Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gun Nuts and the District of Columbia

Recently, a D.C. Court declared that the district's ban on keeping handguns at home is unconstitutional. In response, the pro-torture National Review organized a symposium that showed as much diversity as a Bush administration public event. The tenor of the opinion was that the Court was right to toss aside the ban, that the decision was a "masterful treatise", a restoration of "full constitution freedom" for DC, and would even help foster the "rights consciousness" of the American people (doesn't that sound vaguely Marxist?).

What you do not hear is talk of activist judges reading broad rights into the Constitution that are patently not there (since when did every gun nut with an SUV and suburban house constitute a "well-regulated militia"?). You do not hear attacks on courts thumbing their nose at the democratic wishes of the people. Yet so-called conservatives make these arguments quite vociferously in other cases, such as when the right to privacy was deemed to encompass the right to abortion. Sadly, opposition to "judicial activism" is not a principle, but merely a rhetorical device to support one's ideological agenda.

Of all the opinions expressed on the National Review symposium, the most laughable comes from John Lott, who notes that "the nation’s strictest gun-control laws, gun-control advocates have been embarrassed that the city has frequently had the highest murder rate of any large city in the U.S". Hence gun control does not deter crime! Given that there are no border controls in place between DC and Virginia, this is an utterly ridiculous argument. If you want real numbers, compare gun deaths in the United States and countries with broad based gun control measures. I raised this issue before, and here are the numbers again:
Gun-related deaths per 100,000 people:
U.S.A. 14.24; Brazil 12.95; Mexico 12.69; Argentina 8.93; Finland 6.46; Switzerland 5.31; France 5.15; Canada 4.31; Norway 3.82; Austria 3.70; Portugal 3.20; Israel 2.91; Belgium 2.90; Australia 2.65; Italy 2.44; New Zealand 2.38; Denmark 2.09; Sweden 1.92; Greece 1.29; Germany 1.24; Ireland 0.97; Spain 0.78; Netherlands 0.70; Scotland 0.54; England and Wales 0.41; Taiwan 0.37; Singapore 0.21; Hong Kong 0.14; South Korea 0.12; Japan 0.05.

There are many hypotheses for the high rate of gun deaths in the United States. Some point to the legacy of the Wild West, others to the acceptability of violence as a response to problems, others to a popular culture that glorifies violence, and others still to the greater diversity that breeds tensions. Whatever the reason, dishing out guns to people in such an environment is an act of gross irresponsibility. It's not an issue of "freedom" (most countries on the list above are at least as "free" as the United States), but rather a part of the gospel of life.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Paging William Donohue...

James Dobson recently declared that Fred Thompson, potential Republican presidential nominee, is not really a Christian. Thompson's people reacted swiftly, declaring that their man is indeed a Christian, having been baptized in the Church of Christ. Put on the defensive, Dobson's crowd responded by noting that they use the term "Christian" exclusively "to refer to people who are evangelical Christians." Well, I suppose that rules out Catholics, among others. Such an overt statement of anti-Catholic bigotry is sure to raise the ire of William Donohue of the Catholic League. Right?

Wrong. Not a thing on their site. They do manage to attack Hillary Clinton for not marching in the St. Patrick's Day parade, but nothing on Dobson. But don't hold your breath. Donohue has faced this test before, and he failed miserably. When confronted with the anti-Catholic statements of some of the evangelicals at the "Justice Sunday" rally, where some even branded Catholicism a false religion, Donohue thought it was no big deal. Instead, he attacked those who raised the issue, declaring that "Dobson is our friend." and that it is "fat-cat, left-wing bigots like George Soros who concern us." I await Donohue's claim that George Soros is behind Fred Thompson...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Short Post on Evolution

Where to begin? Frankly, I find the "religious-secular" wars surrounding evolution to be tedious, misleading, and slightly annoying. Here is a basic principle that should underpin our analysis in this area: let is keep separate "physics" and "metaphysics" and let not the experts in one domain claim knowledge over the other. Evolution is a basic scientific hypothesis that commands practically universal assent. As believers in a reasonable God, Catholics are quite at home accepting scientific findings. There is no conflict. Therefore, religious believers should stay out of the scientific debate. But, as I mentioned, this needs to work both ways. Irresponsible neo-Darwinists should also refrain from making bold and bogus claims against religious belief, such that evolution precludes the belief in a creator God. This is nonsense.

It is precisely the tendency of both sides to step on each others turf that causes so much trouble. Let's start with the basics. Catholics believe in creation, not creationism. We believe that God created everything that exists out of nothing. By no means should we interpret the creation account in Genesis literally. How God creates is beyond our comprehension. Of course, loosely speaking, there is an "intelligence" that "designs" the universe. When some in the Church, such as Cardinal Schonborn, make this point, it is to refute the neo-Darwinists who claim that natural selection rules out a greater intelligence. As Schonborn noted succinctly: "I see no difficulty in joining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained." Exactly!

The "intelligent design" movement's key error is in stepping beyond the mere recognition of the role of a Creator, and into scientific debate itself. A few years back, Jerry Coyne, exposed the movement in a long article in the New Republic. Basically, it joins its brother movement, fundamentalist creationism, in trying to debunk the scientific evidence for evolution. For a key premise is that organisms appeared simultaneously, and have existed that way ever since. Its supporters accept the idea of "microevolution" (within species) but cast doubts on "macroevolution" ("large scale changes, leading to new levels of complexity".) In other words, they are not merely pleading for an acknowledgment of the Creator, but attacking the fabric of scientific research itself.

The fact that this is an almost uniquely American issue, driven by evangelical fundamentalists, should set off alarm bells. After all, the latest trend among the American right is to embrace their its form of postmodernism, creating a parallel universe more in accord with their own ideology than reality. Thus tax cuts boost revenue. Wars end terrorism. There is no such thing as man-made global warming. And evolution is a hoax. The utter disdain for science reflects a dangerous voluntarist strain in American protestantism. But for Catholics, God is eminently reasonable. Even though the mind of God is vastly beyond our comprehension, the way we think is close enough to the way that God thinks to allow us to claim that God is an infinite and eternal intellect. That should provide the basis for a healthy respect for science, even while always remaining aware that science can never challenge the essence of faith. In short, the "evolution war" is a phony war.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Less For More, In Health and War!

A recent report notes that, since 2001, the "war on terror" has cost $510 billion. What do we get for that? Hmmm. Increased terrorism and global instability. An unstable civil war in Iraq, creating a breeding ground for even more terrorism. Unprecedented loathing of the United States. North Korea and Iran going nuclear. Osama Bin Ladin still on the loose. A resurgent Taliban and destabilization of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Could the money have possibly been spent in a worse manner?

But there is predecent! Spending a lot of money for lousy outcomes is also a feature of the U.S. healthcare system. According to data from the OECD, the U.S. spends $4,497 a year on healthcare per capita (in PPP dollars). In contrast, the equivalent among the G-7 countries is $2,524. So, the US achieves superior outcomes for this investment, right? Wrong. Healthy life expectancy is 68.1 years, versus 70.9 years in the G-7. The standardized death rate is 670 per 100,00, as opposed to 582 in the G-7. The infant mortality rate is 6.9 per 1000, and 4.7 in the G-7. The child mortality rate is 7.6 per 1000, and 5.3 in the G-7. The maternal mortality rate is 10.5 per 100,000; it stands at 6.5 in the G-7. So, almost double the expenditure on healthcare for worse outcomes. Oh well, at least it's not "socialized medicine"...

The Real Reason for the Attorney Firings

Kevin Drum does a nice job cutting through the fog. For a start, the "Clinton did it too" argument, always the first bullet in Republican talking points, doesn't fly. As many have pointed out, installing a fresh set of U.S. attorneys at the start of the administration is no big deal. Nor would it be a big deal to fire 7 attorneys for performance reasons. Drum also notes that it would not be such a big deal either to fire 7 attorneys for "insufficient commitment to Bush administration policies". No, this is not the issue. The real issue is corruption, using the judicial arm to protect your own party and harass opponents.

Drum runs down the list:
"David Iglesias: Didn't bring indictments against some local Democrats prior to the
2006 election. John McKay: Failed to invent voter fraud cases that might have prevented a Democrat from winning the 2004 governor's race in Washington. Carol
Doing too good a job prosecuting trainloads of Republicans in the wake of the Duke Cunningham scandal. Daniel Bogden and Paul Charlton: In the midst of investigations targeting current or former Republican members of Congress when they were fired."
He could add the case of Bud Cummins, who was fired simply to give a job to a friend of Karl Rove's. The Justice Department admitted as much.

When you look into the partisan nature of corruption investigations, the Bush administration strategy starts to make sense. A study found seven times more investigations of Democrats than Republicans at the local level (262-37) since Bush took power, despite roughly equal numbers of elected officials from either party. Clearly, there has been a blatant politicization of judicial investigations, that Republicans can then use as fodder for attack ads. Vintage Rove. And any U.S. attorneys that get in the way should be swept off the board.

By the way, this tactic is also vintage Robert Mugabe, and a host of other banana Republic thugs...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Family Values: Democrats Versus Republicans

We know the story by now. Republicans believe in good honest family values. Democrats are amoral secular liberals in the thrall of every vice and hedonism. Except, in 2008, this story is turned totally upside down. Consider the following, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan the Times of London:


Barack Obama. Married to the same woman for 15 years, two daughters.

Hillary Clinton. Married to the same man for 32 years, one daughter, despite husband's affairs.

John Edwards. Married to the same woman for 30 years, five children. Their eldest son died in a car crash, and they stayed together. Statistically "most couples never survive the death of a child."


John McCain. His wife stayed loyal during his capture, torture, and imprisonment, but McCain dumped her when he returned.

Rudy Giuliani. Three wives, several high profile affairs, and an estranged son. He informed his second wife he was divorcing her at a press conference.

And the best of all....

Newt Gingrich. Married his first wife at 19. She put him through graduate school. But he dumped her and told her he was divorcing her while she was recovering from cancer. He was overheard remarking that “She’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the president. And besides, she has cancer.” And he refused to pay alimony or child support. His second marriage broke up after he had an affair with a younger staffer (23 years younger, to be precise) at the exact time he was hounding Bill Clinton for having an affair with somebody far younger than him...

Welcome to the modern Republican party, the party of Torture and Divorce! Oh yes, and total hypocrisy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More Church Teaching on Torture

I've talked about this a lot. The conciliar document Gaudium Et Spes condemned it explicitly. The encylical Veritatis Splendour said it was intrinsically evil, meaning it cannot be legitimated by intent or consequence. The Compendium of Social Doctrine also discusses it:
"In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: “Christ's disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer's victim”. International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances."
This is pretty clear. Nothing can justify torture. Not ticking bomb scenarios. Nothing. And "international juridical instuments" means the Geneva Conventions, those pesky little things the Bush administration deems quaint. And yet some in Catholic right wing circles, in continued thrall to the Bush administration, have a hard time understanding this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Abortion, Gay Marriage, and the Young

Mirror of Justice links to an interesting New York Times magazine article on the attitudes of the younger generation toward topical social issues. Indeed, the Times seems almost surprised when it reports:
"Young Americans, it turns out, are unexpectedly conservative on abortion but
notably liberal on gay marriage. Given that 18- to 25-year-olds are the least
Republican generation (35 percent) and less religious than their elders (with 20
percent of them professing no religion or atheism or agnosticism), it is curious
that on abortion they are slightly to the right of the general public. Roughly a
third of Gen Nexters endorse making abortion generally available, half support
limits and 15 percent favor an outright ban. By contrast, 35 percent of 50- to
64-year-olds support readily available abortions. On gay marriage, there was not
much of a generation gap in the 1980s, but now Gen Nexters stand out as more
favorably disposed than the rest of the country. Almost half of them approve,
compared with under a third of those over 25."
The Times goes on to suggest that the strong support for gay marriage shows that the young have not become complacent about "sexual rights", whatever their views on abortion. But what it fails to understand is that abortion is a key component in the gospel of life, not a private sexual matter, and not an issue of "sexual rights". Perhaps the young, with their greater zeal for human rights and equality, understands this better than the baby boom generation (of course, there are some troubling signs in the attitude of the young too, such as increasing materialism and narcissism). But it is nonetheless an optimistic sign that the least Republican generation is more, not less, opposed to abortion. It shows that the seamless garment uniting all aspects of the culture of life (not just those most compatible with a particular secular ideology) is alive and well.

What about the gay marriage results? I believe this issue is over, and will rapidly become as accepted as contraception and divorce. This, however, puts the Church in a tricky spot. But there is a way out. As I noted recently, the moral issues involved in gay marriage are nowhere close to those surrounding the sanctity of life. While the legalization of homosexual unions has clear implications for public morality, it ultimately deals with fundamentally private acts. John Courtney Murray defended the decriminalization of contraception precisely on these grounds. As conservative George Weigel noted in making distinctions between the shades of morality, "contraception is a matter of "conjugal morality and the sixth commandment" while abortion is a matter of "public justice and the fifth commandment". But homosexuality is also a sixth commandment matter.

Of course, the legal recognition of homosexual unions has clear public morality implications. But then again, so do contraception and, especially, divorce. And anyway, the public implications are automatically diminished by the current state of secular marriage which (to put it mildly) falls far short of the sacramental ideal. One of the core arguments put forth by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is that the legal recognition of homosexual unions spreads "erroneous beliefs" about marriage and sexuality. But could it get much worse in the era of serial monogamy and Britney Spears? And even when the law has a role to play, Murray thought it should be as minimal as possible. In this regard, given the strong support for gay marriage among the young in particular, rigid opposition could backfire. It would be a shame to alienate a generation that is eminently persuadable on gospel of life issues, including abortion. But this does not mean the Church has to accept the legitimacy of gay marriage. Far from it. But by accepting the secular arrangement, and thereby making a cleaner distinction between secular marriage and the sacrament, the Church could enhance its teaching role. And here, everybody benefits.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Catholic Right and Sean Hannity

Who is Sean Hannity? A run-of-the-mill right-wing blowhard who places his ideology ahead of logic, reason, facts, and analysis. A man who nightly performs the ritual proskynesis before George W. Bush. A high-ranking resident of the truthiness universe. A prime example of the morally decadent Coulterized conservatism, which substitutes juvenile name calling for civil debate.

Hannity also likes to play up his Catholicism upon occasion, though it is often simply to score ideological points. This, after all, is the man who wrote a "book" entitled Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism. He takes the Lord's Prayer, and turns it into a partisan cudgel. Nice. For him, God is clearly a Republican. He once asked, on air, "Can we pray for the reelection of George Bush?". He was not joking. And he denigrates Church teachings on topics ranging from just war, torture, the living wage, health care, and immigration on a regular basis-- because they go against his ingrained secular ideology. For his opposition to the Iraq war, Hannity concurred with the statement that Pope John Paul was a "wild-eyed liberal loon". He attacked efforts to restore the Geneva Conventions on the grounds that they would "tie the hands of interrogators". His whole view of torture is framed by consequentialism, or, as he would put it, whether it helps or hinders the famous "war on terror". In Hannity's view, "aggressive interrogation will save lives ". Yes, Sean is a good Catholic...

But these are all political beliefs. Going deeper, Hannity clearly has no idea what it means to be Catholic in the first place. During the abuse scandal, he declared that he was so annoyed by the behavior of some bishops, he seriously considered leaving the Church. That tells you everything you need to know about Hannity's "faith". He is a protestantized Catholic. If he had even the vaguest understanding of what the Catholic faith means, he could never have made such a statement.

Anyway, this is all background to today's story. Hannity got involved in a spat with a priest over the issue of birth control, which Hannity supports. Fr. Tom Euteneuer of Human Life International sparked the exchange by calling Hannity to task, calling him a hypocrite. Hannity responded by hectoring Fr. Euteneuer about the sex abuse scandal, or something like that, in full blustering character.

First things first. What was Fr. Euteneuer thinking? Of all issues, he picks Hannity's opposition to birth control. This speaks volumes about the politicized Catholic right. An organization calling itself Human Life International has no problem with Hannity's views on the war, on torture, on his denial that the lack of health insurance is a pressing issue, on immigration.... only birth control. Where were you when Hannity insulted and mocked Catholic teachings in other areas? These guys have a truly distorted sense of the culture of life.

The response on the right was also interesting. Many seem shocked by his tone, his arrogance. Please. Where have they been for the past decade? At the same time, many of them retain a soft spot for Sean, given his history of supporting their pet causes. For example, Amy Welborn berates him for his attitude, but also notes his good work on the Terry Schiavo issue (not seeming to realize that the moral principles underlying this issue were not exactly clear, as the Catholic moral tradition always made clear distinctions between killing somebody and discontinuing treatment that offers no hope of recovery, and that the tragedy was used more for political purposes). Kathyrn Lopez of the pro-torture National Review claimed that Hannity was "a reasonable and good guy". She also berated Fr. Euteneuer for making the whole thing public, when he should have talked to Hannity privately. Note the hypocrisy. In 2004, the same Lopez was calling on bishops to publicly denounce John Kerry, in what would be "a healthy and helpful educational opportunity". And by the way, don't expect Bill Donohue to comment either. Wrong side of the political spectrum. It's all about the double standards.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Which of the Three "John Kerrys" Will the Republicans Nominate?

Candidate Number 1: Mitt Romney, the man who changes his mind on absolutely everything.

Candidate Number 2: Rudy Guiliani, the pro-abortion Catholic.

Candidate Number 3: John McCain, the Vietnam war hero.

Three John Kerrys. I assume the conservatives will therefore repeat what they did in 2004, and hound these guys for flip-flopping incessantly, for dissenting from Church teaching on abortion, and for over-playing military service (I assume Republicans to repeat their little stunt with Purple Heart Band-Aids). Come on, folks, three John Kerrys! Don't you want to support Hillary?

Healthcare is Evil!

Has First Things, Richard John Neuhaus's conservative Catholic journal, finally jumped the shark? Perhaps. Peter Leithart has penned an essay addressing Barack Obama's concern with healthcare, or his "obsession" as Leithart puts it. He blames this "obsession" on secular humanism, which "cannot see how any good could emerge from human suffering" and "worship[s] the body itself". This then is the reason that "politicians, as well as the media, routinely accord priority to items of health-care policy." His bizarre conclusion is that "pain may be good for you" and that focusing on healthcare is misplaced.

Where does one begin with such idiocy? I've heard the argument many times on the right that healthcare is simply not as important as issues like abortion, and can be downplayed. I've heard spurious arguments against "socialized medicine" (these critics never seem to address why single-payer systems are both cheaper and achieve better outcomes than the US system). But I've never before heard a Christian argument that healthcare provision is actually a moral bad, because it denies the sick person a chance to suffer. I guess the Catholic church has it wrong, given that it is the single biggest healthcare provider in the world. I assume that when Jesus claimed that those who do not visit the sick or minister to the needs of the least among us, he was overly-influenced by secular humanism. But, you know, maybe Leithart has a point. In which case, I await his denunciation of Bush's tax cuts, as they deny the rich their fair share of suffering. I await his defense of torture on the grounds that expiatory pain is a positive good that should be spread throughout the Islamic world. And why not just start using those pesky nuclear weapons, since pain is good for you.

Yes, I do believe First Things has jumped the shark. Years of shilling for Republicans will do that to you.

(Via Andrew Sullivan).

Dobson Versus Wallis

A group of prominent evangelicals-- including James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Tony Perkins-- is highly critical of Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals for daring to claim that global warming is an issue that should concern Christians. The core of their argument is as follows:
"....We have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children."
In response, fellow evangelical Jim Wallis addresses Dobson:
"Is the fact that 30,000 children will die globally today, and everyday, from needless hunger and disease a great moral issue for evangelical Christians? How about the reality of 3 billion of God’s children living on less than $2 per day? And isn’t the still-widespread and needless poverty in our own country, the richest nation in the world, a moral scandal? What about pandemics like HIV/AIDS that wipe out whole generations and countries, or the sex trafficking of massive numbers of women and children? Should genocide in Darfur be a moral issue for Christians? And what about disastrous wars like Iraq? And then there is, of course, the issue that got Dobson and his allies so agitated. If the scientific consensus is right - climate change is real, is caused substantially by human activity, and could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths - then isn’t that also a great moral issue? Could global warming actually be alarming evidence of human tinkering with God’s creation?"
Wallis hits the nail on the head. Note that he is not denying the importance of the sanctity of life issues that command Dobson's attention. He simply realizes that the gospel of life is far broader. Catholics would agree, except, of course, those like Bill Donohue that would have the Catholic church follow the example of Dobson's Republicans and enter an unholy alliance with the Republican party. And Wallis does not even mention torture, where Dobson and his allies are eerily silent (or in tacit support). Jim Wallis deserves support, as he tries to rescue his brand of Christianity from Republican clutches.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Confessions of an American Torturer

Tony Lagouranis was a US military interrogator, who admits to participating in torture in Iraq. His account is well worth reading, although highly depressing. He arrived in Iraq after the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs had been made public. But the abuses did not stop. Far from it. The most common techniques he documents in Bush's torture chambers were exposure to extreme cold, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and bombardment with constant loud music and strobe lights. Despite being in Iraq, Lagouranis was told by his superiors that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and to be "creative". Terrifying blindfolded prisoners with dogs was also common, although the effect soon wore off as the person realized the dogs would not attack. In other words, the technique was completely pointless. Still, the interrogators were ordered to keep doing it. As Orwell said, the object of torture is torture.

If this were not bad enough, Lagouranis reports and even darker side, especially when be talks about what the army did before handing prisoners over to the professional interrogators. In his words:
"We were getting prisoners from the navy SEALs who were using a lot of the same techniques we were using, except they were a little more harsh. They would actually have the detainee stripped nude, laying on the floor, pouring ice water over his body. They were taking his temperature with a rectal thermometer. We had one guy who had been burned by the navy SEALs. He looked like he had a lighter held up to his legs. One guy’s feet were like huge and black and blue, his toes were obviously all broken, he couldn’t walk."

"After the scandal broke, they stopped torturing people in prisons and they would torture them before they got to the prison. They would either torture them in their homes or they would take them to a remote location . . . The marines had a location—they called it the ‘meat factory’—they would bring them there and they would torture them for 24 or 48 hours before they brought them to us, and they were using techniques like water boarding, mock execution, they were beating them up, breaking their bones, whatever. It was bad, in particular the First Recon—they’re sort of like marine special forces, an elite unit [attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, known as 24th MEU]. Every time they went on a raid it didn’t matter who they were bringing back, they would just fuck these guys up. Old men, 15-year-old kids, they all came with bruises and broken bones. One guy came with a blister on the back of his leg. It was big, it was horrible, a burn blister. They’d made him sit on the exhaust pipe of a running truck."

Lagouranis became furious when be heard Rumsfeld claim that the Geneva Conventions were being upheld in Iraq. At the same time, Gen. Sanchez claimed that prisoners under US control were being treated humanely. He specifically denied that dogs were used. And yet he himself approved of every single technique mentioned by Lagouranis-- stress positions, exposure to heat and cold, prolonged isolation, loud music, sleep deprivation. Oh yes, and dogs. And even something ominously and euphemistically called "light control". Every complaint Lagouranis filed, every report he wrote, was ignored. By his own admission, 90 to 95 percent of the prisoners under US interrogation had nothing to do with the insurgency. But the torture continued.

Another interrogator, Stephen Lewis, noted only two choices in these circumstances: "disobey direct orders or become monsters". An accurate moral reckoning. Ultimately, the responsibility for this great evil lies with the authors of the policy, the Sanchezs and Millers, the Yoos and Gonzalezs, the Rumsfelds and Cheneys, and of course, the Bushs. Lagouranis is all too aware of the effects of these "coercive interrogation techniques". They scar the victims for life, probably moreso than physical abuse. And, as is the way with evil, the perpetrators are also affected. When Lagouranis returned to the United States, he was a mess, and left the army. This is what happens when one succumbs to the temptation to do evil. Remember Gollum. How in the name of God could the US have arrived at this point?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ann Coulter

So, Ann Coulter goes to the Conservative Political Action Conference, and gives a speech calling John Edwards a "faggot". Then again, we should not expect any better from a person who peddles juvenile rhetoric for a living, and gets rich from it. But comparisons to the anti-Catholic statements of John Edwards's bloggers jumped immediately to mind. And please, don't start drawing lines by claiming that she was not on the staff of any leading candidate. She shared the stage with most of the leading candidates for the Southern (sorry, Republican) Party, and at least one (Mitt Romney) was gushing in his praise. Besides, Amanda Marcotte is a foul mouthed nobody. Ann Coulter, in contrast, is a foul mouthed Republican behemoth, who remains one of the most popular figures associated with the party.

Of course, Coulter's neanderthal base will gorge themselves on this red meat, but the reaction from much of the right was eminently more sensible. A typical example was Rod Dreher, who wrote:
"Has the movement launched by Ronald Reagan really devolved to the point where one of its most influential grassroots gatherings features Ann Coulter denouncing a Democratic presidential candidate as a "faggot," to cheers from the audience? Is this really the kind of people we want to be, or to be associated with? How, exactly, do we conservatives protest against the kind of bigoted garbage that Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan were upchucking against Catholics and other Christians if we accept Coulter's offensive shtick?"
Even Michelle Malkin denounces this rhetoric. This is a positive development, and these right-wing commentators deserve praise. Look deeper, however. Many of these pundits note that Coulter is past her "sell by date" and that this kind of childishness plays directly into the hands of the Democrats. Of course, the major problem with this argument is that it assumes her rhetoric was not always beyond the pale. It is only a problem now that Republicans are down.

Certainly, Coulter has not changed. But when Republicans were ascendant, they gleefully wallowed in her vapidity. Sure, she's a bomb thrower, and sure, she's over the top, but she's funny, and she gets under the skin of "liberals", and anyway you shouldn't take this too seriously! But by succumbing to these cheap temptations, many on the right are implicated in the well known "Coulterization of conservatism", contributing to the coarsening and dumbing down of public discourse. At one time, we had the likes of Russell Kirk and William Buckley, intellectuals who argued from reason. Today, reason goes out the window in the era of ideologically-tinged truthiness (ultimate proof that moral relativism is alive and kicking on the right, and is most certainly not confined to the academic left) and schoolyard taunts trump civilized debate. After all, it is only a small step from Ann Coulter to Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (Sean Hannity), and Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton (Jonah Goldberg). For when Coulter has long been cast from the limelight, this is her enduring legacy. And it's not a pretty one.

Khaled El Masri

Another depressing story of "extraordinary rendition". In Khaled El Masri's own words:
"ON NEW YEAR'S EVE in 2003, I was seized at the border of Serbia and Macedonia by Macedonian police who mistakenly believed that I was traveling on a false German passport. I was detained incommunicado for more than three weeks. Then I was handed over to the American Central Intelligence Agency and was stripped, severely beaten, shackled, dressed in a diaper, injected with drugs, chained to the floor of a plane and flown to Afghanistan, where I was imprisoned in a foul dungeon for more than four months."
When they realized he was innocent, they blindfolded him, put in back on a plane, and dumped him in the middle of Albania. In some good news, German prosecutors are trying to indict the 13 CIA agents involved in this kidnapping. As for El Masri himself, he sued the CIA, in an effort to garner a public apology. The US government attempted to dismiss the case on the grounds that it would expose state secrets and jeopardize national security. Always the last defense of a tyrant. And in this case, the courts agree, despite the fact that El Masri's story is public. Surreal. As he himself concludes: "It seems that the only place in the world where my case cannot be discussed is in a U.S. courtroom".

Incidentally, the CIA in this case is clearly involved with "formal cooperation in evil". This means "cooperation occurs when a person or organization freely participates in the action(s) of a principal agent, or shares in the agent’s intention, either for its own sake or as a means to some other goal". So just because the CIA did not themselves torture El Masri does not let them off the hook. For formal cooperation in evil is always morally illicit. And that formal cooperation extends not only to Tenet and the CIA, but to Rumsfeld, Cheney, and ultimately to Bush.

David Hicks

Talking Points Memo provides a good summary of this case, surrounding an Australian locked up without charge in Guantanamo for five years without charge. He will now become the first person charge under Bush's new military tribunals. His offense? Providing material support for terrorism, which only became a crime in 2006. In other words, they are grasping at straws. Australians are furious, justifiably so. To take just one comment, Barnaby Joyce, an Australian senator (and a member of the governing conservative National Party) claimed that the Americans had abused the process of justice. He also noted that “In fighting the barbarians, we are starting to imitate the barbarians.”

It gets worse. It now seems possible that Hicks's military lawyer, Michael Mori, could himself be prosecuted. The charge? "Breaching Article 88 of the US military code, which relates to using contemptuous language towards the president, vice-president, and secretary of defence". Unreal. Making it a crime to insult the president? The true sign of a banana republic. Just for the record, it is also a crime to defame or insult the president in Turkmenistan, one of the world's most odious dictatorships.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Soul Sisters: Frances Kissling and Phyllis Schlafly

What do these two women have in common? A lot, actually, despite deceptive appearances.

Until very recently, Frances Kissling was the president of Catholics for a Free Choice, a group claiming that a pro-abortion stance was compatible with Catholicism. Sitting at the polar opposite of the political spectrum, Phyllis Schlafy is a right-wing icon. She founded the Eagle Forum, and was central to derailing the Equal Rights Amendment. Although a Catholic, her worldview owes more to a strong secular nationalist ideology, with shades of American exceptionalism. In fact, she sounds more like a fundamentalist than a Catholic-- she has, for example, condemned evolution. But I want to make a more fundamental point. Schlafly is also a firm believer in the use of nuclear weapons, having once pronounced that "the atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God." She defended the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the grounds that it saved lives especially American ones: "Dropping the bomb on Hiroshima meant the difference between life and death to hundreds of thousands of our best and brightest young men". She even dubs it, perversely, the "lifesaver bomb".

Let me set out two basic moral principals, fundamental to Catholicism. First, it is never licit to do evil so that good may result. To say otherwise is an exercise in consequentialism. Second, the deliberate taking of innocent human life is always wrong. A nuclear attack on a city by its nature targets non-combatants, making it intrinsically evil. And, as we know, an intrinsically evil act is evil is its object, so that it can never be justified by either intent or circumstance. Thus a directly-procured abortion cannot be justified by appealing to the consequences of having the child, such as the economic situation of the mother. And dropping an atomic bomb on a city cannot be justified, even if it manages to save millions of lives. Consequentialism is misguided, utilitarianism is misguided, proportionalism is misguided.

What many fail to realize is that appeals to the morality of abortion spring from the same flawed philosophy as appeals to the morality of nuclear weapons. Note that many moralists holding the strongest positions against nuclear weapons are also some of the staunchest opponents of abortion and euthanasia. Moralists like Germain Grisez and John Finnis argued that even the nuclear deterrent is deeply immoral, on the grounds that nuclear deterrence entails an intention to kill innocents. Elizabeth Anscombe dubbed Truman a war criminal, and vehemently protested Oxford's granting him an honorary degree in 1956. She noted that in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end". Anscombe, by the way, coined the term "consequentialism" in the first place. She knew what she was talking about. Frankly, I do not understand those on the right who can oppose abortion and yet can support the use of nuclear weapons, or unjust wars, or torture.

So, at the end of the day, Kissling and Sclafly are not so different. They both defend the taking of innocent life because they perceive some "greater good". They both reject fundamental Catholic principles, and see no prolem with that. Soul sisters indeed.