Saturday, April 17, 2010

Give Him More Rope, Part II

Jon Chait is reporting that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is weighing a 2012 presidential bid. Hmm... the nation's first Black President, versus someone who thinks slavery wasn't a big deal. That's what we in the biz call a "stark choice". As Chait asks, "Is Boss Hogg not available?"

I was a bit disappointed when Gov. Barbour didn't lose his seat in 2007. But I consoled myself when I realized it just was setting him up for bigger failures down the line.

Primary Editor Roundup

I'm becoming a villain. Not sure how I feel about that.

* * *

Arkansas keeps on trying to ban gay people from adopting children. Their latest effort has been struck down as unconstitutional, and the state attorney general doesn't sound enthused about appealing.

A suicide bomber hit a refugee camp in Pakistan. The attack was apparently retaliation by Sunni terrorists after Shi'ite villagers killed two women for cnverting from Shi'ite to Sunni Islam.

...And now Merrick Garland is extreme, apparently for not wanting to burn the papers of Justice Harry Blackmun.

Two bad tastes which go poorly together: A dude affiliated with the ZOA is trying to convince Jews to go for Palin. Good luck.

Well, this is one way to get folks to read their contract language.

You may have come across a story claiming that former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in an interview that "the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence" and endorsing terrorism. The piece, which was purportedly sourced to the UPI, is almost definitely fake; the source is actually Iran's Press TV and Hamas' website.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Divestment Fails at Berkeley ... For Now

The UC-Berkeley student senate narrowly failed to override a veto of a bill which would have divested student funds from Israel. The override required 14 votes to approve, but failed 12-7-1. Since one of the "nay" votes was a supporter who switched her vote to enable the issue to be reopened at a later time, it's fair to say that the motion failed by one vote -- the one abstainer. So hardly a resounding victory for the good side.

Still, a win is a win. If this comes back up later this month, the pro-peace community has to be ready to mobilize and get try and get a more comfortable margin of victory.

Oh, and allow me to reiterate just how little I care about Desmond Tutu's opinion on this subject. Anti-apartheid hero he may be -- and nothing can take that away from him. But there is nothing intrinsic in being a hero of one social movement that insures you have progressive, egalitarian views with regards to another. And let's be clear: my problems with the statement discussed in the above link have nothing to do with some mythological inability to tolerate "criticism of Israel", and everything to do with Archbishop Tutu's extraordinarily offensive appropriation and contortion of Jewish history and experience.

Particularly if you're Christian clergy, you have to earn my trust -- and Archbishop Tutu has done the opposite, more than convincing me of his inegalitarian views towards Jews and Israel.

UPDATE: Hussein Ibish comments more on the vote, and what it symbolizes. Most importantly, he correctly notes that any "anti-occupation" strategy which brings together mainstreams Israelis and settlers is an anti-occupation strategy designed by idiots. Or by those who aren't, in any meaningful sense, "anti-occupation".

CCAR Resolution on the Kairos Document

Reproduced without comment.

* * *

Central Conference of American Rabbis

Resolution on the 2009 Kairos Document

Adopted by the CCAR Board of Trustees, April 15, 2010


The ongoing struggle of Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in the land sacred to both is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. People of good will, whatever their faith or background, have beheld twin horrors: Israel’s existential struggle in the face of massive invasions and years of indiscriminate bombings and murderous terrorism, along with the horrible suffering and indignities experienced on a daily basis by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Israel and the Palestinians desperately need a peaceful settlement that brings about an end to the occupation of Palestinians lands[1] and that provides dignity and self-rule to the Palestinians and security to Israelis in a Jewish and democratic state. Such a solution is a moral and practical necessity in the interest of all. This moment in history calls for sober, honest, and nuanced voices coming especially from involved religious leaders who understand the necessity of compromise and who can speak truth to power on both sides. The cause of peace is not served by pronouncements which vindicate one side while demonizing the other, but by the courage of moral clarity and respect for truth.

In December, 2009, a document known as “Kairos / A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering” was issued and signed by nine Palestinians members of the Christian Clergy and six Palestinian Christian laypersons.

A close reading of Kairos reveals that it is anything but a document based on truth. Careful consideration of what it says and what it does not say, of the history it paints and the history it obfuscates, and of the moral yardstick it applies to Israel yet compromises in the face of Palestinian violence, reveals a morally inconsistent and theologically suspect document that speaks only part of the truth, and not always that.

Sadly, this document also rejects or ignores more than a half a century of Jewish-Christian rapprochement and takes its place among other Christian documents which, throughout history, have intended to delegitimize the Jewish people’s continuing Covenant with God, particularly by arguing that our Covenant has been superseded by Jesus and Christianity. Too often, such Church documents have been utilized as pretexts for our persecution, our expulsion, and even our attempted annihilation. Since the Shoah and World War II, and particularly beginning with Vatican II, the Jewish people has come to expect better from our Christian brothers and sisters.

Like the Kairos authors, the Central Conference of American Rabbis is deeply concerned about the welfare of the Palestinian people, as our record indicates.[2] Our strenuous objections to Kairos do not diminish our commitment to a two-state solution as the only avenue to achieve a just and lasting peace, preserving a secure Jewish State of Israel and facilitating for the first time the realization of the Palestinian people’s nationhood.

Among its many failings, Kairos:

1. Echoes supersessionist language of the Christian past, since rejected by most mainstream Christian denominations, referring to the Torah absent Christian revelation as, in the words of the Christian Scriptures, “a dead letter.”[3]

2. While opposing and negating the applicability of scriptural texts, historical presence, and theological discourse to justify the existence of a Jewish state,[4] does exactly that in making its case for a Palestinian State. [5]

3. Consistently objects to “the Occupation,” without making clear that it is referring exclusively to lands occupied by Israel and in dispute since the Six-Day War of 1967. Ultimately, the document becomes clear, altogether rejecting the very notion of a Jewish State.[6]

4. Insists that the root cause of Palestinian resistance – both violent and non-violent - is ”the Occupation,”[7] obfuscating the historical truth of the Arab world’s militant rejection of the existence of a Jewish state pre-dating 1948, and the decades of war and terrorism, which, in 1967, prompted and necessitated the taking of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan heights.

5. Purports to promote non-violent resistance as the only legitimate Christian response to the Israeli occupation, yet expresses “respect” and “high esteem for those who have given their life for our nation,” thereby implicitly condoning, even praising, suicide bombers.[8]

6. Attempts to neutralize the concept of terrorism through the euphemistic reference to “terrorism,”[9] implying that the deliberate Palestinian targeting of Israeli civilians with the aim of killing as many as possible in order to strike fear and terror is not terrorism at all, but a form of “legal resistance.”

7. Paints a compelling picture of the reality of Palestinians living under Israeli rule, but ignores the reality of Israelis forced to flee for their lives into bomb shelters, or in fear of being blown up while eating in a restaurant, celebrating a Passover Seder or dancing at a Bar Mitzvah Celebration.

The Kairos Document has been explicitly endorsed by a relative few Palestinian Christian leaders.[10] However, the acceptance and endorsement of this document by certain other individuals and church groups with which we have enjoyed harmonious interfaith relations has been surprising, disturbing and profoundly disappointing. For the contemporary Christian to ascribe to this supercesionist document would be saying to their Jewish neighbors and friends – indeed to the world – that Judaism has no validity as a covenant religion, that the pain and martyrdom endured by countless generations of Jews was for naught; that the world would have been better off without the religious, cultural, spiritual, social, scientific and educational contributions of Jewish people throughout ages; and that the God we worship and serve is no God at all. So many mainstream churches have rejected superscessionism, not only because of the centuries of persecution it has engendered, but because they believe it not to be true. In short, those who would associate themselves with this document and the religious foundation upon which it is based would be erasing years of Christian soul searching and repentance as if they had not been. We expect more from our interfaith partners. We are forced to wonder whether these Church organizations do not recognize the supersessionist and anti-Semitic nature of the Kairos document or whether they no longer care to share interfaith dialogue with us.

Therefore, the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

1. Declares that Kairos is a factually, theologically and morally flawed document;

2. Insists that the document’s explicit supercessionism and inherent anti-Semitism prevent Kairos from providing a legitimate framework for interfaith dialogue and understanding;

3. Acknowledges with appreciation Kairos’ call to the Palestinian people to reject hate[11] (as we all must do), to follow the Christian commandment to “love both enemies and friends” and to resist “through respect of life,” as required by cited Christian Scriptures;[12]

4. Challenges the authors of Kairos to be true to the love and respect of life they endorse and the very scriptures they quote by rejecting as immoral and un-Christian the indiscriminate and deliberately targeted murder of Israeli men, women and children;

5. Again insists that such acts of murder, either as acts of revenge or with the specious designation of “legal Palestinian resistance,”[13] do indeed comprise terrorism, denounced by people of conscience throughout the world as an unacceptable tool for achieving political ends;

6. Asserts that the Jewish people’s right to national sovereignty in the Land of Israel is primarily established, not by subjective religious belief or fundamentalist reading of Hebrew Scriptures, but by a millennium of national existence and civilization there, followed, even in exile, by nearly two millennia of unbroken physical and spiritual support of and yearning for the Land;

7. Labels as theologically hypocritical and historically dishonest the assertion that the Palestinian people’s historic presence on the land establishes its right of return,[14] but that the Jewish people’s historic presence, dating back 3000 years, does not establish that very same right;

8. Calls on Christians of good faith to recognize the complexity of the Israeli-Arab conflict, which is complicated by territorial dispute as well as competing allegiances to sacred land, Palestinian suffering and Palestinian terror; and which must not be reduced, as Kairos’ authors do, to an assertion that the Jewish people are in the wrong and that the Palestinian cause is fully just;

9. Calls on all who have endorsed Kairos to look deeply into its words and honestly into their own souls and to recognize and forswear the flawed and distorted picture of reality it paints;

10. Serves notice that the CCAR would require serious reflection before continuing our common cause with any Church body or organization that endorses or continues to endorse Kairos;

11. Re-affirms our commitment to our continuing interfaith cooperation with Christian groups that affirm the continuing, unique Covenant between God and the Jewish people; and

12. Recommits itself to all worthy and legitimate endeavors to bring an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people, to be achieved through negotiations to establish a Palestinian State adjacent to and in cooperation with a secure Jewish State of Israel.

13. Urges our members to educate themselves on this matter and to seek opportunities to share concerns about the Kairos document with their local Christian colleagues and lay people.

[1] We define such “Palestinian lands” as land in Israel’s hands since the Six-Day War of 1967 that was not part of Israel before that time and which has not been annexed by Israel. We also recognize that the exact boundaries of such land may be altered in the course of negotiations.

[2] See “Where We Stand on Israel,” 2002 and 2003; Resolution on Peace in Israel, 2001 inter alia,; Resolution on Gaza and the West Bank, 2006; Resolution on Building a Defensive Barrier between Israel and Palestinian Communities, 2004; Resolution on Discriminatory Home Demolitions in Israel, 2005; and countless others.

[3] Kairos 2.2.2

[4] Kairos 2.2.2

[5] Kairos 2.3.1

[6] Kairos 9.3

[7] Kairos 1.4

[8] Kairos 4.2.5

[9] Kairos 4.3

[10] On its website, the Kairos Document purports itself to be endorsed by thirteen Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. And yet, that supposed statement of endorsement makes no allusion to the contents of the document nor does it endorse nor make reference to the contents of the Kairos document itself. It is instructive to note that the original Kairos document listed Bishop Dr. Munib Younan, head of the "Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land.," as one of the sixteen signers, the only one who held a position other than pastor at that time; but that Bishop Younan’s name was subsequently removed from the list of signatories.

[11] Kairos 5.4.3

[12] Kairos 4.1.

[13] Kairos 1.5

[14] Kairos 2.3.2; 2.3.4

There's More To College Than What's In Your Porn File

A couple days back, Jessica Valenti posted on the creative modification of an anti-choice advertisement in the NYC subway.



Uh-oh! Somebody at Red State is aghast:
Want to go to college, but there is a pesky baby growing inside of you? Abort! A life is far less important than your co-ed fun and career plans, right? Your dreams are all that matters, baby be damned. Can’t let that get in the way! Follow President Obama’s thinking and don’t let yourself be “punished with a baby!”
Loves encouraging abortion for convenience. Loves encouraging abortion because a baby, a human life, doesn’t fit in with your super fun college plans. Denies the trauma that abortion may cause to the woman, but rejoices at the thought of killing a baby who isn’t timely.

But you want it to be safe, legal and rare? Baloney. Willy nilly matters of convenience are not part of that definition. You have devalued life to the point where *convenience* over-rides a life itself, in your minds.

As Jessica responds, this is a rather ... odd ... diminishing of the importance of college. To be fair, the author seems to find the idea of a woman caring about her "career plans" to be ridiculous too. But by and large, the image he's putting out there is of the selfish slut-chick who wants an abortion so she can have her four years of drunken hook-ups and MTV spring break trips. Clearly, for women, college is just a chance to star in a "hot co-eds 4 u!" video.

Clearly It's Not Being Enforced

Apparently, Maryland judges are constitutionally required to be "most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge" -- the only qualification of its kind of any state nationwide. But then they hand down decisions like Conaway v. Deane, so obviously the language is more aspirational than anything else.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Same Old Same Old

There's this idea that the Tea Party represents some unheard of political phenomenom, the likes of which the nation has never seen before. In reality, it's actually pretty common for cranky White folks to preach the apocalypse when things seem not to be going their way.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looking Right Past It

John Derbyshire to UPenn Black Law Students Association: You're biologically inferior to me:
Our species separated into two parts 50, 60, or 70 thousand years ago, depending on which paleoanthropologist you ask. One part remained in Africa, the ancestral homeland. The other crossed into Southwest Asia, then split, and re-split, and re-split, until there were human populations living in near-total reproductive isolation from each other in all parts of the world. This went on for hundreds of generations, causing the divergences we see today. Different physical types, as well as differences in behavior, intelligence, and personality, are exactly what one would expect to observe when scrutinizing these divergent populations.
We see the same differences in traits that we don’t think of as directly physical, what evolutionary psychologists sometimes refer to as the “BIP” traits — behavior, intelligence, and personality. Two of the hardest-to-ignore manifestations here are the extraordinary differentials in criminality between white Americans and African Americans, and the persistent gaps in scores when tests of cognitive ability are given to large population samples.

Via United States of Jamerica.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Empathy Quick Hit

Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West's article on how John Paul Stevens showed the importance of "empathy" in a judge is a very good piece.

Evolving Thoughts

A solid observation on originalism:
[S]cholars such as Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood have demonstrated that the era from 1765 to the turn of the century was a dynamic period of consistent change and deep thought about political relationships. One cannot freeze a particular moment during that era and infer from it precisely what well-informed people thought, because they had not yet finished thinking about what something like freedom of speech or the relationship of church and state should be.

Ossification is hard!

Pink Tea

The folks at CODEPINK want to declare a truce with the rabid right-wingers in the Tea Party, to see if they can find some "common ground". Unsurprisingly, a large part of that "common ground" would entail slashing foreign aid to Israel (and Egypt -- why stop there? Why not foreign aid, in general?). They happily cite such luminaries as Ron Paul and "Conservative commentator" Pat Buchanan to bolster their case that the Tea Party right and the CODEPINK left should be just one big happy family -- at least where foreign policy is concerned.

Of course, nobody who's observed the behavior of former Rep. and Green Party VP candidate Cynthia McKinney should be surprised at this new desire to jump into bed with the racist right. Many folks seem quite enamored with the coloration produced by the green-brown swirl.

All I say is this: You can judge a movement quite well by who it thinks would make for good friends. I have very good reason not to trust a foreign policy agenda led by Pat Buchanan. And, just as well, I have very good reason not to trust a movement that thinks it would be wise to have our foreign policy inspired by Buchanan, either.

Stand By Your Ad, Mark II

Democrats, led by President Obama, are trying to reverse the influence of corporate money on elections in the wake of Citizens United, have hit on some interesting ideas:
One provision would require the chief executive of any company or group that is the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship, the officials said.

These are akin to the "I'm Barack Obama, and I approve this message" bits you see at the end of every candidate ad, except applied to corporations (and presumably, unions and other such groups). Kevin Drum applies this standard to a California Proposition being pushed by Pacific Gas & Electric designed to force public competitors out of business. The ads, of course, feature "the most reasonable looking soccer mom you've ever laid eyes on, and it's in heavy rotation financed by PG&E's millions." But would they be as effective if the CEO of a massive power company was forced to come on at the end? Maybe not.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The New Kids on the Block

My mom was very proud that she heard the name Sidney Thomas floated as a potential SCOTUS pick before I did. I told her that there's no way he's anything more than a name. Democrats aren't going to nominate a total darkhorse like that -- too risky.

But the other two names the article mentions -- though both equally implausible -- at least are theoretically interesting. I've heard at least one other person mention Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, a bankruptcy specialist who would make the nomination discussion all about economics (good for Obama). And, well, you know my opinions on Martha Minow -- so I'll just add that if you want to put a liberal's liberal on the court, she's possibly the only candidate that could make Pam Karlan look tame (Minow's liberalism, to be clear, manifests itself as 100% pure awesome).

Primitive Minds

I was doing some reading yesterday on the science of emotions, and at one point in the course of discussing certain 18th century views on the subject, the author noted a division traceable to the controversy over whether the brain and mind were united or split. This debate, he said, still had some salience today. And I snickered a bit at that -- oh, the West and its preoccupation with the classics. Of course the mind and brain are united -- where else would the mind come from? The inability to abandon the idea that the mind floats free of the brain was, I thought, just a symptom of Western thoughts propensity to assign validity to a concept for no more reason than Descartes said it.

Then later in that same reading, the author mentioned a patient that was referred to him (a neurologist) from a group of psychologists, and observed that the very fact that we distinguish between neurology and psychology is itself a relic of this brain/mind divide mentioned above. And that gave me pause -- because I do find that split very intuitive, but I have trouble characterizing it in ways that don't resort to parceling out the mind from the brain. The closest I could come is saying that neurology deals with physical trauma, scarring, lobotomies, and the like, while psychology deals with chemical imbalances (such as in some forms of depression). But this doesn't seem to leave much room for psychotherapy regarding, for example, traumatic experiences and things like that -- ideas which I would characterize as firmly psychological but do not feel particularly neurological.

So -- egg on my face. Guess I'm one of the Luddites.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Of Traitors and Terrorists

Gotta love Roland Martin for this. To be sure, Confederate soldiers weren't terrorists in any general sense -- that label, I think, is reserved for folks who as a matter of policy violate international humanitarian norms in order to achieve political ends, and I haven't read anything that suggests that Confederate war tactics were, as a matter of course, outside the normal bounds of the laws of war at that time. But Martin isn't really using the terrorist label for that purpose -- rather, he's making a comparison between the specious justifications given for "honoring" Confederate soldiers ("they were fighting for what they believed in!" "There were aggressive acts by the North") and similar rhetoric used by terrorist apologists the world over.

The fact is that Confederate soldiers weren't terrorists, so much as they were traitors. But either way, there is nothing honorable about it.

Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias has a great post about "the white southern political tradition’s very partial and selective embrace of majoritarian democracy."
As long as national institutions are substantially controlled by white southerners, the white south is a hotbed of patriotism. But as soon as an non-southern political coalition manages to win an election—as we saw in 1860 and in 2008—then suddenly the symbols of national authority become symbols of tyranny and the constitution is construed as granting conservative areas all kinds of alleged abilities to opt out of national political decisions.

And then the rest of the country is supposed to honor this as authentic Americana. Count me out.

Fork in the Road

Orin Kerr comments on the phenomenal diversity of Obama's reported short-list for Justice Stevens' soon-to-be vacant SCOTUS seat:
First, consider the broad range of choices Obama faces. His shortlist consists of former law clerks to a wide range of the liberal Justices of the 1970s and 1980s. Obama must choose between a Brennan clerk (Garland), a Marshall clerk (Kagan), and a Blackmun clerk (Wood). Further, the shortlisters differ dramatically in that they had different high-level positions in the Clinton Administration. Will Obama pick the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division (Garland), the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division (Wood), or the former Associate White House Counsel (Kagan)?

Even if Obama decides on a former academic, he has to pick which kind of resume he wants. For example, does he pick the woman who was a full-time law professor at the University of Chicago from 1981 to 1993 (Wood)? Or does he pick the woman who was a full-time law professor at the University of Chicago from 1991 to 1995 (Kagan)? Obviously, these are big choices.

No matter who he chooses, Obama will continue to break new ground, or at least help bolster some of the low numbers of people of certain arguably underrepresented backgrounds on the current Court. For example, Elena Kagan would become only the second former Harvard professor presently on the Court (joining Justice Breyer). Either Kagan or Wood would be only the second Chicago professor (joining Justice Scalia). Further, Merrick Garland would be only the second Justice on the Court who went to Harvard College; then Harvard Law School; then clerked for Henry Friendly; then clerked at the Supreme Court; and then worked at DOJ and was a partner at a big DC law firm before serving on the DC Circuit (joining Chief Justice Roberts).

Elena Kagan would also bring notable educational diversity to the Court. Kagan would be the very first Justice ever to have attended Princeton and then Harvard Law. Obviously, that would be a major break after two consecutive nominees who had attended Princeton and then Yale Law (Justices Alito and Sotomayor). Whoever Obama picks, I think it’s clear that Obama faces a major choice and that his selection will be a historic occasion.

Reading through the recitation of the trio's clerkships, I still thought this was serious -- I was imagining some in-depth discussion of the different branches of liberalism represented by Justices Blackmun, Marshall, and Brennan. Alas, I was met with sarcasm instead. Albeit funny sarcasm.

However, Professor's (fully-warranted) snarking aside, I think there are some significant choices inherent in the Wood/Kagan/Garland decision. First, in terms of relative controversy of appointment, there are notable differences -- Wood looking like the most likely to spark a fight, Garland the least likely, and Kagan somewhere in the middle. Kagan would be a change in being a rare (in recent times) Justice with no prior judicial experience -- folks vary as to whether that's a good or bad thing. At the same time, she has a reputation for being a consensus-builder -- an attribute Stevens shared and that Obama may thus value in the ever-present battle to secure Justice Kennedy's vote. Kagan also is probably the most sympathetic to expansive executive power of the three.

Garland is known for being a "moderate", although I'm not quite sure where that reputation comes from -- I had always thought of him as the second of the two liberal lions on the DC Circuit (alongside Tatel). And Wood, for her part, might be the purest intellect of the threesome (no knock on the other two) -- if Obama wants someone capable of going toe-to-toe with Scalia, Wood is battle-tested from her years of sparring with Posner and Easterbrook on the 7th Circuit.

Of course, the three do all share one critical attribute: all are clearly qualified and would make stellar Supreme Court Justices.

Picking a Nit

Who here is surprised that Mississippi Governor Haley "The top is not the top" Barbour (R-MS) doesn't think that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's omission of slavery from his "Confederate History Month" proclamation was a big deal? Not me!

UPDATE: The DNC smells blood.