Saturday, November 14, 2009

The RNC's Death Panels

Uh-oh: Not only were they off killin' babies, but the RNC's health plan also prominently featured "death panels"!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Brick

International law prof Julien Ku directed me to yet another critique of the Goldstone Commission, this one by Wachtell partner Trevor Norwitz (for what few non-law school friends I have left in the world, Wachtell is one of the most prestigious law firms in the world, bar none).

Maybe I've gotten my fix after the Halbertal piece, but, even though I found the criticism technically quite sound, it just didn't drive me that much. I did appreciate that the author both resisted the temptation to personally demonize Goldstone, while at the same time not let him off the hook for some severely problematic assumptions and extensions that, ultimately, lie on his head. (I hope I reached a similar balance).

Mr. Norwitz, like Professor Halbertal, like myself, have adopted a pretty robust consensus position that says Israel should investigate all credible allegations of war crimes and other improper activity, regardless of the problems in the Goldstone Commission. I wish that this position was being forwarded more aggressively in the court of public opinion, but it seems to have the advantage of being agreed to be everyone and the disadvantage of being implemented by no one.

A Symbol of American Greatness

Noted patriot David Horowitz, responding to the Obama administration's announcement that it would try terrorism suspects in civilian court, calls it "The Worst Decision By A US President In History." I'd snark about Japanese internment, or the trail of tears, but I don't want to tempt him.

In all seriousness though -- while there is a lot of blathering about Maoists and Castroites and America haters -- the fact of the matter is that America is a country of laws, and that fact seems to infuriate certain folks on the right. One gets the feeling that their rage at Iran stems from jealousy more than anything else -- why are they so lucky to be able to have process-free show trials and we're not? (Answer: because we're a constitutional democracy, and they're an authoritarian theocracy, and that's a distinction I prefer to maintain).

The international jihadist movement, more than anything else, wants to be seen as in a war with the United States. Why? Because wars carry with them honor, and glory, and most importantly, legitimacy. Al-Qaeda likes the frame of a holy war because it fundamentally legitimizes violence -- violence is not per se wrong in war -- and they like it because the glorious struggle of warfare is a fabulous recruiting tool for disaffected young men looking for a chance to prove their masculinity and honor. Which, in all likelihood, is why Mr. Horowitz wants to forward the war framing as well -- it fuels his John Wayne hero fantasies of being part of an epic struggle for global supremacy. Apparently, police officers are just too mundane. But America ought not craft legal policy based on what best enables David Horowitz's fantasy life. The struggle against Islamist terrorism is serious business, and it can't be left to fundamentally unserious persons like David Horowitz.

The terrorists of al-Qaeda aren't noble holy warriors. They're run of the mill thugs who happen to play with bigger weapons. That doesn't mean they're "isolated individuals who have decided to break the law" -- the law understands the concept of a conspiracy. It means that, morally speaking, they do not deserve the social elevation to the level of "warrior". They're not. They're simply violent criminals backed by a murderous ideology. Nothing more, and they deserve nothing more.

It is a symbol of American greatness that we are strong enough to follow the rules, even when our enemies do not. It is a symbol of American greatness that we always hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards, even when our enemies openly flout them. It is a symbol of American greatness that even in times of great stress, we maintain our commitment to due process and rule of law, even as our enemies have disdain for both.

That's what makes America, America. And that's what makes David Horowitz anti-American.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don't We Ever Learn?

Again with the evil eyes.

Come on, Motorola! What is wrong with you!

Disloyalty: Who Cares?

What's wrong with disloyalty, asks visiting Chicago prof Youngjae Lee.

That's ... Odd

The latest issue of the California Law Review (Vol. 97, No. 5) appears to contain zero articles. Just four comments and a book review.

Every once in awhile you see something like that a really low-ranked specialty journal, but the California Law Review? They couldn't find anything? I find that hard to believe. A ball must have been dropped somewhere (a very delayed article is my guess).

It's Every Tea Party Phobia Rolled into One!

The Florida marine who chased down and beat a Greek Orthodox priest whom he thought was a "terrorist"? He's relying on the ol' "gay Islamic Arab rapist terrorist defense." Really. I'm guessing that's a first.

Avatar Racism

A new study finds that racism carries through in virtual worlds, with participants discriminating against darker-skinned avatars (H/T).

Basically, the study works like this. The avatar first makes a purposely unreasonable request out of a stranger. Then, when it is refused, they ask another, more moderate request (this tactic -- typically used in experiments such as this -- is done to try and increase response rates).
In one of the most striking findings, the effect of the DITF technique was significantly reduced when the requesting avatar was dark-toned. The white avatars in the DITF experiment received about a 20 percent increase in compliance with the moderate request; the increase for the dark-toned avatars was 8 percent.

The nice thing about studies like this is they can abstract away a lot of subtle, personal tics which can confound normal person-to-person studies. The behavior of virtual avatars can be standardized far more than can an individual person (or group of persons).

A more extensive summary of the study can be found here. The citation is: Paul W. Eastwick and Wendi L. Gardner, Is it a game? Evidence for social influence in the virtual world, 4 Soc. Influence 18 (2009).

Mormons Leading the Way

I'm tempted to snark, but instead I will just be grateful that the LDS Church appears poised to support a series of expansive Utah gay rights measures (soon to go into effect in Salt Lake City, also proposed for state-wide application).
The LDS Church's unexpected endorsement of two Salt Lake City gay-rights measures has many observers wondering if another surprise could follow: a friendlier reception in the 2010 Legislature for such protections statewide.

Even an LDS apostle -- continuing the string of stunners --thinks Salt Lake City's ordinances could be a model.

"Anything good is shareable," Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in an interview Wednesday, referring to Salt Lake City's new policy aimed at protecting gay and transgender residents from discrimination.

He praised the efforts of Mormon officials and gay-rights leaders who sat down to discuss the issue before the church's endorsement.

"Everybody ought to have the freedom to frame the statutes the way they want," he said. "But at least the process and the good will and working at it, certainly that could be modeled anywhere and even elements of the statute."

At a public hearing Tuesday, church spokesman Michael Otterson expressed strong support for ordinances that, starting in April, will ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. Salt Lake City, home to the worldwide faith's headquarters, approved the statutes in a unanimous City Council vote.

It is an interesting turnabout from an entity that took the lead in opposing gay marriage (most recently in California's Prop. 8 campaign). They insist that the two positions are not in conflict. But I have to admit I'm curious whether or not this is, at least in part, a defensive measure in response to the immense backlash the LDS took after their role in California (a backlash which, I must say, I think was entirely deserved). Most churches can count on a strong base of fellow Christian conservatives to back them up against charges of bigotry, but the LDS has, at best, a shaky relationship with mainstream evangelical Protestantism, and thus were left more vulnerable. I'm wondering if we're seeing the fruits of that.

But regardless of the chain of causation, I'm happy for the gays and lesbians in Utah who are a step closer to equality, and I'm happy that the LDS has chosen to intervene on the side of angels this side.


The Slippery Slope to Dignity

Seeking to protect "traditional marriage" from "incremental erosion," Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri (R) has vetoed a law which would have allowed same-sex partners to provide for the burial of their loved ones. Governor Carcieri also said that the one year minimum requirement for the domestic partnership isn't long enough to form a "lasting bond", and that domestic partnership status is impossible to verify given it has no official status in Rhode Island (the provision of which the governor also opposes).
The legislation was prompted by one of the more heart-wrenching personal stories to emerge from the same-sex marriage debate.

At a hearing this year on one of the stalled bills to allow same-sex marriage, Mark S. Goldberg told a Senate committee about his months-long battle last fall to persuade state authorities to release to him the body of his partner of 17 years, Ron Hanby, so he could grant Hanby's wish for cremation -- only to have that request rejected because "we were not legally married or blood relatives."

Goldberg said he tried to show the police and the state medical examiner's office "our wills, living wills, power of attorney and marriage certificate" from Connecticut, but "no one was willing to see these documents."

He said he was told the medical examiner's office was required to conduct a two-week search for next of kin, but the medical examiner's office waited a full week before placing the required ad in a newspaper. And then when no one responded, he said, they "waited another week" to notify another state agency of an unclaimed body.

After four weeks, he said, a Department of Human Services employee "took pity on me and my plight ... reviewed our documentation and was able to get all parties concerned to release Ron's body to me," but then the cremation society refused to cremate Ron's body.

"On the same day, I contacted the Massachusetts Cremation Society and they were more than willing to work with me and cremate Ron's body," and so, "on November 6, 2008, I was able to finally pick up Ron's remains and put this tragedy to rest."

Well, good thing we nipped that in the bud. And what a testament to the power of the "gays aren't unequal, they can contract around the benefits of marriage" argument!

NTNU Boycott Defeated

A unanimous decision of the executive board scraps the measure. A big crisis averted, and a big setback for the radical anti-Israel, anti-coexistence fringe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Problem with Black Republicans

An oldie but goodie by Darryl Cox. Short form: Black Republicans want to have some company in the party? Then do the hard work of some on the ground organizing in the Black community. Show you're part of the neighborhood. Demonstrate you care about the same issues that your peers do. Get into the trenches. A few scattered op-ed columns decrying Black "servitude" to the Democratic Party is not substitute for actual engagement.

Observing Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day was originally "Armistice Day", celebrating the end of World War I. Originally a celebration of global peace, the name was changed after subsequent events proved we may have gotten ahead of ourselves. Still, in honoring our veterans, it seems appropriate to also think of a day where they no longer have to sacrifice. "Veteran", by its terms, denotes the past tense -- people who have served. We should hope one of the many benefits our veterans one day bring to us the need for no more of them.

IDF Asks Palestinians To Air Grievances

The IDF, in at least a partial shift, is now asking Gaza Palestinians to come forward with complaints regarding Cast Lead, so they can launch investigations into any misconduct. So far, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said, the military has fielded 60 testimonies and is investigating 45 claims.

My understanding is that Palestinians have historically been reluctant to come forward in these sorts of investigations for two related reasons. First, they're doubtful of whether they will get a fair hearing through the Israeli government (particularly, the Israeli military). And second, they don't want to be seen as legitimizing their enemy by participating in its legal system.

Both legitimate concerns. Also, both very familiar ones. They are, more or less, the same reasons Israel refrained from participating in the Goldstone inquiry -- belief that the commission was irredeemably biased, and not wanting to ratify a body (the UNHRC) which they feel is committed to oppressing them. It was a decision that, to say the least, did not turn out well for Israel.

Even the participation in a losing effort is often better than not trying at all. This isn't 4th grade motivational speaking -- the act of putting arguments and claims on the record can have important effects later on in history, because they can serve as the basis for continuing moral claims and reassessments that otherwise might be lost. If one fears an IDF whitewash, well, not participating in the forum won't make it any less of one, but it will provide the basis for protesting it.

Sounds Familar

Saudi Arabia is blockading areas along Yemen's coast (they've also constructed a wall through contested territory on the Yemen/Saudi border), in response to activity by Shi'ite militants in Northern Yemen. Officials fear the emergence of a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka -- darling of the UNHRC -- is keeping Tamil refugees in internment camps indefinitely, while "disappearing" military aged men at random intervals.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Mets' Hebron Fundraiser?

The NY Mets are allowing the Hebron Fund -- dedicated to raising money for Israeli settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron -- to host a fundraiser at a club in their stadium, despite virulent criticism by peace activists who say the group supports violations of international law. The Tablet mocks the Mets for having given themselves "a perfect coda, perhaps, to the team’s year of rancor and disappointment," while Jeffrey Goldberg simply says "I can think of better causes."

Hebron is a tougher case than many give it credit for, as it had a Jewish community that predated the establishment of Israel, one which was forced out after a 1929 massacre. Nonetheless, Hebron is hardly the only town whose residents were forced to flee due to Jewish/Palestinian violence -- and it would not represent the only set of victims who we agree ought not return to their homes as part of a broader peace agreement. Meanwhile, as it happens, the current Jewish denizens of Hebron are among the most radical and violent right-wingers in the settlement movement -- also, shall we say, diminishing my sympathy. The neighboring settlement of Kiryat Arba (effectively part of the Jewish resettlement of Hebron) hosts a memorial to the far-right racist (and banned) Kach Party, as well as the grave of Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who massacred dozens of Arabs (to the widespread condemnation of Israeli society as a whole, but cheers of Hebron's Jewish residents).

In other words, the Hebron Fund is raising money for a group of extremists who, if not violent themselves, are certainly sympathetic to it. That's important to note, and right to condemn.

Steele is So Scary

GOP chair Michael Steele recently made some waves when, speaking to Roland Martin, he had the following exchange:
MARTIN: But your candidates got to talk to them. One of the criticisms I've always had is Republicans -- white Republicans -- have been scared of black folks.

STEELE: You're absolutely right. I mean I've been in the room and they've been scared of me. I'm like, "I'm on your side" and so I can imagine going out there and talking to someone like you, you know, [you're like,] "I'll listen." And they're like "Well." Let me tell you.

Steve Benen says that informing Black folks that Republicans really are scared of Black people isn't going to help their outreach. Adam Serwer is a little more charitable, but says the real problem is that Steele can't commit to actually doing the sort of things outreach to non-White communities would actually require (things that actually might legitimately scare the White male base).

It's a shame, really. When Steele was campaigning for GOP chiefdom, he actually did make some good remarks on why the Republican Party was failing in its efforts to secure more non-White support. He hasn't followed up at all in office, and I think it is because he's discovered that -- even from the top of the pile -- lots of Republicans simply don't trust him.

UPDATE: Black Republicans don't seem to be taking Steele's comments so kindly. But one thing they're forgetting is that the whole point of appealing to non-Whites is that most of those people aren't Republican now. It's fab that these folks feel comfortable in GOP clothes. I mean that. But Steele has to speak to the vast majority of African-Americans whose experience with the Republican Party has not been so kind. If Steele went on radio and say "I can tell you that all you've heard about the GOP being hostile to Black people is a lie," he'd be dismissed as a tool. Not even because he'd be lying about his own experience, but because it so flagrantly contradicts the experience of the folks he's trying to talk to.

UPDATE #2: This goes without saying, but White Republicans are furious. I note that there is virtually no acknowledgment that what Steele might be saying is a true account of his own experience -- that he really does sense "fear" from White Republicans. There is just a knee-jerk "take it back!" response. That bodes well for Black folk observing whether the GOP will take their claims and experiences seriously in policy decisions.

Shi'ites Take the Lead by a Nose!

Oh burn! Al-Qaeda views Shi'ites, particularly Iran, as a greater threat than "that from Jews and Christians."

The New Jihadi Code

A new "code" of Jihad has been released by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (an Islamist organization fighting to overthrow the Libyan state). It formally repudiates Al-Qaeda style Jihad, writing:
"Jihad has ethics and morals because it is for God. That means it is forbidden to kill women, children, elderly people, priests, messengers, traders and the like. Betrayal is prohibited and it is vital to keep promises and treat prisoners of war in a good way. Standing by those ethics is what distinguishes Muslims' jihad from the wars of other nations."

The CNN article indicates that it has a generic prohibition on killing "civilians", but I'm not sure if that is merely a paraphrase of the above passage (in which case it seems overbroad) or comes from elsewhere in the document.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Maroon is a Color

Roger "Lily White" Clegg is coming to speak at Chicago, where presumably he will preach his message that empirical research into the effects of racism is bad because it would distract Black people from remembering that all their problems are their own fault.

I can't tell you how excited I am.

I Recommend a Different Tactic

Mike Huckabee complains: I'm just as smart as Sarah Palin, but nobody takes me seriously!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Cartoons

A great post by fellow-TMV author and resident cartoonist Daryl Cagle on his trip through Israel, Palestine, and Egypt and his discussions with Arab cartoonists (on what they drew, on how it would be seen stateside as anti-Semitic, on their own perception of their work, and other fascinating topics).

Peace Through Strength!

Hugo Chavez raises tensions with neighboring Columbia, tells troops to prepare for war:
"The best way to avoid war is preparing for it," Chavez told military officers during his weekly television and radio program. Venezuela's socialist leader has also cited a recent deal between Bogota and Washington giving U.S. troops greater access to military bases as a threat to regional stability.

I don't have any intrinsic problem with Venezuela demonstrating defensive military readiness. It's in an unstable region; it needs to self-help. But we shouldn't be that surprised that a former coup-leading army paratrooper is actually every bit as belligerent, bombastic, and militaristic as the "empire" (the United States) he is perpetually accusing of trying to spark global warfare.

Turkish PM: Muslims Can't Commit Genocide

In the course of arguing (surprise) that Israel's operation in Gaza (estimated number of deaths: circa 2,000) constituted graver war crimes that the Darfur genocide (estimated number of deaths: 200-300,000 as of 2008), Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated "It is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide."

I suppose definitional impossibility is the strongest argument I've heard buttressing Turkey's childish and appalling refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. But it hardly bodes well for a country that is supposedly critical as an "arbiter" between Israel and its neighbors.

Mofaz Wants to Talk With Hamas, Hamas Says Absolutely Not

And 'round and round we go:
The Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip said Sunday that they would never negotiate with the "Zionist enemy", hours after Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz presented a plan to hold talks with the group and establish a Palestinian state in 60 percent of the West Bank within one year.

In its official response, Hamas called Mofaz's offer "Zionist vulgarity" and said it would never recognize Israel or give legitimacy to the occupation.

Incidentally, that 60% figure is provisional, a set up figure to get the ball rolling and push the dream of statehood closer.