Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Creepy Ad Watch: IBM Data Propaganda

April 5, 2010

Via Flowing Data who provide a nice collection of propaganda videos such as this one:

They are laughable until you realize they really want the audience to believe it so it buys into their products, all the while they themselves don’t believe a word of it.

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Fr James Martin Gets It

April 1, 2010

Fr James Martin, The Colbert Report’s chaplain, writes extensively for secular media and is therefore well known outside Catholic circles. Lately he has been addressing the pedophilia scandals and, as usual, he shows the type of insight I wish the Vatican would have. His last peace in particular defends the role of secular media in getting the Church to admit its errors rather than blaming the messenger:

But to blame the messenger for this current wave of stories about sexual abuse is, I believe, to miss the point. For instance, a friend of mine told me that at the Chrism Mass, her local bishop told the congregation to cancel their subscriptions to The New York Times, which he called “the enemy.” Besides the fact that a Mass is not the time for a critique of your local newspaper, this overlooks a critical dynamic about the service the media has provided for a church that needed to address a grave problem, but wasn’t doing enough.

To wit: Without the coverage by The Boston Globe in 2002 of the sexual abuse by priests, the Catholic Church in United States would not have confronted the scourge of abuse sexual on a nationwide basis and instituted mandatory guidelines.

Why do I say this? Because years before, in 1985, The National Catholic Reporter reported and editorialized on abuse cases about a notorious Louisiana priest. In great and numbing detail.

What was the response? Well, in 1992, after many closed-door meetings with experts in the intervening years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a series of guidelines on dealing with abuse. These, however, were not binding on the bishops, but voluntary.

But this was nothing along the lines of what happened as a result of the dogged reporting from the Globe (and other media outlets) that began in earnest in early 2002. That is, there was nothing like the extraordinary meeting of American bishops, convened in Dallas in 2002 that produced the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which set forth the nationwide “zero tolerance” policy for abusers. There was no mandatory institution of “safe practices” for every single church institution (parishes, schools, retreat centers) across the country, no mandatory training programs for all priests, deacons and church employees. And there was certainly no creation of the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. None of that happened after the 1985 case. But it did after 2002.

What helped to move the church from “voluntary” to “mandatory” was the full-bore coverage of the mainstream media–harsh most of the time, wrong sometimes, motivated by anti-Catholicm very occasionally–but needed by a church that, at least until that point, seemed unwilling to confront fully the widespread nature of the abuse, the systemic structures that caused it and the seriousness of the damage done to children and their families by these crimes.

The Rage Is Not About Health Care

March 28, 2010

It was obvious to me, and to most people I know, that the rage we’ve witnessed since Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008, was a symptom of the profound societal changes our country is going through rather than a reaction to any specific political issue. I am talking about the fact that we will soon be in a situation where white Anglo-Saxons will represent less than 50% of the population for the first time in this nation’s history.

I was surprised that no preeminent columnist and/or political analyst dared to clearly frame the situation in those terms. New-York Times Frank Rich seizes the opportunity of the completely irrational reactions to the passing of Health Care Reform legislation to put them into a broader context:

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

Winston Churchill was a Bolchevik

March 25, 2010


Or at least that’s what our American “Conservatives” would say of him. In effect, Salon’s Joe Conason reminds us of the important role Winston Churchill played in setting up the British National Health System (NHS):

Perhaps it is a forlorn hope that facts and history can make any impression on the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Chuck Grassley, or Bill Kristol, but let’s try anyway — because it is worth understanding that despite the low quality of our own so-called conservatives, there was once another kind.

Churchill was renowned as a politician who put country and civilization above party. The government he led during World War II was a broad coalition of the British parties, from his own Conservatives to the democratic socialists of Labor. Midway through the war, Churchill’s government asked Sir William Beveridge, a Liberal Party social reformer and economist to study systems of social insurance that could reduce poverty, disease, unemployment and illiteracy in Britain.

In 1942, Beveridge issued an far-reaching report that proposed a national health service to provide medical care to every man, woman and child, regardless of means — much as the coalition government had done during the medical emergency brought on by the German bombings of their cities, hospitals and clinics.

Although Churchill endorsed the idea of a national health system, his party lost the first post-war general election in 1945, partly because British voters didn’t trust the Tories to implement the Beveridge report. Instead a Labor government established universal care under the NHS in 1948.

Only three years later, the Tories returned to power with Churchill restored as prime minister. At that point, the NHS could still have been killed — and many members of the Tory party, not to mention the British Medical Association, were eager to do so.

But Churchill asked Claude Guillebaud, a Cambridge economist, to head a committee to study the performance and efficiency of the NHS. The Gillebaud committee found that the NHS was highly effective – and needed additional funding to insure that effectiveness would continue. There was no more talk of dismantling the very popular service, and instead the Tories under Churchill and his immediate successors allocated more money to build additional clinics and hospitals. Even Margaret Thatcher, the most ideological Tory prime minister of modern times, promised voters that “the NHS is safe in our hands.”

Conservative lawyers criticize attacks on DOJ lawyers

March 8, 2010

Bill Kristol just launched a pre-emptive assault on a statement criticizing his and Liz Cheney’s group, Keep America Safe, which bears the signature of Brookings’ Ben Wittes, a prominent lawyer who’s typically a Cheney ally.

Ben Smith at Politico obtained a copy of the statement:

The past several days have seen a shameful series of attacks on attorneys in the Department of Justice who, in previous legal practice, either represented Guantanamo detainees or advocated for changes to detention policy. As attorneys, former officials, and policy specialists who have worked on detention issues, we consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.

The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’ representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre. People come to serve in the Justice Department with a diverse array of prior private clients; that is one of the department’s strengths. The War on Terror raised any number of novel legal questions, which collectively created a significant role in judicial, executive and legislative forums alike for honorable advocacy on behalf of detainees. In several key cases, detainee advocates prevailed before the Supreme Court. To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit.

Such attacks also undermine the Justice system more broadly. In terrorism detentions and trials alike, defense lawyers are playing, and will continue to play, a key role. Whether one believes in trial by military commission or in federal court, detainees will have access to counsel. Guantanamo detainees likewise have access to lawyers for purposes of habeas review, and the reach of that habeas corpus could eventually extend beyond this population. Good defense counsel is thus key to ensuring that military commissions, federal juries, and federal judges have access to the best arguments and most rigorous factual presentations before making crucial decisions that affect both national security and paramount liberty interests. To delegitimize the role detainee counsel play is to demand adjudications and policymaking stripped of a full record. Whatever systems America develops to handle difficult detention questions will rely, at least some of the time, on an aggressive defense bar; those who take up that function do a service to the system.

* *

* *

*Benjamin Wittes*
·Senior Fellow and Research Director in Public Law, The Brookings Institution

*Robert Chesney*
Charles I. Francis Professor in Law, University of Texas School of Law
Nonresident, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

*Matthew Waxman*
Associate Professor, Columbia Law School
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs

*David Rivkin*
Partner, Washington, D.C. Office, Baker Hostetler, L.L.P.
Former Deputy Director, Office of Policy Development, Department of Justice, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations
Former Associate General Counsel, Department of Energy

*Philip Bobbitt*
Herbert Wechsler Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for National Security, Columbia Law School

*Peter Keisler*
Former Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division
Former Acting Attorney General, Department of Justice

The Adults Aren’t Alright

February 16, 2010

The New Republic’s Michelle Cottle has an interesting take on the alleged lack of internet maturity of “the young”:

I’m sorry, but from where I sit, it ain’t the young’uns having notable trouble setting barriers and using technology with any level of discretion, reserve, or common sense. Rather, every time you turn around, an ostensible grown-up has done something monumentally stupid like sexting his mistress, sending filthy instant messages to strapping young House pages, or tweeting about his congressional delegation’s classified landing in Iraq. And how about that moron in North Carolina who googled the many and varied ways to kill a person in the days before killing his wife? Now there’s a guy in need of a lesson on the dangers of interconnectivity. This is not to say that younger users don’t do plenty of stupid stuff as well. But, as often as not, it’s the older generations that clearly can’t be trusted to navigate even basic media and networking tools.

The Day Google Became Just Another Company

February 16, 2010

Baseline Scenario’s James Kwak hit the nail on the head when describing Google Buzz’s controversial launch. I.e. the king is naked:

Not the day they launched Google Buzz, but the day that Google Buzz product manager Todd Jackson responded to legitimate privacy concerns by writing this piece of meaningless corporate PR spin worthy of, well, any other company out there: “Google remains completely committed to freedom of expression and to privacy, and we have a strong track record of protecting both.”

The Loss Of Faith

February 16, 2010

A former believer describes his “deconversion”:

Kristol on Gay in Military: Blatant Bigotry

February 4, 2010

The Economist makes the case much better than I would:

I’M NOT sure why I continue to read Bill Kristol’s work. He seems to get most things wrong, but I have a perverse fascination with his logic, largely because it is so unsound. So today I found myself picking through Mr Kristol’s latest Weekly Standard editorial, in which he makes the case for maintaining the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy that allows gays to serve in America’s military only if they keep their sexual preference under wraps. Mr Kristol’s argument is familiar. It rests on the notion that some soldiers are homophobic and, therefore, any change to the policy might negatively affect morale. Yet he presents little evidence to back up his claim. Because I am startled by his blatant, unsupported, anachronistic bigotry, I thought I might amuse myself by offering up Mr Kristol’s article in full, peppered with pointed interjections from myself.

Prop 8 Was a Front Organization for Religious Groups

January 21, 2010

The transcripts for the Prop 8 trial are now online. Brian Moulton looks over the documents and finds clear evidence that not only were some churches very involved, but they tried to hide their involvement:

Perhaps the most interesting evidence presented so far were documents that detailed the coordination involved between the Catholic and Mormon churches and the Yes on 8 campaign. A letter from the Yes side’s leader thanked the Catholics for their “unusual” support and the Mormons for their “financial, organizational, and managerial contributions.” The Courage Campaign quotes a document between the Yes campaign and the LDS church as saying, the church will “… not to take the lead so as to provide plausible deniability or respectable distance so as not to show that church is directly involved.”

“Plausible deniability”. In other words, Prop 8 was a front organization for religious groups to strip others of their civil rights on doctrinal grounds. And it was governed by a Big Lie, which is odd for a church to endorse, don’t you think?