Saturday, June 04, 2011

NOW Who's the Big Forecloser?

This story, about a Florida homeowner who foreclosed on a Bank of America branch to satisfy a judgment against them (Bank of America wrongly tried to foreclose on their house, a judge ordered the bank to pay the family's legal fees, which the bank refused to do for months) has been making the rounds, and it is pretty sweet reading. The lawyer got sheriff's deputies to come with a moving truck and just start taking things (cash, desks, copiers, filing cabinets -- whatever). Eventually, the bank manager managed to get permission to cut a check to the attorney for what his clients were owed. Oh, to be able to listen in to that manager's phone call to his superiors. "No, you don't understand -- they're foreclosing on us! My desk is being loaded onto a moving van as we speak!"

But, as cool as this is, I actually might know of a case that could top it. And, not to brag, but it involves my dad. Like the folks in this case, my dad also was seizing property in order to satisfy a judgment. Unlike this case, though, the property was held by the local police department. Here's the tale:
I represented two victims of a notorious serial burglar in a civil suit. We took a default judgment and received a seven-figure jury damage award. We then backed a U-haul truck up to the Fairfax County Police Department with federal marshals in tow to seize the unclaimed stolen jewelry and other merchandise from the Fairfax police on theory that the thief (and my clients as judgment creditors of the thief) had better title to the unclaimed stolen goods than anyone in the world (including Commonwealth of Virginia) except the true owners. This caused an armed federal/state police standoff. Eventually, we took the merchandise to a D.C. auction house and had a televised auction to partially satisfy my client's judgment.

One day, I too hope to legally cause a reenactment of the Civil War on the steps of the Fairfax County PD.

Friday, June 03, 2011

French Peace Plan: Two States for Two People

In an effort to jump-start stagnant peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, the French government has released a new framework for beginning negotiations -- notable because (like President Obama), it explicitly stipulates "two states for two peoples" -- in other words, a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people, and an Israeli state for the Jewish people.

Also like President Obama (and like every single serious peace proposal by any party, for that matter), borders would be negotiated on basis of '67 lines, with agreed-upon swaps. It also is -- surprisingly -- neutral on the question of Jerusalem as a capital for both states, and delays negotiation on that question as well as on the issue of refugees until after borders and security arrangements are finalized. East Jerusalem is a red-line for Palestinians the same way that "right of return" is for Israelis, but I don't care if each side holds out for a favorable agreement on its issue of choice, so long as they get back to the table and start talking.

Overall, the parameters of the French framework are a step closer to Netanyahu's demands, and he'd be a fool not to jump on it -- assuming, that is, he is actually genuine about trying to actualize a two-state solution that envisions an independent Palestine alongside Israel. That assumption, of course, is far from clear.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

"Death to X" Marchers are Bad People

Far-right Israeli protesters marched through Jerusalem yelling slogans like "death to the Arabs" and "Muhammad is Dead".

These people are bad people. They are enemies of peace; they are, on the Israeli side's key barrier to an eventual peaceful settlement and coexistence with the Palestinian people (just as their Palestinian analogues who talk about death to Jews -- e.g., in Hamas' charter -- are the primary Palestinian barriers to peaceful coexistence with Israel). As I have expressed before, if I had my way, they'd be excommunicated from my faith.

People who march around calling for the "slaughter" of others are bad people. David Bernstein wants to talk about recognizing "enemies", well, that works as a pretty good definition of whom I think are mine -- those calling for the wholesale slaughter of other people. It's true of the radical Palestinians who want it of Jews, and it's true of the radical Israelis who want it of Palestinians. Both are my enemies. How's that for some moral clarity?

Hackery in its Most Crystalline Form

One of the more frustrating things about this whole "based on '67 lines" flap is that, right up until the moment someone decided to make it into a "controversy", it was one of those things that was so obvious nobody dreamed it was ever controversial. I mean, on what other basis could one possibly base the borders of a two-state solution? The original partition plan? Do we simply divide up all the cities and draw straws? Of course the final borders are going to track '67 lines, with mutually-agreed upon swaps. There is literally no other conceivable starting point one could have for negotiations predicated on the creation of two states for two peoples.

Which is why "based on '67 lines with swaps" was the consensus pro-Israel position right up until the moment Republicans decided it wasn't. And there is perhaps no clearer demonstration of the utter hackery that has accompanied this "controversy" than the behavior of -- surprise -- Noah Pollak and his "Emergency Committee for Israel" (last seen backing Senate candidates who voted to cut off aid to Israel).

The committee put up an ad which, of course, is all up in arms about this '67 lines thing. Except -- whoops! -- Pollak live-tweeted Obama's speech, and at the time (not realizing -- reasonably -- that the consensus position on the conflict would suddenly become ripe for exploitation) was all about praising it. "Nothing new" about Obama's statement regarding the '67 borders. "I don't think there is anything in this speech that Netanyahu will find surprising or even disagreeable." And, most hilariously, "If someone had said to me yesterday, 'you'll be defending Obama on Israel tomorrow,' I would have laughed." Turns out, that premise was pretty laughable.

So Pollak is little more than a partisan hack, who reversed his own position on what Israel needs for its security based on nothing more than an opportunistic desire to attack the President. Israel hardly needs "friends" whose devotion is so thin. So step aside Pollak: some of us think Israel security is actually important -- more important, even, than scoring short-term political points at the expense of those actually working to bring peace and security to Israel.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Carleton Frisbee Dominates, but are they Historic?

Carleton College's ultimate frisbee team (CUT) won Division I nationals earlier this week, besting Wisconsin 11-5. It was a great victory, avenging an earlier defeat to Wisconsin in the North-Central Regional finals and capping an undefeated run by Carleton through the tournament. It's also Carleton's second championship in three years (and they were runners-up to Florida in 2010).

I told this to my dad, and he raised an interesting question. Carleton has an enrollment of a little less than 2,000 people. The University of Wisconsin has an enrollment of over 42,000 people (that counts graduate students -- but graduate students can be part of a college ultimate roster, and indeed, Wisconsin had at least one graduate student playing for it in the championship match). Carleton thus has 40,000 fewer students than Wisconsin -- it's over 20x our size. Our previous two D-I titles were over UC-Santa Barbara (2009) and the University of Georgia (2001), both smaller than Wisconsin (though Georgia clocks in at nearly 35,000 students) [my reading comprehension skills are terrible. Those were the women's champions that year -- Carleton defeated the University of Colorado (30,000 students) in both 2001 and 2009]. He asked whether, in the history of college team sports, there has ever been a championship match where the winning team was that much smaller than its opponent in terms of enrollment?

It's a fair question. In individual sports, of course, every once in awhile you get a standout who randomly is at some tiny school. But in team sports it is much rarer that a small school even plays with the big boys, and in the rare cases where they do and aren't utterly overmatched (e.g., Davidson in D-I basketball), they still don't typically win championships. Now, there might be some exception back in the old days when random teams came out of nowhere to win championships. And even today, one can imagine a sport like Crew or something where a smaller school might have matched Carleton's feat. But it's quite possible this is a unique, and uniquely impressive, accomplishment for CUT.

Anyway, regardless of whether it actually is a record, it's still a mighty impressive accomplishment. Congrats to CUT, and congrats to Carleton, for maintaining an elite level program in at least one sport for so many years.

The Lie That Jewish Donors are Abandoning Obama

Greg Sargent demolishes it here. Now, let's be clear -- there are some Jewish donors, Democratic ones even, that never liked Obama in the first place. They didn't donate to him the first time around, and they're not going to do so in 2012. Haim Saban falls into this category. And, what's more, I expect Obama's Jewish vote percentage to fall off, albeit modestly, from its 2012 peak. That's for several reasons: (1) 2012 won't be the rout 2008 was, (2) the economy will depress Obama's vote amongst all sectors, and (3) Republicans can't possibly be dumb enough to have someone like Sarah Palin on their ticket this time (can they?).

But with respect to the "big" story -- that wealthy Jewish Obama supporters are fleeing him in droves over his taking the mainstream American Jewish position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- no, it's just not happening.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The One and Only

PPP released a poll asking Iowa Republicans their preference regarding GOP presidential candidates. One respondent picked former Utah Gov. and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Not "1%", one person. PPP tells us a little bit about the lonely fellow who thinks Huntsman is the best GOP option.

David Schraub, Lobby Enforcer

Earlier today Jon Chait wrote up a post about M.J. Rosenberg's attempt to distill the power and terror of the Israel Lobby which more or less mimicked my reaction to the piece, namely -- did anything actually happen? The story timeline basically runs as follows (1) Sen. Carl Levin wrote up a letter critical of a statement by the Israeli Prime Minister, (2) he shows it to AIPAC's President, who approved of the letter, (3) the Israeli government, and with it some American Jews, flip out, (4) William Safire calls up and tells Levin's office that he has sources which say Levin's letter was ghost-written by an Israeli opposition official, which the office denies, and Safire ultimately decides he believes Levin's staff, (5) an Israeli official came to Levin's office to complain, and, after insulting the Senator, was thrown out, and (6) President Reagan comes out to back up Levin and the position of the letter.

In other words, the upshot of this terrifying display of Israel Lobby power was that (a) a few American Jews and the Israeli government got upset and (b) no other consequences whatsoever. In fact, the Republican President (Saint Ronald himself) backed up a Democratic Senator on the question. Yeah, that's a mighty chilly climate.

Contrast that to what went down in this Ron Kampeas posting about Jewish Republican State Sen. Adam Hasner's (R-FL) potential challenge against Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Kampeas originally cast the issue with regard to the votes of Florida's substantial contingent of older Jewish voters as a case of Hasner's support of the Ryan budget (bad) against his "impeccable pro-Israel record" (good).

I immediately tweeted that Hasner's "pro-Israel" record is only "pro-Israel" to the extent that one doesn't think the occupation is threatening to Israel -- in other words, perhaps the key point of dispute between various camps calling themselves "pro-Israel". To someone like me, someone like Hasner isn't pro-Israel in any meaningful sense of the term. And wouldn't you know if it Kampeas immediately recognized his error and updated the post to note Hasner has an "impeccable right-wing pro-Israel record" -- far more accurate (though oddly, the old version still persists on the permalink -- but if you read the piece on the front page of the Capital J blog, it's been updated accordingly).

Behold, the power of the left-wing pro-Israel lobby -- able to cause journalists to tremble and self-correct with naught but a tweet! Truly, my power and influence knows no bounds.

Monday, May 30, 2011

UCU Redefines Anti-Semitism to Shield UCU

The UCU, perhaps embarrassed over continuing allegations that it harbors a culture of institutional anti-Semitism, has finally agreed to investigate complaints from Jewish members and a torrent of resignations by Jewish academics.

Just kidding! Actually, they just decided to redefine the meaning of anti-Semitism itself, rejecting the commonly held EUMC definition (which affirms the possibility -- though, of course, not the inevitability -- that criticism of Israel could constitute anti-Semitism) in favor of, well, it appears in favor of no definition at all. So I guess it's not a "redefinition" of anti-Semitism so much as an erasure of it entirely -- which, when you think about it, is at least more in line with the UCU's general practice.

The closest thing any of the resolution proponents came up with as a counter-definition of anti-Semitism is "hostility towards Jews as Jews". As was observed, this is a far narrower definition of racism than is applied towards any other group; indeed, it is one that scarcely encompasses any anti-Semitism at all (so long as the speaker can claim to have his one Jewish friend). "I don't hate Black people, just the uppity ones" is still racism. "I don't hate Jews, just the Zionist ones", apparently is not.

Some members complained that the EUMC definition was used inappropriately to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel. Some of these complaints were clearly bogus -- I'm sorry, Sean Wallis, but "refuted utterly" or not, what you said was anti-Semitic under any plausible definition of the term. But even to the extent there were some "bad" allegations made, as one of the few opponents of the motion observed, no definition can, in itself, prevent misuse. The only way we can evaluate the validity of a charge of racism is by assessing it on the specifics -- not by starting with a presupposition that the charge is made in bad faith.

The broader point is this. We have in the UCU a union which endorses a boycott of Israel while praising human rights luminaries like Venezuela, specifically invited a convicted hate speaker to talk up said boycott (and affirmatively refused to disassociate itself from his anti-Semitism), and, faced with a wave of Jewish resignations from the union, elected to celebrate the demise of "Zionist" influence rather than investigate the possibility of a culture of anti-Semitism.

Each day that the UCU continues down this path is a day Eve Garrard's demand becomes more undeniable -- the UCU is simply not an organization that anyone genuinely concerned with anti-Semitism can retain membership in. It is infected beyond salvation.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

So What?

Eric Yoffie asks the key question to Israeli hawks: So what if Palestinians are mostly to blame for the failure of peace talks?
Yes, I tell him, you are right. The Palestinians are at fault, but so what? A UN resolution will pass at the General Assembly in September, recognizing a Palestinian state. Israel’s international position is deteriorating. Economic sanctions might follow. And worse yet, elements of Palestinian leadership are already proposing a one-state solution—a single Jewish/Arab state in Palestine, with equal rights for all. If the proposal is accepted, Jews will become a minority in the new state; if it is rejected, Israel will be portrayed to the world as an apartheid state.

So, I ask, what is the plan? Even if we are completely right and the Palestinians are completely wrong, what do we do now to head off these very real dangers?

No matter how many times I have asked the question, I always get the same answer—which is no answer at all. Shmuel rants and raves; he tells me how unfair this is; he reminds me how we are the victims here. And I tell him: yes, yes, I agree. You are right; the world is an unfair place, especially to the Jews. But, I say, raising my voice, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?

And the fact is that Shmuel doesn’t know. On some level he seems to feel that the current situation can continue indefinitely: Israel, secure in the justice of its cause, will continue to expand old settlements and build new ones. It will depend, as it always has, on the support of the United States. And if we are in trouble, we will rely on the rhetorical brilliance of our Prime Minister. Who knows America better than Bibi?

I'll make an aside here that relying on Bibi to extract one from a dangerous situation is like relying on Wilt Chamberlain to run your chastity clinic.

Anyway. We can parse how much fault in the current arrangement lies with Israelis versus Palestinians. I'd certainly agree that the situation Israel is in is unfair. But Yoffie is right -- so what? You can whine about how unfair the referees are, but if you lose the game, nobody is going to care. So yes, Israel is going to have to be the prime mover here -- not because it is the bad actor, but because that is the state of the world we're in. There's no way around it.