Saturday, January 12, 2008

Positive Polling Out of Palestine

I've long thought that -- on the Palestinian side anyway -- the biggest barrier to progress in the peace process was the gap between the Palestinian people and their leadership. The Palestinians themselves probably were in favor of a reasonable settlement with the Israelis. But unfortunately, the political arena was firmly in control of a militant minority that, alas, controlled the guns.

Now, via David T at Harry's Place, some recent polling on the Palestinians' views on their situation and the conflict with Israel backs this hypothesis up:
Support or opposition to a peace settlement with Israel

Support 72%
Oppose 25.5%

Support or opposition to the Palestinian participation in the peace conference that will be held at the end of the month.

Support 71%
Oppose 26.5%

Should Hamas maintain its position on the elimination of the state of Israel?

Hamas should maintain its position on Israel 31%
Hamas should change its position regarding Israel 69%

Other interesting results here.

Main issue that makes you feel concerned

The economic hardship 31%
The absence of security 25%
The internal power struggle 29%
The Israeli occupation in general 6%
Family problems 3%

The security situation in the Gaza Strip now is better than before Hamas took over, worse, or it did not change?

Better 14%
Worse 79%
The Same 6%

Trust in Abu Mazen versus trust in Ismael Hanieh

Abu Mazen 78%
Ismael Hanieh 22%

Factional trust

Fatah 46%
Hamas 13%
Others 9%
None 32%

(Hamas trust was 41% in January 2006. Fatah v Hamas trust is 46% v 16% in the Gaza strip)

Support or opposition to early PLC elections

Support: 77%
Oppose: 23%

Voting preference if early PLC elections are held next week

Fateh 69%
Hamas 15%
Others 16%

Attitude about the nature of the state, refugees, and Jerusalem

Two states for two people 53%
A one bi-national state in historic Palestine 15%
A Palestinian state on all historic Palestine 32%

Return to their original place of residence 61%
Return back to the new Palestinian state 24%
Compensation 15%

Jerusalem as an international capital 19%
East Jerusalem for Palestine and West for Israel 29%
A unfiied capital for both states 14%
A capital only for Palestine 38%

As David puts it, "rejectionism rejected". Fantastic news.

Yay Competence!

Phone companies drop FBI wiretaps due to unpaid bills. That's our national security apparatus at work!

And let's also hear it for the phone companies: they'll work with the federal government on spying programs of dubious legality without batting an eyelash, but deprive them of their thirty pieces of silver, and they're out the door faster than you can say "retroactive immunity."

Note: I have no idea whether the wiretaps at issue here overlap with the one's which are the subject of controversy. It's entirely possible all the wiretaps in question are perfectly warranted and legal.

Boxing Blogging: FNF 1/11/08

Last night's FNF was described, rather accurately, as a "semi-finals" for Edison Miranda and Jean Pascal. If both won their fights, they'd set up an intriguing bout between the two on ESPN2 in June.

Kasim Howard (5-0, 4 KOs) TKO2 Ron LaForge (1-1, 1 KO)

This was the last bout of the evening, but I'm putting it first because it was the swing bout. Howard and LaForge had lots in common as fighters. Both were undefeated heavyweights with a good knockout percentage in the very early stages of their careers. Wait, that's all they had in common. Howard showed skill and technique. LaForge kind of lumbered at his opponent. Howard was ripped and in shape. LaForge, well, he carried 220 pounds on a 5'9 frame. I'm a lean 5'8, but he's got almost 80 pounds on me with that extra inch. And finally, Howard has been busy since turning pro, while LaForge took 9 months off since his first fight.

It went about as could be suspected. Howard knocked down LaForge twice in the second round in route to an easy knockout victory. He didn't look perfect -- there are still plenty of technical issues the young fighter could improve upon (falling in from too far out would be a big one). But he's got skill, appears to have conditioning and power, and he's doing what a talented young heavyweight prospect should be doing -- knocking fighters out.

Jean Pascal (21-0, 14 KOs) UD10 Omar Pittman (15-4-1, 8 KOs)

I've see Pascal fight once before, and he looked pretty good stopping late replacement Christian Cruz. He's hyper-fast, with tremendous athletic gifts. But despite the lop-sided (and deserved) decision victory, this wasn't his best fight, in against a boxer he really should have out-classed.

Pittman, a Philly based fighter, came out aggressively in the first round and scored what arguably could have been a knockdown, though the ref ruled it a slip (the punch cuffed Pascal more than it landed cleanly). After that, though, Pascal dominated through round six, knocking Pittman down in round two with a beautifully timed hook. Pittman wasn't throwing much, and as Teddy Atlas observed, his spirit looked throughly broken.

But I have to say, even at this stage in the fight, I was raising an eyebrow at Pascal. Sure, I was impressed with his speed. But he seemed technically very unsound. Jumping in without defense, going straight back with his hands down. There were a great many moments where I thought, "If Pascal was fighting someone better than Omar Pittman, he could be in serious trouble right now."

And then, in the seventh round, just after Teddy said that Pascal needed to buckle down and get Pittman out of there if he really wanted to make the "statement" he said he was going to on national TV, Pittman landed a massive left hook out of nowhere that sent Pascal staggering. Honestly, Pittman looked as surprised as anyone, but it gave him a much needed boost of confidence, and for the rest of the round through the 8th he was chasing a wobbly Pascal around the ring. By the 9th, Pascal had steadied himself, and he clearly won the 10th to take a comfortable decision.

But again, despite the win, this did not look good for Pascal. Aside from the fact that he should have knocked Pittman out, he showed a mess of defensive failings, and thus took a scare from a fighter he should have dominated. If the shot Pittman landed came from the right hand of Edison Miranda, he'd have been out cold. I'm still looking forward to Miranda/Pascal, but only because I want to see Miranda blast him out.

As for Pittman, this will probably be the last time we see him, as he was definitely just an opponent for Pascal. The North Philly native, who described his upbringing as a struggle just to wake up in the morning and said he had already come further in boxing than he ever dreamed possible, is no world beater. He's not very skilled, and while he's quite game, he also gets discouraged easily. In fact, there were several points in the bout where he looked so miserable I seriously wondered if he was suffering from depression. Anyway, I wish him all the best, and hopefully he will continue to make a nice run in the B/C level circuit.

Edison Miranda (30-2, 26 KOs) KO3 David Banks (15-4-1, 2 KOs)

Poor David Banks. I had a couple of observations after watching his last fight. The first was that he's a difficult fighter to get a handle on. He can be seen as a slick, skilled counter-puncher. But he also can be seen as a dull fighter with no power or inside ability who, too often for comfort, doesn't seem interested in being in the ring. The second was that he's had what must be a really frustrating career. His last five prior to this fight tell the story. After really getting on the map with two straight wins over prospect Elvin Ayala (who would later draw with Sergio Mora), he then lost a decision to Peter Manfredo on Manfredo's home turf in which Banks didn't look half bad. He followed that up with a disputed split-decision loss to Paul Smith in the opening round of The Contender, season three. Finally, he righted ship with a majority decision victory over Donnie McCrary -- someone he had to beat if he was going to continue his career. Even that fight, though, I thought he deserved a UD.

Anyway, now Banks is being trained by Buddy McGirt. And I'll give him credit, he definitely at least looked interested in being in the ring for the first two rounds. But honestly -- what Banks needs now is a few wins to build up his confidence and let McGirt's tutelage sink in. He did not need to be matched with the human wrecking ball that is Edison Miranda. [UPDATE: Speaking of bad luck, if I recall correctly, Banks was originally supposed to face Pascal, not Miranda. Am I the only one who wonders if Banks might have been able to beat Pascal last night?]

After a slow start, Miranda, who was fighting for only the second time at Super Middleweight, started to pick up the pace in the third round. And it was in that round that he landed a massive right hand that literally put Banks through the ropes. The image of him sprawled on his back, balanced limply on the bottom two ropes, was just amazing. And I'm further amazed that Banks even tried to get up, though he didn't come close to beating the count.

Miranda's only losses are to Arthur Abraham and Kelly Pavlik, hardly shabby (Banks', for that matter, are to Miranda, Manfredo, Smith, and Eromosele Albert -- not nobodies either). He continues to show that his power is no fluke, and his form continues to get better. Based on what we saw tonight, he'd eat Pascal alive. And boy, wouldn't that be fun to watch.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sanford on Obama

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R) has penned an excellent editorial in The State (SC's largest newspaper) on the meaning and significance of the Obama campaign to his state. He doesn't agree with Obama on the issues, and won't be voting for him in November. But, he writes, "it's worth pausing to take notice of something important that the Obama candidacy means for our corner of America."
South Carolinians are rightly proud of our state’s rich heritage and history, dating from the earliest Colonial times and our ancestors’ heroic efforts in the Revolutionary War right up to the present day. I say this because we’re a state that loves history, and one of the nicest parts of my job lies in constantly being exposed to the extraordinary achievements of South Carolinians past and present. In the Obama candidacy, there is a potentially history-making quality that we should reflect on. It is one that is especially relevant on the sensitive topic of race — because South Carolina and the South as a whole bear a heavier historical burden than the rest of our country on that front.

As governor, I try to keep that historical burden in mind, because being sensitive to race has both policy and symbolic implications. I strongly believe that policies such as school choice and reforms to allow Medicaid recipients additional health care options will have a disproportionately positive impact on African-Americans in our state. Others disagree, favoring a larger role for government than the private sector, and those legitimate policy disagreements will always be with us in the political arena.

On the symbolic front: Having a more diversified Cabinet, issuing the first formal apology for the Orangeburg Massacre and traveling across the state line to Georgia to address the South Carolina NAACP convention have all represented small steps aimed at building bridges across waters that have divided us for too long as South Carolinians. In short, just like hundreds before me and scores of others trying in their own ways, I try to build bridges where I can — but I write because it all pales in comparison to the change that may be before us.

This is excellent material. It is surprisingly reflective, missing the reflexive defensiveness (verging into outright hostility) that one often hears from conservatives (southern and otherwise) talking about race, and forthright about the "heavier historical burden" issues of race cast upon South Carolina and the American South.

Nobody is saying that Gov. Sanford should vote for Obama. And I'm not saying that I think his policies, ultimately, are one's which benefit either African-Americans or the nation as a whole. Rather, what is promising about this editorial is that it at least conceptualizes itself in dialogue with a segment of the community that often is de facto excluded from democratic discourse. Insofar as Governor Sanford sees how his administration -- in both it's substantive and symbolic dimensions -- acts upon Black citizens as a relevant consideration and an important concern, that's a boon in of itself.

So kudos, Governor Sanford. That was a beautiful editorial.

H/T: CNN's Political Ticker

Lurking Mode, Deactivated

It's National Delurking Week. I don't know if my blog has any actual lurkers. But if you're out there, show yourself to the light!

Flurry of Endorsements for Obama

Political observers were as stunned as everyone else by Hillary Clinton's win in New Hampshire, and are struggling the re-establish the frame for the race. Many people thought that Clinton would get major momentum out of New Hampshire, and it certainly didn't hurt her. She narrowly edged out Obama in Q4 fundraising, got a bevy of positive media coverage (ironically enough, most of which related to voter backlash against the media's prior sexist coverage), and is looking to reestablish her status as the "inevitable" candidate. Iowa is now just a blip.

But Obama is showing himself to be surprisingly resilient, pulling in a flurry of new endorsements. John Kerry was the big name (indeed, there are few Democrats in all the country who have a higher profile than the 2004 nominee). But Obama also grabbed three other intriguing endorsements yesterday: Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and 2006 Connecticut Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont. Johnson is important because he has a vulnerable Senate seat in 2008, and his endorsement shows confidence that Obama's coattails will be a boost for Dems in tough election fights down-ticket. Miller, for his part, is a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who herself has pledged to stay neutral in the race for the White House. Finally, Lamont doesn't have the political pull of Miller or Johnson, but he is a progressive hero for taking on sworn enemy Sen. Joe Lieberman, and could help solidify Obama's credentials with the base, which still reacts warily to Obama's conciliatory, independent-appealing rhetoric.

Today, Obama built on that momentum, snaring the endorsement of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (someone I've mentioned as an interesting VP candidate). Napolitano helps Obama both as a governor of mountain west state, a state bordering Nevada, and by cracking Hillary's hold over high profile female politicians. And finally, powerful Black South Carolina Democrat Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) has announced that he is considering ending his own stated neutrality in the primary process in reaction to comments by Hillary Clinton that seemed to minimized the importance and role of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King. Obama would be the likely subjet of Clyburn's support.

Folks have had questions about whether Obama possesses the raw political talent to hang with a seasoned player like Clinton. But so far, he's ran a rather impressive campaign, and this string of endorsements has really taken the bloom off Clinton's New Hampshire boom.

Strange but True Jews

The story of the only known Jewish Indian chief.

Via Professor Muller.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

You Have To Do Better Than That

Eric Yoffe, a leading Reform Rabbi, has been working hard at developing bonds and bridges between America's Islamic and Jewish community. A noble goal, to be sure. But in the Jewish Week, a group of Islamic leaders have objected to his choice of a partner: the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

Unfortunately, it is difficult from their editorial to grasp why I, as a standard issue liberal Jew, should find the ISNA problematic. It vaguely alleges that the ISNA has "served as a front group for Wahhabism" and other extremist Muslim ideologies, but doesn't say what it means by that. And when pressed for an example of the ISNA's radicalism, it gives us this:
Ingrid Mattson, president of ISNA, revealed the style of radical rhetoric with which the organization is saturated when, in addressing the URJ’s recent convention, she declared that in the current U.S. presidential primaries, “we see candidates being asked to prove that they comply with an ever narrower definition of what it means to be a Christian — forget about being a Muslim or a Jew.”

This is hardly spine-tingling material. Indeed, I might agree with it myself. And even if I disagreed, it hardly strikes me as beyond the pale of respectable discourse. But to the authors of this editorial, it is "an inexcusably irresponsible, inflammatory charge." Seriously? I'm supposed to buy that?

Elsewhere, it misreads Rabbi Yoffe's statement that "Islamic extremists constitute a profound threat. For some, this is a reason to flee from dialogue, but in fact the opposite is true," as promoting dialogue with the extremists, when he obviously is arguing that the presence of Islamic extremism makes dialogue with the rest of the Islamic community more urgent, not less. I could give other examples too; but overall, the styling of the editorial was persistently in such bad faith that it was anti-persuasive -- after reading their article, I came away further from their stated position than when I started.

The editorial was signed by nine people, affiliated with the American Muslim Congress, the Aafaq Foundation, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and the International Quranic Center. I know nothing of any of those groups (nor do I know anything about the ISNA). It's entirely possible that the ISNA really is a radical group camouflaged as moderate. It's also possible that this is a power-play by groups trying to smear and discredit a less accommodationist rival. I have no way of evaluating that without doing more research than I care to. Suffice to say that, if the former is in fact the case, these nine persons do serious harm to an important cause when they argue with such reckless disregard for fairness, clarity, or truth.

Torture is Pretty Terrifying

The Wall Street Journal, on several Yale Law grad attorneys bringing a suit on behalf of Jose Padilla against former Bush administration official John Yoo, seeking to hold him liable for authoring the torture memos that led to Padilla's brutal and inhumane detention for four years:
Perhaps if Mr. Yoo had decided to pursue a life of terrorism, he too could be represented by his alma mater.

At the risk of jettisoning my moderate credentials once and for all, some might question how promulgating policies of torture is distinct at all from "a life of terrorism."

Just because you're on our side, doesn't make it right.

NOTE: I make no claims as to the proper resolution of this case, or Yoo's relative culpability in creating America's torture regime. I'm merely observing that if he is culpable, I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be considered a form of "terrorism."

Illegal Persons

The Washington Post today has an article on the term "illegal" to describe undocumented immigrants. Opponents of undocumented immigrants use illegal because, in their words, "[T]hey are breaking the law, and I don't consider it akin to a traffic violation. I would consider it breaking and entering. . . . It is a crime to enter this country illegally, and everything else they do is a furtherance of that crime."

The immigrants themselves, though, have a flurry of responses to this. Primarily, they say that the law at issue here is fundamentally unjust -- it keeps parents away from children, and dooms millions to a life of subsistence living and grinding poverty. They also claim it's stigmatizing -- it wasn't in the article, but I've heard the argument that we don't use the term "illegal" to apply to any other crime. When I jaywalk, am I an "illegal walker"? Was Ken Lay an "illegal CEO"?

But actually that debate, interesting as it is, is not what motivates this post. Rather, I wanted to highlight how one opponent of undocumented immigration characterized his support of a harsh crackdown bill in Prince Williams County, Virginia:
"There are places in Woodbridge where you can go and not hear a single word of English being spoken, and that's very troubling to me, because it shows a lack of integration in the process. . . . Sometimes it's difficult even to be understood by the store clerks."

Walker said he thinks immigrants' lack of assimilation might be linked to their residency status.

"Let's face it. It's not, by and large, doctors and lawyers who are sneaking across the border," he said. "I think when people are sneaking across the border, it seems they are more prone to stay in their own enclaves and in houses with multiple families and any number of people and to create a Latino subculture."

Walker said he can't know for sure how many immigrants who don't speak English are in the country illegally.

"They could have every right to be here," he said, adding that his support for the supervisors' resolution had no basis in ethnic or racial prejudice.

Let's review. Mr. Walker supports this resolution because, a) many immigrants he sees don't speak English, or don't speak it as well as he'd like, b) immigrants aren't assimilating quickly enough, c) immigrants are from the wrong social class, d) their forming "enclaves" with "multiple families" and thus creating "a Latino subculture" and e) he has no idea the degree to which any of these "harms" correlate to legal or illegal status.

Then he tells us his support has "no basis in ethnic or racial prejudice".

That entire line of reasoning was a prolonged flurry fearful of, to quote him directly, the creation of a "Latino subculture". That's the essence of ethnic prejudice! The term dissolves into nothingness if this isn't included. Indeed, this man can't even resort to the usual dodge about how he's not demanding Latinos act "White", he just wants them to adopt universal values of hard work. These men and women hold down jobs. They work long hours. They build businesses. They contribute to the economy. So long as they do that, I couldn't care less how they decorate their home or what foods they eat or what friends the associate or what language they speak to their pals.

Even hardened bigots often do not object to the presence of a few token minorities in their midst. What they rebel against is the assertion of any independent identity against that of the dominant group. Charles Lindburgh, a notorious anti-Semite, once helped bring over an entire ship full of Jewish refugees from Germany. Writing in his diary, he stated that "A few Jews add strength and character to a country, but too many create chaos." That's anti-Semitism. The litmus test for prejudice isn't that you're willing to concede that a few minorities can enjoy America's bounty so long as they keep quiet and don't remind anybody that they have their own culture. If you're willing to allow Jews in America only insofar as we're willing to stay invisible and out of your way, you're an anti-Semite, plain and simple. If you're willing to allow Latinos in America only if they act White -- even if they hold a job, even if they employ workers, even if they want nothing more than to live the American dream -- you're a racist, equally simple.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Gender Vote

My good friend Esq picks up positively Gloria Steinem's much discussed column on how gender should play into our decision to vote for Hillary Clinton. Both are in favor of letting Cliton's gender act as a fairly strong argument in her favor as Presidency, and both specifically pit this against a vote cast for Obama, which Steinem implies is the less "radical" choice. Esq writes:
The most common thing I've heard about Clinton is "I like her, but want to vote for the person, not the sex/race/whatever." Admirably post-feminist, right?

The problem is, we've moved from pre to post without spending long enough in plain ol' feminism to actually get the job done. In the previous post's comments, Ted tries to reduce the problem to one of "bias at the margins." That's utter nonsense. The problem is in the process itself -- the way Clinton is received, interpreted, and given an impossibly small range of ways to define herself in the public sphere. People say that they "like her, just not enough" without stopping to consider whether this is because of the constricted way in which pundits fashion her image out of the raw materials she provides, even as they make so much more -- often with so much less -- of her male competitors. And those are, of course, the minority of opinion-shapers, the ones not hopelessly fixated on her hair, clothes, laugh, or wrinkles.
We don't yet have the luxury for voting for the person irrespective of sex. And until we do, we're pointlessly squandering desperately-needed top talent, and dissuading too many from even wading into the pool. Spending too many years going too close to a doctorate in cognitive science tells me that "role model" isn't a cliche; it's a concept that fundamentally maps how we define our lives. I'll be voting for Clinton in the hope that, eight years from now, we can be a little closer to saying "I'm voting for the person" -- and having it be meaningful.

Or as Esq put it elsewhere in the post, "I'd have to hesitate a nanosecond before voting against Schlafly."

There's a lot to unpack here, and it must be unpacked carefully. I certainly agree with Esq that a significant amount of the hostility Clinton faces -- hostility which extends way beyond legitimate policy differences and into shrill, irrational akresia -- stems from latent sexism. I'm never so tempted to vote for Clinton as I am when I want to send a message to the Chris Matthews of the world that their brand of misogyny won't fly any longer. And I think it's a positive act for liberals supporting Obama or other candidates, like Publius, to take stock of their reasons for their commitments. We should all be so self-reflective in any case, but with the specters that surround Clinton, it's particularly important.

I also think that taking Clinton's gender into account -- in a very specific way -- is not facially illegitimate. It can't be on pure solidarity grounds ("I'm a women, she's a women, so she gets my vote."). Indeed, the solidarity argument really disrespects female voters as agents who can decide their votes on the totality of the merits. But one can "notice" Clinton's gender certainly for the benefits a female president would bring for gender equity. President Hillary Clinton would aid the gender equity project by showing young women that they can rise to the highest positions of power in America, gender equity is an important concern, ergo, a candidate who can claim an advantage on the issue should gain a comparative advantage, all else being equal, over other candidates.

Nonetheless, there are problems with the argument Steinem and Esq are putting forward. First, all else isn't equal. Gender equity is one important consideration, but it's hardly the only one. There are legitimate differences between the candidates that can also legitimately influence my vote, and it is a mistake to assume that just because I found that Clinton's gender-equity advantage was outweighed by other factors, it meant I didn't consider it. At the very least, we have to account for Obama's similar effects as a role model and as a positive image for the world. Should women not be concerned with this? Do we really want to encourage this degree of identity balkanization? And even on the gender issue alone, the "role model" perk isn't the only factor. Policies matter -- are Clinton's superior to Obama's? Implementation matters -- can Clinton push through laws where Obama can't? By minimizing the import of these alternative questions even on the narrow question of "what candidate would be best for women's rights", Esq skirts the edge of the solidarity argument in a way that strikes an uncomfortable chord for me.

Furthermore, I agree with Jennifer Fang's point that this formulation harmfully casts the issue in terms of who wins at the "Oppression Olympics", and definitely places women of color in an impossible situation of being forced to choose between identities (indeed, the rhetoric here, by casting "Black" and "women" as irreconcilably opposed categories, erases the existence of Black women entirely).
Ultimately, however, Steinem’s piece (intentionally or unintentionally) draws a line in the sand between people of colour and women, essentially disregarding the everyday racism faced by Black and Brown people, and claiming the Oppression Olympics gold medal for women. Further, by casting the debate as between Black men and White women (despite her imperfect creation of Achola Obama), Steinem renders the woman of colour invisible, reaffirms the binary Black-White paradigm of race, and demands we take a side in the epic battle between race and gender. Is it no wonder, then, that women of colour have long felt alienated by feminists like Steinem? Where do we fit when we’re being asked to choose between Obama and Clinton as a metaphor for race versus gender? And how are we supposed to react when an incorrect choice labels us as “less radical”?

I am deeply uncomfortable with this "less radical" implication. Even on the identity politics axis alone, I don't think it's facially unreasonable to think that breaking a racial barrier is more important than breaking the sexual one. Nor would I be opposed to the opposite stance. "These and these" are the words of the radical, to appropriate from the Talmud. But I do think it's a serious problem when we start boxing in people's choices in a way that constrains their agency beyond a very narrow array of concerns.

Women (White and Black) can rationally decide that Clinton is the best overall candidate considering every issue, including gender-equity. And they can likewise decide that Clinton is not the best candidate on those grounds. Blacks can make the same determination. The important thing is less the decision they make as it is the factors they incorporate in their deliberations. So long as they deliberate cognizant of the issues under consideration -- including the existence and importance of fighting misogyny, including the existence and importance of fighting racism -- we would do well to respect them as rational actors, even when they make choices we dislike.

You Can't Always Get What You Want....

The conventional wisdom regarding GOP primaries is that what the establishment wants, the establishment gets. It's part of what makes it so difficult to believe Mike Huckabee is going anywhere in the primary process, despite his impressive victory in Iowa and his meets-expectations third place in New Hampshire. After all, if there is one candidate this side of Ron Paul the establishment is lined up against, it's Huckabee.

But there's a kink, as DJW of Lawyers, Guns, and Money points out. Even if you believe that the GOP house always wins, that presupposes that the house has a favored candidate. But there is no George W. Bush this primary season. No GOP candidate really has united the party apparatus. McCain was the establishment guy for awhile, but despite his best efforts to jettison the slightest hints of his former maverick-status, he's retained too many enemies in high places to solidify his position.

Keeping that in mind, Huckabee actually has at least a tenable path to the nomination. The next big primary is South Carolina, where Huckabee should do well. Michigan is Romney territory, but he can't claim too big a bounce because his father was the governor of the state. Then it's a question of how things shake out on Super Tuesday. Huck has to look good in Alabama, Arkansas (his home state), Georgia, Missouri, and even possibly Tennessee (Fred Thompson's home), and he could definitely compete in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. He won't get a resounding victory that day, but in my opinion he only has to hold position that day. If he's still standing strong after February 5th, then he'll be in position to make a strong challenge for the #1 spot the whole rest of the process.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Riding the Youth Wave

Andrew Sullivan reminds us that neither Hanover (Dartmouth) nor Durham (UNH) have reported yet. Based on the folks I know at Dartmouth, I know that Giuliani probably will gain at least one vote there. And he's in a tight enough duel with Paul that he could actually use it.

But obviously, this is where Obama needs to clean up. Youth powered him to victory in Iowa, and I know for a fact how lop-sided college towns can go. Can it be Obama's savior here?

Yay, drama!

What I'm Doing Right Now

In theory, I'm doing reading for class tomorrow, but thus far I've been totally ineffective at it. In reality, I'm trying to exercise my latent mental powers to influence the New Hampshire primary results. Aside from trying to will Obama past Clinton in the New Hampshire primary (the obvious one), I'm also pulling for Ron Paul to squeak past Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side. It's not because I particularly care for Ron Paul, but I do like the idea of humiliating Giuliani, and a fifth place finish behind a Texas nut-case would accomplish that goal rather nicely.

Though when I think about it, it's a tough call between "I'm not a racist but..." Paul and the only man who makes Dick Cheney look like Patrick Henry in terms of love for boundless executive power.

What Happened To My Iowa Bounce!?!

What happened to Obama's bounce? Remember, the shiny Iowa bounce that had him up double-digits over Clinton in New Hampshire? The whole sense of being a part of something? Where did it go?

Early results from New Hampshire have Clinton leading Obama by 4 points (Edwards is lagging badly). Not much, and I did learn a lesson from Iowa about trusting early numbers.

But unlike in Iowa, in the Granite State CNN has exit polling, and it's not looking good for Obama there either.

God dammit, I want my bounce!

Oh, and CNN has called the state for McCain.

Truth Squad Avengers!

Over at The Plank, Michelle Cottle reports that John McCain is establishing a "truth squad" specifically to counter negative attacks in South Carolina.

Can't say I blame him. Say what you will about McCain, but he was brutally smeared in South Carolina 2000, the worst being "Black baby" calls (McCain has an adopted child from Bangladesh, "unknown" operatives implied that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child). I find it amusing that South Carolina has become nearly legendary for low, dirty, vicious campaign tactics that really should shock the conscience of any sane, moral human being. It's yet another reason why the region's flaunting of its moral superiority over the rest of us grates me (others on the list: its leadership in committing treason-in-defense-of-slavery, politically charged "irregularities" in the state Bar scoring). It's a culture that developed out of its Jim Crow days, and has not dissipated to this day.

Huckabee's Catholic Problem

I've always kind of assumed the deep divisions between (conservative) American Catholics and Evangelicals had mostly healed by now. But maybe that's due to my stance as an outsider: as a liberal Jew, it's difficult for me to differentiate between various conservative Christian sects from each other. This also might lead me to pervasively underestimate the amount of anti-Mormon sentiment Mitt Romney faces. He's conservative (today, anyway)! He's Christian! What more do you folks want?

And so, it appears my instinct might be mistaken. Running some numbers on the Iowa caucuses, Philip Klinkner finds that Huckabee has a serious Catholic problem. Despite his statewide victory, he ran into serious trouble in Catholic counties, who went strongly for Romney. I guess I have to ask whether or not the data is skewed by non-Catholic (and evangelical-heavy) areas just went hard against Romney because he's Mormon (while Catholics were less disposed to be automatically biased against him), but to my poorly trained eye it looks like Klinkner separated those variables out. Debaser raises the possibility that Catholic concentration in urban areas presents a confounding variable, which seems a legitimate point. But it wouldn't surprise me if Huckabee was at least underperforming among Catholics.

As Matt Yglesias points out, if true, this represents a problem for Huckabee. Catholics are the paradigmatic case of a voting bloc that is sympathetic to social conservatism but also likes their government programs. It's his platform personified. If he turns them off, he's going to have trouble making any serious progress in the general.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Finkelstein Says Hi to Hezbollah

Isn't this precious: Norman Finkelstein, recently denied tenure at DePaul University, met with Hezbollah leaders in south Lebanon and took a tour of the area with them. He had this to say:
"After the horror and after the shame and after the anger there still remain a hope, and I know that I can get in a lot of trouble for what I am about to say, but I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope. They are fighting to defend their homeland."

Hope for what, I wonder? And if Hezbollah represents the hope, would Finkelstein say that we all Hezbollah now, then?

Clinton Unifies On One Issue

I like Hillary Clinton. She's not my favorite candidate, but I'd be quite pleased with her as President. And even when she annoys me (as, like any politician, she does from time to time), I respect her talent, drive and abilities.

But the one thing that really pushes me towards Hillary more than anything else is the blind, frothing hatred that is directed at her. It viscerally offends me, and makes me want to stand in her corner on fairness grounds alone. People worry about whether Obama would be safe as President, but honestly I think that Clinton faces a bigger threat. For fifteen years now, an entire cesspool of hate has bubbled around Hillary Clinton, one that has been fanned (if not sanctioned) by "mainstream" conservative forces. And let's be clear: it openly fantasizes about violence against her. Is there any contemporary analogue to the "I Wish Hillary had Married O.J." t-shirts? It's sick.

That's why recently, I've been pleased to see a diverse array of bloggers who have been willing to call folks out on the misogynistic BS Hillary faces as a matter of course. The response to the tears at the New Hampshire rally (prompting ABC to question whether her emotions will "get the best of her"). The buzzing about her "too harsh" responses about change at the Democratic debate. She's a cold emasculating ball-buster, when she isn't a frail, emotional wimp.

Stephen Suh summarizes the absurd double standard:
Is Hillary ahead in the polls? Then she's too cold, too ambitious and calculating. She's a woman, after all, and women are all nurture-y and, um, I don't know, emotional and stuff. Has Hillary lost her composure at any point? Then she's too emotional, too unstable. She's a woman, after all, and they can't be trusted to keep their inner weaknesses in check. That's why women aren't good leaders, you know.

Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me to see this type of treatment. It's always there when a woman gets uppity. She's too mannish until people find a way to describe her as too typically "female." Then they'll go straight back to the original criticism without missing a beat.

Reformed conservative John Cole, who I know is no fan of Clinton, similarly is sick of it, and pegs the source of the problem right where it should be: Hillary's a woman, and folks can't stand the idea of a woman showing a spine:
Quite frankly, I hate to say this, but I think what we are actually seeing is a double-standard here, and the feminists may be right. This is all about Hillary being a woman. John Edwards has been 150 times as angry the whole campaign, and has built his entire campaign around it. Howard Dean was angry, and people lapped it up. Here, Hillary isn’t really angry, just matter-of-fact and frustrated, and people are giving her shit.

He's right about Edwards. Of course, if a woman shows any degree of softness, then the other foot drops: she's weak and emotional. Here Steve Benen rightfully hits Edwards for cheap-shotting Hillary on that very point.

These are not Hillary fans. But they're hitting back against the clear, persistent, and unmistakable sexism that has plagued Clinton's campaign from day one. If someone as powerful, educated, talented, and able as Clinton can fall prey to it, what makes us think other women will be spared?

Mitt Romney is So Street

CNN's Political Ticker reports Mitt Romney pumping up his credentials against new Democratic front-runner Barack Obama:
"Frankly, I don't think Senator McCain, despite his service and his length of experience that that's going to be able to stand up to the message that Barack Obama has brought forward," he said.

"We better think about somebody who can stand up with a message and go toe to toe with [Obama]," Romney said, adding that he can "post up against" Obama.

Aside from being a ridiculous choice of words ("post up"? What the hell?), the underlying point is silly as well. If there is one Republican that I'm confident Obama can pick apart like none other, it's Mitt Romney, who is uncharismatic, screams "business as usual", and has all the authenticity of a used car salesman. Obama would eat him alive in the general.

Meanwhile, a Romney campaign adviser put this argument forward:
Romney senior adviser Ron Kaufman said Obama "demolished three senators" in Iowa and will "demolish" Clinton in New Hampshire, "so clearly having a senator against him is not a good idea."

Again, bizarre. First, Obama actually demolished either two or four senators (depending on whether we're counting fringe contenders Biden and Dodd), not three. Second, he also demolished the only Governor in the race, Bill Richardson. Third, of all the reasons Obama managed to best Clinton and Edwards (and Biden and Dodd) in Iowa, the fact that they're senators ranks pretty low on the list. And finally, even if the Senate really was the defining element of Obama's Iowa victory, there's no reason to think the dynamics of the Democratic primary in any way approximate those of the general election (I only wish!).

The Essence of Northfield

Friend-of-the-Debate-Link (and friend-of-the-Debate-Link-author!) Eva Lam pretty much nails it:
In less-publicized election night news, David Schraub covers the special election for the Minnesota State Senate, in which the eight precincts in Northfield, home of Carleton College (great school), St. Olaf College (great choirs), and a Malt-O-Meal factory (great Marshmallow Mateys), collectively made it a landslide for the Democratic candidate.

Mmm...Marshmallow Mateys...

The FRC Loves Judicial Review!

In China, anyway, where the high court has announced it will hear a case regarding forced abortion.

To be sure, the case they cite is rather appalling. A women who got pregnant prior to marriage was literally forced to have an abortion. Apparently, family planning officials "escorted her to a local abortion center, where her unborn child was given a lethal injection and later removed from the womb. Jin lost so much blood as a result of the procedure that she was hospitalized for six weeks and, in the seven years since, has been unable to conceive."

Yes, forcing women to make reproductive decisions against their will infuriates me too. It's a good thing the Chinese courts appear willing to intervene against the "law of the land" to stop it. Remember, Roe Rage isn't about legal theory, it's about results.

It's Not TV, It's Barack Obama

Barack Obama has declared The Wire to be his favorite television show. Jonathan Golob explains why that actually makes him a more appealing candidate.

Though it does seem to cut against his theme of a "politics of hope", no?

Ouma/Bundrage on ESPN2?

BoxingTalk is reporting that Kassim "The Dream" Ouma will face Cornelius "K9" Bundrage in a Junior Middleweight clash on ESPN2 (March 28th).

I'm a big Kassim Ouma fan. How can anybody not be, given his terrible personal history (he was a child soldier in Uganda)? And he has an exciting, punches-in-bunches style that's just fun to watch.

But Ouma has had struggles with his focus as of late. After losing to Jermain Taylor in a Middleweight title fight (Ouma didn't look bad there, but he has no business fighting at 160 lbs.), he lost a shocking upset split decision to Saul Roman. You have to think some of Ouma's problems are in his head, and given the trauma he's endured over his life it's hard to blame him. But still, with two straight losses you got to wonder if Ouma's really all together at the moment.

At his best, Ouma could pick Bundrage apart. Ouma owns wins over Verno Phillips (twice), Marco Antonio Rubio, Kofi Jantuah, J.C. Candelo, and gave Sechew Powell his first (and thus far only loss). Powell, of course, gave Bundrage his first loss via first-round knockout. Bundrage isn't a nobody, and is certainly capable of giving a distracted Ouma a tough time. But his upper-limit was exposed when he got blasted out of the ring by Joel Julio a few months back.

I don't really have anything against Bundridge, but he does tend to fight against boxers I like more than him (Walter Wright being the best example). And anyone who can root against Kassim Ouma doesn't have a soul. I'm rooting for "The Dream" to return to his former glory.


And while I'm talking about boxing, can I say that I am sick of boxing writers sabotaging the prospect of a Ricky Hatton/Junior Witter fight. The fight would be huge in England. Both have one loss, to pound-for-pound elite fighters (Floyd Mayweather and Zab Judah, respectively). They're definitely the #1 and #2 fighters in their division. As much credit as I give Hatton for fighting Mayweather, he's been ducking Witter for years now -- the latter hasn't lost a fight since 2000, against excellent opposition. What more does he need to do to earn the shot? He even responded to critics who said he was too boring by sensationally knocking out contender Vivian Harris in seven rounds. And folks are saying Hatton should -- legitimately -- be taking a fight with Paulie Malignaggi instead? After the latter squeaked past Herman Ngoudjo in a bout some thought the latter won? This is the Calzaghe/Kessler bout at 140 pounds. All the folks who are legitimizing Hatton's blatant ducking of Witter ought to be ashamed.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Philosophy of the Limit

Note: This post has nothing to do with the book by Drucilla Cornell (to my knowledge; I've never read it) aside from the fact that she's awesome.

One of my ultimate pet peeves is people replacing the reality of justice with the perceived capacity to obtain it. By this, I mean folks who argue for a particular definition or conception of justice specifically on the grounds that it would be attainable, or against alternative conceptions because they have no identifiable stopping point. An "attainable" philosophy is one that we can realistically imagine "completing", so there is nothing left to do. An unattainable philosophy, by contrast, is not necessarily a futile one, it just means that its conceptual endpoint probably will never be reached. For example, "nobody should (unwillingly) die of illness" is an unattainable philosophical position -- we probably will never reach a point where nobody dies of a disease. But we can still move towards that reality, by making it progressively less likely that people will die of disease. Someone wedded to the idea of attainability, however, would argue that beyond some point it is no longer unjust when people die of disease -- there is an achievable "limit" at which point the requirements of justice have been met. Demands beyond that are unreasonable insofar as they effectively posit that we can never have a completely just health-care system.

This mode of argumentation pops up all the time. For example, liberals attack the sufficiency of negative liberty by noting that non-interference does not equalize the ability to act -- in a completely open world, some people can do many more things than others. If freedom implies access to at least a certain bundle of resources and privileges necessary to pursue one's desired ends in the public sphere, then the state must be enlisted to guarantee at least these minimums so people have the basic ability to act freely. In response to this argument, Raymond Plant articulates the conservative objection:
[F]reedom and ability cannot be the same thing, since no one is able to do all that he or she is free to do. I am free to do everything that I am not currently prevented by others from doing. Thi will turn out to be an indefinitely large number of things. However, it does not matter how rich and powerful or how intelligent or resourceful I am, it still remains the case that I am able to do only a small number of things that I am free to do.... There is no way in which abilities, capacities and powers can be equalised, and therefore if freedom is understood at least in part in terms of ability then we can never attain the liberal ideal of equal freedom, an ideal which can be attained if by freedom we mean mutual non-coercion. [Raymond Plant, "Neo-liberalism and the Theory of the State: From Wohlfahrtsstaat to Rechtsstaat," The Political Quarterly Vol. 75, pp. 24-37 (2004), 26]

Similar arguments are made by conservatives against color-conscious policies designed to increase diversity, which Justice Scalia has protested could be justified indefinitely; and in favor of jurisprudential techniques like originalism, which are praised for supposedly being concrete, definite, and definitive. It's barely even acknowledged that justice might require a degree of uncertainty, fluidity, or flexibility. What if racial justice does require indefinite use of color-conscious selection processes? Should we care?

I won't say I don't understand the motivation behind the instinct. For understandable reasons, we want an attainable definition of justice, because to deny this forces us to run an exhausting and unending marathon chasing moral progress. We want to say we've "made it", and we can't, no matter how hard we try. Fine, and I'm sorry about that. Nonetheless, there is nothing implicit in the definition of justice that requires it to be concrete or attainable. Arguing that a particular mode of justice should be adapted simply because it's easier is intellectually facile and childish. Justice isn't a destination, it's a pursuit. That's the problem with ideals -- you'll find they're rather difficult to pin down in reality. If you're chasing an infinite like justice, you can never expect to get there. And if you construct your definitions with an end-point in time, you'll never realize those dimensions of justice which lie beyond the limit.

Because of that truth, I'd argue that restricting the discourse of justice to its realizable forms demonstrates not just a failure of moral fortitude and imagination, but a failure of morality itself. To return to the freedom-as-ability argument, I will freely concede that we will never reach a world in which everyone will be able to do everything. But it is ridiculous to use that observation as an argument in favor of not trying to expand the relative opportunities and abilities of individuals. The irony is that, as Plant puts it, the defense of the non-coercion model rests on the idea that we can claim -- definitively and concretely -- that the persons under it possess "equal freedom". Here is where radical communism intersects with radical capitalism -- being able to describe freedom as being held by all equally is more important than the actual material reality that people live in. But why should we care whether we can say that we've hit the ideal of equal freedom? Shouldn't we care more about actually being closer to it? The non-coercion theorists care more about being able to call the world just than trying to press for the maximum possible amount of justice. After all, if you're still pursuing justice, you're conceding that the current state of affairs contains injustice. And that's depressing!

The point, then, is twofold. First, attainability, by itself, is not an argument for a particular conception of justice. There is no reason for us to suppose we should be so lucky as to exist in a universe where justice is attainable. That might be a depressing thought, but past Elementary School "depressing" isn't a valid response to social reality. Second, adopting concrete models of justice is unnecessarily constraining -- it denies the reality of any dimensions of justice that lie beyond the limit, and thus consigns us to an inferior world so we can play make-believe that we live in a superior one. It can be scary to admit just how much there is left in front of us (an infinite amount, to be exact). But nobody denied that morality required courage.