Limits

No Sift the next two weeks, but new posts will appear April 8.

[That’s why today’s Sift is a little extra-long.]

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

 — Justice Anton Scalia, “District of Columbia v. Heller” (2008)

This week everybody was talking about the new Pope …

and especially about the symbols of his humility, like riding the bus with the rest of the cardinals instead of using a fancy popemobile, eating simple food, dropping by the hotel he was leaving to pick up his own luggage, and so on. That fits with choosing the name Francis and how he has lived as Cardinal Bergoglio. It’s also what you might expect from the first Jesuit pope.

That symbolism that could communicate something important about how he wants to run the Catholic Church — maybe a way to tell the clergy that Catholicism isn’t all about them — or it could just be the trappings of a public image. Too soon to tell.

The good part of Francis’ record is that he cares about the poor, and more generally about economic justice and the inequality of wealth. Popes usually do — something conservative Catholics like Paul Ryan tend to ignore. In general, 20th and 21st century popes have been far more socialist than, say, Barack Obama. But National Review tells the right-wing faithful not to worry:

His counting poverty as a social ill should not be misconstrued as sympathy for statist solutions to it or, indeed, as support for any determinate political program.

On the other hand, his social beliefs are pretty discouraging. Francis isn’t likely to soften the Church’s opposition to reproductive rights, gay rights, or female priests. However, he apparently did not say: “Women are naturally unfit for public office.” A lengthier version of that quote has been floating around the internet all week, but Snopes can’t find any prior record of it. (Always check Snopes.com before you forward something outrageous.)

Bergoglio was bishop of Buenos Aires during the “Dirty War” the Argentine junta waged against its own people. The Church in general has apologized for its behavior during that era, and the New Republic describes conflicting reports about Bergoglio’s role. So far, though, no smoking gun.

Some prominent human rights activists have come to Bergoglio’s defense. Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who was jailed and tortured by the dictatorship, told the BBC’s Spanish-language service that Bergoglio “was not an accomplice of the dictatorship. … There were bishops who were accomplices of the Argentine dictatorship, but not Bergoglio.”

On the other hand, he also didn’t stand up against the regime, which undermines his moral authority.

BTW, popes are like world wars. Francis doesn’t become Francis I until there’s a Francis II.

and Senator Portman’s switch on same-sex marriage

Rob Portman, the other guy Mitt Romney considered after Paul Ryan, announced in the Columbus Dispatch that he now supports same-sex marriage. He started reconsidering two years ago when he found out that his son was gay.

At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.

Dick Cheney had a similar awakening for similar reasons in 2004, so this may be the way Republicans fulfill my prediction that everybody will support same-sex marriage by 2030. And while I’m glad to see the switch, the self-centered reasoning still bugs me. When will a Republican change his mind — on anything — out of compassion for other people’s families?

Matt Yglesias’ tweets were merciless:

Did Rob Portman used to think that gay people didn’t have dads?

and

As Dr King said, I have a dream that some day all injustices that personally impact members of my immediate family will be resolved.

Anil Dash tweeted:

Eventually one of these Republican congressmen is going to find out his daughter is a woman, and then we’re all set.

which inspired Kevin Drum to note that Republicans with daughters do vote slightly better on women’s issues. And which Republican senators voted for the Violence Against Women Act? A handful of men and all five women.

and Paul Ryan’s back-from-the-dead budget

My comments are in a separate post: “I Read the Ryan Budget“.

but I also wrote about the Keystone Pipeline

The case against the pipeline involves one key point that people don’t want to hear: If we’re not going to totally wreck the climate, we have to leave some fossil fuels in the ground. The Canadian oil sands would seem to be the perfect candidate. And if not, then what is our plan? I flesh that argument out in “A Hotter Planet is in the Pipeline“.

and you also might be interested in …

As the 10-year-anniversary approaches, more and more people are looking back at the Iraq War. David Frum shares this revelation: The reason the war looked so poorly thought out was that nobody ever thought it out.

For a long time, war with Iraq was discussed inside the Bush administration as something that would be decided at some point in the future; then, somewhere along the way, war with Iraq was discussed as something that had already been decided long ago in the past.

Paul Krugman points out this absurdity: In 2003, millions around the world were protesting the looming invasion, and yet

To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that “everyone” thought that there was a solid case for war. Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents — but they were out of the mainstream.

The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: support for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration.

He notes the same circularity in today’s budget debate. If you don’t think cutting the deficit is a major priority, you’re out of the mainstream. Your opinion is unworthy of consideration, even if you’ve got a Nobel Prize in economics.


Rick Perlstein describes the outrageous state of those click-through contracts you don’t read when you buy software.

Recently I sat down to talk to an activist who’s doing something about it. When Theresa Amato of Faircontracts.org, who sat with me recently for an interview, told me about this business of companies reserving—and exercising—the right to change contracts after their customers have signed them, and courts upholding that right, I paused a bit. I said I was speechless. “Yes,” she replied. “You should be speechless. And so should everyone.” She laughs—in a laughing-to-keep-from-crying kind of way: “To call this fine print ‘contracts’ is almost a misnomer.” She corrects herself: “It is a misnomer, according to contract theory, because there’s no mutual consent there.”


Matt Yglesias points out that the time to avoid the next bank bailout is now, when the banks are taking profits out of the system. In bad times, when they don’t have money to cover their debts, it will be too late.

Meanwhile, I haven’t figured out what the Cyprus thing is all about yet.


Noam Chomsky didn’t invent this idea, but this is about the clearest expression of it I’ve heard:

 If you want to privatize something and destroy it, a standard method is first to defund it, so it doesn’t work anymore, people get upset and accept privatization. This is happening in the schools. They are defunded, so they don’t work well. So people accept a form of privatization just to get out of the mess.


Speaking of schools, Atlantic calls attention to something that always seems to get left out of American articles on Finland’s world-leading school system: The Finns don’t allow privately funded schools. So the rich can’t opt out of the public system and spend more on their own kids.

Across the board, Finland does exactly the opposite of what our school reformers want: no standardized tests, lots of teacher independence, little competition between schools. It seems to work.


This week’s indictment of American democracy: According to a ABC/Washington Post poll, 91% of Americans support universal background checks for gun buyers. But when the bill came up in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, every Republican voted against it. It passed 10-8 on a party-line vote, but in the full Senate it won’t get past a filibuster without at least a few Republican votes.

So how does a major party unanimously defy 91% of the public? Well, look at a different news story: Scott Brown was known as “Wall Street’s favorite senator“, even though Wall Street is not particularly popular with his constituents in deep-blue Massachusetts. But now that the voters have thrown him out, Brown is doing better than ever. Monday he joined law firm Nixon Peabody, which lobbies for (among others) Goldman Sachs. He also has a gig at Fox News and makes good money speaking at conservative and corporate events. None of that would have happened if he had honestly represented his constituents.

In short, Scott Brown’s real career is as a conservative, not as a servant of the people. He furthered that career by defying the voters to maintain his conservative bona fides. That’s what the 8 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are doing.


While we’re talking about guns and Republicans: In only a few short months Ted Cruz has become my least favorite senator. Everybody has some personality trait they just can’t stomach; mine is arrogant stupidity. Like Joe Scarborough said: “When you’re condescending and you don’t even have the facts right … I’ve got a problem with that.”

Cruz’s interaction with Senator Feinstein Thursday was classic arrogant stupidity. First, he addresses Feinstein as if she might never have heard of the Second Amendment before. Then he makes two asinine analogies — comparing Feinstein’s assault-weapon ban to Congress specifying that “the First Amendment shall only apply to the following books” or “the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following individuals”.

The First Amendment already doesn’t apply to child pornography. The Fourth Amendment is already riddled with exceptions (like email stored in the cloud). And if the Second Amendment won’t let Congress put any limit on weapons (see the Scalia quote above) then how are we going to protect airliners from shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles?

After Feinstein slaps him down, Cruz responds with the classic “I admire your passion”, as if the considered response of a 20-year Senate veteran was just the sputtering of an emotional female.

Maybe Cruz’s response reminded Rachel Maddow of Alex Castellanos saying “I love how passionate you are” to her on Meet the Press last April. Whatever the reason, Rachel was in rare form Friday: She devoted a 17-minute segment to new details on the Newtown shooting, their relevance to Feinstein’s assault-weapon ban, and Feinstein’s history of being present at a colleague’s assassination, culminating in Rachel dishing a full heaping of scorn on Cruz’s ignorance and sexism.


It’s probably not fair to judge CPAC by one or two white supremacists, outrageous as they were. But this video looks like it might be a fair representation of how young conservatives think about climate change.


It turns out even monkeys reject unfair treatment.


Chris Hayes is leaving my favorite weekend show (Up) and taking over the prestigious 8 p.m. weekday slot starting April 1. Here’s one of the many great things about Chris: He doesn’t use the standard old-white-guys Rolodex.

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Comments

  • velvinette  On March 18, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Not openly condemning or opposing a regime that is killing its own citizens doesn’t always mean one’s moral authority has been compromised. It can be called staying alive to help keep others alive as much as possible. Those in authority in such regimes have had to do this before–in Stalin’s time, in Hitler’s time. Many many lives were saved by men like this, more than if they had simply denounced the regime and been killed. Or in the Pope’s case, perhaps more of his priests would have been tortured or killed in retaliation.

  • Abby Hafer  On March 19, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Regarding Chris Hayes’ guest roster, and the idea that only old white guys are expert enough to comment on issues: Why, why, WHY is Newt Gingrich on ANYBODY’S guest roster? He’s a has-been politician who was House speaker back in the 90s. We’ve had numerous House speakers since then who aren’t regularly on TV. He han’t said anything new in ages. He’s said to be smart, but when I hear him he’s largely bloviating. What he mostly seems to be good at is self-promotion. So he keeps getting bookings because he seems to be important, but he seems to be important because he keeps getting bookings. Sadly, I suspect that most TV news commentary shows really are that lacking in imagination.

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