Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

Cloudy eyesight and sexual misconduct: Three recent cases

June 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 1, 2015

No two ways about it: The latter half of May was a bad time for self-appointed arbiters of morality.

The trouble for the God squadders began on May 18, when Queerty reported that a Michigan pastor named Matthew Makela had been an active user of Grindr, a hookup app for gay men. This was despite the fact that Makela, a married father of five, was an outspoken opponent of homosexuality.

This was small fry, however, compared to l’affaire Duggar. The day after Makela was outed, InTouch reported that Josh Duggar, eldest son of the prolific Arkansas family of reality television fame, had sexually abused minors when he was a teenager. Some of the victims were reportedly his own younger sisters.

Duggar admitted that he had “acted inexcusably” and “hurt others” as a teenager and resigned his position as an official with the Family Research Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group.

And just last week, a once-powerful politician who had quickly sunk into obscurity was indicted by the federal government. The Chicago Tribune reported that Denny Hastert, speaker-of-the-house turned lobbyist:

was charged with one count each of structuring currency transactions to evade currency transaction reports and making a false statement to the FBI, counts that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Indications soon emerged that the former politician had agreed to pay $3.5 million to a young man whom he’d apparently known — and, presumably, sexually molested — decades ago when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in a small Illinois town.

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Out of order: Despair and the American way

May 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 1, 2015

There have been a handful of days in my life that have shaken my belief in America, the nation that has sheltered and nurtured me. Two of them have come in the last six months.

The earliest such occasion was March 30, 1981, when I came home from school and learned that someone had attempted to kill President Ronald Reagan. It was the first time since 1963 that an assassin had seriously jeopardized the life of the leader of the free world.

The next world-shattering day was Jan. 28, 1986, when the seven people aboard the space shuttle Challenger were killed by an explosion 73 seconds into their ascent. It was the first time in history that an American space mission which had cleared the gantry had resulted in the loss of lives. I got out of school early because of testing and spent the afternoon in the basement of my friend Eric’s house watching coverage of the catastrophe on CNN and other TV channels. The deaths seemed entirely at odds with my belief in the United States (and in adults) as technologically competent.

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On laughter and white privilege

April 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 3, 2015

Author’s note: Alas, my laptop is malfunctioning again, so I’m going to have to change up my blogging for the next several days until I get things in order. (Unfortunately, that may require the purchase of a new computer.) Here’s a short post based on some tweets I sent recently. MEM 

True, and kind of sad, story from Wednesday night about Chris Rock. 

It was trivia night at a downtown Durham, N.C., restaurant/bar. The crowd was largely Caucasian (as I am) and Asian. 

One trivia question was basically, “Which comedian posted pictures of himself being repeatedly pulled over by the police?”

Several minutes later, the M.C. gave the answers to that round of questions, including the above-mentioned one about Chris Rock.

The M.C. mentioned that some people incorrectly answered the question with “Will Ferrell” — who, of course, is white.

I laughed heartily at the thought of Will Ferrell being pulled over repeatedly. It just seemed totally ludicrous.

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The American right embraces Netanyahu ardently as Netanyahu embraces U.S. conservatives’ slash-and-burn tactics

March 20, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 20, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, prides himself on taking a hard-nosed approach to security issues. He’s been warning for more than 20 years that Iran was just a few years away from building a functional nuclear bomb. He’s a longtime proponent of building settlements in the West Bank, an initiative that diminishes the possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside the Jewish nation of Israel — the so-called two-state solution.

But Netanyahu’s Likud Party was struggling in the polls leading up to Tuesday’s elections, in part because many Israelis are focused on economic issues, not national security. So Netanyahu doubled down on his core issues.

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Private foster-care agencies: Where government inefficiency, the free market and magical thinking collide

February 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 27, 2015

On Thursday, Mother Jones published a lengthy look at private foster-care agencies, some of which are nonprofit, others of which are for-profit. The report is fairly alarming.

Brian Joseph, a former state government reporter for the Orange County Register and a former investigative journalism fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, produced the story. One of the problems he found is that there is little hard data on the safety or effectiveness of this entire business sector:

Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe — and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.

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Spying and the modern society: Why isn’t anyone talking about First Look’s alarming scoop about compromised cell-phone privacy?

February 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 26, 2015

At least once a month, I’ll read through recent posts on Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones. When I did this the other day, I ran across something that I found extremely startling, especially because I hadn’t heard or seen it mentioned anywhere else.

Last week, Drum wrote about a lengthy investigation by First Look Media’s Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley. The duo, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, the infamous National Security Agency leaker, revealed that American and British spy agencies have compromised a significant number of the encryption keys that are supposed to protect the privacy of the communications of cell-phone users.

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‘Popular’ tragedies: Contemplating Paris and Baga, and Sydney and Pennsylvania

January 16, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 16, 2015

Everyone knows about the three deadly days that occurred in and around Paris last week. On Jan. 7, 12 people died in an attack on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. The following day, a police officer was fatally shot by a man linked to the attack on the magazine.

On Jan. 9, that same man and an accomplice took hostages in a kosher grocery store in a Parisian suburb. French police stormed the shop, helping to rescue 15 hostages. Four civilians and the gunman suspected in the Jan. 8 murder died; the second gunman escaped.

Also on Jan. 9, two brothers who were suspected of participating in the Charlie Hebdo assault holed up in a rural community northeast of Paris. Authorities entered the building at the same time as the grocery store. The brothers died.

The final toll: 17 civilians and police died, as did three gunmen.

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Economists and politicians: Parceling out credit and blame for the numbers

January 13, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 13, 2015

Gas prices are down! The economy is growing! More Americans are going to work!

Great job, President Obama! Oh, wait — perhaps new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, deserves credit for the turnaround?

Or maybe not. On Thursday, Politico’s Lucy McCalmont contacted 14 different experts and asked them to evaluate Sen. McConnell’s claim that “[t]he uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: The expectation of a new Republican Congress.”

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The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking at the newest job numbers

January 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 10, 2015

On Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment numbers for December 2014. Many commentators highlighted the positives: Unemployment dropped from 5.8 percent in November to 5.6 percent last month, and 252,000 new jobs were added, mostly in the private sector.

I’m no economist, but I thought that the data were mixed. Here’s my look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the latest BLS report:

• The good. Job creation fell slightly from November but was still strong. As Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum is fond of reminding readers, about 90,000 new jobs are needed each month to keep up with population growth; even so, the remaining number of jobs, 162,000, is not too shabby.

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Belief and disbelief: Rolling Stone cuts journalistic corners, and vulnerable assault victims are likely to bear the brunt of the impact

December 11, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 11, 2014

I don’t know exactly what went wrong with the reporting and editing of “A Rape on Campus,” Rolling Stone’s attention-grabbing Nov. 19 feature story about an alleged sexual assault at a University of Virginia fraternity house.

We do know that there are serious questions about the anecdote at the heart of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s feature. The gang rape that she described in detail may not have happened at the Phi Kappa Psi house, or it may not have involved a member of Phi Kappa Psi. Or perhaps it never took place at all. We still don’t know for sure.

But for weeks, Rolling Stone asserted that it had rigorously fact-checked the account of Jackie, the student (her last name did not appear in the story) who claimed to have been brutally gang-raped in the fall of 2012, when she was a freshman.

That changed on Friday, when, after copious evidence emerged that the publication had seriously failed to verify some aspects of the feature, the magazine acknowledged that the story had serious issues. Now, Rolling Stone says that it will re-investigate the article in order to give readers a full understanding of what happened on the evening in question.

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The moral stain of torture: Some things to keep in mind while we await the Senate report on CIA interrogation

December 4, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 4, 2014

In March 2009, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), respectively the chairwoman and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that their group had agreed on a bipartisan basis to review

• How the [Central Intelligence Agency] created, operated, and maintained its detention and interrogation program;

• How CIA’s assessments that detainees possessed relevant information were made;

• Whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the U.S. government, including the Office of Legal Counsel and the Senate Intelligence Committee;

• Whether the CIA implemented the program in compliance with official guidance, including covert action findings, Office of Legal Counsel opinions, and CIA policy;

The 2009 announcement also said that the committee would evaluate intelligence “gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques.”

“Enhanced interrogation” is, of course, a euphemism for actions that most people would call “torture.”

Work on this Senate investigation spanned about five years, culminating in a report of about 6,000 pages. In early 2014, the committee submitted a 480-page executive summary to the White House. The Obama administration, including CIA officials, redacted the summary in ways that rendered it unintelligible and unsupported, according to complaints from Senate committee members.

The administration redactions came to light in August. The executive summary has remained in limbo since then.

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Law vs. justice: A grand jury declines to indict a police officer in racially charged Ferguson, Mo., shooting

November 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 26, 2014

Legally speaking, the Missouri grand jury that declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown may have made the right decision.

But the fact is that another man — another white man — another white man with a license to carry a deadly weapon — won’t face charges for the killing of another black man — another unarmed young black man. Morally speaking, this episode seems to reinforce an unwritten, unofficial American hierarchy that values white lives over black lives.

This is the same power dynamic that we’ve seen play out over the past several days — in fact, over a number of decades — in the case of beloved comedian Bill Cosby, a talented, successful entertainer who appears to have drugged and sexually assaulted more than a dozen women dating back to at least 1965. In Cosby’s case, a number of his alleged assaults were white, while he is black.

But make no mistake. The entertainer’s ability to escape most consequences of his apparent misdeeds is an extension of the same societal structure from which Wilson has benefited, and George Zimmerman before him, and Woody Allen before him, and Bill Clinton before him, and countless others before them. This structure habitually favors men over women, the rich over the poor and the powerful over the powerless — even if its beneficiaries occasionally sport darker skin, as in the case of Cosby.

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Is the conservative #BENGHAZI!!! scandal narrative ill-served by the facts of the Benghazi attacks? A brief investigation

November 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 22, 2014

This afternoon, I conducted a quick review of four websites — two of them mainstream news organizations, two of them avowedly conservative news organizations — and their coverage of the latest news relating to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks against American outposts in Benghazi, Libya.

Let’s start with the mainstream coverage.

At The Washington Post, a story titled “House panel finds no intelligence failure in Benghazi attacks” was featured in prominent real estate — the top-left corner of the home page. Greg Miller’s article, posted Friday, Nov. 21, at 8:53 p.m., begins:

An investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the CIA and U.S. military responded appropriately to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, dismissing allegations that the Obama administration blocked rescue attempts during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterward.

After a two-year probe that involved the review of thousands of pages of classified documents, the panel determined that the attack could not be blamed on an intelligence failure, and that CIA security operatives “ably and bravely assisted” State Department officials who were overwhelmed at a nearby but separate diplomatic compound.

The committee also found “no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support,” rejecting claims that have fed persistent conspiracy theories that the U.S. military was prevented from rescuing U.S. personnel from a night-time assault that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

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Crimes and misdemeanors: Considering criticism of The New York Times’s Michael Brown profile

August 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 26, 2014

The New York Times published dual profiles Sunday of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. The former man, of course, is an unarmed 18-year-old who was killed this month  in Ferguson, Mo., while the latter man is the police officer who fired the deadly shots.

The profile of Brown, written by John Eligon, was poorly received. The sticking point was essentially this, the fifth paragraph:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

The complaints seem to boil down to the following two points:

• Why does Eligon mention Brown’s very minor offenses — experimenting with alcohol and drugs, scuffling at least once, making rap music — when these are things that many, many teenagers have done?

• Why does Eligon characterize the shooting victim as “no angel,” which many read as an implicit condemnation of Brown’s character?

I’m not impressed by either of these objections. Let’s examine them in order.

The first complaint is by far the flimsier one, to my mind. Brown’s use of drink and drugs, his one known fight, and his rap music are relevant because those are among the things that Eligon found in his reporting.

And Eligon didn’t exactly focus on Brown’s possible failings to the exclusion of all else. Here is the very next paragraph in his story:

At the same time, [Brown] regularly flashed a broad smile that endeared those around him. He overcame early struggles in school to graduate on time. He was pointed toward a trade college and a career and, his parents hoped, toward a successful life.

Might it have been better to put more emphasis on these details? Perhaps. But if the profile’s fifth and sixth paragraphs had essentially been flipped, I have a hunch that critics still would have focused on references to some of Brown’s questionable behavior.

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We’ve paid the butcher, but for what? Deaths, injuries and financial costs of America’s misadventure in Iraq

August 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 12, 2014

It turns out that conservative firebrand Laura Ingraham has written off America’s war of choice in Iraq as an exercise in futility. Here’s what she said on a Fox television program on Sunday:

Now Iraq is worse off. I mean, I hate to say that, but Iraq is worse than before we went into Iraq. Christians are gone. There’s no sense of order at all. Saddam Hussein is gone. That’s a good thing, but what’s left? A more emboldened Islamic state. Not contained apparently even by U.S. air strikes.

I hope more Americans start to think seriously about the potential downsides of foreign adventures.

How expensive was this war — and how devastating to the nation we had hoped to uplift? I recently found a few different items that tell the sad tale, including one that ties in to Ingraham’s observation about what I’ll call the de-Christianization of Iraq — a story about Iraq being placed on a list of nations that violate religious freedom.

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The old in-and-out: Obama, Bush and the removal of American troops from Iraq

August 9, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 9, 2014

There’s a tendency on the right to blame President Barack Hussein Obama for, well, just about every ill under the sun.

The conservative narrative goes something like this: Obama was inaugurated, and then everything went to hell. I’m oversimplifying the right-wing zeitgeist here — but, I would contend, only slightly.

A cursory examination of the Obama administration provides plenty of fodder for the argument that the president — through indifference, incompetence, iniquity or some mixture thereof — is ruining America. Gas prices rose sharply after the first president from Kenya Hawaii (oops!) took office. So did unemployment as the economy cratered. The deficit — and, as a consequence, the national debt — ballooned dramatically. Americans learned that under Obama, the National Security Agency was collecting unprecedented amounts of information about the calls we make and the e-mails we send. There have allegations that the Internal Revenue Service has been abusing its power to harass conservative nonprofit groups. And an ambassador was killed in the line of duty for the first time in 33 years.

Some of these complaints don’t stand up to scrutiny. Gas prices have risen under Obama, but they’ve never quite reached their peak of about $4.10 a gallon under Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush. The economy has ramped back upward. (The reasons for the slow recovery may lie beyond Obama’s control, much as the recession can’t be entirely attributed to Bush.) Many of the NSA practices seem to have begun under Bush. Protestations of outraged right-wingers to the contrary, IRS scrutiny wasn’t strictly limited to conservative groups. And recently, Republicans on a Congressional committee concluded that the administration was not responsible for any wrongdoing or gross negligence related to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at a consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

One can certainly debate the various merits of Obama’s policies — although I doubt folks on the right will be able to bring themselves to say anything complimentary about health-care reform anytime soon, despite evidence that it’s workingObama’s military intervention in Libya was conducted in defiance of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, thereby leaving a permanent blot on the president’s record. (I object not to the intervention but to Obama’s refusal to obtain congressional permission for extended military efforts.) Obama’s embrace of the extrajudicial killing of American citizens is blatantly outrageous, and will forever stain his presidency. Moreover, the president’s failure to prosecute torture conducted under the auspices of his predecessor severely undermined his claim to any moral high ground.

Yet I write not to bury Obama nor to praise him. Instead, I want to consider one oft-repeated conservative complaint that has always baffled me: The allegation that Obama is responsible for the increasing chaos in Iraq.

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Did political convenience convince a conservative journalist to re-categorize a bug as a feature? An examination of the Welch–Beutler–Suderman spat

August 6, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 6, 2014

A Twitter feud between left-wing and right-wing pundits caught my eye last week.

The spat was launched by this tweet:

The difference between intellectual honesty () and a hackish attempt at oppo marginalization: ()

— Matt Welch @mleewelch 10:51 AM – 29 Jul 2014

Welch is the editor in chief of Reason, the libertarian magazine produced by the Los Angeles–based Reason Foundation. His tweet praised an article written by Reason senior editor Peter Suderman and published in Reason while panning one written by Brian Beutler, a senior editor at The New Republic, and published in that left-leaning magazine.

The articles promote dueling interpretations of the issue that many people refer to as Halbig. The tag comes from the plaintiff in one of a handful of pending lawsuits that seek to cripple the right’s favorite whipping boy, the Affordable Care Act.

The key to Halbig — beyond, of course, understanding that conservatives are obsessed with (a) opposing anything associated with Obama, especially (b) the health care reform law that is familiar known as Obamacare — is the question of whether one provision in that law means what it appears to say in the narrowest and most literal possible meaning.

This is the position on the right wing. As a result, they assert, buyers in states that did not establish their own online health-insurance marketplaces are ineligible for the tax credits that they were promised. In many cases, these subsidies make the coverage affordable.

Should this argument prevail, it could affect more than 7 million residents in the 36 states that rely on (That’s the federally run website for comparing and purchasing health insurance plans offered by private companies; the site was created for residents of states that declined to create their own online exchanges.)

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Palestinians and Israelis must stop glorifying their own side and stop demonizing their enemies

August 4, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 4, 2014

Israeli novelist Amos Oz recently gave an interview to Dennis Stule of the German national news service Deutsche Welle. The dialogue caught the eye of multiple pundits, not least because the writer began the exchange in a novel way — by posing two questions to the news service’s audience.

Said Oz:

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

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On dead children in Gaza Strip and the villain(s) in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

August 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 2, 2014

A major goal of Israel’s Gaza offensive, which showed indications Saturday of winding down, has been to destroy tunnels leading into Israelis territory — structures that I gather mainly have a military purpose. In fact, just days ago, one tunnel was used for an assault in which five Israeli soldiers (and one Hamas fighter) were killed.

Jeremy Bender and Armin Rosen of Business Insider published a post on Tuesday at Business Insider that excerpts some video that the assailants took during that attack. But what truly caught my eye about their article was the sentence at the start of the second paragraph, which casually mentioned that dozens of children died in the process of building the tunnels.

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The stupid war: Israel’s apparent war crimes in its Gaza offensive must be investigated and punished

July 31, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 31, 2014

I wrote earlier this week about why the existence of Israel was and remains worthy of support. The subject is topical, alas, because of the Jewish nation’s ongoing war against Gaza, which began on July 7 and has involved a combination of aerial and naval bombardment and ground offensives.

The fighting has taken an appalling toll. As of Wednesday, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1,263 Palestinians had been killed. Some 852 people, or more than two-thirds of the deaths, were civilians, including an astounding 249 children. The U.N. identified 181 of the victims as “members of armed groups.” Another 230 individuals had yet to be categorized; many of them are believed to have been civilians.

Israeli casualties, by contrast, have been light. Fifty-three soldiers have been killed along with two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker.

But the consequences of this war go beyond just killing. Earlier this week, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that 6,233 Gazans had been wounded; nearly 2,000 of the injured are children.

The property damage inflicted by Israelis upon Gaza has also been staggering. More than 800 homes have been totally destroyed or severely damaged. At least 68 families have suffered three or more deaths in one incident. That accounts for 360 deaths, the U.N. reports: 147 children, 73 women and 140 men.

The organization says that nearly 9,400 families — more than 28,000 people — must make major repairs or entirely rebuild their homes. Another 27,000 families, or 162,000 people, live in homes that sustained minor or moderate damage.

Some 245,000 Palestinians have registered in public shelters, many of which are schools; up to 200,000 more may have sought refuge in private residences.

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A bloody birthright: Why I support Israel’s right to exist

July 29, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 29, 2014

The reasons why I support Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish homeland are rooted in the mortal perils that Jews have faced over the millennia. However, the heart of the matter is and will always be the bloody history of the 20th century.

No serious discussion of the subject can overlook the impetus for Israel’s establishment in 1948. That was only a few years after the end of World War II, which went hand in hand with the widespread realization that Adolf Hitler had conducted a massive, horrifying campaign to exterminate Jews and other so-called undesirables.

The Nazi Germany genocide — Raphael Lemkin coined that word in 1944 to describe what we today call the Holocaust — racked up a staggering death toll. The numbers vary from account to account, but according to one tally published by The Telegraph, between five million and six million Jews were killed.

Jews were hardly the Nazis’ only victims; four million Soviet, Polish and Yugoslav civilians died in the German camps, along with three million Soviet prisoners of war, 70,000 individuals with mental and physical disabilities, more than 200,000 Roma and an “unknown number of political prisoners, resistance fighters, homosexuals and deportees.”

Entire Jewish neighborhoods were wiped off the map; Nazis and locals appropriated their property. (There are a few brief but poignant nods to this in The Monuments Men, and this morbid history forms the dark heart of the brilliant Polish movie Ida — although Germans were only indirectly responsible for the killings and theft in the latter film.)

Poland’s Jewish community was hardest-hit, dropping from more than three million in 1933 to about 45,000 in 1950, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Here, as elsewhere in Europe, most of the reduction was caused by the Nazi slaughter, although some was due to postwar migration.)

The devastation elsewhere in Europe was comparable: Germany’s Jewish population fell from 565,000 to 37,000 over the same time period; Czechoslovakia’s, from 357,000 to 17,000; Austria’s, from 250,000 to 18,000; Greece’s, from 100,000 to 7,000. And this is only part of the grim census of genocide.

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What would a Tea Party utopia really be like for women, disenfranchised voters and the poor? Don’t look to Slate’s Reihan Salam for answers

June 20, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 20, 2014

Reihan Salam, a conservative writer who became a regular Slate columnist this spring, has tried to picture how the United States would look if it were ruled by the Tea Party. He calls this conservative fantasyland Teatopia.

Most of Salam’s piece revolves around subsidiarity, which boils down decentralizing government. If the federal bureaucracy of Salam’s vision — which the author describes as a thought exercise, instead of as a future that he would necessarily endorse — isn’t exactly small enough to drown in a bathtub, it might at least be spare enough to fit in one:

Tea Party conservatives … favor voluntary cooperation among free individuals over local government, local government over state government, and state government over the federal government. Teatopia would in some respects look much like our own America, only the contrasts would be heightened. California and New York, with their dense populations and liberal electorates, would have even bigger state governments that provide universal pre-K, a public option for health insurance, and generous funding for mass transit. They might even have their own immigration policies, which would be more welcoming toward immigrants than the policies the country as a whole would accept.

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Will the future resemble the past? Our changing atmosphere and our peculiar institution

May 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 23, 2014

I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the past few days reading about two disparate issues. One, climate change, is very contemporary; the other, slavery, continues to affect American society despite the fact that the practice was outlawed about 150 years ago.

Let’s start with climate change — specifically, with Bill McKibben’s 6,200-word essay on the subject from a 2012 edition of Rolling Stone. It is subtitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” and it focuses on three numbers: The amount of temperature rise that the planet might — might — be able to sustain without triggering catastrophic environmental and geopolitical changes, the number of gigatons of carbon dioxide that scientists estimate humanity might be able to pump into the atmosphere while still retaining a chance of keeping below an unsustainable temperature rise, and the number of gigatons of carbon dioxide that would be added to the atmosphere if all known reserves of coal, oil and gas reserves are extracted and used.

McKibben focuses on those three numbers, as stated, but the most frightening part of the article can be boiled down to one sentence: Known fossil fuel reserves are capable of producing roughly five times the amount of carbon dioxide that the atmosphere is thought to be able to absorb safely.

Consider the other topic for a moment — slavery, which has euphemistically been called America’s peculiar institution. The Atlantic has just posted a comprehensive feature article by Ta-Nehisi Coates titled “The Case for Reparations.” The work comprises about 15,000 words; it’s also accompanied by “An Intellectual Autopsy,” a 2,100-word addendum (that I have yet to read) in which Coates explains how his opposition to reparations changed over the last four years.

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Computer CPR: How to respond to the Internet’s Heartbleed security hole

April 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 12, 2014

The other day, I spent about an hour updating several of my Internet passwords. The spur for this, in case you didn’t know — and if you didn’t, you really should — is Heartbleed, the gaping flaw in World Wide Web security protocols that may have given snoopers access to supposedly secure passwords and other information over the last two years.

It’s not yet been determined whether anyone actually exploited the vulnerability in the OpenSSL code, which perhaps half a million websites used. (Another article estimates that this code is used on perhaps two-thirds of Internet servers. SSL, by the way, stands for secure sockets layer.) Samantha Murphy Kelly reported Wednesday that there’s no indication that hackers were aware of the bug before it was announced at the beginning of the week, and on Friday, the National Security Agency denied that it had either known about or used the flaw.

Still, in the wake of these revelations, Internet users have been advised to change their passwords. There are a couple of wrinkles, however. One is that if a site you use has been compromised, a password change won’t make a web account more secure unless that website has patched the vulnerability.

There are workarounds, of course. On Thursday, Mashable compiled a table listing popular sites and whether or not a password change was advisable. Also, Internet denizens can go here and enter specific web addresses to see if those pages have been affected.

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April 2, 2014: A most American day

April 4, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 5, 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014, was a quintessentially American day. It will be remembered primarily for two events; history will also footnote one purported joke that seemed to be a reaction to one of those happenings.

• In the morning, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the result of McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court invalidated provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 limiting the total amount of money any one individual may give to political candidates or political parties.

Previously, the law set a number of restrictions. According to SCOTUSblog, any one person could give up to $2,600 per candidate per primary or general election, $32,400 per year to a national party committee, $10,000 per year to a state or local party committee, and $5,000 per year to a regular political action committee. Further, an individual’s aggregate donations over a two-year election cycle were limited; in 2013–14, the maximums were $48,600 for federal candidates and $74,600 to political committees.

The new ruling lets stand limits on giving to a particular candidate or committee, but the aggregate caps are no more.

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