Monthly Archives: December 2005

Girls gone wild?

Some startling results from a Hillsborough County, Florida survey of about 5,000 randomly selected middle-school and high school students:

More male high school students – 16 percent – reported being physically hurt by their significant others than female students, at 11.8 percent.

More than 9 percent of male and nearly 12 percent of female high school students said they were physically forced to have sex.

“I know that is happening, because my son constantly gets letters from girls who want to do sexual things to him,” said Paula Thomas, mother of five children ages 9 to 16. “It starts in the sixth or seventh grade.”

(Hat tip: Dr. Helen.)

The findings on dating violence contradict a lot of received wisdom, and are in line with findings from previous studies. When will dating violence prevention curricula reflect this reality?

As for the findings on sexual aggression: I’m not questioning the fact that males can sometimes be sexually forced by females. But when a study finds that 9% of high school boys (only slightly lower than the figure for girls) have been “physically forced” to have sex, I have to wonder how this study defines “physically forced.” (Surely gay male students cann’t account for more than a fraction of this figure.) Are we talking about being physically overpowered or restrained, or threatened with violence, or being otherwise placed in a situation where they cannot avoid sex without some risk of harm? Or one person making persistent but non-forcible, non-threatening physical advances, and the other giving in for lack of assertiveness? There’s a big difference between being forced into sex and being pressured into sex, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of the rhetoric on date rape has blurred that line (with the ironic result, it seems, of branding many teenage girls as date rapists).

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Arctic oil driling: Environment, politics, and religion

George Will has an interesting op-ed today about the debate on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress may soon allow. Will is for it (the drilling, not the debate).

Conservatives and Republicans have a reputation for wanting to cut down the forests, kill the spotted owls, use lakes and rivers for toxic waste dumps, and pave over every acre of wilderness for factories and shopping malls. And they’ve certainly had a number of anti-environment wackos in their ranks (remember James Watt?). Protecting the environment, it seems to me, should be recognized as a legitimate function of the state even by (reasonable) proponents of limited government: it falls pretty clearly under any definition of the “general welfare.” We all like to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and surely the vast majority of Americans support the preservation of national parks and wilderness areas as a part of our heritage.

Nonetheless, I think Will makes some good points:

Area 1002 is 1.5 million of the refuge’s 19 million acres. In 1980 a Democratically controlled Congress, at the behest of President Jimmy Carter, set area 1002 aside for possible energy exploration. Since then, although there are active oil and gas wells in at least 36 U.S. wildlife refuges, stopping drilling in ANWR has become sacramental for environmentalists who speak about it the way Wordsworth wrote about the Lake Country.

Few opponents of energy development in what they call “pristine” ANWR have visited it. Those who have and who think it is “pristine” must have visited during the 56 days a year when it is without sunlight. They missed the roads, stores, houses, military installations, airstrip and school. They did not miss seeing the trees in area 1002. There are no trees.

Opponents worry that the caribou will be disconsolate about, and their reproduction disrupted by, this intrusion by man. The same was said 30 years ago by opponents of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which brings heated oil south from Prudhoe Bay. Since the oil began flowing, the caribou have increased from 5,000 to 31,000. Perhaps the pipeline’s heat makes them amorous.

Ice roads and helicopter pads, which will melt each spring, will minimize man’s footprint, which will be on a 2,000-acre plot about one-fifth the size of Dulles Airport. Nevertheless, opponents say the environmental cost is too high for what the ineffable John Kerry calls “a few drops of oil.” Some drops. The estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil — such estimates frequently underestimate actual yields — could supply all the oil needs of Kerry’s Massachusetts for 75 years.

Flowing at 1 million barrels a day — equal to 20 percent of today’s domestic oil production — ANWR oil would almost equal America’s daily imports from Saudi Arabia. And it would equal the supply loss that Hurricane Katrina temporarily caused…

If there are practical counterpoints to Will’s pro-drilling argument, I’ll be glad to consider them. But I think Will is also right when he says:

For some people, environmentalism is collectivism in drag. Such people use environmental causes and rhetoric not to change the political climate for the purpose of environmental improvement. Rather, for them, changing the society’s politics is the end, and environmental policies are mere means to that end.

The unending argument in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society’s balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism — of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America — is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals’ lives. This is done in the name of equality.

People are to be conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status as wards of a self-aggrandizing government. Government says the constant enlargement of its supervising power is necessary for the equitable or efficient allocation of scarce resources.

Therefore, one of the collectivists’ tactics is to produce scarcities, particularly of what makes modern society modern — the energy requisite for social dynamism and individual autonomy. Hence collectivists use environmentalism to advance a collectivizing energy policy.

And there is another, equally important factor as well: environmentalism as a religion (as Michael Crichton put it in a speech a few years ago, “the religion of choice for urban atheists”).

I wrote about this in a column a few years ago, dissecting a Nicholas Kristof column about ANWAR:

Kristof writes that, in his view, the danger drilling would pose to wildlife has been exaggerated by environmentalists; he also points out that it would benefit the local Eskimo population. Yet ultimately, he comes down on the anti-drilling side, arguing that development would damage “the land itself and the sense of wilderness”—the sense of “a rare place where humans feel not like landlords or even tenants, but simply guests.”

The refuge, in other words, is something like a living temple, which is not to be desecrated.

Some environmental writings have explicit religious overtones. A popular idea among environmentalists is writer James Lovelock’s “Gaia hypothesis“—the idea that the Earth is a living entity with a super-consciousness of its own, of which we are all a part. (Gaia was, of course, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth.) Native American religions with their nature worship are popular as well. Some people who turn away from traditional religion and then embark on a spiritual quest in a need to fill the void say that they find that spirituality in environmental activism.

Environmentalist philosophy has a religious dimension other than the fantasy of the Garden of Eden. Its anti-consumerist animus reflects, to some extent, the puritanical notion that material pleasures and comforts are wicked and corrupting, and self-denial is ennobling for the soul.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with religiously or spiritually based beliefs. But perhaps some forms of environmental philosophy and activism should raise questions about introducing religion into public policy—or public schools, where environmental education programs often have elements of Earth worship and moralist condemnation of consumerist sins.

….

The preservation of our natural heritage is undoubtedly a worthy goal. But when seen from the perspective of human benefit, it is one of many competing values that must be balanced—including the need to alleviate our dependence of foreign oil. To treat wilderness as something mystical and sacramental short-circuits the debate as surely as an appeal to biblical principles.

If it can be shown that oil drilling in ANWAR poses a risk of actual damage to the environment (e.g., contribute to climate change with unforeseeable consequences for humans), then by all means, continue the ban. If it’s about preserving a living church sanctified by mystical values, I think that, particularly at this point in time, a little separation of church and state is in order.

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Public opinion in Iraq: Some interesting results

As election time nears in Iraq, some interesting poll results, via John Cole:

Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.

Surprisingly, given the insurgents’ attacks on Iraqi civilians, more than six in 10 Iraqis feel very safe in their own neighborhoods, up sharply from just 40 percent in a poll in June 2004. And 61 percent say local security is good—up from 49 percent in the first ABC News poll in Iraq in February 2004.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a “single strong leader.”)

Whatever the current problems, 69 percent of Iraqis expect things for the country overall to improve in the next year—a remarkable level of optimism in light of the continuing violence there. However, in a sign of the many challenges ahead, this optimism is far lower in Sunni Arab-dominated provinces, where just 35 percent are optimistic about the country’s future.

However:

Fewer than half, 46 percent, say the country is better off now than it was before the war. And half of Iraqis now say it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004.

The number of Iraqis who say things are going well in their country overall is just 44 percent, far fewer than the 71 percent who say their own lives are going well. Fifty-two percent instead say the country is doing badly.

… Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.

Overall, I think (as does John) that this adds up to a positive picture more than a negative one. The growth of pro-democracy attitudes and the decline of support for Islamic state are particularly encouraging. That 6 out of 10 Iraqis disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq is not surprising; if anything (given how mismanaged the occupation has been) the figure is surprisingly low. Note, too, some contradiction in the numbers: two-thirds oppose the U.S./coalition presence, but fewer than half want to see U.S. forces leave seen. (Does this mean that a sizable proportion of Iraqis don’t like the presence of American troops, but recognize it as necessary for the time being?)

I also find it remarkable that, even with continuing insurgent violence and the disarray in the country, half of Iraqis do not believe it was wrong for the U.S. to invade (and in February 2004 the corresponding figure was 40%). It’s a remarkable figure in view of the fact that no one likes being occupied — particularly people in a culture with strong traditional beliefs about honor and faith, and particularly when the occupiers are of a different religion.

It is also worth remembering that people who believe the invasion was wrong include those who, in my view, have no moral authority in the matter: those who enjoyed a privileged position under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and loyally served his regime.

This is why, whatever misgivings I may have about the wisdom of this war (particularly in view of its mismanagement), I categorically reject the view that it was a crime against the Iraqi people. If the U.S. has committed a crime against the Iraqi people, it was encouraging them to rebel against Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and then leaving the Hussein regime in place and abandoning those who rebelled to their horrible fate.

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Feminism, labels, and principles

An interesting discussion at Protein Wisdom about feminism and labels. Equity feminism, gender feminism, establishment feminism, liberal feminism, ifeminism… my head is spinning.

I don’t have time for a long post right now, but a few thoughts. Christina Hoff Sommers’ “equity feminism/gender feminism” distinction (originally made in the 1994 book Who Stole Feminism?), which I’ve sometimes used myself, is rather imprecise, and too open to being used as shorthand for “feminists I like/feminists I don’t like.” Sommers defines “gender feminists” as those who see women as oppressed by a “sex/gender system” ingrained in cultural gender roles, and “equity feminists” as those who want simply to establish legal equality and equality of opportunity. But one needn’t be a particularly radical feminist to believe that various aspects of traditional gender roles lead to unequal opportunity, and one can seek to transform those roles while seeking “equity” rather than female advantage. (Many of the early feminists Sommers praises, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were harshly critical not only of legal and institutional inequality but of traditional femininity.)

So, what terms would I use? Actually, “equity feminism” and “gender feminism” still make sense to me, but I would fine-tune the definitions somewhat. “Equity feminism” is focused on fairness and equal treatment for individuals regardless of gender; “gender feminism” — a form of identity politics — is focused on solidarity with women and seeking the betterment of women. However, as Jeff has found out, the term “gender feminism” is fairly useless in discussions with feminists to whom one would apply the term, since they regard it as a slur (much as I do “anti-feminist”). I wonder if “identity feminism” would be an acceptable term?

In any case: Here are a few basic principles of my kind of feminism, whatever one wants to call it.

1. Equal treatment regardless of gender. No excuses for unequal treatment such as “we need to make allowances for women’s lack of power/history of oppression,” “real equality means redistributing power from the oppressor to the oppressed,” etc. Feminism should be about equity, fairness and judging people as individuals, not “siding with women” (individually or collectively).

2. We should seek to achieve greater equity/equality by expanding choices for both men and women, not narrowing them — e.g., not make it less socially acceptable for women to stay home with their children, but to make this option more available to men. Equity does not necessarily mean full parity in every field; it means equal opportunity, including freedom from cultural barriers that can hold men or women back from excercising their options (e.g., the belief that it’s unmanly to be a child care worker, or that a woman should be interested in “people things” rather than scientific abstractions).

3. Western women today are not an oppressed or powerless group. While women have some gender-based problems, so do men. Gender-based disadvantages and prejudices should be addressed whether they affect men or women. In today’s society, “more for women” is not necessarily synonymous with justice.

4. Women as well as men can be sexist — toward men as well as women — and can have sexist expectations of and prejudices toward men. Female chauvinism (e.g., the belief that mothers have a special bond with their children inherently superior to that of fathers) should be taken as seriously as male chauvinism.

5. Not everything bad that happens to women (e.g., rape or domestic violence) is the result of sexism or “the patriarchy” (which, in my view, is a meaningless concept when talking about the West in the 21st Century). Women’s personal wrongs in relationships with men should not be considered a feminist issue unless some institutional or cultural bias against women is involved (for instance, a man’s belief that he is entitled to multiple sex partners but his wife or girlfriend is not).

6. Claims of sexism, sex discrimination, or male mistreatment of women should be taken seriously, but not given a presumption of truthfulness and objectivity. Giving a woman’s account greater credence than a man’s because of her gender is just as sexist as presuming a man to be more believable.

7. Finally, my kind of feminism takes a non-adversarial stance toward Western and American society. This was brought home to me by Jeff Goldstein’s exchange with Lauren, who sees a young Muslim immigrant’s decision to wear the hijab as possibly a positive and empowering one because it’s a protest against the majority culture. I don’t regard an adversarial stance vis-a-vis American culture as something valuable in itself. For all its flaws and its much-less-than-perfect history where women are concerned, the West today is the civilization that champions freedom and equal rights for women. For that alone, from a feminist point of view, it is worth defending.

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Warning: light blogging ahead

It’s vacation time: I’m headed to Europe, back on December 21.

I’ll still have online access, and expect to do some blogging, but only a limited amount, and I won’t be able to participate in much discussion in the comments threads.

Just so you know.

Have a great time, everyone!

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Extremism, hate speech, and moral equivalency

My post on “unhinged” political behavior on the right and the left (on Dave Neiwert’s critique of Michelle Malkin’s book Unhinged) has generated a rather heated discussion in the comments, as well as a thoughtful response here.

The main thrust of a lot of the responses from the left is that is that I am drawing a false moral equivalency between extremist rhetoric on the left and the right when the right is demonstrably worse. (Some posters from the right make the same criticism in reverse.)

Most of the criticism focuses on what Neiwert calls “eliminationist rhetoric” — talk of getting rid of political opponents “either through violence or through mass roundups and incarceration.” Ann Coulter provides some grist (“My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building”; “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too”). There’s also a 1995 quote from Rush Limbaugh (“I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus — living fossils — so we will never forget what these people stood for”), and another one from 2005 where Rush muses aloud that if it’s a good idea for us to learn from the laws of other nations, we ought to borrow the new British law allowing the deportation of hate-preaching extremists: “Wouldn’t it be great if anybody who speaks out against this country, to kick them out of the country? Anybody that threatens this country, kick ’em out. We’d get rid of Michael Moore, we’d get rid of half the Democratic Party if we would just import that law. That would be fabulous.” There is also Bill O’Reilly’s suggestion that the staff of Air America be locked up for “undermining” the country, and his comment about not protecting San Francisco from terrorist attacks in retaliation from the city barring military recruiters from schools.

All this is, of course, vile stuff, and there is no excuse for it (including “humor”). And I’ll concede that it has no precise equivalent on the left (Ward Churchill is too negligible to count — his only fame comes from the right). I’ll show interpretive charity to Michael Moore and assume that when he lamented that if the 9/11 terrorists wanted to get back at Bush, they struck at cities where most people didn’t vote for him, he meant only that the attack made no sense from that angle, not that it would have been better if they had struck in, say, Dallas. And I’ll stipulate that when Garrison Keillor — who has an audience of nearly 4 million on National Public Radio — joked about taking the vote away from born-again Christians, it wasn’t quite so bad as joking about killing them off.

But is it that qualitatively different? Dave Neiwert, after all, cites as one of his examples of Ann Coulter’s out-of-bounds rhetoric her suggestion that women shouldn’t vote (because they tend to vote the “wrong” way).

No one really thinks (I hope) that Limbaugh, Coulter, and O’Reilly are seriously advocating the murder and incarceration of millions of liberals. What makes their rhetoric so poisonous is that (a) as Neiwert points out, it amounts to “a declaration of enmity” rather than a desire to debate, and (b) certain ideas, such as killing or rounding up one’s political opponents, are too vile to be broached even as a “joke.”

Viewed that way, there isn’t that much distance between urging deportation and urging secession. Laudably, Neiwert points to the “Fuck the South” post-election screed, which calls for the expulsion of the Southern states from the Union and ends with “Fuck off,” as a lamentable example of hateful speech on the left: “[I]n the end, it’s an argument for writing off your fellow Americans.” But there are other, more mainstream examples of this mindset; two prominent Democratic pundits, Lawrence O’Donnell and Bob Beckel, made post-election comments about Southern secession.

The issue is hate as a dominant mode of relating to people on the other side of the political divide. It can be expressed in “liberal hunting license” bumper stickers as documented by Neiwert. Or it can be expressed in this Democratic Underground thread, where a poster writes that she didn’t stop to help a stranded motorist with a small child in sweltering heat after she saw a “W” bumper sticker on the woman’s car, and most of the other posters not only reassure her that she shouldn’t feel bad but congratulate her. (One poster writes, “[E]verytime I see one of those stickers, the hate that fills my mind is almost embarrassing. People I don’t even know, and I see that sticker and all of a sudden I hate their guts.”)

And in some cases, of course, there are pretty close parallels. Here’s Rush Limbaugh (once again documented by Dave Neiwert) on the four Christian peace activists taken hostage in Iraq the other day:

I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality. … I’m telling you, folks, there’s a part of me that likes this. Probably, even with this, though, you know, they’re not going to see the light of day.

And here’s Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) on the four U.S. contractors murdered in Fallujah in 2004:

I feel nothing over the death of merceneries (sic). They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

As for extreme rhetoric migrating into the mainstream: in an earlier post, Dave cites Karl Rove’s liberal-bashing remarks to a Republican audience in June (“Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers”) as an example. Yes, I agree, that was a nasty, divisive, unfair comment. Some liberals seem to think no high-ranking Democrats have made equivalent conservative-bashing comments. Really? Well, here’s Howard Dean:

“This is a struggle between good and evil and we’re the good.”

“I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for.”

And here’s more Howard Dean:

Speaking about election reform, he said it is unconscionable for voters to have to stand in lengthy lines at polling places given the demands of work and family. “Republicans,” he said, “I guess can do that because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives.”

In terms of actual violence toward political opponents: As Dave Neiwert says, it obviously exists on both sides, and I’m not going to try to figure out who’s done it more. Ideologically, there are trends at the extremes on both sides that lend themselves to condoning political violence: on the right, the flirtation with vigilantism; on the left, the flirtation with revolutionary violence. (The tendency to romanticize such violence exists even among mainstream liberals: check out, for instance, this analysis of a 2002 New York Times piece about Chesa Boudin, the devoted son of two Weather Underground terrorists who are serving time for the 1981 murder of two police officers and a security guard in a Brinks armored car robbery.)

Now, another important point. Dave argues that extremist elements have gained too much influence in the Republican Party; and, especially after the Terri Schiavo fiasco, I’m inclined to agree. I have been appalled, for a long time, by the fact that a shrill hatemonger like Ann Coulter was being treated as a legitimate pundit on the right. (I was also pretty disgusted by the right’s anti-Clinton vendetta.) However, Dave also adds:

The only left-wing extremist movements of any note in 2005 — the animal rights/eco-terrorist extremists particularly, though the anarchists and anti-globalists who helped make the WTO demonstrations a fiasco also fit the bill — do not have any kinds of significant footholds or influence within the Democratic Party.

Note that here, Dave defines extremist movements very specifically as ones that engage in lawlessness and violence. In that case, I’m not sure who those extremist elements in the GOP are. Dave has cited the embrace of Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry by mainstream conservatives during the Terri Schiavo battle, and I’ll be the first to say that Terry is odious. But if we’re going to look for counterparts on the left, let’s ask who has more influence: Randall Terry in the Republican Party, or Al Sharpton in the Democratic Party? (For Sharpton’s long record of extremism, including his role in fanning the flames of racial violence in several cases, see this column by Jeff Jacoby.)

If we define extremism to include people and movements that engage in violent and, well … unhinged rhetoric, then I would point to at least two extremist elements that do have influence with the Democratic Party mainstream.

(1) The Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed the “Millions More Movement” led by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam (characterized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center as well as the Anti-Defamation League). On July 20, 2005, most of the CBC’s 43 memers attended a strategy session with Farrakhan. (See this page for some of Farrakhan’s more interesting comments over the years.)

(2) While being opposed to the war in Iraq is certainly not an extreme position, the antiwar movement, unfortunately, has been heavily enmeshed with extremist elements such as the hardcore communist group A.N.S.W.E.R. (see this critique in the liberal magazine Salon.com).

The issue of the anti-war movement and extremism also brings me to the rather painful issue of Cindy Sheehan. Yes, I know that some people on the right have crossed the bounds of decency in attacking Sheehan (for instance, Rush Limbaugh when he bizarrely suggested that her story was the equivalent of Bill Burkett’s “forged documents”). But Sheehan’s very real grief does not excuse her very extreme rhetoric (“The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush”), of which many examples can be found here. See also here, and here, and here. (The last link is to a transcript posted on David Horowitz’s website, not the most reputable source in the world, but I haven’t see any suggestiong that the transcript is inaccurate.) Among other things, Sheehan has hailed as a hero Lynn Stewart, the attorney who was convicted of aiding and abetting a terrorist conspiracy for serving as a liaison between her incarcerated client, terrorist mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, and his network outside. Stewart is known for openly sympathizing with radical Islamic terrorism (which she sees is as a part of the anti-imperialist struggle). It is also worth noting that Sheehan’s writings are carried by the far-right website LewRockwell.com.

Back in August, a poster on Daily Kos mused:

Last night, occurred to me: Cindy Sheehan, Terry Schiavo reincarnated?

I’m not quite sure what she meant, but she was right: if the Terry Schiavo fiasco was the triumph, and nadir, of “unhinged” politics on the right, Cindy Sheehan’s protest has been the same for the left. (And, in both cases, those responsible are somewhat insulated from criticism by personal tragedy.)

Finally: if we’re going to talk about a left-wing counterpart to Ann Coulter, I would say that Michael Moore definitely qualifies. And how.

So, all in all, I stand by my earlier point. There is nastiness and ugliness aplenty on both sides, regardless of the exact forms it takes. To some extent, of course, perceptions of “ugliness,” “nastiness” and “unhingedness” (so to speak) are subjective. To me, saying that Bush didn’t lift a finger to help the victims of Katrina because he doesn’t give a damn about blacks is obviously unhinged. To someone to the left of me, that might not be so obvious. Likewise, to me, saying that any mainstream Democrats are sympathetic to America’s enemies is obviously unhinged. Others may differ. So, in the end, when approaching this issue, we are all to some extent captives of our own biases and perceptions; and I do not exempt myself from this general rule, as someone more “right” than “left” but deeply disenchanted, and troubled by, many aspects of conservative politics.

Trying to figure out who started it is fruitless, as well. Each side regards its own nastiness as reactive, and has examples to point to. And, for each side, “they started it” and “they’re worse” serves as an excuse to condone or even encourage nastiness in its own ranks. (A liberal friend of mine who had always despised Michael Moore, and prided himself on the fact that mainstream liberalism has not embraced Moore the way mainstream conservatism has embraced Coulter, concluded upon the release of Fahrenheit 9/11 that if this movie helps defeat Bush, then maybe Moore is exactly what we need in today’s political climate.)

Remember the proverb, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”? That’s what’s happening here. Eye-for-an-eye political debate is leaving us blind.

In 1946, George Orwell wrote in his essay, “The Prevention of Literature” (quoted with apologies to Catholics, though not to Communists):

The Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent. Each of them tacitly claims that ‘the truth’ has already been revealed, and that the heretic, if he is not simply a fool, is secretly aware of ‘the truth’ and merely resists it out of selfish motives.

Today, this mindset has become rampant on the left and the right, and not just on the fringes but in the mainstream as well.

In my earlier thread, one poster asked if I would suggest any remedies for this problem. I wish I could. The only solution I can think of is to rebuke political hate speech and to ostracize its perpetrators — starting with those in one’s own camp. It should be up to politicians to take the initiative. Imagine if the next Republican or Democratic presidential contender gave a “Sister Souljah” speech denouncing the political hatemongers in his or her party. Is this really an impossible dream?

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The morals police comes to New Orleans

Congress has found a fine time to legislate morality. And a fine place: New Orleans, still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina and getting far too little help.

Now, here’s a kind of government assistance everyone should be able to get behind: tax breaks for businesses rebuilding in flood-devastated areas. Not handouts, but letting people keep more of their money so they can do more for themselves.

And what has Congress done?

From the Associated Press, December 7 (Hat tip: To the People, via Radley Balko):

The House approved a multibillion-dollar package of tax breaks on Wednesday that are intended to revive Gulf Coast businesses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

So far, so good.

But the tax relief excludes the casinos and country clubs that underpin the area’s leisure economy.

Oh.

The incentives for Gulf Coast commerce include tax credits for low-income housing and rehabilitating commercial structures and historic buildings. Businesses could claim an additional 50 percent depreciation deduction for software, equipment and other expenses, and small businesses could write off more of their new investments.

Other tax breaks would help businesses recoup cleanup and demolition costs and aid small timber operations with reforestation.

The tax breaks would not extend to leisure industries, including country clubs, casinos, hot tub facilities, liquor stores, massage parlors, golf courses, racetracks and tanning parlors.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., led the effort to carve those businesses out of the bill. He said Congress should not allow “our constituents’ hard-earned tax dollars, in these kinds of record deficits, to subsidize the rebuilding of a massage parlor, a liquor store or a casino.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she was “astounded” and “angry” that Wolf won on gambling establishments, an industry “that employs thousands of people in the region and generates millions of dollars in tax revenue.”

Well, what’s a few thousand jobs when we’ve got morality to enforce.

Note that while this moralism on the backs of hurricane survivors is driven by the GOP, its targets include not only “sin” as traditionally defined by cultural conservatives (massage parlors, liquor stores, casinos) but also the luxuries that commonly draw the moralistic ire of egalitarian liberals (country clubs and golf courses).

Conservatives and liberals, united against the selfish pleasures of humankind, and bravely prepared to screw over thousands of jobless, homeless people in the process. All’s right with the world.

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