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.