Friday, April 20, 2007

Reading The Dead

I participated in a reading of the Iraq War dead today. It was an important experience for me to partake in. Most of the people participating were opponents of the Iraq War. I started off as a supporter. In some sense, then, these deaths lie on my head. So while I'm normally loathe to join in such public political acts (this may sound surprising, but it's true--I don't do much political activity beyond my writing), I felt I had an obligation to come out and acknowledge those who made the ultimate sacrifice for a misguided policy that I joined in supporting.

Obviously, after awhile the names began to bleed together, but a few did stand out to me. Lori Piestewa, who died in the same firefight where Jessica Lynch was captured. There was the young Army Captain who died on Christmas Eve. One man in his early fifties who had "Sr." after his name, so I knew he had kids. And the last name I read, ironically enough, died on my birthday.

I thank them for their sacrifice, and I mourn for their loss.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tee Hee

Ezra Klein on Karl Rove's claim that it was Osama Bin Laden's idea that we launch a preventative strike on Iraq:
You see, I too have long thought the war in Iraq was Osama bin-Laden's idea. What better way to unite the world against us? What better way to divert attention from the hunt for al-Qaeda? What better way to overstretch our military and reduce our flexibility? What better way to divide our society and embitter our politics? What better way to exhaust our treasury and degrade our capacity for international leadership? But whenever I have thought this way, I've assumed that there's no way George W. Bush is letting Osama bin Laden advise him on foreign policy.

Turns out I was wrong.


Eleanor Holmes Norton is a Baller

Check her speech in favor D.C. voting rights. Norton, the long time delegate for the District in the House, kicks ass and takes names. Specifically, the name of Republican Representative David Dreier:
Dreier: Will the gentlewoman yield?

Holmes Norton: I will not yield, sir. The District of Columbia has spent 206 years yielding to people who would deny them the vote. I yield you no ground. Not during my time. You have had your say, and your say has been that you think the people who live in your capital are not entitled to a vote in their House. Shame on you.

Bang. And the rights of my co-citizens who have the misfortune of living 5 minutes away from my house across Western Avenue (a sin which, clearly, makes them unworthy of holding the franchise) come a little closer to being realized.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Screw Health

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Kennedy, has upheld a federal law prohibiting so-called "partial birth abortions." This represents the first time the Supreme Court has upheld an anti-abortion bill that did not include a health exception for the mother. Justice Kennedy did hedge his opinion by saying that, though he was rejecting a facial challenge to the law, he would accept one "as applied." Presumably, then, if a mother was faced with a case where her health was in jeopardy, she could file suit (what happens then is anyone's guess).

This, to me, is small consolation. If a doctor tells a women that a certain medical procedure is necessary for her health, the next step should be "start the procedure," not "go to federal court."

Laws like this have consequences--not always what they are intended. Women who know that the law requires them to forfeit their bodies to the state once they become pregnant, simply may choose to forgo having children.

Regardless of what the majority opinion tells you, it's pretty clear that this ruling has overturned Stenberg v. Carhart. This is not unexpected, as Justice Kennedy issued a passionate dissent in that case (though I hoped Kennedy would tact to the center), and nobody could think that Alito replacing O'Connor would mean preserving a pro-choice vote on the court. Elections have consequence, and as Publius notes, we share some of the blame:
This case was not decided today. It was decided on November 2, 2004. Don't blame the Court, blame the American people. They voted in a Republican President and the entirely-predictable consequence was increasing restrictions on abortions. In fact, Bush is one Justice Stevens illness away from overturning Roe entirely. And for what it's worth, if any of the current Republican candidates win, Roe is over for at least a generation. Maybe you think that's good, maybe you don't. That's not the point. The point is that voting for Republicans has consequences and this is one of them. And these things are worth thinking about when you base your vote on things like John Kerry's windsurfing, or Bush's probably-fun-to-drink-with-ness.

Many people have also noted Justice Ginsburg's rather scathing dissent. While the health implications probably will have the most material impact, the biggest insult might be the majority opinion's retrograde views on women:
Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from '[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.' Because of women's fragile emotional state and because of the bond of love the mother has for her child,' the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.

This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution ideas that have long since been discredited.

She goes as far to compare the opinion to Justice Bradley's infamous concurrence in Bradwell v. State, 16 Wall. 130, 141 (1873) ("Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. . . . The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother."), possibly the most infamous example of misogyny in the Supreme Court's history.

Ginsburg then cites to a whole string of authorities--including several that note that childbirth carries at least as much of a risk, if not a stronger one, of harming a woman's psychological health than does abortion.

This is strong language for Justice Ginsburg. But it needed to be said.

UPDATE: Elsewhere, I've been asked why I didn't include any quotes from Kennedy's opinion. For sure, I only quoted once from any opinion (the Ginsburg passage), but still, fair question. But Isabel Medina has a good answer on why quotes from the majority may not be showing up in a post focusing on how this ruling disrespects women:
The majority’s opinion is striking for the almost absolute lack of focus on women. The medical procedure itself is discussed extensively. The role of the physician and medical judgment is discussed extensively. The impact on women and the idea that the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy has something to do with women, however, their right to body integrity, autonomy, liberty, is completely missing from the opinion. Only a reference to “an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child” and the conclusion that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained” suggests this majority’s view of women in the context of the issue – we are by-standers to the issue and by-standers to the right ultimately recognized in Roe and Casey, rather than those most affected.

And hey, her passage includes quotes from Kennedy's opinion! So now we can all be happy.

And also, Reproductive Rights Law Professor Caitlin Borgmann has put up her first bit of legal analysis on the case, with more promised ahead.

The 15 Second Negative Speech

Here's an upcoming resolution being debated by the prestigious Oxford Union (a debating society): "This House believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions."

To repeat, they are having a debate at a prestigious western university about whether the west can debate about Israel.

The resolution was not a paradox of self-reference, and neither is this one.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

End of the Road

The end has come for Jordan v. Alternative Resources Corporation. I first blogged about the case here when the 4th Circuit issued its 2-1 panel ruling, and wrote again with an update when the ruling was approved by an even 5-5 vote en banc. To refresh y'all's memory, here are the facts of the case:
Jordan worked for IBM. As many of you know, the "DC Sniper" was operating in our area, causing much fear and tension. The two snipers (both of whom were Black) were caught while Jordan was at work. One of his fellow employees, seeing the news, proclaimed: "[t]hey should put those two black monkeys in a cage with a bunch of black apes and let the apes fuck them." Jordan consulted with several of his other coworkers, who confirmed that this particular employee had made comparable comments many times in the past. Pursuant to IBM policy, which mandated that employees report racial harassment, Jordan filed a complaint. His supervisor responded by changing his work hours to less convenient times, making a derogatory gesture and comment towards him at an office party, and within a month firing him. It does not appear that anyone is seriously arguing that these actions were not retaliatory. Incredibly, the Court found that this did not constitute a retaliatory action in violation of Title VII, because Jordan could not even have reasonably believed that his coworkers action could have created a hostile work environment. To be clear, the protection against retaliation does not only kick in if the conduct would have breached Title VII; all Jordan had to prove was that it was reasonable for him to believed it would have.

In any event, the Supreme Court has denied cert., so that's the end of the road for Mr. Jordan. What an appalling injustice.

Incidentally, this LA Times story on the case is really bad. The case is not about whether there should be "stricter limits on racial slurs in the workplace." It is about whether employees should be protected from retaliation by their employers when they report racial slurs. Retaliation is a separate (and in many ways, more offensive) crime than the slur itself.

Righteous Gentiles

Khaled Abdelwahhab is set to become the first Arab Muslim to be honored as a "righteous gentile" at Yom HaShoah. Abdelwahhab protected dozens of Jews in his compound during the German occupation of Tunisia.

Obviously, heroes like Mr. Abdelwahhaib deserve our respect and honor. But speaking more broadly, I hope this becomes an opportunity to bridge a gap between Jews and Arab Muslims.
Yad Vashem has so far honored 21,700 men and women with the Righteous designation. Among them are 60 Muslims, all from the Balkans, but none are Arab. As a follow-up to his research, Satloff is working with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to organize a conference in Morocco on the Shoah's impact on North African nations.
Satloff said in a phone call from Jerusalem, where he was visiting, that he hoped that his book and recognition of Abdelwahab by Yad Vashem would stimulate both Jews and Arabs to look at the Holocaust in "a different way, beyond the purely European narrative."

In addition to the dramatic Boukris story, Satloff's investigations showed that there were other individual Arabs who aided their Jewish neighbors, but, as in Europe, they represented a small minority of the population.

"The majority of Arabs, as the people in occupied Europe, were indifferent," he said. "A regrettably large minority of Arabs collaborated with the Axis powers. Many served as guards at forced labor camps, helped the SS hunt down Jews and even fought in the German army."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, urged that the deeds of Abdelwahab and other compassionate Arabs become "part of both the Jewish and Arab collective memories."

To the current Muslim rulers and media who denigrate and deny the Holocaust, Abdelwahab's deeds send a different message, Cooper said.

"If you deny the Shoah, you also deny that there were noble Arabs and other Muslims, those who put their lives on the line to rescue Jews."

When the President of Iran denies the Holocaust, he also denies the heroism of Khaled Abdelwahhab and every other human being--of all religions and creeds--who decided that they could not stand passively while their neighbors were being systematically exterminated. Far more than anything Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can offer, this man represents a legacy that the entire Arab and Muslim world can learn of and be proud of.

Via Opinio Juris


Here's John Derbyshire on the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre:
As NRO's designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad.

Yes, yes, I know it's easy to say these things: but didn't the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything? As the cliche goes—and like most cliches. It's true—none of us knows what he'd do in a dire situation like that. I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy.

And here's Nathaniel Blake:
Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that. ...

Like Derb, I don’t know if I would live up to this myself, but I know that I should be heartily ashamed of myself if I didn’t. Am I noble, courageous and self-sacrificing? I don’t know; but I should hope to be so when necessary.

And here's the story about Virginia Tech shooting victim (and Holocaust survivor) Liviu Librescu:
Virginia Tech University Prof. Liviu Librescu, described as a family man who once did research for NASA, sacrificed his life to save his students in the shooting rampage yesterday.
The students in the class dropped to the floor and started overturning desks to hide behind as about a dozen shots rang out, he said.

Then the gunfire started coming closer. Librescu, 77, fearlessly braced himself against the door, holding it shut against the gunman in the hall, while students darted to the windows of the second-floor classroom to escape the slaughter, survivors said.

Mallalieu and most of his classmates hung out of the windows and dropped about 10 feet to bushes and grass below - but Librescu stayed behind to hold off the crazed gunman.

Alec Calhoun, 20, said the last thing he saw before he jumped from the window was Librescu, blocking the door against the madman in the hallway.

He died trying to protect the students.

As well as survivor Zach Petkewicz's heroic actions:
Monday's toll inside Virginia Tech's Norris Hall might have included 11 more students had it not been for a long, rectangular table and a quick-thinking senior who used it to deflect the rampage of his fellow classmate.

Zach Petkewicz said he didn't recognize the sounds that pierced the door and cinder-block walls of his classroom as gunshots until he heard a scream from the hallway of the engineering building.
"They immediately slammed the door shut, told us, everybody kind of went into a frenzy, a panic. I hid behind the podium and then just kind of looked up at the door. Like, there's nothing stopping this guy from just coming in. And so I said, 'We need to barricade this door.' "

Petkewicz described his state of mind unabashedly: "I was completely scared out of my mind originally, just went into a cowering position, and then just realized you have got to do something."

Petkewicz and two other students shoved a table against the door and held it there as gunshots continued to ring out from the hallway outside the classroom.

"He came to our door, tried the handle and couldn't get in because we were pushing up against it -- and tried to force his way in and got the door to open up about 6 inches -- and then we just lunged at it and closed it back up and that's when he backed up and shot twice into the middle of the door, thinking we were up against it trying to get him out."

But Petkewicz said that instead he and the other students had placed themselves in front of the cinder-block walls, where they listened to what was going on out of sight a few inches away.

"I just heard his clip drop to the ground, and he reloaded and I thought he was coming back for a second round to try to get his way in there. He didn't say a word, and he just turned and kept firing down the hall and didn't try to get back in."

Suffice to say, even had there not been heroes like these, I'd hold Derbyshire and Blake in utter contempt. If you ever needed one, they are the picture of tactless, disgraceful assholes.

Paging Mr. D'Souza

8% of French Muslims say they'll vote for far-right xenophobe Jean-Marie Le Pen. Why?
Fayid Smahi, a regional councillor and National Front member in Paris, claims Mr Le Pen offers much more wholesome values than mainstream politicians.

"Above everything it's his family values we share. When we're eating our dinner, watching TV at night and we see two homosexual men kissing, it upsets us. As Muslims, and as decent French citizens, it shocks us."


Monday, April 16, 2007

Fuzzy Math Returns!

Jon Chait has a low tolerance for morons. In this case, former Bush press flack Ari Fleischer, who is seemingly unaware that 60 > 40, 31 > 30, and 37 > 31. Such are the mathematical contortions one needs to make in order to argue that our tax system actually fleeces the rich. I'd chide the Wall Street Journal for publishing such tripe, except that after their infamous "lucky duckies" editorial (the ducks, in the WSJ's opinion, are the impoverished Americans who don't pay taxes), I don't think they have any standards I could possibly appeal to.

Grudging Props

I have a lingering dislike of Quiz Bowl, since I felt they unjustly took attention from the manifestly superior debate team at my high school. However, here at Carleton, I will freely admit (even as now-emeriti Debate Team Coach) that Quiz Bowl deserves its position at the top of the totem pole. And they cemented that high status with a national title this week, their second in eight years. Even better, they beat none other than The Carleton of the East in the final round. Which makes it all the sweeter.


Money Says This Won't Be On CNN

There's another athlete-rape case budding, this time at the University of Minnesota. The accused are three football players, the victim, a student at a neighboring university. All four are Black.

The hook right now is that the Black Student Union of UM has rallied in favor of the accused players, while everyone is accusing the woman of being a liar and whore. Slant Truth sayeth: "Listen, black men. You don’t get a pass for assaulting black women just because you’re black. You need to get out there and support that woman." BrownFemiPower also is working to build support for the victim-survivor.

This case is interesting to me in the wake of the Duke case, for a couple reasons. For starters, it kind of gives lie to the idea that the Duke case was some reverse-racial witch hunt on the part of the left-wing community, which is one of the more annoying memes coming out of the right blogosphere right now.

As for said conservative bloggers: I suspect their comments will not be forthcoming on the issue. I obviously suspect that it won't get anywhere near the media attention of the Duke case. But even if it does, I suspect that their suddenly-found love of due process and fair hearings and all that jazz will not be voiced when the defendants are Black men. After all, this case pits two conservative policy agendas against each other--they want to "get tough on crime" by throwing as many Black men into prison as possible, but they certainly don't want to forward the trend of believing victims of rape and sexual violence. So, I predict a studied silence--unless a misstep somewhere in the process creates an opening for some opportunistic race or gender bashing.

And as for me? I don't venture an opinion. Cases like this come at the intersection of two areas I do not trust the criminal justice system to adequately deal with: rape victims and Black defendants. I have no reason to suspect the women is lying. I have no reason to suspect that the men are guilty. And until I am given reason to change my opinion on either of these two positions, I, too, will maintain a studied (if I hope less self-righteous and hypocritical) silence on the matter.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Can You Keep A Promise?

I think Bitch Ph.D's review of Promises I Can Keep really offers some illuminating points about unwed mothers in inner-city, Black areas. Here's the nuts:
What [the authors] found is that the moms have mainstream, even conservative ideas of what marriage should be, and they don't want to get married if they don't trust that the men will be faithful, help provide for their children, not be abusive, etc. And that these fears are quite reasonable, given the men they have to choose from.

But. The women also have mainstream, conservative ideas about the value and importance of children--so much so that they often think of abortion as irresponsible. Which is an interesting and profound realization, I think, and one that those of us who are pro-choice would do well to think very hard about. A lot of the time we argue for abortion rights as if we were doing so on behalf of poor women; we need to realize that many poor women are not themselves pro-choice, and that if we really want to advocate for them, we should start by listening to what they have to say.

The key thing the women in this book have to say is that having kids while young and poor has been good for them. According to their own account (and the author's observations), their children have given them a reason them to straighten up their lives, grow up, and become responsible adults. Their children provide a source of love for these young women, where boyfriends, peers, and parents have so often failed them. I think most of us in the middle class think it's a little fucked up to want a child for the love that child will give you (and Edin and Kefalis say this too). But at the same time, I think those of us who have had children will say that one of the most powerful and gratifying things about parenting is precisely that experience of love. It's possible that poor young women, who are often much closer to the experience of parenting than their middle-class peers by virtue of helping raise their siblings, or seeing friends have babies, are simply more realistic about the emotional benefits of parenting than the middle class is.

The one major argument we usually offer, though, for why young and/or poor women shouldn't have children, is that doing so is economically damaging: they won't get ahead if they have kids too early. It turns out that this argument isn't true. Poor women's economic prospects are demonstrably no better if they postpone childbirth than if they have children young. In fact, there's some evidence that their lives, economically and otherwise, would be worse, as kids provide them an incentive to stop using drugs, to end abusive relationships, to get jobs, and to further their educations. Setting an example for their children, or improving their situations for their children's sake, proves to be a much more powerful motivator than doing so for themselves.

Now, I understand that some folks really don't care what happens to women once they get married, so long as the ring gets on the finger. But for the rest of us, this offers an interesting twist to the tired cliches about unwed mothers in the inner cities. It seems that these Black women aren't opposed to marriage, per se, they just have high standards about who they're want to marry in the first place. Men who are responsible, hard-working, caring, not abusive. Things everybody deserves in a spouse. Lecturing them about the evils of not being married when they have a kid, when the immediate option to marry might not be to the most attractive candidate, is both patronizing and misguided.