Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We're Here!

Jill made it, albeit quite delayed, from Minnesota. So I've been busy. Also, this is a good post. That's all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The TSA Game

Eric Posner explains TSA strategy, once we rule out impossible extremes:
Once you eliminate the implausible corner solutions—the TSA undertakes body cavity searches of every passenger, or security screenings are abolished—a number of consequences follow.

1. The TSA must randomize (play a “mixed strategy,” in game-theoretic parlance). Otherwise, terrorists can predict some of its precautions and evade them. The same principle explains why police vary patrol routes and road blocks. A NYT article today makes clear that the TSA is self-consciously randomizing to keep terrorists off guard.

2. At the social optimum, the number of successful terrorist attacks will be greater than zero. It might be argued that we have had too few successful terrorist attacks over the last few years rather than too many. The question is whether the implicit statistical valuation of life in TSA programs is too high. I suspect that the answer is yes, as is generally the case with airline safety.

3. Profiling is an effective strategy when, as here, terrorists come from a small group of (relatively) easily identifiable people. One suspects that this explains Israel’s success. But profiling places a large portion of the cost of deterrence on a small group, which makes some people morally uneasy.

4. Once the implausible corner-solutions are ruled out, any security policy or threshold will seem arbitrary because you have to draw the line somewhere, which means that it will be easy to point to some permitted activity that is only slightly different from what is forbidden (for example, carrying on 100 ml of liquid rather than 101 ml).

5. As for the “security theater” claim–

a. If ordinary people are fooled into thinking that the TSA is doing more than it is really doing, then at least some potential terrorists will be fooled as well, and so will be deterred from engaging in airplane-terrorism.

b. Ordinary people will also fly more often, which means that one of the goals of terrorists—to terrorize people so that they will pressure their government to make concessions to terrorists—will have failed.

How Chicago was that post? But he's right, though I'll note a tension between numbers 1 and 3. A profiling regime is by definition not random, so terrorists can construct an "anti-profile" to beat the system -- the so-called "carnival booth" (because it encourages terrorists to "step right up and see if they're a winner").

I also think that 5(a) is maybe overstated, as the point is that the facial security measures might fool us average rubes, but not anybody actually intent on breaching airport security. I suppose there might be some aspiring terrorist who is awestruck by the festival of it all, but I have to think that anybody who is intent on breaching TSA security won't give up that easily.

On the other hand, while I don't accept 2 whole-heartedly, I do think it is important to note that pretty much any feasible screening system we come up with will not be fail-proof. Terrorists might get through even if we do everything right. It's really annoying when people act as if pretty well random and unpredictable acts are examples of outrageous bureaucratic incompetence. The TSA isn't the Green Lantern -- it doesn't protect us just by willing it hard enough.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I Should Have Organized Better

I've written four squib posts today. A smarter blogger would have grouped them together and did a roundup. Instead, I'm now stuck with a few stray links still on my browser -- ones I don't want to lose, but not enough to create a true roundup. And I'm too embarrassed to push my short-game up to five and six. So -- to the internet I go, to try and find enough good material to make for a real roundup. My mistake is your gain.

* * *

The NYT reports on China's lock on the rare metals which are key to the technologies of the future. Via Chris Borgen, who writes: "Criminal gangs, geopolitics, and environmental collapse, make for a dangerous cocktail."

CNN: "Defying U.S. urging, Israel to build homes in Arab East Jerusalem." Well, to be fair, they're building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (contrary to seemingly popular belief, there were always Jewish neighborhoods in that quarter -- even prior to 1967). I agree with Jeffrey Goldberg that this is needless provocation on the part of the Israeli government, but the media could do a favor and not pour gasoline on it.

Also, I could have written Jeffrey Goldberg's response to Andrew Sullivan on the recent Hannah Rosenthal flap.

How much is the economy driving the Iranian protests?

California's initiative process is completely broken? You don't say!

There are worries that Islamic parties in Iraq are pushing to strip the Jewish heritage from Ezekiel's Shrine in Iraq, under the guise of restoring it.

It says something not-so-good that it took me quite some time to figure out they were talking about Georgia the country, not Georgia the state.

You want to know what's outrageous? Women voting for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Jessica Valenti and Jillian Hewitt vivisect.

* * *

Hey, that wasn't so bad! I bet you can't even figure out which links were the ones I originally had up on the browser!

And better news yet: Jill is flying into DC tomorrow night! So I might be a bit busy for awhile.

We're So Dead

Spencer Ackerman reminds us:
Umar Farouk “When There’s Nothing Left To Burn, You Must Set Your Crotch On Fire” Abdulmutallab is currently detained in a federal prison in Michigan. For now! In a few days he’ll use his Muslim heat vision to escape and run amok in Ann Arbor, shortly after America is brought to its knees by the force of his oratory in open federal court.

To Guantanamo he must go!

Do They Notice it isn't Working?

The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response reports that jihadist chatter is pointing towards further kidnappings of Israeli and American soldiers in order to "free Gaza". This comes from the pretty far-right INN, so take it with some salt, but assuming it's true -- have these folks noticed that this tactic isn't working? One would think that decades upon decades of history would give some indication of what strategies are likely to lead to Palestinian independence and which ones are not. Yet, violent warfare remains the dogma.

Kidnappings of this sort have traditionally led to one of two outcomes for Palestinians:

1) Prisoner exchanges (which I imagine groups like Hamas like, but have little to do with "freeing Gaza"), and/or

2) Bruising Israeli military campaigns.

The one thing they've had virtually no positive impact towards is convincing Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories.

Now, I'm being deliberately credulous here -- I'm acting as if the primary goal of Palestinian terrorist groups is "freeing Gaza" rather than inflicting pain on Israel. And we all know that isn't true -- these groups have always been willing to trade the former for the latter, and this would be yet another example.

Latin America Celebrates its First Gay Marriage

Congratulations to the happy couple, who were wed in southern Argentina yesterday.

Obama Condemns Iranian Crackdown

He's still got to walk that delicate line between buoying and discrediting the protesters, but this statement seems well-calibrated.

Blur to Black

I didn't comment on the mini-controversy where Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) seemed to think only Black people are on medicaid. But it fit very nicely with a broader truism among scholars of American race relations, which is that programs which benefit the poor nearly invariably are seen in the public eye as programs benefiting Blacks (think welfare).

And that, in turn, connects with Victor Davis Hanson's interpretation of Obamism:
It works like this: The ghetto resident, the denizen of the barrio, the abandoned and divorced waitress with three young children, can all chart their poverty and unhappiness not to accident, fate, bad luck, bad decisions, poor judgment, illegality or drug use, or simple tragedy, but rather exclusively to a system that is rigged to ensure oppression on the basis of race, class, and gender—often insidious and unfathomable except to the sensitive and gifted academic or community organizer.

So Obama combines the age-old belief that the state is there to level the playing field (rather than protect the rights of the individual and secure the safety of the people from foreign threats), with the postmodern notion that government must recompensate those by fiat on the basis on their race or class or gender. Remember all that, and everything from the Professor Gates incident, to the dutiful attendance at the foot of Rev. Wright to Van Jones become logical rather than aberrant. Michelle Obama could make $300,000 and she will always be more a victim than the Appalachian coal miner who earns $30,000, by virtue of her race and gender.

The problem, as Matt Yglesias pointed out, is that this doesn't jive with any of Obama's actual policy initiatives -- virtually all of which would advantage Mr. Coal Miner over Mrs. Obama. The Obama administration's domestic policy agenda has been singular in its lack of focus on issues of race and racial division (or even, really, racial harmony). It has studiously ducked the issue.

But it doesn't matter, because it never was about what the country (or what Black people) did or didn't do. To a significant swath of the country, all Black political action is presumed to be partisan racial gerrymandering, and all political action geared towards the poor is also presumed to be race-based wealth redistribution. Combine the two prejudices together, and you have a powerful political hurricane.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After Christmas

Instead of blogging today, I wrote emails! I was supposed to have a snowball fight, but Mother Nature conspired to melt all the snow. The sad.

The two, rather lengthy emails, were in response to this Andrew Sullivan post, and a query of Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, leader of the Gaza Freedom March, regarding the possible participation of COSATU and Bongani Masuku.

Tonight, I'm heading off to a hockey game. My beloved New Jersey Devils face the Caps. It should be great -- Brodeur versus Ovechkin is a great matchup under any circumstances, and this year the Caps and Devils are two of the best teams in the league.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chinese Food Roundup

It's that time of year. Whatever you're doing today or tomorrow, I hope it is restful and enjoyable.

* * *

The BDS movement continues to trudge along like the zombie it is -- the latest scandal was promoting a pro-BDS letter featuring signatories who claim to have never seen the petition (and aren't happy to see their name attached).

The Pope ends the year like he begun it -- apologizing to the Jews. Unsurprisingly, the apology is not paired with a modification in the decision which triggered Jewish ire in the first place. I'd say he's tone-deaf, but that assumes he cares all that much in the first place.

Iowa's resident nut, Rep. Steve King (R), isn't letting the complete absence of any proof of wrongdoing stop him from saying ACORN is a bigger scandal than Watergate ("a little break-in by a couple of guys," as King described it).

Blocking popular policies makes one unpopular, Hill journalists are stunned to learn.

An interesting article on the "Sex with the Rabbi" sex ed class taught at a New York Jewish school.

Meet the Rabbinical student leading the charge to get gay marriage passed in New Jersey.

Hannah Rosenthal, the top US official charged with combating anti-Semitism, is defending J Street against attacks from Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

An Israeli man was killed in a West Bank terror attack, near the site of a recently removed roadblock.

A couple is suing two hospitals for deliberately ignoring them and declining emergency treatment. The result was the premature birth of a baby, who was then pronounced dead.

Is George Allen thinking about a rematch against the man who knocked him off in 2006, incumbent Senator Jim Webb (D)?

Right Down to the Racism

The Israeli government is locked in a battle with ultra-orthodox families at a religious academy who are defying orders to desegregate the program. The renegade parents are Ashkenazi Jews who object to having their daughters (it's an all-girls school) attend class with Mizrachi peers:
"No court ruling or Education Ministry decision can bring the two groups together," an Immanuel resident said Wednesday. "It's like putting Americans and Africans together. They can't study together with such huge mental differences," he said.
"It's a disgrace to this place, the ministry must intervene to stop the segregation once and for all," the father of one Mizrahi student said. "The Ashkenazis think they're more intelligent than we are, but what really bugs them is our skin color."
Yeah, that about spells it out. Kudos to the Israeli government for standing firm on this (they're threatening to prosecute the parents for violating mandatory school attendance laws if they don't send their daughters back to the now-integrated academy).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Billy Mays, RIP

House passes bill to curb the volume of TV ads. I guess he really is gone.

For the Rest of Us!

CNN explores how non-Christians handle the "holiday" season. Very interesting. Worth noting: "Compared with other non-Christians, many Jews have drawn a sharper line in the sand when it comes to observing Christmas, a stance informed by historic, theological and self-preservation reasons."

UPDATE: You thought the line was harsh now! Yeesh.

Strenger on Carter's Apology

Brilliant stuff:

I have no intention of psychoanalyzing Carter. His apology is of interest because it reflects a problem of many of Israel's critics. There are good reasons to criticize Israel, first and foremost for its settlement policy. There is absolutely no justification for the settlements in terms of security. The battlefield of the present, and even more of the future, is defined by rocket technologies, and nobody can conceivably argue that building settlements and appropriating Palestinian land provides any protections against rockets - whether from Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.

The problem is the tone of the criticism. Israel's defenders often point out that Israel's human right abuses pale in significance compared to those of China, Iran or Sudan. The problem with many of Israel's critics is the sheer hatred they express. When Iran crushed the protests against election fraud this year with vicious cruelty, the world felt sympathy for the protesters. Few in the West felt hatred for Iran; at most they felt disdain for Iran's repressive regime. Britain's academics tried to impose a boycott on Israeli universities and researchers; they never initiated a boycott against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or towards China after the Tiananmen massacre. This disproportion has been pointed out many times, and warrants an explanation.

Israel and the Christian world have been locked in a very complex relationship that has deep historical and theological roots. The theologically based hatred of Christianity towards Jews was transformed in the 19th century, and received its racial formulation from 1873 onwards, when the Austrian journalist Wilhelm Marr coined the term anti-Semitism. This form of hatred of Jews led to the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Western world has yet to come to terms with its refusal to do anything to stop the genocide.

Jews have been the bad conscience of the West for a long time - and even more so since the Holocaust. French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has pointed out that many in the West have never come to terms with the fact that Jews, the perpetual victims, now have a powerful army, and are no longer in the position of having to beg for protection and recognition. But most of all, for many there was relief: now that Jews had become the victimizers rather than the victims, the guilt of the history of persecution ending in the Holocaust could finally left behind. Many in the West used a ubiquitous defense mechanism: humans tend to hate those who induce guilt in them - and finally guilt against Jews could be transformed into hatred against Israel.

It looks like Jimmy Carter has realized that he had crossed the line between criticizing Israel and hating it; that there is a big difference between being critical and even exasperated with Israel's inability to end an occupation that should have ended in 1968, as David Ben-Gurion knew very well, and the self-righteous rage and hatred that many of Israel's Western critics express in their criticisms. Carter's apology is to be lauded: his stigmatization of Israel did not befit a man who has devoted life after the presidency to peace initiatives, and it tainted his critique of Israel's policy with a tone that was illegitimate.

My first blush reaction to Carter's apology was here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Address By Moishe Postone

"Another German Autumn", at a Demonstration against Antisemitism, December 13, 2009.

Carter's Contrition

I really don't know what to make of this:
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has apologized to the American Jewish community for 'stigmatizing Israel' and asked for forgiveness for his actions, the JTA reported on Monday.

"We must recognize Israel's achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel," Carter wrote in a letter to the JTA.

"As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so," Carter wrote, referring to the prayer said on Yom Kippur in which Jews ask God for forgiveness for any sins.

Canvassing the blogospheric, the reactions seem to be polarized between "not good enough, asshole" and "ZOMG THE ZIONISTS GOT TO HIM!"

I think I was appropriately circumspect in my discussions of President Carter on this issue, and I see no reason to abandon that position now.

Griffith Bolts to the GOP

Alabama Democratic Representative Parker Griffith is switching parties, citing differences with party leaders (particularly over health care) as the cause.

Obviously, Rep. Griffith has every right to do this (as did Senator James Jeffords, or Arlen Specter, or any other historical party switcher). Republican leaders, furthermore, are surely correct to trumpet the implications of a House member deciding to defect to the minority, which I imagine is a rarity. On the other hand, Matt Yglesias is also correct to note that Griffith came from a district whose Democratic control was essentially unsustainable over the long term. Rep. Griffith was the furthest thing from being a progressive while he was a Democrat; so progressives already understood that we would need to know how to push our agenda forward without him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Martin Brodeur Breaks Shutout Record

Yet another record falls to the New Jersey netminder. He notched his 104th career shutout in a 4-0 victory against Pittsburgh tonight, breaking the all-time record held by Terry Sawchuk. Brodeur now holds the all-time records in, among other categories, most wins, most games played, and most shutouts.

"And Then My O-Line Disappeared!"

That trick play the Redskins tried to pull at the end of the first half is how Darth Vader punishes punters who displease him. "I know! We'll put in some 180 lbs dude who was a fourth-string QB in middle school, take away his entire offense line, and hope that he heaves the ball to safety before three men who outweigh him by a factor of 10 flatten him to the earth." And then it gets intercepted.

On the other hand, Todd Collins got to take a few snaps. I love that guy -- he plays in maybe one game every two years, throws a forty yard completion to set up what should be a field goal, and then goes back to the bench to wait another 18 months for a snap. All while being paid an annual salary which rivals the GDP of East Timor. It's the American dream.

Israel and Organs: A Guide for the Perplexed

When I first saw a report that Israel had admitted harvesting organs, I was confused and quite a bit worried. What exactly had happened? When was it (and was it ongoing)? Who was responsible? Who were the victims? Was their any punishment for the perpetrators? And so on.

As the story was picked up, I think I've mostly pieced together what happened. Hence, my guide for the perplexed reader, who wants to keep the story straight.

The latest iteration of this controversy came from a Swedish tabloid piece alleging that IDF troops were killing Palestinians in order to harvest their organs -- a charge bitterly denounced (including by me) as a new version of the "blood libel". The closest thing to evidence that the author had for his piece was the story of an illegal organ trade between an Israeli and a New Jersey Jewish man, apparently on the theory that any action by any Israeli or Jew anywhere is reflective of a broader hive mentality of the whole. The story exploded in the various anti-Semitic fever swamps that inhabit the globe, with Alison Weir alleging in Counterpunch that the original (medieval) blood libel was actually quite true, and Algerian officials spinning tales of transnational kidnapping operations of Arab children. Many other similar claims were raised at the same time.

In the wake of this controversy, an American academic released to an Israeli news station an interview she conducted in 2000 with an Israeli pathologist, Dr. Yehuda Hiss, who admitted in the 1990s that specialists at his hospitals did take corneas, heart valves, and skin from corpses (Israeli and Palestinian alike, but mostly Israelis, including soldiers) they were autopsying for the purpose of transplants. The practice, however, was discontinued by the end of the decade as new rules were written precisely to check these sorts of abuses.

Here's where things get a little murky. The CNN article on the story, which gives the fullest account I've seen yet, has some words to the effect that the doctors thought that the permission to do an autopsy implicitly granted them the right to take organs from the body -- though they conceded they never asked specific permission. This is belied, though, by other statements wherein the doctors indicate that they acted to cover up their offense (such as gluing eyelids shut to mask taken corneas) -- demonstrating that the doctors were at least aware that their actions may not have been entirely sanctioned by the families.

The other thing I am unclear about is the degree to which this scandal was already public knowledge. The CNN article indicates that these charges were indeed investigated, with Dr. Hiss losing his job as head of the institute in 2004 because of them (he still works at the institution).
The forensic institute at Abu Kabir, where Hiss still works, received complaints about improper practices regarding organ harvesting that culminated in an investigation and a change of management.

The current manager, Assaf Harofe Hospital, issued a statement saying, "The committee which examined the said matters have determined that there were purely managerial malfunctions, but as a result of their findings Professor Hiss lost his position as the manager of the institute." Managerial responsibility was changed and new procedures were put in place, the statement said.

What I'm not sure about is whether this investigation was known to the public at the time. Of course, it seems quite wrong at first glance that the doctors received the wrist slap of a "managerial malfunction" and demotion, but without knowing the particulars of the investigation I cannot say for sure (on the other hand, it seems quite right that a complaint was made, the practice was investigated, and then ceased after investigation). But what I'm getting at is that if a scandal that was already known to the public can be dredged up anew every five years as something shocking, horrible, and discrediting, simply by making up a seemingly connected but more extreme iteration, then nobody will ever move on from anything.

One thing that needs to be stressed, and was mentioned in both the CNN and Guardian articles, is that the original explosive allegations in the Swedish article -- that Israel was killing Palestinians for their organs -- was and remains untrue; it is, as CNN blithely put it, "a different allegation". Taking corneas from already dead patients (without regard to who the patients were -- the majority of the patients whose organs were taken appear to have been Israelis) is, of course, an entirely different animal from actively going out an killing people in order to harvest their organs. The distinction is important not to minimize the gravity of the former offense, but to prevent the revelation of the former from being blurred and merged into the latter.

Finally, as they put it at Harry's Place, "the truth is ugly, and deserved to come out no matter the consequences." But the truth remains the truth -- it is not free license to support falsehoods like the Swedish article, or feverish claims of Jewish bloodlust.

I would also ask that we resist the traps of the politics of respectability, which demand of otherized groups universal sainthood lest they all be tainted as corrupted and fallen. A federal building explodes in Oklahoma, and Timothy McVeigh is evil. A suicide bomb explodes in Tel Aviv, and Palestinians are evil. A Israeli doctor takes organs from corpses without permission, and Israelis are evil. No. Girls don't suck at math, that girl sucks at math. That doctor did wrong; that wrongdoing deserves investigation and punishment. But the hivemind doesn't exist.

Franken Anti-Rape Bill Makes It Into Law

Despite worries it would be stripped out in conference (as well as Republican whines that they were actually being held accountable for their nay votes), the Franken anti-rape amendment was part of the defense appropriations bill President Obama just signed into law.

Congratulations, Senator Franken -- an excellent holiday gift to our men and women serving abroad.

"Reform" Wasn't Happening Anyway

The AFTP's Hussein Ibish has a good post up on how the death of Grand Ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri will affect the burgeoning opposition movement to Iran's increasingly dictatorial regime. The short version is: less than you think. Montazeri was by far the most prominent and credible voice amongst the dissident clerics who believed that the Islamic Revolution had lost its way. Consequently, his death makes it that much harder to usher in a so-called velvet revolution which seeks to reform rather than revolutionize the system by casting it as a return to its roots, rather than a wholesale change. However, the steps taken by the ruling forces -- increasing reliance on outright dictatorship and brute authority -- were hastily closing the window on that option anyway. They were designed to give the populace a stark choice: either revolt outright, or accept the new order of things, with barely even a gesture anymore at showings of democracy or freedom.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lie of the Year

PolitiFact (a project of the St. Petersburg Times) has selected their first annual "Lie of the Year". And the winner? Sarah Palin, natch, for her contribution of "death panels" to the health care debate.
Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest.

"Death panels."

The claim set political debate afire when it was made in August, raising issues from the role of government in health care to the bounds of acceptable political discussion. In a nod to the way technology has transformed politics, the statement wasn't made in an interview or a television ad. Sarah Palin posted it on her Facebook page.

Her assertion — that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care — spread through newscasts, talk shows, blogs and town hall meetings. Opponents of health care legislation said it revealed the real goals of the Democratic proposals. Advocates for health reform said it showed the depths to which their opponents would sink. Still others scratched their heads and said, "Death panels? Really?"

The editors of, the fact-checking Web site of the St. Petersburg Times, have chosen it as our inaugural "Lie of the Year."

I can't think of a more deserving winner.

Big Capital

DC businesses expecting an economic windfall from gay marriage.

Israel Thinking of Banning Underweight or Photoshopped Models

Story here. The bill, which is being justified as a tool to combat childhood eating disorders, is being drafted by lawmakers from the centrist Kadima and right-wing Likud Party. A previous iteration of the bill, introduced by a member of the far-right secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, failed last year due to concerns that the government shouldn't discriminate on basis of weight (in this case, by barring models below a certain BMI).


Another blogging/scholarship landmark is passed, as "Sticky Slopes" receives a favorable mention and a "recommended" rating from Lawrence Solum's vaunted Legal Theory Blog.

I think the worst part about progressing in my academic career is that the giddiness of events like this will start to wear off. But for now, exciting!

...The University of Alberta Law School is cool too, I guess.

A Christmas Martyr

In what tragically doesn't surprise me in the slightest, the Washington Times and Han Van Spokavosky both pen pieces decrying the persecution of Joe "War on Law" Arpaio. (Via).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Go Sox

I love this piece, mostly because it is accompanied by the perfect photo of Professor Nussbaum. It's 100% "Oh yeah, I'm actually even more badass than you knew. Turns out, that is possible."

The Physics of Space Battles

One of the coolest sci-fi-esque articles I've read in a long time.

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superfederalist!

The compromise the Senate finally hammered out on Stupak's language was that states can impose the Stupak rules on their own exchanges, but the rules will not be imposed by the federal legislation (apparently, somehow, there will be at least one plan per state guaranteed to have abortion coverage).

But David Waldman says that isn't far enough: "I think states should leave the abortion question up to the counties. Then I think counties should leave the abortion question up to municipalities. Then the neighborhoods should leave the abortion question up to each block." And then each block, to the household, and household member.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Travel" Day

I'm flying to Florida tomorrow.

Hahaha! Obviously, I'm kidding. What I'm really going to do is wake up at the crack of dawn, try to get to the airport through a hellicious snowstorm, sit in the terminal as my plane is delayed indefinitely, and then eventually go home once it is canceled.

UPDATE: Never even made it out of my bedroom. We made a judgment call that our flight wasn't going to ever get out. Right call: It was delayed until 2:00 before it was canceled (it was scheduled for 10:00 AM).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Espino Carleton Connection

Miguel Espino (20-2-1, 9 KOs), the handpicked opponent for Kelly Pavlik's return from a hand injury, doesn't have much of chance to win his fight this weekend. But he does have a sibling who attended Carleton College. So now, he's automatically one of my favorite fighters.

(His sister apparently transferred out to CSU-Northridge to be closer to their legally blind mother. But once a Carl, always a Carl -- I've known a few people who transferred out who later transferred back in. We hold on to our own).

It's Tough Being Meek

I may have spoken too soon regarding the impact of Marco Rubio's recent surge in his Republican primary Senate race against Charlie Crist. Though the conventional wisdom held that Meek would had a better shot against the far-right Rubio than the centrist and popular Crist, a new poll has Rubio with a considerably wider lead over Meek than Crist does -- mostly because Rubio has nailed down the support of the right more effectively.

I still think in the context of a general election race, the conventional wisdom is right that Meek is better off against Rubio than Crist, but this does give one pause.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Traveler's Roundup

The writing just ain't happening, and for that I apologize. I'm packing today, flying home tomorrow morning (and pretty soon after that turning right around and flying out to Florida).

* * *

Cancel tax-exempt status for funders of the settlements. I had some pretty harsh words for the Hebron fundraiser mentioned in the post.

Doing some research, I stumbled across this old profile/interview with legendary organizer Saul Alinsky.

Good news for my summer employment: DC is leading the pack of cities seeing earlier-than-expected economic recovery.

It's hard to believe that Joe Arpaio is real, let alone popular. But if ever there was someone whose hubris is going to bring about his downfall, I'd tag him for the honor.

Lou Dobbs has been huffing glue (how's that for hyperbole?).

Marco Rubio has all the momentum in the Florida Senate Republican primary. Good news for Democrats -- Kendrick Meek was dead in the water against the popular government, but has a strong chance against the extreme-right Rubio.

Tim Starks has his nominees up for knockout of the year. There really is only one choice (Pacquaio KO2 Hatton), but they're still fun to watch (any other year, Randall).

Columbia introduces co-ed rooms. Fun quote: "I was shocked enough last year when we moved our son in and we saw that guys and girls shared a bathroom on the hall," said Laura Hannon, whose son, Michael, is a Columbia sophomore. "If it had been our daughter, we would have turned around and walked straight out." But since it's your son, happy hunting!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Come and Sing with Me!

Done with exams, done with exams, done-done-done-done-done with exams!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wind Down Roundup

One more exam to go. Jill just left to go home for break (she'll be coming to DC for New Years), so I'm all alone.

* * *

Military engineers are pioneering so-called "guilty robots" -- robots with complex ethical programming designed to make them better at following the rules of war than humans.

The Nevada brothel industry is now open to men. It was actually just a technicality that had kept male prostitutes out (they can't get a "cervical exam"), but hey, gender equality!

A great profile in Tablet magazine about Salam Fayyad, Palestinian Prime Minister and the man Shimon Peres calls "the Palestinian Ben-Gurion".

Houston became the largest city in the US to elect an openly-gay mayor.

BRICUP may have invited a racist to speak before them, but don't worry, they were quite eager to justify it through dialogue and explanation.

The bill targeting ACORN grants was ruled an unconstitutional bill of attainder. Adam Serwer reminds us of why it is a bad thing for Congress to appoint itself a quasi-judiciary and make determinations of guilt and innocence in response to popular akrasia.

Obama doesn't have a Jewish problem. Rinse, wash, repeat, until it sinks in.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

IDF Ordered to Cut Ties with Rejectionist Settler Yeshiva

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) ordered the IDF to sever its connections with a far-right Yeshiva which had been urging IDF soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate the settlements.
"The defense minister views with considerable gravity any instance of insubordination and he is not ready to accept any deviation from what he views as a red line," the statement read.

"The actions and statements of Rabbi Melamed undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy, actions which incited some of his students to refuse orders, take part in demonstrations, and harm the spirit of the IDF, [actions] which have no place in a properly functioning country."

MK Michael Ben-Ari, of the extremist right-wing party National Union, was displeased:
"Barak, in his belligerent manner, is harming the security of the state of Israel," Ben Ari said. "Canceling the arrangement with the heroes of the Har Bracha yeshiva is a heavy-handed move that is meant to inflate the ego of a politician who is at the end of his road."

"Those who will be harmed [by the move] are the IDF and the state of Israel," the MK said.

Because the IDF is stronger when it is populated by soldiers taught to disobey legal orders. That makes sense.

Fun fact: MK Ben-Ari is a Kahanist and the guy who, responding to the terrorist burning of a West Bank Mosque, stated that "those who wish to wipe out the Jewish people must not expect us to identify with their symbols and centers of incitement. I ran out of condemnations when the synagogues at Gush Katif were burned."

Expel the Darkness

A group of rabbis from the religious Zionist tradition are visiting the Mosque that was burned down by Jewish extremists earlier this week.
Dozens of rabbis and activists from the Religious Zionist camp will visit Sunday the West Bank Palestinian village of Yasuf to protest against the torching of the village's main mosque and to send a message of reconciliation to the Muslim population, Ynet has learned.

During their visit, they will lend a hand in the clean-up and refurbishing efforts at the mosque. They will also donate a number of Korans in place of those that were burned in the fire.
Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, who heads the yeshiva on the religious kibbutz Maale Gilboa, initiated the event together with Rabbi Avia Rosen from Ein Hanatziv and Rabbi Shmuel Reiner. Rabbi Gilad said, "We came to expel darkness, especially during the days of Hannukah. Light is not added by hurting our brothers, the Muslims, who are the servants of God just as we are. This is an important message to relay."

According to Rabbi Gilad, rabbis from across the spectrum of Religious Zionism and from areas throughout Israel are expected to partake in the event that was put together just Sunday morning. "This is not a political protest, but a humanitarian, moral, and religious issue. We have seen and heard condemnations (of the mosque arson) from both ends of the political spectrum," said Rabbi Gilad.

Rabbi Menachem Froman, the rabbi of the town of Tekoa who speaks with a lot Muslim religious figures, said that the response on the other side was considerable. He noted that the visit is being coordinated with the Palestinian military governor in the region.

"They are receiving us openly. We will drink coffee with them. We will speak about the halachic opposition to what happened there on Friday and just how harsh such an act is from its (halacha's) perspective. We will make a joint prayer for peace," said Rabbi Froman.

Rabbi Froman said that at the conclusion of the event, his son, who speaks Arabic, will sing an Arabic version of the Hannukah song "We Have Come to Expel Darkness" (Banu Hoshech Legaresh).

A good gesture, and a needed one.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mosque Burns in the West Bank

Seeking to extract a "price tag" for the settlement freeze, Jewish extremists have torched a West Bank mosque and burned their holy books, in an appalling act of terrorism. The attack has been harshly condemned by the Israeli government, the United States, and the IDF. Which is good. And they're looking to bring the perpetrators to justice. Which they should.

But I'm sick of wrist slaps for this sort of thing. What's the penalty if we catch a Hamas operative who snuck into Israel and burned down a synagogue? Whatever that is, that's what these thugs should receive.

Meanwhile, the IDF needs to step up its security measures geared at settler extremists. The level of Palestinian violence flowing out of the West Bank has been steadily dropping for some time. By contrast, the settlers themselves have barely been staunched at all in their harassment of the Palestinian people. Right now, the settlers are as big of a threat to security and peace in the West Bank as are Palestinian extremists, and they should be dealt with accordingly.

The settlers want to put a "price tag" on the rule of law? Well, here's a price for them: long jail times. It couldn't make me happier.

Sticky Slopes Draft Posted

You can download the full text of the draft at my SSRN page. Below is the abstract:
Legal literature is replete with references to the infamous “slippery slope”, basically, where a shift in policy lubricates the path towards further (perhaps more controversial) reforms or measures. Less discussed is the idea of a “sticky slope”. Sticky slopes manifest when a social movement victory acts to block, instead of enable, further policy goals. Instead of greasing the slope down, they effectively make it “stickier”. Despite the lack of scholarly attention, sticky slope arguments show up again and again in legal argument particularly in areas focused on minority rights. Formal legal doctrine can create sticky slopes insofar as it reduces legal protections for marginalized groups as they gain political power. Informally, sticky slopes can also develop through backlash, through legal arguments whose valences drift from their original intention, or through social exhaustion at grappling with the problem of inequality to seemingly little effect. I argue that attentiveness to sticky slopes is important for two reasons. First, awareness of the prospect of a sticky slope can be important in long term social movement strategizing. Where social movements are in pursuit of a cluster of related political ends, they will want to choose their tactics carefully so as to minimize the degree that their past accomplishments can be turned against them. Second, when deployed by legal actors, sticky slope arguments sometimes do not play true causal roles, but instead act as a mask for other, less tolerable justifications. Unmasking sticky slope logic can force legal policymakers to be more explicit about the rationales and implications of their decision.

I'll be presenting this paper at the 2010 Law and Society Conference this May, in a panel entitled "Social Change in Unexpected Ways". The discussant is scheduled to be Gerald Rosenberg, Lecturer in Law and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and author of The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? Any comments you have are greatly appreciated -- I love getting feedback.

And I might note, in blogging solidarity, that this paper originally was a blog post I wrote back in May of 2008.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Saving Grace

It unnerves me slightly that this post continues to have a quite active comment thread (perhaps because it is the number one hit for "fuck you google". But at least I won a new fan:

Aww. It's the readership that makes it all worthwhile.

So Young ... So Very Young

All I can add to this series of photographs of Michael Steele and his interns (aside from the obvious) is that I am utterly unsurprised to see Georgetown Prep so, er, flagrantly represented. Nice belt, dude.

Real America: The Prequel

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been doing some reading on the history of America, cast through the lens of Detroit. This excerpt deals with a libel suit brought by Henry Ford against the Chicago Tribune, which was hammering him as basically an intellectual simpleton:
Daily the Tribune attorneys hammered at his intellectual capacity, knowledge of history and comprehension of world events. On the stand Ford described a "large mobile army" as "a large army mobilized," In response to the question: "What was the United States originally?" he replied: "Land, I guess." Asked to identify Benedict Arnold, he said that he was a writer. The American Revolution, he thought, had taken place in 1812...

The city slickers attack on Ford's IQ misfired, for the upbringing, education and values of the jurors were much like those of Ford. Ruling for Ford they awarded him six cents and court costs...Rural small town Americans, who bought two thirds of the Model T's, acclaimed the verdict. In the cities, Ford was laughed at...

The trial was a microcosm of the conflict between small-town and urban America, between fundamentalism and cosmopolitanism, between a return to insularity and internationalism, between nineteenth century and the twentieth century education. For the moment, the tide seemed to be running backward to the nineteenth century.

"The real United States lies outside the cities," Ford concluded....

The real America lies in those who think it's a symbol of authenticity that you don't know when the American revolution was.

Male Iranian Protesters Don Hijab

As part of their broader crackdown on student democracy activists, the Iranian government arrested Majid Tavakoli, then published a photo of him wearing a headscarf to try and insinuate he and his fellow protesters were unmanly.

Instead, it prompted dozens of male democracy activists to wear hijabs themselves. Cross-dressing, it is worth noting, is illegal in Iran.

Brief Masuku Update

A consortium of prominent British Jewish organizations have called for the removal of the UCU from the Government Group on Antisemitism and Higher Education, after it's decision to host and promote a South African union official found to have engaged in hate speech targeted at the Jewish people.
UCU’s hosting of Masuku and their refusal to engage with the concerns of the Jewish community follows a pattern: the Union refused to address the resignations of large numbers of Jewish academics from UCU in recent years, and summarily rejected members’ complaints of antisemitism. UCU has allowed its politics on Israel to override the concerns of its Jewish members and students. It appears that UCU simply does not care about the anti-Jewish impact of its activities.

It is now hard to see how UCU can continue to play a constructive role in the Government Group on Antisemitism and Higher Education when its latest actions are likely to encourage antisemitism. The Government should review UCU’s membership of this group as it has failed to oppose antisemitism inside its own structures. UCU cannot credibly be a part of the solution to antisemitism while its activities are encouraging the problem.

Meanwhile, there are murmurs that the SAHRC is under significant pressure to revise its decision. That doesn't surprise me in the slightest -- when powerful forces align against the interests of small, vulnerable minorities, judicial (or quasi-judicial) bodies have a difficult time mounting resistance.

War on Law

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ("America's toughest sheriff") continues his brazen assault on the rule of law, including indicting their political enemies on trumped up charges, publishing personal information, and ignoring valid court orders.

I have to think they've finally stepped too far. It's only a shame that it got to this point.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

IDF Completes Review of Goldstone Allegations

The IDF has completed a review of the 36 "most serious" cases of alleged war crimes as cited by Judge Richard Goldstone in his damning report on Operation Cast Lead, and concluded that 30 of them are "baseless accusations," The Jerusalem Post has learned. The other six were found to relate to genuine instances, where operational errors and mistakes were involved.

The IDF is currently finalizing a report in response to the allegations leveled by the Goldstone mission on behalf of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It is expected to becompleted and submitted to Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi for review in the coming weeks. The army has yet to decide what it will do with the report and whether it will be released to the public.

In addition, there are another 28 MP investigations ongoing that will likely be included in the report.

Since the Israeli government hasn't yet decided what to do with the report, there is a limit to what I can do to analyze it. I would, of course, be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone's reaction to the report. Beyond that, I have a few observations.

1) Israel, for better or for worse, didn't cooperate with the Goldstone inquiry -- a fact that the judge was quite unhappy with. One likely upshot of this means that a lot of potentially exculpatory information was likely not included in the report (through no fault of Judge Goldstone). Hence, it should not surprise us if some not insignificant number of the allegations in the report turn out to have had fair military justification. On the other hand, that fact should not have much salience in the overall credibility of the Goldstone report, since they can only speak with what information they had (we could ask that they be more open to the possibility of missing information or alternative perspectives, but we can't ask that they intuit exculpatory evidence that was specifically withheld from them).

2) Nominally, at least, Judge Goldstone's investigation was only meant to start the process of review, not represent any sort of binding legal conclusion (one of the many areas where the judge was charmingly naive about the public meaning of his project). Consequently, the IDF review is part of what we might call the "Goldstone process".

3) Related to the above, the theoretical call from Goldstone was for both Israel and Palestine to launch credible investigations into the allegations put forward in his report. The definition of a "credible" investigation is, of course, contested. There are reasonable grounds to think that the IDF cannot credibly investigate itself. There are also reasonable grounds to think that it can. "Self-dealing" cannot be the be-all-end-all here, because the demand specifically was for Israel to investigate itself, and Palestine to investigate itself. So the IDF report has to be analyzed on its own merits as to its credibility (and it may not have it).

4) Referral to international legal organs is supposed to be an extraordinary step, taken only when the internal mechanisms of the state in question are either so biased or so dysfunctional as to make justice impossible. The upshot of this is that the IDF report cannot be evaluated de novo -- that is, it is not acceptable or unacceptable based solely on whether it comes to the same conclusions Judge Goldstone would have come to were he the original arbiter. This concept of deference is, I believe, quite well entrenched in the mechanics of international law.

5) The degree to which the report is credible is, in my view, inextricably tied to what the IDF does in the six cases where the IDF concedes some wrongdoing.

Take a Hard Look

My administrative law exam tomorrow is either going to be easier than I expected, or kill me. I have a persistent, nagging feeling that I don't understand the material, but I couldn't tell you what it is that I don't understand. Hopefully, nothing important.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Deficit Thinking

Jon Chait slams the joint Judd Gregg (R-NH)/Kent Conrad (D-NE) proposed commission on reducing the deficit, which comes laden with a bunch of new supermajority requirements effectively guaranteeing its recommendations go nowhere:
To say that this procedure "is designed to get results" shows a very odd understanding of American political institutions. Conrad and Gregg seem to think that instituting major reforms in the public interest is rare because the threshold for passing legislation is too low. Thus they've designed a process that creates new and higher supermajority requirements, on an issue where getting even 51% to sign on is probably impossible. And if that fails, maybe they'll conclude the process was too easy. Next time they could also require the commission members to create a cold fusion reactor or retrieve a magical ring from inside a volcano.

My favorite part of the above quote, specifically, its example of retrieving a magical ring from the volcano, is that it casts the commissioners as members of the Nazgul.

Who's Trusting Whom

Check out this Gallup poll on the most trusted institutions in American life (or, more precisely, the ones we have the most "confidence" in):

That the military is at the top doesn't surprise me at all (though I think some founding fathers might choke). But when did the Supreme Court dip so low? I always thought a persistent feature in American politics was that the Supreme Court tends to receive consistently high ratings?

Meanwhile, there is something dysfunctional when, in a democratic system, the most democratic branch only has the confidence of 17% of the populace.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Makes Sense To Me

In a short piece on Chelsea Clinton's new relatives*, they do a short blurb on her fiance's uncle:
Mezvinsky recently retired from Central Connecticut State University's history department, where he taught for four decades. In his academic work and in books he authored, Mezvinsky accused Israel of deliberately creating the Palestinian refugee problem. He supports a one-state solution for the regional conflict.

"He uses his Jewish background to attack Israel; he represents the left of left among intellectual scholars," said Asaf Romirowsky, adjunct scholar at Campus Watch, an organization that monitors academics dealing with the Middle East and Israel.

I'll resist the "crazy uncle" jokes. Actually, it was the next passage that made me smile:
But David Gerwin, a professor of social studies at Queens College who worked with Mezvinsky at CCSU, paints a more nuanced picture.

"He is driven, passionate and inspired, a force of nature," he said of Mezvinsky, with whom he shared an office on campus. While agreeing that Mezvinsky's views on Israel were "left of the left of the left," Gerwin said that on issues relating to immigration or affirmative action, his approach was "way to the right."

Unsurprisingly, I see no tension whatsoever in hostility towards Israel as a Jewish state, and hostility to liberal programs on affirmative action or immigration. Much the opposite -- I think they're cut from the same cloth (I'd be interested to know whether Mr. Mezvinsky considers them as flowing from the same base principles, however).

* I want to clarify that I don't think that Ms. Clinton's new in-laws have or should have any reflection on her, or the man she's marrying. This post is only about the perceived disjuncture between being anti-Zionist and anti-affirmative action/immigration -- a position I, as noted, don't find disjoined at all.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Irony Drips

Now, this is from Fox News, so trust it exactly that far, but they're reporting that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now alleging that the US is conspiring to stop the savior of mankind from returning.

Why do I say the irony drips? Well, while Mr. Ahmadinejad is referring to the "Hidden Imam", here in America, most of the top policymakers have a different idea of who the messiah will be. And the eschatology behind that guy's return, so far as I understand it, revolves pretty heavily around getting loads of Jews to return to Israel. Now, Sarah Palin fantasies notwithstanding, thus far American policy has not been geared at encouraging Jews to flock en masse to the Holy Land -- and that's a good thing. But it does tickle me that, in a weird way, Ahmadinejad's statement is essentially that he wishes we would.

IRS Targets a Woman for Being Too Poor

You think I'm kidding (via). The short version is that they took a look at her stated income and decided there was no way for her to survive in Seattle making that much. So they audited her, claiming she owed them $16,000 in back taxes (her annual income is only $18,992).
She couldn't pay it. Her dad, Rob, has run a local painting business, Porcaro Power Painting, for 30 years. He asked his accountant, Driver, for help.

Rachel's returns weren't all that complicated. At issue, though, was that she and her two sons, ages 10 and 8, were all living at her parents' house in Rainier Beach (she pays $400 a month rent). So the IRS concluded she wasn't providing for her children and therefore couldn't claim them as dependents.

She stood to lose what is called earned income tax credit, a refund targeted to help low-income workers. You qualify only if you're working, as Rachel has been.

Driver quickly determined the IRS was wrong in how it was interpreting the tax laws. He sent in the necessary code citations and hoped that would be the end of it.

Instead, the IRS responded by launching an audit of Rachel's parents.

"I was floored," says Rob Porcaro, 59. "I get audited now and then in my business, so I've been through it before. But to have them go after me because of my daughter, well, I've never heard of anything like it."

The IRS eventually backed off the audit, but did insist that Rachel was not supporting her own children. So now, she can't claim them as dependents (and she paid the IRS $1,438, plus penalties and interest, as a result).

The article notes that much of the IRS' "soak the poor" mentality is traceable to a longstanding Republican vendetta against the Earned Income Tax Credit -- a rebate for the working poor. Insisting that it is a vehicle for massive fraud (despite almost certainly costing the government considerably less), they've urged the IRS to target the poor. It's delightfully symbiotic: the GOP shields its rich patrons, and the IRS gets to pick on folks who generally don't have the resources to fight back. Everybody wins, save lady justice.

COSATU Signs on to PSC Letter, Accuses the SAHRC of Lying

Well, it's official: COSATU has formally signed on to the PSC statement blasting the hate speech ruling of the South African Human Rights Commission, which found that a senior COSATU official, Bongani Masuku, had engaged in hateful speech directed at Jews. Hilariously, they still concede that only "in the main" were the comments not targeted at Jews -- in which case, I say, I have no problem with Mr. Masuku's "main" point, whatever that was, only his apparently tangential diversions into Jew-hatred.

The claim that the SABJD's complaint was "a pack of lies" also remains in-text. Actually, what they call the SABJD's claim "that Bongani's comments 'advocate and imply that the Jewish and Israeli community are to be despised, scorned, ridiculed and thus subjecting them to ill-treatment on the basis of their religious affiliation'" is actually a direct quote from the SAHRC's ruling -- so really, they are saying it is the Human Rights Commission that is the liar.
It is through such lies and intimidation that the SAJBD, the South African Zionist Federation, and other apologists of Israel have sought to chill free expression in South Africa and to prevent any critique of Israeli war crimes. Their repeated accusations of ‘hate speech’ against criticisms of Israel have become wasteful of public resources, and trivialise the very serious charge of ‘hate speech’.

Furthermore, their constant, frivolous, and false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ against critics of the state of Israel and the calumny of ‘self-hating Jews’ against those Jews who support the just struggle of the Palestinian people against racism and oppression is an attempt to silence and intimidate those who, using their own experience of racism and oppression in Apartheid South Africa, feel they can contribute to a just resolution of the problems in the Middle East.

The first paragraph is straight out of the playbook of the National Review -- complete with the concern trolling about trivialization. The second paragraph is the most pathetic excuse for a left argument I've heard yet (though it would do fine on Muzzlewatch or other such sites which find nothing so appalling as the silencing of flagrant anti-Semitic activity).

It is tragic, but somehow unsurprising, that COSATU finds such niceties as human rights law and intolerance to suddenly be outrageous when applied to them. It is a provincialism we've observed often with respect to this conflict, on all sides. One would have hoped they'd decide to take the high road, drawing on their experiences to oppose racism and oppression. Instead, they decided to align with it. Tragic.

"You destroy ours, we destroy yours!"

As tensions rise over Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's announced settlement freeze, settler leaders have launched a wave of massive protests trying to block the move. Now, they've progressed to threatening violence against the state as well as their Palestinian neighbors:
Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, one of the heads of the "Od Yosef Hai" yeshiva in Yitzhar, published an article recommending other means of action.

"If there is no quiet for the Jews, there will be no quiet for the Arabs. A Civil Administration base can serve as a target for a quick, precise infiltration that could damage damage and destroy one of their offices. You destroy ours, we destroy yours!"

On Sunday morning, Yitzhar settlers burned cars and tractors in the nearby village of Einbus.

Resident Nader Hashem Alan, 36, his wife and eight children were sleeping when settlers attacked his home. He told Haaretz that at 1:45 A.M. he heard noise outside, and saw a Subaru van with five armed men.

"At first I thought they were car thieves. But then they poured gas on the cars and tractors. I yelled at them, but they torched my car and told me to go inside," he said.

At what point do we recognize these thugs as what they are: enemies to the state of Israel who deserve to met with the full punitive force of the law?

I've already noticed a substantial turn in the pro-Israel community in their opinion of the settlers -- from "houses in the desert" to rampaging brutes.* The "pogrom" they launched in response to the Hebron evacuation (the words of the Israeli Justice Minister, and Ehud Olmert for that matter, not mine) only crystallized my contempt for these people. It will be a happy aftereffect of this operation if it further solidifies the bifurcation between Israel's friends, and its enemies. The settlers are quite clearly in the latter camp.

* It is said, and this is correct, that there is a definitive split amongst settlers between folks who -- for lack of a better term -- just wanted more air and space, and the religious-nationalist radicals responsible for settler violence and incitement. However, the leadership of the settlers has shown itself to be predominantly in the camp of the latter, and they are the ones responsible for the current wave of unrest.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Gay Rights Bills Set To Move in the House

Two openly gay members in the House, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO), are optimistic about the prospects of gay rights legislation in the House:
Speaking to an international conference of gay politicians in San Francisco, U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., said they expect a domestic partner benefits bill to come up for a vote by the end of the year and the employment bill to reach the floor early in 2010.

The lawmakers said they are also confident that the House will include in the annual military spending bill next year a provision to repeal the law that bans gays from serving in the U.S. military. All the measures face a harder time in the Senate following the death of longtime ally Sen. Edward Kennedy, but Baldwin and Polis said they remained optimistic.

The Obama administration also sent a representative to the conference, and he came out firing:
Office of Personnel Management director John Berry, the Obama administration's highest ranking gay appointee, told the conference that the president strongly supports the trio of gay rights measures.
"The tide of public opinion is in our favor. The forces of intolerance are on the run. We have a president who has been clear in his support for our community and in his commitment to our equality," Berry said. "This is the best opportunity we will ever have as a community, and shame on us if we don't succeed."

"Forces of intolerance". Only a few years ago, that would have been a huge story by itself.

Finally, Baldwin and Polis had some words for allies flambeing President Obama for not moving fast enough on the issue:
Although gay activists have criticized President Barack Obama for not moving more quickly on their concerns, both Polis and Baldwin said the pressure should be directed at Congress because the president can not act alone.

"LGBT leaders need to be focusing in on the people we need to win over instead of just trying to talk to our friends and being angry they haven't delivered," Polis said.

Maybe PG and Joe can move their never-ending battle over to this thread?

A Jewish German Shepherd

A very cute story about the Montana Jewish community and the local police force's bomb-sniffing German Shepherd. The dog was trained in Israel, and thus only responded to Hebrew commands. Though the police officers got flashcards when they received the dog, they had trouble with pronunciation, and the dog wasn't responding.

Fortunately, one of the officers came across a Hasidic rabbi at this years Channukah candle lighting ceremony, who helped get the Hebrew straight, and now the dog is doing fine.


Los Angeles Poised to Elect First Lesbian Episcopalian Bishop

Story here. The conservative wing of the church is, predictably, not happy.

UCU So Far Standing By Masuku

The Jerusalem Post caught up with a UCU representative, who was quite dismissive of his organization's affiliation with a racist:
Asked if it was acceptable, in light of the South African findings, to give a platform to Masuku, the UCU spokesman stated that the sources were "not credible," suggesting the allegations against Masuku were unsubstantiated and speculative rumors circulating on the Internet.

"We don't comment on stuff doing the rounds on the Internet and in the blogosphere and never will," he told the Post.

When it was pointed out that last week the SAHRC upheld the complaints against Masuku, the spokesman said the ruling was made after Masuku was invited by the UCU. He added that the union would be happy to consider "anything that can be stood up with a credible source."

A copy of the SAHRC ruling and letter to Masuku was sent to the UCU, but union did not respond by press time.

For whatever reason, I maintain a sliver of hope that the ruling itself (which -- I presume -- cannot be dismissed as "stuff doing the rounds on the Internet") will prompt a more thorough response. Though I'm not sure why.

UPDATE: I should add that David Hirsch has a good post on this.

UPDATE #2: I've been waiting for TULIP to cover this story. They say they will post a response by COSATU as soon as it comes up.

Friday, December 04, 2009

WIP Talk Goes Car Talk

Douglas Baird presents "Car Trouble" -- how the Chrysler and GM bankruptcy fit into the broader state of bankruptcy law.

The Masuku Hate Speech Case Likely Court-Bound

Alana Pugh-Jones was gracious enough to send me a copy of the commission's report, and Ben Cohen has also posted it online here. The key excerpts:
21. On the day in question Mr Masuku was speaking to students who included both Jewish Zionists and Palestinian supporters. There appeared to already have been noted tension between these two groups. Therefore by Mr Masuku making those remarks he surely intended to incite violence and hatred that was already potentially imminent amongst these two groups. COSATU members of Palestinian supporters present at this rally could easily have been incited to hate, and even attack their Jewish counterparts. This is exactly what Section 16(2) of the Constitution seeks to prevent.

22. Mr Masuku’s heated statements made amidst an already tense audience appeared to advocate hatred against Jews and all other supporters of Israel. This is inciting violence based on religion, an area which freedom of expression does not protect.

23. Mr Masuku in his response to the allegations put to him by the South African Human Rights Commission, states that he was heckled by what he refers to “as a particular section of the audience – most of whom seemed to be members of the South African Union of Jewish Students”. This statement leave little doubt that the references made by him referred to Jews.

24. The statement that “it will be hell” for any group of students, taken in its proper context is intimidatory and threatening. It is conveyed as a warning to the effect that should one support Israel, one would suffer harm. Harm for the purposes of Section 16(2), as confirmed in the Freedom Front decision is wider than mere physical harm.

25. In responding to the allegations relating to the emails sent by him, Mr Masuku fails to deal with the context in which he used the words “…whether Jew or whomsoever does so, must not just be encouraged but forced to leave…” These words in effect come across that unless South Africans agree with his views they should be forced to leave South Africa.

26. In view of the content of the speech made and emails sent by Mr Masuku it is clear that the expressions amount to the advocacy of hatred and thus would not fall under the protection of Section 16(1) of the Constitution.

27. The comments and statements made are of an extreme nature that advocate and imply that the Jewish and Israeli community are to be despised, scorned, ridiculed and thus subjecting them to ill-treatment on the basis of their religious affiliation. A prima facie case of hate speech is clearly established as the statements and comments by Mr. Masuku are offensive and unpalatable to society.


28. In light of the above, the Commission hereby finds that the statements made by Mr. Bongani Masuku amounts to hate speech.

In terms of this ruling's impact on Masuku's Britain trip, reports are mixed. It is possible Masuku has been dropped from the program at Leeds University. But it also looks like Masuku is not being disavowed entirely, and in fact is and remains in Britain as a guest of the UCU itself, not BRICUP.

The HRC merely ordered Mr. Masuku to apologize to the Board of Deputies, and the Board expressed hope that it would be able to secure that apology without resorting to litigation. I went to bed last night without any reaction from Mr. Masuku and his affiliated organizations, but I was skeptical they'd comply (or at best, would give a Fatima Hajaig style one) -- though I thought there might be some chance Masuku would come under pressure from COSATU to mitigate the embarrassment. Alas, if this press released from the Palestine Solidarity Committee (purporting to speak on behalf of Masuku and COSATU) is any indication, it looks like we're headed to the courts on this one.

In that vein, I have several observations. The first is that I'm very nervous. I'm generally a cynic of the judiciary's ability to stand up and protect beleaguered minorities in the face of powerful institutional actors, and as I noted when these remarks first came out, COSATU's membership outstrips the number of South African Jews by nearly a factor of 30. It is particularly easy to justify such majoritarianism when one can falsely cast the marginalized group as hyper-powerful -- my law review comment focuses on how this has been the preferred argument of American courts seeking to deny equal rights to gay and lesbian claimants. Jews are, of course, particularly vulnerable to this move. The fusion of law and morality -- whereby courts are considered legitimate arbiters of not just legal/illegal, but right and wrong -- raises the stakes of these sorts of complaints dramatically. It is devastating to lose them, and I'm not optimistic about winning. Where the law is indeterminate (as it is here), and the facts malleable (as they are here), minorities tend to lose.

Second, if we are going to win in front of the courts,* there will need to be a full-court press against the fulcrum of Masuku's defense -- that he was attacking "Zionists", not Jews, and thus his statements are categorically insulated from being anti-Semitism. As it happens, I think the case can be resolved without even going there, as at several points Masuku made clear that his target was Jews, not "Zionists" (in one of my favorite caveats of all time, the PSC itself could only say that "in the main" his remarks were not directed at Jews qua Jews). Mr. Masuku persistently singled out Jews as particularly worthy of inhumane treatment, including "harm" and hellish lives. Moreover, for Jews the baseline presumption was that they were worthy of this treatment (with affirmative steps needed to demonstrate that they should be respected as human beings), whereas non-Jews, presumably, had to affirmatively include themselves in the category of Zionists in order to be rendered worthy of scorn. Finally, Mr. Masuku implied that Jews were not real South Africans -- they "come all the way from wherever they come from to tell us where and how to march, they can do that in their own country, not here." But since I suspect that Masuku is going to try and predicate his defense on the firewall argument between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, it's probably going to be tough to avoid.

Fortunately, it is also not that difficult to respond to. The poles of this debate should be pretty well accepted: criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic, but sometimes it can be. To use two extreme examples: "Israel's bus system is horribly inefficient" is clearly not anti-Semitic, "The kike state must die!" clearly is. The question, of course, is where any given critique falls along the continuum. While it must be demonstrated that Mr. Masuku's words are anti-Semitic, he cannot respond simply be asserting the existence of a fictive firewall -- the words must be defended on merits.

We start with the observation that attacks on an institution or ideology affiliated with a given group of people, even if not all of those people identify with that entity, can still be a manifestation of racism or bigotry towards that group where the attack is designed to subordinate or deny the social or political equality of that group. So, despite the fact that not all Blacks support the NAACP (indeed, some find it quite risible), one can very easily imagine an attack on the NAACP that constituted racism if it expressed itself in a way that denied social or political equality to Black persons. Responding to a racism charge by saying, in effect, "I don't have any problem with Jews Black people -- just the uppity ones" entirely misses the point, and should not be taken as a valid response.

Mr. Masuku's remarks are analogous. First, as the commission found they were directed at the Jewish students in the audience, with the motive or at least knowledge of their likelihood to incite violence and hatred against them. While some Jews may not, in fact, held the views Mr. Masuku was condemning, the whole reason we are vigilant about hate speech is that the perpetrators of ethnic violence are rarely so discriminating in selecting their victims.

But the second and I think most important area in which Mr. Masuku's words were anti-Semitic is that they clearly sought to deny the political and social equality of Jews qua Jews, by imposing differential public obligations upon them. Elsewhere in the emails that Mr. Masuku sent, he informed his interlocutors that Jews had to "prove[] themselves reasonable and humane" -- the baseline assumption being that "we thought all of them are inhumane." Moreover, he established his belief that Jews, specifically, had to engage in particular vociferous speech acts in order to be seen as equals, not "hiding and silently consenting or grumbling under tables." If the do not do this, they cannot "expect us to regard them as human beings." Importantly, this obligation is cast as one on Jews, not people -- non-Jewish South Africans are not demanded to stake public, unambiguously anti-Israel positions as a condition of political equality.

As in Venezuela, the baseline presumption that Mr. Masuku is holding is that Jews are (to quote the commission's report) "to be despised, scorned, [and] ridiculed", and it is incumbent upon them to prove themselves worthy of dignified treatment. This, of course, is wholly at odds with what should be our baseline presumptions -- that we all deserve respect until we demonstrate otherwise.

The PSC is right to say this is an important test case. It is, of course, extremely important to preserve the space for political expression and debate over hotly contested issues. Yet, this can't be taken as a firewall without completely eviscerating hate speech laws entirely. Nearly all hate speech has a political bent to it, as the haters generally wish to impress the point that the despised group is bad for society and should be expunged. To allow that hatred to be shielded because it is making a political point is to allow nearly all forms of ethnic hatred (including pro-apartheid arguments, which, after all, were in defense of a political arrangement).

The case for aggressive enforcement of hate speech laws is strongest when the speech in question is being used to block the equal political participation of the victimized group. Representation-reinforcement remains, in my view, the strongest rationale for counter-majoritarian judicial maneuvers. Here, Mr. Masuku was explicitly demanding that the Jewish community, as Jews, adopt a very specific political program (expressed in a very specific way). If they did not, he advocated their dehumanization, making their lives "hell", and ultimately, their expulsion from the country -- and pledged that he had nearly 2 million workers at his disposal to back him up. If these threats go unpunished, it will simply be impossible for Jews to be considered equal members of the political community, as their sphere of political action will be circumscribed to the point of non-existence.

Mr. Masuku's words are a classic case of incitement and hateful speech directed at the Jewish people. The only question is whether, as a matter of law, we are willing to make a carve out to general hate speech principles to account for the cleansing power of anti-Zionism. The judiciary of South Africa should resist the temptation.

* I should say that, as is apparent, I am accepting the validity of hate speech proscriptions for the purpose of this post, as they are enshrined in South Africa's constitution. There are, of course, arguments against prohibiting hate speech, but given that the jurisdiction here unambiguously has those restrictions, I'm trying to parse out how they should be applied here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Masuku Sanctioned by SA Human Rights Commission

I've written before about Bongani Masuku, International Relations Secretary for COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and current guest of BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine -- a leading proponent of an academic boycott of Israel). Masuku's anti-Semitic statements lead to an official complaint against him by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies lodged with the South African Human Rights Commission.

Now, according to Alana Pugh-Jones of that organization, the Commission has released its findings, holding that Masuku's statements did qualify as hate speech and recommending that the SAJBD pursue litigation against him to secure an official apology.

I'm looking for a complete copy of the commission's report. But this is fantastic news -- I am pleased to see that organs of the South African government are taking a strong stance against hate, and were not fooled by the canard that Mr. Masuku's vicious slanders against the Jewish community were somehow excused because of his anti-Zionist leanings.

UPDATE: I've now got the commission report, and give substantially more thoughts (particularly on the court battle that is likely forthcoming).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

How Do You Abbreviate Jamal?

Ta-Nahisi Coates labels this bit two posts in one. And, this being Ta-Nehisi Coates, both are fabulous, but I want to focus on the first. It talks about an NYT article about Black men in this economy explicitly deracinating their resumes in order to compete in the job market. The debate plays out implicitly as part of Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan's recent and already famous study, "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination" (94 Am. Econ. Rev. 991 (2004)), finding that, holding qualifications constant, persons with White sounding names (Greg and Emily) got more callbacks for job inquiries than those with Black sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). So you see Black people with MBA's from the University of Chicago doing things like removing their participation in the African-American business students association, so as to not tip off employers to their skin color before it is absolutely necessary ("If they're going to X me, I'd like to at least get in the door first.").

As Adam Serwer points out, all this goes to the big lie in American society that racism is not only gone, but so far gone that being Black is an advantage nowadays. It is so obviously not true -- the empirical evidence is so overwhelming -- that it can be explained only as White folks trying to impute an unjust social order onto its victims. A study by Devah Pager Pager (The Mark of a Criminal Record, 108 Am. J. Soc. 937 (2003)) found that Black job applicants fared roughly as well as Whites with a felony conviction (again, holding qualifications even). That this effect is holding for even relatively elite Black persons (folks with MBAs, looking for management positions) is yet more support that class isn't all there is.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Other Option

Lawrence Hart, a graduate student at CSU-Northridge, has an editorial in the Jerusalem Post entitled "The option no one wants to think about". Essentially, it says that Israel has lost its edge when it comes to counter-terrorism operation, and should take a page from Sri Lanka's book.
The Sri Lankans had more or less lived with this horror since 1983. Then 9/11 happened and a new dynamic, promoted by president George W. Bush and the United States, gave the Sri Lankans a new outlook. With a new administration elected on the promise of stopping the LTTE permanently, the country embarked on a full-scale military assault. It sent its army, much stronger than the Tamil tigers, into Tamil-occupied territory and began to take back town by town, going street to street in some cases, and killing anyone who resisted.

Jehan Perera of the Sri Lankan Peace Council said, "This government has taken the position that virtually any price is worth paying to rid the country of terrorism."

The price paid was indeed a heavy one. Many innocent people died. The Sri Lankan government deeply regrets the killing of innocent civilians, but most government officials believe they made a conscious choice to pay that price, and that the alternative status quo was simply no longer acceptable.

It was bloody and dirty, and they took a lot of criticism for it. The UN estimates that during the final months of fighting in Sri Lanka, at least 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed and 13,000 were wounded. But they also wiped out the scourge of terror, not stopping until total victory was declared last May. Today, Sri Lankans can once again walk the streets of their cities, visit the marketplaces and conduct business without the fear of being murdered in such gruesome ways that not even their loved ones can identify their bodies. It is a new dawn for Sri Lanka.

Israel can take a real lesson from this experience. The threat facing the Jewish state from the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon is no different than the threat to the north of Sri Lanka, and its coastline into the south that the Tamils occupied before the Sri Lankan army began its war of elimination.

THE TIME has come to admit that there might not be a solution to the Palestinian problem, but there is a way to end it. The next time terror forces Israel to take military action, this option should be considered. Israel must realize that there will be no peace with an intransigent enemy that refuses to act in good faith. Palestinian rejectionism and Iranian-backed Hizbullah threats to our existence will never be placated; they will not stop until Israel is destroyed. Once the population realizes this unfortunate reality, there is only one way to change it. Israel must take the Sri Lankan initiative and move into these areas one by one, cornering, enveloping and killing off all armed resistance.

We've already discussed how Sri Lanka can be a very instructive example. But I want to take a look at Mr. Hart's particular comparison, because I think it reveals something that is both very dark and very important at the same time.

Mr. Hart's proposal represents a possible future -- call it the Sri Lanka option. It is one where Israel simply abandons the idea of a negotiated settlement, recognizes its superior military might, and crushes all who get in its way. Effectively, it is the path that anti-Zionists seem to suspect Israel wants to take. What isn't clear, though, is why Israel hasn't taken it yet. The uninformed, of course, call Cast Lead (or the occupation generally) "genocide", but clearly they have no idea what the term means. If Israel was attempting to launch a genocide in Gaza, then they are the Keystone Kops of the genre (1,200 deaths out of a population of over 400,000? Please.). Trust me: if Israel was interested in genocide, they could do a far more thorough job of it.

There is a segment of Israel's most passionate critics -- a very naive segment, but perhaps not a consciously malicious one* -- whose political action rests on a simple premise: things can't get worse there. And if they do, the world won't tolerate it. And that's the ultimate check against Israel ever adopting the Sri Lanka option. If you tell them that their actions are likely to give succor to the Israeli right and diminish the prospects of the Israeli left, they'll say "as opposed to what? Israel can't make things worse. And if they do," say, by adopting Mr. Hart's eliminationist proposal, "the world won't stand for it. The whole edifice would come down." There is an upside, and no downside, to increased pressure, isolation, demonization, and hatred. Things can't get worse.

The history of the world (not to mention Sri Lanka itself), alas, does not seem to bear this outlook out. It is quite rare to see a state fall. When they do, it generally is either because of intractable domestic violence or a completely collapsed economy. One thing that almost never destroys a state, however, is wrongful conduct. North Korea is still around. China is still around. Burma is still around. Cuba is still around. Iran is still around. Zimbabwe is still around. Uzbekistan is still around. States don't fall because they do wrong.

We have an incredible capacity to allow the most hideous evils to pass by with only shocked gasps. We have an incredible capacity to look past grievous sins with only occasional tuts. I have an Israeli friend from Sderot, the town best known for serving as Hamas' local firing range and for being mostly ignored by the international left. He told me once that Israel's original sin was not the Nakba, it was not finishing the job. Not because such an act would have been justified -- it wouldn't have been, it would have been gravely evil, just as Mr. Hart's proposal is. But he simply observed that had they done so, they'd have come in for far less criticism than they do today for comparatively far milder harms. This observation, first expressed by Machiavelli, has been made before.

And Mr. Hart seems to be operating under the same logic. If Israel took its advice, it would come under virulent criticism. The trade unions would be outraged. The UN would be outraged. I'd be outraged. And all of our outrage would likely be for naught. States don't fall because they do wrong.

Maybe the rules for Jews are different. It's plausible. The normal standards don't apply to us, after all -- it is quite easy for me to imagine that a world which yawned through countless acts of barbarism, massacre, torture, mutilation, and murder would suddenly see its passions aroused when Jews are the perpetrators -- to the degree that they would be willing to intervene and stop it. But I'm doubtful. I think we'll see what we usually see: angry words, little action, and lots of forgetfulness.

There is, in other words, another option. The choices aren't "status quo" or "just peace". There is also "ethnic cleansing". And the more Israel sees that adopting liberal policies or using the tools of reconciliation yield no quarter from its critics (as when its most integrated, reconciliation-minded soccer team is the target of protest), the more likely these options become.

It can get worse. It can always get worse. And if it does, the world will do what it always does: ignore it.

* There is another segment, of which I genuinely think groups like the STUC belong to, that also does not believe things can get worse but also has no interest as to whether they get better. These groups are fundamentally malevolent, and insofar as they exist in a deliberately symbiotic relationship with Israeli extremists to further their own cynical ends, they ought to be held to account with their partners in Israel if the horrors they stoke come to pass.

UPDATE: A repost to this quote of the evening seems appropriate:
I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected, and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo this "loss of face" -- no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.... [T]hese men mean it literally when they say they would rather kill or mutilate others, be killed or mutilated themselves, than live without pride, dignity, and self-respect.... The emotion of shame is the primary or ultimate cause of all violence.