Saturday, February 06, 2010

This is My Generation

I hate to humiliate a friend, but this tweet personifies my peer group:
[W]e prepared for #snowpocalypse by getting dvds, food, alcohol, and hot cocoa. we did not get candles or flashlights. #snowfail

That is exactly what I would have done, too.

Ayalon Puts Saudi Prince on the Spot

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, last seen nearly destroying Israel's relationship with Turkey, turned his aggression to a perhaps more positive development, securing a handshake with a member of the Saudi royal family. It's the lead up that's interesting:
In a rare occurrence, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon shook the hand of Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal during the annual security conference in Munich on Saturday. The handshake was preceded by the prince's attempts at avoiding participation in a panel alongside Ayalon, a consequent uproar and a sharp American condemnation of the Saudi behavior.
However, when Ayalon arrived at the conference on Friday, he discovered that the panel in which he was set to participate had been split into two separate panels. The first panel was to include the Saudi prince and other Saudi officials, as well as officials from Egypt and Turkey, followed by a separate panel to include himself, Lieberman and the American and Russia representatives.

According to Israeli diplomats, the split was a Saudi request. Prince al-Faisal refused to sit on the same stage as Ayalon and the organizers heeded his request and split the panel. Ayalon, who was surprised by the move, addressed the incident at the very start of the panel, saying that "this is micro cosmos of the Middle East conflict. The Arabs refuse to sit with us, recognize us or talk to us."
The Saudi prince, who was sitting in the audience at the time, rose from his seat and rushed to deny the allegation that he had requested the split. Ayalon quickly responded "if that is so, come and shake my hand." The prince refused to get on the stage, but Ayalon did not lose his stride, announcing that he would be willing to get off the stage. He then walked toward the prince and shook his hand. "Israel is committed to peace," he told the prince.

I'm constantly amazed at how even a handshake can be seen as a grave concession by Israel's neighbors.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Ta-Nehisi Coates raises a good point (I know, I know, duh). John Judis is arguing that President Obama has trouble connecting to the White working class because his parents were professionals and he is associated with elite educational institutions (Columbia, Harvard, Chicago). Mr. Coates points out:
If we were talking about a group of black voters who refused to vote for someone because they aspired to be a lawyer or politician, we would be knee-deep in "black pathology" diatribes and Bill Cosby call-outs. Mo-fos would think it was the second Maafa. T

I get that Obama is a politician, and thus it's his job to make people vote for him. But I don't understand why anti-intellectualism among black people is pathological, and among white people is taken as evidence of working class roots.

Yeah, that annoys me too. Good call.

DADT Pushers

In the annals of those who support the continued exclusion of gays from the military, we've already talked about Senator John McCain's stunning reversal of his "listen to the leaders" position. Now that top military officials are onboard with repealing DADT, he no longer cares what they think! Now that's mavericky!*

But Senator McCain is hardly the only offender here. Let's look at some of the other top movers on the issue. There's Elaine Donnelly, whose professional responsibility is keeping gays out of the military, mostly by trafficking in obscene stereotyping. I enjoyed watching veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy eviscerate her in 2008 on the issue. Duncan Hunter is currently getting attention for his fear of a hermaphrodite wave, but I still recall fondly his belief that Israelis aren't "Judeo-Christian" enough to have problems with gay people.

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), beloved in the military community for savaging the patriotism of war hero Max Cleland, is worried that homosexuality is incompatible with the military's "high standards". Not an expression of hostility towards gay people at all! He also, in perhaps the most bizarre charge ever, fretted that gayness would lead to soldiers with (brace yourself) TATTOOS!

Given all that, it's almost refreshing to here some true straight talk from FRC bigwig Peter Sprigg, who flatly wants to overturn Lawrence and ban homosexuality outright. Tony Perkins, the chief of the FRC, is a military veteran himself. But he seriously indicated that he would not have chosen to serve if it meant serving next to gay and lesbian peers. Put him next to the gay and lesbian servicemembers who risk their lives for country that still sanctions official discrimination against them along several axis. I know who best represents our military traditions.

* "Mavericky" is a registered trademark of John McCain, meaning "principle-less support of whatever position is most politically expedient or ego-enhancing at the present moment." In this case, opposing DADT-repeal both helps him in a primary challenge from far-right ex-Rep. J.D. Hayworth, and sticks it to President Obama. So it's a bit of a gimme.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

We Went Through This Once With Marmaduke

It's not that I can see an interpretation of today's Non Sequitur that's really filthy and inappropriate. It's that I can't see any other conceivable punchline.

Iterative Roundup

What is this, three in a row?

* * *

American Jews signal their worries about decreasing pluralism in Israel, warn that their support isn't unconditional.

OneVoice sends its representatives into the heart of refugee camp and an illegal settlement for town hall meetings.

Tom Campbell: demonic sheep.

Scott Fujita steps up to the plate on gay rights.

If corporations are persons, why can't they run for Congress? Well, one corporation is testing the waters, announcing it is entering into the Republican primary for the 8th District of Maryland (my congressional district). The company is a liberal PR firm, so this is more akin to the California petition to end divorce than anything else (via).

Two possible SCOTUS vacancies for the Obama administration to grapple with. My money is on Kagan snagging at least one of them.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Quick Eats Roundup

The law school threw a dinner party downtown for us 2Ls, to celebrate us reaching the midway (if you know Hyde Park, you'll laugh at the pun) of our law school career. The dinner felt rushed though: arrive, 10 minutes later seated and eating, courses come out rapid fire, speech by Professor Masur, buses arrive, we go home. It was impressive.

* * *

The bullet-proof tailor of Bogota. This is really, really cool. Involves a reporter getting shot in the gut.

Egyptian journalist union punishes two members for contacts with Israel. One of the writers is "editor in chief of the state-run weekly Democratiya, or Democracy", the title of which I find unbelievably ironic.

Anti-Semitic acts soared in France last year.

Radical rabbi blames gays for natural disasters, warns against eliminating DADT. For the record, Israel has let gays and lesbians serve openly for over 25 years (and it's still kicking!).

Appeals court reverses trial court decision which had thrown out genocide charges against Sudanese President Bashir; Kevin Jon Heller defends the reversal against critics.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) wants it all ways: the joy of controlling the legislative agenda, and the joy of attacking mythical "liberal extremists" for controlling the legislative agenda.

Justice Department issues a recruitment call for mentally retarded lawyers. Sarah Palin is presumably thrilled.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tomorrow's Another Day Roundup

Busy busy day tomorrow -- may not have much time for blogging. Better clear the browser now.

* * *

If Nancy Grace could take on Nancy Grace.

North Korea seems to have ditched the communism facade completely, and now is embracing full on classic racist fascism.

Top defense officials are onboard with repealing DADT.

Relatedly, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who previously indicated that support from the top brass was what he needed to reconsider his support for DADT, has let anti-gay animus trump prior statements of principle. Stunning.

Why we should be especially thankful for our gay and lesbian servicemembers. Their sacrifice for a nation that fundamentally still rejects their equal citizenship is heart-rending.

Michael Klarman pops the myth that courts have been historical friends of racial minorities.

It's so scary when Jews have opinions and try to convince others to share them.

What's the trajectory of the California gay marriage litigation?

This Sachs

Albie Sachs, formerly of the South African Constitutional Court and living legend (he was an anti-apartheid activism whose arm was blown off in a car bomb) came to speak at the law school today. The theme was on "humor", specifically, on humor as a tool for the marginalized to bring down the powerful. Justice Sachs wished to distinguish this useful and important act from the cruel and impermissible use of humor by the already powerful to denigrate and put down the powerless (recall that South Africa is not absolutist about free speech, and explicitly bars hate speech).

Using the example of the recent tensions between COSATU and parts of the South African Jewish community, I asked if this standard didn't just shift the debate into a question of who counted as "powerful" and who counted as "powerless". This seemed to be what is going on with regards to the COSATU controversy: the Jews note that they number around 70,000 to COSATU's 1.9 million (and key role in the governing coalition), as well as the historical discrimination faced by Jews worldwide. COSATU and its allies respond that it is not attacking a beleaguered minority at all, but rather a powerful Zionist coalition whose tendrils control much of the West, and that it is in fact speaking out on behalf of the powerless third world and Palestinians. Both sides claim the mantle of the powerless. Was this sort of controversy, I asked, intractable under the framework he was putting forward?

Alas, trying to provide the context, I somewhat butchered the question, and Justice Sachs demurred from answering. He thought I was referring to the Fatima Hajaig case, which never reached a court of law (it was resolved by apology ... eventually), and thus it was not an issue of "law". The more recent Bongani Masuku case, by contrast, resulted in a hate speech ruling by the SAHRC and does appear to be court-bound (of course, the examples I gave was just to contextualize -- I think the question is still valid and comprehensible even if in particular instances the dispute doesn't reach the courtroom. But I can understand how the way I framed it made it sound as if I was looking for comment on the specific controversy, not the broader principle).

Anyway, that's how I blew my chance at getting an answer from an iconic South African figure about a question that's been vexing me for months. Oops.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Republican Party

In handy chart form:


UN Riposte

After Israel published a response to the Goldstone report differing with several of the key allegations, the UN is now claiming evidence of its own casting doubt on the Israeli explanation of a key point of controversy. I'm not making claims as to which side is right or wrong, just reporting the story.

The (specific) controversy is over the destruction of a flour mill, which Goldstone claimed could have been done to deprive the civilian population of sustenance. The report claims the mill was specifically targeted in an airstrike. Israel released photos claiming the damage was more consistent with tank shells, which had opened fire after engaging Hamas militants -- the mill, in other words, was not a pre-planned target. Apparently, though, UN investigators found the remains of airborne bombs at the site, putting the possibility of a pre-planned airstrike on the table (of course, the mill being destroyed by a bomb rather than a tank is entirely consistent with the mill being targeted due to Hamas fighters in the vicinity).

Madison Avenue is Blessed

In a massive upset victory for common sense, Will Saletan takes down the logic of the "choose life" Tebow ad:
Pam's story certainly is moving. But as a guide to making abortion decisions, it's misleading. Doctors are right to worry about continuing pregnancies like hers. Placental abruption has killed thousands of women and fetuses. No doubt some of these women trusted in God and said no to abortion, as she did. But they didn't end up with Heisman-winning sons. They ended up dead.

Being dead is just the first problem with dying in pregnancy. Another problem is that the fetus you were trying to save dies with you. A third problem is that your existing kids lose their mother. A fourth problem is that if you had aborted the pregnancy, you might have gotten pregnant again and brought a new baby into the world, but now you can't. And now the Tebows have exposed a fifth problem: You can't make a TV ad.

We should note here that it is, of course, Ms. Tebow's choice if she wants to risk her life for the chance at birthing a live son. The emphasis, however, is on the word choice. "Women should be forced to risk their lives -- and I'm proof that some of you will beat the odds" is not a particularly catchy slogan.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Recasting Avatar

The VC has already brought attention to one property rights interpretation of a tale generally thought to be left-leaning (The Lorax). Today, Ilya Somin points to another example of the genre: David Boaz on Avatar:
Conservatives have been very critical of the Golden Globe-winning film “Avatar” for its mystical melange of trite leftist themes. But what they have missed is that the essential conflict in the story is a battle over property rights....

But conservative critics are missing the conflict at the heart of the movie. It’s quite possible that [director] Cameron missed it too.

The earthlings have come to Pandora to obtain unobtainium. In theory, it’s not a military mission, it’s just the RDA Corp. with a military bigger than most countries. The Na’vi call them the Sky People.

To get the unobtainium, RDA is willing to relocate the natives, who live on top of the richest deposit. But alas, that land is sacred to the Na’vi, who worship the goddess Eywa, so they’re not moving. When the visitors realize that, they move in with tanks, bulldozers and giant military robots, laying waste to a sacred tree and any Na’vi who don’t move fast enough.

Conservatives see this as anti-American, anti-military and anti-corporate or anti-capitalist. But they’re just reacting to the leftist ethos of the film.

They fail to see what’s really happening. People have traveled to Pandora to take something that belongs to the Na’vi: their land and the minerals under it. That’s a stark violation of property rights, the foundation of the free market and indeed of civilization.

I think that's a perfectly tenable interpretation of the movie. I'd question, though, how strong the dissonance is with the "face" (leftist) message.

It is certainly true that the sort of leftist thought that Boaz is identifying Avatar with hardly identifies as capitalist. But that hardly means they can't speak in term of property rights. Indeed, while the anti-colonialist theory being drawn from here would likely not cast things in terms of individual plot ownership, they certainly are quite willing to assert cultural "ownership" of certain plots of land, territories, or resources. Indeed, the Na'vi seem to view these territories as collectively owned by "the people" (there is no indication that any one person in the community owns the land or the unobtanium). This raises a harder question for capitalist theorists than Boaz cares to admit, as capitalist entities have always had trouble figuring out how to handle (read: have felt comfortable ignoring completely) notions of property ownership that were not sufficiently individualistic. The doctrine of terra nullius was applied to claim that places such as Australia weren't actually "owned" by anyone, since the land wasn't titled in a manner that was comprehensible according to contemporary proto-capitalist norms.

But anyway. I think contemporary leftists are more anti-corporate than they are anti-capitalist. The argument in Avatar is that given sufficient power, corporations would be quite willing to ignore such capitalist niceties as property rights and freedom of contract (at least when it suits them). Put differently, the same priors that suggest a corporation would be indifferent to good liberal values like "don't slaughter the natives" would equally suggest that the corporation would be indifferent to good libertarian values like "contract with the natives". The corporation is going to take the least expensive path, whatever that may be, and unless some entity is their to raise the cost of the "killing the natives and taking their property", there's no reason to believe that market economics of all things will act as a restraining force.

So Avatar is an indictment of anarcho-capitalism, to a point, but the twist is it making the further claim that the necessary condition for an anarcho-capitalist hell is not absence of government, but simply corporations more powerful than government. The Ecuador example* I've sometimes cited would seem to be most directly on point.
There, the state had given the Texaco Oil virtually free reign in the country's outland regions. The company responded by engaging in massive environmental degredation at the expense of the nation’s Amazon community. Affected citizens were told that there was no redress available from the company because Texaco was a private corporation and thus not party to relevant treaty law, they would have to go to the state for aid. However, since Texaco’s revenues were 4x the entire GNP of country, and in any event the company was actively backed by the US government, few believed that the nation could stop the environmental destruction even if it were so inclined.

Obviously, there's two problems going on here. The first is the Ecuadorian government's willingness to enable Texaco's predations at the expense of the property rights of the locals. The second is Texaco's willingness to completely circumvent normal legal protections and remedies for the local populace, simply by virtue of the fact that it was actually "bigger" than the state itself.

It is quite easy to see why a country like China would dislike Avatar -- it threatens their exploitative ideology just as much as it would Texaco's. But the moral of the story isn't "yay for market power" so much as it is illustrative of the need to a) establish governmental norms that strongly protect personal rights, particularly of marginalized groups and then b) make sure corporations don't gain so much power that they're able to out-muscle the government.

* Chris Jochnick, "Confronting the Impunity of Non-State Actors: New Fields for the Promotion of Human Rights." Human Rights Quarterly 21.1 (1999) 56-79

A Fine Anti-Semitism Talk

Robert Fine's contribution to the UCU's anti-Semitism lecture series is absolutely magnificent. I particularly appreciate the dismantling of the "anti-Semitism card card" dodge that is so popular amongst "progressives" who don't want to take seriously allegations that their behavior is anti-Jewish in effect or intent (some were less enthused).

One gets the sense that, for some on the left, any conceptualization of anti-Semitism that doesn't immediately exonerate them from any possible wrongdoing is per se abusive. There's very little we can do to stop such sentiments from proliferating, but Fine does do an excellent job of showing their bankruptcy.

KBR Trashes Jamie Leigh Jones

You may remember the story of Jamie Leigh Jones, a KBR employee who alleges she was drugged and raped by colleagues of hers while working in Iraq, then locked in a shipping container with no food, water, or outside contact for 24 hours when she reported the crime. KBR then tried to prevent Ms. Jones from getting her day in court by asserting that her allegation was "employment-related" and thus fell under a mandatory arbitration agreement (y'all know my thoughts on those in general). The story sparked the passage of a law written by Al Franken which would prevent such arbitration clauses from being enforced by defense contractors in cases concerning rape, sexual assault, or discrimination (Republicans were stunned when their opposition to the law turned into a political disaster).

But KBR is still fighting. Pilloried in the press, stung by hostile legislation, and losing its case before the 5th Circuit, KBR has petitioned the Supreme Court to grant cert in its case in a last ditch effort to keep Ms. Jones out of court. And its primary strategy is to try and trash the reputation of Ms. Jones:
But having lost at the trial court, again at the appeals court and then in the Senate as the Franken amendment was signed into law, KBR/Halliburton, in its petition to the Supreme Court last week, wasted no time at all in trashing her. While advancing its legal theory that Jones's claim is unquestionably "related to" her employment, it also promises, in a footnote, that "The KBR Defendants intend to vigorously contest Jones's allegations and show that her claims against the KBR Defendants are factually and legally untenable." Er, where do they plan to show all that? In the secret underground arbitration lair of KBR?

In addition to going after her truthfulness in its court pleadings, KBR has mounted a zealous public campaign to "correct the facts" about the Jones litigation—urging, for instance, that "Ms. Jones' allegation of rape remains unsubstantiated" and that she wasn't locked in a shipping container but rather "provided with a secure living trailer." Apparently KBR fails to appreciate the irony of demanding that all of its counter-facts come to light despite its love for secret arbitration.

KBR is now claiming that Ms. Jones has "sensationalize[d] her allegations against the KBR Defendants in the media, before the courts, and before Congress," apparently to experience the joy of being known in public as the victim of rape.

As Senator Franken noted when asked:
"You know where a great place to try arguments is? In court. But they've spent five years fighting against her attempts to have her day there. It seems odd that they wouldn't want to explain their side in the courtroom, since they're willing to in the media."

In any event, one suspects that this will not end well for KBR. Ms. Jones has proven herself to be tough, resilient, and unwilling to back down regardless of the pressure put on her. I fully expect her to beat back this last challenge -- and then cream KBR for their egregious abuses with the full force of the law.