The Southern Baptists are not going to leave the Boy Scouts en masse after all. After the Scouts’ controversial decision last month to allow openly gay Scouts while excluding openly gay adult leaders, many had expected that the Southern Baptist Convention, which sponsors nearly 4,000 Scout units, would sever ties with the Scouts. But they stopped short of anything that drastic, while still expressing their disapproval.
The Associated Press reports:
While the resolution does not recommend that Southern Baptists drop ties with the Scouts, it expresses support for those churches and families that decide to do so. It also encourages churches and families who choose to remain with the Scouts to work toward reversing the new membership policy.
The choice is up to individual congregations, a few of whom have already severed ties. As an Eagle Scout, I would urge religious and social conservatives who disagree with the new policy to stick with the Scouts nevertheless.
Social conservatives should remember that the Boy Scouts is one of the few institutions in American life, apart from the churches, that even pretends to advocate for sexual restraint among teenagers. In the debate before and after the Scouts’ policy change, it has been almost uniformly ignored that the new membership standards reaffirm the prohibition of sexual activity of any kind for Scouts: “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
Even sexual teachings aside, the Boy Scouts still offers a number of countercultural goods: youth education centered around very “uncool” values like duty and honor; outdoor education and conservation; localism and volunteerism. No other organization can get as many distractable thirteen-year-olds to sit through a lecture on the local political system on a Monday evening, or tear kids away from video games long enough to build a park bench, as the Boy Scouts can. Front Porch Republicans, localists, and social conservatives alike should rally around anything that promotes the Scouts’ increasingly rare ideals.
The alternative is, of course, to support these ideals while withdrawing to smaller, more sectarian groups. This is also a mistake. The important recognition that the Boy Scouts is not just an extension of Sunday school has allowed it to cultivate a broad coalition encompassing Methodists, Mormons, and Muslims alike. The national reach of Scouting brings the advantages of superior summer camps, professional staff, and national events together for the kids who are, after all, the most important part of the entire enterprise.
As the culture wars continue to be fought by adults, churches shouldn’t punish the kids by splintering a great American institution. There aren’t many of them left.
Derek Thompson addressed some of the psychological impacts of digital transactions in an Atlantic article this morning. He believes our “cashless society” makes us careless of our finances:
“Research has shown that people who own more credit cards spend more over all; more in specific stores; more at restaurants; more on tips at restaurants … there are hundreds of studies on the effect of credit cards on spending, and the vast majority of them find that, all things equal, we put more on plastic.”
Beyond the realm of credit, overdraft on debit cards has increased over the past few years: Bloomberg reported yesterday that consumers paid $32 billion in overdraft fees in 2012. According to a study by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, those with overdraft coverage are more likely to pay hundreds of dollars of fees every year and have their checking accounts closed than those who decline coverage.
It appears that our “cashless society” could indeed make us less sensitive to the balances of our bank accounts. Though even checkbooks present the risk of carelessness, unless we dutifully balance our transactions, innovations in how we transact, at the very least, make it easier to spend money. That’s a good thing, except in the case of credit cards it’s borrowed money that’s being spent.
While throwing out credit or debit cards is probably unwise, it wouldn’t hurt consumers to use more cash. Coins and bills may seem archaic and frustrating, but physical money prevents instantaneous gratification. It also gives consumers a tangible sense of how much money they have. As Thompson notes, “The downside of counting money is that it takes time and effort. The upside is that it takes time and effort. That makes it more memorable. Cards make us forget we’re dealing with money.”
In addition, having someone steal $100 worth of cash from your wallet is less damaging than having someone steal your identity. In the age of card fraud, cash has its upsides.
One important caveat is that credit card use appears to be declining in America. “The level of credit card debt is going nowhere, and is actually falling in real terms,” Felix Salmon wrote last September.
Some of that decline has to do with the rise of mobile payments. One popular and successful example is the Starbucks mobile wallet, which enables consumers to buy coffee by simply scanning their smart phone. Although U.S. mobile payment systems are messy and off to a slow start, mobile banking is very popular in Africa. Dave Birch, director of Consult Hyperion and an expert on the cash-free shift, believes that “in a few years’ time credit cards will become a fallback payment method and that phones become the winner.”
Here’s a press release from Virginia Republican Lieutenant Governor nominee E.W. Jackson yesterday:
CHESAPEAKE, VA - E.W. Jackson for Lieutenant Governor campaign manager Greg Aldridge today released the following statement on Aneesh Chopra’s role as Barack Obama’s Chief Technology Officer:“When Barack Obama announced Aneesh Chopra as his technology czar in 2009, President Obama said the position would include promoting technological innovation to help ‘keep our nation secure,’” said Jackson for Lieutenant Governor campaign manager Greg Aldridge. “As more information becomes public concerning the government’s efforts to monitor its own citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Virginians have a right to know: What did Aneesh Chopra know about the PRISM program and other federal government efforts to archive our telephone conversations, e-mail and internet activity? If Aneesh Chopra can not stand up to his boss in the White House for the privacy of American citizens, how can Virginians trust him as Lieutenant Governor?”The news regarding the PRISM program and Verizon turning over customer data has spotlighted the issue of the federal government’s spying on the phone records, email communications, and internet activity of the American people.
Lest you think this is just coming from one side, Dems on Ben Tribbett’s Facebook have been implying similar things. The main one, Gail Gordon Donegan, was a DPV delegate and is a “community leader” for Women for Northam, Chopra’s primary opponent.
Bearing Drift has more on this developing story.
Chopra is running in today’s Democratic primary for the LG nomination.
Jackson is widely thought to be a drag on the Republican ticket for his history of outlandish statements—be sure to read Betsy Woodruff’s great profile. But if Chopra wins today, it could be a race between two candidates with significant flaws.
For those of you just joining us, there have been two big revelations about the NSA’s data-mining efforts since Wednesday, both reported by the Guardian.
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largesttelecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
And the second:
The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.
A few things to keep in mind: Technically the latter only applies to foreign nationals living outside the U.S.—keeping tabs on which is the NSA’s job description—but it seems impossible to separate one from the other. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the tech companies’ denials that they cooperated. As for the collection of phone records, it’s probably safe to assume that this is going on with most major providers.
In a press conference today, during which he took one question from the press–”because I don’t want the whole day to just be a bleeding press conference”–the president tried to reassure Americans that the NSA is full of really good people who would never in a million years think about violating your Fourth Amendment rights, and that ”You can’t have 100% security and then 100% privacy.” From the AP report:
In his first comments since the programs were publicly revealed this week, Obama says safeguards are in place. He says nobody is listening to the content of phone calls. And he says the internet targeting is aimed at foreign nationals, not American citizens.
Obama says he increased some of the “safeguards” on the programs after taking office. And he believes they help his administration stop terrorist attacks.
From a political standpoint, these massive data collection efforts the administration’s stated commitment to ending the war on terror pretty hard to believe. They also contradict the president’s former views—he sponsored the SAFE Act, which would have banned them, and talked frequently about the “false choice” of liberty or security during campaigns.
This morning the House Judiciary subcommittee covering intellectual property is holding a hearing on cell phone unlocking, specifically a legislative proposal to restore the exemption under the DMCA that the librarian of Congress decided not to include last year.
That Congress is acting so quickly to fix the problem is encouraging, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that, but keep in mind that it’s very narrowly-tailored—the legislative exemption expires, leaving future determinations in the hands of the librarian—and it doesn’t address the DMCA itself at all. Sina Khanifar, one of the two people responsible for the public-relations campaign that brought us to this point, has said it doesn’t go far enough in an op-ed for USA today. Derek Khanna, the other one, was asked to prepare a written statement (embedded below) but he also criticized the lack of any IP critics testifying:
On Thursday, Chairman Goodlatte’s legislation will be before the House Judiciary IP Subcommittee. Unfortunately, while the wireless industry and others who have been against unlocking will be represented, there will be no witnesses at the hearing who have been part of our campaign for unlocking (however, Consumers Advocacy may be an advocate for the consumer on this issue). This is very disappointing news.
Ryan Radia has a pretty evenhanded take on the legislation:
By restoring the broad DMCA exemption for phone unlocking in force from 2006 to 2012, S.517 [the Senate analogue to the House bill] addresses the problem at hand without going too far. It neither forces carriers to help users unlock their phones, nor limits carriers’ ability to recover damages from subscribers who breach their contracts. Rather, the bill would simply shield users who unlock their cell phones from the DMCA’s harsh penalties. In striking this balance, S.517 deserves credit for aiming to solve a discrete problem with a narrowly-tailored solution.
But would S.517′s fix last? Given that “[n]othing in [the] Act alters . . . the authority of the Librarian of Congress under [the DMCA],” S.517 would presumably leave unchanged the substantial deferenceenjoyed by the Librarian regarding his decisions about which circumvention tools to exempt—including cell phone unlocking tools. If, three years from now, the Librarian boldly decides that his2012 decision to curtail the phone unlocking exemption was correct, and thus restores the language currently in force, Congress will be back at square one.
Also be sure to check out FCC commissioner Ajit Pai’s op-ed on the hearing in today’s New York Times.
Khanna’s full statement after the jump. Read More…
The Nation looks into the Center for American Progress’s “dark money” and ties to First Solar:
Last year, when First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised Antelope Valley in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees. Earlier, Caperton and Steve Spinner— a top Obama fundraiser who left his job at the Energy Department monitoring the issuance of loan guarantees and became a CAP senior fellow—had written an article cross-posted on CAP’s website and its Think Progress blog, stating that Antelope Valley represented “the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.”
Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation. Meanwhile, José Villarreal—a consultant at the power- house law and lobbying firm Akin Gump, who “provides strategic counseling on a range of legal and policy issues” for corporations—was on First Solar’s board until April 2012 while also sitting on the board of CAP, where he remains a member, according to the group’s latest tax filing.
Read the whole thing, it’s a great illustration of why the Democratic party’s version of liberalism isn’t remotely opposed to big business. First Solar is an almost perfect case study in how it’s usually not thriving upstart companies that benefit from government favors, it’s flailing, politically-connected ones seeking to preserve their place in the market.
In the fall of 2011, First Solar finalized nearly $4 billion in loan guarantees fromt he Department of Energy, as part of a program enthusiastically endorsed by ThinkProgress and CAP’s other affiliates. They also received a $455.7 million loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank to build plants in Canada.
As all this was happening, First Solar was beset by a number of threats to its business, mainly the introduction of more efficient Chinese and Canadian solar panels and diminished demand in Europe. In 2010 they had a net income of $664 million, and in 2011, a net loss of $39 million, in part because of a $215 million “manufacturing excursion” involving solar panels that failed at high temperatures. In 2012 it was one of the worst performing members of the S&P 500, despite a major cash infusion from the Walton family—heralded friends of labor and the environment, them—on New Year’s Eve 2011.
First Solar quickly sold three of the largest solar farms for which they received loan guarantees; Antelope Valley, Desert Sunlight, and Topaz Solar. In fact, the day after a $1.46 billion loan guarantee was approved in late September 2011 for Desert Sunlight, it was sold to NextEra Energy. It was dubbed 2011′s North American Solar Deal of the Year.
A GAO audit found that the DOE’s loan guarantee program had significant oversight problems.
The DOE estimates the project CAP’s Richard Caperton praised will create 20 permanent jobs.
Bill McMorris has more on CAP’s “Business Alliance.”
No, this is not Watergate or Iran-Contra. Nor is it like the sex scandal that got Bill Clinton impeached.
The AP, IRS and Benghazi matters represent a scandal not of presidential wrongdoing, but of presidential indolence, indifference and incompetence in discharging the duties of chief executive.
The Barack Obama revealed to us in recent days is something rare in our history: a spectator president, clueless about what is going on in his own household, who reacts to revelations like some stunned bystander.
Consider. Because of a grave national security leak, President Obama’s Department of Justice seized two months of records from 20 telephones used by The Associated Press. An unprecedented seizure.
Yet the president was left completely in the dark. And though he rushed to defend the seizure, he claims he was uninvolved.
While the AP issue does not appear to have legs—we know what was done and why—it has badly damaged this president. For his own Justice Department treated the press, which has an exalted opinion of itself and its role, with the same contempt as the IRS treated the Tea Party.
The episode has damaged a crucial presidential asset. For this Washington press corps had provided this president with a protective coverage of his follies and failings unseen since the White House press of half a century ago covered up the prowlings of JFK.
The Benghazi issue is of far greater gravity. Still, Obama’s sins here as well seem to be those of omission, not commission. Read More…
Jason Richwine, the young conservative scholar who co-authored the Heritage Foundation report on the long-term costs of the amnesty bill backed by the “Gang of Eight,” is gone from Heritage.
He was purged after the Washington Post unearthed his doctoral dissertation at the JFK School of Government.
IQ tests fairly measure mental ability. The average IQ of immigrants is well below that of white Americans. This difference in IQ is likely to persist through several generations.
And the potential consequences of this?
“A lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market.”
Richwine defended his 166-page thesis before Harvard’s George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser and Christopher Jencks, who once edited The New Republic. But while his thesis was acceptable at Harvard—it earned Richwine a Ph.D.—it has scandalized the Potomac priesthood.
Our elites appear unanimous: Richwine’s view that intelligence is not equally distributed among ethnic and racial groups, and is partly inherited, is rankest heresy. Yet no one seems to want to prove him wrong.
Consider Richwine’s contention that differences in mental ability exist and seem to persist among racial and ethnic groups.
In the Wall Street Journal last month, Warren Kozak noted that 28,000 students in America’s citadel of diversity, New York City, took the eighth-grade exam to enter Stuyvesant, the Bronx School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, the city’s most elite high schools. Students are admitted solely on their entrance test scores.
Of the 830 students who will be entering Stuyvesant as freshmen this fall, 1 percent are black, 3 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are white—and 75 percent are Asian.
Now, blacks and Hispanics far outnumber Asians in New York. But at Stuyvesant, Asians will outnumber blacks and Hispanics together 19-to-1.
Is this the result of racially biased tests at Stuyvesant?
At Berkeley, crown jewel of the California university system, Hispanics, 40 percent of California’s population and an even larger share of California’s young, are 12 percent of the freshman class. Asians, outnumbered almost 3-to-1 by Hispanics in California, have almost four times as many slots as Hispanics in the freshman class.
Another example of racial bias?
The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, which measures the academic ability of 15-year-olds worldwide, found the U.S.A. falling to 17th in reading, 23rd in science, 31st in math.
Yet, Spain aside, not one Hispanic nation, from which a plurality of our immigrants come, was among the top 40 in reading, science or math.
But these folks are going to come here and make us No. 1 again?
Is there greater “underclass behavior” among Hispanics?
The crime rate among Hispanics is about three times that of white Americans, while the Asian crime rate is about a third that of whites.
Among white folks, the recent illegitimacy rate was 28 percent; among Hispanics, 53 percent. According to one study a few years back, Hispanics were 19 times as likely as whites to join gangs.
What about Richwine’s point regarding “social trust”?
Six years ago, in “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the 21st Century,” Robert Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone,” wrote that after 30,000 interviews he found that ethnic and racial diversity can be devastating to communities and destructive of community values.
In racially mixed communities, Putnam wrote, not only do people not trust strangers, they do not even trust their own kind.
“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ’hunker down,’ that is, to pull in like a turtle … (to) withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”
With the immigration bill granting amnesty to 12 million illegals, an open door to their dependents and a million new immigrants each year, almost all from the Third World, America in 2040 is going to look like Los Angeles today. Yet, it was in L.A. that Putnam found social capital at its most depleted and exhausted.
If Richwine is right, America in 2040 will be a country with whites and Asians dominating the professions, and 100 million Hispanics concentrated in semiskilled work and manual labor.
The issues Richwine raises go to the question of whether we shall survive as one nation and one people.
If our huge bloc of Hispanics, already America’s largest minority at 53 million, is fed by constant new immigration, but fails for a couple of generations to reach the middle-class status that Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians and Poles attained after two generations, what becomes of our “indivisible” nation?
Rather than face this question, better to purge and silence the Harvard extremist who dared to raise it.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?” Copyright 2012 Creators.com.
This blog post from Ross Douthat seems a bit unfair to the voters of South Carolina:
… the fact that South Carolina Republicans took that path, and made his swift and shameless comeback a success, is still a useful indicator of where the energy is on the right — and it emphatically isn’t with people who see the decline of marriage as a bigger issue for conservatism and America than the precise balance of power in the House of Representatives.
…or maybe the energy is just with people who care about the balance of power in the House of Representatives during elections for the House of Representatives.
From the moment he decided to run again Mark Sanford was always going to be taken as a demonstration of Republicans’ hypocrisy. After he won, Meghan McCain immediately took to twitter to say the voters of South Carolina have no moral standing to oppose gay marriage anymore. David Burge promptly reminded her that she wouldn’t exist without a politician’s infidelity. Moreover, though the two candidates’ marital sagas are not remotely comparable, Colbert-Busch did spend a night in jail for contempt of court during her divorce proceedings, so she’s not exactly unsullied either.
Hypocrisy is not hard come by in politics. I’d venture that many of the Republican voters in the first district of South Carolina do care about the decline of marriage, probably more than most. And the idea that voters should just stay home when faced with a bad choice seems at least unrealistic, if not undemocratic.
How would things have played out in a district full of the voters willing to forego representation to send a message about the state of marriage?
As Douthat wrote in a later post today: “a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party.” That Sanford made such a high-profile attempt to reassert himself into politics, and that it garnered such media attention, would have made an inconsequential House election a good opportunity for good old American virtue to reassert itself and thwart everyone’s expectations.
It would have made a nice story, but to believe it was possible require a highly unrealistic view of political behavior and public memory. Sanford resigned as the chairman of the RGA little less than four years ago. By contrast Marion Barry was reelected to DC’s city council five months after being released from prison. Ted Kennedy was reelected with 62 percent of the vote a year and a half after killing someone. Did Michigan voters somehow lose their moral standing to oppose fraud when they elected Charles Diggs while he awaited sentencing for taking kickbacks?
I share some of Douthat’s concerns, but I don’t really understand this logic. The reassertion of virtue he seems to have in mind should have happened in the primary, if it was to happen at all. That voters failed to punish themselves for Mark Sanford’s sins in the general election is neither a surprise nor a disappointment.
The new issue of the New Inquiry is entitled “New World Order,” so naturally I read the whole thing the afternoon it hit my inbox. There’s an essay by Jesse Elias Spafford, who, with assists from Karl Popper and David Hume, compares the values-free empiricism of Ezra Klein and Alex Jones.
Alex Jones, values free? Empirical? Well, Spafford explains, “Conspiracism as a political movement is characterized by the de-emphasis of normative claims—the ethics endorsed by Jones are almost comically noncontroversial, amounting loosely to the ethos that ‘slavery and mass killing perpetrated by evil tyrants is bad.’” We’d agree on a course of action if only we could agree on the facts.
To dismiss Jones or embrace Klein becomes a matter of faith and subjective taste, resting on an intuitive but irrational sense of what is true. In day-to-day practice, the theoretical problems of science have little effect on how we conduct ourselves and evaluate fringe claims to truth. However, the technocratic character of contemporary political debate is causing the irrationality of science to overflow its bounds. Each political camp trots out its pet studies only to have them dismissed by rivals as flawed; evidence for mutually exclusive positions proliferates. In the face of partisan ideology, empirical claims collapse into irresolvable antinomy.
In this light, the wonks’ contribution to political discourse appears overstated. The startling rise of the wonk to political prominence has been buoyed in large part by the hope that the scientific objectivity of the technocrat might finally resolve political disagreement or at least convey some bit of truth to those reasonable enough to listen. But stubborn ideological opponents can no more be convinced by a pie chart than Alex Jones can be dissuaded from his beliefs by Ben Bernanke. And there are no grounds for thinking that they should be. If we are to make progress in the public debate, we may have to withdraw from empirical matters. Instead, our political discussions need to grapple with ideology and psychology, and with the underlying tendencies that draw people to particular ideologies. If consensus is to be forged, it will be from shared values rather than agreed-upon facts.
All this is true, though it must be said that their relative reputations make Klein by far the more dangerous of the two. Dominating Washington’s mythical center with this sort of empiricism has the effect of neutralizing discussion of other forms of social or political cooperation that take place outside his target market. That’s the real problem, for folks like Spafford and myself who would like to see a real values-based discussion, not just another patronizing op-ed telling us we’ve lost our sense of community because some people want to cut federal spending.