Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen offers some grim ruminations on the geopolitical implications of the Haiti earthquake:
Very rapidly, President Obama needs to come to terms with the idea that the country of Haiti, as we knew it, probably does not exist any more.
In what sense does Haiti still have a government? How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place? How long will this governance last? What will happen to Haiti as a route for the drug trade, the dominant development in the country's economy over the last fifteen years? What does the new structure of interest groups look like, say five years from now?
Is there any scenario in which the survivors, twenty years from now, are better off, compared to the quake never having taken place?
Perhaps the president can ponder some of those questions on the plane trip to Massachusetts this weekend.
Pat Robertson, televangelist and erstwhile presidential candidate, said something stupid yesterday about the earthquake in Haiti. The press, being lazy and addicted to cheap controversy much the way Joel Mathis is addicted to cheap vodka, breathlessly reported what Robertson said. Then a million pundits and bloggers poured forth with righteous indignation as pundits and bloggers are wont to do.
No, I'm not going to link to any of it. And neither should you.
Let the record show that Infinite Monkeys imposed a media blackout on Pat Robertson before anyone heard of Satan's Caribbean holiday, demonic Halloween candy, or other such rot. You can only do so many Pat-Robertson-is-an-idiot-so-please-shut-up posts before they start to fall flat.
I'm violating our four-year-old ban to remind people of it, and to encourage others to adopt the same policy. Instead of condemning Pat Robertson -- whose influence extends no further than the TV screens of a few hundred thousand dowagers and shut-ins in a vibrant country of 350 million people -- we should be ignoring him.
To call Patterico a thorn in the paw of the LA Times is to say that "paw" means the whole body and "thorn" means flesh-eating disease. He's been running his annual "Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review" for the last seven years, and his 2009 run-down of bias, willful distortion and general stupidity at the LA Times is quite comprehensive. I recommend reading the whole thing if you're interested in a detailed breakdown of the meltdown of one MSM lion.
Here are a few highlights ...
On "WHITEWASHING THE ACORN SCANDAL":
Peter Dreier wrote a fact-challenged op-ed claiming that Giles and O’Keefe had received assistance at only two ACORN offices. (The documented number was at least five at the time the op-ed appeared.) Dreier also incorrectly claimed that “not a single person who signed a phony name on a registration form ever actually voted” — although one person who did was later convicted only of false registration and not voter fraud.
On the "SYCOPHANTIC COVERAGE OF OUR HERO BARACK OBAMA":
- The paper uncritically reported that opposition to Obama’s health care plan was fueled by angry mobs of right-wing extremists. Typical of editors’ attitude was this strawman from a front-page “news analysis” which claimed Obama “has seen the healthcare debate sidetracked by false warnings that government ‘death panels’ would be employed to snuff out Grandma.” Naturally, genuine concerns about rationing of health care were not discussed in this polemic.
- When Obama held a town hall meeting on health care, he declared: “I have not said that I was a single-payer supporter.” This was an easily provable lie, and editors failed to tell readers about it.
- The paper dutifully ran a picture of doctors in white coats — an image designed to lend credibility to Obama’s health care plan — and didn’t tell readers that the White House had passed out the coats beforehand to any doctor not already wearing one
On "ANTI-REPUBLICAN BIAS AND ANTI-TEA PARTY SENTIMENT":
- Stimulus plan good . . . tea parties bad. And inconsequential. When KFI’s John and Ken hosted a taxpayer revolt that drew 8000-15,000 people, the paper refused to cover it, for transparently phony reasons. Editor David Lauter responded to hundreds of angry readers in one e-mail — and failed to use a “bcc” line, meaning he shared each angry reader’s e-mail address with all the others. If you’re thinking: “What a moron!” then you have plenty of company.
- They did, however, find space to cover one tea party . . . a toddler tea party given by Katie Holmes and Angelina Jolie. The paper later did a fact-challenged hit piece on John and Ken.
Editors acted as stenographers for Ahmadinejad after his dubious re-election.
On "THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY:"
Editors claimed that Sen. John Cornyn said he “would probe deeply into Sotomayor’s past comments and rulings to see if her heritage colors her ability to make fair decisions.” This was a lie, as Cornyn said no such thing. Editors then sent the false claim down the memory hole.
And on, and on, and on ...
As a former newspaperman who now edits an online publication (and writes for several), reading Patterico's take-down of the LA Times makes me think: I can no longer rely on the MSM standard as "good enough" for publication. My standards must be (and are) way higher.
Who knew? Rich Lowry has the details.
All applaud this tree, which is acceptable ... at least until the data can be fudged by the enviro-scolds to frown upon it.
From Lowry's column:
Following it all closely will be the new Christmas scolds, who are as annoying as the old Christmas scolds, except greener. H. L. Mencken famously put down the Puritans — decidedly cool on Christmas celebrations — as people worried that someone, somewhere may be happy. The new Christmas scolds worry that someone, somewhere may be emitting CO2 over a glass of eggnog: Blessed is good, merry is nice, peaceful is advisable — but carbon-neutral is absolutely essential. ...
Ralph Reiland of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points to a web publication called Alternative Consumer that recommends “A Freegan Christmas.” The festivities will include Christmas trees fashioned out of shopping bags and a celebratory vegetarian meal. No cards and no wrapping paper, of course. Someone captured the spirit of this holiday program long ago, “Bah! Humbug!”
It’s not an endorsement of every Christmas excess to appreciate merrymaking and gestures of generosity. After all, the Magi didn’t necessarily have to travel, or offer their gifts of frankincense and myrrh. That they did points to the ultimate reason for the joyous celebration of the season. Merry Christmas!
Yes. Merry Christmas everyone! I, for one, am enjoying the festive aroma of my natural tree. (For the record: I bought it from the guy on my corner and carried it home on foot. So, out of laziness and happenstance ... I'm "green" this Christmas.)
Those mobster-themed videos are good fun, Ben. But nothing that can compare to The Star Wars Holiday Special, where the unintentional comedy scale redlined ... then exploded. This was the first sign that trouble was ahead for Lucas' franchise, decades before his abominable prequels.
I LOVE the intro, as we learn which "stars" will be sullying their careers by being connected to this debacle. Oh, and the interminably long minutes that tick by with nothing but Wookie language and maudlin music to keep us interested.
This is awesome! Because as soon as I saw Star Wars, I was insatiably curious about what life was like for Wookies on whatever planet they live on. Apparently, it's just like our lives — if we lived in trees, spoke in wails and grunts, and had a cheesy soundtrack running in the background. Oh, and if we were a lot hairier.
A very touching scene with Han, "Lumpy" and Chewy's family.
Oh, and let's not forget the big finish, with a song by Carrie Fisher!
The case of three Navy SEALs facing court martial for striking a terrorist captive in custody is the latest story of U.S. servicemen who may have gone too far in the course of fighting America's war against jihadists. But Americans have done much worse than that, Warren Kozak writes in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal:
You don't have to dig too deep to understand that war brings out behavior in people that they would never demonstrate in normal life. In Paul Fussell's moving memoir, "The Boys' Crusade," the former infantryman relates a story about the liberation of Dachau. There were about 120 SS guards who had been captured by the Americans. Even though the Germans were being held at gunpoint, they still had the arrogance—or epic stupidity—to continue to heap verbal abuse and threats on the inmates. Their American guards, thoroughly disgusted by what they had already witnessed in the camp, had seen enough and opened fire on the SS. Some of the remaining SS guards were handed over to the inmates who tore them limb from limb. Another war crime? No doubt. Justified? It depends on your point of view. But before you weigh in, realize that you didn't walk through the camp. You didn't smell it. You didn't witness the obscene horror of the Nazis.
Earlier, Kozak recounts a similar story about German and American POWs during the Battle of the Bulge. "Was the U.S. a lesser country because these GIs weren't arrested? Was the Constitution jeopardized?" he asks. "Somehow it survived."
Perhaps. But no worse for wear?
Men have struggled over the centuries to find a "permanent peace." The League of Nations even made a treaty once. Abolishing war is a folly. But maybe the greater folly is the effort to civilize it.
I'm probably not the best test case for this question based on many of my posts and comments around here, but an article in Science magazine posits that conservatives are "happier" than liberals. Or, at least, residents of "red" states feel happier than residents of "blue" states. The New York Times, riffing in a story about the study, says of to its home-state readers:
It’s rather dismal. If there were a National Happy League, we’d be the New Jersey Nets. We’re No. 51 out of 51 [Ed note: The District of Columbia was polled to get the list to 51].
This is an enormous generalization, but I've long thought that was true — that liberals are grumpier (or at least have less mirth and joy in their lives) than
liberals conservatives — based on anecdotal evidence, my observations of political discourse over many years spanning all sorts of varieties of who is "in power," personal experience, and other reasons I won't get into here ... at least not at this late hour. But, it appears that the polling data says says so, too, when it gauges "Gross National Happiness." As John J. Miller at The Corner says:
One snap conclusion, from scanning the list: Red states are happy, blue states are sad (relatively speaking). Make of this what you will.
And I suspect that we might make something of that conclusion around here. That all said and shared, I'm sure Joel and Khabalox will disagree with that study — and, in fact, insist that the opposite is true — yet still have a joyous Christmas. At least I hope so, because I wish it upon them.
As 2009 winds down, the news wire services have begun moving their year-end retrospectives. The Associated Press today publishes its list of the hundreds of notables who left the scene this year. By the way, it's never a good idea to die between Christmas and New Year's, especially if you are only sort of famous, or your fame and notoriety waned decades ago, or your speciality is no longer appreciated the way it once was.
Among the more interesting passings I missed just this month were Roy Disney and Sol Price. Disney was the irascible nephew of Walt and defender of traditional animation who hired and ultimately ousted Michael Eisner as the House of Mouse's CEO. Price was the founder of Price Club, one of America's first big box discounters, which later merged with Costco. But UC San Diego students know him better for the mall at the center of campus that bears his name. It's just a hop, skip and jump away from Theodore Geisel Library. You can't miss it.
The Monkeys noted several of these deaths (and a couple that didn't make the AP round-up) in 2009. Michael Jackson wasn't one of them.
• Chris Warden (Jan. 4)
• Ricardo Mantalban (Jan. 14)
• John Updike (Jan. 27)
• Estelle Bennett (February)
• Paul Harvey (Feb. 28)
• Ron Silver (Mar. 15)
• Jack Kemp (May 3)
• Billy Mays (June 28)
• TOTUS (July 14)
• John Hughes (Aug. 6)
• Ted Kennedy (Aug. 26)
• Irving Kristol (Sept. 18)
• Soupy Sales (Oct. 12)
Yesterday, I wondered if the bribe Sen Ben Nelson received for his vote for ObamaCare was legal — a step beyond normal scuzzy horse-trading.
But this debacle has me wondering: Is inserting language into a "managers amendment" that exempts one state from the Medicaid increases that every other state will have to suck up even legal? I'm wondering if we'll see some kind of lawsuit challenging this bit of the "compromise."
The meme is picking up steam. John Steele Gordon writes today in a Contentions blog post titled "The Cornhusker Highjack and the Constitution":
Such bribery has a long history in Congress, but so far as I know (and I’d be delighted to hear of other, earlier instances), bribes always came in the form of highways, post offices, bridges to nowhere, and other infrastructure, or in offers of higher office for the person being bribed. They were not in the form of a special deal allowing a particular, not impoverished state to have a lower share of costs in an ongoing federal program. There are, of course, plenty of the old-fashioned sorts of bribes in this bill. Connecticut will get a new hospital at federal expense, for instance.
But is it constitutional for the federal government to give some states a better deal on a national program than it does other states? It is not obviously unconstitutional, as, say, having a lower federal income tax rate for Nebraska would be, since Art. I, Sec. 8, requires that “all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” However, one could argue that Nebraskans will be getting what amounts to a rebate on federal taxes through the back door of lower state taxes.
Gordon explores in more detail the particular constitutional questions at play here, and suggests that a state (rather than a citizen) would have the best shot at establishing standing to challenge a law that relieves only Nebraskans from the tax implications of the health care bill. It's an interesting post worth reading in full.
George Will is dripping with contempt for Barack Obama's "successes" in Copenhagen and with health care "reform" in his Tuesday column: "It was serendipitous to have almost simultaneous climaxes in Copenhagen and Congress. The former's accomplishment was indiscernible, the latter's was unsightly."
And that's just the lede!
So argues Richard Epstein at PointofLaw.com. It's a fairly involved analysis and somewhat arcane argument in places, but I think this is the crux of the article:
This ill-conceived legislation has many provisions that regulate different aspects of private health-insurance companies. Taken together, the combined force of these provisions raises serious constitutional questions. I think that these provisions are so intertwined with the rest of the legislation that it is difficult to see how the entire statute could survive if one of its components is defective to its core. How courts will deal with these difficult issues is of course not known, but rate-regulation cases normally attract a higher level of scrutiny than, say, land-use decisions.
There is, moreover, no quick fix that will eliminate the Reid Bill's major constitutional defects. It would, of course, be a catastrophe if the Congress sought to put this program into place before its constitutionality were tested. Most ratemaking challenges are done on the strength of the record, and I see no reason why a court would let a health-insurance company be driven into bankruptcy before it could present its case that the mixture of regulations and subsidies makes it impossible to earn a reasonable return on its capital. At the very least, therefore, there are massive problems of delayed implementation that will plague any health-care legislation from the date of its passage. I should add that the many broad delegations to key administrative officials will themselves give rise to major delays and additional challenges on statutory or constitutional grounds.
Liberals are, in Obama's words, on the "precipice" of enacting the decades-long dream of government-run health care — of directing one-sixth of the American economy from Washington. Sure, they didn't get everything they wanted in one fell swoop. But it's a safe bet that within a few years the liberal dream of "single payer" health care like that in Canada and Britain will be in our future — or at least it should be if the liberals' plans are as popular as they claim.
Yet even in what should be a moment of elation for liberals, they simply can't enjoy the moment. E.J. Dionne used his Washington Post column today to complain that getting this done was just so damn hard because Senate Republicans used the filibuster to slow down the progressive agenda.
Of course what has happened on the health-care bill is enraging. It's quite clear that substantial majorities in both houses of Congress favored either a public option or a Medicare buy-in.
In a normal democracy, such majorities would work their will, a law would pass, and champagne corks would pop. But everyone must get it through their heads that thanks to the bizarre habits of the Senate, we are no longer a normal democracy.
Because of a front of Republican obstruction and the ludicrous idea that all legislation requires a supermajority of 60 votes, power has passed from the majority to tiny minorities, sometimes minorities of one.
This is asinine on many levels.
For one, "substantial majorities" are against the mess the Democrats cooked up in Congress. Second, we are not a "normal democracy," but a republic. The Founders were careful to set up a system of government that did not let majorities quickly "work their will." The bicameral legislature with different responsibilities and procedures was designed to be a protection from mob rule, by both the public and the "mob" in the House.
Third, the Republicans don't have the numbers to filibuster. The Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority, something the press made a pretty big deal about while waiting for Al Franken to be seated. Harry Reid worked to get moderate Democrats on board. If Reid reached out to any Republicans seeking their vote, it has escaped the notice of the entire American press. Peeling off one or two Republicans would have probably gotten this health care debacle passed before the summer as originally planned, but during the entire legislative process, the "other side" was not just ignored, but mocked and slandered.
And, as Ramesh Ponnuru points out:
If legislation required 51 senators' votes to pass, that 51st senator would be in a position to be "a minority of one."
It would be easier to swallow this newfound liberal disgust for the filibuster if it wasn't so heartily applauded by liberals when it was used in an unprecedented way a few years back: To block scores of Bush's appointments to the federal bench. Again, Ponnuru:
If you're willing to have a system in which filibusters and supermajority rules are ever permitted, isn't the health-care bill exactly the type of legislation to which you'd want them to apply? It would be decidedly odd to say that it should take 60 votes to get a judge on an appeals court but only 51 to remake American health care.
Yes, it is odd — if you're expecting intellectual consistency from the likes of Dionne.
In a cleverly titled post, "Blue Dogs in Heat," W. James Antle III notes that Sen. Ben Nelson once said he was holding out for strong language protecting the 30-year precedent of not using taxpayer funds for elective abortions in America, and because the Reid health care bill had too much taxes and spending.
As Antle recounts:
That was last Thursday. By Saturday, Nelson caved and became the 60th vote to rubberstamp Harry Reid's health care bill. What had changed? According to the officially nonpartisan but effectively Democratic-run Congressional Budget Office, the "compromise" raised taxes and spending even more than the original legislation Nelson opposed. It also contains a Nelson-Reid abortion funding deal denounced by nearly all major pro-life leaders as a sham.
But Nelson collected his three pieces of silver. Nebraska will receive a permanent federal subsidy to cover the costs of increased Medicaid eligibility under the bill while all other states will have to start picking up the tab for their share in 2017. "That's what legislation is all about," Reid explained to reporters. "It's compromise."
Yeah. OK. Nelson is a fraud. And if Reid wants to call bribing Nelson (and other senators) "compromise," he's free to do so. There is no question that such horse-trading is the normal flotsam and jetsam of legislative sausage-making. It is just rare that such bribes are so blatant, or that so many Americans are paying attention to them. I call it a bribe, but Mark Steyn won't even dignify this "compromise" with such language:
You can't even dignify this squalid racket as bribery: If I try to buy a cop, I have to use my own money. But, when Harry Reid buys a senator, he uses my money, too. It doesn't "border on immoral": It drives straight through the frontier post and heads for the dark heartland of immoral.
How Reid got his precious 60 votes was, indeed, immoral. There are only two substantive differences from, say, the insurance industry paying Nelson for his vote and Reid doing it. In the former case, Nelson and the insurance company handing over the manila envelope would go to jail. In the latter case, it's "legal," and Reid is using our money.
But this debacle has me wondering: Is inserting language into a "managers amendment" that exempts one state from the Medicaid increases that every other state will have to suck up even legal? I'm wondering if we'll see some kind of lawsuit challenging this bit of the "compromise."
Let's put it another way: Liberals who adhere to static budgeting say all tax cuts "cost" the government money, just as much as a federal outlay "costs" the government money. I don't agree with that definition of government "cost," but let's grant it for the sake of argument. ...
(Please click "read more" below.)
Massie, remarking on how the health care disaster unfolded with nary a Republican vote, observes:
Consequently, the Republican party's unanimous opposition -- thus far -- to the health care bill is actually a healthy development, not a descent into vulgar tribalism. Perhaps the GOP interpretation of the bill is correct (it may be) and, certainly, they might have helped build a bill less poisonous to their preferences had they participated in the process. But I see no reason to mourn their failure to do so. Alea iacta est and let the voters decide.
The entire (short) piece is a delightful and provocative read.
Ben and Joel are joined by Lisa Schmeiser, who writes the "Filthy Commerce" blog and is the "Dollars and Sense" blogger for the San Francisco Chronicle -- and contributes to a whole host of other print and online publications too numerous to list here.
Questions discussed in this podcast:
• Are Americans going to be frugal during this recession-stained holiday season?
• Are new credit card regulations a good idea?
• How about simply walking away from your debts?
• Can you save money by going to a cash-only budgeting system?
• What does the rise of Etsy mean for craft producers and buyers?
• Is the "Sons of Anarchy" the best thing about popular culture in 2009?
• Or is it "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"?
• Or maybe the new "Star Trek" movie?
• Or is the new "Star Trek" movie stuck in outmoded sexist thinking from the 1960s?
• And is this the nerdiest Ben and Joel Podcast ever?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "White Winter Hymnal," Fleet Foxes.
• "Where the Hell's My Money," Mojo Nixon.
• "Cash on the Barrelhead," Gram Parsons.
• "Making Up for Lost Time," TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb.
• "Enterprising Young Men," Michael Giacchino.
James Delingpole of the Telegraph has a round-up of the rending of clothing and gnashing of teeth that followed the miserable conclusion of the climate change conference in Copenhagen.
"Copenhagen was worth it, after all – if only for the sphincter-bursting rage its supposed failure has caused among our libtard watermelon chums. (That’s watermelon, as in: green on the outside, red on the inside)," Delingpole writes.
George Monbiot is particularly emotional. You might say even hysterical.
Over at the Corner, Mark Steyn takes in the show.
"The climate has been 'changing' for billions of years. Who are you to presume to 'prevent' it?" Steyn observes. "From the barely veiled neo-fascistic whiff of Polly Toynbee's final paragraphs, you get the feeling that what most annoys this crowd is that they've been denied a shot at the ultimate exercise in universal Big Government."
Americans for Tax Reform has a comprehensive list of the tax hikes in the health reform package. My favorite? A 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services. But there is more. Lots more.
Gotta love Keith Olbermann. I can't stand him, actually — except as occasional entertainment when he goes off on one of his rants. But I love this delicious contrast.
In the summer, when non-liberals were protesting the health care plan with rallies and tea party protests, Olbermann was aghast. On his August 7, 2009 program, Olby said this:
"The truth is out about the societal sabotage dressed up as phony protests against health care reform....When Hamas does it or Hezbollah does it, it is called terrorism. Why should Republican lawmakers and the AstroTurf groups organizing on behalf of the health care industry be viewed any differently — especially now that far too many tea party protesters are comparing President Obama and health care reform to Hitler and the Holocaust?"
Got that? Those on the right who wanted to kill the bill in the summer were engaging in "societal sabotage" (whatever that is, exactly). The protests were "phony," a Trojan horse for the "health care industry" (read: insurance companies and drug companies). By God! It was akin to Hamas terrorism!!
Here's Olby on December 17, 2009:
“The Senate Bill with the mandate must be defeated, if not in the Senate, then in the House. Health care reform that benefits the industry at the cost of the people is intolerable and there are no moral constructs in which it can be supported. And if still the bill, and this heinous mandate become law, there is yet further reaction required. I call on all those whose conscience urges them to fight to use the only weapon that will left to us if this bill as currently constituted becomes law. We must not buy federally-mandated insurance, if this cheesy counterfeit of reform is all we can buy. No single payer? No sale. No public option? No sale. No Medicare buy-in? No sale.
I am one of the self-insured, albeit by choice. And I hereby pledge that I will not buy this perversion of health-care reform. Pass this at your peril, senators. And sign it at yours, Mr. President. I will not buy this insurance. Brand me a law-breaker if you choose. Fine me if you will. Jail me if you must. But if the Medicare buy-in goes but the mandate stays, the people who fought so hard and and sincerely to bring sanity to this system must kill this mutated, ugly version of their dream because those elected by us, to act for us, have forgotten what must be the golden rule of healthcare reform. It is the same rule to which physicians are bound by oath: First, do no harm.
Goodnight, and good luck.”
Welcome to the tea party, pal. That last bit about first doing no harm was a major point the tea party protesters, rally attendees and town hall speakers were making. Of course, we were coming from the opposite direction politically, but it is nice to see Olby's now on the same page — even if he's only reading from the left-hand margin. A demand that Americans buy government health insurance? That's OK. A demand that Americans buy private health insurance? That's not OK. Allowing Americans to decide these matters for themselves in a truly free market for health insurance? Also not OK ... except for Olby, who retains his right to buy the insurance he wants.
I find it hilarious that now — at long last, sir! — Olby has decided it's OK for Americans to actively "fight" with the "weapons" they have at their disposal to defeat ObamaCare. Since Olby's such a smart and intellectually honest guy, I'd love him to explain this: If the summer protesters were AstroTurfers doing the bidding of the insurance companies, why are they not now taking to the streets in favor of ObamaCare since (in Olby's view) it would be a sop to those very same insurance companies?
Last I checked, all those summer protesters are still against it.
It's the holidays. Hanukkah is just about over and Christmas is just a few more shopping days away. So what do we decide to talk about? Sedition and liberty during wartime, that's what.
Joel and I had the great pleasure of interviewing University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone about civil liberties and dissent for the latest podcast. Stone takes us on a brief history of seditious libel law and wartime dissent. He compares and contrasts earlier efforts by the government to bend the Constitution in service of war fighting with recent policies by the Bush and Obama administrations. Stone is author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, War and Liberty: An American Dilemma, and Top Secret: When Our Government Keeps Us in the Dark.
Among the questions we discuss:
• Is it fair to say Fox News is guilty of sedition?
• Is there a difference between seditious speech and seditious action?
• How does Barack Obama's record on civil liberties compare to George W. Bush's?
• Should John Yoo go to jail?
• Should Yoo be fired from Berkeley?
• What does the War on Terrorism have in common with McCarthyism?
• Which is better: Jailing dissenters or wiretapping phones?
• Is the right to privacy doomed?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof OST
• "For Beginners" - M. Ward
• "Gut Feeling" - Devo
• "I'm Free" - The Rolling Stones
• "Every Breath You Take" - The Bad Plus
• "Freedom of Speech (Watch What You Say)" - Ice T
Here is a possible twist in the story of Jalen Cromwell, the Taunton, Mass., second-grader who made national news for drawing Jesus Christ on the cross and getting psychoanalyzed for his efforts: Jalen's father, part-time janitor Chester Johnson, played story-hungry journalists for saps. That's what Attleboro Sun-Chronicle Editor Mike Kirby thinks.
"It was a story too good to be true -- because it wasn't," Kirby opines in a column published Thursday. He continues:
The father of an 8-year-old Taunton boy tells the local newspaper that his son, a special needs student, was suspended and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after the boy makes a crude drawing of a crucifix, with X's for eyes. The boy, the father says, had been asked by a teacher to draw something that reminded him of Christmas.
The story, naturally, takes off like wildfire. It seems like another example of the war on Christmas, of political correctness gone mad, of the lack of common sense in our education system, of the left-wing overtaking Americans' Constitutional right to practice their religion.
But the more the father -- who at first hid behind a veil of anonymity -- talks, the sketchier the story sounds. Because it's a story that's just too good to be true.
(Click "Read more" below for the rest of this post.)
The father of Jalen Cromwell holds the drawing of the crucified Christ that has caused so much controversy.
Looking for a comprehensive round-up of news links on climate change skepticism? I just discovered, perusing our referral logs, Tom Nelson's blog. Nelson kindly linked to my snarky little post last night about China's reluctance to sign on to any economy-killing agreements at Copenhagen.
One good turn deserves another, so I encourage you to pay Nelson's site a visit.
That's a trick question. "Contrary to conventional wisdom," writes Chris Woolston at a site called MyOnlineWellness, "there's no surge in suicides around the holidays."
But if there were a spike in people killing themselves in the days leading up to December 25, I submit that stories such as this one in the Telegraph would help explain why:
Dr. Nathan Grills from Monash University in Australia said the idea of a fat Father Christmas gorging on brandy and mince pies as he drove his sleigh around the world delivering presents was not the best way to promote a healthy and safe lifestyle among the young.
Writing on bmj.com, Dr Grills said: "Santa only needs to affect health by 0.1 per cent to damage millions of lives."
He said the image of a healthier Santa could be very effective in promoting a positive message about diet and lifestyle to the young.
Chad the Elder quips: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the public health experts."
Oh, I dunno. I bet with just a little digging, we'd learn that Dr. Grills could be buried under the mountain of coal that Santa has left in his Christmas stocking over the years. Good grief, what a killjoy.
The Taunton Gazette reports today:
A meeting between Taunton School Superintendent Julie Hackett and the family of a boy who drew a picture of Jesus that has caused a national uproar did not materialize Wednesday.
“They did not show, they gave no indication that they were canceling the meeting, and we have not yet rescheduled,” said Hackett, responding to questions e-mailed to her.
Later Wednesday, a civil liberties organization representing the family released a statement, calling the incident in which 8-year-old Maxham Elementary School second-grader Jalen Cromwell’s drawing was deemed inappropriate an “overreaction by school officials.”
The boy’s father, Chester Johnson, stayed inside his Oak Street apartment Wednesday, deferring all media inquiries to a spokesperson at the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit international civil liberties legal group based in Charlottesville, Va. The group specializes in defending constitutional and religious rights.
In a news release, Rutherford’s President, John Whitehead, asserted the student “was allegedly forced by school officials to undergo psychological evaluations. ... The psychological damage to this family is appalling."
According to the Rutherford Institute's statement:
In a letter to the superintendent of the Taunton Public Schools, Institute attorneys pointed out that the effective suspension of Jalen from school deprived him and his parents of their constitutional rights to due process and punished Jalen for engaging in expressive activity protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In light of the fact that this incident has made Jalen's continued attendance at Maxham School untenable, Institute attorneys have also requested that the school arrange for Jalen to be transferred to an out-of-district school and for his parents to be compensated for the associated transportation costs.
Notice, no "war on Christmas" rhetoric there, or elsewhere in the Institute's press release. So this Kevin Cullen column in the Boston Globe completely misses the point. Although the religious aspect of the controversy is unavoidable, the First Amendment implications are secondary (perhaps that's why it's mentioned second in the paragraph above). The problem is how school officials reacted -- or overreacted.
The Washington Post reports:
China has told participants in the U.N.-sponsored climate talks that it cannot envision reaching an immediate, operational accord out of the negotiations here, according to an official involved in the talks.
How could the Chinese betray the Earth so?
It isn't entirely clear from the Washington Post story, but Reuters informs: "China told Denmark on Wednesday night it was siding with developing nations and argued it was not empowered to change the process by delegating to the small negotiating groups."
Wait... what? Roughly translated, China doesn't want its robust economic growth hobbled by artificial caps imposed by meddling multinational treaties. How... unprogressive.
Here's the lead paragraph of Dan Henninger's column in Thursday's Wall Street Journal:
If President Obama's health-care initiative fails, there is no longer a rationale for being a liberal in the United States. Everything else on liberalism's to-do list is footnotes.
Everything else is a footnote? Cap-and-trade is a footnote? Regulating climate change makes health care look like rural electrification or mohair subsidies.
The story about the Taunton, Mass., 8-year-old "suspended" and subjected to a psychiatric evaluation for drawing Jesus Christ on the cross is more complicated than first reported. I still see the current hullaballoo as a species of zero-tolerance gone too far, but the initial story now demands some revision and further explanation.
Taunton Mayor Charles Crowley on Tuesday spoke out about the row, saying school Superintendent Julie Hackett should apologize to the boy's family and ordering the district to pay the for the psychiatric exam the child had to undergo as a condition of returning to class.
But Hackett pushed back, categorically denying the Maxham Elementary School second grader was ever suspended and saying the father's account of what happened was incomplete at best.
Meantime, Chester Johnson, the 8-year-old's father, elaborated to journalists on what school authorities allegedly told him. GateHouse News Service in Massachusetts reports:
(T)he father of the second-grade student said on Tuesday that school officials were concerned that the 8-year-old boy may have intended to depict himself, rather than Jesus Christ, on the cross.
“They told me there was a kid at Taunton High School who drew a picture of knives and guns, then killed himself,” said Chester Johnson, the boy’s father.
Apparently, the teacher and the school's principal and counselor thought the boy might have been in some sort of distress. But the father tells it differently.
The child initially insisted that the picture depicted Jesus on the cross, but after being questioned for the third time, the boy told school officials that the drawing was of himself asleep on the cross, Johnson said Tuesday. Based on the reactions of the teacher and principal, the boy sensed that he was in trouble for drawing Jesus, but then changed his story in an effort to avoid being disciplined, the father said.
Johnson also told a reporter that "the teacher and principal questioned his son three times about the drawing before notifying a parent." Behavior like that invites lawsuits, which, of course, Johnson is contemplating. (For what it's worth, an ACLU attorney said, "They owe this kid an apology and his family an apology.")
But Superintendent Hackett sent a statement to Taunton city officials and the press that disputes several key points. According to the Boston Globe:
(T)he student was never suspended and that neither he nor other students at the Maxham Elementary School were asked by their teacher to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas or any religious holiday, as the newspaper reported and the father suggested.
She said it was unclear whether the boy -- who put his name above his stick-figure portrait of Christ on the cross -- even drew it in school.
"The inaccuracies in the original media story have resulted in a great deal of criticism and scrutiny of the system that is unwarranted," she said.
She said the boy's drawing was seen as a potential cry for help when the student identified himself, rather than Jesus, as the figure on the cross, which sparked the teacher to alert the school's principal and staff psychologist.
She declined to comment on whether the teacher had reason to believe that the student might be crying out for help.
She added: "Religion had nothing to do with this at all.''
Hackett pointed out that Taunton is known as "The Christmas City." Visitors come from across the region to see the annual lighting on the Taunton green, according to the city's website.
Although many other commentators have played up the religious angle of the story, I was -- and remain -- most interested in the zero-tolerance and therapeutic aspects of the case. Any whiff of deviance is a potential threat. When in doubt, call the shrinks (or the cops). That view is further supported by this story in Wednesday's Boston Herald:
(Johnson) acknowledged that the boy was not suspended, but said he was told the boy could not go back to school until he received counseling, which Johnson said he considers the equivalent of a suspension. He said his son was out Dec. 3 and 4.
The boy was allowed to return to class Dec. 7 after a two-day risk assessment by Taunton licensed social worker Helene Titelbaum reported, “(The boy) does not appear to be a threat to himself or others at this time.”
According to (Melissa Cromwell, the boy's mother) and Johnson, officials at the Lowell M. Maxham School were concerned the boy’s drawing of Jesus nailed to the cross suggested possible violent tendencies.
And I think it comes back to that. It could have been the picture of a crucified Christ, Santa Claus machine-gunning Iraqis, or bunnies with assault rifles. The school would have reacted the same -- with horror and concern -- to any artistic depiction of violence, even though more often than not, the drawings have no relationship to harmful behavior.
(Incidentally, a friend e-mailed in reply to my earlier post: "My sister teaches kindergarten in Cleveland. She had a kid who drew a picture of Jesus with a gun. Jesus was shooting the little children rather than loving them. This kid's dad is in prison for murder. Nothing happened with this kid when my sister went to see the principal to voice her concern." Evidently, public school administrators are latter-day Manichees.)
"It is unfortunate that the actions of our district staff have been classified as 'religious' in nature when, in fact, they were based solely on the well-being of the student," the Taunton district’s statement said.
They're so concerned about the student's well-being that they're willing to traumatize him to keep him "safe."