Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

July 18, 2015

The Common Ground Between the United States and Russia

By David K. Shipler

            Washington may regard Vladimir Putin as the world’s Number One Nuisance, but he came through in the Iran agreement, just as he did in 2013 by negotiating the removal of chemical weapons from Syria (minus chlorine, unfortunately, which has industrial uses but has been weaponized). Before its thinly disguised invasion of Ukraine, Russia also shared intelligence on terrorism and other security matters. Unpublicized contacts among Russian and American military and civilian intelligence officials were reportedly frequent and productive; perhaps they still are.
So, a new overlay of common ground should be drawn onto the map of conflict between Washington and Moscow. President Obama, answering a well-placed question by Thomas Friedman Tuesday after the deal restricting Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, said this:
            “Russia was a help on this. I’ll be honest with you. I was not sure given the strong differences we are having with Russia right now around Ukraine, whether this would sustain itself. Putin and the Russian government compartmentalized on this in a way that surprised me, and we would have not achieved this agreement had it not been for Russia’s willingness to stick with us and the other P5-Plus members in insisting on a strong deal.”
            Quite an endorsement. But he shouldn’t have been surprised. Preventing Iran from going nuclear is as much in the Russian interest as it is in ours. Look at a map. Iran is in Russia’s back yard. If there is any constant in Russian history (and there are several), it’s the importance of the back yard. Ukraine is also in Russia’s back yard. You mess with the back yard, you mess with house and home. And while Putin can certainly be faulted for his aggression against Ukraine, for exaggerating Western designs on Russia’s security, and for fostering jingoism among the Russian public, his country and the United States share important overlapping interests.
            Let’s make a short list:

July 1, 2015

A Constitution Informed by Social Change

By David K. Shipler

            If you spend time reading the Supreme Court’s majority and dissenting opinions in the landmark same-sex marriage case, a transcendent principle jumps out at you. It has little to do with the definition of marriage or the widening acceptance of homosexuality. Rather, it is the notion that society should be alive to its own injustices, even those unseen in the age when solemn constitutional texts were written. Later—nearly 150 years later in this instance—practices that were once acceptable emerge as violations of the rights set down at a very different time.
This is the crux of the ideological dispute between conservatives and liberals on the Court, and it is articulated in this case with unusual clarity. The conservative dissenters define liberty in the narrowest terms—to Clarence Thomas it means freedom from physical restraint and imprisonment, nothing more.
To Antonin Scalia, the clock simply has to be turned back to the date of the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment, whose clauses banned the states from denying any person “the equal protection of the laws” or depriving anyone “of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Those were the provisions that the Supreme Court found were being violated by denying same-sex couples the right to marry.
Scalia scoffed. “When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868,” he wrote, “every state limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so.” Case closed.
Compare that with Anthony Kennedy’s fluid view of liberty in his opinion for the slim 5-4 majority. Kennedy is not easily categorized as liberal or conservative; he is often a swing vote. Here, however, he effectively endorses the liberal concept of a living Constitution by emphasizing its place in a shifting world.