Saturday, July 11, 2009

It's a Guy Thing, Part II

Hilzoy's reaction to David Brooks being fondled by a Republican Senator, and bemoaning how this is a new breach in the "dignity code", reminds me a lot of the post that originally drew my attention to Esquiver. This horrible, terrible, shocking affront to your bodily autonomy? It happens to women all the time.

That doesn't make it okay, of course. It just makes it not new. Maybe if these things are problems, they should become problems before they become problems for men, no?

The Goldstone Investigation

Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist currently investigating alleged human rights violations in the Gaza Strip during the war several months ago, has reiterated his pledge that his report will be "balanced" and will deal with the abduction of Gilad Shalit as well as Hamas rocket fire into Israel. The question of whether Palestinian violations of human rights are up for investigation has been very murky, but regardless of what the body that appointed him thinks of the matter, Goldstone certainly seems to interpret his mandate as requiring that he look into both sides.

I certainly understand why the Israeli government has refused to cooperate in the probe -- the UNHRC has proven itself time and again to be an absolute joke (come and get me, Naomi Klein) that literally sees no evil but in Israel -- but I can't help but think they're missing an opportunity here. By all accounts Goldstone has taken his obligations to be impartial and fair to all parties quite seriously. When is the next time we'll get that from a UN investigation? This is a rare chance for Israel's story to get fair play in the international legal arena, and I can't help but think they're chucking it overboard.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Step By Step

What constitutes the "end" of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? To many, it seems, the answer is "the establishment of a Palestinian state". But that's only half the story. The end of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- the goal we are trying to achieve -- is a Palestinian state that exists side-by-side, in peace, with Israel. And it's important to keep our eye on the ball.

The fact is that establishing a Palestinian state does not necessarily mean that the conflict is over. It might accomplish that, and I believe it is a pre-requisite to accomplishing that. But Hamas' recent declaration that it does not accept the two-state solution in principle, but would nonetheless join a unity government in a Palestinian state, shows that two states does not inevitably mean peace. Hamas' agenda is pretty clear: it views the establishment of a Palestinian state on '67 borders as a stepping stone to the total "liberation" of Palestine (which is to say, the eradication of Israel). This, of course, is the precise allegation right-wing Israeli skeptics make when opposing the peace process writ large.

The reason why I want to harp on this is because I think a lot of people mistakenly view "steps to ending the conflict" as synonymous with "steps to creating a Palestinian state". That's clearly an important part of the agenda, but it isn't the only thing that has to happen. Of significant importance also is laying the foundation by which Israel and Palestine will exist peacefully next to each other. That means tamping down on extremist rhetoric aimed at delegitimizing Israel as a whole, taking a strong stance against maximalist firebrands who want to see the conflict prolonged as long as possible, and generally building and rebuilding the norm that both Israeli and Palestinian aspirations are important and worthy of respect. People who are undermining that project -- even if they think they're doing it in service of creating a Palestinian state -- aren't actually doing the peace process any favors. Statehood matters. But recognition matters too.

The Not Duke Lacrosse Case

In the aftermath of the Duke Lacrosse fiasco, one of the points I made was that the same thing that happened to those players happens to countless criminal defendants across the nation, only they don't get the benefit of constant media attention leading to their rightful exoneration. They just get ignored. It's a harsh reality check to all those harping on how the Duke kids were targeted in a sort of reverse discrimination power play.

The story of Eric Frimpong, a soccer star for UC-Santa Barbara (and Ghanaian immigrant) presses the point. Like the Duke kids, the evidence supporting the rape charge against him was scant. Like the Duke kids, the DNA evidence pointed to other suspects. Unlike the Duke kids, that didn't stop the DA from bringing his case to trial. And unlike the Duke kids, Frimpong was convicted (by an all-White jury) and sentenced to jail, where he sits today.

(Via AAB)

Subtle, Michelle

Michelle Cottle:
It has not escaped my attention that, despite my staying approximately the same size and shape since high school, the clothes in my closet have dropped a couple of number sizes over the years.

And after what, two kids?

Williams Retires

Sad news, as the Chief Judge of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Karen Williams, is retiring due to a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's. Judge Williams, appointed to the bench by George H.W. Bush in 1992, is only 57 years old.

Alzheimer's is a very scary disease, and there is no known cure, so the best we can hope for is that Judge Williams' symptoms are kept in check for many years to come.

Settlements, Ethnic Cleansing, and Overcoming Law

At the international law blog Opinio Juris, professors Kevin Jon Heller and Eugene Kontorovich are having a discussion about whether the efforts to remove the settlements (including restrictions on "natural growth") might be characterized as "ethnic cleansing" under international law (Kontorovich forwarding the idea, Heller expressing skepticism). Here are the links to Eugene's introduction and first post, Kevin's response, Eugene's retort, and Kevin's rejoinder.

Not being particularly knowledgeable about the relevant areas of international law, I don't feel qualified to venture an opinion as to whether Prof. Kontorovich is expressing a colorable claim. Insofar as I do have an opinion on the course of the debate, it seems to me that Prof. Heller gets the better of it -- but then, I'm biased towards his position. But part of Prof. Kontorovich's point is to show that, as a question of positive international law, the settlements present a far more complicated case than is often let on -- and in that, I think he's successful.

My point, however, is not to weigh in on the merits of the legal dispute, but rather once again to express my skepticism about using international law, as currently expressed, as a sort of argumentative trump card. I have no moral problem with evacuating the settlements. I won't say it sets off no moral alarms, but surely none that rise to what I would consider the seriousness of "ethnic cleansing". But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Kontorovich has the better of the argument with Heller -- a possibility that I don't think non-international law experts can definitively rule out from a legal perspective. What does that imply? I think we would, bluntly, be fools to accept that as that and move on. The rules of international law aren't divinely inspired. Finding that removing the settlements violated the strictures of prohibitions against ethnic cleansing would do more to show a shortcoming in the current state of the law than it would indict the evacuation project.

I've noted recently my view that international law is acutely vulnerable to political manipulation, with norms developing less on whether they make sense as general rules, and more based on whether they aid the parties we want to see benefited. It might seem that I'm making a similar claim here: that we should ignore a formalist finding that our preferred political project is illegal because it conflicts with our desired social outcomes. But there is a subtle difference between a "pure politics" approach to law, and trying to make law cohere to the values we're actually trying to enact through out. The former is an ad hoc attempt to simply aid one's allies -- it isn't concerned with broader notions of legal coherency, consistency, or equality. The latter is an instantiation of Oliver Wendell Holmes' (him again!) observation that "the life of law has not been logic; it has been experience." Law does not possess some totemic power to proclaim its own primacy or even legitimacy. We evaluate legal regimes based on whether they work; whether they are true to our experience.

The point, though, cuts both ways. Particularly because international law is relatively young and has had little time or opportunity to establish its own center of gravity independent of the political exigencies of the day, we should be appropriately critical in examining whether stated legal rules in the international arena actually effectuate a fair and equitable system of ideals. Waving international law findings like a talisman (even -- especially? -- when the clause in question is something as serious as "ethnic cleansing" or "war crimes") skips this very important step, and actually contributes to the politicization of law by leaving its political underpinnings unchallenged.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

That'll Teach Him

Pursuant to the "academic boycott" of Israel, an Irish scholar has refused to answer a question regarding the American Hispanic community sent to him by an Israeli university student, taught by a prominent left-wing (Meretz) politician, Amnon Rubinstein. The academic also has refused to answer Prof. Rubinstein's question regarding who imposed the boycott and what conditions will cause it to end.

What do you think the likely outcome of this move will be (check all that apply)?

a) Professor Rubinstein redoubles his efforts to bring about a just peace, because prior to the boycott he had become suffused with apathy;

b) Professor Rubinstein's student, who didn't realize until now that the occupation is a bad thing, swears to become an advocate on behalf of a just, two-state solution, just like his teacher Professor Rubinstein (with all the respect that accorded him!);

c) Professor Rubinstein's student decides that international hostility to Israelis bears little to no relationship to their individual perspectives, and is more amenable to right-wing views advocating ignoring world opinion;

d) Professor Rubinstein diverts attention away from being a domestic progressive voice in Israel, instead working to attack the boycotters for their blanket hostility to his country and its citizens;

e) Professor Rubinstein ignores the professor in question and goes about his business like nothing happened (save penning this column).

I vote for "c" and "e", though "c" and "d" also seems plausible. Both "a" and "b" seem supremely unlikely. But it was never really about them, was it?

Incrementalism and Interest Groups

My post on this week's Chicago Works in Progress talk is now up. Dean Saul Levmore presented on how incrementalism can be a tool for interest groups to enact divide and conquer strategies, leading to disoptimal social outcomes..

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

After Work Roundup

What happened today while I was toiling over the 9-5?

Tucker Carlson thinks DC residents don't deserve democracy. Sounds like someone has been reading too much Daniel Doron.

Joe Biden: Instant strategic ambiguity!

Swimming club kicks out black children, says they might "change the complexion" of the community. For serious.

Don't want to watch Transformers? Sure you don't! So read this FAQ instead!

A Fox anchor is annoyed that American genes aren't pure enough.

Massachusetts sues to try and take down DOMA.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), a highly decorated veteran, picks up the ball on Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Fundamentally Wrong

When debating originalists, who will tell you loudly and at length how their theory is the only one that can provide any stable meaning to the constitution, I always am left wondering -- what if the text is intentionally left ambiguous? What if, for any number of reasons, the intent was leave certain things uncertain, in the hopes that future generations could work them out consonant with the ideals and best knowledge of the time?

I wonder the same thing when dealing with certain religious fundamentalists. There is ample grounds from within Jewish tradition to hold that ambiguity, uncertainty, and plurality are really important values. Yet, as Gershom Gorenberg reminds us, there are still plenty of fundamentalists in the Jewish faith who are fanatical in their assertion that Jewish tradition provides clear, unambiguous, and literal answers to all of life's questions.

The thing is that these debates are always cast in terms of more versus less religious adherents to the faith. But that concedes the argument before it gets started. The fundamentalist ethos bears more in common with other fundamentalists (of any faith) than it does with the totality of Jewish traditions. So I reject that they are more religious than I. Indeed, I think that their outlook is a deep perversion of Judaism itself. Were I inclined to such language, I might call them heretics.

More broadly, I don't like the norm that Conservative or Reconstructionist Judaism is just Judaism for Jews too lazy to be Orthodox. If we're going to hold these ideals, then we have to be prepared to defend them as the right interpretation of Judaism, not the right "balance" between being Jewish and being secular. Judaism is not inherently a series of concentric circles emanating from the Haredim at the center. Those of us in more liberal denominations have just as much right as anyone else to say that we're representing what Judaism ought to be.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Shivering Peace

Two articles in Ha'aretz today demonstrate just how cold the peace between Israel and Egypt really is. In the first, an Egyptian academic is being harshly attacked for not walking out (with Iran) of an interfaith meeting that was attended by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Egyptian parliamentarians representing the Muslim Brotherhood even called for Tantawi's dismissal as university head because of this "display of normalization of ties."

But Egypt's religious affairs minister, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, came to Tantawi's defense, saying in a newspaper interview that Tantawi did not shake Peres' hand or the hands of the rabbis at the conference.

A sterling defense if there ever was one (and another example of how hostility to Israel seems to keep magically expressing itself as hostility to Jews).

The second article concerns an Egyptian court ruling annulling the citizenship of any Egyptian who marries an Israeli, as well as stripping any children of the couple of citizenship, on the grounds that such partnerships constitute a "security risk". The government, to its credit, is appealing the ruling. But in a sense, that's just the point -- the "peace" between Israel and Egypt is almost purely governmental -- there is very little indication that the populace as a whole has accepted Israel as a true and permanent neighbor.

The last article also contains a piece on how Jordan is looking to expel (or perhaps "transfer"?) many of its Palestinian inhabitants to the West Bank. But it's okay, because it's not Israel. Or something.


I was very fortunate when it came to the law review competition -- the two professors I am working for this summer agreed to "soft start" me until the competition was over, giving me plenty of time to do it (one of them was so enthusiastic, he still has yet to give me any work! Thanks, but I do feel like eating this summer.). But many of my friends were not so fortunate, and had to work full time while doing their write-on. And then there is this student.

I obviously hope everything turns out well for his or her family, and that nobody is hurt. Kind of puts everything else in perspective though, doesn't it?

Futurama Teaches All

Adam Serwer lays out conservative allegiance to the Bender theory of discrimination, namely, that the only type of discrimination worth talking about (or even noticing, really) is the kind that affects them. Since most Republicans are White men, this means a huge emphasis on how White guys can't catch a break in modern America. But on the rare occasion that a female or non-White Republican catches hell, then suddenly racism and sexism become a problem. But only then -- it's not like seeing sexist attacks on Sarah Palin suddenly makes them realize launching them against Sonia Sotomayor is wrong or anything.

They also, I have to add, play the game badly, mostly because they believe their own rhetoric about how "discrimination" is nothing but politically-motivated whining. That being the case, they're happy to engage in it when it helps their own political motivations -- but they don't seem to grasp that a discrimination claim actually does have to have some content. So while Sarah Palin certainly did face some sexism, it is clearly untrue that all the troubles she faced could be traced to it (as opposed to the far greater contributor -- her own massive incompetence and egomania).

Monday, July 06, 2009

Just So There's No Doubt

A few days ago, the head of F1 racing, Bernie Ecclestone, released a statement praising Hitler as a great leader, albeit one who "got lost" in the end. In response to the expected torrent of criticism and calls to resign, Ecclestone sought to make it absolutely clear he's an anti-Semite:
But Ecclestone said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that “I think the people who are saying that [I should resign] haven’t got the power to say these things.”

If the WJC [World Jewish Congress] is influential, he said, “it’s a pity they didn’t sort the banks out.” Asked to elaborate, Ecclestone said, “They have a lot of influence everywhere.”

Ah. Well then, sorry we got distracted.

Via OJ

The New Animated Special

Some countries hide the fact that the abuse prisoners. Others are ashamed of it. And then there is Hamas, which distributes animated cartoons advertising it.

Getting into the Game

I just wanted to flag this piece by Rabbi Jill Jacobs, urging Jews to insert their Judaism more aggressively politically. It's a line I've been pushing for awhile now. Obviously, it would be facile to say Jews are not involved in politics -- we have excellent representation at nearly all levels of government. But while there are plenty of Jews, there is very little Judaism -- very little attempt to bring out our own experiences and ideas as Jews and use them to solve political problems.

This, to my mind, is a mistake. Obviously, Jewish silence reinforces the dominance of the "Judeo-Christian" paradigm, which falsely claims to speak for Jews and in doing so renders us mute. This is bad for its own sake, and it is also bad because it causes other people to assume they know what Jews think, associating us with policies that bear little resemblance to the majority Jewish view. But more fundamentally, I think the political sphere benefits from a plurality of perspectives, so we're worse off when the Jewish vantage point is absent. We have something to contribute, and I think we should give it our level best. The world was a better place when it took to heart the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, after all. How will we know if there is another Heschel among us, unless we speak out?

New Opposition

Regarding pressure on Democratic Senators from more conservative locales to vote nay on such things as public choice, Matt Yglesias writes:
If the issue were really that Ben Nelson has a deep-seated desire to advance a progressive legislative agenda but worries about how it’ll play back home in Nebraska, it would be easy enough for him to decide that the key priorities on which Barack Obama won a national mandate last November all deserve an up or down vote. If he ultimately chose to vote “no” on legislation that he thinks Nebraska voters won’t support, that would be that. You don’t need Nelson’s vote to get to 50.

At the end of the day, though, you don’t erect procedural roadblocks to legislation because you’re playing to public sentiment back home. You use procedural roadblocks when you really don’t want something to pass.

Eh. I'm skeptical. Certainly, a "nay" vote on the substance can help someone like Nelson muddy the waters back home. But it hardly would give him a pass -- the conservative activist groups which would target him know that the procedural vote is the one that matters, and will release the exact same ads lambasting him for his "support".

The fact is that what constitutes "opposing" a bill has changed. This may be a bad thing, but nowadays you're not really "opposing" a bill in the Senate unless you're trying to block it. When Democrats were the ones trying to block GOP bills (like telecom immunity), we weren't going to take a no vote on the merits as a sufficient substitute for filibustering (if the latter was the only way to stop the bill). It's silly to expect conservatives to do otherwise.

Reliving Mistakes

Neil D. over at Harry's Place takes issue with the claim that Communism is mankind's "greatest mistake." But, he writes,
What makes communism interesting, is that despite the clear evidence it was an anti-human ideology in all its expressed forms, intelligent people still defend it, act as apologists for it, and waste their lives playing about in tiny communist sects.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

AU Dissenters

Kevin Jon Heller has a good post complicating the earlier picture of AU nations deciding en masse to ignore their ICC treaty obligations vis-a-vis Sudan. Botswana has already said it will not go along with the motion, and reports indicate that the AU motion itself was hotly contested inside the organization. Dapo Akande argues that the AU's maneuvering have come within the context of the Rome Treaty and ICC procedure, which should be seen as proof that the continent is not rejecting the institution wholesale.

Eh. I'm pleased by the lack of unanimity and Botswana's defection. But the fact that the AU is able to work within legal confines rather than rejecting them outright doesn't tell us that much. Again, international law is an area with particular fluidity that enables it to be cited and deployed in favor of virtually any practical position a state might take. The actual way international legal disputes play out, then, is primarily a function of political power -- and the same reports which "complicate" the AU's resolution also indicate that the move came due to heavy pressure by Libya, one of the most powerful states in the union.