The Fever Chart

"Our only health is the disease / If we obey the dying nurse …"

Tragedy and Farce in Benghazi

This piece originally appeared at Aleteia

In the last twenty years, there have been 19 serious attacks on American diplomatic facilities around the world, resulting in over 60 fatalities. However, the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September stands out for several reasons: the organized ferocity of the assault, the timidity of the American response while the event was ongoing, and the lengths to which the Obama Administration went to obfuscate the true nature of the attack after the fact. The entire affair calls into question the integrity of those at the highest levels of our military and foreign policy establishment, including the U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the then-Secretary of State, and even the President of the United States.

In the week preceding September 11, 2012, the Middle East was rocked by angry protests against a YouTube video produced in the United States, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which portrayed the Prophet Mohammad as a child abuser and homosexual. Demonstrations in Tunisia, Morocco, and Sudan all focused on US diplomatic facilities, but were contained by local authorities. During the day on September 11, more violent protests broke out in Cairo, Egypt and Sanaa, Yemen. In both cities, US embassies were attacked and torched, though there was no loss of life and damage was minimal to moderate. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rule of Law and the Law of Love

This article appeared first at Aleteia

Last Friday evening, shortly after the capture of the presumed bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, people spilled into the streets of Watertown, Mass., to applaud the public safety officers who had successfully conducted the manhunt and brought the eventual siege to a conclusion. Relief and gratitude combined in a raucous, flag-waving demonstration that warmed hearts across the country and provided a welcome counterpoint to four days of grief and tension. It was a week unlike any other in the nearly four hundred-year history of Boston.

On Patriots’ Day, April 15, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and scores horribly injured. The investigation that followed moved quickly, and on Thursday evening police released photos of the two Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzokhar. Overnight Friday they shot an MIT campus policeman, carjacked an SUV, and led police on a cinematic car chase that ended in Watertown, a couple of miles from downtown Boston. Tamerlan was killed, another policeman was wounded, Dzokhar was suddenly in the wind and the city was put into an unprecedented lockdown. Long hours passed until finally, around 6:00 pm, the suspect was captured – critically wounded, but alive – and the order went out: “lockdown lifted.” Read the rest of this entry »

On the Persecution of Middle Eastern Christians

This piece originally appeared at Aleteia

A century ago, during the reign of the last of the Muslim caliphs, Christians in the Middle East amounted to a fifth of the population, with thriving strongholds in Egypt, Palestine, and the regions now known as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Today, that community is in a state of rapid, terminal decline. Best estimates now put the Christian population at around five percent, but even these few are being squeezed out by persecution, war and occupation. The near-destruction of these ancient Christian communities during the past half-century is an important historical event. This all goes to say that the astonishing fact that it has been consistently underreported in the West is a disgrace.

Christianity in Iraq dates to the time of the Apostles, and two of the largest communities – the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syriac Catholic Church – have been in full communion with the Holy See for centuries. Prior to 2003, the Iraqi Christian community numbered 1.5 million. Then came the American-British invasion and occupation of the country. Iraqi Christians were caught in the crossfire between the majority Shiite population, the Sunni insurgency (including al-Qaeda forces), and the nominally Christian invaders. Under pressure from all sides, they fled the country in huge numbers. Those who either could not or would not leave were subjected to relentless persecution, including bombings and assassinations. Today, the number of Christians in Iraq is down by two-thirds, many churches lie in ruins, and a once robust community has been enervated. Read the rest of this entry »

In Colorade, An Eye For An Eye

This appeared at Aleteia

On a late Friday evening last July, James Holmes arrived at the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. He bought a ticket for the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” and took a seat in the front row of the theater. Shortly after the film began, Holmes left the theater through an emergency exit beside the screen, taking care to rig the door so it wouldn’t lock behind him. Ten minutes later he reentered wearing a helmet, gas mask and protective tactical gear. He was carrying pyrotechnic smoke grenades, a 12-guage shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum magazine and a 40-caliber Glock handgun. Holmes popped the smoke and proceeded to methodically unload his ammunition into the unsuspecting crowd. Within a matter of minutes, 70 moviegoers had been shot, 12 fatally. Not long afterward, Holmes was arrested without incident in the parking lot.

Yesterday, the State of Colorado announced that it would seek the death penalty in its prosecution of Holmes, a move that had been widely expected. “For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” said George Brauchler, the District Attorney for Arapahoe County. Bryan Beard, a friend of one of Holmes’s victims, expressed the sentiments of many when he said, “Thank goodness. I am so happy this is happening. The only way death will receive justice when somebody murders somebody else is death.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage: Republicans Being Republicans

This piece originally appeared at Aleteia

The politics of “gay marriage” have always been rather complex, but they just got a little more fluid with the revelation that a large number of prominent Republicans are urging the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state in 2008. (It could almost be considered an ironic case of bipartisanship, given the fact that the Obama administration is also filing a brief in support of same-sex marriage.)  But before we get to the politics, it’s worth reviewing how we got here.

On September 21, 1996, with the specter of gay marriage looming in several states, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had passed the Congress with large majorities of 85 to 14 votes in the Senate and 342 to 67 votes in the House. Most Senate and House Democrats voted ‘aye,’ and they were joined by all but one Republican in the House. The act, which remains the law of the land, states that for the purposes of federal policy, including acts of Congress, the word “marriage” means the legal union of one man and one woman. It also specifies that no state is required to recognize any other state’s alternative definition of marriage, such as the legal union of two men. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Liberal Arts Education is Dying (or Already Dead)

This originally appeared at Aleteia

Here’s something to ponder: If you put one hundred American high school seniors together in a room, how many do you suppose could tell you who Pericles was? How about Cicero? Which of those students could describe the Pythagorean theorem or even fix the branch of mathematics to which it belongs? How many could translate the words, “quo vadis,” give you the title of the first true autobiography in Western culture, or describe the controversy that resulted in the Great Schism of 1054 AD? A little closer to our own time, whom do you suppose those seniors would say wrote An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, or composed the “Mass in B Minor,” or painted “Girl with a Pearl Earring?”

Now, imagine posing the same questions to one hundred American college seniors. Do you think you would receive more or fewer correct answers from that group? Most people would likely say “more,” because the common conception of what post-secondary education is and does is still rooted in the old notion of college as a place where students receive an intense immersion in the history and collected wisdom of Western civilization, or what used to be called a ‘liberal arts’ education. In fact, that model of higher education is disappearing and being replaced by what is euphemistically called ‘career education,’ or what were once known as technical or vocational schools. The question is: What does the slow but steady demise of the liberal arts augur for the future of a democratic republic? Read the rest of this entry »

‘Permaterns’ And the Waning of Civil Society

This piece originally appeared at Aleteia

While the United States continues to struggle toward economic recovery, the impact of the sluggish job market on recent college graduates is especially troubling. Last year, the Associated Press estimated that more than half of college graduates aged 25 and under were either unemployed or underemployed, and that many of those who did have full-time work were not employed in the professional fields for which they studied.

One dimension of this disturbing trend was illustrated in a recent story published in The Washingtonian, a popular magazine in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Titled “The Age of the Permanent Intern,” the article examines the popular practice of recruiting recent college graduates for unpaid or low-paid ‘internships’ with no certain path into genuine professional employment. The article begins by looking at the situation of ‘Kate’, a 2011 Ivy League graduate who has worked three unpaid internships during her 18 months in Washington but supports herself by waiting tables at night.

According to the story, “Kate, who often works more than 60 hours a week, is in a class of workers who don’t show up in government reports. She’s one of the ‘permaterns’ – those perpetual interns, mostly in their twenties – who have been battered by the winds of the recession and are holding out hope that the conventional career wisdom that an internship leads to a job isn’t folklore from a bygone era – like the 1990s.” Read the rest of this entry »

Elections and Mammon: A Catholic View of Campaign Finance Reform

This artcile originally appeared at Aleteia

In January 2010, the Supreme Court’s now-landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) did three important things: (1) it implicitly reaffirmed the old principle in American jurisprudence that corporations are legal persons, possessing most of the same natural rights as actual persons; (2) it declared that cash expenditures during elections are a form of speech, protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution; and (3) it concluded that restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations are an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The majority was comprised of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the decision, and Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts. The minority was made of Justice Stevens – later replaced on the Court by Elena Kagan, the then-Solicitor General who presented the government’s case – and Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer.

Given its later notoriety, the Citizens United decision was surprisingly narrow. It left in place, for instance, the longstanding ban on direct corporate funding of candidates and parties. It also elided the questions of limits on contributions, including those made to political action committees (PACs). Still, Citizens United has had an enormous effect on American democracy, particularly in the rise of the so-called “Super PACs” – a form of political action committee that may receive unlimited donations and spend the money in any way it chooses, so long as it doesn’t make direct contributions to or coordinate its own spending with candidates and parties. By November 2012, 266 Super PACs had collected and spent over half a billion dollars on the presidential election held that month. What’s more, much of that money is difficult to trace. Super PACs are required by the FEC to disclose the names of their official donors on a monthly or quarterly basis, but as one Washington Post writer put it, “disclosure isn’t the same as transparency.” Super PAC patrons are able to mask their donations by the use of hastily erected legal structures like limited liability companies (LLC). Thanks to Citizens United, American elections for national office are now characterized by virtually unlimited corporate donations to murky “independent expenditure-only” organizations with labyrinthine reporting requirements. Read the rest of this entry »

A Catholic Solution to Immigration Reform

This piece originally appeared at Aleteia

The issue of immigration reform continues to vex American policymakers despite nearly unanimous agreement on the source and scale of the problem. Though the numbers oscillate, it is generally acknowledged that some 11 million persons are living in the United States illegally. The majority of those persons – 6.5 million – come from Mexico, while another 1.5 million hail from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In a nation of 313 million people, that means that up to 3.5% of residents are here without documentation.

The causes of illegal immigration are numerous and interwoven. Geographically, the United States and Mexico share the longest contiguous border between First and Third World nations anywhere on the globe. The 2,000 miles that stretch from San Diego, Calif., to Brownsville, Tex., are forbidding and difficult to monitor, much less police. Culturally, the American Southwest has a long history of engagement with our neighbor to the south. In fact, much of the region was once Mexican territory, and it continues to be enriched by tens of millions of Mexican-Americans who populate states like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Economically, the relatively vibrant and growing American economy has long acted as a magnet for Mexican and Central American workers hoping for a better life for themselves and their families. In a similar way, the stability of the American political system, including its respect for due process and the rule of law, has been attractive to Mexican and Central American citizens wearied by the brutality and corruption of their leaders. Read the rest of this entry »

Christopher Dorner: When Pride Consumes the Soul

This piece originally appeared at Aleteia.

Christopher Dorner’s reign of terror came to a fiery end last evening in Big Bear, Calif., east of Los Angeles. For two weeks, Dorner, a 33 year-old former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer, had conducted a private war against his erstwhile colleagues, killing four people and attracting national attention. Two of Dorner’s victims were Monica Quan, 28, the daughter of the officer who had represented him at his LAPD termination hearing, and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence. Reportedly, Dorner later telephoned Quan’s father to taunt him about the murder. Two police officers were also shot and killed by Dorner.

In a bizarre, 18-page testament, Dorner – who was black and a one-time Naval Reserve officer – complained about pervasive racism in the LAPD, the US Navy, and even the elementary school he attended in Norwalk, Calif. He attributed his release from the LAPD in 2008 to his having reported an incident of police brutality involving a white officer and a homeless man. Dorner asserted that he had been railroaded out of the LAPD by a police bureaucracy that is fundamentally hostile to African-Americans, including black officers themselves, and protective of its image to the point of paranoia.

The dragnet for Dorner eventually focused on the area around Big Bear Lake, not far from San Bernardino. After being spotted and chased by uniformed officers of California’s fish and wildlife agency yesterday, Dorner barricaded himself in a cabin and engaged in a furious firefight with police. Late yesterday afternoon, the cabin suddenly burst into flames and eventually burned to the ground. The remains of what officials believe to be Christopher Dorner’s body were recovered at the scene, and samples of those remains have been sent for DNA analysis to confirm their identity. It is not known whether Dorner died from a gunshot, self-inflicted or otherwise, or whether he perished as a result of the fire. Read the rest of this entry »