I took hundreds of photos, and a few selections are now up on my Flickr page.
I took hundreds of photos, and a few selections are now up on my Flickr page.
As Jack Shafer notes, this Russian government ad supplement published in yesterday's Washington Post is almost comically clueless in its attempt to reach out to American power-brokers. But I don't think the regime's bad English and media naivete is indicative of "Putin's fall," as Schafer proposes. Rather, this shit is scary. It serves not only as evidence of the censorship of Putin's KGB-redux regime, but it also clearly articulates an increasingly confrontational, Russia v. West foreign policy. There's the small stuff -- Russia amping up Arctic exploration under the rationale that it is the rightful sovereign of the ice cap -- and the truly disturbing, including an essay entitled "When a Little Paranoia is Good For You," that claims it is not minority ethnic and linguistic groups within Russia that need protection, but rather the Russian language itself:
The concept of Russian world (russkiy mir), ushered into the public sphere by President Vladimir Putin in his State of the Union speech in April, came into being at the right moment. Never have we been more concerned about the state of our language as now. Not only school teachers, but even taxi drivers complain about the “contamination” of the language by Internet Newspeak, criminal jargon and plain swearing. Never have we heard more about the “retreat” of Russian in all Eurasia.
On the major question -- who will be President Putin's hand-picked successor -- the supplement has this to say about the weakened pro-democracy opposition:
The opposition is in a different situation. They have nothing to lose. Not one of their candidates stands a chance of winning, and their nomination race makes only inside-page news. Russians are skeptical of the opposition.
Nevertheless, opposition candidates still might run for the presidency, and they need a candidate. He or she will certainly not be a strong rival to the Kremlin nominee, but at least they can publicise an alternative platform and show that Russia still has people with different points of view, even though they do not make up a majority.
In other words, this is a government completely comfortable in saying that the only purpose of an election is to show the world that Russians are allowed to have differing views -- there's not even a head nod here toward debating policy or giving the Russian people a chance to determine their future. That's a propaganda election. And as we know from Putin's complete crack-down on independent media, persecution of independent journalists and academics, and show-trials of political enemies, censorship is a way of life in Russia.
This Post supplement crudely confirms that, and makes old Bush administration attempts to buy education columnist support for NCLB look almost elegant.
The Times reports:
The Texas pardons board, appointed by the governor, took the unusual action of voting 6 to 1 Wednesday to recommend commutation of Mr. Foster’s death sentence. The result was not released until Thursday morning and shortly afterward, Mr. Perry, a Republican, announced he had accepted the recommendation.
“After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster’s sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment,” the governor said in a statement.
He said he was also concerned about the law that allowed Mr. Foster and the actual triggerman to be tried together and urged the Legislature to re-examine the issue.
It's really remarkable. In the United States, a man driving a getaway car can be tried simultaneously with an admitted murderer?
Rick Perry has an interesting record on the death penalty - a thorny part of any governor's job in Texas. He rejected an earlier pardon board recommendation not to execute a schizophrenic man, but has commuted sentences for juveniles. But meting out death is always and inevitably an inexact science.
I'm in New York and am going to spend some time with my family, but hopefully I'll be back later.
Many of you have probably already read the news that the State of Texas today plans to execute a black man who it knows did not commit murder. Kenneth Foster was driving the getaway car during a teenage robbery spree, and watched his companion kill a man 90 feet away from the car where he sat. All the men involved -- including the killer -- have said murder was not a premeditated part of their evening. But as the Dallas Morning News writes, "Ours is the only
state in the country to apply the 'law of parties' to capital cases,
allowing accomplices to pay the ultimate penalty for a murder committed
The only hope for Foster -- and the dignity of Texas -- is a reprieve from the state pardon/parole board and Governor Rick Perry. Stay tuned.
That I just read up on the Larry Craig scandal about five minutes ago. My initial reaction: God! Don't the Minnesota police have something better to do than conduct public restroom stings of men initiating sex?
If you're interested in the questions of legality here, check out Garance Franke-Ruta's explanation. In short, no, it isn't illegal to ask somebody to have sex with you in Idaho. But of course, it is illegal to have sex in public or be nude in public, so perhaps that's how the police justify this behavior? You know, it's like breaking up the fun on lover's lane.
Of course, I don't know any hetero kids who've actually been fingerprinted or photographed after cops caught them making out in public parks or car backseats. And I grew up in the suburbs.
Thanks to Brian Beutler for helping to correct a previous mistake in this post. Larry Craig represents Idaho in the Senate, but was arrested in Minneapolis.
As I was reminded during my travels, the abortion debate is by no means confined to America's borders. I saw anti-choice posters featuring fetuses on the street in downtown Vienna. But that's old-school anti-abortion activism; one newer strategy, in both the U.S. and abroad, is to portray the procedure as a form of "eugenics," whipping up moral panic over the fact that due to advances in prenatal genetic testing, up to 90 percent of expectant parents who receive a definitive prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome are now choosing to terminate their pregnancies. Now, as Agence France Presse reports (via Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report), Italy is awash in controversy over a botched June abortion in which the wrong twin fetus -- the one without Down syndrome -- was aborted. The pregnant woman chose to abort her second fetus when she learned of the mistake, and reported her doctors to the police. The Vatican's newspaper called the woman's original choice to abort "illegitimate." And an Italian senator wrote an op-ed declaring, "What happened in this hospital was not a medical abortion but an abortion done for the purposes of eugenics."
The intersection of reproductive justice and disability rights is one of the thorniest in medical ethics, and pregnant women are feeling the pressure on all sides. It shouldn't be presumed, for example, that women of color, poor women, or single parents will be more interested in terminating Down syndrome pregnancies because of fewer resources to care for a disabled child. In fact, in the American Latino community, more parents choose to continue such pregnancies.
But families who do decide to abort -- and who often go into genetic testing knowing they will terminate an affected pregnancy -- should not be pressured to meet with parents raising children with Down syndrome. Such programs are gaining popularity in the Down syndrome community, since parents of kids with the condition are understandably concerned that fewer people with Down syndrome means fewer resources devoted to helping people with the disease. It is this anxiety within the disability rights community that anti-choicers are poised to exploit, even as disability advocates reach out to the pro-choice community in an attempt to increase understanding. If you're interested in learning more about that dialogue, check out this piece of mine from In These Times.
Of course, it's long been an anti-choice tactic to create an acceptability hierarchy of women's reasons for choosing abortion. Remember South Dakota state representative Bill Napoli saying that the only moral abortion would be for a religious teenage virgin who'd been brutally raped and sodomized? The problem, of course, is that most people live in a world not of moral absolutes, but of gray areas, and want their laws to reflect that. That's why South Dakota voters rejected their no-exceptions abortion ban last year. So in a time of increased worry over the uses of genetic medicine, we should be on the lookout for attempts to smear women's choices with the label "eugenics." It's simple common sense that not every family can, at any given point in their lives, accept the burden of raising a severely disabled child, just as not every family can accept the burden of raising any child.
A few days ago I stumbled upon a tiny item in Time's European edition saying that Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice -- who became (for lack of a better term) a born-again Catholic in 1998 -- is supporting Hillary Clinton for president, in part because Rice believes Democrats are more likely to end abortion than Republicans. No further info. As a former Rice fan-girl, I investigated upon my arrival back home and found a small blogospheric kerfuffle over Rice's statement, posted on her personal site:
To summarize, I believe in voting, I believe in voting for one of the two major parties, and I believe my vote must reflect my Christian beliefs.
Bearing all this in mind, I want to say quietly that as of this date, I am a Democrat, and that I support Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. ...
I want to add here that I am Pro-Life. I believe in the sanctity of the life of the unborn. Deeply respecting those who disagree with me, I feel that if we are to find a solution to the horror of abortion, it will be through the Democratic Party. ...
And much as I am horrified by abortion, I am not sure -- as a student of history – that Americans should give up the right to abortion.
I am also not convinced that all of those advocating anti-abortion positions in the public sphere are necessarily practical or sincere. I have not heard convincing arguments put forth by anti-abortion politicians as to how Americans could be forced to give birth to children that Americans do not want to bear. And more to the point, I have not heard convincing arguments from these anti-abortion politicians as to how we can prevent the horror of abortion right now, given the social situations we have.
Rice professes not to have any "solution" for the problem of abortion in mind, but it seems to me she's gesturing toward a public policy of increased access to contraceptives and comprehensive sexuality education. In other words, she prefers a policy of prevention, the keystone of the Clintons' "safe, legal, and rare" formulation. I also wouldn't be surprised if part of Rice's support is based on Hillary's 2005 statement that abortion is often a "tragedy." Pro-choicers have been wary of this language. But maybe it's time to reconsider.
While it's true that poll after poll shows Americans want abortion to remain legal, this support is somewhat "soft." Americans consistently express moral ambivalence about the procedure, and say abortion should be less common. So should pro-choicers be shifting the 2008 debate away from federal abortion funding and rural abortion access, and toward access to contraceptives? The danger, after all, is that by not talking about the very real barriers that remain to abortion access, we'll do nothing to compel the next president to alleviate them.
But as Ann Friedman writes, Republican candidates have consistently signaled to the conservative base that they find oral contraceptives as abhorrent as surgical abortion: "While the nation may be divided on how we feel about abortion rights, there is widespread and unequivocal support for contraception access. Moderate Republican voters should know that Mitt Romney wants to take away their birth control pills."
The Anne Rice position on abortion and birth control is smack in the middle of the mainstream. So instead of running scared from discussions of reproductive health, could contraception become a wedge issue for Democrats? And how could we make it so without compromising on abortion?
After a month traveling in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia, I'm back in D.C. refreshed, though still fighting jet lag. What did I miss most? Free tap water in restaurants, sharp cheddar cheese, my laptop, and good old American friendliness. It's funny how accustomed we are to social lubricants like how are you and enjoy your day.
What did I love most about my travels? Europe's linguistic diversity, the political and cultural curiosity of its people, and the out-of-body sense of walking through the ravages of twentieth century history -- not to mention the ancient, medieval, and early modern pasts -- with each step one takes. Here are some quick hits:
Most vibrant city: Berlin. I stayed in East Berlin's Mitte district for 8 days, where a stroll of a few blocks took me past a bar featuring live ska/klezmer bands, a dozen art galleries, used clothing shops, restaurants representing every international cuisine, remains of the Berlin Wall, the rebuilt central synagogue of Berlin, packed beer gardens, and quiet cafes. Berlin is a city that, more than any other I've spent time in, feels like the playground of creative young people. You can feel how Berliners have re-engineered their city for tolerance and diversity even as they continue -- earnestly and thoroughly -- to dig through Germany's history of genocide and war.
Most stunning city: Vienna. Everywhere you turn, there's another breathtaking Hapsburg palace or perfectly manicured public park. Beautiful classical music wafts out of rehearsal halls, the croissants are the best we'd ever tasted (chocolate icing on the outside, vanilla custard within), and the Secessionist art is transporting. The mystery is why so many Viennese teenagers are completely Gothed out. Dyed black hair, combat boots, and wallet chains were as ubiquitous as jeans and polo shirts among the high schoolers we saw lounging in every park.
Strangest superimposition of Eastern Bloc architecture on a medieval walled city: Bratislava, Slovakia. We didn't think much of Slovakian food, but from the fortress above this city, we took in an old Jewish ghetto, the uniformity of the Communist housing state, and looked over the border into the Austrian countryside, where dozens of giant windmills turned in unison.
Best place to learn about post-war European history: Budapest. Hungary's fascist Arrow Cross party never ascended to the majority pre-war, but was later installed by Hitler and helped to carry out the ghettoization, deportation, and genocide of the nation's vibrant Jewish community, which accounted for 5 percent of the Hungarian population (that's a larger percentange of Jews than in the United States today). After the war, the Soviets ignored the results of two free elections and installed a Communist regime that brutalized the population for over four decades and violently quashed a democratic uprising in 1956. The average Budapest apartment building still bears bullet holes from the 1956 street fighting. At the Terror Museum, we walked through the Communist Party's underground prison and execution site. Budapest is a breathtakingly gorgeous city that has withstood a terrible burden of history.
Best place to meet international travelers: Croatia. The craggy, magnificent Adriatic coastline really encouraged conversation on the beach, on ferries, and while hiking. We met two of the few liberal Democrats from Alabama (they wholeheartedly endorsed Tom Schaller-ism), several American expats, tons of Australians, and some friendly French jeunes femmes who gifted us with soft pads for lying on the rocky beaches. Everybody wanted to hear about the presidential elections. But when I told an Aussie investment banker that Hillary was in the lead, he informed me she can't win. I guess you don't have to live inside the Beltway to keep up to date with CW.
I'll be posting more photos and reflections soon! I've been thinking a lot about the Jewish history I witnessed in every country we visited. Let me know in comments if there are particular places you'd like to see pictures of or hear more about.
Here I am in exciting Berlin, blogging about....American television. I know, I know. But I need a breather after visiting the Reichstagg, Holocaust memorial and museum, Brandenburg Gate, and then walking the entire Unter der Linden all in one day.
Ben has a great take on the politics of the new Simpson's movie at the Guardian's Comment is Free. He posits that unlike the television series, the film backs away from liberal politics in favor of a libertarian "pox on both their houses" stance, especially when it comes to environmentalism. His evidence? Lisa nags everybody about cleaning up Springfield's environment, and then the government, in its efforts to save the Earth, isolates polluted Springfield under a giant dome and tries to wipe the city out entirely with a bomb.
Ben compares this backlash against liberlalism with the show's gender politics, writing that although sainted Marge is a housewife, the series repeatedly portrays women as smarter, kinder, and better than men. This "subverts the father knows best cultural paradigm," he writes, which he takes to be progressive.
I'd only add that the "father knows best" paradigm has coexisted on film and TV throughout the twentieth century with the same conservative gender politics seen on "The Simpsons" -- a forgiving wife who ultimately redeems her husband. Think of Lucy, forever tolerant of Ricky's temper, or Ray Romano's wife on "Everybody Loves Raymond." She's long suffering, and you're clearly meant to take her side in most arguments between the two. Romantic comedies repeat the theme of men struggling to live up to their wife or girlfriend's high standards over and over again. Most recently, "Knocked Up" featured one of these "taming" plots, for lack of a better term.
It's never struck me as particulary feminist to portray women as inherently better than men. If women sometimes seem to value maturity more, it may be because we get ourselves together in order to be taken seriously by men and not just be seen as girls.
All in all though, Ben's analysis of the movie and show is good fun, so check it out.
Check out this interview I conducted with my American Prospect colleague Tara McKelvey, the author of Monstering, a gripping and disturbing new book on the lives of the abusers and abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Tara's book contains the first ever interview with Lynndie England, and also reveals the torture of female and children detainees at the hands of the U.S. military in Iraq.