Best Intentions- the backstory of Mark’s post

How weird that Coulter picked up on this very old case. Without having clicked on your links, I recognize it as the story of Eddie Perry, who was a scholarship student at Exeter. It seemed to me that Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities relied on the story for its central plot line, although Wolfe took a lot of poetic license with the details. The writer Robert Anson, whose son was then a classmate of Perry’s, found the story shocking and researched it. His book, Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry, is a classic. Meticulously researched, it dropped a bomb that all the New York newspapers failed to turn up and tried to answer the obvious question: how could all these good intentions, from the non-profit scholarship foundations, the public school teachers who nurtured Mr. Perry and got him into Exeter, the staff and students at Exeter themselves- have resulted in such a massive tragedy? Continue reading “Best Intentions- the backstory of Mark’s post”

That’s IT!!! Climate Change and the Republicans

As Mark notes just below, GOP climate denial is coming to bite Willard in the behind.  But this still begs the fundamental question: of all the issues in the world, why has the Republican Party developed such an incredible antipathy to doing anything about or even acknowledging the reality of anthrpogenic climate change?  After all, there are policies that good conservatives could support to mitigate climate change — most notably, a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

And then suddenly, it dawned on me.  Mark has previously noted one profound truth about the current GOP, viz.:

Today’s Republican Party is a coalition between those who want to repeal the Progressive Era and those who want to repeal the Enlightenment.

The problem with such a coalition, of course, is that the two wings feel strongly about policies that have little to do with each other.  Many if not most hedge-fund managers are pro-choice and believe in the separation of church and state; many evangelical Christians do not feel that closing the carried-interest loophole puts us on the Road to Serfdom (although that might be changing).

Now consider the climate issue: climate change policy represents a perfect sweet spot, a place where plutocrats and theocrats can agree not for expedience but in principle.

Plutocrats like the Koch Brothers hate climate change regulation because it is regulation; it is an example of the government telling them that they cannot do something because it might hurt other people, and of course the Koch Brothers (like all toddlers) hate being told that they are not perfect.  For theocrats, the necessity of climate change policy means acknowledging the reality and validity of scientific investigation; it requires conceding that not all possible knowledge is contained in Scripture.

So when a plutocrat declares that climate change is a hoax, theocrats will vigorously nod their heads.  The two wings of the Republican coalition are worshipping a different God — theocrats worship the God of the Book of Revelation, and the plutocrats worship Ayn Rand — but because climate change answers their deepest ideological needs so perfectly, they can agree.  Any attacks on climate policy by one wing reinforce the prejudices of the other wing.  That’s not the case with, say, banning abortion in the case of rape, or expanding tax shelters in the Caymans.

It’s a match made in…well…somewhere.

How Do Democrats Differ From Republicans?


I came across this report from Politico a few weeks ago, and it seemed to sum things up well.  The House Agriculture Committee was debating the farm bill, and particularly Republicans’ efforts to decimate the Food Stamp program.  Rep. Joe Baca (D-California) protested:

As a young father, Rep. Joe Baca had himself relied on food stamps, and during the House Agriculture Committee debate, the California Democrat emotionally invoked the Gospel of Jesus feeding hundreds from a few fish and loaves of bread. Rather than sympathy, this brought a sharp rebuke from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.). “Nowhere in Scripture did God give instruction to government over us as the individual,” said the Christian conservative. “Read it, sir. He was speaking to individuals not governments.”

I really think that in an important way this sums things up.  Baca says that we have to feed the poor; Southerland attacks him, saying that this has nothing to do with what Jesus said, because Food Stamps are the government, not us.

For Democrats, government is the way that we as a people get together and figure out what “our ” priorities are.  For Republicans, government isn’t an us: it is an it.  It is some sort of amorphous, alien blob, out there.  It has nothing to do with us: it simply controls us.  We might make fun of Republicans saying that “the government should keep its hands off of my Medicare,” but it reflects something important about perceptions.  If it is something we experience, then it isn’t the government, because the government is “out there.”

And as the Medicare example reveals, this is very much a sort of fundamental paradigm: inconvenient facts can be dismissed as outliers, or untrue, or even just ignored.  This will take a lot of very patient, frustrating work to cure: after all, people believed in the Ptolemaic universe for centuries.  And I’m not even sure that it is “curable” because it reflects a moral view, not a scientific one.

A Friendly Debate with a Conservative Colleague

My friend and colleague Steve Bainbridge is out with a new article on “Corporate Lawyers as Gatekeepers,” which, if you are interested in corporate law, you should read (Steve is one of the country’s most distinguished scholars in the field).  But what piqued my interest when he sent it to me was his offhand remark that he is sending it out electronically to “reduce my carbon footprint.”

I couldn’t resist.  I responded, “Your CARBON footprint?  You pinko liberal fellow-travelling wimp!!  Resign your Republican Party membership now!”

And neither could he, responding:

It is possible to believe in anthropomorphic climate change AND believe that it is not an excuse for blowing up the size of government. To the contrary, it’s an argument for eliminating both the market AND the many regulatory distortions that mean people don’t pay a carbon price that includes all relevant externalities. Government’s role should be to eliminate any true externalities that rise to the evel of causing a market failure and then get out of the way and let the market solve the problem.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Steve is completely right: it is indeed possible to have a coherent and realistic conservative policy on climate change.  (I wouldn’t agree, but that’s a different issue).  The problem is that the current Republican Party refuses to have one.  I wrote back:

That’s a totally fair position.  Now all you have to do is persuade a single member of the House Republican Conference or the Senate Republican Caucus, or any Republican power broker, of that…
And here’s where it gets really interesting.  Steve’s response:
When you convince any leading national Democratic politician that life begins at conception and that the law ought to at least take that into account in balancing the interests, I’ll take a crack at it.

Foul!  Belief in the existence of anthropogenic climate change and belief that human life begins at conception are two different categories.  I responded:

It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between a scientific fact (anthropogenic climate change), and a philosophical position (human life invested with human rights begins at conception).  Now, you could say two things about this:

1) Scientific “fact” is itself a philosophical position, and that is true.  And if someone wants to take the view that scientific determinations concerning the natural world have no more reason to be called “facts” than any other philosophical position, then they can do that.  Postmodernists do that.  I don’t, and I would be very surprised, to put it mildly, that you do.

2) The better analogy, I would think, is for you to say, “I will take a crack at persuading a single member of the Republican Caucus that anthropogenic climate is true if you will take a crack at persuading any leading national Democratic politician to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax.” Your position is that there is such a thing as a genuinely conservative climate policy, and I agree.  But I think that I would win that one going away, because I could find lots more Democrats to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax than you could find Republicans to support the existence of anthropogenic climate change.

But Steve wasn’t buying it.  He counter-offered with another challenge:
How about this: You agree to try persuading Obama, Pelosi, and Reid to unconditionally support renewing the Bush tax cuts for people earning > $250K per year. No deals, no quid pro quo. And you only have to persuade 3.
This last one was something of a joke, obviously.  But it does point to a real problem for modern conservatism, and thoughtful conservatives like Steve.  Their party simply rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus on the greatest environmental problem that the planet has ever faced.  Nothing comes close to that.  And while there may be profound differences between the parties on philosophical issues, off the top of my head I can’t think of any issue, at least since the Second World War, where one major party has made it an article of faith that it simply rejects on principle such an overwhelming scientific consensus.  The only thing close is evolution, and once again, it represents the Republican position that as a matter of principle, it simply will not listen to scientists.  Note that I stacked it against myself: I offered that he could persuade any member of the House Republican Conference, and he could only counter with “any national prominent Democratic politician.”  And he still couldn’t do it.
The only things that Steve could respond with were, well, issues of moral belief: 1) human life invested human rights begins at conception; or 2) cutting taxes for people making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year is the right thing to do or will cause economic growth (the latter really being an article of faith: in my view, it’s really more a philosophical position concerning just distribution of social wealth).
Now, to be clear, like any intelligent person, Steve does believe in the existence of anthropogenic climate change.  But he could not respond with an example of equally anti-empirical belief from Democrats.  That tells you a whole lot about the differences between the parties.  No wonder Steve is such a curmudgeon.

Barack Hussein Obama

This video  is the most elegant iteration I’ve seen of the dialogue on the left about the President.  What’s so amazing about “Barack Hussein Obama,” written and directed by Jamil Khoury, is that both sides are treated with respect.  And what a shame that should be amazing!

Khoury is Artistic Director of the Chicago theater company Silk Road Rising, and this piece is a component of the company’s ambitious work-in-progress “Mosque Alert.”

The video is 13 minutes long.  Please make time to watch it.

Eric Cantor Tells the Truth

Really.  Explaining why the Republicans are rejecting President Obama’s jobs package, which includes things like rebuilding schools and spending on infrastructure like roads, bridges, etc., Cantor said:

I think at this point Washington has become so dysfunctional that we’ve got to start focusing on the incremental progress we can make. Both sides have their desires to do the big bold things. The problem is they’re just vastly different.

 Yes.  Absolutely.

The Democrats want to preserve Medicare, and the Republicans want to end it.  The Democrats want to protect the environment, and the Republicans want to destroy it.  The Democrats want to rebuild schools, and the Republicans don’t.  The Republicans, in turn, want to give very large tax cuts to people making more than $250,000 a year, and the Democrats don’t.  The Republicans want to empower Wall Street and let the banks do anything they want, and the Democrats don’t.

There is a choice here.  People disagree.  To say that the politicians should “put aside their differences” and “work things out” ignores basic reality and is willfully blind.

It’s really just that simple.  And it is what the campaign must be about.

National security experts wanted. Those who have “close relationships with foreign nationals” need not apply.

Does befriending non-Americans harm one’s chances for security clearance?

Earlier today, someone from the federal government came to ask me some questions about a former student who had applied for a job requiring security clearance. The questions seemed to be standard ones off a form.

One question was (more or less) “Does [applicant] to your knowledge have close relationships with foreign nationals?” My honest answer was, prettied up for language, “yes, I think so, given that she was born in another country and has probably not disowned her entire family. Besides, there are a great many foreign students in her graduate program and I assume she treated them more like colleagues and friends than like pariahs.” Then, to avoid harming the student’s chances, I said much the same thing translated from the Snark.

Can anybody help me out here? I have at least three questions: (1) Has this question always been asked of people seeking clearance, or was it a McCarthy-era innovation? (2) Are people regularly denied clearance solely because too many of their friends are foreigners of a nationality we distrust (and if so, has anybody thought about how idiotic that is)? (3) Do other countries ask similar questions? I can’t imagine anybody in France being asked whether he or she suspiciously had friends in Belgium or Germany—yet I doubt many French security types spy for Belgium as a result.

The whole line of questioning strikes me as antediluvian in a complex and globalizing world in which close contact with non-Americans is becoming both ubiquitous among talented people in urban centers—especially among those with advanced degrees—and crucial to solving our problems of national security (and everything else). Several questions regarding the applicant’s loyalty or disloyalty to the United States were asked separately in the interview, and to my mind legitimately. Is there any conceivable rationale for keeping the question that’s solely about knowing too many fer-ners?

Scrutinize THIS.

Dan Senor and the National Review want to stigmatize donors to the Ground Zero Muslim community center? Sign me up.

According to the New York Times report on the Ground Zero Muslim community center,

…even as the mayor called for the mosque to be embraced, those opposed to the project pledged to aggressively fight it, using both litigation and public pressure. A prominent Republican and foreign policy analyst said he was working with business, civic and political leaders to organize a campaign to persuade architects, contractors and donors to steer clear of the project. He said they would also aggressively scrutinize any donors who supported it.

The Republican, Daniel Senor, a former high-ranking official with the coalition government in Iraq, said that anybody who works with the center “needs to know there is going to be a real stigma associated with this project.”

As Steve Benen reports, the National Review’s editorial board thinks the same thing.  One of the editorial’s minor premises, mentioned casually, is that all proselytizing for Islam “ends in the imposition of sharia”—which strongly implies that NR would endorse banning Muslim preaching altogether.  (Amazing, NR’s fear and hatred of Americans.  It clearly thinks that if we’re exposed to Islam, we’ll plump for Saudi-House Rules in short order.)

Andrew Sprung, whence I get this, has the right idea: he’s donated to the community center, here.  So have I.  The Christianist Right, and their new friends the ADL, want to stigmatize everyone who believes in religious liberty?  Let them find that they’ve isolated themselves, not us.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Rock on Christian soldiers

Matthew Yglesias (his girlfriend, actually) reviews Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture.

Making fun of Christain pop culture is easy-there’s a lot that deserves to be made fun of. What makes Rapture Ready worthwhile is that Radosh-a secular Jew-goes beyond mockery to engage seriously with Christian believers who make, consume, and even criticize Christian pop culture, to explore what it means to them and the broader social implications of the existing Christian pop culture sector.

Mockery is pretty hard to get past, for this secular Jew. I’ve lived mostly in places where Christian pop culture has seemed as exotic as Shinto fertility festivals, but I have been to a Stryper show. Unwittingly—they opened for Motörhead, and I was sure that they were a joke band (This Is Spın̈al Tap* had just come out). Bumblebee spandex, throwing bibles into the audience, “to hell with the devil!”…no, they were totally cereal.

As was a co-worker of mine some years later, a Promise Keeper, Tim LaHaye reader, and Christian Rock enthusiast. Concerned as he was about my eternal soul, he told me about the rapture and the signs of the end times. [Update: the needle is pegged on the Rapture Index!] He was pretty sure that it was coming before 2000.

At the time, viatical settlements were in the news, and I thought there could be a market in rapture futures: He expected to be raptured before 2000; I was fairly certain that he wasn’t going to be or, if he was, that I’d be left behind. In which case he wouldn’t be needing any of his stuff. So I offered him $20 if I could have his house, in the event. I don’t recall the chapter and verse of his response, but it wasn’t Song of Solomon. Maybe it was the Book of Stryper.

*Footnote: The blogging software can’t render an “n” with an umlaut, oddlly enough. Update: A reader sends a fascinating “screencast” of the history of the heavy-metal umlaut.