what it’s worth, in almost all these cases is to believe the woman. That goes for most alleged crimes and offenses regarding gender, including harassment in the workplace. Readers may have gotten the wrong impression from me about this, but from Anita Hill to Paula Jones, I’ve long supported the women’s side in some of these high profile cases. But there is always another side, and that requires some consideration. Even Bill Clinton deserved that. And what troubles me is the assertion by some on the fem-left side that there is only one side ever. And that even questioning that assertion is a sign of moral failure.

Take this piece from the Guardian today, lambasting Jed Rubenfeld’s nuanced take on the question in Sunday’s NYT. And notice not the engagement with another point of view, but a blanket dismissal of its right even to exist:

You might think that someone given a platform at the New York Times, like Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld was in Sunday’s paper, might have done more than simply note that women are attacked “in appalling numbers” and colleges mishandle rape cases … The worst offense is Rubenfeld’s apparent belief that there is a “debate” to be had – as if there are two equal sides, both with reasonable and legitimate points. There are not. On the one side, there are the 20% of college women who can expect to be victimized by rapists and would-be rapists; on the other side is a bunch of adult men (and a few women) worrying themselves to death that a few college-aged men might have to find a new college to attend.

That echoes Ezra Klein’s endorsement of expelling male students accused of rape without due process. The contention is that it is neither legitimate nor reasonable to worry about someone being punished for a terrible crime he did not commit. And if this is something that worries you, then you really need to be educated by those more informed on the issue before you open your mouth:

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Funny kid at Dennys was looking at my beard. - Imgur

It’s now eleven years since I wrote an early piece on bear culture for Salon. But I was obviously onto something bigger than I imagined:

“Bears” almost all have facial hair — the more the better. Of all the various characteristics of Beardom, this seems to be one of the most essential. The Ur-bears have bushy beards that meander down their necks and merge with a large forest of chest and back-hair to provide a sort of all-hair body environment … Bears at their most typical look like regular, beer-drinking, unkempt men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They have guts. They have furry backs. They don’t know what cologne is and they tend not to wear deodorant.

Bears were partly a reaction to the whole ghastly metrosexual moment when straight men, for some elusive reason, decided to shave, product and starve themselves so as to look more like women (at the behest of those Queer Eye minstrels). And exactly the same kind of hirsute transition is now – a decade later – well under way among straights.

I regard this, in the spirit of Tim Teeman, first as a huge achievement for gay male America. Not only are we more comfortable in our own unpolished masculinity, we have created a cultural space for straight men to be the same. To put it another way: gays have helped redefine masculinity for straights – and for the first time, straights have not responded by feeling in any way tainted or discomfited by the association. In the process (don’t tell anyone), the gays have craftily transformed the public space by exponentially increasing the number of men we might have a hankering or a fetish for. Win-win!

(We’ve been quietly doing this for quite a while, of course. One reason every film star in an action movie looks like Arnold Scharzenegger is that gay men adopted steroids in the 1990s and strode around town with huge pecs and tight abs and traps that could lift a tow-truck – thereby upping the ante for the now relatively-puny straights. Yes, steroids in sports – especially football – also ramped up muscle culture. But the sexual and aesthetic appreciation of it – often suppressed in public female discourse – encountered no such restraints among the gays.)

The new vibe has many parts. It seems to me driven by a little cultural balancing of the high-tech 21st Century by the mores of the low-tech 19th – whether it be local brews, carpentry or sturdy all-weather clothing. This doesn’t mean being an actual lumberjack of course, as Holly Baxter explains:

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Gruberism And Our Democracy

Nov 13 2014 @ 1:54pm

In general, I tend to agree with Tyler Cowen that off-the-cuff remarks by academics at conferences should not be vulnerable to political use and abuse. We need spaces where we can riff and think out loud without being held responsible for every phrase. But then again, this is 2014, where nothing anyone has ever said or written can be forgotten if you have a dogged web researcher to root it out. And when those remarks come from someone who helped design and write the ACA, and speak to the way in which it was constructed and sold to the public, it’s a legitimate gotcha.

Of course, a large amount of what Gruber said is hardly unusual in Washington. Gaming the CBO scoring, framing the pros and cons in deceptive ways, making it easy for congressmen to vote for something without being hit by 30-second ads in the next election cycle: all this is part of messy governance. But Gruber’s remarks about the stupidity of the American electorate are so typical of a certain Democratic mindset they’re worth unpacking.

And as we noted earlier, Chait makes the point that Gruber really means ignorance rather than stupidity:

Very few people understand economics and public policy. This is especially true of Obamacare — most Americans are unaware of the law’s basic functions or even whether their state is participating. Since people know so little about public policy in general and health-care policy in particular, they tend to have incoherent views. In health care and other areas, they want to enjoy generous benefits while paying low taxes and don’t know enough details to reconcile those irreconcilable preferences. Gruber’s error here is that, by describing this as “stupidity” rather than a “lack of knowledge,” he moves from lamenting an unfortunate problem both parties must work around to condescending to the public in an unattractive way.

I actually think this makes it worse. The only reason Americans are ignorant about the ACA is that they were never clearly told what it was designed to achieve and how it would work. The debate was had among elites, using often technical language – who really knows what a vague “public option” means, for example? – and then sold to the public with either blanket reassurances (if you have an insurance policy, you can keep it) or terror stories about a government take-over (which it wasn’t). The reason for this failure by both sides to lay out the actual plan in ways anyone could understand was political. Neither side wanted a free-wheeling debate with unknown consequences; one was aiming for passage (something never achieved before), and the other was rooting for failure (for rank partisan reasons). Neither side was really interested in a real debate about the pros and cons.

This remains a huge disservice to democracy and it helps explain why our elites are so despised. I mean: why couldn’t Obama or leading Democrats actually make the simple case: we’re going to give subsidies to the working poor to get private health insurance and force insurers to take anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions. We’re going to make this affordable for the insurance companies by mandating that everyone get insurance, thereby including more young, healthy people in the risk pool to offset the costs of the sick. And we’re going to make sure that insurance is better than in the past, and is not subject to lifetime caps or getting booted off the minute you get sick.

That wasn’t that hard, was it?

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“Libidinal Pathology”

Nov 13 2014 @ 12:31pm

Any writer who wants to tackle touchy subjects in this day and age will be subjected to constant and often colorful insults, attacks, smears, ad hominems and general abuse. I’m used to it and don’t whine. And so I am resigned to the fact that any post or essay I might write will be condemned at some point (whatever its subject) because of my support for the Iraq War (despite countless mea culpas, including a whole e-book), or for the sentence in 2001 about a potential “fifth column” (for which I have also apologized), or for asking for some minimal documentation of the story of Sarah Palin’s astonishing fifth pregnancy (for which I see no reason to apologize), or for doubting that gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity can be entirely explained by social constructionism. And look, this is fair enough. I had my say; people also get to have theirs’ about what I wrote. Just because you’ve apologized for something doesn’t mean others have to accept it.

But one meme that crops up eternally whenever the left side of the spectrum wants to take a whack is my alleged sexual hypocrisy from as far back as 2001. A recent Gawker piece – after ticking off the usual accusations that I’m a racist, a misogynist, etc. – prompted the following reader comment:

Anyone remember when he was criticizing gay men for their “libidinal pathology” while posting ads for himself on a bareback sex site?

I do!

Except I wasn’t. That phrase – which appeared in countless articles asserting my hypocrisy – comes from Love Undetectable. It’s used in a section on circuit “rave” parties in the gay male world, and the debate they provoked in the 1990s. Here’s the full context of that phrase, and you can judge for yourself whether I was “criticizing gay men for their ‘libidinal pathology'”:

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