Archives For: Keepers

The Marriage Equality End Game

Mar 12 2014 @ 12:39pm

I confess once again to being a little sideswiped by the sudden uptick of momentum in national support for marriage equality. I shouldn’t be. It was perfectly clear three decades ago that the arguments for equality were much stronger than the arguments against. And key debating points have been seriously and consecutively won, culminating in the logical devastation of the case against marriage equality in the Prop 8 trial.

But what I under-estimated, I think, was Pew Marriagethe personal dynamic. Simply put: it’s extremely hard to oppose marriage equality when you know someone who is gay. It requires you to hold a position that clearly treats the human being in front of you as inferior – or at least it sure can feel that way. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law. It simply means that even if you hold that principled position, you will increasingly feel like an isolated asshole with gay friends, family members and colleagues. And few actively want to be an asshole. I think that’s in part what fuels Rod Dreher’s passion. He’s a decent guy, and it anguishes him to think others will think he isn’t. He’s a humane person who nonetheless has to come off as inhumane to almost any gay person and many straight ones.

But when people resolve the struggle between theory and the human person – and it’s only resolved by embracing the whole person, including her sexual orientation – the denial of equality can seem increasingly outrageous. No straight person would ever acquiesce to the idea that he or she does not have a right to marry. Such a denial seems redolent only of slavery’s evil treatment of African-Americans. And who can really demand that another human being never experience love, commitment and intimacy? And so, over time, the country is sorting itself into two camps: most everyone in one camp, and older, white evangelicals – who have often never met a gay person – in the other. Which means a huge headache for the GOP.

Nora Caplan-Bricker summarizes the latest from Pew:

The study found 69 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds support same-sex marriage, versus 54 percent of people overall. Unsurprisingly, young people who lean Democrat favor gay marriage the most heavily; 77 percent are pro. But the most interesting data is on the other side of the aisle, where 61 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans say they support legal marriage for same-sex couples—a 39-point gap over Republicans 65-and-over.

So we’re wrong to focus on seniors as such. In fact, senior support for marriage equality has recently seen some of the sharpest increases of any age cohort. It’s the old and Republican who increasingly seem isolated. Allahpundit notices the Democratic generational convergence:

The most striking numbers there, actually, are how small the differences are between various Democratic age groups. It’s an astounding consensus to have 18-year-old and 65-year-old Dems both above 60 percent support and within 15 points of each other on a practice that was barely on the cultural radar 20 years ago. Makes me wonder how many senior-citizen votes the GOP picked up over the last decade as the 65+ demographic sorted itself out. And how many younger votes it lost.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown wonders why young, gay-friendly Republicans stay with the party:

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Finally, Dianne Feinstein – not exactly a radical critic of the surveillance state – is pushed to the Senate floor to expose the CIA’s unauthorized obstruction of the Senate’s inquiry into their torture program:

She nails the CIA under John Brennan as being contemptuous of Congress and demands to know why they haven’t responded to her inquiries:

This is a remarkable, unprecedented speech – an open accusation from a respected Senator that the CIA has illegally spied on the Congress, done its utmost to prevent the truth about the torture program coming out, and has been engaged in stone-walling and misinformation and deliberate “intimidation” of Senate staffers tasked with the huge task of finding out what happened. The full text of DiFi’s remarks are below. They’re meticulous and damning about the CIA’s actions under director John Brennan – so damning, I’d argue, that the president has to ask himself if this man can be trusted to follow the constitution and the law. I urge you to read the entire speech. It’s one for the history books.

Feinstein reminds us that the Senate investigation began after the news broke that the CIA had destroyed tapes of its torture sessions – over the objections of the Bush White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence. The CIA insisted that the tapes’ destruction was not obstruction of justice because there were countless other records of the torture sessions. So the Senate Committee convened an inquiry into those other cables and documents. Here’s what they found:

The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us. As result of the staff’s initial report, I proposed, and then-Vice Chairman Bond agreed, and the committee overwhelmingly approved, that the committee conduct an expansive and full review of CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

At the very beginning, then, the CIA – in the person of Jose Rodriguez – was destroying video evidence of its war crimes. Brennan’s subsequent shenanigans with the Committee – and attempt to sue back in retaliation after being exposed as spies on their very over-seers – is utterly of a piece with this pattern of concealment. Through all the details of this battle, that has to be kept in mind. The CIA’s actions are bizarre – unless you understand the gravity of the war crimes they committed and illegally and unconstitutionally concealed from the Congress. And it seems they sure do, as their own internal Panetta report – the smoking gun Feinstein says the CIA itself provided to the Senate – confirmed. Hence the bottom line from DiFi:

I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. … The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as Executive Order 120003, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

Brennan this morning said that “nothing could be further from the truth.” And yet this is how Feinstein says she found out about the illicit spying on the committee’s staffers:

On January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search” — that was John Brennan’s word — of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the ”stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.

According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.

Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.

So either Brennan or Feinstein isn’t telling the truth. Then there’s this passage from the speech that got me to sit up straight:

As I mentioned before, our staff involved in this matter have the appropriate clearances, handled this sensitive material according to established procedures and practice to protect classified information, and were provided access to the Panetta Review by the CIA itself. As a result, there is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting general counsel’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly.

I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.

Think about that for a moment. A man who was once the lawyer for the torture unit is now the lawyer for the CIA as a whole! A man deeply invested in war crimes is now the designated point man for “intimidating” the Senate staff. If that alone doesn’t tell you how utterly unrepentant the CIA is over its past, and how determined it is to keep its actions concealed, as well as immune to prosecution, what would?

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Joe McGinniss, RIP

Mar 11 2014 @ 1:24pm


Joe McGinnis was responsible not only for several books that are rightly understood as landmarks of journalism – he was also the case study of arguably the most famous essay about journalism, Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” He was a deeply curious and ferociously independent writer, compelled by the minutiae of the human comedy and riveted by the depths  of human tragedy. I think of him as some kind of eternal, unstoppable foe for Roger Ailes, whose media campaign for Nixon in 1968 presaged so much of what was to come – and still reins supreme – at Fox News. And yet Ailes and Joe were extremely close friends their entire lives and Joe would defend him – if not his network or politics – tenaciously as the years went by. That was how Joe was. Once he loved you, he loved you. And I was blessed by some of that love.


It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe – at the tender age of 26! – transformed political journalism with The Selling Of The President, the legendary expose of the cynicism of media optics in presidential campaigns – and, by the by, a lovely, ornery rebuke to the magisterial tomes of Theodore H White, as Ann Althouse notes. And the first thing to say is that the man could write. He couldn’t write a bad sentence. His narratives powered along; his prose as clear as it was vivid; his innate skill at telling a story sometimes reaching rare moments in non-fiction when you’re lost in what is, in effect, a factual novel.

But what I truly treasured about Joe – and I came to love him even though we only met a couple of times – was his dogged imperviousness to his peers or to establishment opinion. If he smelled a story, he would dig in, obsessively recovering its human truth. If others thought the story was irrelevant or non-existent, it wouldn’t affect him. His motivation, as it was with his first book, was to peel back the layers of image and propaganda and spin to reveal the reality. He did this with Jeffrey McDonald. And he did it with Sarah Palin.

Of course, we bonded over the former half-term governor. He reached out to me when I was wildly exposed among journalists for refusing to believe her stories at face value. And what we bonded over was not a mutual revulsion at her politics. What we bonded over was the abject failure of the American press to say what had to be said about this preposterous, delusional maniac plucked from deserved obscurity by John McCain to be a heartbeat away from a potential presidency.

Her candidacy was a total farce; a disgrace; an outrage to American democracy; an appalling act of cynicism. Joe saw the creation of this media figure as a continuation of the Ailes recipe for optic politics, and he was appalled as so many mainstream outlets nonetheless insisted on taking this joke seriously.

So he went to do what others wouldn’t: to find the real truth about Palin, and he came closer than almost anyone.

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The Christianist Closet?

Mar 10 2014 @ 4:49pm

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 1.30.08 PM

In an angry rant, Dreher accuses me of being “smug and naive” when talking about the crosses that marriage equality opponents have to bear under the “new McCarthyism”:

It’s very, very easy for the self-employed Andrew, who is on the power-holding side of this cultural equation, to demean as “delicate and insensitive” people who face real and significant professional consequences for their religious dissent.

What I find so fascinating about Rod’s deployment of the “you’re too privileged to have a say” argument is that it’s exactly the same debating point once leveled at me by gay leftists. When I basically told gay people to stop thinking of themselves as victims and start thinking of themselves as equal citizens – one part of the case for putting military service and the right to marry at the forefront of the movement – there were howls of derision. But I remain convinced that the only way to escape the victim-trap was to transcend it. And that’s really my advice to Christianists: Get over yourselves and get on with your lives. Rod claims I am blind to terrible discrimination:

Sullivan’s complaint is disingenuous. I hear all the time from religious conservatives in various fields — in particular media and academia — who are afraid to disclose their own beliefs about same-sex marriage because most people within those fields consider opposition to SSM to be driven solely by hatred.

Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a man who is probably the most accomplished and credentialed legal scholar I’ve ever met, someone who is part of this country’s law elite. The fact that I can’t identify him here, or get into specifics of what he told me, indicates something important about the climate within law circles around this issue. On this issue, he lives in the closet, so to speak, within his professional circles, and explained to me why it has become too dangerous to take a traditionalist stand in law circles, unless one is prepared to sabotage one’s career.

Hand me the world’s tiniest violin. If someone is fired for his religious beliefs, he can sue (which is more than can be said for gay people fired for their orientation in many states). The rest is truly spectacular whining. There are always going to be social pressures that favor or disfavor certain views. What about a gun control enthusiast in rural Texas? Or a pro-choicer in Mississippi?

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Rand Paul, The GOP, And The Young

Mar 10 2014 @ 12:53pm

Molly Ball captures the atmosphere at CPAC during Rand Paul’s speech:

Though CPAC draws right-wingers of all stripes, from Oliver North to Santorum to a guy on stilts in a Ronald Reagan costume, it is increasingly dominated by libertarians, a combined result of their passionate engagement in movement politics and the discount rates the conference offers to college students. That makes it, for Paul, something of a hometown crowd. On Saturday, he won the conference’s straw poll in a landslide. The enormous ballroom at the convention center in the Washington suburbs was crammed with an audience of thousands for his speech on Friday, which Paul devoted exclusively to civil-liberties issues.

Jonathan Coppage recaps the speech:

Paul castigated a progressive majoritarianism run amok, whose free-floating definition of legitimacy puts all minorities at risk, whether the racial minorities persecuted in generations past, or minorities of ideas at risk in the present day. He made frequent reference to his fight against the security state’s overreaches, and insisted upon the imperative importance of specific warrants and open, free trials instead of general warrants and secret determinations of guilt. Finally, Paul closed on a muscular message rejecting the gradualist’s insistence on a hesitant program of changes, telling the CPAC crowd that their job is not to minimize liberty lost, but to maximize liberty.

I find myself wanting Paul to go the distance in the 2016 primaries. No, that’s not because I want Clinton to win (if she’s the Democratic nominee). It’s because Paul would facilitate a younger demographic for Republicans, and that can only be good – for the GOP and the rest of us.

Perhaps the most crippling disadvantage the GOP now has is its dependence on seniors for political clout. We know just how divergent Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 12.38.49 PMtoday’s generations are – to such an extent that they are effectively foreign countries to each other. 61 percent of Millennials are white, compared with over 80 percent for the pre-boomers – creating an entirely different rite of passage into adulthood. 26 percent are married, compared with 65 percent of pre-boomers and 48 percent of boomers. Millennials have far less trust in institutions, including political parties, and on social issues, Millennials are far more libertarian than their elders: marriage equality is simply a given for them, and legalizing weed a no-brainer.

On current trends, the GOP has close to no chance of winning over this demographic unless it loses its discomfort with non-whites and gays, if it pledges a re-run of George W Bush’s foreign policy, if it keeps championing the war on drugs, or the surveillance state. The widening generational gap between the parties is already unprecedented in modern times. And one segment of the voters is dying, and the other is gaining strength. Unless the GOP manages to find a way to re-brand itself with the next generation, it is facing an existence on life-support – and each pandering message to the Fox News demo will only serve to alienate Millennials.

Rand Paul is one answer to this. If he were to run against the archetypal boomer, Hillary Clinton, around the themes of individual liberty at home and non-interventionism abroad, he could immediately put the GOP on the Millennial side of this generational struggle. Even if he were crushed by Clinton, the GOP’s image would be re-made in a way much more attractive to the under-30s.

His main problem, it seems to me, is racial.

Read On

Has The World Never Changed?

Mar 7 2014 @ 3:27pm

I understand that’s a ridiculously broad question, but it arises from a ridiculously broad analysis:

Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.” This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.

Is it possible things are just a little bit more complicated than that? It could be that the impulse for national power, territory, dominion is now not obsolete, but simply much more attenuated now than it once was (and that argument is easily compatible with Kerry’s phrase). And the case for that is pretty strong. I mean: if nations have one driving impulse – “seeking national power, territory, dominion” – and if the record shows no change or evolution in this eternal truth, how do we explain huge tranches of recent history?

war2012Why on earth, for example, would European countries pool sovereignty in the EU? How could they be deluded into thinking that giving up “national power” could be a good thing? And why, for that matter, would this arrangement remain attractive to other countries as well, not least of which Ukraine? Why on earth did the US invade and conquer Iraq only to leave it a decade later? Why did we not seize the oil-fields with our military might to fuel our economy? What was Krauthammer’s hero, George W Bush, doing – singing hymns to human freedom rather than American hegemony?

Why, for that matter, have military incursions into other countries become rarer over time? Why has the level of inter-state violence in human affairs declined to historically low levels?

The answers to that question are, of course, legion, and I’m not trying to settle the debate here. I’m just noting that if the classic aims of territory acquisition and dominion never change, Krauthammer has a lot of explaining to do.

Even with Putin, I think it’s worth noting that his current Tsarist mojo is not exactly triumphalist. Krauthammer concedes as much:

Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia conquered it 20 years before the U.S. acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.

So this is less like Hitlerian aggression and more like a sad attempt to re-seize one tiny portion that was part of Russia proper far longer than it was “lost”. More to the point, Putin “got it back” only in the wake of Ukraine deposing its democratically-elected, Russophile leader in a violent, popular putsch. Yes, if your contention is that the desire for territory/dominion/power is “obsolete,” you’re a fool. But if your contention is that this impulse plays a much less critical role in international affairs than in almost all previous periods in human history, you’d be merely making an empirical observation.

The truth is that global interdependence – the immensely complex and proliferating global economy that vastly expanded as communism collapsed under the weight of its own lies – clearly mitigates the classic impulse that Krauthammer approves of. It doesn’t abolish it – but it shapes it.

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The most striking aspect of Richard Rodriguez’s latest book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography, was its attempt to understand 9/11 in an empathetic way. His response to that atrocity was to draw closer to Islam, not to push it as far away as possible. He saw Islam as a desert religion like Christianity and tried to see what had happened to create a monstrous fanaticism of the Taliban and al Qaeda variety, and to look into his own Catholic faith for reasons as well. I was challenged by this, and wanted to talk about it. So here we have the podcast. Richard insists on the connection between Islam and Christianity, perhaps most vividly in the Arabic-rooted Spanish words of his own Catholic grandmother, and the intimacy of inter-religious conflict:

We went on to talk about martyrdom in both Islam and Christianity, and the distinction, important to me, between fundamentalism and faith:

For the full conversation on Deep Dish, click here. If you aren’t a subscriber, click here to sign up for complete access to all things Dish.

Yes, The CIA Spied On Congress

Mar 5 2014 @ 3:41pm

Why? The torture report, of course:

Late last night, McClatchy reported that the CIA inspector general has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that johnbrennanbrendansmialowskigetty.jpgthe CIA illegally monitored Congressional staff investigating the Agency’s secret detention and interrogation programs. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent four years and $40 million investigating the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques in secret overseas prisons, producing a reportedly “searing” 6,300 page finding excoriating the Agency’s actions.

As part of this investigation, intelligence committee staff were required by the CIA to use Agency computers in a secure room in Langley to access millions of sensitive documents. Congressional investigators reportedly agreed to use those computers under the condition that their work not be monitored by the CIA, in accordance with due respect for the separation of powers and the integrity and independence of the investigation. Apparently, the spy mentality proved too strong to resist, as earlier this year the committee determined that their work had in fact been monitored in possible violation of their agreement.

What we have here is a rogue agency, believing it is above the law, above Congress and indeed immune to even presidential oversight. John Brennan, a man who never piped up as the CIA was orchestrating war crimes in a manner unprecedented in US history, is now revealed as running an agency that broke the law and attacked the very basis of a constitutional democracy by targeting the Congress for domestic spying! The CIA is legally barred from any domestic spying, let alone on its constitutional over-seers.

It’s enough to make you think that the CIA committed crimes so damning and lied so aggressively during the torture regime that it is now doing what all criminals do when confronted with the evidence: stonewall, attack the prosecution, try to remove or suppress evidence, police its employees’ testimony, and generally throw up as much dust as possible. That they continue to do this is a real challenge to this president. How much longer is he going to let these goons prevent the truth from being known? Why is he allowing Brennan to continue to run an agency when, under his watch, it has laid itself open to a criminal investigation of its own alleged obstruction of justice?

Ed Morrissey rightly fumes:

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Yes, I have to keep pinching myself. For the longest time, in my marriage equality stump speech from the 1990s, I would end by citing Hannah Arendt’s classic case for ending the anti-miscegenation laws:

Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.

What I was trying to do was to get (at that point) mainly gay people to see how the denial of the right to marry was effectively a nullification of the Declaration of Independence for gay Americans. The right of gay people to marry was more profound in truth and in law than the right of gay people to vote. “So why aren’t you fighting for it?” I’d declare. Until they did. Getting straight people to see this was actually easier over the years (tell a straight person he doesn’t have the right to marry the woman he loves and you’ll get some powerful pushback). But now look:

Americans think the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution gives gays the legal right to marry. In a closer but still significant division, 50 percent say it does, while 41 percent say not, with the rest undecided.

So a Supreme Court ruling that did not find civil marriage as a core constitutional right for gay couples would now be against public opinion. Ross and Rod are surely more right than they might imagine. This is becoming not a victory for gay equality but a rout. The new Post/ABC poll, for example, finds for the first time that there is a plurality in favor of marriage equality in every age group. Even the over-65s are now in favor, by 47 – 43 percent. The next generation (under 40s) sees the issue as a no-brainer with a massive 72 – 22 percent in favor.  40 percent of Republicans are now supportive, with 23 percent strongly supportive. And, in fact, the intensity factor – long on the side of fundamentalists – now operates in favor of gays and their friends and families.

By the end of the Obama presidency, gay Americans may well achieve a near-total victory in their quest for equality.

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Surrender Douthat!

Mar 4 2014 @ 1:23pm

My apologies upfront: that was simply an irresistible headline. On Sunday, Ross complained that conservatives are not being allowed to negotiate the terms of their surrender on marriage equality:

We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.

Michael Potemra seconds:

Contrary to the lessons being taught by our toxic culture, not every momentary advantage needs to be followed up with the crushing and humiliation of one’s enemies. So the question should not be, “Can we succeed in getting society to treat those who disagree with us as moral lepers?” but “Is it right to do so?” Churchill famously started one of his books with a credo that included the phrase “In Victory: Magnanimity.” Magnanimity is definitely not a virtue that today’s culture prizes — but this is a moment that calls for it.

Rod’s summation:

American Christians are about to learn what it means to live in a country where being a faithful Christian is going to exact significant costs. It may not be persecution, but it’s still going to hurt, and in ways most Christians scarcely understand. Maybe this will be good for us. Maybe. We’ll see.

It seems to me there is an important distinction here. If the gay rights movement seeks to impose gay equality on religious groups by lawsuit, or if it seeks to remove tax exempt status for institutions that refuse to include gays for theological reasons, then I agree that such attempts to weddingcakedavidmcnewgetty.jpghumiliate and coerce opponents should be resisted tooth and nail. Such spiking of the ball is a repugnant and ill-advised over-reach, and, to my mind, a betrayal of the soul of the movement. We should be about the expansion of freedom for everyone, not its constriction. We should be in favor of persuasion, not coercion. The question of allowing any individual or business to discriminate against gay people and gay couples is, however, a much trickier area. In any public accommodations, I think it’s counter-productive and morally disturbing. But my own strong preference is for as much live-and-let-live as possible: i.e. not filing lawsuits against anti-gay businesses but supporting pro-gay ones in the marketplace.

Still, championing the ability to fire gay people on religious grounds does not seem to me to be a winning argument for those opposing marriage equality. A majority of even Republicans favor laws banning workplace discrimination against gays, and the national majority is immense: around 68 percent for and only 21 percent against. In the same poll, 80 percent of Americans thought this was already the law! That’s a hill I would not aim to die on, if I were the Christianist right.

But what Ross and Michael and Rod are really concerned about, it seems to me, is the general culture of growing intolerance of religious views on homosexuality, and the potential marginalization – even stigmatization – of traditional Christians.

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“In Another World”?

Mar 3 2014 @ 12:31pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin Attends Military Exercise Near Saint Petersburg

Reading all the grim reports from Ukraine this morning, this quote really stood out. It’s a report of what Angela Merkel reportedly told Barack Obama in a phone-call last night, after speaking with Vladimir Putin:

She was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.

That is the truly worrying thing. But it is always worth trying to see things from the point of view of our foe, to see if his madness makes some kind of internal sense, and to see if we have any blind-spots that may hinder us from the smartest response. Greg Dejerejian notes:

One need not be a Putin apologist to recognize some salient facts: 1) the Maidan movement included ultra-nationalists and even neo-fascists, 2) the Yanukovych transition deal was crudely scuppered leaving the Russian side caught unawares and looking flat-footed (never appreciated by Vladimir Putin); and 3) this was followed by deeply provocative measures by the new Government in Kiev to move to extinguish Russian minority language rights. More assertiveness was surely on tap, as the mood was manifestly one of triumphalism.

I fell prey to this myself, buoyed by obvious and instinctive support for any country resisting the boot of the Kremlin, and too blithe about the consequences of a revolution that overthrew a democratically elected president. But as we now know only too well, Ukraine is deeply divided between its pro-Western West and its pro-Russian East; any attempt to resolve this underlying tension decisively was bound to risk real rifts within the country and tempt Russia to intervene. Anatol Lieven has a must-read:

President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU offer led to an uprising in Kiev and the western and central parts of Ukraine, and to his own flight from Kiev, together with many of his supporters in the Ukrainian parliament. This marks a very serious geopolitical defeat for Russia. It is now obvious that Ukraine as a whole cannot be brought into the Eurasian Union, reducing that union to a shadow of what the Putin administration hoped. And though Russia continues officially to recognize him, President Yanukovych can only be restored to power in Kiev if Moscow is prepared to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and seize its capital by force. The result would be horrendous bloodshed, a complete collapse of Russia’s relations with the West and of Western investment in Russia, a shattering economic crisis, and Russia’s inevitable economic and geopolitical dependency on China.

It seems vital to me that we see what Putin is doing from his point of view. What seems to us like an unprovoked, Sudetenland-style invasion is both mercifully less than that (so far) and also, critically, a function of Putin’s string of recent setbacks. He has already lost a huge amount. And he is now recklessly and thoughtlessly acting out as a result. Dmitri Trenin describes Moscow’s current worldview thus:

In Moscow, there is a growing fatigue with the west, with the EU and the United States. Their role in Ukraine is believed to be particularly obnoxious: imposing on Ukraine a choice between the EU and Russia that it could not afford; supporting the opposition against an elected government; turning a blind eye to right-wing radical descendants of wartime Nazi collaborators; siding with the opposition to pressure the government into submission; finally, condoning an unconstitutional regime change. The Kremlin is yet again convinced of the truth of the famous maxim of Alexander III, that Russia has only two friends in the world, its army and its navy. Both now defend its interests in Crimea.

How to deal with an authoritarian leader, increasingly paranoid about the West, his greater regional aspirations turned to dust, who is now wielding military power in a manner more reminiscent of the Cold War than of anything since? One obvious response is counter-provocation, of the kind that John McCain and the Washington Post editorial board would instinctively prefer. It seems to me that, given how Putin has reacted to Western pressure so far, this would merely invite more recklessness.

The saner approach is to try and mollify some of Russia’s legitimate concerns about Ukraine – the rights of the pro-Russian Ukrainians in the East, for example, some of which were suspended (and now restored) by the new Kiev government, while persuading him of unstated but profoundly adverse consequences if he ratchets up the use of force even further. David Ignatius – unlike the breathless neocons on the WaPo editorial page – makes the case very effectively this morning. What our goal must be now, above everything, is avoiding any pretext for a Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine.

And the truth is: this is very much in Russia’s actual interests. Its stock market and currency are in free-fall this morning, but a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would mean a mutual bloodbath, effectively destroying Russia’s standing in the world, tearing up its relations with the major powers, including, possibly China, and rendering it a rogue, primitive, paranoid power, whose elites would be cut off from the global trade and financial markets they rely on. There must be some faction in the Kremlin able to see this, even if it only occupies a small part of Putin’s mind.

But it will not be enough. Ukraine has long occupied a powerful place in the Russian imagination. Pride and identity are at stake now, and they make a catastrophe much likelier. And so the West needs both to be firm about military intervention but also cognizant of Russia’s genuine fears and insecurity in the wake of recent events. Djerejian again:

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The Morning After In Arizona

Feb 27 2014 @ 8:32pm

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Here’s the money quote from Jan Brewer’s veto statement last night:

Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated … Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is non-discrimination.

As I’ve mulled this over and over, I have a few straggling thoughts. Against the bill: it had two terrible features. The first was the breadth of the religious liberty invoked. The real innovation in Arizona was the extension of religious liberty claims against other citizens, rather than against the government itself. That’s a big leap, and trivializes religious liberty in some ways. No individual can coerce, even with a lawsuit, the way the government can. The second is the environment in which this bill was introduced. In Arizona, gay citizens have no right to marry, and no legal protection against being fired simply for being gay. Indeed, a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim needs no new law to discriminate quite brutally against gay people under the rationale of religious liberty. To argue that the real problem here is the victimization of fundamentalists is therefore bizarre. In fact, it’s a grotesque inversion of reality.

As for the case for allowing fundamentalists to discriminate against anyone associated with what they regard as sin, I’m much more sympathetic. I favor maximal liberty in these cases. The idea that you should respond to a hurtful refusal to bake a wedding cake by suing the bakers is a real stretch to me.

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[Re-posted from earlier today]

Whenever I read the blog-posts of Walter Russell Mead, or the fulminations of Leon Wieseltier, or the sputtering harrumphs of John McCain, or the neoconservative or liberal internationalist horrified respect for Vladimir Putin’s Great Game of geo-politics, I find myself on the other side of a vast, intellectual chasm. I’ve tried at times in my head to engage the arguments, and have consistently found myself at a loss. It’s not the arguments for this or that military or diplomatic intervention that stump me. It’s the entire premise behind them.

At times, I’ve put it down to a very different response to the Iraq War. Many of these voices decrying Obama’s restraint in the face of evil or US President Barack Obama speaks duringdistant conflict have not drawn the same lessons I did from that defining episode in American foreign policy in the 21st Century. I saw that war as an almost text-book refutation of the logic behind US intervention in this century. The Iraqis were not the equivalent of Poles in 1989. They were deeply conflicted about US intervention and Western liberalism and came to despise the occupying power. The US was not the exemplar of liberal democracy that it was in the Cold War. It was a belligerent state, initiating Israel-style pre-emptive wars, and using torture as its primary intelligence-gathering weapon. Its military did not defeat an enemy without firing a shot, as with the the end-game of the Soviet Union; it failed to defeat an enemy while unloading every piece of military “shock and awe” upon it. A paradigm was shattered for me – and shattered by plain reality. A realist is a neocon mugged by history.

But the more I ponder this, the more I wonder if it isn’t also rooted in an entirely different response to the end of the Cold War as well. I remember vividly some early disputes at TNR as the Soviet Union collapsed. Marty, in particular, was just as vigilant toward the new Russian government as he had been toward the Communist one (and that was during the elysian years of Yeltsin’s doomed, democratic experiment). I found this utterly baffling. For me, the fight against Communism was not a fight against Russia. They were separate entities; one was a global, expansionist ideology, capable of intervening across the planet; the other was a ruined but still proud regional power. Indeed, if we were to prevent a return to Communist norms, I believed we should expect Russia to flex some muscles in its area of influence, for the mccainmariotamagetty.jpgOrthodox church to return as some sort of cultural unifier, for Russia to return to, well, being Russia, with some measure of self-respect. Magnanimity in victory was a Churchillian lesson I took to heart. I hoped – and hope – for more, but came to understand much more vividly what I had unforgivably forgotten after 9/11 – the perils of trying to force democratic advance in alien cultures and polities.

For me, the end of the Cold War was a blessed permission to return to “normal”. And “normal” meant a defense of national interests and no countervailing ideological crusade of the kind the Communist world demanded. In time, it seems to me that the basic and intuitive foreign policy for the US would return to what it had been before the global ideological warfare against totalitarianism from the 1940s to the 1980s. The US would become again an engaged ally, a protector of global peace, but would return to the blessed state of existing between two vast oceans and two friendly neighbors. The idea of global hegemony – so alien to the vision of the Founders – would not appeal for long, at least outside the Jacksonian South. As Islamist terror traumatized us on 9/11, however, I reverted almost reflexively to the Cold War mindset – as did large numbers of Americans. It was the rubric we understood; and defining Islamism as the new totalitarianism helped dispel what then appeared as the delusions of the 1990s, when peace and prosperity seemed to indicate an “end of history”, in Frank Fukuyama’s grossly misunderstood and still brilliantly incisive essay.

From the perspective of 2014, however, the delusions seem to have been far more profound in the first decade of the 21st Century than in the last decade of the 20th. The conflation of Islamism with Communism was far too glib – not least because the former was clearly a reactionary response to modernity, while the latter claimed to be modernity’s logical future; and the latter commanded a vast military machine, while the former had a bunch of religious nutcases with boxcutters. And the attempt to use neo-colonial military force to fight Islamism was clearly doomed to produce yet more Islamists – as the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions proved definitively. More to the point, Americans now understand this in ways that many in the elite don’t:

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From 93 percent to 48 percent is quite some shift in 12 years. Sometimes, when I’m criticized for changing my mind on the wars against Islamist terror, as if I were some kind of incoherent madman, I can’t help chuckling. I can see why it might seem fickle or unprincipled or irrational if I were alone. But when there’s a stampede among Americans on exactly the same lines, I’m clearly not an outlier. People changed their minds because the facts forced them to. The polling on the Iraq war is even worse:

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The Tiger Gets Hungrier

Feb 25 2014 @ 11:35am


For a long time now, the Republican party has essentially decided to ride the tiger of right-wing extremism to electoral victories and total Washington gridlock. The real action on the right side of the aisle has been on the far right, with each new anti-Obama movement and eruption out-doing the last in terms of upping the ante. Shock-jocks have defined the message, aided and abetted by key leadership figures. And so, in the latest manifestation, we have the former vice-president, Dick Cheney, telling Sean Hannity the following last night:

They peddle this line that now we’re going to pivot to Asia, but they’ve never justified it. And I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it is driven by budget considerations. He would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.

So a former vice-president is out there, saying the president prefers to spend money on food stamps than on “support for our troops.” He could have made an argument why he thinks we should maintain the stratospheric levels of defense spending that have been in place since 9/11; he could have argued that the US needs to maintain the ability to fight two major land wars simultaneously in perpetuity. He could have said a lot of things. But he decided to accuse the commander-in-chief of not supporting the troops and actually wanting to keep people in poverty. There is this belief out there that Republican extremism comes from the base and not the elites. But Cheney proves otherwise.

Now we get the extreme religious liberty bills across the country that are clearly a function of gay panic among fundamentalists and a decision to capitalize on it for electoral gain; we have a Republican lobbyist pulling a publicity stunt by drafting a law to ban gay players from the NFL; we have a state senator, using sarcasm in such a way as to describe mothers as “hosts” of unborn children; we have gubernatorial candidates proudly campaigning with a man who called the president a “subhuman mongrel”; and the list goes on and on:

attempting to make contraception illegal (North Carolina), requiring sonograms and their images of fetuses to be presented to women seeking abortions (several states), advocacy of secession (Colorado and Texas), making enforcement of federal laws regarding guns a crime (Missouri), adopting a tax code that puts a greater burden on the poor and middle class while advantaging the rich (North Carolina and Kansas), mandating photo identification for voting while making the availability of those IDs only in Department of Motor Vehicle offices where the non-driving majority of those without IDs never go (a number of states), refusing federal funds for expanding access to Medicaid for millions who need such access and protection (21 states, all with Republican governors) and, attempting to mandate the teaching of “creationism” in schools (several states).

Now, it’s true that some kind of pushback seems to have begun.

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Erick Erickson Has A Point

Feb 24 2014 @ 5:13pm

The right-wing pundit, who supported the Kansas discrimination bill, feels that his side’s position is being distorted:

If a Christian owns a bakery or a florist shop or a photography shop or a diner, a Christian should no more be allowed to deny weddingcakedavidmcnewgetty.jpgservice to a gay person than to a black person. It is against the tenets of 2000 years of orthodox Christian faith, no matter how poorly some Christians have practiced their faith over two millennia.

And honestly, I don’t know that I know anyone who disagrees with any of this. The disagreement comes on one issue only — should a Christian provide goods and services to a gay wedding. That’s it. We’re not talking about serving a meal at a restaurant. We’re not talking about baking a cake for a birthday party. We’re talking about a wedding, which millions of Christians view as a sacrament of the faith and other, mostly Protestant Christians, view as a relationship ordained by God to reflect a holy relationship.

This slope is only slippery if you grease it with hypotheticals not in play.

But the wording of the bills in question – from Kansas to Arizona – is a veritable, icy piste for widespread religious discrimination. And that’s for an obvious reason. If legislatures were to craft bills specifically allowing discrimination only in the case of services for weddings for gay couples, as Erickson says he wants, it would seem not only bizarre but obviously unconstitutional – clearly targeting a named minority for legal discrimination. So they had to broaden it, and in broadening it, came careening into their own double standards. Allow a religious exemption for interacting with gays, and you beg the question: why not other types of sinners? If the principle is not violating sincere religious belief, then discriminating against the divorced or those who use contraception would naturally follow. I’ve yet to read an argument about these laws that shows they cannot have that broad effect.

But here’s where Erick has a point:

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