On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will help determine how the U.S. Supreme Court handles its next big abortion case. But Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice hasn’t been scheduled for oral arguments just yet. The law in question, which deals with abortion-inducing drugs, was messily written, leaving room for considerable doubt about whether the state of Oklahoma intended to require doctors to follow a particular set of dosage requirements (the state attorney’s argument)—or ban the use of the drugs for abortion entirely (the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice’s argument).
A Canadian World War I soldier with mustard gas burns. (Wikimedia Commons)
Back in December, when the White House first declared that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would constitute a "red line" whose crossing would produce some kind of response (they never said what kind), I wondered why the taboo against chemical weapons exists. Now that it looks like we're about to start bombing Syria, it's worth revisiting the question of what lies behind the taboo and how it is guiding our feelings and actions.
Why do we have this international consensus saying that while it's bad for someone like Assad to bomb a neighborhood full of civilians and kill all the men, women, and children therein, it's worse for him to kill that same number of civilians by means of poison gas than by means of "conventional" munitions that merely tear their bodies to pieces? Indeed, we act as though killing, say, a hundred people with poison gas is worse than killing a thousand or ten thousand people with conventional weapons. After all, the Obama administration (not to mention the rest of the world) reacted to Assad murdering 100,000 people by expressing its deep consternation and trying to figure out how to help without actually getting involved. But only now that he has apparently used some kind of lethal gas in an attack that accounted for less than one percent of all the civilians he has killed are we finally ready to unleash our own military.
The Internal Revenue Service was closed today, as employees were furloughed due to sequestration's budget cuts. Conservatives found this to be an occasion for side-splitting humor; Sarah Palin, for example, tweeted, "The IRS is closed today, feel free to use your phones." Get it, because the IRS was tapping … um … well, never mind. In any case, today is a reminder that this scandal could be an opportunity for reform that clarifies the law on political and non-political groups, leads to a greater professionalization of the agency, and makes future misconduct less likely. Or it could wind up being just the opposite.
Any other week, the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas—which killed 14 people, injured 200, and flattened 50 houses all in a town of under 3,000 people—would have dominated the news for days, with the explosion playing over and over again. Instead, most of us wound up watching the whole thing through YouTube videos. Just days earlier, bombs planted at the Boston Marathon had left the country on alert for terrorist attacks. The ensuing manhunt for the perpetrators ensured that a deadly explosion in the middle of Texas wouldn’t start the 10 o’clock news or lead Sunday talk-show coverage.
When Jon Huntsman announced last month that he would not be actively campaigning for votes in the Iowa Caucuses, he said, "I'm not competing in Iowa for a reason. I don't believe in subsidies that prop up corn, soybeans and ethanol." It was assumed that Huntsman -- former supporter of the stimulus, climate-change solutions, and civil unions for same-sex couples -- was ducking out of Iowa to avoid confrontation with the state party's active social conservative base. By rejecting ethanol subsidies, he might indeed be offending Iowans of all stripes.
Suburbs once seemed like a good idea to politicians and the people that moved there, but the downsides to suburban sprawl became clear in a few generations: long commutes and the pollution that goes with them, loss of farmland and forests, increasingly large houses with increasingly large carbon footprints. But will the refocus on transit-oriented, densely-populated cities post unforseen problems for the next generation? In Orion Magazine, James Howard Kunstler suggests that the mistake we're making is huddling in bigger, taller cities that won't be resilient when energy pressures make running them too expensive.