While almost all liberals and Democrats are still in denial about the implications of the Benghazi scandal, none of them is choosing to defend the IRS officials who targeted Tea Party groups for investigations that would deny them tax-exempt status. Like the White House, the chattering classes are united in decrying the blatantly illegal actions by what we are told were just low-level IRS employees. But the universal condemnation of these acts doesn’t mean that this administration can shrug this story off as easily as that. The IRS investigations aren’t merely a chilling abuse of power. They go straight to the heart of conservative distrust of Barack Obama’s worldview.
Seven days ago, President Obama went to the Ohio State University to give a commencement address during which he heaped scorn on those who oppose his efforts to expand the power of government….
[T]he problem here is not just that a branch of that government has been caught using their almost unlimited power to harass political opponents of the president. It is … that the president and his cheerleaders in the press have spent the last three years demonizing those targeted by the IRS….
As I wrote on Monday:
The fear of tyranny Obama cited isn’t an invention of the Koch brothers or the Tea Party, it can be found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson and most of the founders. They worried that our “experiment in self-rule” would fail specifically because of over-reaching on the part of the government or a blind obedience to the vagaries of public opinion. Our Constitution was written by men who understood that the key principle of American democracy must be a system of checks and balances that was designed to frustrate people like Obama who want to shove their big ideas about re-engineering our society and government down the throats of the voters. They placed obstacles in the path of such leaders in the form of representative government institutions that are supposed to go slow and invariably give voice to those who are more interested in holding government accountable than in growing it. Supporting this instinct isn’t cynical, nor is it a function of special interests. It is democracy in its purest and most American form.
What I didn’t know on Monday was that the government headed by the president was about to provide us with an egregious example of exactly why Americans should distrust their government. There is a long and dishonorable tradition of using the IRS to target political opponents of the party in power. Such actions were cited in the articles of impeachment of Richard Nixon and it is well known that Franklin Roosevelt played the same game with impunity against those on his own enemy’s list.
But while Nixon and Roosevelt simply went after specific political foes, what we have seen under Obama is an effort to brand all those who question his philosophy as being somehow beyond the pale of decent society. Under those circumstances why wouldn’t government officials and administrators, whom reports now tell us today knew about these abuses as long ago as 2011 and which may go deeper than initially thought, think nothing of putting the screws to those who believe the president has exceeded his powers?
Attorney General Eric Holder left out an important detail from his speech today in which he scolded Americans about not repeating their alleged bias toward Muslims after 9/11. He was on firm ground when he rightly denounced any “misguided acts of retaliation” against Muslims after the Boston Marathon bombing. But in resurrecting the myth that Arabs and Muslims suffered a post-9/11 backlash by an America that was driven to prejudice by terrorism, the top law enforcement official in the nation forgot to tell a gathering of the Anti-Defamation League that attacks against Muslims have been statistically insignificant after 2001 and remain far below the level of reported attacks and incidents involving anti-Semitism.
Ironically, the head of his host organization—which is celebrating its centennial—pointed this out in an interview just this past weekend in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. Foxman effectively debunked Holder in advance when he said the following:
“There are ten times as many acts directed against Jews as there are against Muslims,” Foxman says. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t animosity toward Muslims, but even after Boston, you’re not seeing attacks against mosques, you’re not seeing people demonstrating in the streets. That’s something very unique in this country. It’s almost a miracle. It would never happen in Europe.”
… Every subsequent release of FBI hate crime statistics tells the same story: attacks against Jews far outnumber those against Muslims and Arabs even during the periods when the latter were supposedly under siege.
To note this is not to sanction bias against Muslims. No one should hold any individual responsible for the actions of the ethnic or religious group to which they belong, let alone crimes committed by a small minority, as is the case with American Muslims. Hate crimes of any sort are despicable and deserve severe punishment.
[That last link is well worth reading. Data, not distorting anecdotes.]
Far more destructive is this mystifying impulse to look away from the war Islamists have been waging on the West for a generation. While the “radicalization process” to which he refers is not uniform, there is a clear pattern here. The roots of the atrocity in Boston are in the beliefs of radical imams who have helped guide young Muslims to violence around the globe.
To point this out is not an indictment of all Muslims, the majority of whom in this country are loyal, hardworking and peaceful citizens. But the myths about a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims that the media has helped foster—and which continue to be unconnected to any actual evidence of a wave of a prejudice or violence—has led to a situation where some think it better to ignore the evidence about the Tsarnaevs or to focus on peripheral details—such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s failed boxing career—than to address the real problem. The fear of Islamophobia is so great that it has spawned a different kind of backlash in which any mention of Islam in this context is wrongly treated as an indication of prejudice.
The contrast between the political exploitation of Newtown and the way in which the same media outlets have gone out of their way to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions about Boston could not be greater. In one case, the media helped orchestrate a national discussion in which hyper-emotional rhetoric about the fallen drove a political agenda. In the other, they are seeking to ensure that no conclusions—even those that are self-evident—be drawn under any circumstances.
You have heard the words. You know the narrative. Let’s not rush to judgment. These were lone wolves. They were self-radicalized. The system worked. The dots were connected. Osama Bin Laden is dead; GM is alive. Al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self. It is time for nation building at home.
Add up all of those lone wolves, however, and pretty soon you have a pack. Which may be one reason the reaction of some liberals to last week’s terror attack has been so bizarre: The bombing of the Boston Marathon by two radical Muslim immigrants to the United States, in which three innocent bystanders were killed, including an eight-year-old boy, and more than 260 other innocents were wounded, many of them maimed grievously, interrupted certain narratives that have dominated national security discourse since the election of President Barack Obama.
The underlying assumption of those narratives is that the counterterrorism strategy pursued by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, was self-destructive…. The appropriate response, it was said, was to do the opposite of Bush. Withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. Narrow the war to drones and Special Forces targeted against al Qaeda leadership. Close Gitmo. Ban “torture.” Extend a hand to the Muslim Middle East. Diminish the threat by suggesting its commonality not with ideologies such as fascism or communism or anarchism, but with unlawful activities such as organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and psychopathic rampage killing.
This narrative could hold sway as long as terrorist plots were disrupted or failed or could be dismissed as something other than terrorism. [Litany of disrupted or successful attacks against the U.S. beginning in May 2009: Army recruiting station shooting in Little Rock, multiple New York City bombing plots, Fort Hood shootings, the underwear bomber, Times Square bomber, murder of Americans in Libya on 11 September 2012, Algerian petroleum hostages, and more.] What is most striking as one reads over the list is the ease with which we compartmentalized and discarded each plot as it was revealed, how simple it was to return to “normal” life in the midst of an ongoing and global terrorist campaign, how lazy to reason that these “isolated incidents” were nothing more than the false echoes of an organization “decimated” by presidential action….
The insouciance with which Islamic radicalism was downplayed or dismissed or ascribed to “Islamophobia” in the halls of the executive branch and on air on MSNBC became another casualty of the attack.
The prejudiced individuals who said or wrote of their suspicions and hopes that the Boston bombers would turn out to be Tea Party activists or gun nuts or pro-lifers were exposed as fools. The writers who ostentatiously dismissed early reporting that instructions for pressure cooker bombs could be learned from the pages of the al Qaeda webzine looked willfully blind. The spokesmen for liberalism who said on television that the brothers Tsarnaev were more like Timothy McVeigh or the Columbine killers than like al-Awlaki or Bin Laden seemed naïve if not dishonest. I say dishonest because to downplay the obvious religious dimension to the Boston bombing is to obfuscate the known facts of the case. The surviving brother himself says he and his accomplice were motivated by religious belief….
The response to Boston on the part of so many intellectuals, inside and outside government, was a sign of perplexity. They had been concussed when mugged by reality. Doing the opposite of what Bush had done did not, in the end, improve the global situation or make America safer. On the contrary, it may have made the situation worse. The plots against America continue. The ideology that motivates them has not died. Indeed, the space in which that ideology’s adherents operate is expanding: From Mali, to Libya, to Sinai, to Somalia, to Yemen, to Syria, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, those who act in the name of al Qaeda have more room to maneuver. Presidential outreach has not mattered. It has been dismissed. The Muslim world is growing more violent, and it is exporting that violence and conflict overseas.
What Boston showed was that some problems defy the easy answers proffered by American politicians, and that some problems cannot be hid from for long.
The Kermit Gosnell trial and the lack of media coverage (as well as mainstream media critics’ belated acknowledgment of the lack of coverage) has brought to light how deeply the media’s overwhelming sympathy for the pro-choice position affects abortion coverage. The same can be said of gun control, gay marriage and, to be blunt, many aspects of President Obama’s presidency. At the root of the issue is a deep cultural divide in which the mainstream media resides firmly on one side, viewing inhabitants on the opposite as backward natives.
There is no doubt there is a secular, urbanized, college-educated and socially liberal portion of the United States. Unfortunately for the rest of America, the media are almost entirely made up of such people, who by virtue of their employment and income status have limited contact with those on the other side of this cultural gap….
The notion that one can simply put biases aside (on religion, politics, abortion or anything else) is a bit silly if the biases aren’t recognized as such and everyone around you has the same views (more or less). In recent decades there has been a push for more racial, ethnic and gender diversity in newsrooms, but virtually no effort to incorporate geographic, cultural, political, social and religious diversity. That makes for newsrooms that are at the very least more likely to ignore or distort the views and lives of rural, religious, pro-life, non-college educated and conservative Americans. In age, beliefs, religion, educational level, income, military service and many other indices, journalists in major outlets are unrepresentative, enormously so, of the country at large.
…I will spell it out for him: the War on Terror (euphemism alert) is not about skin color. It is about ideology, Islamic ideology.
The Tsarnaevs are white people in the purest sense. They are Caucasians from the Caucasus, of all things, but they believe in Allah — do or die, apparently.
Too young for the civil rights movement, Sirota is an adherent of an ultra-bourgeois nostalgia for racism that hides under the ludicrous rubric “progressive.” It’s laughable, but it’s also sad and dangerous.
It avoids a confrontation with the great issue of our time — what to do about Islam, an all-consuming ideology that seeks to engulf the world. The Sirotas of our culture want to downplay that but the reality remains.
Sloughing this off on “white skin privilege” is particularly worrisome, even venal, because many will believe it. As one who was heavily active in the days that term was invented (’60s) and helped promulgate it in my writing and speechmaking, I can attest to how dangerous it is. Its intention was never really to cure racism, but to perpetuate it, to increase racial enmity by pointing the finger at people who were, if anything, only culpable in the most remote sense.
Sirota and his ilk are contemporary dupes of our 1960’s lie. We all pay the price for it.
Now the focus will shift to that other dubious term, Islamophobia. We should beware of being Islamophobic.
What does that mean? We should ignore that people around the world are killing each other and innocent others in the name of one version or other of Islam? The numbers doing that are staggering.
And why is this a phobia? A phobia implies that it is not happening. It is.
A hopeful sign has been the reaction of the Tsarnaev’s uncle, who is appalled by the actions of his nephews and is calling for Dzhokar to turn himself in.
We need more of this, much more.
[Ruslan Tsarniof is my hero. Journalist: “What do you think provoked this?” Mr. Tsarniof: “Being losers.”]
Leave quibbling of every kind to lawyers pleading at the bar for the life of a culprit; in society and conversation it is invariably out of place, unless when Laughter is going his merry round. At all other times it is a proof of bad breeding….
Cheerfulness, unaffected cheerfulness, a sincere desire to please and be pleased, unchecked by any efforts to shine, are the qualities you must bring with you into society, if you wish to succeed in conversation. … a light and airy equanimity of temper,—that spirit which never rises to boisterousness, and never sinks to immovable dullness; that moves gracefully from “grave to gay, from serious to serene,” and by mere manner gives proof of a feeling heart and generous mind.
Martine’s Hand-book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness, 1866. I read etiquette handbooks at an impressionable age, and ever since have had a vision of society and proper behavior that is out of step with the modern age. (via Brain Pickings)
Of the pushback he receives from certain theologians who insist death is necessary and ennobling, he snarks, “Oh, death, that tragic thing? That’s really a good thing.”
“People say, ‘Oh, only the rich are going to have these technologies you speak of.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, like cellphones.’ “
To listen to Mr. Kurzweil or read his several books (the latest: “How to Create a Mind”) is to be flummoxed by a series of forecasts that hardly seem realizable in the next 40 years. But this is merely a flaw in my brain, he assures me. Humans are wired to expect “linear” change from their world. They have a hard time grasping the “accelerating, exponential” change that is the nature of information technology.
“A kid in Africa with a smartphone is walking around with a trillion dollars of computation circa 1970,” he says. Project that rate forward, and everything will change dramatically in the next few decades.
Would you stomp on a piece of paper with the name Jesus written on it as part of a classroom assignment? Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon student at Florida Atlantic University, had to make this bizarre decision in his Intercultural Communications class. The incident ignited a firestorm of national outrage when Rotela told local news sources, last week, that he was being punished for refusing to complete the assignment….
Students do not have a right not to be offended by classroom speech, including assignments. Yet what precisely happened in Rotela’s class matters in determining what rights and principles are at stake. The idea of students at a public institution being required to stomp on the word Jesus evokes the 1943 decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, where the Supreme Court found that students could not be compelled to salute the American flag against their will. In the case, brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses who believed the salute was blasphemy, the Supreme Court staked out a broader moral argument defending the right of private conscience in rousing language. The Court held that students in a free society could not be compelled to engage in an act that amounted to a rejection of their most deeply held beliefs….
[T]he double standard is glaring. I have zero doubt that a professor would have immediately understood the problem with the assignment if the name to be written on the paper had been “Mohammed” or “Martin Luther King” instead of Jesus. I also hope that a professor would understand he had crossed a line if he asked an atheist, like me, to bow down to a shrine. The fact is that universities these days rely on double standards to function, as the overwhelming majority of colleges, like FAU, maintain unconstitutional speech codes that typically ban inappropriate, offensive, or hurtful speech. If the plain language of these codes were followed, they would not last a day, since every professor and student would be found guilty of violating them. In order to exist, these kinds of codes must be selectively applied.
The incident also highlights attitudes about Christian students on America’s campuses. In my time at [the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education], I’ve seen a sustained effort to punish evangelicals or push them off campus to a degree that would never be tolerated if aimed at other religious groups….
“Academic freedom” can be a difficult concept to define. Among various theories, the academic freedom of professors is often emphasized, while the academic freedom of institutions is misunderstood, the academic freedom of departments is forgotten, and the academic freedom of students is ignored. While a student’s right to academic freedom may be comparatively humble, it at minimum should include the right to principled dissent and the right not to be required to publicly reject your beliefs. Let’s hope FAU’s very public embarrassment on this issue leads to some desperately needed recognition of its students’ academic freedom.
August 1942. “Training in marksmanship helps girls at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles develop into responsible women. Part of Victory Corps activities there, rifle practice encourages girls to be accurate in handling firearms. Practicing on the rifle range in the school’s basement.” (by Alfred Palmer for the Office of War Information; via Shorpy)
Every day we have to interact with thousands of strangers, from people we pass on the street to people who touch our food to people we enter short-term business relationships with. Even though most of us don’t have the ability to protect our interests with physical force, we can all be confident when dealing with these strangers because — at least in part — we trust that the legal system will intervene on our behalf in case of a problem. Sometimes that problem involves people who break the rules of society, and the criminal courts deal with them; when the problem is a disagreement between two parties, the civil courts will. Courts are an ancient system of justice, and modern society cannot function without them.
What matters in this system are the facts and the laws. Courts are intended to be impartial and fair in doling out their justice, and societies flourish based on the extent to which we approach this ideal. When courts are unfair — when judges can be bribed, when the powerful are treated better, when more expensive lawyers produce more favorable outcomes — society is harmed. We become more fearful and less able to trust each other. We are less willing to enter into agreement with strangers, and we spend more effort protecting our own because we don’t believe the system is there to back us up.
The court of public opinion is an alternative system of justice. It’s very different from the traditional court system: This court is based on reputation, revenge, public shaming, and the whims of the crowd. Having a good story is more important than having the law on your side. Being a sympathetic underdog is more important than being fair. Facts matter, but there are no standards of accuracy. The speed of the internet exacerbates this; a good story spreads faster than a bunch of facts.
This court delivers reputational justice. Arguments are measured in relation to reputation. If one party makes a claim against another that seems plausible, based on both of their reputations, then that claim is likely to be received favorably. If someone makes a claim that clashes with the reputations of the parties, then it’s likely to be disbelieved. Reputation is, of course, a commodity, and loss of reputation is the penalty this court imposes. In that respect, it less often recompenses the injured party and more often exacts revenge or retribution. And while those losses may be brutal, the effects are usually short-lived.
Kristof assumes the Chinese government is at least marginally interested in opening and reforming Pyongyang because he, like plenty of Americans—myself included—wish to see reform in non-democratic countries aligned with the United States. He’s projecting our own psychology onto Beijing.
This is what Professor Richard Landes calls cognitive egocentrism. “The act of empathy,” Landes explains, “can often become an act of projecting onto another ‘what I would feel if I were in their shoes,’ rather than an attempt to understand how the person with whom one is empathizing has reacted to their situation, how they read and interpret events.”
People do this sort of thing all the time. We do it to our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. It’s hard not to. We also do it to foreign people, and they do it to us.
Look at the naïve early predictions about the Arab Spring. Cognitive egocentrism explains at least part of it. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was routinely described in the Western press as a party of mainstream religious conservatives who deeply believed in democracy and free markets, as if they were Egypt’s version of the Republicans in the United States. Likewise, the kids in Tahrir Square were seen as Egypt’s Democrats. Both assumptions were outrageously wide of reality.
Middle Easterners do the same thing to us. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard the American government described in hysterically phantasmagoric terms that would make even Noam Chomsky blush. A Syrian friend of mine in the United States used to describe the British and American governments as snakes (his word), not because he’s inherently anti-American but because he was raised on propaganda by the house of Assad and because for the first thirty years of his life he suffered under a regime that really was like a snake. For him, suffering under a predatory snake-like government was a perfectly normal state of affairs. He had never known anything else and assumed people everywhere were no different. (I should add that he has been here long enough now that he no longer thinks of the American government in these terms. A few months ago he even said he misses George W. Bush, something I’d sooner expect Nancy Pelosi to say.)
On the morning of July 30, 2012, an accountant named Michel Gauvreau arrived at the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, housed in a huge red brick warehouse on the side of the Trans-Canadian Highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, about two hours northeast of Montreal. Inside, baby-blue barrels of maple syrup were stacked six high in rows hundreds deep. Full, each barrel weighs about 620 pounds. With grade A syrup trading at about $32 per gallon, that adds up to $1,800 a barrel, approximately 13 times the price of crude oil.
The fiscal year was coming to a close, and the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers had hired Gauvreau’s company, Veragrimar, to audit its inventory. Québec dominates the maple syrup market, and since 2002 the Federation has operated as a legal cartel, setting production quotas and prices, authorizing buyers, and stockpiling syrup. There were around 16,000 barrels here, about one-tenth of Québec’s annual production. The gap between the rows was barely wide enough to walk through, and the rubber soles of Gauvreau’s steel-tip boots stuck to the sugar-coated concrete floor.
He scaled a row of barrels and was nearing the top of the stack when one of them rocked with his weight. He nearly fell. Regaining his balance, he rattled the barrel: It was light because it was empty. He soon found others that were empty. After notifying the Federation’s leaders and returning with them to examine the stockpile, they unscrewed the cap on a full barrel. The liquid inside was not goopy, brown, or redolent with the wintry scent of vanilla, caramel, and childhood; it was thin, clear, and odorless. It was water.
The Federation would need two months to tally the losses to the stockpile. Sixty percent, or 6 million pounds of syrup, had vanished, worth about $18 million wholesale. The bold and baffling heist counts as one of the largest agricultural thefts ever, dwarfing the 860 head of cattle snatched in Queensland, Australia, last spring and the potato patches the size of a football field that were dug up in British Columbia in August. Siphoning off and transporting so much syrup was no mean feat. It would have taken more than 100 tractor-trailers. “To steal that amount of maple syrup means you have to know the market,” says Simon Trépanier, acting director of the Federation. “We are talking about big players.”
The theft was also an existential threat to the Federation, which had viewed its growing strategic reserves as the final step in stabilizing prices, locking in buyers, and ensuring loyalty from its producers. For the past decade it had struggled to overcome opposition to its reign in a series of legal battles the local media had christened “The Maple Wars.” Some observers have suggested that their attempts to control the syrup supply had, in fact, catalyzed an underground economy.
“With the benefit of hindsight, this is something you would have expected,” says Marc Van Audenrode, an economist with the Analysis Group in Montreal, who has studied the industry. Indeed, the syrup trail soon led to free-market renegades inside and outside the province who opposed what was, in their view, a Communist program. It wasn’t just about syrup, or money. It was a miniature Canadian Cold War.
In the fourth century A.D., a bishop named Nicholas transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital…. After some 800 years as an important pilgrimage site in the Byzantine Empire it vanished — buried under 18 feet of mud from the rampaging Myros River. All that remained was the Church of St. Nicholas, parts of a Roman amphitheater and tombs cut into the rocky hills.
But now, 700 years later, Myra is reappearing.
Archaeologists first detected the ancient city in 2009 using ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies whose shape and size suggested walls and buildings. Over the next two years they excavated a small, stunning 13th-century chapel sealed in an uncanny state of preservation. Carved out of one wall is a cross that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto the altar. Inside is a vibrant fresco that is highly unusual for Turkey.
The chapel’s structural integrity suggests that Myra may be largely intact underground. “This means we can find the original city, like Pompeii,” said Nevzat Cevik, an archaeologist at Akdeniz University who is director of the excavations at Myra, beneath the modern town of Demre.
Mark Jackson, a Byzantine archaeologist at Newcastle University in England, who was not involved in the research, called the site “fantastic,” and added,“This level of preservation under such deep layers of mud suggests an extremely well-preserved archive of information.”
Occupied since at least the fourth century B.C., Myra was one of the most powerful cities in Lycia, with a native culture that had roots in the Bronze Age. It was invaded by Persians, Hellenized by Greeks, and eventually controlled by Romans.