Saturday, September 20, 2008

Big Win For Transgender Rights

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge has ruled that discrimination on the basis of gender identity violates Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination. The case is Schroer v. Billington, and was filed by Diane Schroer, the former special forces operative whom I saw testify before Congress about this very case.

Here is Professor Nan Hunter's summary:
First, the judge found that there was “compelling evidence that the Library’s hiring decision was infected by sex stereotypes.” On that basis, Schroer was entitled to relief under the line of cases beginning with Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), which created the sex stereotyping doctine. In that case, the Court found that Title VII was violated when a woman was denied a job after being told to wear make-up and take a course at charm school. Evidence in the Schroer trial established that the negative reaction to Schroer grew out of her not fitting gender stereotypes by virtue of her decision to change genders.

More important was the second theory: that discrimination based on gender transition is literally discrimination based on sex. Schorer’s lawyers argued, and the judge agreed, that gender identity is a component of sex and therefore discrimination based on gender identity is sex discrimination. This might sound like a simple proposition, but previous federal courts have “carved [transgender] persons out of the statute by concluding that ‘transsexuality’ is unprotected by Title VII.”

The Schroer court held that just as discrimination against converts from one to faith to another is still discrimination based on religion, so too discrimination against transgender persons is still sex discrimination. Although doubtless Congress did not have transgender persons in mind when Title VII was enacted in 1964, the court found that the plain text of the statute covers this situation.

A great day for the rights of all Americans. Let's hope it holds up on appeal -- many other jurisdictions have sought to "carve out" gender identity from Title VII protections.

A Good Bad Ad

The quest to try and get the media to note that the McCain campaign has been nakedly and repeatedly lying over and over again is gaining some traction. But the primary barrier to it really receiving mainstream penetration is the perception that "everybody does it", and that whatever McCain is saying, it does not fall beyond the typical exaggerations and distortions that we frankly come to expect out of modern politicians.

But there is a difference between what the McCain campaign has been doing and the "typical" campaign. The following McCain ad is an example of a normal, partisan, mildly but not unreasonably unfair piece:

This an effective ad, and there is nothing too outrageous about it. Sure, it's a cheap shot, and sure that $42,000 figure is pretty dicey. But if this was all that the McCain campaign had been running, nobody would be having a conversation about how McMaverick decided to shove his integrity out a jet window from 30,000 feet. There is a qualitative difference between this ad, and the one's accusing Obama of supporting sex education for kindergarterners. Or Sarah Palin bleating about how she opposed the bridge to nowhere. Those are far more brazen and pernicious. This is a typical political ad. It's important to remember the difference.

Friday, September 19, 2008

MS Sup. Ct. Quote of the Year

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 that Gov. Haley Barbour's (R) effort to drop the Mississippi Senate special election to the bottom of the ballot violates state election law, which clearly says that national elections (such as races for the US Senate) need to be at the top of the ballot. But the Court also held that it has no authority to actually order Barbour to comply, which is what the "1" was dissenting from (though it appears Barbour will comply voluntarily).

This is not the first time this election has landed in the lap of the MS Supreme Court. The last time, it was Barbour's successful effort to avoid scheduling the special election within 90 days of former Senator Trent Lott's (R) resignation. The law said that "The election must be held within 90 days, unless the vacancy occurs during a year when there shall be a general state or congressional election." As Lott resigned in 2007, and there were no such elections until 2008, it would seem that the 90 day rule would apply. Alas, the court disagreed, and that leads us to Justice Diaz's wonderful dissenting line:
Given the governor's recent success at convincing seven members of this Court that a year is sometimes not a year, see Barbour v. State ex. rel Hood, 974 So. 2d 232 (Miss. 2008), one cannot fault him for daring to return to our chamber and insisting that the top is sometimes not the top.

For. The. Win.

Bringing Back the Mezuzah

A bipartisan group of US Congressmen have introduced a bill which would generally prohibit landlords or homeowners associations from banning the display of religious symbols outside one's domicile.
The bipartisan Freedom of Religious Expression in the Home Act was introduced Wednesday evening by U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas.).

It was sparked by a June federal appeals court ruling that upheld the right of a condominium association to ban the affixing of mezuzahs on doors. The ruling addressed a Chicago-area case, but there have been similar cases elsewhere, including Florida.

The bill would outlaw rules that ban the display of religious symbols on the outside of homes unless the rule is "reasonable and necessary to prevent significant damage to property, physical harm to persons, a public nuisance or similar undue hardship."

I remarked on the case that sparked this law here, and I am glad to see Congress stepping in to try and remedy that decision. No Mezuzot means no observant Jews, and since there is nothing dangerous or harmful about putting a small insignia on one's doorstep, I do not find it unreasonable to be given a little protection here by the government.

Gondar Must Be Freed!

I received this email today, forwarded from the governing body of American Conservative Judaism:
USCJ Executive Committee Passes Resolution on Falash Mura

At the September 7, 2008 meeting of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Executive Committee, the resolution below was passed in support of having the government of Israel allow the remaining Falah Mura in Ethiopia to immigrate to Israel:

Ethiopian Jews (Falash Mura)

WHEREAS: In 2003 the Government of Israel made a commitment to bring the remaining Ethiopian Jews (Falash Mura) from Ethiopia to Israel; and

WHEREAS: The Government of Israel has now indicated it has will no longer process the remaining 8700 in Gondar; and

WHEREAS: Those Falash Mura remaining in Ethiopia who are of maternal lineage have been declared to be Jews by successive Chief Rabbis of Israel, and

WHEREAS: They are considered to be Jews by leaders of the three main streams of American Jewry (Conservative, Reform and Orthodox) and will hereafter be referred to as Jews in this document, and

WHEREAS: They are demonstrating their ardent desire to live observant Jewish lives by attending local synagogue services; availing themselves of the limited facilities, ritual objects and opportunities available in their isolated, rural area (including an unheated mikvah, shared tefillin, observance of kashrut, Shabbat and holidays); and attending classes, as available, to increase their knowledge and ability to observe Jewish religious customs, and

WHEREAS: These Jews are openly and proudly Zionist despite the real possibility of local anti-Zionist violence, which (although not approved of by the national government) has taken place in the region in the past, and

WHEREAS: This action by the Israeli Government has resulted in the UJC halting the funding of food distribution with children, pregnant women ,nursing mothers and others starving, the 8700 living in hovels with no opportunity for providing for themselves in addition to being prevented from reuniting with their families in Israel.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) hereby calls upon the Government of Israel to adhere to its commitment and process these 8700 remaining Ethiopian Jews(Falash Mura) for aliyah immediately in order that the UJC resume funding so that food is provided and schools remain open until the Ethiopians Jews who are approved are brought to Israel.

The USCJ further calls upon the Federations and Jews throughout North America to work with the Israeli government to ensure that these 8700 Ethiopian Jews have adequate food, schools, medical supplies and treatment until they are brought to Israel.

The USCJ further calls upon its brother and sister North American organizations and communities to mobilize resources so that adequate funding for the humanitarian needs of the 8700 is made available.

Dr. Raymond B. Goldstein, International President

Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, Executive Vice President, CEO

Dr. Saul Shapiro, VP- Israel

Richard Skolnik, VP- Community Relations

Dr. Marilyn Lishnoff Wind, VP- Youth and Education

Dr. Wind, incidentally, is past president of my home congregation.

While it is cool that these Jews hail from a place called Gondar, it is most certainly not okay that Israel is keeping them out. Israel has, since its founding, taken upon itself as a primary obligation the promise to take in Jews anywhere, anytime, for any reason. It is abdicating that promise in the case of these Ethiopian Jews, and that is unconscionable.

See to it Personally

I think I'm going to take my laptop into the Dell folks at the University of Chicago today. Not that I've changed my opinion of them -- they were still great when I called them last night. But there is a limit to what they can do over the phone, particularly when the problem my computer has makes it nearly impossible to run a normal diagnostic scan.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trick or Treat

I'm sorry, but this was deserved:

From the always lovely Fail Blog.

Trick or Treat

I'm sorry, but this was deserved:

From the always lovely Fail Blog.

Gilchrest Endorses Obama

Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), who recently lost a primary election after coming out against the Iraq war, and more recently seen endorsing the Democrat running to replace him, has now jumped ship entirely and is supporting Barack Obama for President.
Justifying his endorsement of Obama, Gilchrest said that "we can't use four more years of the same kind of policy that's somewhat haphazard, which leads to recklessness."

Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), "have the breadth of experience. I think they're prudent. They're knowledgable."

Matt Yglesias wonders why this isn't getting the attention that the objectively far less meaningful Lady Rothschild endorsement of McCain is. For my part, the primary reason I'd suspect -- beyond media mendacity, which is always contender -- is that Gilchrest is from Maryland, and Maryland's vote was not exactly in doubt this or any other year.

That being said, the number of prominent moderate Republicans -- particularly those no longer beholden to the Party leadership -- who have bolted to Obama's camp is striking. Chafee, Leach, and now Gilchrest are only some of the more prominent members. Add that to the ones simply withholding support from McCain (Powell, Hagel, Paul), and there is a legitimate story there to be written.

Reengaging Macaca

The Virginia GOP is trying to reach out to minorities. Good for them. The speaker they've elected to help spearhead the efforts, however, may not have been the wisest choice:
The Virginia Republicans have a big rally coming up this Saturday that's designed to reach out to minority voters in Fairfax County.

Guess who is one of the featured speakers?

George Allen. Yes, that George Allen.

We checked in with the state GOP to ask if Allen is really an effective front-man for the party's efforts to win over minorities, given the "macaca" scandal.

The answer? Yes! "George Allen has an excellent record on issues of diversity, reaching out to people," Gerry Scimeca, communications director for the state party, told us. "His whole career, his whole life have been a testament to a guy who's treated people equally across racial lines, across every kind of line."

Wow. Wow. The spokesman went on to say that the macaca comment was no big deal because "Anyone had to go on Wikipedia to be offended by it. And you know how people can mess with Wikipedia."

Well, I tip my hat to the GOP, but I can only give them a C+ for effort. Best of luck, though.

Some Quick Boxing Notes

It's been awhile since I blogged about boxing. But I wanted to drop a quick note mentioning that Oscar Diaz has emerged from his coma and his breathing on his own. This is great news. Diaz had been in a coma for two months after a fight with welterweight contender Delvin Rodriguez. He collapsed in his corner after the 10th round in one of the scariest scenes I have ever seen on television. The doctors were always optimistic, but as Rodriguez said when contacted, you don't want to get your hopes up until it actually happens. Best of luck to Diaz on his further recovery.

....Quickly while I'm on the subject of boxing, Dan Rafael's prediction about a Cotto/Margarito rematch seems to be a bit off to me: "Although Cotto was a favorite when he faced Margarito, after seeing the way the fight unfolded, it's hard to see Cotto doing much to change the outcome of a rematch."

Umm...false. There is a very big thing that Cotto could do in order to change the outcome of the rematch, and that is to go to the body. Whether it would, in fact, give him the victory is anybody's guess. But trying to dent the titanium-chinned Margarito via head-hunting was never a good move. Cotto came up through the ranks as a trench-warfare body puncher, and if he's to beat Margarito I think he's got to get back to his roots in the rematch.

The Bloom is off the Palin Boom

Barack Obama is starting to recover his lead in national polling. Jim Lindgren speculates as to why:
1) The Republican convention bounce naturally expired.

(2) The press's direct attack on Sarah Palin is working. After getting to read about Palin's record and see her for themselves, voters are starting to realize she's unqualified for the office and crazy to boot.

(3) The Wall Street collapse and the bailouts are turning voters toward Obama/Biden.

As you can see, I've taken the liberty of correcting one of the items.

Sarah Palin now has the lowest net composite favorability ratings of any of the four national candidates. She's at +7, compared to McCain's +9, Biden's +17, and Obama's +18. Palin is the rare politician who has so much wrong with her that she's actually managed to distract the press from focusing on the juicy but stupid stuff (can a woman with five kids be VP? What about her pregnant daughter?). Sure there's been some coverage on that, but (particularly given the media's propensity to focus obsessively on such things) they've been remarkably disciplined in sticking to problems of substantive merit.

And on these, most of her problems are strictly her own doing (well, her and the McCain campaign). Sure, there's probably nothing she could do forestall coverage about the fact that her own state is investigating her for abuses of power. And when the media discovered that sketchy hiring and firing decisions were a bit of a theme, that was going to come out too. But certainly she could have done better damage control. Sabotaging the state probe after promising to cooperate just looks bad. Having as your official excuse for why you fired the public safety commissioner that he was too aggressive in trying to bring down the rape rate? That's verging on parody territory. And many of the other issues are entirely self made. Palin wouldn't be getting kicked on this earmarks thing if she hadn't compulsively lied about her putative opposition to the bridge to nowhere. She could have diffused concerns about her foreign policy experience by showing knowledge and substance when interviewed by the national press. Instead she fumbled about and the McCain campaign was left trying to argue that having Russia in binocular distance was a sufficient foreign policy credential. Likewise on domestic policy -- if she demonstrated that she knew what she was talking about, she could easily have silenced a lot of critics. Instead, her analysis of the current Wall Street crisis left even conservative observers like Daniel Drezner begging for a translator. John McCain says she's America's resident expert on energy, but then she gives a figure for Alaska's proportionate energy production that's wildly off the mark (No, it's not 20%. No, it's still not 20% even if you restrict the metric to oil and gas). These are self-inflicted wounds.

Is the media in some way driving the public's recognition of these facts? Sure, obviously. But that's their job.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Internet Truisms

If I go to a cheap chain hotel (Holiday Inn or the like), internet is invariably free. If I go to a nice, upscale hotel, internet is invariably not free. Why is this so? It seems rather annoying to me. If there is a hotel that hits that magic sweet spot of "free internet" and "provides room service", I'll be hooked for life.

The Hyde Off My Back

After a few early hiccups, I'm starting to settle into my new room in my new city. I'll have some writings on what I think about Chicago just as soon as I can stop jumping to conclusions. In the meantime, my wish list includes (a) meeting new people, (b) knowing my way around, and (c) having all my materials, but particularly my pillows, arrive in the mail.

Kettle Endorses McCain

Got to love this:
Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter and member of the Democratic National Committee’s Platform Committee, will endorse John McCain for president on Wednesday, her spokesman tells CNN.
In an interview with CNN this summer, Forester did not hide her distaste for eventual Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

"This is a hard decision for me personally because frankly I don't like him," she said of Obama in an interview with CNN’s Joe Johns. "I feel like he is an elitist. I feel like he has not given me reason to trust him."

Forester is the CEO of EL Rothschild, a holding company with businesses around the world. She is married to international banker Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. Forester is a member of the DNC's Democrats Abroad chapter and splits her time living in London and New York.

But Obama's the elitist. Mmmhmm. Well then. I'll look on the bright side -- having idiots like Lynn Forester de Rothschild cut their ties to the Democratic Party is not exactly the worst electoral outcome I can imagine.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Home and Away

I'm leaving Carleton this evening to return home to Maryland, but essentially turning back around immediately to go to Chicago.

So, to tide you over, here are a few links:

Italian prosecutors are trying to send a comedian to prison for insulting the Pope. State-sponsored censorship of religious parodies is so much better than the spontaneous, riot-inducing variety.

Tim Wise on what this election (and particularly Sarah Palin) is telling us about White privilege.

Sarah Palin had no Blacks on her staff in Alaska and said she had no obligation to hire any. In her defense, I'm she'd say she would hire a qualified Black staffer. Unfortunately, none possessed the relevant qualification of being her childhood pal.

Also, Governor Palin's approvals are starting to falter.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Missing Piece

David Bernstein complains about an excerpt from a "one-sided" NYT article about the McCain campaign's move towards distortions. Here's the offending passage:
On Friday on "The View," generally friendly territory for politicians, one co-host, Joy Behar, criticized [McCain's] new advertisements. "We know that those two ads are untrue," Ms. Behar said. "They are lies. And yet you, at the end of it, say, 'I approve these messages.' Do you really approve them?"

The problem? The Times doesn't tell you that (gasp!) Behar's a liberal.

What Bernstein must have forgotten to write in his shock is anything that points to Behar being wrong in her accusation. Which makes sense, because she's absolutely right, and there is no real way to go about disputing it. The two ads in question are the one's in which he accuses Obama of supporting sex education for Kindergarterners, and of calling Sarah Palin a "pig" (as in, lipstick on a....). If you watch the relevant clip, it becomes painfully obvious that McCain has no real defense here. After being told by Behar that his ads are "lies", McCain awkwardly stumbles out "no they are not lies", before immediately trying to tell the hosts that Obama runs negative ads too. Then a different host reminds him that he himself used the "lipstick on a pig" phrase to describe Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan. McCain responded that he was talking about a policy, not Clinton herself, but the hosts reminded him that Obama was talking about change (and McCain's, not Palin's, change to boot!).

The point being that, Behar, liberal or not, levied an accurate charge. McCain's ads are lies. Phrasing it as a typical "liberals-say/conservatives-say" dispute obscures the truth of the matter, which is that John McCain released two ads that are flagrantly untrue, and when called on the matter, he continued to lie without reservation. And the article continues to give several "independent" speakers (and some not-so-independent ones, like Orrin Hatch) who verify that McCain is fabricating in his ads.

I'm sorry that Professor Bernstein doesn't think that the New York Times obfuscated the issue sufficiently -- but to my mind, clarity is a feature in journalism, not a bug.