“Off with Obamacare’s head!”
Such was the battle cry at the first day at CPAC, woven into nearly every speech, from Ted Cruz’s opening remarks at 9AM to the afternoon panels, regardless of whether the topic at hand was healthcare-related or not. Repeated demands were made to repeal or abolish Obamacare, each new iteration met with enthusiastic applause. Obamacare was criticized, attacked, and ridiculed with palpable glee. Speculation abounded about what would happen when Obamacare collapsed under its own weight. But few solutions were offered to replace a defenestrated Obamacare, which will cost Republicans with potential voters in the midterms, and in 2016.
CPAC is not known to be a breeding ground for policy initiatives, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be. Try as Republicans might, they have been thus far unsuccessful in their attempts to repeal Obamacare, leaving them with only one viable alternative: reform. In an environment like CPAC, words like reform aren’t “sticky” or in line with the talking points drilled into participants’ heads. But it is necessary, and may even be crucial to our health care system having a fighting chance of recovery. The health care system is in desperate need of overhaul, and Republicans should be leading the charge of how to fix it, not simply pointing out that Democrats broke it most recently. Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming, who had a career as an orthopedic surgeon before becoming a politician, stressed the additional burden placed on patients on having to travel farther to see doctors on a government mandated health insurance program. “Obamacare is patient, heal yourself,” Senator Barrasso said, indicating that it will be harder for seniors to get to hospitals and receive the consistent care they need. “They’re aren’t enough people to take care of the patients, and it’s actually making things worse.”
The silver lining to the grim prognosis is that there is, at last, Republican legislation surfacing. The Coburn, Burr, and Hatch plan is one example of such legislation. The bill takes practical measures to reform Medicaid by allowing patients to keep their own health care plan, reforms medical malpractice law, and allows patients to make their own choices when it comes to their own health care plans, as opposed to government regulations dictating what providers are available to them.
CPAC may be about hitting those talking points, but it can also be a meeting of minds and the beginning of substantive conversations that could put a derailed healthcare system back on track. Republicans need to act quickly, though. Time is running out, and the final phases of Obamacare implementation are on the horizon.
Chaos erupted on Saturday afternoon at a Kunming railway station, in the Yunnan province of southwestern China. Ten men and women carrying scimitars and meat cleavers descended on unsuspecting passengers, slicing and stabbing at random. Unreleased photos depict multiple victims lying in pools of their own blood. All told, 130 people were injured and 30 were killed. Four suspects were shot and killed at the scene; one is currently detained while recovering from injuries. It is believed that there are currently five suspects are still at large. There was a heightened security presence at both the Kunming railway station and in Beijing on Monday. President Xi Jinping harshly condemned these acts, which have been classified as acts of terrorism. A vigil was held on Sunday to honor the dead and wounded.
The attack was linked to Uighur separatists, who hail from the Xinjiang province in northwest China, directly north of Tibet. Tensions have flared between the Han Chinese and the Turkic Muslim ethnic groups in the region for the last several years, each conflict bringing severe government crackdowns. Because of tight restrictions on reporting, there is speculation as to whether the government has exaggerated the Uighur terrorism in order to justify the use of violence. But there does seem to be legitimate unrest that is swept under the rug.
As recently as last October, Uighur separatists claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Tiananmen Square. The square represents both the heart of Chinese power and dissidence—25 years ago the square was the site of mass student demonstrations advocating for democracy. A photo of the suicide bombing features a single pillar of smoke stretching in front of Tiananmen tower, where the portrait of Mao Zedong looks impassively on. It is not yet known if one or several groups carry out these acts of violence, or if these groups coordinate their efforts.
The Xinjiang region consists of 45 percent Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim, and 40 percent Han Chinese. The Han Chinese are the dominant ethnic group in China, making up 94 percent of the population. As China’s population rises, the Chinese government has facilitated moving some of the Han population further West, to the consternation of the local Uighur population. The inhabitants of Xinjiang, a part of China heretofore known as an “autonomous region” consider the resettlement both a political and cultural imposition, and fear the loss of their culture by an ethnic hegemon.
Reports of armed attacks from Xinjiang began in 2008, when a woman detonated a bomb in protest of a prominent local businessman who died while in police custody. In 2009, multiple reports emerged of stabbings via hypodermic needles. Protesters took to the streets to display their disapproval with the ensuing investigation. Three years ago, 18 men took over a police station, shouting religious slogans and taking several hostages with knives and bombs. Fourteen of them were killed in a police confrontation.
The inherent opaqueness of such unrest is either incomplete or partially confirmed. In the midst of all the incomplete information, one fact remains clear: the unrest is no longer contained to a remote corner of China. The people responsible for committing this violence have brought the battle to the front and center of Chinese—and international—politics.
It’s that time of year again: the glitz, the glamor, the gowns. Who will go home with a coveted statue, and who will go home empty-handed? This year’s Oscar-nominated films were particularly heartfelt and inspiring (or about as close as Hollywood can manage), and TAC’s culture critic Noah Millman has seen most of them. He can tell you which ones are worth watching—or rewatching:
Loosely based on the Abscam scandal, David O. Russell takes a crack at screwball dramedy, with mixed results. Millman writes: “Russell wants it both ways – he wants you to enjoy the Scorcesean roller-coaster even as at every turn he’s showing you that his real pleasure tilt-a-whirl. And it turns out you can’t quite have it both ways.”
12 Years a Slave
The film’s undiluted portrait of slavery that had audiences sobbing in the theater is nominated for Best Picture—and the two leads, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, are nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Lupita Nyongo is also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Millman criticized director Steve McQueen for failing to end the film on a positive note: “McQueen doesn’t give us that uplifting twist… McQueen could have shown us a determined Northrup engaged in t[he] pursuit [of his captors], vowing never to rest, and ended his movie on an ‘up’ note. He chose not to.”
The genre-bending romantic drama of a man who falls in love with his operating system is a thought-provoking tale of humans’ dependency on their machines. Millman describes the film as “…a particularly clever Pygmalion story, one that is more attuned to what a modern man might actually want in a fantasy companion, as opposed to a mere sexual fantasy.”
Millman compares Alexander Payne’s newest film to his 2002 work “About Schmidt”, a rambling, dour film about an unhappy old man: “Payne’s new movie, ‘Nebraska,’ has a lot in common with ‘About Schmidt.’ Both are set primarily in Nebraska; both deal with elderly men who feel they have missed life somehow (and associate that missing out with having married June Squibb), and who go on a quixotic road trip in a roundabout way of trying to resolve their existential dilemmas.”
Critics have raved about the gorgeous cinematography and complained about the nail-biting twists and turns this film makes. Millman offers praise for the visual component of the film. “Enormous effort has been put into getting the physics right, and that effort pays off magnificently. The film is stunningly beautiful – more than that, it is sublime (to use the Burkean distinction).”
Based on a true story of a commercial ship hijacked by Somali pirates, Millman praises director Paul Greengrass’s ability to depart from the classic thriller structure to weave a more complex narrative: “The structure he’s chosen, which takes real risks in terms of pacing, allows him to draw that straight line between Captain Phillips’s resourcefulness and the might of the U.S. Navy, while also showing what, and who, lies on the other side of that line.”
Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street
Rod Dreher doesn’t comprehensively review these two films, but sheds very important light on the religious and moral undertones of both films, bringing their messages into stark relief. Noah Millman in his Oscar post calls Philomena ”a sweet little film, well-written and well-structured.” He gives faint praise to “The Wolf of Wall Street” but claims too much time is given to the protagonist, who, in Millman’s estimation, ”just isn’t a very interesting person.”
The Dallas Buyers Club
While TAC did not review this film, the New Yorker’s review is more than apt, and appropriately highlights Matthew McConaughey’s transformation from romantic comedy beach bum to a serious dramatic actor.
With the news of the situation in Ukraine dominating the news cycle, less attention is being paid to Venezuela, whose protests have raged on for the last two weeks, steadily gaining momentum and inciting smaller solidarity demonstrations in the U.S. Occasionally referred to by the day of the month in February, for purposes of specificity (for example, 12F, an abbreviated version of the Spanish date 12 de febrero), there have been slightly more than a dozen fatalities, over 200 injuries, and roughly 150 arrests. The protests began peacefully in reaction to the alleged corruption of President Nicholas Maduro’s presidency, but they have since escalated into violent conflict since riot police shot and killed several protesters. The demonstrations are in reaction to Venezuela’s high inflation, rampant crime, scarcity of basic food and medical supplies, and muzzling of free speech. The protesters are calling for Maduro’s resignation and a snap election to replace him. A CNN reporter claimed that he and his fellow journalists had their equipment removed at gunpoint, and over the weekend the Internet was disabled in order to prevent coverage of the events. In spite of the attempts to quash the protest, scores of photographs have been leaked on various social media, depicting both the severity and scale of the protests.
This is largely a student and youth mobilized protest, but many high-profile politicians, military personnel, and high-ranking officials have shown public support. According to a letter written by former defense secretary and political prisoner Ivan Simonovis, the majority of deaths suffered last year were under the age of 30. The young, vivacious former mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza, the leadership of the opposition, turned himself in on Feburary 18th on charges of arson, public disturbance, and inciting violence. In the absence created by Mendoza’s departure, former mayor of the Baruta Municipality Henrique Capriles Radonski has taken up the mantle as the leader of the opposition, and is set to meet with President Maduro on Monday afternoon with other leaders to discuss curtailing the street violence. One of the agenda items to be discussed is the release of Lopez and the handful of other student demonstrators who have since been imprisoned.
In an open letter addressed to Venezuela (translated below), the imprisoned former Minister of Defense Simonovis effectively summarized the motivations of the demonstrations and pledged his full support to the movement:
Leopoldo Lopez interprets the Venezuelan’s discontent manifested in the lack of food, medical supplies, and murder of 25,000 people during 2013 in Venezuela, where the majority of those who perished were under the age of 30. Our security is non-existent, and the young have decided to protest because they have no future, because they see the injustices and want the government takes it upon itself to correcting them.
However ardent his support for the protesters, though, it doesn’t appear that the former minister condones the recent violence; rather, he calls on the government to make the first move to end things peacefully. “The government should understand that the non-violence compromise should come from on both sides, but the first step should be from the side that holding power. Let’s sit down and discuss this.”
It is unlikely that Maduro will capitulate to the protesters’ demands, but the results of the meeting may determine whether or not the violence will ebb or intensify.
“You don’t get black power by chanting it. You get it by doing what the other groups have done. The Irish kept quiet. They didn’t shout “Irish Power”, “Jew Power”, [or] “Italian Power”. They kept their mouths shut and took over the police department of New York City, and the mayorship of Boston.”
–Whitney Young, 1968
Most people, when asked to name prominent civil rights leaders and activists, stick to the the brightest stars: Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. The history is egregiously abridged: a woman refused to go to the back of a bus, a man in Washington had a dream, an elegant Muslim with a jazz quartet goatee warned, “by any means necessary”. After a great struggle, civil rights were granted to African Americans, and the country redeemed its conscience after several hundred years of slavery and abhorrent treatment of blacks. An angry group of activists called the Black Panthers were also in the mix, but no one discusses their provocative clothing and displayed weapons in polite company.
At no point is the name Whitney Young mentioned, not even as an afterthought. Young, who advised presidents, expanded the National Urban League, and effectively negotiated with powerful businesses to incorporate diverse hiring practices, is erased from the pages of the Book of Civil Rights Leaders. President Richard Nixon offered this glowing epitaph at Young’s funeral: “Whitney Young’s genius was that he knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for.” How could a man whose influence extended to the Oval Office and boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies be forgotten?
There is a possible explanation for this scrubbing from history. Despite Young’s training as a social worker and his leadership role in the civil right movement, his politics may not have been sufficiently progressive to satisfy his compatriots. His association with white business leaders exposed him to criticism from Black Panthers spokesman Stokely Carmichael and liberal politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who all but called him an “Uncle Tom” in their excoriations. The civil rights movement turned sharply to the left in the late 1960s after the assassinations of King and Malcolm X, and anyone who did not tow the increasingly leftist line was pushed out. It is not surprising, then, that a man who got corporate America on board with the civil rights movement was later excluded from the civil rights’ great cloud of witnesses.
Whitney Young, Jr. was born on July 31, 1921, to educated parents. Read More…
Despite his prodigious career in education, Booker T. Washington’s legacy has been tarnished with a charged failure to do more for civil rights during his lifetime: Robert J. Norell, a historian and author of a recent biography on Washington’s life damned him as a “heroic failure”. In 1895, Washington delivered a speech that would be known as the Atlanta Compromise: a short address to allay white fears of a black uprising in a postbellum South. It was delivered to a mostly white audience at the Cotton Sates and International Exposition in Atlanta concerning the current state of black men and women in the South, their place in society, and their future as citizens in the country that once held them as property. “…[Y]ou can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.” Though the language may have been obsequious, if one reads between the lines and flowery phrases, Washington’s address contained a warning about the protracted denial of the black man of his identity in the South—a warning that was brought to pass through Washington’s ideological descendants.
A child at the end of the Civil War, Washington understood from a young age the importance of self-sufficiency among the black community. When all the slaves of his plantation were set free, after the initial celebration, the sobering reality of planning a future for themselves and their children set in. Washington wrote in his autobiography Up From Slavery: “The responsibility of being free, of having charge of themselves, of having to think and plan for themselves and their children, seemed to take possession of them.” The elderly slaves in particular felt the most vulnerable, and rightly so. After spending nearly all of their lives working on a plantation, they stood to gain the least from freedom. They had neither the strength to leave the plantation or the skill to work elsewhere. Their freedom was only nominal, and would never be fully realized.
Washington’s solution to this new crop of citizens whose only background was plantation work was practical education. After taking the helm of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881, Washington focused his energy on ensuring that blacks had access to both vocational and moral training. Washington believed in the value of blacks being able to provide for themselves by the work of their own two hands with neither resentment nor entitlement.
His views were not universally welcomed among blacks—especially not among the intelligentsia. One of the most prominent black intellectuals of his time, W.E.B. DuBois, denounced Washington’s views and demanded that blacks be fully reinstated with access to education, health care, jobs, and the right to vote. Eloquent, sophisticated, and respected in social and academic circles, DuBois found Washington’s philosophy about black education anathema to the black American cause. But geography and time separated the two men. DuBois was born and educated in the North, where slavery was abolished first and where Quakers and other religious groups preached equality. Washington’s world was the deep South, where slavery had persisted for hundreds of years, blacks were not yet regarded as fully human, and lynchings were an acceptable way to deal with “uppity” blacks. Read More…
I was very moved by Eve Tushnet’s piece on homosexuality and the Catholic church. If you have not yet read it, I urge you to do so stat; it is a rare piece that deserves to be ingested, not just read. Her courageous story raises important questions about how sex and sexuality are approached in the church. Rod Dreher also weighed in on this issue, arguing that both straight and gay people need community and support on the journey of chastity.
My suggestion is this: how about an instructive community for everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender? Everyone who chooses the path of chastity needs both support and instruction on how to present their bodies as a “living sacrifice”. For those of us who have chosen this path, chastity is much more than resisting temptation or forgoing an experience. Remaining abstinent outside of marriage isn’t like summoning the willpower to pass on dessert; it is a state of being that extends into courtship, marriage, and family planning. Even if someone decides on a lifetime of celibacy, there are phases of that lifestyle that need to be addressed. The Church has to implement faith-based teaching for each milestone of life—otherwise, the expectation to remain chaste remains just that: an expectation.
A solid example of faith-based practical teaching is the prosperity message propagated by the Evangelicals in the early to mid 1990s. With consumer debt rampant, personal finance became a topic that was placed front and center of Evangelical canon. Preachers like John Avanzini devoted their entire ministries on educating Christians on credit cards, interest rates, and debunking the myth that Jesus was poor. It was an effective campaign that reshaped how Christians viewed their finances, and it was done in a way that incorporated step-by-step teaching with Scriptures as a guide. The same down-to-earth teaching should be applied to sex. No matter what form of Christianity you believe in, learning about contraception should be a part of chastity, so each married couple can make the best decision for themselves.
The Atlantic ran a piece this week about a college course on marriage currently offered at Northwestern, arguing that there is no such thing as a “soul mate”, that the key to a good marriage depends on effective communication skills. Romantic love in popular culture is portrayed as a mysterious, elusive force that strikes its victims at random. While this is not the teaching about love in Christianity, the Church is not immune from falling prey to cultural misconceptions about love and marriage. Single people, as well as those who never plan to marry, should place seeking friendship at the top of their list, as well as exploring other kinds of love available to them. A Church emphasis on all kinds of love could be a way to remind young Christians that chastity is taking an active role in your relationships, not just waiting for “the one” to come along.
Eve’s piece drew attention to a small but devoted minority who wish to commit themselves to the noble cause of a lifetime of celibacy in according with the teaching of the Catholic church. But there is a sizeable portion of unmarried Christians, gay and straight, who need guidance as they navigate dating, marriage, family planning, or permanent celibacy. As the average age of marriage rises and the dating and marriage pool continues to change, the Church needs to respond to these needs with solid teaching to provide support and guidance. Otherwise, it risks appearing out of touch and didactic, teaching messages evocative of a time and place that do not jive with the here and now.
Last week Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, an anti-terrorism think tank, hosted a panel on the current state of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The panel included senior fellows Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Thomas Joscelyn, with Georgetown’s Director of the Center for Security Studies Bruce Hoffman. FDD’s Vice President for research Dr. Jonathan Schanzer moderated.
The most dismaying portion of this talk was the knowledge that information at our fingertips is not publicly available. At the time of bin Laden’s death, hundreds of thousands of documents were recovered that likely contain invaluable information concerning al-Qaeda’s organization and bankrollers. To date, only seventeen of them have been declassified along with a handful of videos. The panelists, particularly Joscelyn—who became visibly more agitated as he related these numbers—were all in agreement that this was unacceptable. Gartenstein-Ross estimated that 90 percent of the documents were not harmful to U.S. national security, and must be declassified to perform open source research.
When asked what they thought that drop-in-the-bucket statistic of the declassified documents meant in terms of the United States Government’s attitude towards classifying documents vis a vis their war on terror strategy, Joscelyn offered, “What was offensive to me was…that you could see a change in the narrative in what the documents said.” The first version claimed bin Laden was heavily involved, only to be reversed a year later. He continued, “That says to me we need transparency…because if we’re going to have that sort of flip in the narrative, then the American public needs to see for themselves what the evidence is, because we have such competing claims here.” He asserted that the minimalist interpretation of the paltry amount of documents is false, and that given the time and resources devoted to battling al-Qaeda, the public should have a better idea of who America has been up against for the last decade.
Hoffman’s point was more direct—and pessimistic: “What it says about our attitudes?” he asked. “Well, the main thing is that history doesn’t matter.” He lamented that the few documents had been released were ambiguous, rendering any analysis gleaned from them woefully incomplete. The “historical blindness” resulting from the attitudes about declassification and war deprives the U.S. the opportunity to examine details on how al-Qaeda operated and how it might evolve under future leadership.
Joscelyn’s insightful observation made a compelling national security case to declassify those documents: if Edward Snowden’s actions could disrupt national security initiatives, couldn’t releasing al-Qaeda’s documents have a similar effect?
Some children are products of their environments, while others are products of their communities. I was neither. Growing up in Coney Island in the early 1990s, my immediate surroundings held few opportunities for a child whose ambition stretched beyond the boardwalk. By the age of four, I could read and write at a first-grade level, and my collection of Dr. Seuss tales bored me. Determined to give me the best education available, my mother took me to every private school that granted me an interview until one accepted me and awarded me a sufficient scholarship to attend. I stayed at that school all the way through high school, went on to college, and am now in the fledging stages of a career in journalism.
Here’s the question: what color is my skin?
Better yet—should it matter?
Technically, I am racially mixed: my father is black and my mother is Hispanic. I’ve never seen myself as exclusively one or the other, but as a unique combination of both. My heritage, like my skin color and gender, are aspects of me that contribute to my identity, but do not tell the whole story.
Over the years, I have been trapped by the sense that because of my race—not in spite of the historical baggage that accompanied it—I was afforded the opportunities granted to me. On a good day, my love of learning and work ethic came second and third, respectively, to my ethnic background. The assumption was that I was an indigent child rescued by a benevolent program that put me on the path to success after polishing my uncouth mannerisms. I was keenly aware that I was a guest in a foreign land, because I was often sought out by my peers to provide perspective to bolster an already formed opinion, but was not engaged with based on the quality of my ideas. That a minority student could matriculate at a private school having skipped the polishing step was apparently so rare that I was perceived as odd, and never broke free from that mold.
Steven L. Carter, a Yale Law professor, aptly sums up the feelings of inadequacy in the introduction of his book Confessions of an Affirmative Action Baby: “…labels, too bedevil the black intellectual, and many of them, as though required in truth-by-advertising law, are in the form of cautions…not least, qualifications for one’s position: ‘Warning! Affirmative Action Baby! Do Not Assume That This Individual Is Qualified!’” I eventually tired of the implicit expectation of relying on identity politics to advance my education, and, for a variety of reasons, switched political affiliations. On this side of the aisle, my skin color is second to my work ethic, which pleases me. Affirmative action, in granting me access to institutions that fostered my potential, ignored the rest of me because it did not fit the stereotype of a refugee from the inner city. Read More…
In a Hollywood community known for vapid personalities, flame-outs, and oversized egos, Hoffman stood head and shoulders above the crowd. His prolific career spanned nearly two-and-a-half decades behind and in front of the camera, and included an impressive body of onstage work. His roles ran the gamut from a smarmy prep school brat in “Scent of a Woman” to cult leader in “The Master.” Every moment he was on screen, he was riveting and achingly honest. His theater performances garnered even higher praise.
Much of the most highly praised acting focuses on the soaring heights and despairing lows of life; Hoffman was a master of portraying what came in between. He played the everyman with such earnestness and dignity that even when cast as a villain, he elicited sympathy. Perhaps equally impressive as his ability to deliver as a leading man was the virtuosic talent he brought to supporting roles. He elevated the quality of every film he was cast in by fitting into his role so perfectly he faded into the background, but popped back onto the fore with a blisteringly memorable scene at an unexpected moment. I’m referring to his role as the CIA task force officer Gust Avrakotos in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Hoffman’s first scene in the movie, a high-octane confrontation with his boss, is the perfect blend of hilarious and authentic. Art is meant to elevate and inspire, but without a foundation of reality, is an implausible exercise. Hoffman emitted a wide range of emotions and personalities inside the shell of a stubbornly ordinary man. And it worked.
His 2005 performance in “Capote,” a biopic of author Truman Capote genre-defying work In Cold Blood earned him a Best Actor Oscar. For some actors, an Oscar signals the beginning of a career decline, but Hoffman was just getting warmed up. He followed the success of “Capote” with an unlikely but chilling role as the villain in “Mission: Impossible III” and continued with a string of successful films: playing an affable but doomed priest in “Doubt,” and pairing indie films “Synecdoche, New York” and “Jack Goes Boating” (which he also directed), with big budget films “Moneyball” and “The Ides of March.” Hoffman was in the middle of filming the final installments of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Mockingjay” at the time of his death. It is a sobering thought that a once in a generation talent will never again grace the screen or stage. His work is now his legacy.
He leaves behind a partner of fifteen years, costume designer Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children.