Saturday, October 11, 2008

Biggie Smalls

So Vitali Klitschko stopped Samuel Peter tonight. Big deal. All it does is make clear what boxing fans have tried to deny for the past several years -- the Klitschko brothers are the only truly elite heavyweight boxers in the business right now.

No, what's really cool that happened tonight was the result from the headliner fight in Masan City, South Korea. Big Yoo (12-0, 8 KOs) knocked out Little Roseman (19-7-2, 8 KOs) in three rounds to capture the interim WBO Asia Pacific super flyweight title.

Congratulations, Big, and better luck next time, Little.

Another Win for the Protocol Assassins

Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, controversial for alleged Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitic beliefs (both of which he always denied) died in a car crash today.

Accusations of a Jewish conspiracy to commence in 3...2...1...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Magic on the Radio

A pair of conservative radio show hosts remarked off-hand that they believed Magic Johnson had "faked AIDS", triggering an apology from the station and a promise to post public service announcements about HIV/AIDS. Johnson himself expressed disappointment at the remarks, but said he did not want the men to lose their jobs, instead saying that they should use this opportunity to educate their audience. Johnson also noted that he has HIV, not AIDS.

I post this not to highlight unbelievably ass-holishness of these men (though believe me, it's quite apparent), but because Magic Johnson was my personal hero when I was a little kid. When it came out he had HIV, I was crushed and terrified. I never would have believed then that he would even be alive today, much less that he would be in such good health and be doing such great things for the American community. I've found other heroes, but he remains an inspiration to me and to us all.

Rage Overcoming

It's amazing to me that the element of conservative rage -- and the McCain campaign's efforts to stoke it -- has begin to creep into mainstream media coverage. Obviously, bloggers have been mentioning it, and the issue of McCain's temper has simmered amongst the liberal set, but it is always rare for mainstream media sources to really get in touch with conservative rage. The left is angry, the right is stupid; that's the usual negative meme the media trots out.

I think the McCain campaign, and particularly Sarah Palin, have stepped a little closer towards direct appeals to the conservative id than is normal for national level Republican politicians. That, mixed with the fact that Barack Obama's race makes everyone at least a little more sensitive to the prospect of fostering extremist violence, means that even the "see no [right-wing] anger" media is taking note.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein is right that we should give John McCain credit for stepping in at one of his rallies to start stamping some of this crazy out. But Klein is also right that our credit ought to be tempered if McCain keeps fanning the flames by running ads basically calling Obama an un-American terrorist sympathizer. You can't give with one hand and take away with the other.

Connecticut Joins the Vanguard of Civilization

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples have the right to marry, the third state after Massachusetts and California to do so. Connecticut did break one barrier though:
The 4-3 ruling is the first time that a state that had willingly offered an alternative to marriage was told by a court that civil unions aren't enough to protect the rights of gay couples. Connecticut was the first state to voluntarily pass laws to affirm civil unions.

Maryland could learn a lot from this tale.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Who Can Speak The Word?

In a post this weekend, I inquired as to how I ought to raise the issue of anti-Semitism in discussions about Israel, or religious liberty, or Jews in general. Since on the one hand so many people seem to believe that the issue is raised as a distraction or canard, and on the other hand it's clearly a very important topic that needs to be investigated thoroughly, attempting to set some ground rules seemed like a good idea.

But upon further reflection, I feel like I was missing something important. The assumption behind my "how would you like me to raise it" is that there is a split between the substantive merits of the claim "that is anti-Semitic" (or "there is an issue of anti-Semitism that needs to be discussed"), and procedure by which it is raised. I still think that's true, but now I also think there seems to be a third angle: who is allowed to raise the issue of anti-Semitism? My intuition is that much of the reaction I've experienced in trying to raise the issue of anti-Semitism doesn't come because I've used the wrong words or timing. Rather, it's due to an entrenched belief that Jews don't have the right to raise the issue at all -- we are marked and tainted by our Jewishness, and are not objective arbiters.

The cynical person, after all, who thinks that anti-Semitism is a serious problem would likely believe that the refusal to consider anti-Semitism is evidence that the objectors do not care much about anti-Semitism at all. But that doesn't seem quite right to me. If they didn't care, they wouldn't have a reaction upon being called (or feeling like they're being called, or being within a mile of being called) anti-Semitic. On the fringes, you do get people who are either proudly anti-Semitic, or say things like "given the scope of Jewish power, it's reasonable and necessary to be a little anti-Semitic." But most people are not like that. Most people seem to vest a considerable amount of weight in their self and social perception as not anti-Semites.

From this framework, people create rules of discourse which help regulate which claims of anti-Semitism are considered to be worthy of response. An effective way to manage one's own image (to oneself and to society) on the anti-Semitism issue is to derail, prior to the merits, as many threatening accusations of anti-Semitism as possible. One way of doing that is via the procedural objection -- the anti-Semitism charge is being raised in bad faith, or at an inappropriate time in the conversation. Another is by challenging the party raising the claim. Since Jews are presumably the most attuned to anti-Semitism and most likely to feel its effects, a facial rule discounting Jewish claims of anti-Semitism yields great benefits to the Gentile population which does not want it to be seen or see itself as anti-Semitic.

This framework, I think, helps elucidate a continuum of responses that one sees from people who are charged with anti-Semitism, or racism, for that matter. On one end of the continuum are those who take the charge to be one which must be grappled with seriously. That doesn't mean they ultimately agree, or immediately acquiesce, it just means they recognize the right of the speaker to bring the charge and the correspondent duty to engage it. Some liberal minded White people, upon being called racist (or any other permutation -- asked to discuss racism, told there are racist implications to an issue area) by a person of color, react this way. I suspect a somewhat higher proportion would react this way if racism is brought up by a White person, but still a minority.

In the middle is the defensive reaction. Defensiveness is a mixture of guilt and dismissal. The guilt stems from the belief that the speaker has a right to bring the charge. The dismissal, though, is a denial of the duty to engage -- presumably based on a claim of epistemic superiority: I know I'm not anti-Semitic, so I have no need to grapple with your argument saying it's an issue in our interaction. While it recognizes, at some level, that it is meaningful that the charge has been brought (hence the guilt), it does not extend beyond that. Rather, the objection is procedural, claiming fault with the form or method or sufficiency of the instigating event, derailing the discussion before reaching the merits: "You have not (and probably cannot) show what I think is necessary to be shown before I will engage the topic of racism. So I won't, and don't have to." Most liberal Whites, and some conservative ones, respond this way to racism charges. Some Gentiles (of all political stripes) also respond this way to anti-Semitism charges.

Finally, at the other end of the spectrum is the disdainful reaction. Disdain mixes contempt with dismissal. The contempt comes from the idea that the speaker is for some reason, e.g., social position, barred from making the claim in the first place. The allegation of "the race card" is an expression of contempt by people who do not recognize in the first instance that Blacks have a right to talk about racism. The dismissal works the same way as above -- knowing oneself, there is no need to engage in what anyone else (certainly, any minority) has to say on the subject. Most conservatives respond to race charges in this way. It is also my experience that many Gentiles react this way when Jews bring up anti-Semitism. They don't look guilty, they look disdainful: "Oh, there they go again."

Some folks have tried to get me to admit that anti-Semitism is worse on the left than on the right. That has not been my experience. Rather, my experience is that both leftward and rightward responses to my talk on anti-Semitism has come with disdain. Conservatives are no more likely than liberals to react thoughtfully (or hell, even guiltily) when a Jewish interlocutor notes anti-Semitic implications in their argument. Sometimes, if you hit at just the right moment, you can get them to skip a beat, but that's usually about it. And I genuinely do not think that there is that same resistance to the claim from Christian speakers. A Jew who goes to a Evangelical congregation and says "they way you treat us and talk about us is wrong and hateful" isn't going to be taken seriously. A fellow member of evangelical community will. A mainstream Christian, I believe, is more likely to listen to an atheist or Hindu critic on the subject than he is a Jew.

So, for the most part, neither camp recognizes the right of Jews to speak on the issue. Neither sees the Jewish view as one with which they need to engage, and neither even feels particularly bad when faced with the knowledge that the Jewish community finds them hostile to their interests and liberation. Both make noises about how they're really all about helping and supporting everybody, and thus are bona fide friends of the Jews. But neither wants to hear nor cares about the Jewish perspective on what being our friend means -- indeed, they think our views on the subject are fatally defective and thus can be dismissed on face. As far as I'm concerned, then, the methodology of silencing is essentially identical on both sides. The first step towards remedy is a stated recognition that Jews have the right to raise the issue of anti-Semitism, at our discretion, and command the right to engagement on it. As I noted, that doesn't require capitulation. It does require a serious effort to figure out where we're coming from and understanding our argument.

Let Him Lose?

Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Paul Kanjorski is in trouble in his re-election bid. DCC polling has him below 50%, while his opponent, Hazelton mayor Lou Barletta has his own numbers placing him with an eight point lead over the two-decade incumbent.

The 11th District is normally considered safe terrain for Democrats. But Kanjorski seems to exemplify the type of politician who thinks his seat is his by birthright. He has been a very sluggish campaigner this cycle. He was previously under federal investigation. He's old. And he's not all that liberal.

I'm not saying I want him to lose, if for no other reason than Barletta's main source of notoriety is as one of the most vicious opponents of immigration even during the peak of the xenophobic wave that crested in 2007. But I have to say, the prospect of losing this seat -- probably for only one term when it is not at all critical for a Democratic majority -- does not cut me up that much. If it lets us clean a little deadwood out of our closet, so much the better.

Vote or Die! (Vote, Please)

I voted today. I suppose I could regret it, if Barack Obama morphs into his true, Maoist form in the next few weeks. So I preemptively apologize for my vote, in that case. But somehow, I'm skeptical that will happen. And I'm also skeptical that my vote will be a decisive player in the paradigmatic swing state that is Maryland.

Return to the X-Files

Paul Campos states the obvious, at greater length than objectively should be needed: There are no grounds to question whether Sarah Palin is Trig Palin's mother. Continuing to ask such questions is unhinged. The McCain/Palin campaign is under no obligation to "respond" or "put to rest" these "allegations", any more than Barack Obama needed to give a press conference proving his place of birth, or a GPS-verified account of the relative proximity he had to William Ayers at all times over the past two decades. Folks who are keeping on this line of question, like Andrew Sullivan, need to knock it off. It's simply abysmal behavior.


Of course today the law school offered a free, delicious-smelling lunch for all law students today. Located right outside my class.

Of course.

Civil Rights Roundup: 10/09/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

It's election time, and you know what that means: illegally keeping eligible voters off the rolls!

Polling places may not have the resources to handle the expected crush of voters this election.

The Supreme Court is examining whether employees who cooperate in discrimination and harassment cases, but are not the complaining parties themselves, are protecting via anti-retaliation provisions.

A federal appeals court has blocked the release of 17 innocent men being detained at Guantanamo, pending a hearing by that court.

Not only was the torture regime developed at Guantanamo exported to American prisons, but some officials worried that the tactics used domestically were actually "harsher" than those at our Cuban base.

High fuel prices mean its harder to run school buses. Not running buses means kids only go to their neighborhood schools. Neighborhood schools lead to school resegregation. Resegregation means students suffer.

An Iowa resident crossed into Nebraska to take advantage of the state's extremely broad "safe haven" law, abandoning her 14 year old daughter to state authorities.

A federal judge is urging immigration authorities to hold off deporting a man until his civil case against the Boston Police concludes. The man served 19 years in prison for rapes that he did not commit.

Another immigration raid, another town torn asunder.

The Cook County (Chicago) sheriff has ordered his deputies to cease evicting people, arguing that many of the evicted are renters who have done nothing wrong -- victims of landlords whose properties are being repossessed.

The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a death row inmate arguing he's too fat to be executed. The argument is that his girth will make it too hard to find a vein insuring the execution is done quickly and painlessly.

It's looking as if minority college enrollment is stalling out. In an amazing coincidence, affirmative action efforts have also been stalling out or proactively rolled back in recent years.

Another Virginia paper comes out in favor of re-enfranchising ex-felons.

The Department of Justice has checked -- for now -- efforts by a Georgia county's election officials to investigate the citizenship of voters whom the county had suspicions about.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Kol Nidre

Kol Nidre is tonight. Easy fast to all of the folks fasting.

Civil Rights Roundup: 10/08/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

A Federal judge has ordered the release of several Chinese Muslim detainees from Guantanamo who have been cleared of links to terrorism for several years. The judge demanded that the men be admitted to the United States immediately, and ordered that immigration services not interfere with them in any way. The US filed an emergency appeal to stay the order, with White House spokeswoman Dana Perino saying that allowing admittedly innocent men wrongfully detained for years in a lawless prison might make us vulnerable to terrorism (I wish I was kidding).

Low income residents of DC are being deprived of legal services, and many don't know where to turn for help.

The anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 has made a comeback and is now shown to be leading in the polls.

As a result, gay couples are flocking to the altar ahead of the November vote on their rights.

President Bush signed into law a bill which would establish a task force to try and crack cold civil rights era cases.

The Supreme Court has a few cases being argued this term that have big implications for the future of the Exclusionary Rule (illegally obtained evidence cannot be admitted into court).

The AP has gotten its hands on documents showing that American officials knew that their detention policies had driven some detainees "nearly insane".

Gay and lesbian candidates for political office are looking at a banner year.

A Rabbi has notified police after receiving thousands of threatening emails from a campaign sponsored by PETA, protesting a ritual by which he sacrifices a chicken in order to atone for his sins.

The NAACP is criticizing hiring practices in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tuesday are Rough

I have all four of my substantive classes on Tuesday, consecutively from 9:45 - 3:50 (with a break for lunch). It is rather tiring, and is my excuse for lack of blogging today.Normally, I have only three classes on Wednesday's, but thanks to Yom Kippur my legal writing class got moved from Thursday, so I have another four-in-a-row day coming up. As usual, it's the Jews fault. Maybe that's something I can repent for.

So far I've yet to say anything in class that doesn't make me look like a blithering imbecile. Today was bad luck though -- I rose my hand for question X, and got called on just as the Professor decided to move to question Y. X was close enough to Y that I could kind of spin my answer off, but she just gave me a very queer look and moved on. If it was Property, I'd probably have been decapitated. Oh well. Better luck next time.

I did watch the debate, but it was boring and I had reading to do, so I can't say I payed very close attention. I did notice John McCain's "my friends" tic is back with a vengeance. And he still thinks that turning the campaign into a vicious slime-fest is the best way for him to go. I think it ends up hurting him a lot more. The images of him skulking in the background while Obama was talking, compared to Obama calmly sitting in his chair, listening attentively, were not good. It just emphasizes who is the nasty one in the race. McCain looks like he loathes Obama, and the Illinois Senator is just too popular for that to fly.

Also, this week I uncovered the solutions to one of my life's greatest mysteries: Why do I get the musician Sting confused with Kiss? The answer is that the wrestler Sting wears Kiss-style makeup in the ring. Bingo.

Monday, October 06, 2008


This site may just encapsulate my current relationship perfectly.

One New Fact

In my civil rights roundup today, I referenced an AP analysis which argued that Sarah Palin's charge that Obama "pals" with terrorists had a "racial subtext", as well John Cole's claim that he really did not see it. I noted that while I essentially agree with Cole, I thought that the case raised some interesting hypotheticals worth exploring in a later post.

One of the favored modes of exploration in law school is the "one new fact" game. The way it works is that, after crafting a rule for a given case or scenario, the professor presses you as to what you'd think given one new fact. "What if X is true", or "what if we stipulate Y? Does that change anything?" These hypotheticals are not rhetorical -- they are genuinely meant to explore and are written with the presupposition that they represent difficult questions (and that is how I mean the questions written below -- they are not backhanded ways of saying "clearly, this would be racist!"). It's a good way to test the boundaries of certain moral and legal intuitions we have. I've always been a fan of a quote by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic in their book Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge: "Normative discourse ... is highly fact-sensitive ... adding even one new fact can change intuition radically." [Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000, pg. xvii].

So let's take the case at hand. Governor Palin is attacking Obama as associating with terrorists (the reference being to former Weatherman William Ayers). On the face of it, this is race-neutral, though still risible: I don't think there is anything in Obama's race that is necessary to the attack. If John Kerry was running and had the same association with Ayers as Obama, the attack would still make as much of what little rational sense it possesses.

But now let's stipulate some facts (these, to reiterate, are hypothetical -- I don't make any claim as to them being objectively true, though I do think they are plausible enough so that we can analyze them). People are more vulnerable to certain types of attacks based on our pre-existing perceptions about their qualities as persons. We're more likely to believe a charge the meshes or coheres to our broader view of a person. So if I think John is aggressive, and someone tells me he assaulted a kitten, I'm more likely to believe them then if my perception of John is as a big ol' softie.

So, suppose Obama's race makes him more likely to be seen as an outsider, which makes voters more receptive to the "associates with terrorists" claim, as outsiders are more likely to be friends with terrorists then "real" Americans. Is there a racial component then? What if we cut the intervening link: Americans think "terrorist = brown person", Obama is a brown person, and that is the mental link. Is that racist? Would it be racist of the McCain campaign to exploit that?

The calculus of running a political attack is that one assumes the political benefit of fostering negative opinions about your opponent outweighs the backlash you get for "going negative". If the backlash is likely to be greater than the gain, the attack won't be run. Suppose that the "bonus" negativity the McCain attack would produce due to Obama's race has an impact on the McCain campaign's decision of how often and where to run an ad focusing on Obama's putative terrorist ties -- for example, they decide to direct their spending in areas where the "racial bonus" is largest. Is that racist?

What if the racial bonus is such that it provides the marginal gain needed to make the ad worth the cost in terms of potential backlash? That is, the ad would not have been "worth it" against a White candidate because the backlash would outweigh the gain, but the extra negativity due to race makes the advertisement a net gain for the campaign? In that way, race would be the critical factor in deciding whether to run the ad. Is that racist? What if the McCain campaign stipulates that it simply wants to run the most effective ads possible, and avers that it does not study and does not care whether its ads are effective because they trigger associations due to race or associations due to the 60s culture war? If they make that stipulation, but know that this ad is (solely? more?) effective due to race, does that satisfy an "intent" requirement that many hold necessary to charge something as racist?

The point here isn't to say that any of these scenarios are true. Only that they represent potential facts which complicate simple, on-face efforts to analyze a given political claim as "racist" or "not racist" (or "racially-tinged" or what have you). It would seem, given the right fact pattern (e.g., McCain runs a facially race-neutral ad knowing that it gains a racial bonus, targeting the ad on the basis of that bonus, and that bonus giving the marginal gain necessary for the ad to be run in the first place), even Palin's charge could be tagged as "racist" under even relatively stringent definitions of what racist means.

Civil Rights Roundup: 10/06/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

Obviously, this column by the treasurer of the Buchanan County (Va.) GOP (and county representative on McCain's Virginia leadership team) is not racist. After all, the author denied that it was, and we all know that's good enough when it's a White guy!

It's worth noting again -- this election will be a pivotal one in terms of setting the Supreme Court's agenda for the foreseeable future.

It's not a parody -- the poor really are hit hardest by the current economic downturn.

The Pittsburgh diocese of the Episcopalian church has voted to secede in protest of the broader organizations tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.

Activists in Virginia are working to get ex-felons' voting rights restored.

The Washington Post urges a settlement in a long-standing legal fight between D.C. and advocates for the city's mentally and physically disabled population, who are working to overhaul the district's abysmal record of care towards that demographic.

Ten years after the brutal torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, CBS looks back.

Opponents of Nebraska's proposed affirmative action ban are in court trying to keep it off the ballot, alleging that many signatures were obtained fraudulently.

The University of Illinois appears to have gone slightly overboard in trying to curb political expression by its employees.

The Supreme Court refuse to review a Colorado case in which the jury foreman read bible passages to recalcitrant jury members in order to (successfully) convince them to apply the death penalty.

The AFL-CIO is on the case, protecting citizens from illegitimate voter suppression efforts.

A symbolic constitutional amendment in Florida which would strip anti-Asian provisions from the document is likely to fail, primarily because voters are expected to mistake it for increasing rights of contemporary illegal immigrants. Voter ignorance is lamentable, but expected. What is unexpected and unexcusable is that 31 State House Republicans voted against the measure, probably under the same misapprehension.

A White South Carolina state trooper who rammed a Black suspect with his police cruiser, then bragged that he did it deliberately on video, was acquitted by a federal jury of civil rights violations.

A new federal courthouse in Missouri is named after Rush Limbaugh. Thankfully, it's not that Rush Limbaugh (though I had a mild heart attack before deciphering that in the article).

Companies love to sing the praises of arbitration clauses when they're applying them against unwilling consumers, but are far less keen on using them in disputes with their fellow corporations.

The Supreme Court has for the third time rejected a suit by anti-abortion activists protesting a judgment against them due to their "wanted" posters targeting abortion doctors.

Both supporters and opponents of California's Prop. 8 (revoking the right of gay couples to marry) are treading lightly in their efforts to persuade swing voters.

An AP writer says Sarah Palin's charge that Obama "pals around" with terrorists has a racial subtext. John Cole doesn't see it. I'm inclined to agree with Cole, but I think it raises some interesting questions I'll probably raise in a post later today.

A transgender woman won a suit filed against her by former political opponents who said she "misled" voters by running for office as a female.

The New York Times demands the obvious -- having your home foreclosed upon should not deprive you of the right to vote. I wrote about this twisted tactic adopted by some local GOP bodies earlier here.

The Washington Supreme Court holds that employers can't retaliate against employees victimized by domestic abuse who take time off to protect themselves and their children. The Court was bitterly divided; you can access the four opinions handed down here.