Just Because You’re Paranoid…

As the old saying goes: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Last week has not been kind to the Obama administration in that regard. I watched a lot of the Benghazi hearings on C-SPAN while I was working, and to me it seemed clear that the most explosive accusation the GOP has been making is still completely unsubstantiated. There’s no evidence (that I’ve seen) that President Obama or anyone else refused to send military aid that could have arrived on time and would have made the difference. On the other hand, there seems to be pretty overwhelming evidence that the Administration willfully and knowingly lied to the American people in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and then doubled-down on the first set of lies. And it looks like even the non-paranoid, mainstream media outlets are taking notice.

2013-05-13 Benghazi Hearing

The New Yorker, for example, has a piece with the headline Spinning Benghazi. And it gets right to the main evidence of deception: 

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Daily Beast: NARAL = NRA?

This is one of those comparisons that, once made, seems so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t see it before. The NRA is hell-bent on preventing even the most moderate and reasonable gun-control regulation because they believe that any incremental shift today will lead to a gradual erosion of the Second Amendment over time and, to the NRA, there’s nothing more important than the Second Amendment. Well, how about pro-choice groups that oppose even the most moderate and reasonable abortion regulation because they believe that any incremental shift today will lead to a gradual erosion of the right to choose over time. Looks pretty similar, doesn’t it? (I picked out NARAL–the National Abortion Rights Action League–just because of the acronym is somewhat similar to the NRAs.)

What’s really surprising, however, is that this comparison is being drawn in a piece at The Daily Beast, of all places.

2013-05-10 ProAbortion NRA

The piece, by Kirsten Powers, is obviously written from a pro-life slant. After all, one of her main points is the frank assertion that “late-term abortion is infanticide”. That’s an explosive-enough charge that I’m sure it’s going to make the entire article radioactive. The problem is: she’s pretty obviously right. In the first place, serious pro-choice thinkers and activists can’t tell the difference themselves. That’s why plenty of pro-choice philosophers like Peter Singer (there are others, too) build on the legacy of Judith Jarvis Thomson to openly argue for infanticide. But it’s not just academics, Planned Parenthood representatives will say the same thing, and Gosnell’s inability to see the significant of the before/after line when it comes to birth is not unique among abortionists who perform late-term abortions. So, explosive as the accusation may sound, it’s born out in reality.

But even setting aside that particular argument, Powers’ is clearly relatively moderate on this issue. She believes life begins at conception, but has also never voted for anyone but a Democrat and says this proves “overturning Roe v. Wade is not one of my priorities.” What isn’t moderate, however, is current American law. Powers draws the contrast with Europe to make that point:

But medical advances since Roe v. Wade have made it clear to me that late-term abortion is not a moral gray area, and we need to stop pretending it is. No six-months-pregnant woman is picking out names for her “fetus.” It’s a baby. Let’s stop playing Orwellian word games. We are talking about human beings here.

How is this OK? Even liberal Europe gets this. In FranceGermanyItaly, andNorway, abortion is illegal after 12 weeks. In addition to the life-of-mother exception, they provide narrow health exceptions that require approval from multiple doctors or in some cases going before a board. In the U.S., if you suggest such stringent regulation and oversight of later-term abortions, you are tarred within seconds by the abortion rights movement as a misogynist who doesn’t “trust women.”

As with the gun-control issue, the fundamental problem seems to be Constitutionality. When an American law is questioned in a way that makes people think the Constitution is directly involved, the stakes go through the roof. Gun-control legislation clearly fits the bill because of the Second Amendment, and also the well-publicized statements from many leaders of the gun-control movement that their ultimate aim is to confiscate and ban virtually all civilian weapons. Until Roe v Wade, abortion wasn’t a Constitutional issue, and across the country in the 1970s the democratic process was working to liberalize the laws in fits and starts in the usual process of moderation that would likely have resulted in laws similar to what exist in Europe. But Roe v Wade, in further evidence that it was one of the worst SCOTUS decisions in history, short-circuited this democratic legislative process. It handed the pro-choice side everything they could have asked for and more and, as an ironic consequence, meant that from that moment forward the pro-choice side had nothing to win and everything to lose.

Which leads us directly to Gosnell.

There has never been evidence of a back-alley abortionists prior to Roe who operated with the same callous disregard for humanity (not to mention racism) of Kermit Gosnell. To the extent that pre-Roe abortions were dangerous, it was a reflection of overall dangerous surgical practices and not the legality of abortion. No, the real horrors or back-alley abortions have only happened after and as a result of Roe v. Wade.

Mormon Women Project: Tina Richerson

2013-05-10 Tina Richerson

Last night my wife sent me this excellent Mormon Women Project interview with Tina Richerson, and I read it this morning and had to link to it. Richerson has had an amazing life-journey. I empathize with her engagement with Buddhism, although she clearly got deeper into that tradition than I have so far. I am really struck my her statement about her homosexuality and God’s love as well:

I’m a homosexual and I’m a daughter of God. The Lord loves me and there’s a work to be done, brother and sisters. There’s a mighty, mighty work to be done and it’s called building up Zion.

This is a sensitive, personal, and political topic, and I’m amazed at the strength of people like Tina Richerson, Josh Weed, and others who are willing to come forward publicly as openly gay, devout Mormons. I know that it must be a personal cost to them, but I think it does tremendous good to the contentious and often painful discussions about sexuality, morality, and religion. I’ll have more to say about that another time, but for now I’ve already quoted what is by far the most important thing to know: we’re all children of the same God.

Forced Abortions Around the World

As a general rule when I’m talking about the abortion issue I’m talking about it primarily in America. And, within that context, I usually refer to those who want abortion to be kept legal as “pro-choice”. I use that term for three reasons. The first is that, in my experience, it is generally accurate. Most people who call themselves pro-choice are genuinely concerned with the welfare of women and with ensuring women have the power to determine their own destiny. The second reason is that I generally think it’s a good idea to let your political opponents describe their own positions, including naming it. And the last is that trying to advance alternative names (e.g. “pro-abortion”) ends up doing nothing but creating silly, endless debates about terminology that accomplish nothing. Usually: it’s a waste of time.

But, while most ordinary Americans are really pro-choice, the specter of forced abortions is a real human rights concern both here at home and also internationally. Here are three stories from three very different countries (the US, Ireland and China) that don’t attempt to be at all comprehensive, but just look at different impacts of forced abortion policies on women and society. 

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Deseret News: A Book of Mormon Musical Convert

2013-05-07 Book of Mormon Musical

Deseret News has an interesting article about Liza Morong’s journey from watching the Book of Mormon musical to becoming a Mormon. It’s an intrinsically interesting story, but also has lots of unexpected insights into the Mormon missionary experience. Did you know that some missionaries serve online? I did not. What does a Mormon missionary with muscular dystrophy do when asked to baptize someone? This article explains. And it’s also a glimpse into the world of a convert:

“My mom will sometimes say, ‘I can’t believe I brought you to that show. None of this would have happened.’ I tell her that it still would have, just in a different way,” Morong said. And while she is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when she returns home to Maine where she grew up, she attends church with her mom as well as her LDS congregation. “I am a member of Christ’s true church, but the church I grew up in is still part of me,” she said.

Definitely worth a read.

The Toxicity of Christian Purity Culture

2013-05-08 Richard BeckThe blog Experimental Theology has an excellent analysis of Christian purity culture as a follow-up to the recent comments about it from Elizabeth Smart. In it, Richard Beck points out that the purity ideal is based on human intuition about food and specifically that once food is ruined it can never be rehabilitated. Intrinsic in the idea of purity is that once you lose it, it never comes back. Beck then points out two additional things:

1. No other sins are framed with the purity metaphor. Instead, other sins are generally framed as performance failures and in that case if you mess up you just try again.

2. Sexual sin, and especially the loss of virginity, is only framed as a matter of purity for women. For men, it’s still filed under the same category of sin as everything else, and an easy route to rehabilitation is implicit in the metaphor. (If you fall, pick yourself back up.)

This is an excellent analysis of exactly what is so toxic about Christian purity culture, but there’s one thing I want to add that Beck doesn’t mention. That is simply this: Christian purity culture is un-Christian. To use a metaphor for sin that suggests hopelessness is to defy the Gospel. The good news is that sin, all sin, can be overcome by Christ’s atonement. To use the purity metaphor–and therefore to say that some sins can’t be cleansed–is to repudiate the heart of Christianity.

Sanford Wins, Everyone Else Loses

So the news is in: Mark Sanford has won. He has, as CNN describes it “completed his political comeback”. I’ve got some pretty strong feelings about this result, and none of them are positive.

2013-05-08 Sanford Wins

As I wrote just over a month ago: People deserve second chances; politicians don’t. This might not seem fair, but it’s prudent. Allowing scandal-tainted politicians to grovel a bit and then get right back on the horse as though nothing had happened doesn’t show that Americans are a forgiving people. It shows that Americans are a stupid people. Rather than treating every idiot politician on a case-by-case basis, we should just be paying attention to the unwritten rules and expectations we have in place of our politicians. And right now those rules are, basically, “Anything goes. If you get caught, you might have to say “sorry”, but you can just come back after a while like nothing happened.”

Well guess what, my fellow Americans, if those are the rules for being a politician then we’ve got no one but ourselves to blame when politicians live down to those low, low, low expectations. Two additional points:

First, this is worse for the Republicans. I don’t think there’s a great example of misogynistic hypocrisy in American politics than Bill Clinton and the fact that he continues to be honored and revered by the American left ought to be a scandal. But it isn’t and it won’t be. Whining that the game is rigged is pointless and, what’s more, the GOP has carved out the “family values” corner for itself. The GOP made that bed, and now they need to lie down in it. And that means that when someone is as egregiously and wantonly anti-family values as Sanford they do not get a second chance. The fact that he won against a Democrat is annoying, but the fact that he got on the GOP ticket is an outrage. Sometimes compromise is necessary in politics, but not this kind of compromise. Better to have run a weaker candidate and risked losing than to parade around nationally making a laughing stock out of your own brand and your simpleton voters. Short run? We kept a House seat. Long run? Another nail in the credibility of the GOP.

Second, others might buy the whole public life / private life dichotomy, but in most cases it simply doesn’t apply. It doesn’t apply to Bill Clinton because he was abusing the power of his office. There’s nothing “private” about seducing young interns in the Oval Office. And it doesn’t apply to Sanford either for this simple reason: marriage is not a private arrangement. It is a public one. That’s why we have weddings. It’s why we have marriage licenses. Your relationship with your girlfriend? Private. Your relationship with your mistress? Private. Your relationship with you bff? Private. But when you decide to get married, you are making a public commitment not just to your spouse, but more importantly to the community at large. You and your spouse are promising to the community that you will be faithful to each other and take care of each other and take care of any children you have, thus becoming not individuals, but a family unit. Obviously interpersonal relationships are private affairs, but marriages are more than just interpersonal relationships.

The reality is that I would still have no tolerance for a politician who cheated on his unmarried partner because I don’t believe that having liars and cheats run our government is a good idea. I believe that we ought to seek people of character. But even if you don’t agree with me on that, even if you subscribe to the theory that a liar is fine as long as they are good at their job, you still have to face the reality that cheating on your wife is not merely a breach of private confidence, is a violation of a public contract with society.

Sanford’s private journey of redemption (or not) is between him and God. His attempts to rescue a relationship with is children and family is his concern. I wish him the best on both counts. I’m not vengeful or judgmental. I don’t have anything to say about how good or how bad of a person Sanford is relative to me or anyone else. I’m just talking about standards for our civil servants, and the quaint notion that we should have some.