Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

The science of kissing. As anyone whose seen Jill and I together can testify, we "escalated".

Friday, February 13, 2009

FNF Preview: 02/12/09

ESPN's got a boxing card tonight, but most of the community is looking past it to an excellent HBO triple-header featuring Nate "The Galaxxy Warrior" Campbell defending his belt (except maybe not, since it looks like he won't make weight) against six-foot tall freak Ali Funeka (also on the card: Alfredo Angulo/Cosme Rivera, and Sergio Martinez/Kermit Cintron). That card looks great, but no reason for ESPN not to get some love!

The headliner for tonight features Alexis Camacho (17-1, 16 KOs) taking on Carlos Molina (14-4-1, 5 KOs). ESPN viewers have seen Camacho once before, and it was his one loss, a dreadfully dull affair in which he was methodically out-boxed by former Olympian Terrance Cauthan. Unfortunately, that fight revealed a lot about Camacho -- he's slow, he's limited, he's got a padded record, and he doesn't have much beyond power punches. A slick boxer type like Cauthan is guaranteed to give him fits.

Molina may be just that type of guy. I haven't seen him fight before, but a perusal of his record makes me think that he might be a live dog here. After starting his career 8-1, Molina stepped up his class of opposition considerably, and was rewarded with an 0-3-1 stretch all against undefeated prospects (the "one" was a draw with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. -- which Jr. avenged in his next fight). Since then, he's won six straight -- against better opposition than Camacho has faced (not saying much). Molina also has never been stopped. Were I to make a pick in this fight, I'd call Molina with the upset. I was supremely unimpressed with Camacho the last time I saw him, and while Cauthen is probably a superior technician to Molina, I think the latter still has enough to push his winning streak to seven.

The main undercard fight, from the looks of it, will feature undefeated prospects Ray Robinson (9-0, 3 KOs) and Darnell Jiles (8-0-1, 3 KOs) in an 8-rounder. Unlike the main event, this one I'm genuinely excited for. I don't know anything about Robinson, but ESPN put on Jiles once before, also against an undefeated prospect, and it led to a barn-burner of a fight which ended in a draw. At the time, I was confused about why such a good match-up between two young, unbeaten prospects with solid pedigrees was only scheduled for four rounds. At least this time around, we have enough time for some real action.

Blogging Pet Peeve

Any experienced blogger should follow this one. If you're linking to another post, don't link to the "comments" tab (unless, of course, you're pointing to a particular comment). It's not that difficult to erase "#comments" from the URL, and it saves all of us aggravation.

Grab 'em By The Ears

Matt Yglesias defends earmarks (at least as the lesser evil):
As is well-known, in order to secure the votes of the handful of Republican Senators necessary to overcome the 60-vote hurdle, Obama had to make some non-trivial concessions. Those concessions have made the stimulus much less effective than it otherwise might have been and will lead to hundreds of thousands of people being unemployed who could have been engaged in productive labor. Suppose that instead of making this sort of large, substantive concession Obama had just been able to offer pointless pet projects for Pennsylvania and Maine. It seems to me that because those projects would have had locally concentrated benefits you could have made the deal worthwhile to Sens. Specter, Collins, and Snowe for a much lower bottom-line cost and ultimately better-served the public interest.

In other words, simply eliminating the most effective means of buying votes in the legislature doesn’t eliminate the practical necessity to do it. It just ensures that the vote-buying gets done in less efficient ways.

I always thought the anti-earmark fervor was a bit overblown, but they always seemed a bit unsavory, so I didn't mind that they were falling by the wayside. Matt's point, though, is solid, and one I hadn't thought of.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

They Just Ruin Everything

The California woman who recently gave birth to octuplets -- bringing her total number of children up to 14 -- has been attracting a lot of attention, and casting some light on the in-vitro fertilization industry. Is it safe to implant that many embryos in a woman? What are California's obligations to support the children? Are the mother's personal preferences being adequately respected by the media?

And then, there is the FRC, with its simple, tried and true, one size fits all message: it's the gays' (or in this case, lesbians') fault (the specific argument is such a breath-taking non-sequitur that I can't stand to repeat it).

Elsewhere, they expand their focus, attacking the woman for having the temerity to want children as a single mom, and attacking fertility clinics for killing babies (natch). But it's nice to know that, through it all, the FRC can find time to stick to the basics.


There was a lot of anguish over how Washington Republicans managed to become as corrupt in ten years as Democrats had been in 40. So what happens when Republicans are in charge for 40 years? New Yorkers are slowly beginning to find out.


The results of the Israeli election were confusing at best, with a majority of the country shifting significantly right-ward but a plurality unifying around Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima Party. The best thing we can hope for over the next couple years is stasis, with some kind of unity coalition centered around Kadima and Likud that treads water until the government inevitably collapses and the next set of elections come around. The worst case scenario is a stable right-wing coalition made up of an emboldened Likud, the racist Yisrael Beiteinu, and the various representatives of Israeli ultra-orthodox parties.

The problem is, we're running out of time. Stephen Walt (yes, that Stephen Walt) wrote a provocative post asking what happens if the two-state solutions ceases to be feasible. I'll say right from the start that I find Walt's thesis in the Israel Lobby to be severely problematic on a lot of levels -- a sentiment I've expressed before. But his point that the two-state solution is moving further and further out of reach every day is I think solid -- the only question how far off the point of no return is. Eventually, Israeli settlements will become so entrenched that they will be impossible to dislodge. Yet even an Israeli government that maintains the status quo today will certainly not remove the settlements -- if anything, it will likely maintain the policy of slowly expanding them. Without evacuating the settlements, a Palestinian state can't be created, and the two-state dream dies. And as outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated, if the two-state solution dies, Israel is "finished" as a Jewish state.

Some Palestinian maximalists already get this. One Palestinian adviser put it thus to Jeffrey Goldberg a few years back:
The most farsighted among the Palestinians now understand that settlements are good for their cause. Michael Tarazi, a Palestinian-American and Harvard-trained legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, told me, “Settlements are the vanguard of binationalism”-a single state that would soon have an Arab majority. “I don’t care if they build more,” Tarazi said. “The longer they stay out there, the more Israel will appear to the world to be essentially an apartheid state.”

He went on, “The settlements mean that the egg is hopelessly scrambled. Basically, it is already one state. There are no signs saying ‘Welcome to Occupied Territory.’ It’s one country, the same electricity grid, the same aquifers. Except that the three million Christians and Muslims in Gaza and the West Bank don’t have the same rights as the five million Jews in Israel, and the Arabs in Israel are second-class citizens compared with the Jews. Now the cause is justice and equality.”

I'm watching this occurring -- watching Israel spiral seemingly inexorably towards its own self-immolation -- and I want to shake those "pro-Israel" people who are out there clearing the brush towards suicide. You're killing the Jewish state. I understand why Israeli voters would take a right-ward turn -- that's the common response to being under constant siege and attack (though inexplicably, nobody seems to realize that Palestinians will react the exact same way under the circumstances). What I don't understand -- or at least, can't forgive -- is the actions of the "pro-Israel" community outside of Israel which expends much of their energy trying to prevent the United States from heading off Israel's self-destructive policies. What do they think the end game is? What do they think will happen once the settlers get so far entrenched its impossible to remove them?

The minute the Palestinian community decides to shift its strategy away from securing a Palestinian state, and towards demanding full voting rights, equality, and political participation in the state they currently live in (Israel), Israel is finished as a Jewish state. It cannot justifiably deny millions of people under its jurisdiction voting rights and political equality indefinitely. We're getting to the point where the combined Arab/Palestinian population of Israel and the territories will have a stable majority over the Jewish population, and eventually the Palestinians will realize they can get everything they want simply by calling for democratic elections. What grounds will any of us have to object, if we can't offer them a state immediately?

Walt says that unless something changes, there are three potential outcomes. First, outright ethnic cleansing: Somebody pushes somebody else out entirely -- in Israel's case, simply expelling the Palestinian population by force. Second, actual, factual apartheid: a sub-class of Israeli society with no rights, restricted from the same roads, communities, and institutions as the majority. Third, binationalism, i.e., the end of the Jewish state.

All three are unacceptable. The first would be a violent war crime, and impossible for any human being of good conscience to support. I also imagine it would likely provoke war with all of Israel's neighbors. The second would be hideously immoral, and would make it impossible for America or the Jewish community to support Israel in any way whatsoever. I could not identify with a state that would so brazenly abandon democracy and liberal ideals. The third would be exceedingly dangerous -- the history of multi-ethnic states with a history of conflict is not good, and even under the best case scenario a binational state would cease to be a haven for the Jewish people fleeing oppression. I wish there were more alternatives, but someone has to give me a plausible route to them: without a two-state solution, what else but this happens?

We're running out of time, and we're looking at two years of doing nothing but treading water. That's not good enough. The path Israel is going down will kill the state, and yet a significant portion of my community is acting as enablers. It's maddening. It's infuriating. It needs to stop.

UPDATE: Jon Chait responds (to Walt, not me).
[S]ettlements are reversible. To make peace with Egypt, Israel abandoned settlements in the Sinai peninsula, forcibly uprooting residents there. It did the same when withdrawing from Gaza recently. It was prepared to do the same in the West Bank in 2000 and 2001, though it never had to follow through because negotiations collapsed.

Clearly, the larger the settlements, the more political leverage it takes to uproot them. That's why, in addition to being a drain on Israel's economy, the settlements are highly counterproductive. But if Israel's government and population can be convinced that a real peace is attainable, then they should be able to dismantle the settlements. The settlements are an obstacle, but not the primary obstacle.

Chait is right that in general, settlements are reversible. And Israel has evacuated settlements before -- in Sinai, and in Gaza. As Chait notes, though, the larger the settlements, the harder it is to muster the will to get rid of them. The question is when we reach a tipping point such that "hard" becomes "impossible". The West Bank settlements constitute 7% of Israel's population, I believe. If that figure keeps growing, where is this "will" going to come from? And while we're waiting for the "will" to emerge amongst the Israeli political class, what happens if the Palestinians stop demanding the uprooting of the settlements, and start demanding voting rights in Israel? How will Israel's offer of a two-state solution be received in such a circumstance? I'm not sure.

Metrics of Conversion

An Israeli rabbinical court has cast doubt on the validity of the conversion of Yossi Fackenheim, grandson of famed Holocaust survivor and scholar Emil Fackenheim. The younger Fackenheim converted at the age of two, under Orthodox supervision, to Judaism. The judge on the court was hostile to Fackenheim's profession (Shakespeare actor) and repeatedly ignored evidence produced verifying his youthful conversion.

As someone currently dating a non-Jew, this matters to me, a lot. If her conversion isn't under well-documented Orthodox auspices, me and my entire family could be in for all manner of trouble if we ever wanted to move to Israel. Said it before, said it again: an Israel which is not open and welcoming to all Jews -- of every background, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and degree of observance -- is an Israel that is failing in its primary political mission.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yo Ho Ho

I've heard of American cities funding themselves through speed traps. But the east Texas town of Tenaha, on the border with Louisiana, has one-upped that considerably: it's getting some extra cash through piracy:
Law enforcement authorities in this East Texas town of 1,000 people seized property from at least 140 motorists between 2006 and 2008, and, to date, filed criminal charges against fewer than half, according to a review of court documents by the San Antonio Express-News.

Virtually anything of value was up for grabs: cash, cell phones, personal jewelry, a pair of sneakers, and often, the very car that was being driven through town.

Some affidavits filed by officers relied on the presence of seemingly innocuous property as the only evidence that a crime had occurred.

Linda Dorman, an Akron, Ohio, great-grandmother had $4,000 in cash taken from her by local authorities when she was stopped while driving through town after visiting Houston in April 2007. Court records make no mention that anything illegal was found in her van. She’s still hoping for the return of what she calls “her life savings.”

Dorman’s attorney, David Guillory, calls the roadside stops and seizures in Tenaha “highway piracy,” undertaken by a couple of law enforcement officers whose agencies get to keep most of what was seized.

Guillory is suing officials in Tenaha and Shelby County on behalf of Dorman and nine other clients whose property was confiscated. All were African-Americans driving either rentals or vehicles with out-of-state plates.

Guillory alleges in the lawsuit that while his clients were detained, they were presented with an ultimatum: waive your rights to your property in exchange for a promise to be released and not be criminally charged.

He said most did as Dorman did, signing the waiver to avoid jail.

This is a more brazen use than most, but asset forfeiture laws in general have a high potential for abuse, given that they require relatively low standards of proof for authorities to confiscate items they believe (or "believe") are connected to criminal activity.


Speech Patterns

"Have a nice day."

That's what I assume people will end a conversation with. It's not a bad assumption. And, polite guy that I am, I respond back with "you too".

The problem is, my response is automatic. And "you too" doesn't always work. For example, today, when conversations tended to end with "happy birthday". "You too" in that case makes no sense. But twice in less than an hour, I was wished "happy birthday" and responded with a hearty "you too!"

CNN Covers Michelle Malkin Being an Asshole

I've been chewing over this CNN article about a homeless woman, Henrietta Hughes, whose plea for help from President Obama sparked an outpouring of support from Florida neighbors in the Ft. Myers area. Obviously, I'm glad to see the community respond so quickly once they heard of this woman's plight. At the same time, it's abundantly clear that individual acts of charity are not a systematic solution to the problems people like Ms. Hughes face, and I'm uncomfortable with the triumphalist tone the article is putting out. If she really is the "face of the economic crisis," then we need a policy solution that addresses these issues as a totality. The Florida politicians who are racing to help Ms. Hughes, personally, should likewise be racing to their legislative offices to get some useful bills passed.

Meanwhile, CNN cites extensively to the reaction from conservative bomb-thrower Michelle Malkin, who seems to determined to reenact the Graeme Frost fiasco:
Blogger Michelle Malkin, in a story on the conservative Web site on Wednesday, said that if Hughes "had more time, she probably would have remembered to ask Obama to fill up her gas tank, too."

"The soul-fixer dutifully asked her name, gave her a hug and ordered his staff to meet with her. Supporters cried, 'Amen!' and 'Yes!' " she added.

One reader blasted Hughes' motives and questioned how the homeless woman got to the rally at all.

"How does a 61-year-old homeless woman who's living in a pickup truck with her son JUST HAPPEN to get a ticket so she can VERY PUBLICALLY ask Prez. Obama for a HOUSE? Anyone? Who pushes her up on stage? She's right at the front of the crowd. Did she just happen to get a seat there?" asked reader Erik E.

Malkin responded: "Silence! Do not question Dear Leader. ... Like Mighty Mouse, President Obama is here to save the day. The government is here to help -- and it is your patriotic duty to pay for it all without preconditions."

Malkin's ability to try and slime poorer Americans for having the temerity to ask anything of their government is apparently boundless. But while the nation recoils in disgust from Malkin's sludge, the media is finally starting to catch on that for the Republican base, Malkin's words are standard operating procedure, and worthy of coverage on that ground alone.

Bad Lawyering Moves

If you're a defense attorney, don't appeal a sentence that was mistakenly given below the statutorily required mandatory minimums. That's the lesson Judge Reinhardt gives in this 9th Circuit opinion. The lawyers in question are very lucky their appeal was denied -- if they had "won", the case would have been remanded and their clients would have faced considerably more jail time.

Wake Up, Make a Move

Jewschool dispenses some much needed wisdom from Gershom Gorenberg, who just gave a talk in DC entitled "What We Talk About When We Talk About Israel". Among them:
++ Few on either side of the Israeli/Palestinian divide seem to understand that their opponents will react the same way as anyone else would under attack: through increased militarism and solidarity. Israel’s actions strengthens Hamas, just as Hamas’s actions strengthen the Israeli right-wing (Likud and beyond).

++ The Zionist project was to create a Jewish state, which would be a democracy, on the full historic Jewish homeland. Two of these three things are currently feasible. Which would you drop?

++ The meaning and importance of having a ”Jewish state” is based in experiencing living as a majority: the feeling of being at home, where the external trappings of life/culture correspond to the internal/family ones. Of being unexceptional and ‘in tune’.

++ The one-state solution will not work because nationalism won’t go away for the forseeable future. At best, Canaan/”Israstine” would end up a basketcase like Belgium – at worst, a bloodbath like Bosnia or Lebanon.

The first, in particular, has to be kept in mind. Of course, that doesn't mean the attacks are irrational -- if you want to maintain the conflict between Israel/Palestine, then acting to create a cycle of radicalization makes perfect sense. And there are plenty of people who would prefer a state of conflict than a state of peace.

On the Israeli right, the existence of conflict allows them to justify aggressive "security" measures, continuing the occupation, and maintaining the settlements, or at least allows them to postpone discussing these issues -- a discussion which could rip the Israeli right apart. On the Palestinian right, groups like Hamas want to maintain conflict because they believe that world opinion will turn in their favor and don't want a peace plan to occur before they can secure maximal gains (namely, utter elimination of Israel). Allowing a bona fide peace camp to emerge in Israel may permanently take off the table their dream of greater Palestine.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Israeli Elections Yield More Uncertainty

After trailing most of the race, the ruling Kadima Party, headed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, appears to have taken a narrow plurality in the 2009 Knesset race. It is expected to win 30 seats in the 120 member parliament. The right-wing Likud Party, which had been widely expected to claim victory, is projected to take 28 seats.

But Israel is a strange place, and the drama is just beginning. While Kadima (a centrist party that nonetheless is aligned with the "left" bloc) took a plurality of the vote, overall more voters went for right-leaning parties than their leftist peers. Third place behind Likud was the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, which will likely see 14-15 seats. The center-left Labor Party, long the dominant player in Israeli politics, will be the fourth largest party with 13 seats. Overall, the right-wing bloc is expected to win around 63 seats, and the left-wing bloc 57.

So if Livni wants to form a coalition, how will she do it? Assuming she holds the left together (far from certain -- particularly the Israeli Arab parties which are still justifiably furious that Kadima voted to ban them), there are three potential parties which might cross over from the right form a government. The largest, Likud, may also be the least likely, as Netanyahu has been indicating that he still expects to form a government with him at the helm comprising of the right-wing majority.

The other two candidates are the Sephardic/Mizrachi religious party Shas, and the secular far-right Yisrael Beiteinu. With these two, it's a case of choose your poison. Shas represents primarily the Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewish communities, who tend to be poorer and more traditional than their Ashkenazi citizens. They are mistrustful of European elitism, racism, and secularism. Politically, Shas is theocratic, extremely socially conservative, and corrupt. But it is relatively flexible on foreign affairs -- including negotiating a peaceful, two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Yisrael Beiteinu, by contrast, is extremely secular. It represents primarily the Russian immigrant community, which is highly educated but also likes to flirt with authoritarianism (it's been said that what they really want is an Israeli Vladimir Putin to lead them). They also came to Israel in direct response to brutal Russian anti-Semitic oppression, and they are very skeptical that non-Jews inside and outside of Israel will not treat them the same way. Many Yisrael Beiteinu voters are completely non-observant -- indeed, many of the Russian immigrants to Israel don't identify as Jewish at all. So from the perspective of reducing the theocratic side of Israeli life, YB is clearly superior to Shas -- indeed, in a lot of ways, the two parties are mortal enemies.

But this is counter-balanced by the fact that Yisrael Beiteinu is flatly racist -- demanding loyalty tests out of Israeli Arab citizens and condemning the appointment of a Muslim Arab minister as threatening "Israel's character as a Jewish state". Consequently, it is loathed by the Israeli Arab population in Israel and the Palestinians as well. Its "peace plan" involves ceding Israeli Arab areas to the future Palestinian state in exchange for settlement blocs -- a proposal highly unpopular with the Israeli Arab residents who would see their citizenship revoked.

If Livni can form a government, Shas may well be the more likely choice. I think Kadima is primed to think its first priority is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and Shas fits far better in the center-left mold than does Yisrael Beiteinu. Moreover, if Yisrael Beiteinu, which led the charge to ban the Israeli Arab parties, was invited into the coalition, those parties would undoubtedly refuse to join, rendering the coalition that much more precarious. But ultimately, both come with major problems, and some groups are going to get hosed. Even still, both are clearly superior to a Likud-led coalition joining the right with the far right, where everyone gets hosed.

So, fingers crossed.

Another Breakdown

Bernard Avishai's delineation of Israel into five "tribes" represents an excellent dissection of Israeli politics.

One interesting player to keep an eye on in Israeli politics is the Russian immigrant population -- currently heavily represented in the far-right Yisrael Beitainu party. It's no accident that this is so. The Russians constitute the most recent major immigrant wave to Israel, and come from a location where anti-Semitism was alive and viable in its most pure and classic form. The ghosts of anti-Semitism still haunt Ashkenazi Jews even in America (which isn't to say anti-Semitism doesn't exist here, only that it is a shadow of what it was in old Europe or Russia). Where the demons are fresher, the politics of fear will be much more appealing. It is said that Israeli fear is based off of Holocaust memory gone awry. It is an interesting counter to this hypothesis that the most militaristic elements of Israeli society are not the Ashkenazi cosmopolitan elite (descended, often, from Holocaust survivors), but the Russians (fleeing from Soviet oppression) and Mizrachi (fleeing from Arab oppression).

I worry about the results of today's Knesset election. Israel seems poised to shift radically to the right vis-a-vis the Palestinians. We might even witness a coalition made up of Likud and parties further right, which to my eye would be catastrophic. Maybe Nixon Netanyahu will go to China. But I doubt it.

...Secrets Are For Everyone

The state secrets doctrine was no fun when the Bush administration used it to cover up American complicity in torture, and it remains equally vile when it's the Obama administration doing the same thing. I'm really ticked off about this. Even though the crimes Obama's administration is helping cover up through the invocation of this "principle" were perpetuated by the Bush administration, I agree with David Luban and Andrew Sullivan: by helping bury these crimes against humanity, you become complicit in them.


I actually assumed it was a play between "turducken" and "turboconductor". But I was wrong.

It's Tough Being Innocent

Dan Solove notes an enduring and tragic paradox of our legal system: the innocent are punished more harshly than the guilty. Why?
1. The federal sentencing guidelines and sentencing guidelines in many states provide for reductions in sentences for "acceptance of responsibility." The innocent defendant, who refuses to admit to the crime, will not receive this benefit.

2. An innocent defendant might often refuse to accept a guilty plea deal. When the innocent defendant defends his or her innocence at trial and gets wrongly convicted, that defendant will invariably receive a much higher punishment than that proposed in the plea deal.

3. An innocent defendant, by not admitting to the crime, might hurt his or her chance for an early release from prison.

Solove recommends eliminating "acceptance of responsibility" as a factor in sentencing or parole, and setting guidelines to limit the disparity between plea deals offered and the sentence pursued at trial. What do you think?