There is no completely reasonable position on abortion. Reductio ad absurdum, the disproving of an argument by showing that its logical extreme is unacceptable, is itself absurdly easy with pretty much any position. Slippery slopes are in abundant supply in the geography of abortion debate.
Ask a pro-life advocate a few questions, and you usually find an abrupt end to the conversation: "Oh now you're being silly." When questions actually are answered, you find a strange universe of bizarre judgments. A fertilized egg is to be legally identical to a fully developed baby. Must not the state require an investigation of any unexplained termination of any pregnancy? Must not the risk of accusation of negligent homicide accompany any miscarriage? What of fertilized eggs that do not attach themselves to a uterine wall? Is there a legal responsibility of rescue before the body discards them?
The pro-life movement benefits from its lack of success. The infringement on women is borne by a relative few. Absolute success, seizing the persons of women for the purpose of preserving whatever potential for life may exist in a blastocyst, would make routine pregnancy impractical.
I am pretty much pro-choice. Subject me to the same sort of questions, and I will be mumbling incoherently in under a minute. At what point does abortion become infanticide? Is there any moral argument against murdering a baby that would not apply a few moments before some line is crossed?
Polling yields few firm answers. For most Americans, the chosen line is the one that is least unacceptable. Phrasing dictates the result.
Common ground is sometimes discovered in making alternatives to abortion more realistic. Adoption, free or low cost natal care, financial help, can be expanded. Such common ground is rejected by purists, of course. For some there is no ambiguity. There are no priorities to be weighed. There is only a binary world. Debate is debilitating, leading to compromise. Making the unacceptable acceptable to potential converts is harmful to the cause.
By all accounts, Dr. George Tiller was a brave and compassionate man. He dealt with heartbroken women who very much wanted children. He aborted dead fetuses, and those for whom life would have been a brief but unimaginable torment: to be born without faces or the ability to breathe. After being shot twice and bombed once, he became inaccessible to his attackers, guarded day and night. His employees became frequent targets.
The difficulty in dealing with more extreme activists often lies in their idealism. As with many movements, the harm comes when the ideal becomes more important than mere individuals. The menace flows not from any hypocrisy. It leaps from a purity of spirit. Dr. Tiller served as an usher in the worship of God. Just outside the sanctuary, he encountered the most dangerous creature on earth: the man who knows that God is on his side.
My wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller's care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a severe defect incompatible with life . . .
. . . I remember my wife, foggy with sedation after the final procedure, being helped from the exam table. He had her sit up and put her arms around his neck, and then he lifted her into a wheelchair. "You give good hugs" she whispered. He paused just for a moment. "You're just fine," he told her.
The birthday card to my friend was light hearted. The front urged the recipient to do something different, "Do something you would never do on other days!" Open it, and the card urged her to "Run With Scissors!" At the bottom, a cartoon character precariously scampers with the sharp blades pointing from her hands. "I'm running with scissors! I'm running with scissors!"
President Bush went to southwestern Michigan to make his first major domestic policy speech since leaving office. He defended his policy of torturing terrorism suspects. "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."
I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, "I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.
Condoleezza Rice paints an enhanced picture, one of a White House struggling with stress approaching panic. "Unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans."
The trauma defense is disputed by an eye witness. Richard Clarke is the only Bush administration official to apologize to the families of 9/11 victims for not preventing the attacks. "The Bush administration's response actually undermined the principles and values America has always stood for in the world," says Clarke, "values that should have survived this traumatic event."
Both President Bush and Secretary Rice present as an unarguable premise the idea that torture made us safe, both deny that it was torture, both insist that it was legal. President Bush says it was legal because his lawyers said it was. Former Secretary Rice maintained it was legal because anything the President does is legal.
Both are accompanied by a backup chorus of former associates who sing in unison that, say what you will, President Bush kept us safe after 9/11.
This last has intrigued me. Nothing is said by these folks about the failure to protect us before 9/11, except to blame it on President Clinton. Little is said about the administration's decision to allow the remaining 9/11 murderers to escape at the battle of Tora Bora. Nothing is mentioned about torture that produced a mountain of false leads that tied up investigators running down dead ends. The invasion of Iraq that swelled the ranks of the followers of the escaped bin Laden is dismissed with bumper sticker reasoning: We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.
And I imagine the little cartoon character at the end of the birthday card insisting that running with scissors kept her safe.
On the murder of Dr. George Tiller, killed while attending
the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas
George Tiller was a mass murderer and we cannot stop saying that. He was an evil man — his hands were covered with blood.
- - Randall Terry, anti-abortion activist
More generally, anti-abortion groups denounced the shooting and stressed that they support only nonviolent protest.
Explaining to a cheering crowd why he would vote against gay marriage:
You are the moral leaders of this community. Politicians ought to be moral.... I am a politician who's moral.
- - Marion Barry, who served six months in prison after being caught on video smoking crack in a hotel room with a woman not his wife during his third term as Mayor of DC in 1990.
"Politically she's like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die."
She was filming in Hungary, so it was natural that Madonna would give interviews to the local press. She endured translations to English and back that may have been frustrating, but read like a wild linguistic ride:
Budapest says hello with arms that are spread-eagled. Did you have a visit here that was agreeable? Are you in good odor? The entire session is conducted in like vein. The singer is asked about the men she has been "dating in bed," with special interest in how Argentinians, "who are famous for being tip-top", compare with Hungarians.
Democrats often lapse into broken English. John Kerry was a creature of legislative procedure. He turned an irony of sub-committees and amendment calls into what he thought was pure entertainment. Debate and procedural wrangling on the $87 billion appropriation for the Iraq war was excruciating. Kerry tried to simplify it, "I voted for it before I voted against it." Bewildered voters weren't sure what he was trying to sell, but they weren't buying.
Nancy Pelosi's awful-to-the-core press conferences have been well suited to her constituency, the 258 Democrats in Congress. She knows committee assignments, parliamentary rules, and quorum calls. She must really wow them in closed weekly sessions. But to ordinary, non-wonkish Americans, who caught glimpses during newscasts, she had to sound like a Klingon.
Republicans have their own broken language problem. They ran what they thought was a clever ad with an obscene sexual entendre referencing her private parts. Courser conservatives hooted.
Republicans do not engage in legislative speak. They are not creatures of governmental performance. They are easy to understand. They speak the language of the people, with a touch of Tourettes. It has been going on for a while. Hillary won in New York because Rick Lazio learned all the cutting phrases that worked at Republican afternoon tea gatherings and business luncheons. But in televised debate, mainstream voters were repelled.
It has gotten worse, much worse, since then. Governor Rick Perry delivered the applause line that must have succeeded without exception in front of Republican small groups, conservative oil men, and tax protesters all over Texas. Taking the slaveholders' position from over 150 years ago, he suggested that secession might come from policies his folks hate. It took him weeks to realize the wider audience was not applauding.
Eric Cantor (R-OH) publicly ponders our overreaction to the economic crisis. Tom Price (R-GA) speaks for the Republican Study Committee in blasting President Obama for his heartless criticism of billionaire Hedge Fund operatives. Those left in the shrinking Republican base howl their support.
But polls show voters at large contemplating Republican officials who are no longer "famous for being tip-top." and a GOP that is not "in good odor."
A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.
Newt Gingrich via twitter
...when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.
When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.
- - Samuel Alito, Supreme Court Nominee of President George W. Bush
Judge Alito was confirmed with the votes of
54 of the 55 Republicans in the Senate at the time
Mr. Gingrich expressed no public reservations about the Republican nominee
"Dick Cheney's dishonest speech," begins a subheadline for an article by Fred Kaplan in Slate. His reaction is not untypical of those here on the left. It is not difficult to see why. This was the part of Mr. Cheney's presentation that I found striking:
since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks. We decided, as well, to confront the regimes that sponsored terrorists, and to go after those who provide sanctuary, funding, and weapons to enemies of the United States.
As with other passages in Reality According to Richard, it flies in the face of the facts as we have come to know them, facts that were available to the Republican administration long before they were revealed to a surprised nation. Certainly we can understand why some of my liberal brethren can see dishonesty in every phrase.
We moved decisively against the terrorists, did we? In their hideouts and sanctuaries? When the remaining 9/11 murderers were trapped, cut off, and without hope at the battle of Tora Bora in Afganistan, CIA operatives who had tracked and located bin Laden begged for US combat troops to finish him off. The Cheney administration refused. The reason? Our troops were held in reserve for a higher priority: the coming invasion of Iraq. And so al Qaeda escaped to become a hydra-headed monster. Today they kill US and allied troops and countless civilians in once secure places.
Such is the power of a lifetime of accumulated wisdom. Never in Cheney's cold war experience had a terrorist group launched such devastating attacks without a sponsor. Control by a rogue state was obvious. Iraq was the undeniable culprit. The administration that Cheney led had an OJ-like mountain of contrary evidence. And like the OJ jury, the evidence was discarded. Iraq had to be in control of bin Laden's thugs. We would let the hammer go, and destroy the one who had thrown it. We would get Saddam.
They were flat dead certain that the 9/11 attacks could not possibly have been planned and executed at the direction of a madman hidden away in a cave on the other side of the world. If the evidence indicated otherwise, the evidence was wrong. If "enhanced interrogation" was needed to get the real story, the real story would be gotten. Torture would get the right evidence.
The alarming fact about the Cheney presentation is not that he is lying. For the most part, he is not. It is that for years the leader of the most powerful nation on earth really, truly, right-down-to-his-tippy-toes believed it all.
He still does.
It is the sort of talk by a President that gives a lot of folks the willies. Empathy? A judicial nominee should not let feeling dictate the law. It's as simple as that. So when a President, any President, describes his nominee as qualified for being a "delightful and warm, intelligent person, who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor," we should recoil.
I seldom agree with Senator Orrin Hatch. But he has a point. Empathy is a code word for an activist judge. The danger is that "politics, preferences, personal preferences and feelings might take the place of being impartial and deciding cases based upon the law, not upon politics." In this case, it is not a danger, it has, unfortunately, been a persistent judicial pattern.
As Senator Jon Kyl puts it, empathy isn't part of the job description for a Supreme Court justice. "the qualifications being discussed — 'emotions or feelings or preconceived ideas,' Sen. Jon Kyl called them — aren't enough to justify a lifetime appointment." Kyl is someone to demand our attention. On Sunday, he said he wouldn't rule out a filibuster.
The head of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, put it this way to a radio audience: "Crazy nonsense empathetic! I'll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind. Craziness!" The language is a bit exuberant, but the point is easy to understand.
Wendy Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network writing for the Washington Times, quoted another Senator. The quality of empathy would have the effect of "making it difficult, as Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said, to uphold the federal judicial oath to dispense justice impartially."
In fairness, we should quote the President's exact words in context.
I have followed this man's career for some time, and he has excelled in everything that he has attempted. He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person, who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor. He's also a fiercely independent thinker with an excellent legal mind who believes passionately in equal opportunity for all Americans. He will approach the cases that come before the Court with a commitment to deciding them fairly, as the facts and the law require.
While I am loath to disagree with President Bush, we have seen the unwise rulings in which the activist judge he was endorsing has participated. We have felt the devastating effect on the nation we love. This case was but the worst of many examples of lawlessness resulting in deep national trauma.
Justice Clarence Thomas should be removed at once.
On why free debate in America is wrong:
"...the terrorists see just what they were hoping for – our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity."
- - former Vice President Dick Cheney
In the movie Body Heat, the Mickey Rourke character tries to talk his friend, played by a young Willian Hurt, out of a crime. There are 50 ways to screw it all up and get caught, he counsels. "If you think of twenty-five of them, then you're a genius... and you ain't no genius."
The financial mess that came from deregulation was hard to track. It turned out that an amazing number of bets were routinely made on real estate values continuing to skyrocket to infinity. It all came undone when real estate prices dipped. That's all it took. The rest was a downward spiral in which falling real estate was but a part.
But the neatest trick was the complex financial maneuverings a lack of regulation allowed. Mortgage holdings were divided, bundled, re-bundled and subdivided again. It was like putting a billion bank accounts into a Popiel slice-and-dice product: Isn't that AMAZING! Derivatives became an accounting calculus problem: Gambling on a decline of an increase of the rate of increase of oranges, or mortgages, or other derivatives.
Hedge Funds were set up to help investors hedge their bets. Get it? Hedge funds? But the house of cards, after all the inside out turnings and higher calculus flips, was still based on hedgeless hedging. Think of selling flood insurance and protecting the proceeds by investing in riverfront property.
But there is an interesting little coil in all the financial twisting. Hedge Fund managers don't pay taxes the way the rest of us do.
Investors pay a much much lower tax rate than the rest of us. A CEO pays a top rate of 35% on salary. President Obama wants to increase that to 39%, what the GOP calls socialism. But an investor pays only 15%.
Hedge fund managers are paid commissions, like insurance salespeople. A lot is based on performance. The more money made for investors the more a manager gets paid. Seems fair, right? But unlike the insurance salespeople, managers pay only the 15% rate on the performance part, as if they are investing their own money. Secretaries that type up the paperwork can pay higher rates than the gazillionaires that employ them. How can this be?
It's like this: Hedge Fund managers REALLY love them some Democrats. Almost 60% of their political contributions go to Democratic candidates. Democrats love them back. And Republicans are, unsurprisingly enough, too dumb to seize a political opportunity. After all, they are never for raising taxes, ever, and can't criticize anyone for neglecting this important segment of earners that make this country what it is rapidly becoming.
President Obama wants to eliminate the Hedge Fund manager loophole. The only folks in Congress who will fight him tooth and nail are Republicans.
Well, Republicans and Democrats.
Okay, Republicans and Democrats and every lobbyist Hedge funds can hire.
On President Obama's proposal to make Hedge Fund Managers
pay taxes at the same rates as other taxpayers:
"We are cutting off the lifeblood of small business."
- - House Republican Whip Eric Cantor
Last evening he reacted with amazement. "You gotta be kidding me!" I had just mentioned I was writing about him. I thought for a moment he might object. As it is, I hope he forgives me for the details I may have gotten wrong.
It was one of several encounters I had happened upon with this impressive, self-deprecating man. I often stop by the local library, and that's where we kept bumping into each other. The first time, he was trying to recover a lost file on a library computer. I tried to help him, unsuccessfully as it turned out. We talked about the coming election. He was for McCain, I for Obama.
Then he told me a little of himself. He is a war hero from the Vietnam era. That's my description not his. He seems hesitant as he talks about it, and he talks about it sparingly. "I just went a little crazy," he says. His "craziness" saved others who were in mortal danger, pinned down and taking enemy fire. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. That medal is awarded for any of several acts, but when earned for bravery in combat, it is the fourth highest possible military citation given by the U.S. Armed Forces.
For years, modesty and uncertainty of how it might be regarded prompted him to keep the award stored out of view. He would not expose this symbol to derision. It was his father who changed his mind. His dad had served in the Air Force in World War Two, flying over the Empire of Japan with General Curtis Lemay. He confessed to his son that he felt just a little envious. The younger veteran was incredulous and so his father explained, it was that hidden Bronze Star. The son objected. The old man was a hero many times over. He pointed to the many ribbons, medals, and awards the elder hero had on his own wall. "But I never earned a Bronze Star," the father stated simply.
They are everywhere, these heroes who have our lasting thanks and admiration, earned in far off lands. They are lucky to have made it back, and we are blessed in having them back. A choir director, members at church, workmates, and casual acquaintances are among them. There are many more unknowingly met in bank lines and pharmacies, the routine encounters that are part of everyday life. I have a letter from a onetime coworker, recently assigned to Afghanistan. He has my prayers until the moment he returns.
My friend in the library had a special relationship with his dad. They each shared an admiration of the other, quiet and well deserved. The last act of that regard came as the son gazed into an open casket. He placed next to his father the Bronze Star that had been awarded for an act of desperation decades ago in a land far away.
The father had chosen his son well.
Reprinted from November 11, 2008
On banning the Student Democratic Club
"You can't be a Democrat and be a Christian
and be a university representative."
Mark Hine, Vice President of Student Affairs, Liberty University
(The Republican Club remains sanctioned)