Saturday, February 24, 2007

I Approve This Metaphor

The Wall of Separation blogs on the supposed death of the "Religious Right":
Like a vampire from a schlocky drive-in horror movie, the Religious Right is often staked but never truly finished off. There is always another sequel. Pundits said the Religious Right would die after Falwell shut down the Moral Majority in 1989. Others said the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992 was a mortal blow. Still others opined that the movement was finished when the Christian Coalition began to lose influence about five years ago.

Shades of Scalia, anyone? From his opinion in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches School District, 508 U.S. 384 (1993):
As to the Court's invocation of the Lemon test: Like some ghoul in a late night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District...Such a docile and useful monster is worth keeping around, at least in a somnolent state; one never knows when one might need him.

Good rhetoric makes strange bedfellows, I suppose.

Friday, February 23, 2007


The New Republic has been sold, and will now operate under new, more liberal ownership. This should help resolves some tensions centered around it being a liberal publication with conservative ownership. Editor Franklin Foer explicitly tagged this shift as being in keeping with TNR's shift to the left, which I think is a positive development and necessary for its continued viability. It also is reassuring to me, because in the aftermath of Spencer Ackerman's departure, I was worried about the magazine moving in the other direction (something I felt like I was observing on The Plank).

TNR has worked hard to shake the perception that it is merely liberal cover for neo-conservatism. Peter Beinart has a piece in the latest issue on How He Got the Iraq War Wrong, which struck a chord with me, because I was wrong on Iraq for much the same reasons (Beinart is a writer I respect immensely). There are those on the left who wish to see TNR dead and buried--a view I think is vindictive and unhelpful. But regardless of whether we think they've strayed or not, we should wish them luck in getting on the right track. There are precious few opportunities for sharp liberal writers to get into print without one of the oldest being cannibalized from within.

UPDATE: Can I smile at Marty Peretz's description of his outlook towards blogging?
Mr. Peretz, 67, has himself become a blogger. He said he was "not enjoying it exactly," but that he had found it addictive.

"When I used to see something irritating, I would typically call a friend," he said. "Now I just go to the blog." He said he is often surprised at how quickly readers will post a response. "It’s as if they’re waiting for something,” he said. "Then they say, 'Ah, here he is. I'm going to pounce.'"

I don't have readers poised to pounce on me (if only....), but I definitely relate to the addiction metaphor for blogging.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Women's Oasis or Transphobic Spaces?

I really, really, really, really like this post by PG on women-born-women spaces and how they discriminate against Male-to-Female transsexuals. I've talked about exclusivist spaces before (in blogging, actually), and I've also discussed the plight of internal minorities, that is, people who are a marginalized minority within yet another marginalized minority group (e.g., transgendered women, Black conservatives, lesbian Jews). There are extraordinarily thorny questions involved in how the super-minority group (in PG's post, women) treat the sub-minority group (transsexuals). PG's treatment of those issues, and her reminder that internal suppression of sub-minority groups hurts both the movement as a whole as well as coalition-building with outsiders, is very well argued and essential reading.

Iran and al-Qaeda

I thought that Christiane Amanpour's article, citing a top Iranian official as declaring that the US and Iran were "natural allies", was quite interesting. Obviously, the Powerliners, who are quite invested in America and Iran being perpetually locked in mortal combat, was significantly less favorable. For my part, I think that there are forces that both push in favor and against the US and Iran allying. On the one hand, Iran's fanatical desire to obliterate Israel is something that cuts against a partnership (I don't mean to be glib here, this is obviously a major sticking point). And the gap between the Iranian and American government's conception of what our universal values should consist (a gap that, admittedly, is larger for some than for others) is also something that will pose barriers. On the other hand, America's main opponent in the global sphere, in terms of military threat, is Sunni Jihadists, who are also a natural enemy of the Shi'ite dominated Iran. Mutual enemies can make for strange allies (consider the persistent murmering of Israel and Saudi Arabia working together to check against their mutual threat--the growing Shi'ite Crescent stretching from Iran through Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah).

But Powerline's analysis, I thought, was rather pecuilar:
Amanpour's breathless report implies that only the belligerence of the President Bush, who unaccountably included Iran in the "Axis of Evil," frustrates a full alliance between these nations, both of whom, she says, are bitterly opposed to al Qaeda.

Many others, of course, believe that top al Qaeda leaders are now inside Iran. And it is not hard to argue that from 1979 to the present, the foreign power that has most consistently been at war with the U.S. is Iran.

Now, aside from who these "many others" are (hint--if they've got names like "curveball", run), and aside from the problem that we've yet to have been at war with Iran since 1979 (in contrast to Iraq and Serbia), this is a rather odd point. It seems unlikely that Shi'ite Iran is harboring top leaders of Sunni al-Qaeda. If they are not, then Powerline's argument kind of falls apart, obviously, and the non-presence of al-Qaeda in Iran lends credance to the idea that we should ally with them against al-Qaeda, and that the Bush administration has been foolish in not pursuing that avenue. But if Powerline is right, then we're faced with the fact that our foreign policy has done something to spook Iran so much that they're willing to support their bitter enemy in a fight against us. I don't really expect the Powerliners to have a particularly intricate grasp of the Sunni/Shi'ite split, but suffice to say a hardline Sunni group will consider Shi'ites to be heretics, and vice versa. It can only be a failure on our part that we've managed to allow what should have been an impossible alliance to manifest itself, because we insist on playing macho cowboy or whatever.

So either way, we're faced with a failure of foreign policy that can be chalked up to the Bush administration. No surprise over here, I know, but it amuses me that this flows so precisely from Powerline's own analysis of the Iranian situation.

Enemy At The Gates

Via Obsidian Wings, it appears there is a new equipment shortage for US troops:
"“We’re behind the power curve, and we can’t piddle around,” Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, said in an interview. He added that one-third of his soldiers lacked the M-4 rifles preferred by active-duty soldiers and that there were also shortfalls in night vision goggles and other equipment. If his unit is going to be sent to Iraq next year, he said, “We expect the Army to resource the Guard at the same level as active-duty units.” (...)

Capt. Christopher Heathscott, a spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said the state’s 39th Brigade Combat Team was 600 rifles short for its 3,500 soldiers and also lacked its full arsenal of mortars and howitzers."

Too few rifles? I seem to recall this problem cropping up before...for the Russian army in World War II!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Race Talk = Race Card

I need help from someone who is more attuned to conservative race discourse to help explain this to me.

Okay, so there has been a bit a flare-up between the camps of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, over statements by a former Clinton-camper (David Geffen) who now is supporting Obama. During the dueling press releases, Obama's camp argued:
"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters," Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said. "It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom. It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because he's black."

Gibbs is not exaggerating, Senator Ford (who is himself Black) most certainly did say just that:
"It's a slim possibility for him to get the nomination, but then everybody else is doomed . . . . Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose - because he's black and he's top of the ticket. We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything."

Now, merits of the political analysis aside, Ford is basically saying "don't nominate Obama because he's Black."

Picking up the story, Powerline gleefully notes that "Barack Obama is playing the race card against Hillary Clinton!"

My question is: Is there any possible way for a Black public figure in America to talk about race in a manner that is not immediately tarred as "playing the race card"? Up until today, I'd have said, "when they're protesting the argument that Black people shouldn't be nominated for President," but apparently our horizon as been pushed yet further back.

And so, this whole line of argument remains incomprehensible to me.


Is there anything else to say?

Mike Luckovich for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Sometimes, two stories strike very uncomfortable chords with each other.

For example, Joshua Kurlantzick has an excellent article up detailing the fate of Uigher detainees in Guantanamo Bay. They've pretty much all been found to be non-threats to the United States by our military commissions (a determination, it's worth noting, we only came to after detaining them for years on a secluded island prison, probably allowing Chinese interrogators to torture them in the process). So what are we doing with them? We have no idea. We can't send them back to China, they'll be tortured. No other country wants to take them. We can't allow them into the US, because, well, I assume because it would embarass us.

So, the upshot is that we've simply kept detaining some, while others we shipped off to Albania, a country which has virtually no Uigher community and does not speak a language remotely similar to Uigher. But I'm sure they'll do fine.

Meanwhike, Peggy McGuiness points to a rather forgotten part of the Japanese Internment saga: the people of Japanese descent we forcibly extracted from Latin American countries so we could snd them to desolate internment camps and, sometimes, use them as bargaining chips in POW exchanges.
Art Shibayama is an American who served in the Army during the Korean War. Like many veterans, Cpl. Shibayama was not born in the United States. He was born in Lima, Peru, to Japanese Peruvian parents. Until 1942, Shibayama, his two brothers and three sisters lived comfortably with their parents and grandparents, all of whom had thriving businesses. However, after America entered World War II, his family was forcibly removed from Peru, transported to the United States and held in a government-run internment camp in Crystal City, Tex.

Like many Japanese American families, Shibayama's family lost everything they owned. But the greater injustice occurred when his grandparents were sent to Japan in exchange for American prisoners of war. Their family never saw them again.

Shibayama and his family were among the estimated 2,300 people of Japanese descent from 13 Latin American countries who were taken from their homes and forcibly transported to the Crystal City camp during World War II. The U.S. government orchestrated and financed the deportation of Japanese Latin Americans for use in prisoner-of-war exchanges with Japan. Eight hundred people were sent across the Pacific, while the remaining Japanese Latin Americans were held in camps without due process.

In the case of the Uighers, we essentially kidnapped them, interned them without due process, and then sometimes shipped them off to a random country. In the case of these Japanese detainees, we also essentially kidnapped them, interned them without due process, and then shipped them off to another country.

Those who forget the past....

The Maryland Rape Case

This was kicked around the blogosphere earlier, but I'll give it some new life as a way of introducing Jon Siegel's new blog, Law Prof on the Loose. A court in my home state of Maryland ruled that a woman can not withdraw consent in the middle of sex--if she does, then it's not rape.
[T]he English common law . . . view[ed] the initial "de–flowering" of a woman as the real harm or insult which must be redressed by compensating, in legal contemplation, the injured party - the father or husband. This initial violation of the victim also provided the basis for the criminal proceeding against the offender. But, to be sure, it was the act of penetration that was the essence of the crime of rape; after this initial infringement upon the responsible male's interest in a woman's sexual and reproductive functions, any further injury was considered to be less consequential. The damage was done. It was this view that the moment of penetration was the point in time, after which a woman could never be "re-flowered," that gave rise to the principle that, if a woman consents prior to penetration and withdraws consent following penetration, there is no rape. Maryland adheres to this tenet.

As I told my friends upon hearing this, normally I'm quite proud to hail from Maryland, but this is shameful and appalling.

Now, as Siegel notes, the facts of this case are somewhat complex--apparently, the man stopped intercourse within five seconds of being asked. It is not clear to me whether that should count as rape--that seems like a reasonable amount of time between being told to stop, and stopping. But the categorical holding that rape cannot happen after the original penetration is shocking.

On Their Heads

I don't have time to read the entire opinion in Boumediene v. Bush, holding 2-1 that the Military Commissions Act precludes Guantanamo Bay detainees from pressing Habeas Claims. I agree with the court that the goal of the MCA was to strip the courts of jurisdiction from hearing such claims. I'm not sure whether such an action is constitutional, and I don't really know enough about the law to forward an educated opinion, though my gut says it isn't.

But in a sense it doesn't matter. There is only so much the courts can resist against a united congressional and executive assault on our core constitutional and human rights. This sin is on the head of the Bush administration, yes, for so aggressively working to undermine the rule of law and civil protections due to humankind. But it is also a sin we can ascribe to congress, for passing the MCA and gutting what little protection may have fallen to the detainees in the wake of Rasul.


Sorry for the slow pace of blogging. I've been typing a rough draft of my Constitutional Law seminar paper ("When Separation Doesn't Work: The Religion Clauses as an Anti-Subordination Principle"), as well as preparing to present heresy before my Contemporary Jewish Theology class tomorrow. Heresy is no exaggeration, I'm arguing that God has and can be an abuser, and that humans must proactively protest against divine injustices.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Know-Nothing Candidate

Continuing on the theme of why are we giving Rudy Giuliani a pass on the "experience" issue, when his Presidential resume consists of two terms at the Municipal level of government, Jon Chait points out that there is nothing in Giuliani's background that would remotely suggest he knows anything about foreign policy. Given that America's foreign policy stance likely will remain an important issue come 2008, this, to say the least, should be a problem.

Know Thyself

Gary Younge in The Nation has a really great article up about the need for Whites to come to terms with their history with regards to Jim Crow oppression. Now, obviously, in the school system today we are (or, at least most of us are) taught about the horrors of America's racial caste system. But, as Younge notes, so much of it is taught in the passive voice.
Leaders "get assassinated," patrons "are refused" service, women "are ejected" from public transport. So the objects of racism are many but the subjects few. In removing the instigators, the historians remove the agency and, in the final reckoning, the historical responsibility.

The argument against this sort of historical reckoning is that "it wasn't us." Do not stone the sons for the sins of the father. But this is not adequate. First, we don't make that argument when taking collective pride in our accomplishments: We" won World War II, "we" developed the greatest democracy on earth, "we" invented the lightbulb and the steamboat and the internet. Second, it does not account for the manner in which past sins yield present privileges. Insofar as some tragedies still matter, ignoring our history in this case means that we also ignore present inequities that stem from that history.
So we do not need more white history, we need it better told. Settlement, slavery and segregation--propelled by economic expansion and justified by white supremacy--inform much of what the United States is today. The wealth they created helped bankroll its superpower status. The poverty they engendered persists. But white history does not mean racist history any more than black history means victim's history. Alongside Blake, Milam and Bryant, any decent White History Month would star insurrectionist John Brown; the Vanilla Ice of the Harlem Renaissance, Carl Van Vechten; civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi, during the Freedom Summer of 1964; and Viola Liuzzo, murdered during the Selma to Montgomery march. It would explain why Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, why George W. Bush chose Bob Jones University to revive his presidential hopes. It would tell the story of how Ruby Bates recanted her rape accusation in a bid to save the Scottsboro boys from the noose and how the [family of Rosa Parks bus driver James Blake] never did reconcile themselves to the event that brought them infamy. "None of that mess they said was true," said his wife, Edna. "Everybody loved him. He was a good, true man and a churchgoer."

This is who we were. To a large extent, it remains who we are. It is not who we have to be. But our past--for good and for ill--must be told, lest it not become our future as well.