Saturday, April 24, 2010

Overruled!

A Venezuelan judge recently ruled that a man Hugo Chavez wanted to remain in prison had to be released.

15 minutes later, that judge was arrested.

The revolution lives on.

Iran Drops UNHRC Bid

The Washington Post reports Iran has abandoned its bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. This is good news, though the interesting question is "why?" If it's because they wanted to avoid a humiliating defeat in the Asia group, I would be most pleased.

Your State

I love Minnesota. I often describe it as my "adopted" or "second" home state. It's just a wonderful, friendly place that I spent four of the best years of my life living in. I'd be thrilled to go back one day.

But the best thing about a place being your "second home state" is that when it brings the crazy, it gets to be Jill's home state:
Senate Republicans introduced a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would make Minnesota the first state to require a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature to approve federal laws affecting the state. “Minnesotans enjoy inherent, natural, God-given rights,” the bill states, and “Citizens of Minnesota are sovereign individuals, subject to Minnesota law and immune from any federal laws that exceed the federal government’s enumerated constitutional powers.”

The bill was introduced by state Sens. Mike Parry of Waseca, Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, and David Hann of Eden Prairie, and is a companion to a House bill introduced by Reps. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Bruce Anderson of Buffalo, and Tom Emmer of Delano last month.

Oh, Jill. What is wrong with your people?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rocket Fire

Of all the crazies trying to assert that anytime the Obama administration breathes, it's unconstitutional, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (previously seen flirting with birtherism) might be at the top. Unfortunately for his cohorts, he's also somewhat of a speed demon. When the Affordable Healthcare Act was past, Cuccinelli hurried to be the first to file a suit alleging it was beyond Congress' constitutional authority. Apparently, his hurry to file "as soon as the ink is dry" took its toll on the legal craftsmanship of the argument. Worse, the case was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia -- the famous "rocket docket" -- making it likely that the case will be heard before all the other challenges. And that, in turn, makes it far likely that the first ruling on the constitutionality of the ACA will be a victory for the President, and a loss for the conservatives. Precedent, momentum -- it'll all be on our side.

Thanks, Mr. Cuccinelli!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pre-Banquet Roundup

The Law Review is having a banquet tomorrow. Swanky!

* * *

How to beat back a divestment bill: Get organized! And I think it's a good thing that the Jewish community is actively engaged in politics and political deliberation. The meme that when Jews participate in the political process to try and sway politicians to their preferred position, that this is something suspect or conspiratorial, is deeply unsettling to me. In any event, to my mind this is the way politics is supposed to work: folks organized to try and get politicians to change their minds, spoke their minds regarding what they saw as unrepresentative actions, and got the change they wanted. Congrats.

Are we headed to towards another Jenna Delich situation with the Palestine Telegraph?

I will do everything I can to promote "the McConnell line" as a new part of our political lexicon.

Jon Chait sums up Sue Lowden's bizarre bartering-for-healthcare proposal: "Oh Doctor, isn't there any other way I could pay for this?"

Good NYT piece on Judge Wood.

The Texas AG's office is fighting tooth and nail to prevent a gay couple legally married in Massachusetts from divorcing (because that would recognize the legitimacy of the marriage in the first place). The AG instead suggests "voiding" the marriage. As the bemused attorney for one member of the couple put it: "But for the actions of the attorney general, my client would already be divorced and there would be one less same-sex marriage in Texas."

On guarding the guards of human rights.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Exceptionalism

Writer Amitav Ghosh, explaining why he is not boycotting a literary award associated with Israel's Tel Aviv University.
I would like to state clearly that I do not believe in embargoes and boycotts where they concern matters of culture and learning. On the contrary I believe very strongly that it is important to defend the notion that institutions of culture and learning must, in principle, be regarded as autonomous of the state. Or else every writer in America and Britain, and everyone who teaches in a British or American university, would necessarily be implicated in the Iraq war, and by extension, in Israel’s actions in Gaza and Palestine. Similarly every Indian writer and academic would also be complicit in the actions of the Indian government in areas of conflict. And if we don’t defend this principle how will we defend the rights of dissent of those who are employed in universities – especially, for instance, in times of war, when reasons of state can be cited to create an explicit complicity?
[...]
I do not see how it is possible to make the case that Israel is so different, so exceptional, that it requires the severing of connections with even the more liberal, more critically-minded members of that society. Is it really possible to argue that there is in that country such a unique and excessive malevolence that it contaminates every aspect of civil society, including private foundations and universities? Let me remind you of something that Sari Nusseibeh once said:
"If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we've had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals... If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach."

I have always felt that exceptionalism has been a major problem for the rest of the world in relation to both the US as well as Israel. How then can I now take an exceptionalist position myself?

Mr. Ghosh also objects to the boycott on tactical grounds, linking to this Gush Shalom piece. See also Margaret Atwood's response to the same request (she also is not boycotting).

H/T: Norm Geras.

Ending the Culture of Impunity

Sometimes, it seems to me that "opposing the settlements" is the gimme for supporters of Israel looking to demonstrate that they are not simple rubber-stampers of government policy. That doesn't mean it's not important -- it gives lie to the notion that the typical pro-Israel person actually can't distinguish between "criticism of Israel" and "anti-Semitism", and lord knows no amount of bullets is too many to lay into that beast -- but it does sometimes come off as a bit like going through the motions.

A somewhat more "hot" issue, it seems, than the settlements themselves, is the issue of settler violence. And let's be clear here too: Groups like the ADL are quite vocal and pronounced in condemning acts of settler violence against the Palestinian people. Which is good. But I do think there is not enough intention in the pro-Israel community to the seeming culture of impunity that surrounds these acts. The settler thugs that perpetrate these acts don't seem to get caught or punished, and I don't see why. I don't see why when they throw rocks, it's not assault. I don't see why when they build a new "outpost" on private Palestinian land, it's not theft. There is effort by the IDF to maintain order in the West Bank, but its mostly by dispersion. The settlers who break the law aren't prosecuted. And I think there needs to be a crackdown, starting now.

And maybe there will be. The IDF seems to be getting mighty tired of the daily provocations of extremist "hilltop youth" folks whose belligerence is targeted towards the IDF and Palestinians.
Israel Defense Forces officers have lashed out at rioters who clashed with soldiers at the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar on Tuesday.

"These people are scum," one senior officer told Haaretz after three soldiers were wounded by stones thrown near the hilltop settlement, known for its hard-line yeshiva, or Jewish seminary.

It was seminary students who had instigated the violence, the officer said.
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"They don't even represent the settlers of Yitzhar. Most of the problems in the area stem from yeshiva students in the settlement. People think they come there to study Torah - but the only reason they come there is to incite riots and provoke the Palestinians."

After the incident, the IDF vowed to take serious steps to curb settle violence at Yitzhar, with assistance from local police and the Shin Bet security service's Jewish unit, set up to thwart violence by extremist settlers.

"[Yitzhar] is a focal point for violence and harassment and the time has come to put a stop to this," the officer said. "The problem requires fundamental action by all the law enforcement agencies."

Yitzhar is best known as the focal point for the settler "price tag" policy -- essentially, terrorist acts meant to put a "price" on the settlement freeze agreed to by the Netanyahu government. As far as I'm concerned, the folks promoting "price tag" should be treated the same as any other violent opponents of Israeli government policy. And maybe soon, they will.

Martinez Takes On Violence Against Women

In the wake of the senseless murder of Jennifer Carolina Viera by her husband, former two-division champion Edwin Valero (who proceeded to commit suicide in prison), newly crowned middleweight champion Sergio Martinez has announced his intention to create a foundation aimed at stamping out violence against women:
"I love and respect women. Violence against women is simply unacceptable," Martinez said. "The great number of cases, too often involving athletes, requires action. I have always confided in my mother and consider myself to be a momma's boy. Women must be respected, not abused."
[...]
"Sergio is going to petition the different sanctioning bodies and the different boxing dignitaries to make them know he is serious in this effort," said Sampson Lewkowicz, Martinez's adviser. "We can create a foundation that makes a world of difference to women everywhere."

Promoter Lou DiBella said he will enlist the Boxing Promoters Association to help in the cause.

"I am proud of Sergio for attempting to use his newfound fame to help address a terrible problem, which must be eradicated," DiBella said.

Martinez, who is from Argentina but living in Oxnard, Calif., said besides creating a foundation and raising money to help the cause, he hopes his newfound status as middleweight world champion will give him a platform to help spread his message.

"My middleweight championship gives me a voice," he said. "I will use this voice in an effort to protect women from senseless violence and abuse."

Good for him. Count me in as a supporter.

Two of My Favorite Things

The Moroccan National Ice Hockey team (yup), based out of Montreal, brings together Jews and Arabs as part of one great hockey club.
“We are succeeding where politics have failed,” said the 48-year-old Mr. Mrini, who has lived in Montreal for 30 years. “We don’t have weapons, we have sweat. And whether your name is Eli or Mohammed doesn’t matter, you’re going to embrace after you score a goal.”

Sometimes, the notion takes some getting used to. Last fall, Mr. Mrini and Mr. Tawfiq were introduced to a potential recruit – Shlomo Levy, a Montrealer and member of the Israeli national hockey team.

As Mr. Levy stood in the foyer of a Montreal arena, his hockey bag thrown over his shoulder, he insisted on clearing the air. Yes, he was open to joining. But he wanted them to know: He was not only Jewish, but born in Israel.

Mr. Mrini and Mr. Tawfiq looked at him. Then they burst out laughing.

“Where’s the problem?” Mr. Mrini said. “Are you Moroccan or not?” (He is, through his Moroccan-born father.)

“We didn’t see a problem – on the contrary, at least he knows about international hockey,” said Mr. Tawfiq, 27. “It brings another level to our team.”

The players say their camaraderie reflects the relatively harmonious coexistence of Muslims and Jews in Morocco; they’re just extending it onto the ice in Montreal. For one, they respect one another’s religious observances. Practices are suspended during Ramadan, as they were during the recent Passover holiday; instead of fending off pucks, Adil El Farj, a Muslim goaltender and financial adviser in Montreal, fired off Happy Passover wishes to his Jewish teammates.

“This team is a nice lesson for the rest of the world,” said Patrick Harroch, who is Jewish and whose brother, Dave, just signed on as coach. “It shows the world that Arabs and Jews can get along through the beauty of sports. We have something in common that bonds us – the love of hockey.”

They're playing in the African Nations Cup this fall. Wish them luck!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Happy Israeli Independence Day

A must-read column in the Jerusalem Post.

Mississippi Sense

It's easy to get demoralized about the fact that a Mississippi school district is, in 2010, facing a desegregation order after a court found its school transfer policy had created racially identifiable school. But, optimist that I am, I'm actually finding hope. Why? Because the district officials and residents seem to have owned up to what happened, and understand why it has to change:
"I didn't realize it was getting to the point anyone should worry about it," said Jay Boyd, the school board president, who is white. "I just thought we need to do what's best for students -- if they're happy, let them go to Salem. Who's it hurting?"
[...]
Boyd, the school board president, reluctantly acknowledged that racism probably played a role in the transfer requests. "I thought that was a thing of the past," he said. "You live and you learn."
[...]
The ruling has led some white parents in Walthall County to reconsider the systemic effects of individual choice. Roger Ginn, a white parent whose children graduated from both Tylertown and Salem, said he'd always considered the transfer issue to be a simple matter of student happiness, not race.

"But if all that adds up to segregated schools?" he asked, and then paused for a while. "That wouldn't be right, no."

It's easy to lapse into defensiveness when faced with an order like this -- a tendency, I can't help but think, that is accentuated when the rest of the country is holding you up as the racist hillbillies who got stuck in the last century. To their credit, it looks like the residents of this county aren't taking that route. And that's worth commending.

Bob Jones Comes to Hastings

The Supreme Court is currently considering Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case involving how UC-Hastings (a public law school) treats student groups who wish, for religious reasons, to exclude gays and lesbians from their ranks. Hastings has a blanket policy forbidding any registered student organization from discriminating on basis of, among other things, sexual orientation; the CLS claims this policy constitutes religious discrimination. Nobody disputes, of course, that the CLS can maintain its current exclusionary policies -- they just can't, under the current rule, do so with the support of a public university.

There is some Supreme Court precedent indicating that public universities must be open to sectarian religious organizations (see Rosenberger v. Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995)). But that case isn't really on-point -- it stands for the simple proposition that religious groups must be admitted to campus on an equal basis with secular groups, and that Establishment Clause concerns can't be used as a ward against this.

No, the case that most clearly comes to mind is Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983). There, the IRS revoked BJU's tax-exempt status due to its religiously-inspired policy against inter-racial dating. The court upheld the action because racial discrimination in education is contrary to public policy. More broadly, while the government certainly can't prohibit private groups from excluding racial minorities, it does not have to give such behavior its imprimatur. In setting public policy, and in managing its own affairs, it is well within the government's right to treat racially-inclusive groups differently from their exclusionary peers. The government is allowed to set policies that prefers equality over discrimination.

Responding to BJU's First Amendment claim, Chief Justice Burger wrote:
On occasion, this Court has found certain governmental interests so compelling as to allow even regulations prohibiting religiously based conduct. In Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944), for example, the Court held that neutrally cast child labor laws prohibiting sale of printed materials on public streets could be applied to prohibit children from dispensing religious literature. The Court found no constitutional infirmity in "excluding [Jehovah's Witness children] from doing there what no other children may do." Id. at 171.... Denial of tax benefits will inevitably have a substantial impact on the operation of private religious schools, but will not prevent those schools from observing their religious tenets.

The governmental interest at stake here is compelling.... [T]he Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education -- discrimination that prevailed, with official approval, for the first 165 years of this Nation's constitutional history. That governmental interest substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners' exercise of their religious beliefs. The interests asserted by petitioners cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest ... and no "less restrictive means," ... are available to achieve the governmental interest.

Id. at 603-04.

It is relatively uncontested, then, that in certain contexts religious practices must yield in the face of anti-discrimination norms. I can't imagine that if the CLS was asserting a religious requirement to exclude Blacks, this case would be before the Supreme Court -- it might theoretically be possible to distinguish Bob Jones, but I doubt any court would take the bait.* So as far as I see it, the question is simply whether the Court is willing to put anti-gay animus on the same constitutional level as racism. Or more accurately: whether it is willing to defer to a governmental determination making that value judgment. At bottom, Martinez doesn't present a particularly novel issue of First Amendment law. The only thing new is whether this Court, the Roberts Court, is willing to allow a government body to proclaim a public policy against homophobia. That it is considering prohibiting this is indicative of just how shallow both its "minimalism", and its protestations of non-"activism" (whatever that means), are.

* There are many theoretical difficulties in terms of how to distinguish between government properly refusing to issue its stamp of approval towards discriminatory organizations, and government improperly acting to suppress those groups entirely. If the government said "fire fighter protection is a privilege that we're withholding from racist organizations", I doubt it would be sustained. But I don't think those theoretical problems are in play here, precisely because we've already started the line-drawing process with Bob Jones, and, were this case one of racial exclusion rather than heterosexist exclusion, we'd know exactly which side of the line the CLS would be on. It's not the theory issues that make this case "hard", it's whether courts are willing to let a government body treat homophobia the same way as it does racism. And I don't see any principled reason why it should be precluded from doing so.

Mass Wrongs

Marc Porier on the aftermath of the Mississippi prom case (where a rural town and school district went to great lengths to stop a lesbian student from attending prom in a tux):
In spring a young woman’s fancy turns to love. Take Constance McMillen for example. A senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in north Mississippi, McMillen has been out as a lesbian since the eighth grade. Back in February the high school — for some reason — issued a policy directing that only opposite sex couples could attend the upcoming prom in early April. McMillen asked for an exception so she could bring her girlfriend, and she also asked permission to wear a tuxedo. The high school and the county school board denied her requests. McMillen and the girlfriend could attend, but only if each came with a boy as her date, if the girls wore dresses (not a tux, not slacks and a nice top), and if they did not slow dance with each other, which would “push people’s buttons”. After McMillen got the Mississippi ACLU involved, the school board cancelled the prom altogether, citing potential “distractions to the educational process”. The school board expressed the “hope that private citizens [would] organize an event for the juniors and seniors.”

McMillen promptly sued in federal court, seeking an injunction to compel the prom to go forward. In a decision issued March 23, just one day after the hearing, Senior U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson (no liberal he — a Reagan appointee) denied her request. McMillen v. Itawamba County School Dist., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27589 (N.D. Miss. 2010). The opinion contains some interesting holdings. The judge found that McMillen had a First Amendment interest in attending the prom with a same-sex partner, and also a First Amendment interest in wearing cross-gender formal attire to the prom. More on those notions in a moment. Holding number three — he denied the preliminary injunction, based on his assessment of the familiar fourth factor for injunctive relief, consideration of the public interest. There was no need to reinject the school board into the prom process via court order or to get the court involved in planning and overseeing a prom, he found, because the parents of the high school students represented to him that they were now planning a ”private” prom which all the students in the high school would be invited to attend. Judge Davidson’s opinion used the scare quotes around “private” and the italics for all. Perhaps he suspected something was up.

With good reason, it turns out. There were some additional shenanigans. McMillen couldn’t find out where to buy a ticket to the “private” prom, then when she did, was told she had missed the cutoff time for purchase by a few minutes. Then the parents announced that the prom they had told the judge about was cancelled altogether. Eventually, though, McMillen thought that it was finally settled and on April 2 off she went in her tuxedo to her hard-won prom. Only to find it was a decoy. McMillen and her date (not the girlfriend, BTW – the girlfriend’s parents wouldn’t let her attend because of the media attention) were just about the only ones there — five other students, two of them with learning disabilities, and the chaperones, who were the high school principal and other school officials. All the other students had gone to another, ”private” prom being held at the same time in a location concealed from McMillen. Some of the high school students later bragged on Facebook about the whole deception, further mocking McMillen.

Ah, but the court encounter is not over. Judge Davidson indicated he would hold a hearing on damages some time in April. That should give him an occasion to explore whether the parents lied to him back in March (contempt?), and whether they were in cahoots with the school officials (state action, conspiracy?). I hope he slams them all big time. Perhaps he should find the entire community of Fulton, Mississippi, (pop. 4000) in contempt if the evidence warrants and if there’s a way to do it.

It would please me greatly if these parents were hit with massive contempt fines.

Lego House

This is less impressive if you've been to the Mall of America ... but only a little bit less.



Via.

Resembling Nazis

Previously, when blogging on the failure of UC-Berkeley's divestment vote, someone protested my labeling of the anti-BDS folks as "the good side". I've written at length regarding why I find the BDS movement to be morally pernicious, and specifically that the core of the movement, by its own admission, is implacably opposed to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state in any way, shape, or form. I feel no need to reiterate my arguments to this respect, curious commenters are welcome to search my archives. Suffice to say, I do not retreat an inch from my position that the BDS side is not a pro-peace side; it is a side that is predicated on continued conflict, on continued hate, on continued anger, and ultimately, on a one-state solution designed to restore Jews to their "rightful" place as global supplicants. If you're not on the side of TULIP and One Voice (and the BDS movement is locked in mortal combat with these groups), you're not on the side of peace. It's that simple.

I did, however, want to flag the experiences of a Berkeley student who attended the veto override vote:
The writers of the bill say that in itself, the bill is not anti-Semitic. Whether or not you believe that, I argue that whatever it is, something about the bill brings out anti-Semitic sentiment that I have never felt before. An Israeli man, probably in his forties, wearing a kippah, was tapped on his shoulder by the woman behind him (a supporter of the bill and local Berkeley resident), and told by her, “You know what’s ironic? You really look like a Nazi. There is something unpleasant about your face and features that really resembles a Nazi.” While this doesn’t reflect everyone in the room, I was shocked that someone would have the audacity to say that. I cannot think of something more offensive that could be said to a Jew. And here we are in 2010. When the bill was first voted upon and the veto was upheld, a hispanic student that had been sitting in front of me the entire time jumped up and turned back (where many of us who are against the bill were sitting) and yelled, “You killed Jesus.” I was shocked to say the least. Finally, a common refrain of “AIPAC is taking over the ASUC” was called out many times, partially in response to our newly elected Jewish president (what a relief). To me, this is the oldest of anti-Semitic claims - the Jews are running the world, they are running our government. To be honest, this was the first time I was scared because of anti-Semitism, and I really was.

I bolded that line in particular, because I think it represents a perfect storm of atrociousness. The student simply focuses on how viscerally offensive it is. And there is that. But consider deeper. The idea that particular facial features are symptomatic of being Nazi-like is essentially biological racism. There is little to distinguish it. The claim is that something embedded in this man's genetic code -- something as inherent as ones bodily structure -- is enough to make one into a Nazi. Ironically enough, it is precisely that sort of phenotypic sorting that most closely resembles Nazi practice. Looking like a Jew is itself a moral disease.

Even if we assume that the man had features that looked Germanic, instead of "classically" Ashkenazi Jewish, what is the woman forgetting? Who does she think was killed by the Nazis? Does she not realize that there were German Jews; that they, too, were victimized in the Holocaust. I believe she does. She has been squeezed into a contorted mask of moral hatred, and the BDS vote was what she saw as an appropriate outlet for it. It's indicative of a person who simply doesn't care about Jews, who doesn't care about Jewish experience, who fundamentally doesn't care about Jewish lives. And in my experience, while she may have been more overt in causing offense, that fundamental disregard for equal human dignity is indicative of the sort of person who joins the BDS movement.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Edwin Valero Arrested on Suspicion of Murder

WBC lightweight champion Edwin Valero has been arrested in Venezuela on suspicion of murdering his wife.
Venezuelan Federal Police Chief Wilmer Flores said Valero was arrested after police found the body of his wife, Jennifer Carolina Viera, in a hotel in the city of Valencia.

Flores said Valero left the hotel room around dawn on Sunday and told the hotel's security personnel that he had killed Viera.

Flores told state television that police found three stab wounds on Viera's body. He said Valero was transferred a local police precinct, "where we are headed to take samples needed for the investigation of the case" and to question the boxer.

Valero's lawyer, Milda Mora, did not immediately answer telephone calls seeking comment.

The 28-year-old boxer has been in trouble with the law before.

Last month, Valero was brought up on charges of harassing his wife and threatening medical personnel who treated her at a hospital in the western city of Merida.

Police arrested Valero then following an argument with a doctor and nurse at the hospital, where his wife was being treated for a series of injuries, including a punctured lung and broken ribs.

Valero entered a Venezuelan rehabilitation center under court order on March 28 for treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, Mora said at the time. The boxer's attorney said Viera was injured when she fell down a flight of stairs at the couple's home while checking a water tank located on the roof.

Valero is (was) a national hero in Venezuela; it is unclear how a trial against him will progress. And I should add that he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Nonetheless, his track record is not good. If he's guilty, he should be locked away for a long, long time.

H/T: BLH. In the comments there, someone is reporting Venezuelan sources stating that Valero has confessed, and will claim self-defense (he's saying his wife attacked him with a knife).

UPDATE: Valero has reportedly hung himself while in prison.