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  • Maureen Dowd on the First Lady in Spain  Dowd clearly is not going to go as far as the critics calling Michelle Obama a "material girl" or "Marie Antoinette." She does point out, though, that the First Lady has an odd way of being absent during the toughest moments of her husband's presidency, and suggests Barack might be able to use some support. Dowd also, though, puts this current "optics" debate in context:
Michelle has done such a good job that she silenced her vituperative conservative critics for a year and a half. But perhaps the strain of debunking that :angry black woman" stereotype by playing the smiling, conventional first lady, talking to Ladies’ Home Journal about vegetable cleanses and portion sizes, made her want to assert her independence in the one place she could: her schedule.
  • Andrew McCarthy on Moderate Muslims  Advocates of the planned mosque in the neighborhood of Ground Zero have emphasized that it involves precisely the sort of moderate Muslim groups the U.S. should be encouraging. But McCarthy remembers the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center and mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, that was billed the same way. In reality, its director of outreach had previously promised that Islam would become the dominant religion in America, and once compared Muslim jihadists to the U.S. Marines. The al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki--currently in Yemen, and the only U.S. citizen the government's hit list--was in fact Dar al-Hijrah's imam back in the early aughts. Meanwhile, Imam Feisal Rauf, "the force behind the Ground Zero mosque, declines to condemn Hamas," though "it has been formally designated a terrorist organization under our law for many years." Its charter mentions the need to [eliminate] Israel through violent jihad." The message behind McCarthy's provocative column: politicians might be a little too quick to declare groups "moderate."
  • Matthew Yglesias on 'the Summer of Fear'  Left-leaning Yglesias thinks, unlike conservative McCarthy, that politicians have been if anything overeager to demonize, whether in the case of the Ground Zero mosque or in challenges to the 14th Amendment's so-called "birthright" citizenship. "Politicans," he writes at The Washington Post, "are making hay out of the mosque only because public opinion seems to oppose it," and the public hostility "is a consequence of the economic downturn, every bit as much as foreclosures and layoffs." The trend is both natural and worth combating:
We have seen this time and again, in this country and in others. ... The loss of a job, or the worry that one might be lost, raises anxiety. This often plays out as increased suspicion of people who look different or come from different places. While times of robust growth and shared prosperity inspire feelings of interconnectedness and mutual gain, in times of worry, the picture quickly reverses. ... Those who support an open, pluralistic society won't get very far wading into these controversies one by one--but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. The economic roots of our summer of fear will hopefully prove transitory, but the rise in xenophobia may nonetheless inflict serious and permanent damage. A betrayal, even a fleeting one, of America's commitment to religious freedom could do lasting harm to the country's relationship with a billion Muslims around the world.
  • Dave Weigel Debunks 'Five Myths About the Tea Party'  The myths are these, writes Slate's new aquisition at The Washington Post: "1. The tea party isn't a reaction to President Obama, it's a reaction to the bank bailouts. ... 2. The tea party is racist. ... 4. The tea party hurts the GOP. ... 5. The tea party will transform American politics." Though there are "some kernels of truth" to a few of these myths, there is more than enough reason to doubt all of them.
  • May Berenbaum on the Return of Bedbugs  The entomology professor recalls her excitement, back in 1995, when she saw her "first live bedbug"--pesticides had made the insects exceedingly rare. Now, the critters are back, and resistant to the chemicals once used against them. Berenbaum riffs on the various and little-known qualities of bedbugs. They are, for example, one of the only "bloodsucking human ectoparasites" not to carry disease, and actually "inject anaesthetics" while feeding "so as not to awaken us." Why are we so disgusted by them? Explains Berenbaum: "there is a particular horror associated with being consumed while relatively helpless, asleep in what should be the security of one's own bed."

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