Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Oscar Grant Verdict

As nearly all of you know, Johannes Mehserle, the White BART police officer who fatally shot an unarmed, restrained Black man who was lying face-down on the ground, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter but acquitted of the more serious charges of voluntary manslaughter or second degree murder. Oakland residents reacted with outrage at the perceived lenient verdict, with several riots breaking out.*

It seems difficult to understand how a jury could refrain from judging Mehserle guilty of at least voluntary manslaughter (Having read the jury instructions given for voluntary manslaughter, I'm not longer willing to state that. This, nonetheless, simply raises the level of abstraction when we're talking about injustice). Nonetheless, part of me was surprised that there was a conviction at all. I am, in fact, that cynical. Look at the history. A Texas cop was recently acquitted of all charges after shooting an unarmed Black man, lying face down in his own driveway, because the cop thought he was stealing his own car. Bernard Goetz was acquitted of everything but unlawful possession of a firearm after brutally massacring four Black men on a subway train. And of course, we all remember the Rodney King verdicts. Given these precedents, any form of homicide conviction is at least partial justice. But then, I don't really expect the people of Oakland to settle for partial justice.

* The Root has a good piece on those. Also worth noting is that a significant portion of the rioters were White anarchists. And on that front, I agree with Myca and others in the comments, which is that these folks who just like to use political discord as an excuse for smashing shit are remarkably blind to their own privilege. Not only are they appropriating the miscarriage of justice in the Grant case for their own ideological ends (which I imagine is some ill-thought out version of "smash capitalism"), but even though their faces are White, the media narrative will be all about savage Black folks who run rampant through the streets when the legal system utterly fails them they don't get their way.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Where's Your Federalism Now?

A federal court has just struck down Section III of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. There are actually two decisions here: the first holding that DOMA violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution, and the second claiming it violates the 10th Amendment.

I don't have time to give these cases my full attention right now, but obviously this is very exciting. And of course, it is particularly exciting to see the 10th Amendment angle, as I greatly look forward to conservatives dropping their commitment to state's rights like a bad habit in the coming, well, minutes.

A European Problem

The Forward has a stellar, if chilling, article on growing anti-Semitism in Malmo, Sweden, which is driving the Jewish population away from the city and into Israel. But buried inside, they also quote from some downright scary polling done inside Europe:
A continentwide study, conducted by the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, released in December 2009, found that that 45.7% of the Europeans surveyed agree somewhat or strongly with the following statement: “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” And 37.4% agreed with this statement: “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.”

“[There is] quite a high level of anti-Semitism that is hidden beneath critics of Israel’s policies,” said Beate Kupper, one of the study’s principal researchers, in a telephone interview with the Forward, citing this data and a tendency to “blame Jews in general for Israel’s policies.”

Kupper said that in places where there is a strong taboo against expressions of anti-Semitism, such as Germany, “Criticism of Israel is a great way to express your anti-Semitism in an indirect way.”

That 37.4% figure seems like a perfect match of folks whose "anti-Israel" politics is leading directly into anti-Semitism, or at least "understanding" it. The 45.7% figure, by contrast, overlaps nicely with folks who have lost all sense of perspective or proportion (and what might be the cause of that?). Given these findings, I find it hard to disagree with Kupper that anti-Israel politics is often (not always) simply a socially acceptable way of operationalizing anti-Semitic attitudes.

Put a Price on It

Nick Kristof has a column up about Israeli human rights activists who are protecting Palestinians from the violent predations of settler extremists, who think (with reason) that they can generally assault Palestinian residents immune from legal repercussions.

I've written several posts urging that the Israeli government initiate a crackdown on settler violence against Palestinians. The most prominent, Ending the Culture of Impunity, observed that such a crackdown would be in Israel's best interests too, as "[a]side from the fact that stirring up animosity in the Palestinian population, natch, harms Israel's security, more broadly Israel really doesn't want essentially a separatist extremist right-wing militia that's already proven itself willing to attack Israel when upset running wild on its frontier."

That being said, Matt Yglesias is absolutely right that the likelihood of Israel acting is reduced insofar as it is accountable to Israelis and not Palestinians -- in other words, the problem of settler violence against Palestinians is likely intractable so long as the occupation continues.

The reason I'm a democrat is because history tells us that even folks with good intentions are unlikely to be particularly responsive to the concerns of constituencies to which they are unaccountable. The fact that Israel has some interest in curbing settler violence does mean something, but it doesn't mean everything. The full rights of Israelis and Palestinians alike are unlikely to be respected but in a situation where each is governed by an authority that is democratically accountable to their concerns. In other words: two states.

I support deferring to democratic majorities when they're enacting policies that bear primarily upon themselves. Israel deserves plenty of deference in how it manages its own security. It deserves considerably less in terms of how it protects the rights of Palestinians under its domain. Often these considerations overlap, and then we have a tough problem. But there is no element of Israel's security which is strengthened by letting settlers beat people up with impunity. The rule of law must be respected, and settlers enacting the "price tag" policy must be made to pay their piper. If Israel can't muster the will to do that on its own, then perhaps they could use a little push from the US government.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Is It Too Much To Ask That Middle East Correspondents Not Be Fans of Folks Who Want Me Dead?

CNN's Senior Editor on Mideast Affairs, Octavia Nasr, has stepped down after writing about her "respect" for Sayyed Fadlallah, a top Hezbollah spiritual leader.

Ms. Nasr explained that her respect did not mean a whole-hearted endorsement of everything Mr. Fadlallah stood for -- including his claims that the Holocaust was exaggerated and his desire to exterminate the Jewish state. Rather, she believed that Mr. Fadlallah had, with regards to women's rights, been forwarded a more moderate vision of Shi'ite Islam that condemned "honor killings" and abuse against women. To call him "progressive" on women's rights would be a gross exaggeration, but he was perhaps notably less retrogressive, and grading on a curve I guess that counts for something. And I don't doubt that Ms. Nasr is being totally honest in stating that her feelings of respect stemmed from these issues.

But it doesn't obviate the tiny detail that the organization he was affiliated with, you know, wants Israel to be annihilated (and possibly wants me, personally, dead as well*). As Ms. Nasr admits, Mr. Fadlallah was marginalized in Hezbollah because he was too aggressive in demanding that Hezbollah focus solely on destroying Israel. Given that, I'm frankly stunned by the reaction in some liberal quarters to the news -- essentially alleging that this was kowtowing to a requirement in the media that all figures by biased in favor of Israel. "Bias", here, means a requirement that one not praise folks actively wishing for Israel to be obliterated. That alone demonstrates just how far the plaintive whine about how "the Israel Lobby" suppresses all dissent has extended itself. Why, you can't even praise folks who want to see Israel completely destroyed, and who think its completely okay to murder Israeli civilians (and possibly Jews worldwide), without facing their wrath. Oh, the muzzling! Oh, spare me.

Hezbollah generally, and Sayyed Fadlallah particularly, promote a radical anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agenda which is quite well-known. It is not whitewashed just because Fadlallah supports some progressive less retrogressive reforms inside Shi'ite Islam. I'm reminded of Naomi Klein's hideous reaction to the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Durban II speech, which conceded that it was anti-Semitic, but nonetheless that Jews dared protest it because it distracted from other progressive goals of the conference. Progressivism, here, simply means Jews have to take it in the teeth, because paying attention to our concerns might distract from those of real human beings.

And yes, it's pretty clear that CNN (and other media giants) have a bevvy of rather appalling figures on their payrolls. It's obviously a blot on CNN that it hired someone who referred to a Supreme Court Justice as a "goat f@$king child molester", but I hardly think a universal reduction in standards is the way to solve the issue. I likewise think anyone who thinks Palestine should not exist does not deserve a place on CNN, and certainly not in a senior position in CNN's Mideast desk. If such people are currently working in such a position at CNN, they should step down as well (make me a list -- I'll sign a petition). But it isn't right to ask Jews to play the sacrificial pawn in your media wars. If your progressivism means ignoring equal Jewish rights, it ain't progressivism to me.

* From the New Yorker article:
On the killing of Israeli civilians, Fadlallah said, "In a state of war, it is permissible for Palestinians to kill Jews. When there is peace, this is not permissible." He does not believe in a peaceful settlement between two states, one Palestinian, the other Israeli; rather, he favors the disappearance of Israel.
"We are against the killing of Jews outside Palestine," Fadlallah said. "Unless they transfer the war outside Palestine." When I asked if they had, Fadlallah raised an eyebrow, and let the question go unanswered.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

To Have a Trial After an Investigation

Following a lengthy investigation, an Israeli soldier will be formally tried for the killing of a Palestinian woman during Operation Cast Lead (right now the charge looks like manslaughter).

The incident was one of several specifically mentioned in the Goldstone report. Military Advocate General Avihai Mandelblit, in charge of investigating those allegations, is pursuing action in three more cases, and has elected to close the investigation into the remaining 19 events mentioned in the report.

I'm curious about what Judge Goldstone thinks of all this. After all, Goldstone was quite adament that the goal of his commission was not to convict anyone, but rather trigger an investigation by the parties themselves. And Israel, at least, has done this, and issued several indictments. Is this enough to satisfy him? Who knows. Normally, the standard of review in these instances (to justify pulling a case out of national and into international jurisdiction) is rather stringent -- it certainly isn't "what I would have done if I were doing the investigation myself". But without knowing the facts of the relevant cases, it's hard for me to evaluate.

It obviously is a good sign that Israel is willing to initiate prosecution against soldiers who violate the rules of war (assuming, of course, that the evidence here supported a prosecution). I've been pretty consistent, I think, in asserting that credible investigations ought to be taken and perpetrators of crimes (on all sides) should be punished -- but that taking this position was entirely inconsistent with shouting "savage war criminal Nazis" from moment zero. Hopefully, my patience has been vindicated, as we are getting a trial after the investigation, rather than watching as a verdict comes down first, with a pro forma inquiry following.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Politics of Fandom

A new study indicates that the success of local college sports teams in the weeks preceding an election has a measurable effect on the electoral prospects of incumbents. Basically, when the local team wins, voters are happier, and thus are more inclined to look favorably on entities representing the status quo. (Sorry, but voters are that stupid).

This does raise some interesting rooting conundrums, though. After all, sometimes teams from two competitive districts will be competing against each other. Suppose Ole Miss (Travis Childers) plays the University of Virginia (Tom Perriello). Who do you root for? Who is more football crazy (or at least more likely to be influenced by the outcome of a football game) -- the Rebels or the Wahoos (Ole Miss)? Which incumbent would be more of a loss (Perriello)? Should the DNC dispatch operatives to critical games to give the "right" team a critical boost? Lots of tough calls here.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Birthday America!

Mmmm ... hot dogs and liberty are my favorite parts about being an American.

Have a happy Fourth, people!