Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate Tics

Obviously this will be quick, because I need to go to bed.

I watched the debate on tape delay (I was at a comedy show tonight), but I managed to avoid hearing any commentary on it until after I watched (the one exception was an Obama supporter I was walking with who told me his brother thought Obama got smoked). Short verdict: I think Obama won by a moderate margin, but there were no "game changers" or flush shots landed by either party. I guess you could say no news is good news for Obama right now, but that's the only news I'd draw. The insta-reactions CNN had going on also seemed to favor Obama by a narrow but consistent margin.

But the one thing I do want to note is that each participants verbal tics were quite revealing. I was planning to take a mock drink each time John McCain said "my friends", but he only did it once. What he did say, over and over again, was variations on theme that Obama "did not understand" or was "naive". And this has been of late the defining attribute of McCain's campaign -- attacking Obama relentlessly. Obama's tic, by contrast, was repeating the word "points". He was quite the line-by-line debater this evening -- always answering with "let me just say a few points" or "I have three points" or "I need to get this point in". And this has been something that I've seen a lot of in Obama's campaign: a strong technocratic streak that is based around the idea that there are many sides and angles and questions that are important on each issue, and he is willing -- indeed, most comfortable -- methodically walking through them and guiding us through his thought process.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Campaign Ads for Kids

What political campaign ads would look like if the electorate was kids.

Fun fact: these are only slightly less mature than the status quo! But much funnier.

Fun fact number 2: "Obama '08: Get Yours" would make a fantastic slogan. It also reminds me of a remark by I believe Ezra Klein when news organizations wrote about a CDC reporting "some good news that the rate of teenage sex has gone down." He responded something to the effect of, "not to anybody who's a teenager, it isn't." (It might have been vice versa -- the joke is the same).

I Wouldn't Have Lasted a Day at UVA

I got into UVA law, but I elected to attend Chicago instead. And it appears I made the right decision. Aside from the fact that I'm skeptical that I can party with the Wahoos, and that I still own t-shirts and haven't burned them all in favor of pink polos, they take their orientation way too seriously:
Chen Chih-chung was kicked out of UVA Law before he could start his 1L year for missing the school's orientation meeting.

At least that is UVA's official response.

Why is that merely the "official" response? Because Chih-chung is the son of the Taiwan's indicted former president. And why'd he miss the orientation meeting? Because he was flying back to cooperate with the official investigation of his father. I missed an orientation panel yesterday to go buy Microsoft Office. Do I have to look over my shoulder for the UC administration?

Chih-chung believes, understandably, that the orientation excuse is a fig leaf and that UVA is responding to massive media pressure coming out of Taiwan. Either way, it sounds like a pretty flimsy decision by Virginia.

As for me, orientation ended today, and classes start Monday. The civil rights roundup, incidentally, probably will be coming back next week, albeit shorter and at more random timings.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Israeli Peace Activist Lightly Injured in Bombing

Zeev Sternhell, a professor associated with Peace Now, was lightly wounded in a bombing apparently carried out by ultra-right wing Jewish terrorists. Peace Now is a left-leaning organization which opposes Israeli settlement of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and advocates for peace between Israel and Palestine. Professor Sternhell, who taught political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and also was well regarded as a historian, recently received the Israel Prize for his academic accomplishments -- to the protests of right-wing elements who believed that he sanctioned attacks on settlers. Flyers left at the scene reportedly offered a 1.1 million shekel ($294,000) bounty for anyone who killed a member of Peace Now.

The attack was swiftly condemned by Tzipi Livni, head of the ruling Kadima Party, as well as politicians from across the political spectrum.
Kadima Chairman Tzipi Livni on Thursday spoke with Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell's family and criticized the attack against him, saying that it was "intolerable." "This is a lawful state, and Israeli society has firm values," Livni said, adding that both the government and the whole society must condemn this behavior.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to the attack at a Labor faction meeting Thursday morning, saying that "this is a case where an intellectual came under attack because of his views. We are returning to a dark period."

"We won't allow anyone, of any dark corner of Israeli society, harass people, not in general and especially not when it comes to people with a voice as rare and clear as Ze'ev Sternhell's," Barak said.

The Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee was scheduled to hold an urgent meeting following the attempted attack on Prof. Sternhell.

The committee's chairman, MK Ophir Pines-Paz called the attack against Sternhell "a cowardly terror activity carried out by miscreants. I call on the police and Shin Bet to make every effort to quickly find those behind the incident and to ensure they are imprisoned for many years."
Education Minister Yuli Tamir, considered a friend of Sternhell, called for the tightening of security measures around the professor's home.

"The police must take the incident seriously and use their professional knowledge to guarantee Ze'ev Sternhell's safety. I think this attack is extremely grave and worrying. It should receive our full attention and mustn't be taken lightly," Tamir told Army Radio on Thursday.

MK Haim Oron, leader of left-wing Meretz party, expressed his hope that Sternhell would recover quickly and said that "this thuggish dangerous incident is the result of a continuous blind eye turned to the severe violence toward soldiers, police and anyone who doesn't hold the same views as the bullying, radical right wing."

MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) also commented on the attack against the professor, saying that "the attempt to hurt Professor Sternhell is the result of the authorities' lenient attitude and helplessness in face of the radical right, which enjoys a Knesset lobby."

Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer said the "radical right" posed an existential threat to Israeli democracy.

"The law-enforcing authorities must stop their lenient policy toward lawbreakers from within the settlers and their supporters before another political assassination occurs in Israel," Oppenheimer said.

He added that "those who don't enforce the law amongst the violent settlers will eventually have to deal with a Jewish terror organization operating in the heart of the State of Israel."

In response to the calls for violence against prominent leftists, police were guarding Oppenheimer's house.

MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, chair of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said that "the combination of nationalism and religious fundamentalism promotes bloodshed and is destructive for the State, and not only for outstanding persons such as Professor Sternhell."

"This assassination attempt mustn't be dismissed under the pretense that it was just meant to scare someone. The attack threatens Israeli society entirely ," Ben-Sasson added.

Though not quoted in the above article, conservative leader Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud Party also had harsh words, saying "this is a sickening attack by abominable people who are not part of the public debate in Israel. They need to be distanced from society and placed behind lock and key." An exception to the trend was the far-right National Jewish Front, which denied responsibility but refused to condemn the attack, either, once again citing their belief that Sternhell supporting attacks on Israeli settlers.

Obviously, these radical right-wing elements are a threat to Israeli society and deserve the full force of the law to come down upon them. I also agree with Mr. Oppenheimer that this act did not occur in isolation, but flows out of increasingly violent right-wing settler activity that the state of Israel needs to put in check. It is beyond evident now that those who traffic in violent, expansionist settlement policies are part of a broader movement that is flat out dangerous for Israel's continued survival as a free and democratic nation, and those of us who are truly pro-Israel need to recognize and throw our weight against them.

It is deeply troubling to me that Israel is seeing this type of reactionary, targeted violence that aims to undermine its status as a liberal democratic state from the inside. I am heartened that the Israeli government appears to be taking the matter seriously, and I hope it will serve as a spark point for a public backlash against the right-wing elements which, in tandem with Palestinian and Islamic terrorist organizations, pose the greatest immediate threat to Israel's security as a democratic state and its position in the world.

The Upcoming Palin Rule of Politics

It's becoming increasingly evident that Sarah Palin was a disastrous choice for John McCain's VP. She's utterly unqualified, not intellectually curious, mired in a scandal, ultra-right wing, and petty. After some early hesitation, I very rapidly came to the conclusion that Palin was going to pose problems for McCain, starting with her VP speech, which I still believe ultimately hurt her.

So, Palin sucks as a VP choice. But I'm afraid, following XKCD, that the actual moral that will be taken is "women suck as VP choices."

No. Picking a qualified woman who has good policies and a command of the issues, and you'll do fine. All Palin proves is that, like with men, you're not going to do well as a top-level political candidate if you're not up to the job.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Take With Lots of Alcohol

Law school orientation starts today. Posting schedule may continue to be limited, up through classes beginning on Monday.

Also, I read my first law school assignment yesterday. It was about a kid who got kicked in class. Violence keeps the kiddies interested, I guess.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jews Are Political Simpletons

That's the message of Roger Simon, who thinks that American Jews treat the Democratic Party like a "religion" and whose reasons for "fealty" are "at best sentimental and nostalgic, and at worst self-destructive."

As it turns out, these sorts of articles are just as obnoxiously patronizing when written to Jews as when they're written to Blacks. I always assumed that I supported the Democratic Party because they are a closer match to the majority of my political commitments -- some of which are religiously linked (such as peace in Israel, or defending the rights of religious minorities in America), some of which are not (like protecting gay rights and supporting racial equality). Though it must be said that even the positions that aren't directly related to my religious status still are strongly informed by my interpretation about Judaism's mandates regarding social justice.

Anyway, it turns out I vote the way I do because I'm blinded by nostalgia about the 60s. So, according to Simon, I should abandon my entire lifetime's worth of political views because some Democrats didn't join a symbolic protest against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This, apparently, is the mature thing to do. Color me unconvinced.

I'm very open to supporting Republicans. All they have to do is (in deed, not words) support gay rights, support racial equality and affirmative action, support aggressive anti-poverty measures instead of blaming the poor for their own problems, oppose school resegregation, oppose retrograde views about women's rights and pay equity, oppose the toxic neo-conservative foreign policy mix of petulance, self-righteousness, and bombast, crack down on polluters, protect the middle class from predatory lending practices, and oppose efforts to inject overt Christian theology into the public arena. In other words, not be Republicans. Until then, I feel like I'm being quite reasonable supporting the Democratic Party.

Jews are smart people. We know what we're voting for.

Via Randy Barnett.

Seeing Into Your Future

I bought my law books today. The cashier must have seen the look of panic on my face, because she said "they'll pay themselves back." Umm, yeah. They better. Also, lugging them back to my room was a pretty sucky experience.

But on the bright side, watching the terrified eyes of underclassman trying to process having to buy that many huge books was pretty priceless.

Feeney's Apology Ad

Florida Rep. Tom Feeney (R), locked in a tough battle for re-election, has an interesting ad up on his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. What makes it so intriguing? It's an apology:

Ad text:
"Five years ago, when I was first elected to Congress I was invited on trip to Scotland. I found out later that it was paid for by a corrupt lobbyist. It was a rookie mistake and I did everything I could to make it right. I reported it to the ethics committee and I paid the money back. I embarrassed myself, I embarrassed you and for that, I'm very sorry. I'm Tom Feeney and I approve this message because public service means about being honest, even when you make a mistake."

Swing State Project calls it "nuts" and does not think voters are in a particularly given mood right now. And for my part, I can find plenty of reasons on the merits to vote out Rep. Feeney. But I appreciate this ad. In contrast to the prevailing political norm, which is to spin and spin and spin your way out of difficulty, this feels more genuine to me. It is what I always say I'd want a politician to do in such a situation.

Maybe I'm being too nice. The ad is obviously self-serving. And it is several years after the fact. But for some reason, I find it quite refreshing. So I give Rep. Feeney a pat on the back -- even though I still hope he goes down in November.

See also The Orlando Sentinel.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Big Win For Transgender Rights

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge has ruled that discrimination on the basis of gender identity violates Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination. The case is Schroer v. Billington, and was filed by Diane Schroer, the former special forces operative whom I saw testify before Congress about this very case.

Here is Professor Nan Hunter's summary:
First, the judge found that there was “compelling evidence that the Library’s hiring decision was infected by sex stereotypes.” On that basis, Schroer was entitled to relief under the line of cases beginning with Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), which created the sex stereotyping doctine. In that case, the Court found that Title VII was violated when a woman was denied a job after being told to wear make-up and take a course at charm school. Evidence in the Schroer trial established that the negative reaction to Schroer grew out of her not fitting gender stereotypes by virtue of her decision to change genders.

More important was the second theory: that discrimination based on gender transition is literally discrimination based on sex. Schorer’s lawyers argued, and the judge agreed, that gender identity is a component of sex and therefore discrimination based on gender identity is sex discrimination. This might sound like a simple proposition, but previous federal courts have “carved [transgender] persons out of the statute by concluding that ‘transsexuality’ is unprotected by Title VII.”

The Schroer court held that just as discrimination against converts from one to faith to another is still discrimination based on religion, so too discrimination against transgender persons is still sex discrimination. Although doubtless Congress did not have transgender persons in mind when Title VII was enacted in 1964, the court found that the plain text of the statute covers this situation.

A great day for the rights of all Americans. Let's hope it holds up on appeal -- many other jurisdictions have sought to "carve out" gender identity from Title VII protections.