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Fourteen Days


Sunken Treasure

The headlines are heartbreaking: 38,000 Iowans displaced, their homes and fields submerged beneath a brew of sewage, fuel, farm chemicals, and dead animals. Millions of mosquitoes hover over the toxic swamp. More rain is forecast, and another 20 levees threaten to give way. But these people are not broken.

This isn’t yet a Katrina-scale disaster, in large part because flinty heartlanders refuse to let it be. In New Orleans, residents huddled on rooftops, waiting for help that didn’t come soon enough. Three years later, the Lower Ninth Ward has yet to recover.

But along the Mississippi, Midwesterners fought back. Men and boys worked round the clock to save their drowning towns. Brian Wiekand of Oakville, Iowa stacked sandbags at his local levee until water lapped over the top, then resolved not to be ruined by the crisis. “The Bible says the prayer of one man, God hears,” he told the Associated Press. “Here’s my prayer: I ask for the strength of God to fight this flood, and I ask for the grace to accept whatever happens.”

He and his neighbors will get emergency assistance—lots of it. Chastened by his delayed response to Katrina, President Bush was quick to offer aid. But no federal initiative is a substitute for local action, and here we see a resilient population bearing up under dismal conditions. Before the water began to recede, they were pushing to get back into their homes to begin reconstruction.

They’ve survived worse: the 1993 flood caused 48 deaths and $21 billion in damage. And Iowans got back up, dried out, and replanted. They will again.


The Pluck of the Irish

“The European Union is in crisis,” trumpeted a British newspaper after Ireland voted to reject the Lisbon Treaty, which would have moved Europe closer to full integration. The Paddies had beaten the politicians. The treaty was “finished.”

But the euphoria only lasted until someone remembered that the EU doesn’t accept defeat. In 2001, after all, the Irish had refused the Nice Treaty, only to approve an amended version a year later. And two years ago, when the French and the Dutch threw out the Lisbon Treaty, EU officials simply set about revising the wording—not the substance—of the proposed constitution.

France’s President Sarkozy pressured the Euroskeptics to reconsider, and Ireland’s prime minister, Brian Cowen, attacked “misguided” right-wing groups for celebrating his people’s verdict. At a summit in Brussels, EU representatives made statements about “respecting” Ireland’s decision, but plans are already being made for another referendum next year, before the important European elections in June. In the United States of Europe, no does not mean no.


Charities Refuse to Give

California’s recognition of same-sex marriages went into effect June 17, and the newswires quickly filled with images of happy couples exchanging rings, being showered with rice, and blushing. But the celebrations cannot conceal the legal difficulties that lie ahead for religious groups that do not recognize these unions.

Confronted with a choice between Church teaching and Massachusetts state law, which also recognizes same-sex marriages, Catholic Charities, an organization that only places children with heterosexual couples, had to close its adoption agencies in the state. In New Jersey, a Methodist ministry that rented out facilities for wedding receptions lost its tax-exempt status for refusing to make the space available for same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Legal recognition of gay unions comes at a steep price for Christian institutions, which have now lost a degree of freedom. If states do not provide religious exemptions to these laws, same-sex marriage will begin pushing faith-based organizations out of the public square. This means the loss not only of a few reception halls and adoption agencies, but many religiously-affiliated hospitals and schools.

In a nation so committed to allowing its citizens to define their own lives, a little tolerance ought also to be extended to these long established and socially vital institutions.


Hard Cases

While the California Supreme Court imposed same-sex marriage on the Golden State, so far this season the U.S. Supreme Court has not had to confront contentious social issues. That’s not to say recent decisions—including Boumediene and Dada—have not showcased how divided the high court remains. These two rulings, the most notable so far this year (as of press time), both split the court 5-4, with Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting from the liberal majority on each occasion.

These rulings have done more than illustrate the court’s philosophical division, however. They also remind us that there is plenty of room for thoughtful conservatives to question the wisdom of the dissenting justices, and that the court’s liberals are not always radical. John McCain disagrees: he called Boumediene, which extends basic habeas corpus protections to detained “enemy combatants,” “one of the worst decisions in the history of the country.” But George Will—who challenged the Republican nominee’s assertion by reminding readers of Dred Scott, Plessy, and Korematsu—offered a balanced take in his June 17 column. “The Supreme Court’s ruling only begins marking a boundary against government’s otherwise boundless power to detain people indefinitely,” he wrote, while acknowledging that “the question of the detainees’ …… rights is a matter about which intelligent people of good will can differ.”

The same can be said about Dada, which expanded the rights of immigrants who overstay their visas. We aren’t in favor of that, but Dada’s extensions are minor and procedural, allowing aliens to withdraw from “voluntary departure” agreements and appeal their removal from the country. (They could already appeal if they did not agree to “voluntary departure.”) Roughly speaking, this is like allowing a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea. It’s a bad idea—aliens who overstay their visits already receive lenient treatment—but not one of the worst decisions in the history of the country, even by our standards.


Bush Courts Historians

In Rome this month, President Bush told an interviewer that he intends to write a book on his legacy. “It takes a while for history to have its, you know, to be able to have enough time to look back to see why decisions were made and what their consequences were,” he said. Clearly, Dubya the memoirist will need some professional help.

Two days later, in London, Bush had dinner with a group of well-known British historians, including Simon Schama, Niall Ferguson, and Andrew Roberts. The event prompted speculation that the president was auditioning ghostwriters. Schama seems an unlikely pick, having recently described Bush’s presidency as “an absolute f—–g catastrophe.” Roberts, however, is far more amenable to the president’s vision of himself. Indeed, he has already cast Bush as the Churchill of his day. In his History of the English Speaking Peoples, Roberts vigorously defended the Iraq War, Guantanamo Bay, and the Freedom Agenda. Last year, Roberts had lunch at the White House with the president, vice president, and other eminent hawks such as Norman Podhoretz and Gertrude Himmelfarb. The historian was given a pair of presidential cufflinks, which he tactfully wore to the London soirée.

Slate editor Jacob Weisberg recently called Roberts “the fawning court historian of the Bush administration.” The description may prove more exact than he realized.

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