Saturday, December 06, 2008

Jefferson Loses

Corrupt and indicted Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) has lost his bid for re-election in his deep blue Louisiana district.

Excellent. He was an embarrassment to our caucus. Let him twist, I say.

The Anti-Settler Turn

An old friend of mine remarked to me a few weeks ago that he thought my opinions on Israel had changed dramatically since we first met. I was skeptical: I always (well, at least since we met) supported a two-state solution. I always was a strong advocate that liberals and leftists pay more attention to the rampant anti-Semitism latent in Palestinian terrorism (and the global reaction to it). Insofar as I have changed, it's more a matter of focus: noting and calling out the human rights abuses committed by Israel and Israelis, while still not letting that excuse Palestinian acts of terror.

But one area in which I think I may have changed pretty substantially has been my views on the settlers. I wouldn't say I used to be "pro-settler", per se, but I didn't think of them as a huge deal. People living in houses in the desert were not "obstacles to peace". I wasn't committed to letting them stay -- but it rang uncomfortable to me that "peace" was taken to mean a Judenrein Palestinian state.

In recent times though, I've begun to revise my opinion. And I think the events surrounding the evacuation of settlers in Hebron have crystallized this instinct, not just for me, but for many other pro-Israel commentators. In their actions, the settlers have revealed themselves to be not just "obstacles to peace", but murderous, terrorist thugs. Their response to the Hebron evacuation was to launch what was called by both Ha'aretz and Israel's own Justice Minister a "pogrom". Marty Peretz says "shame on us". Eamonn McDonaugh of the Z-Word blog calls the settlers "religiofascists" who need to be "crushed" by the Israeli government.

Israeli commentators warn that the settlers, left unchecked, could lead to "civil war". Other writers continue to urge that we take the settler threat seriously as something that can single-handedly derail the peace process. Steve Clemons suggests officially labeling extremist terrorist factions working to propagate violence as "terror organizations", allowing their assets to be frozen.

The point being, we seem to be seeing (inside and outside of Israel) a broad-based backlash against the crypto-fascist settler movement whose primary political agenda at this point is to sabotage the peace process. The trick, now, is to get that outrage translated into some action. The Israeli government, slowly and belatedly, seems to be waking up to the threat that radical right-wing settlers pose to the state's liberal democratic character. And pro-Israel groups in the US are starting to recognize that the settlers are an insult to the very idea of Israel that they want to protect. Together, they can get something done. But it will take guts, and it will take courage.

Count me in.

UPDATE: Current (but outgoing) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joins the chorus:
"We are the children of a people whose historic ethos is built on the memory of pogroms," Olmert said. "The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than pogrom. Even when Jews do this, it is a pogrom.

"As a Jew, I am ashamed that Jews could do such a thing."

He was addressing the riots last week in which Jewish settlers -- angry over the forced evacuation of a contested house in Hebron -- attacked Palestinians, setting fire to their houses.

In a statement released by his office, Olmert told the Cabinet that he chose the term "pogrom" -- a Yiddish word meaning an organized massacre, usually referring to such attacks against Jews -- "after much thought."

"I formulate these words with the greatest care that I can," the prime minister said.

The CNN article's headline says Olmert called the events "tantamount" to a pogrom. I didn't see the caveat.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Nothing To Cheer About

CNN has a video story up about high school cheerleaders who were kicked off the team, after it was revealed they had texted nude pictures of themselves to their boyfriends. Everyone CNN talked to was in 100% righteous fury mode, absolutely convinced the school did the right thing, lamenting how today's girls are sluts, and slamming the parents for trying to get their daughter's reinstated.

Can I try and offer a dissenting opinion here?* If you watch the piece, there seem to be two conflicting narratives being forwarded about the girls. The first is that they are victims of over-sexed boyfriends who "pressured" them into sending the photos. The second is that the girls are trashy whores, presumably because they sent the pictures even though they weren't so "pressured".

Not only are these claims inconsistent with each other, neither warrants the response given. If the young women are really victims here, then I'm confused why we should be punishing them, rather than turning our attention to the putative victimizers. And if there was no pressure, but this was totally voluntary and consensual activity between girlfriend and boyfriend, well, guess what? Having a sexualized relationship does not make one a slut. I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the school system should be punishing private, consensual sexual activity between students off of school property. I also have trouble believing that we'd come down this hard if it was known that the cheerleaders were having sex with their boyfriends, even though that is theoretically "worse" than exchanging nude photos with them. And I categorically refuse to buy into this awful social fiction whereby any sort of teenage sexual activity is met with apocalyptic sermonizing on the evils of the younger generation.

The only vaguely compelling argument I've heard is that the atmosphere of cheerleading caused the girls to view themselves as "performers", and assign their own value solely in terms of the reaction they can elicit from their "performance". The pictures are supposedly a product of this mentality, and thus they are being removed from the team, not as a punitive measure, but because it is leading to a damaging conceptualization of self-worth.

I think that's at least a little better, in that it doesn't berate the women and at least nominally ties the school's action to a legitimate educational purpose. But my feeling is that it is both insufficient and (more importantly) pre-textual. Insufficient, in that I don't think there is enough evidence to show the causal between cheering and nude photos (and there are many far simpler causal chains that could explain why a young woman might reveal her naked body to her boyfriend -- starting with "partner pressure" and ending with "we're in a relationship, part of which involves sexual expression!"). Pre-textual, in that the heaviest theme extant here is a feeling of moral superiority combined with heavy doses of slut-shaming. If we really were looking after the well-being of these young women, we wouldn't be so insistently screaming "WHORE!"

There are many things that can go wrong with teenage sexual exploration. And I'll concede that the fungibility of digital photos raises special concerns, given that the women may not have been aware of the risk that these pictures would get out into the public arena. But the mere fact that teenagers are engaging in sexual activity, absent anything else, is not something to get the vapors over. Aside from how hypocritical it is of, well, virtually all of us, if there is one thing this case is demonstrating, it's that the guardians of sexual morality enforce their code virtually exclusively through demeaning young women. And that will probably be more damaging than anything else.

* A caveat: I vaguely recall reading a similar story to this, which also alleged these girls were basically school terrors, openly flouting the authority of the teachers and administration, considering themselves above all rules and restraints due to their status. If this is that case, then obviously none of the above applies. I'm operating off the assumption that the nude pictures are the sole reason for punishing these young women.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Selling Votes

Matt Yglesias presses for DC statehood -- even going so far to demarcate the borders of a new "federal" district which would have the important governmental buildings but no residents (aside from the President himself). The Debatable Land (my blog had the initials longer!), noting that Republicans would never acquiesce to the basic democratic right of enfranchisement if it will lead to more Democrats, offers an alternative: exempting DC entirely from federal income taxes.

It may have some practical benefits, but check me off under the box that says voting rights can't be bought. No deal.

Via Andrew Sullivan, who says that under the latter proposal, DC could become "Hong Kong on the Potomac". I never realized Andrew was such a fan of China's model of governance.

Update: Some folks are really more excited about alternatives to DC statehood, namely, retrocession to Maryland or (worse yet) ceding the territory to Virginia, than is warranted. The retrocession proposal at least makes some sense -- DC was originally carved out of territory belonging to Maryland (and Virginia, but the latter already took its territory back). The Virginia proposal, by contrast, appears solely motivated by the desire to solidify VA as a "blue state" for the foreseeable future. In other words, it's nakedly partisan.

I don't think these folks get it. DC deserves representation in Congress because it has a right to democratic participation. Enhancing the political prospects of the Democratic Party has literally nothing to do with it, and is not a legitimate consideration. Now, as it happens, DC statehood would be very good for Democrats. That's fortunate for them, just as the ultimate borders of Wyoming have been a boon for Republicans. Since in neither case were the borders drawn with an eye towards partisan political advantage, the advantages that accrued are morally neutral.

But it would be an entirely different thing to deliberately redraw the boundaries of a political unit for such an advantage. It's bad enough in Congressional gerrymandering, and I'd like to keep the dragon in its cage, such as it is. How badly do we want to open the door to Texas Tots type thinking? At least the retrocession to Maryland can plausibly claim to be flowing from neutral principles (it helps that the partisan boon for Democrats would be minimal -- though not non-existent -- in that case). The Virginia plan has literally nothing going for it other than partisan considerations.

There's another consideration at work here, that's being nearly entirely ignored: the will of DC voters. Has anyone bothered to ask if they want to be ceded to another political unit? If it became a state, DC would become the only majority-Black state in the nation. Needless to say, shifting it to either Virginia or Maryland would eliminate that distinction. I think DC voters should be in charge of their own destiny, and just as their democratic rights shouldn't be held hostage to economic advantage, neither should they be made pawns of Democratic Party political strategy.

The Deepest Element

I finished the last set of readings for my "Elements of the Law" course today. The last excerpt was from Hobbes, which I liked. It's such a delightfully despondent note to end the class on.

UPDATE: Aw, man. Professor Strauss said he ended with Hobbes as an example of what type of argument we need to reject as lawyers. Lame, lame, lame!

It's Not What It Seems

I may have left Facebook's group "I support Israel's right to exist" solely because it listed as its home web page the risible Little Green Footballs, but it still feels odd. I hope it doesn't show up on my feed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

OPIRG Snubs Hillel

Many universities across North America have branches of "PIRG" (Public Interest Research Group) -- college based progressive grassroots organization. My girlfriend, for example, did a lot of work for Carleton's chapter of MPIRG (Minnesota-PIRG). They often team up with other campus-based organizations on various projects related to human rights and social justice.

At the University of Ottawa, the local Hillel (Jewish students group) thought it had just such an event: a speaker from the African Jewish community coming to talk about sustainable development projects and interfaith schooling for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children. But when it asked OPIRG for funds, it received a shocking rebuke:
Hillel organizers didn't get a response to their request before the event, but later received an e-mail from the board of directors at the research group, saying it had researched Hillel and decided that though the event "seems very interesting," the board of directors had decided not to endorse or promote it.

"This decision was made because your organization (Hillel) and its relationship to apartheid Israel," said the e-mail. "Zionist Ideology does not fit within OPIRG's mandate of human right's (sic), social justice."

Pressed by the Ottawa Citizen, the organization refused to even identify who made the decision, but affirmed that "Our position is outlined in that e-mail you have." Given the attenuated relationship Hillel has to Israeli policies (it does generically support "Zionism" as the Jewish right of self-determination -- a far cry from any reasonable definition of apartheid), I'd say that there is a name for OPIRG's position: anti-Semitism.

Via The Z-Word. And I should note that MPIRG is entirely independent from the broader PIRG structure.

Birth Wrong?

I was all prepared to be worked up into a righteous fury by this article, alleging that Birthright Israel has been essentially highjacked by a big-spending right-wing donor. Then I read it and, well, there's nothing there.

Now, Sheldon Adelson was not my favorite person to start with, and his apparent support for Bibi Netanyahu certainly doesn't help matters. But absent some (any!) proof that Adelson is subjecting Jews on Birthright to "hours of propaganda" in favor of hawkish, anti-Palestinian policies, I don't think there are any grounds to protest his donation. And in the entire article, not a whit of such evidence is provided, or even seriously alleged. All we get is vague concerns about the power of "mega-donors" to bend charitable organizations to their will. Which may be something to worry about, but which so far is not happening on Birthright (so far as has been presented).

Modesty Patrols Under Attack

The Israeli government is finally responding to the terrorist actions of Haredi "modesty patrols" -- basically, ultra-orthodox Judaism's answer to the Taliban. Women have been assaulted in their homes, had acid thrown upon them, and faced constant threats and intimidation by (generally young) men claiming to be enforcing the strictures of their faith. There have also been violence directed at stores said to be selling irreligious items (in this case, media players with small screens which could be used to discretely watch adult movies).

The Orthodox organizations which organize the patrols do not explicitly endorse the violence, but do not condemn it either.
[Rabbi Shmuel] Pappenheim said the committee follows very legitimate and acceptable methods but is also willing to let street justice step in if its efforts are unsuccessful.

He says the committee does not approve of violence, yet it also doesn't necessarily condemn it.

"They are not sorry that this individual brought this upon himself, that he ignited his environs against him and caused himself to be beaten," Pappenheim said. "They say, 'You thought you were smart enough on your own and didn't want to understand us, so you got what was coming to you.'"

These people represent a massive threat to Israel's liberal democratic structure. It's well past time the Israeli government deal with the extremists running rampant throughout their society.

Via AAB's link farm.

Return of the Old Guard

Sexism on the rise in Italy. Unfortunate. But women's groups are hopeful that this generation of students -- who are majority female for the first time in Italian history -- will push back.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Is Iced Tea Tea?

There is a lot to dislike about this post critiquing those who would detach "oral sex" from "sex". It's not even the conclusion that grates, so much as the argumentative process that gets us there. Given that the whole thing is a product of the loose way in which we use the word "sex", I feel like we're dealing with a tempest in a teacup -- but the fury that the author seems to feel that this might even be an issue is bothersome to me.

So, does oral sex qualify as sex?
I had to chuckle when I first read the question because, for me, if it has sex as part of it's name, then yes, oral sex is sex. It's like asking "is the hot tea, tea?"

Well, no. That's not the way language works. If I invite you in for a "cup of tea", you'll be rather surprised if I pour a small dollop of Lipton's iced. "Tea" means different things in different contexts, and while we would admit iced tea to be a "type of tea", it would not be what we would consider to be "tea" given the very particular confines of the question. (Wittgenstein uses a better example: "teach the children a game" being taken to include blackjack. It's gaming! Right in the name!)

And so it is with sex. I would simultaneously say the oral sex is a form of sex, and not feel strange saying "I have only had sex with [X] number of people", where X includes only those I've had intercourse with (but not just oral sex). That's because, like with tea, certain types of questions imply a sort of shorthand that is understand by all. We can participate in that shorthand without actually excluding the other elements of the object. And insofar as we understand intercourse as a fundamentally different type of sexual expression compared to oral sex, this sort of understood distinction makes sense.

The author also claims that sex-as-intercourse is "heterocentric and phallocentric". The former is a stronger claim. To the latter: intercourse does not have to operate within rhetorical confines that cast men as active and women as passive. We can use words like "penetrate" or "pierce", sure, but we can also talk of "consume", "devour", or "envelope". Or (horrors upon horrors) we can use both. I think it's a dangerous game when we ossify heterosexual sex as inherently male-dominated, rather than seeing that domination as a product of particular patriarchal assumptions that can be contested.

As to the heteronormativity, I think this goes back to my point about meaning and context. If I ask a gay or lesbian friend (presumably after a few drinks) "how many people have you had sex with", we both understand that here the context is not restricted to PIV intercourse.

Humans are flexible creatures. We can handle this sort of ambiguity.

MacKinnon Appointed to Advisory Post at the ICC

Just a quick congratulations to feminist pioneer Catherine MacKinnon, who has been appointed as a special gender adviser to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. MacKinnon, who recently has won some major legal victories securing the rights of women in the context of war crimes, will make an excellent addition to the body as it seeks to enforce international human rights norms.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Get Down Again!

Adam Serwer comments on the machismo response tragedies like Mumbai elicit from some conservatives. Here's John Hinderaker:
I wondered earlier today how a mere ten terrorists could bring a city of 19 million to a standstill. Here in the U.S., I don't think it would happen. I think we have armed security guards who know how to use their weapons, supplemented by an unknown number of private citizens who are armed and capable of returning fire. The Indian experience shows it is vitally important that this continue to be the case. This is a matter of culture as much as, or more than, a matter of laws.

Serwer responds:
This is a really strange and immature coping mechanism that manifests on the right in times of high profile tragedy. Rather than contemplate being a victim of a terrorist attack, the subject imagines him or herself as the star of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. I'd say it's simple racism, but it really is fear masquerading as bravado, a cultural chauvanism that directs itself at other Americans as readily as it does at foreigners. It is the "short skirt" theory of violence. If it happened, you must have been asking for it.

Look, I admit to doing this too. I have my own little fantasies of disarming the baddie with a well placed strike to the wrist, downing him with a left hook to the liver, then grabbing the now-abandoned gun to give my compatriots time to escape and seek aid (I suppose it's my wussy liberalism that prevents me from systematically gunning down the remaining perps with my shirt torn masculinely asunder). The difference is that I don't explode these adolescent dreams into a full-fledged national security policy.

Anyway, as Serwer notes we saw this same thing after Virginia Tech (although Hokies apparently aren't "real Americans" to Hinderaker, presumably because they're attending college). I'd also like to add that a) your average security guard is neither trained nor equipped to counter highly trained suicidal terrorists bent on destruction and carrying automatic weapons and grenades, and b) a firefight breaking out between, say, the terrorists and hotel guests, will not only likely turn out badly for the guests, but will make rescue operations an absolute nightmare for the police.

Via Ezra Klein.

And You'd Prefer....

Douglas Kmiec, the pro-life Catholic stalwart who sent shockwaves through the conservative Catholic community due to his support of Barack Obama for President, is being floated by some for the ambassadorship to the Vatican.

Stephen Bainbridge and Feddie are not happy, calling an "insult". Which is odd, because my first reaction would have been "gesture of good faith". Professor Bainbridge draws an analogy to the appointment of Norman Finkelstein as ambassador to Israel. But the actual proper analogy would be President Finkelstein (shudder) appointing his inexplicable supporter, Richard Rubenstein to the post. As unhappy as I'd be with the election of President Finkelstein, I can't think of anybody I'd rather he appoint as ambassador than Rubenstein.

The Vatican ambassadorship is typically given to a prominent Catholic supporter of the President. Kmiec, however, is apparently disqualified because he is a "traitor" to the pro-life movement through his support of Obama. It's not that I don't understand why these folks were upset by Obama's move. I just fail to see what would be a preferable alternative. A non-Catholic? An avowedly pro-choice Catholic? What is the game plan here?

UPDATE: Henry Farrell chimes in with more.

Killing Americans

Speaking of things that kill Americans, perhaps Justice Scalia should read this piece by an American military interrogator about the fruits of American torture (H/T):
I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

I'd say duh, but that would be too kind to the conservative enablers of this immoral and ultimately lethal regime.

Indeed, in the author's experience, torture isn't just dangerous, it's unnecessary:
Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi. What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the interrogators' bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules -- and often break them. I don't have to belabor the point; dozens of newspaper articles and books have been written about the misconduct that resulted. These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.

Perhaps he should have. It turns out that my team was right to think that many disgruntled Sunnis could be peeled away from Zarqawi. A year later, Gen. David Petraeus helped boost the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces, cutting violence in the country dramatically.

Our new interrogation methods led to one of the war's biggest breakthroughs: We convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.

But Zarqawi's death wasn't enough to convince the joint Special Operations task force for which I worked to change its attitude toward interrogations. The old methods continued. I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished. Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.

I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."

Once again, folks could have figured this out from World War II.

The author (writing under a pseudonym for security purposes) is a 14-year military veteran with a background in special forces and counterintelligence. He'll freely tell you that torture is wrong. But it also is unnecessary, and gets Americans killed. Every day we allow this blot upon our constitution to continue, we dishonor his service.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Duh! Redcoats!

There are several BYU grads in my 1L class at the University of Chicago. All are very smart, qualified, intelligent people. I have to remember that upon reading statements like this:
David Hunsaker and his sister, Katie Hunsaker, traveled with the Brigham Young University Campus Republicans from Provo to help get out the vote. The group arrived in Clark County on Friday.

"We can't believe that Americans can be so blind as to chose socialism when that's what our founding fathers fought against," Katie Hunsaker said after Obama's victory was announced.

Umm....better take another look in your history book, Katie.

Via UCL.

Clearing the Pile

Stuff has been accumulating since Thanksgiving. Time to dump it on you.

The myth that Blacks were responsible for the passage of Prop. 8 has been debunked. But the need to engage that community remains as strong as ever. My friend Lauren sent me an interesting article trying to break down why Blacks (and specifically, Black women) voted overwhelmingly against gay marriage.

The breadth and scope of the Mumbai terrorist attacks made it feel churlish to focus on the specific attack on Jews. But as this Z-Word comment points out, the decision to devote resources towards Chabad House was actually remarkably inefficient for the terrorists. In other words, they went out of their way to kill Jews. Particularly given PG's explication of patterns of Indian terrorism (see comments), this is disturbing.

Echidne has the story of a woman, convicted of running errands for her cousin's cocaine ring, who was originally sentenced to four life terms. It got reduced to 12 years, but the government appealed and bumped it back up to 27 years. This is for a first time non-violent offender, mind you. As Echidne says, there are first degree murderers who get out faster than that.

Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone argues that the passage of Prop. 8 implicates Establishment Clause values, because at root it "enact[s] into law a particular religious belief." Rick Garnett dissents, and I think he has the better of the argument.

Following up on my previous posts, The Gaucho Politico sent me another link on the obstacles former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is facing to become RNC chief.

Saudi Girls love to rock. Or at least four of them do.

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

The Forward has a good article up on the tough decision President Obama has to make regarding the UN Anti-Racism Conference, Durban II. The last time around, Durban devolved into an orgy of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate, prompting a departure of Israel and the United States (as well as several Jewish NGOs who were being excluded -- solely on basis of religion/ethnicity -- from participation). Israel has already announced it won't attend the current version, whose draft statement currently is accusing them of "genocide". But the United States may wish to attend anyway in hope of providing countervailing pressure and stemming the anti-Semitic excesses.

It's tough for me to feel optimistic that a committee chaired by Libya is really going to accomplish all that much productive on issues of racism, regardless of what kind of pressure the United States provides. At the very least, it looks like we'll be playing defense, merely trying to mitigate some of the worst excesses rather than actually achieve a fair and balanced resolution. But at the same time, we can't just ignore these groups forever. At some point, the western community is going to have to dive headlong into this maelstrom and get the international community on track. And, not to take another swig of the Kool-Aid, but the time to strike might be while Obama's prestige is highest in the developing world.

It's a tough call, but I'm still leaning against participation. It's not that I don't think that, in the abstract, these sorts of conferences aren't important. It's just that I'm not convinced that, right now, the forces of good have the firepower to get a good, rather than perhaps palatable, resolution on the table. Without that, it strikes me as a waste of our time and prestige, and demeaning to boot. Countries that want spend the weekend ranting about the Zionist Juggernaut can do so on their own time.

(Via Antoine)