Jun 25

That’s how the Wall Street Journal described the second Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act, as written.

Which is precisely what was at the heart of the case before the justices yet again, what the AFA said. Here’s the later version of the WSJ story, though the news alert that dropped into my inbox said this in opening summary:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Obama administration can continue to subsidize health-insurance purchases by lower-income Americans across the country, a decision that preserves a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act.

The ruling marks the second time President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement has survived a near-death experience in the courts, and leaves the law on a firmer footing for the remainder of his time in office.

And thus

rescuing for the second time the most ambitious social program in nearly 50 years and ensuring that the law’s ultimate fate will be in the hands of the political process.

Which nearly everything is, these days. In the hands of the political process, that is. Except for those matters  in the hands of the judiciary, though that wing has long been bending in the direction of the prevailing political winds.

As usual, there’s a lot of coverage out there, something to fit any viewpoint. Though I’m a legal and policy wonk, my angle is of a purist, how carefully we adhere to the truth and meaning of language of law, policy, and everything else from political promises to social realities, scientific statements to biomedical facts, faith claims to gospel teachings, and all things as they uphold human dignity.

So the key issue for me is how words were so central to this case and final ruling. Leaving aside the specifics of the AFA, otherwise known as Obamacare, I believe everyone deserves health care. How that is best delivered is debatable. Interestingly, two allegedly conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, differed widely (and wildly) in their views of how to handle the Obamacare wording and challenge to it. And the wording of the opinion and dissent.

The WSJ reports:

The 6-3 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld a signature achievement of President Barack Obama’s tenure. In buttressing the health law’s legal foundation it raised the odds that it may become as entrenched as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The case turned on wording, as the WSJ and any other responsible media reported, no matter how else they reported it. In particular, four words: “established by the State”.

Carrie Severino explains at NRO:

On the Chief’s appeal to context, Scalia points out that context “is a tool for understanding the terms of the law, not an excuse for rewriting them.” But, as Scalia explains, the Chief’s opinion does not merely redefine the words “established by the State,” it effectively deletes them from the statute because the majority’s position is that they add precisely no meaning to the law. Yet Congress used this apparently meaningless phrase over and over. “It is bad enough for a court to cross out ‘by the State’ once. But seven times?”

To which dissenting Justice Scalia went to great lengths by delivering his lively and blistering dissent from the bench, which is unusual.

To mention just the highlights, the Court’s interpretation clashes with a statutory definition, renders words inoperative in at least seven separate provisions of the Act, overlooks the con­trast between provisions that say “Exchange” and those that say “Exchange established by the State,” gives the same phrase one meaning for purposes of tax credits but an entirely different meaning for other purposes, and (let us not forget) contradicts the ordinary meaning of the words Congress used. On the other side of the ledger, the Court has come up with nothing more than a general provision that turns out to be controlled by a specific one, a handful of clauses that are consistent with either under­standing of establishment by the State, and a resemblance between the tax-credit provision and the rest of the Tax Code. If that is all it takes to make something ambiguous, everything is ambiguous. (emphasis added)

There was a lot of buzz about judicial activism on this ruling. NRO’s Peter Augustine Lawler posted this in response.

I’m sympathetic with Roberts’s statesmanlike view that the judiciary is not the branch of government equipped, all alone, to save us from Obamacare. So he refuses an opportunity for “judicial activism.” But, from another view, he turns out to be quite the activist, telling Congress what it really meant by its incompetently drafted, screwed-up law. And so if judicial activism is a synonym for judicial legislation, that’s what we have here. Someone might say that Scalia was uncharacteristically the activist for wanting to strike part of the law down. But he claims to be doing the least activist thing by sending the law back to Congress. It should figure out what it really meant and then say that…

All in all, there are some interesting separation-of-powers issues here, as well as the one about the extent to which the Court should scope out the political environment before deciding whether or not to strike a law down.

Yes. Which is precisely the point. It was the point when the Blackmun court wrote abortion into law and cited the Constitution as grounding for it, making that up as it went. It was the point going back to the Dred Scott decision on slavery. Both issues involve classes of human beings denied human rights by the high court.

With this ruling, Justice Scalia said in his dissent, “words no longer have meaning”.

How that atmosphere impacted the decision on how the definition of marriage was deliberated and decided is about to become clear. The task of restoring the meaning of language in communicating human truths is as vital as ever. The merits of Justice Roberts majority opinion may be understandable to many people. But Justice Scalia’s clarifying blast is a valuable call for truth in justice.

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Jun 18

And the costs are prohibitive.

Things are getting worse, too. Look at the incident at Chicago’s Northwestern University that prompted this editorial from the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

Universities were meant to be places where ideas can be voiced and debated without fear, where the search for truth has no artificial limits, where no assumption is beyond challenge. Their motto could be the line by the 17th-century poet and philosopher John Milton: “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

How archaic that sounds now, sadly.

In February, communications professor Laura Kipnis wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe.”

That started a chain of events that blew up the academic arena of ideas where challenge and response should be the norm, and everyone should be intelligent and mature enough to engage in that arena with reason. Read the editorial to see how far short of that ideal the university fell when things started flaring up over Professor Kipnis’ article.

Geoffrey Stone, a First Amendment scholar and former provost of the University of Chicago, wrote in The Huffington Post that Northwestern had committed an “embarrassing” betrayal of “the core principles of academic freedom.” Kipnis’ sole offense, he said, was “writing an article that upset some students.”…

The article Kipnis wrote was in the best tradition of spirited inquiry. Northwestern’s rough treatment of her is bound to have an intimidating effect on professors who see the danger of expressing any opinion that could offend anyone.

Just ask Sir Tim Hunt, formerly esteemed scientist at University College London. Who had an incident of misspeaking in a clearly clumsy setup for a talk before a world conference of science journalists, which he may forever regret.

As jokes go, Sir Tim Hunt’s brief standup routine about women in science last week must rank as one of the worst acts of academic self-harm in history. As he reveals to the Observer, reaction to his remarks about the alleged lachrymose tendencies of female researchers has virtually finished off the 72-year-old Nobel laureate’s career as a senior scientific adviser.

What he said was wrong, he acknowledges, but the price he and his wife have had to pay for his mistakes has been extreme and unfair. “I have been hung out to dry,” says Hunt.

His wife, Professor Mary Collins, one of Britain’s most senior immunologists, is similarly indignant. She believes that University College London – where both scientists had posts – has acted in “an utterly unacceptable” way in pressuring both researchers and in failing to support their causes.

Certainly the speed of the dispatch of Hunt – who won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology for his work on cell division – from his various academic posts is startling. In many cases this was done without him even being asked for his version of events, he says. The story shows, if nothing else, that the world of science can be every bit as brutal as that of politics.

That’s an important component of this case study to note. It’s pervasive now.

Sitting on a sofa with his wife, Hunt tries to explain why he made the remarks that got him into trouble while Collins groans in despair as he outlines his behaviour. Hunt had been invited to the world conference of science journalists in Seoul and had been asked to speak at a meeting about women in science. His brief remarks contained 39 words that have subsequently come to haunt him.

What in the world could have caused so much trouble, in so few words? Here’s what he said in the now infamous, awkward setup on the topic of women in science.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry,” he told delegates.

Just as an aside, I’m a woman and longtime investigative journalist who worked for two decades for one of the nation’s leading news magazines interviewing thought leaders, including a Nobel laureate the day he won the prize, and members of a presidential administration, among other dignitaries. Had I been sitting in that audience, I would not have laughed, smiled, or shown any glimmer of reaction, probably thinking ‘that was a stupid thing to say‘, and waiting for him to get to the important stuff.

But it was a tougher crowd.

Hunt may have meant to be humorous, but his words were not taken as a joke by his audience. One or two began tweeting what he had said and within a few hours he had become the focus of a particularly vicious social media campaign. He was described on Twitter as “a clueless, sexist jerk”; “a misogynist dude scientist”; while one tweet demanded that the Royal Society “kick him out”.

The next morning, as he headed for Seoul airport, Hunt got an inkling of the storm that was gathering when BBC Radio 4’s Today programme texted requesting an interview…

After Today was broadcast, and while Hunt was still flying back, Collins was called by University College London. She is a professor and a former dean there, while Hunt was an honorary researcher.

“I was told by a senior that Tim had to resign immediately or be sacked – though I was told it would be treated as a low-key affair. Tim duly emailed his resignation when he got home. The university promptly announced his resignation on its website and started tweeting that they had got rid of him. Essentially, they had hung both of us out to dry. They certainly did not treat it as a low-key affair. I got no warning about the announcement and no offer of help, even though I have worked there for nearly 20 years. It has done me lasting damage. What they did was unacceptable.”

The story appeared in newspapers round the world under headlines that said that Hunt had been sacked by UCL for sexism. Worse was to follow…

Hunt is under no illusions about the consequences. “I am finished,” he says. “I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs.”

This is now standard operation procedure for academic institutions, political ones, elite media and activist organizations influenced by “the illiberal left”, as Kirsten Powers calls it, in her challenging book The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. She was my guest on radio twice recently, each time eager and ready to engage, and we had lively conversations about the need for engagement of diverse opinions in the arena of ideas, with respectful debate and intellectual engagement. I also share her deep concern over vanishing civil discourse and a dominant culture of intolerance, shutting down debate and even discussion.

It’s an important book, for its intellectual honesty  and insight by a professional political strategist well-known as a liberal who worked in the Clinton administration, and a current commentator on Fox News. She has accumulated a full package of insights from all that experience, which started in a childhood immersed in news and political affairs. Much like mine. We share a deep appreciation for the art of the argument, and the need for robust public debate between proponents of different ideas. That’s not only not what’s happening, she worries it’s becoming increasingly threatened by the bully forces of “the illiberal left.”

The behavior of the illiberal left flies in the face of decades of jurisprudence forged by liberal Supreme Court Justices who argued for an expansive view of the First Amendment and treated free speech as a precious commodity to be guarded jealously…

Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. – a liberal lion known for his outspoken progressive views – was perhaps the strongest First Amendment advocate of the modern era.

Powers cites what was likely Brennan’s most well-known free speech opinion, in which he defended “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open…” But, she says:

The illiberal left does not share this commitment. Their burgeoning philosophy in favor of government power to curtail freedom of thought, speech, and conscience is troubling.

Because it’s brutal, with a ‘mob mentality’ enforcing silence where free speech laws still protect those still willing to speak out. However, Powers says:

The illiberal left knows that delegitimization works. It’s their strongest weapon in a country with unparalleled free speech protections. If you can’t suppress views you don’t like with repressive laws, then delegitimize the people expressing them.

While we still have free speech laws in place…

deligimization through demonizing and intimidation remains the illiberal left’s most effective tactic…The illiberal left seeks to short-circuit this process (of debate). They don’t want to defend their views, nor do they want to allow forums for other people to present views that are at odds with the conclusions they have drawn on an array of issues. Sometimes, the mere suggestion of holding a debate is cast as an offense.

And this is early in her book. It’s filled with case studies backing up everything she says, and she says a lot that needs to be said.

Under a section titled ‘Age of Un-Enlightenment’, she says what so many have been afraid to say, which she does throughout the book.

The illiberal left isn’t just ruining reputations and lives with their campaigns of deligitimization and disparagement. They are harming all of society by silencing important debates, denying people the right to draw their own conclusions, and derailing reporting and research that is important to our understanding of the world. They are robbing culture of the diversity of thought that is so central to learning and discovery…

When people are afraid to express their opinions because they’ve seen other people as deviants deserving of public shaming or worse, they will be less likely to speak freely…This is not the kind of world we want.

No, it isn’t. We’re in a Paul Revere moment in our history in the US, and a pivotal one globally. Whoever hears the call to stand up to the assault on free speech should be emboldened to engage, challenge, present and defend truths about human rights and dignity that the “illiberal left” work to discredit or eliminate altogether.

This battle goes back to Plato, who battled the Sophists of his time. In Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, Josef Pieper described how they so deftly worked at retooling vocabulary and rhetoric to change the meaning of words to justify anything. Pieper explicitly described the results.

 The place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality…deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible anymore to discern the truth.

We’re getting darned close to that place.

For the general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find out about the truth but also become unable even to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions, satisfied with a fictitious reality created by design through the abuse of language.

Powers makes the point from current politics:

What sets the illiberal left apart are their campaigns to delegitimize people who deviate on even one issue by openly engaging in racist and sexist attacks, all the while presenting themselves as the protectors and representatives of all women and non-white people.

This is going to be a rich and robust presidential campaign season for the next year and a half. So much is at stake.

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Jun 02

Marketed under terminology crafted to trigger sympathy and compliance, it still is what it is.

The former Hemlock Society changed its name to Compassion and Choices. Sounds nice and fuzzy. So does Death With Dignity, though less so Aid In Dying although that still softens the fact that someone is ending someone else’s life. At least Mercy Killing uses the word, though softened with the spiritual concept of charity.

Working closely with Terri Schiavo’s family and some of their legal and spiritual counselors during that ordeal which erupted on the national and then international consciousness in early 2005, I did investigative reporting that turned up facts, claims, contradictions and records that mostly didn’t make it to big media reports on the story, though my radio network covered it all. Someone sent me a letter from a man in the Netherlands warning that if America let this woman die by court ordered starvation and dehydration, Dutch euthanasia would come to this country. How prescient that was.

Not long after, Hollywood gave the euthanasia and assisted suicide movements huge momentum, though not without warning there, either. Hollywood professional Barbara Nicolosi laid it all out here.

The evidence is undeniable: Somewhere in the middle of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, Hollywood and the cultural left climbed aboard the latest human-killing bandwagon and have since thrown the weight of their talent and creativity behind it. As with abortion, the forces of darkness are outmaneuvering the forces of good on what will certainly be the moral issue of the 21st century.

If we lose the fight on euthanasia, we lose our souls. By removing suffering and the meaning of suffering from our culture, we make the final step in denying and defying our creature-hood. Once again, the seductive lie of Eden will trip us up: “If you will do this thing, you shall be like God.”

Our response to the mercy-killing machine must be more than an occasional op-ed piece; we need a shrewd and all-encompassing cultural strategy if we are going to make a good fight in the euthanasia war.

Shrewd means that we fight smart. It means appealing to the emotions of the masses through stories, not non-fiction tomes. Songs, not philosophical tirades. Heroes, not pundits.

That was 2011, we’ve had heroes and storytellers since then, but we still need that shrewd and all-encompassing cultural strategy. Because death has been peddled as an available and increasingly acceptable option, through semantic engineering. Barbara Nicolosi, one of the heroes, swung for the fences in this appeal to awareness and action, sanity and reason.

If we’ve learned anything from the abortion wars, it’s that the words “choice” and “right to choose” set our cause back decades. We need an emotionally winning language for this fight. The other side should not get away with christening themselves “mercy killers”; they are “death dealers,” “elder abortionists,” “needlers.” Please, not “death with dignity”; let’s get there first with “medical murder” and “unnatural death.” Not “end-of-life clinics” but “human garbage pits.” We need slogans like, “Make your insurance adjuster’s day; let him kill you.” Or, “Everything we know about euthanasia we learned from the Nazis.”

We must be aggressive in exposing the deceptions driving the euthanasia movement — lies like the implication that personhood can somehow disappear from a wounded human body. Or that a human life could ever lose its value. Or that suicide can be a courageous act. We must contradict the notion that suffering is the worst thing that can happen to a person.

That message got a lot of currency with the sad and tragic Brittany Maynard story used to the advantage of the assisted suicide movement and sensationalized by complicit media. What didn’t get so much coverage were the stories, names, faces and voices of others who faced and knew extreme suffering, and tried to witness to the truth of Nicolosi’s message about human life, dignity, and living through suffering.

Like the seminarian who kept trying to reach Maynard through Facebook posts and interviews, mostly in pro-life media, with true compassion. Philip Johnson had the same diagnosis and knew the pain.

And Lauren Hill, the determined teenager, who played her beloved sport of basketball even through pain and increasing disability, because her motto was “never give up.” If you don’t click on these hyperlinks to check out the stories, at least read this short one on her legacy, written on a Marine news site by Pfc. Ned Johnson.She was a basketball player — an athlete. She scored legitimate points for her junior college. But more importantly, she scored a lot of points in life.

Hill was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Cancer. In high school. At 18.

That’s when Hill proved she was more than many of us could ever hope to be. She went to college with this tumor. Then she made the basketball team, scored 10 points across four games before her body became too weak for her to continue.

She started a fundraiser that raised more than $1.5 million for pediatric cancer research…

There are many others who witness to courage and hope and true dignity, through their own suffering. Mark Davis Pickup is one, and he’s appealing to California legislators to consider the gravity of the bill before them this week, and the consequences of their vote.

I am a Canadian. As you know Canada’s Supreme Court recently struck down my nation’s laws against assisted suicide, opening wide the gates for physician assisted killing of suicidal sick and disabled people. Please do not take California down a similar path. It is not the hallmark of a “civil society”. There is nothing civilized about euthanasia or assisted suicide. Do not be fooled by euphemisms for killing like “death with dignity”. Dignity is not bestowed on people by injecting them with poison when they are at their lowest point. That is abandonment not dignity. Death with dignity is not an event, it is a process, the end result of having lived a life with dignity, benefiting from the best 21st Century palliative care (which is capable of eliminating physical pain), and being surrounded by loved ones.

Someone may say “What about those who do not have loved ones?” Precisely! What about them? Is the answer to euthanize them or seek to include them within the tender embrace of community? Another person may say, “I should have the autonomous right to determine the time and place of my own death.” Really? That presumes decisions only affect the individual making them. That is not true. Our decisions always impact others. The idea independent personal autonomy is diametrically opposed to the concept of interdependent community.

If I choose suicide (assisted or otherwise) it will not affect just me: It will affect my wife, children and grandchildren. It will impact my community and my doctor for I will ask her to stop being my healer and become my killer. And it will affect my nation by helping to entrench the notion that there are some lives unworthy to be lived.

Doctors, patients and healthcare experts are appealing likewise to California lawmakers and the people who elected them to protect and defend human life at all stages. That state’s lesislature is poised to vote one way or the other on the assisted suicide bill before them. Stephanie’s Journey puts a personal face and family on a profound call for care taking in this delicate process. Carolyn Moynihan covered it well here.

Disability Rights & Defense Fund expert Marilyn Golden testified before the California State Senate Health Committee with this comprehensive, riveting report, so lawmakers at least would make an informed vote.

I’m covering this on radio Wednesday with a California expert speaking for the disability community, to hear what he’s been saying in calls to legislative offices in the state, and hearing in response.

Because as Terri Schiavo’s family continues to proclaim, in carrying on her legacy and give voice to the voiceless, where there’s life, there’s hope.

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May 11

No case for rights of any sort can be made by those who insist on the lawful ability to kill babies.

It doesn’t get more basic than that.

Feminist author Naomi Wolf made an important and intellectually honest statement of fact in her 1995 article “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Re-thinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric”. I cited it in my book Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture.

But to its own ethical and political detriment, the pro-choice movement has relinquished the moral frame around the issue of abortion. It has ceded the language of right and wrong to abortion foes. The movement’s abandonment of what Americans have always, and rightly, demanded of their movements–an ethical core–and its reliance instead on a political rhetoric in which the foetus means nothing are proving fatal…

By refusing to look at abortion within a moral framework, we lose the millions of Americans who want to support abortion as a legal right but still need to condemn it as a moral iniquity. Their ethical allegiances are then addressed by the pro-life moevement, which is willing tos peak about good and evil.

But we are also in danger of losing something more important than votes; we stand in jeopardy of losing what can only be called our souls. Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life.

This comes to mind now as Congress prepares, again, to vote on the so-called ‘20 Week Abortion Ban‘.

Pro-life leaders are applauding the US House of Representatives for scheduling a vote this week on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy…

Eleven states have approved similar measures to H.R. 36. The New York Times reports that 37 new rules on abortion have been enacted in 11 states already this year. Arkansas alone approved six new laws. On Thursday, Wisconsin legislators proposed banning any abortion after 20 weeks.

In clearer language, abortion on a five month old baby.

In the meantime, while much of the new legislation focuses on waiting periods, counseling, and what doctors can say to patients, The New England Journal of Medicine last week published a study showing that severely premature newborns at age 22 weeks (some weighing 1.1 pounds at birth) may survive with intensive treatment with few lasting developmental problems.

Which wound up on the front page of the New York Times last week in a revealing article accompanied by a compelling photo of a young girl on a swing, fully healthy and alive, who represented those babies born so prematurely who received such life-giving treatment and clearly not only survived but thrived.

The issue of ‘viability of the fetus’ is a turning point in this debate over when abortion is ‘acceptable’ and must be protected as a ‘right’, and when it pushes the limit.

Abortion pushes the limit of what civilized society should allow from the very beginning of life when that society fights so many other battles to serve vulnerable minorities of other sorts in other conditions to secure their rights. Before they are whatever other identity in a protected class, they are first human.

This vote Wednesday better happen, and pass. Until the deception and insanity of Roe v. Wade can be undone, incremental common sense laws establishing long overdue limits have to work their way forward to protect the most innocent, youngest class of brothers and sisters among us. It is the civil rights movement of our time.

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May 07

It stated the obvious.

But on Thursday, this story appeared on the cover of the New York Times, prominently, above the fold, with a photo to help illustrate the point. First of all, look at the photo and read the caption. That pretty much sums up the story. Which became much more difficult to access online the very day it appeared.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors once thought possible, a new study has documented, raising questions about how aggressively they should be treated and posing implications for the debate about abortion.

Several things about that. The photo shows a thriving young girl who was born ‘very prematurely’, illustrating the full humanity of life at all stages. The opening sentence in the piece emphasizes “a small number of very premature babies”, planting the idea that these babies are “very premature’ (so what?), and that only a “small number” of the them survive outside the womb if delivered that early (so…we should disregard them?). Oh, and another thing downplayed in the lead. It was documented in “a new study”.

What was buried deeper in the Times story was that this study was produced by the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine.

There’s a lot to say about this report, a lot to unpack. But for now, the clear and delightful humanity of the little girl on the swing in the photo accompanying the story says it all. And the implications this has on the debate about abortion…no question. After the Gosnell trial there were enormous implications. Truth has a way of coming out in spite of efforts to suppress it.

Across America, states are introducing bans on abortion after 20 weeks. That’s a five month old baby. This New England Journal of Medicine study will certainly add information to that heated debate, which is nothing more than a radical, ideological drive in the first place.

How the abortion movement has sustained power and influence after these many years is the bigger story.

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Apr 14

Summed up in a few lines, in a week of ‘big announcements.’

Like Peggy Noonan, I have emerged from a virtual bunker packed with too much work to allow blogging, only because she says it here.

Two points on the general feel of the 2016 campaign so far.

One is that in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.

Yep, that’s it in brief, pithy, well-defined sum.

Please God, let us have a press acting once again like the press of a great nation, hungry, raucous, alive, demanding. And further…challenging, engaging, insightful (and dear God, let them finally be self-reflective for a change, examining how they’ve handled political reporting for years and decades now). And finally, honest and honorable. Is that too much to ask? A lively and engaged press, open to all sides and all views, eager to enter the arena of ideas and work them out and pick them apart and apply critical thinking skills so we can once again have vigorous, robust debate covered well by professional journalists?

Or will we continue to get ‘the blob, dying of ideological poisoning’? So much is yet to be determined, some of it now declared.

A bit more on that in the early going, from Noonan’s WSJ column:

On the Republican side there is a good deep bench and there will be a hell of a fight among serious and estimable contenders. A handful of them—Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rubio, maybe Bobby Jindal—are first-rate debaters, sharp advancers of a thought and a direction. Their debates, their campaigning, their oppo geniuses, their negative ads—it’s all going to be bloody. Will the American people look at them in 2016 and see dynamism and excitement and youth and actual ideas and serious debate? Will it look like that’s where the lightning’s striking and the words have meaning? Will it fortify and revivify the Republican brand? Or will it all look like mayhem and chaos? Will the eventual winner emerge a year from now too bloodied, too damaged to go on and win in November? Will the party itself look bloody and damaged?

On the Democratic side we have Mrs. Clinton, gliding. If she has no serious competition, will the singularity of her situation make her look stable, worthy of reflexive respect, accomplished, serene, the obvious superior choice? Or will Hillary alone on the stage, or the couch, or in the tinted-window SUV, look entitled, presumptuous, old, boring, imperious, yesterday?

Will it all come down to bloody versus boring?

And which would America prefer?

Enough said, for now.

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Mar 29

Someone ask the flamethrowers if they’ve read the law. It’s nothing new.

So much has erupted in big media and social media since Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law the other day, sanity is another thing we need to restore.

On Thursday, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, and some celebrities, politicians, and journalists–including Miley Cyrus, Ashton Kutcher, and Hillary Clinton, just to name a few–are absolutely outraged. They say the law is a license to discriminate against gay people

which is simply not true. However, they’re making that perception a reality in people’s minds by repeating that exact mantra often and everywhere they can.

So calmer, wiser voices are speaking up to clarify just what this is all about. There are primers on RFRA all over the place, for those interested in knowing the truth behind the blowup. Here’s the Weekly Standard.

Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act really a license to discriminate against gay people?

No. Stanford law professor Michael McConnell, a former appellate court judge, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an email: “In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else.”

It’s actually the opposite. It’s a protection of individuals, business owners, others, from being discriminated against for conducting their business according to their beliefs. Which applies in any number of possible scenarios, some offensive to one group or another, but necessary as a uniform framework law.

So what is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and what does it say?

(this is important, pay attention:)

The first RFRA was a 1993 federal law that was signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton. It unanimously passed the House of Representatives, where it was sponsored by then-congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and sailed through the Senate on a 97-3 vote.

The law reestablished a balancing test for courts to apply in religious liberty cases (a standard had been used by the Supreme Court for decades). RFRA allows a person’s free exercise of religion to be “substantially burdened” by a law only if the law furthers a “compelling governmental interest” in the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”  (emphasis added)

So the law doesn’t say that a person making a religious claim will always win. In the years since RFRA has been on the books, sometimes the courts have ruled in favor of religious exemptions, but many other times they haven’t.

However, the Weekly Standard notes the dramatic overreaction to the perception of the law since it passed late last week.

Meanwhile, activists are calling for a boycott. The CEO of SalesForce, a company that does business in China, is pulling out of Indiana. The NCAA has expressed concern about holding events there in the future. And the city of San Francisco is banning taxpayer-funded travel to the state.

Mollie Hemingway takes a closer look at that SalesForce boycott, among others, in this piece at the Federalist.

SalesForce is a $4 billion cloud computing company based in San Francisco. And its CEO Marc Benioff opposes religious liberty protections. He’s so extreme about it that when Indiana passed a bill that protects religious liberty, he announced he was pulling business out of the state….

Benioff argues that protecting religious liberty makes travel to Indiana unsafe for customers or employees. This would be a foolish slander about any state that protects religious liberty. But have you been to Indiana? They’re almost too nice. This is a shockingly stupid claim for someone to make about liberty protections. Besides, this bill protects people from improper government restrictions on religious liberty, contrary to most media coverage of the bill.

Anyway, it’s worth looking at who Benioff happily does business with.

The company has a branch based out of Beijing in the People’s Republic of China, a Communist-controlled country that is a human rights nightmare.

There’s a nicely revealing snip there from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom report on China detailing some of that country’s latest abuses.

Then Hemingway makes a point of what the RFRA is, both the federal and state versions. And applies critical thinking to this exercise in knee-jerk reaction.

The United States has since 1993 had a federal version of the bill signed by Gov. Mike Pence yesterday. And Indiana joins 18 states with versions of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

If SalesForce CEO Benioff is going to be consistent, he’s not only going to have to lay off everyone who works out of his Chicago, Indianapolis, Tampa and Northern Virginia offices, but he can’t even do business in Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

And there are more to consider. Check out the specifics in the thorough piece.

Also, Benioff may want to review his many contributions to candidates. He’s given a ton of money to candidates who voted for state or federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama, and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Here’s a helpful primer the Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter put together. At bottom,

Many media outlets identified the Indiana bill as being “anti-gay.” Unfortunately, rather than being outraged at finding they were lied to by politicians and journalists, most Americans will not bother to learn the truth and will remain ignorant about these important laws that protect our “first freedom.”

And for those who want to perpetuate the distortion that this latest extension of a longstanding, bipartisan protection of religious freedom is ‘anti-gay’, here’s what law professor Daniel Conkle wants to share, which he did in USA Today.

I am a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. But as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). How can this be?

It’s because — despite all the rhetoric — the bill has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.

The bill would establish a general legal standard, the “compelling interest” test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.

Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security. Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.

In sum,

The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a “license to discriminate,” and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.

There’s plenty more to say, and since this story is exponentially growing bigger and hotter, ballooning with the help of media and social media campaigns fueled more by visceral reaction and emotion than information and consideration, there will be more opportunities, with all this attention, to focus on the truth of the matter.

Meanwhile, here’s the text of the Indiana law.

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Feb 24

It depends on how carefully you choose your words.

This Washington Post headline was attention grabbing: ‘The progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on campus.’

It has a provocative opening setup.

Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”

What?

Challenging an “ideological echo chamber” is a good idea. What went wrong with that good intention?

One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”

I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.

Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.

Unsafe? These days, when students talk about threats to their safety and demand access to “safe spaces,” they’re often talking about the threat of unwelcome speech and demanding protection from the emotional disturbances sparked by unsettling ideas.

This is intellectual dishonesty, bankrupt ideology and ‘politically correct’ bullying carried through to its logical conclusion. Though the irony is, those who do it can’t discern logic.

“Unsettling ideas”? What is academia about, if not ideas that provoke thought, challenge debate, fire neurons and engage critical thinking skills. Whatever happened to the art of argument? Forensics?

Progressivism, that odd misnomer.

How did we get here? How did a verbal defense of free speech become tantamount to a hate crime and offensive words become the equivalent of physical assaults?

You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades: the feminist anti-porn crusades, the pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses.

What to say? This could launch a book, or three. Read the piece and digest its arguments, it’s revealing.

But as for the “feminist anti-porn crusades”, there’s plenty to say that could fill volumes alone on that topic, on how very selective feminists have been in the past few decades to speak out against objectification of women. The latest of which is the vile ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ campaign, which has predictably taken its first publicized toll (with no way to account for the private ones).

Here’s the real anti-porn crusade. And here.

As for the “pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses”, this will take truthful, dedicated and committed rehabilitation – not just efforts but movements – to really recover what’s been lost in the decades of groupthink that took over academia and legitimate intellectual inquiry, and turned out reactionaries who no longer know the rich history of civil, religious and humanitarian rights, first principles, and the consistent ethic of human life and dignity that undergirds them.

They may get annoyed by technological devices constantly feeding them ‘auto-correct’ and ‘auto-suggest’ replacements for what they really feel and think and want to say. But they fail to see it happening in more consequential communications in the classroom, the debate halls and in the public square.

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Feb 17

The film’s opening exposed a deep wound. It needs healing.

Whatever happens to the book and film franchise, the real life toll of human torture it exposes has to stay prominent in public debate and social action. It’s been in the shadows for far too long, and done incalculable damage.

There’s pornography addiction. Which this group of innovative human rights advocates calls ‘the new drug.’ The site is loaded with information and resources.

Dr. Peter Kleponis told me on radio that after spending nearly two decades in marriage counseling, something changed, and the reality of the scourge of pornography addiction started becoming more apparent and more urgent in the crises he found himself dealing with, though nobody would talk openly about it. That was eight years ago, and he’s been working on treatment for men and couples over those years.

Why the silence? Fear, shame, confusion, the mainstreaming of the porn culture. Which became more prominent with the release of this film. Look at this middle-school class project, worked into a crossword puzzle.

There’s the dismissive excuse that as long as people consent to what they’re doing, it’s nobody else’s business. But with cultural dysfunction, sometimes consent is not enough.

“As long as he or she is consenting, it’s OK.” No it’s not, because people consent all the time to practices that they know are destructive and this doesn’t make such practices right. First, people can be pressured by their culture or their peers into things that they know are harmful to them. The fear of being left out or laughed at can motivate the teenager to do drugs that are physiologically damaging to his body. He may know that they are harmful and that he will suffer consequences for doing them. But he doesn’t want his friends to think that he isn’t cool enough to do things that are physically risky. So he ‘consents’ in order to fit in. His ‘consent’ may seem voluntary but really he is being pressured by the people in his surroundings, and his fear of social rejection overcomes his better judgment. Women and men all the time are afraid of not fitting in or being part of the cool crowd. So they ‘consent’ to sexually exploitative practices that they know are damaging in order to be accepted. The sixteen-year-old girl ‘consents’ to sext pictures of her naked torso in order to fit in with the social climbers at school…

The point is that history is full of examples of mass cultural delusions. Just because large numbers of people think that something is right or intriguing or cool doesn’t make it in fact right or intriguing or cool. A democratic majority is a poor basis for a healthy sexual morality.

A lot of times my students these days tell me that they want to help stop the sexual trafficking industry. They are shocked by the idea of exploited women – girls, even – being made to do things that are predatory and damaging. Whenever they say this to me I always respond, “do you really want to do something to stop sex trafficking? Change yourself first before you try to change others. Don’t look at porn, don’t promote sexual practices that are exploitative of others, and don’t put money in the hands of people whose movies stir up a desire in the culture for the trafficked girls.” “Fifty Shades” is wrong because it is stirring up a desire in people for exploitative sexual practices. It makes people want to do things that enable predatory industries like sex trafficking to flourish.

This MSU study bears out the harm that comes from exposure to pop culture porn, like ‘Fifty Shades.’

Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher. Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster “Fifty Shades” erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in “Fifty Shades,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator…

Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.
Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink — or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month — and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.

Bonomi, who has a doctoral degree in health services and a master’s in public health, said she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life.

However, it’s important women understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship.

And they don’t end up the way Hollywood portrays in this film series.

“They’re making out as if this caught on all by itself, but it wasn’t organic growth. There’s been a juggernaut of media behind this, and it’s selling to women an image that somehow if you love a sadist out of his (abuse) you’ll have a great life,” (Dr. Gail Dines) said.

“When in reality, how ’50 Shades’ would end is that she’s running for her life to a battered women’s shelter, with children in tow, she’s got her front teeth knocked out, she’s got cigarette burns up and down her arm…she’s living off the grid without a bank account or a cell phone, cause these sadists never let go.”

The media celebration of the books and movies shows an irresponsibility and an ignorance about how violence against women is perpetuated, Dines added.

“You have a media who’s celebrating this violence against women,” she said. “No other group would be celebrated when they’re beaten and tortured like this, it would be considered an outrage. For any other minority group, if you had a film that would eroticize them being violated, people would absolutely be tearing down the cinemas in the streets. And what do we have here? We have a massive media juggernaut promoting it.”

Dines, who is also a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, said she believes “50 Shades of Grey” has also caught on because we live in a culture where pornography is considered acceptable.

“If you want to understand the popularity of this, you have to look at the way pornography has literally hijacked the way people think about sex and sexuality,” she said.

As a sociologist, Dines said she has seen a lot of research about the effects of pornography on the brains of boys and men. The younger someone becomes addicted to porn, the more difficult it is to break away, she said. Furthermore, regular viewing of pornography is re-shaping the way boys’ brains are forming.

“We’ve got 40 years of experimental psychology research which tells us that the more porn men look at, the more boys look at, the more they believe it,” she said. “The jury’s not out about that – that has been known in the science literature for years and years.”

There’s also plenty known by the international experts in human trafficking, like Elizabeth Yore, who tells me that the film ‘Fifty Shades’ portrays torture as romance, and helps predators groom their victims. Help stop this. Be alert to signals that it may be happening right around you.

And be aware of the porn effect. And resources available to eliminate it, and heal the wounds it causes, no matter how deep or dark they seem.

If all of this helps just one person, it will have served its purpose. And if ‘Fifty Shades’ has any redeeming value, it’s in opening this critically needed public discussion, exchange and forum for help to protect and restore human dignity.

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Feb 06

Cover for all sorts of grime.

However the book series Fifty Shades of Grey came to be wildly popular, I’ll let social scientists figure out and help us sort through the ravages of our culture for the past five decades or so. But because it has turned into a heavily funded, slickly filmed and produced, and very cleverly marketed big budget film about to be released for Valentine’s Day weekend – a real twist of ironies there – people need to be aware of what this is all about. So many aren’t. Zac Alstin tried to help out here.

From its first pages Fifty Shades of Grey is firmly situated in the realms of mediocre fan fiction, beginning with an awkward and clichéd scene in which the protagonist helpfully describes her own appearance in the mirror. It continues with a quality of prose and characterisation that would be hard to reconcile with the book’s success but for the knowledge that the “erotic romance” genre is underpinned by readers’ sexual fantasies – in this case, the sexual fantasies of a hundred million Twilight readers already primed for an R-rated elaboration of their favourite tale of forbidden love…

As one author put it: “Two years ago, it was all vampires. Now it’s BDSM. Kink is the new vamp.”

Unfortunately BDSM does actually exist, whereas vampires do not…

Put those thoughts together and go to Miriam Grossman, featured here already for her expert insight and advice on the issues related to the themes of Shades of Grey. She speaks with expertise of those young readers primed for an elaboration on tales of forbidden love, without understanding the true nature of love. In fact, Dr. Grossman has written a four part series to help navigate this cultural minefield. It’s well done, from the first post, a parent survival guide on how to talk with teens and young adults about the subject.

There’s a lot for them to figure out, but they’re utterly lost. What do I want, and how do I get it? How do I deal with peer pressure and navigate the hook-up culture? Are there consequences to sex, or is it just about fun? What’s normal? What’s not?

Please know, these are kids who by and large do well in other areas. They’re successful at school and with friends; some of them are accomplished musicians and athletes. But romance? That’s where they’re thrown off-track, and there are lots of tears, anger, and regret.

I often wonder to myself, I know this kid has responsible, loving parents…where are they?

Moms and dads, guardians and grandparents, I urge you: no matter how awkward it is, you must speak to your children about intimacy – what it is, and what it is not. I’m talking not only about teens, but also tweens who are mature, or who hang out with teens.

Now brace youselves…

The perfect opportunity is here. Hollywood’s gift to us this Valentine’s Day is Fifty Shades of Grey. With Universal Picture’s mega million dollar publicity campaign, and a soundtrack by Beyonce, your child is about to be bombarded with a dangerous message about romance.

That’s a gift?

Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates and threatens. In short, the film portrays emotional and physical abuse as sexually arousing to both parties.

You know these are foul lies, but your kids may not be sure. If the world was a better place, they would never hear such awful things. But this is the world we live in.

The good news is you can turn this to your advantage. Don’t dread all the hype, because it’s a chance to connect with and help your child in a big way. Every billboard, preview, and sound clip is a precious opportunity, a chance to warn your child about being manipulated. It’s a springboard for discussion about disturbed relationships – how to recognize and avoid them.

You can prepare for this with a little homework.

1. Learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – this will give you credibility. Do this by reading a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia. If you want more than that, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler ( warning: obscene language ).

2. Identify some opportunities for private and uninterrupted time with your child. Perhaps in the car, or while working together in the kitchen or garage. If you don’t think it’s going to happen, consider a bribe: There’s something really important I want to talk about. If you turn your phone off for fifteen minutes while we chat, I’ll give you five bucks. There’s nothing wrong with this.

My goal is this: by Valentine’s Day, you’re going to say: thank you, Universal Pictures. I used to procrastinate about talking with my child about this difficult subject. But Fifty Shades is so extreme, so over the top, that I had to step up to the plate. And I’m so pleased I did…because we had one of the most important conversations of our lives.

Good advice. Because these young people engaging entertainment media and pop culture all the time are sure confused. But so are their parents. I had Patrick Trueman on my program this week, former Justice Department head of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and current President of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, to discuss how his organization is engaging this rollout of what he repeatedly called hardcore porn pitched as romantic fantasy. He said the film promotes torture, abuse and sadomasochism, normalizes domestic violence, and particularly violence against women.

That same afternoon, a young friend excitedly planning her wedding told me, anxiously about two women she knew who were planning to see the film when it comes out on Valentine’s Day weekend. One was her mother-in-law to be. The other is her friend who works at an abused women’s shelter. This, declared my friend, is the extent to which people are clueless about the harsh, perverse and graphic reality of this film. And it highlights the need to inform them.

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