Friday, June 01, 2012

Big Boxing Weekend Roundup

This weekend has a lot of great action. Not to mention game two of the Stanley Cup Finals.

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I posted this on my Facebook wall, but it's good enough for a double-dip -- David Hirsh does a beautiful job discussing the BDS campaign's treatment of Jews parallel to Shylock as BDSers tried to sabotage an Israeli production of The Merchant of Venice.

Peter E. Gordon has a fascinating review of a book detailing the history of the Catholic Church's Nostra Aetate.

"Memes are ridiculous!", he said, while unironically citing a meme.

The latest reports are that Stuxnet was a joint American/Israeli project aimed at sabotaging Iranian nuclear capacity.

Nancy Leong asks if diversity is for White people. She's got a cool paper coming out in the Harvard Law Review arguing that the diversity rationale has the effect of commodifying non-White racial identity. She thinks that's a bad thing, I am more circumspect about it.

J.J. Goldberg looks at several Jewish polls (including the one I discussed yesterday), finds that they're all saying very similar things (to wit, Jews are very liberal).

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Acid Attacks

In Afghanistan, one of the most horrifying elements of the Taliban's war on women is the use of acid attacks. Women who attend school, play sports, or otherwise behave in ways offensive to the Taliban's fundamentalist religious ethos are splashed with acid, causing excruciating pain and permanent disfiguration.

Most of us are appalled. But a spokesman for Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY) sees a metaphor. Posting on a local Democratic facebook page, Hayworth spokesman Jay Townsend said:
Let's hurl some acid at those female democratic [sic] Senators who won't abide the mandates they want to impose on the private sector.


Rep. Hayworth's office has not yet commented on the story.

Jews Are Liberal, Part Eleventy Billion

A new poll finds, once again, that Jews harbor opinions well to the left of the American mainstream on a host of issues. Nearly 70% favor gay marriage. Nearly 90% favor legal abortion in most cases.

And while it is sometimes asserted that Jewish social liberalism is balanced by economic moderation, that's only true as a matter of degree. Two-thirds support tax increases on persons making over $200,000/year, 62% feel that banks and financial institutions pose a "major threat", and 61% say they tend to favor unions over corporations when they hear about a strike (to be fair, when the corporations are run by guys like this, it's easy to root against them).

Oh, and on Israel/Palestine? No surprises there either. Jews tend to think Israel wants peace and Palestinians do not. But perhaps the most striking finding was their opinion regarding a settlement freeze. Though opinions were divided, a plurality of 40% believes that the Israel government should freeze settlements, versus only 22% opposed (39% are unsure).

Same-Sex Marriage as a Make-Up Call

As you may have heard, the 1st Circuit in an opinion by Judge Boudin just struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (defining marriage for purpose of federal law solely as existing between a man and a woman). Good commentary from Dale Carpenter and Ruthann Robson. Of course, everyone (1st Circuit included) expects this to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

And that got me to thinking. The swing vote, as always, is Justice Kennedy (though DOMA raises important federalism issues that theoretically sway some conservative justices -- well, just color me dubious on that). While Justice Kennedy has distinguished himself as a relatively friendly Justice for LGBT litigants -- writing important majority opinions in Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas -- there is of course no guarantee how he would vote on the motherlode issue of same-sex marriage. However, it strikes me as relevant that these issues are coming to a head around the same time as the PPACA litigation.

Why? Well, the fact that he's got two major historical decisions coming his way in relatively close succession gives him the chance to "split the baby". Let's say he votes to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Liberals are outraged. A year later, a same-sex marriage case comes to the Court, and he strikes down that law too. Suddenly, he's a liberal hero again. The same-sex marriage opinion gives him a chance to cleanse the prior vote -- making up for it and assuring himself that he's "centrist" and "middle of the road". The known prospect of a liberal-friendly SSM decision gives him the cognitive space to make a conservative-friendly decision on the ACA (or perhaps vice versa).

Of course, this is all vague speculation at this point. But part of my read on Justice Kennedy is he likes to regress to the mean. An anti-ACA decision would represent a major slide to the right -- it would not surprise me if he quickly tried to counterbalance it with a counterweight on the left.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It Takes Two

Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been floating a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank if peace talks stutter. Today, Palestinian officials firmly rejected that possibility, arguing that it would perpetuate the conflict and pose a barrier to a comprehensive and lasting solution to it.

There are plenty of things appealing about a unilateral withdrawal, and plenty of legitimate dangers (the Gaza experience illuminates both). But the Palestinians firm rejection of unilateral Israeli action is important, because it establishes that "ending the occupation" is not entirely in Israeli hands. It's not entirely in Palestinian hands either, of course. It's simply the fact that for a deal to happen, both sides are going to have to put the work in. Hence, any description of the conflict that puts the onus or blame entirely on one side is missing the point. Even the PA does not want this conflict solved via force of Israeli will alone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Out of Many

Newt Gingrich renders his apologia for birtherism:
“I know that there is a desperate need to attach racism to everything but in fact I think that Donald Trump said what he said because it’s the right thing for him to say,” Gingrich said to reporters in the lobby of the Trump Hotel here. “I think that Obama creates very powerful emotions about him, largely because of the radicalism of his views. I think that's the key fact.”

Trump's widely discredited claims about Obama's birth certificate overshadowed GOP front-runner Mitt Romney's message on the economy last Thursday, yet Gingrich said that it’s a media-driven story.

“Nobody runs around saying whether Colonel [Allen] West was born in the United States. He's an African American you know. He's a congressman. Nobody runs around and says was Tim Scott born in the United States. He's a congressman. He's an African American,” he said. “So the idea of asserting that any charge against Obama somehow manages magically in the media to get back to racism, I think is just one more device to protect Obama.”

Ooh, ooh, let me play! "People keep saying lynching is about racism. But look at all the Black people who have never been lynched! Clearly, it's not about Black people, but about powerful emotions that surround the uppity ones, and when the media calls it 'racism', that's just another device to shield their radical agenda."

Seriously, though, it is interesting to watch the Republican establishment realize that it's not going to be able to contain birtherism. So it has to conduct rationales for it that excuse the misbehavior. If they had a zero-tolerance policy against birtherism, they'd lose half their base at this point.

Artur Davis' Turn for the Worse

Former Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis has announced he is switching parties, though he has not committed to a renewed political career (if he did run, however, it would be in Virginia, not Alabama).

There's a lot of "good riddance" being put out there. And I certainly see where that comes from. But I find my feelings are mixed -- while I am deeply disappointed in the man Rep. Davis has become, I also recall the fall from what he once was.

At one point, Davis was considered a rising star amongst young African-American politicians. And while he had already spent several term in Congress (knocking off incumbent Democrat Earl Hilliard to get there)*, it was the 2010 Alabama gubernatorial race that looked to be his coming out party. Young, smart, and Harvard-educated, Davis cut a character that folks thought might have cross-over appeal and could bite into the overwhelming margins White voters were providing to Republican candidates statewide -- a Barack Obama for the south.

But therein lay the problem: Davis looked ahead to the general election and took his base for granted. He tacked hard to the right, assuming that the Black voters who made the core of Alabama's Democratic activists would continue to support him -- particularly given that his main opponent was the White Agricultural Commissioner Ron Sparks. He voted against the Affordable Care Act and spurned the local Black leadership. And come election day, he was not just beaten but throttled by Sparks, who took home over 60% of the vote. Rep. Davis had made an elementary mistake -- he assumed that Black voters vote on basis of race, not policy. And his rising star came crashing to earth.

After that defeat, Davis turned hard against the Democratic Party, and his recent moves reek of sour grapes. The breaking point was his endorsement of the voter fraud panic, a "problem" that is by all empirical accounts mostly non-existent but has been an effective pretext for purging the rolls of valid voters, many people of color.

The thing is, I saw Rep. Davis in Congress, and I remember being extraordinarily impressed by his savvy and intelligence. Artur Davis is a smart man, and that's what makes his decision so infuriating. He's smart enough to know that "voter fraud" is a fraud, but he's also smart enough to know that jumping on that train is a fast way to leap to prominence amongst the GOP, who are always looking for Black faces to say what White audiences want to hear.

The tragedy is that someone as smart and talented as Davis is deciding to use his talents like this -- trying to exploit the game to put himself in power, rather than to do good for the nation. People say good riddance, and in a sense they're right to -- someone who sells out like this does not deserve our respect. But I can't help but feel a twinge of regret. Artur Davis' story could have had so many endings. It's a shame he chose this one.

* I distinctly remember the Davis/Hilliard race because Hilliard had issued several anti-Israel votes (as well as a solidarity trip to Libya), which put him on the radar screen of the pro-Israel and Jewish Democratic community. Davis received strong support in the Jewish community at the start of his career (people say he received money from AIPAC, but that's strictly speaking inaccurate -- AIPAC doesn't have a political action committee and does not give money to candidates. It is true that he received strong support from various Jewish and pro-Israel groups -- both Davis and Hilliard received most of their large donations from out-of-state as the race began to be seen as a referendum on mid-east policy), and I think many of us had warm feelings towards him as someone who was responsive to us when we were feeling hurt or aggrieved. Again, that makes it more difficult when you see what he's receded into.

But in a sense, Hilliard's defeat (like Cynthia McKinney's similar defeats in Georgia) wasn't about who ran against him, but about the voters who made a decision to listen. The Jewish community said to them "your representative is hurting us", and they responded. Every minority group should be so lucky as to have their claims of hurt be met with empathy like that. I try to be empathic in the same way to others, so that when I'm a position where my community is alleged to be causing a hurt, I do my best to be responsive as well. So, no matter how Congressman Davis' career ends, Jewish voters owe a debt of gratitude to the voters of the Alabama 7th District surrounding how it began.

What Exactly Did the UNWTO Do?

This Guardian story is claiming that a UN body has made Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe into a "leader for tourism". Such an honorific sounds like a terrible idea, and indeed, human rights groups and opposition members of Zimbabwe's besieged civil society are outraged, while supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party are crowing. So I'm all set to be outraged.

But then at the very end of the article is a statement by the relevant UN body denying that it had appointed Mugabe to anything. The UNWTO instead issued an "open letter" to heads of states asking them to be "leaders for tourism". That letter "mplies no legal commitment or title attribution to the country or the head of state or government in question."

Now this doesn't quite settle things either -- it is unclear whether this letter was sent to every head of state, or just ones specifically selected by the UNWTO, and if the latter, how the selection process proceeded. But it seems at least possible that this really isn't any sort of official honoring of Mugabe by the UN, and I found the Guardian article particularly unhelpful in illuminating what, exactly, is going on here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Watch Dogs

Will Smith is raising his daughter to take ownership of her body. Stuyvesant High School is teaching its female charges that powerful men are always watching and leering at teenage women who should be ashamed of their dirty, slutty bodies. I have little else to say except the women they talk to are very impressive in articulating the problems with the high school's enforcement of its dress code, and Phoebe -- as an alum of the school -- has an excellent perspective of her own.

In marginally related news, I was all set to archly ask: if participants in the sport of pole dancing are so concerned about shedding their activity's racy reputation, why are they all in bikinis? But to my impressed surprise, one of the women had an answer, and it wasn't "so people pay attention to us" (it was that they need exposed skin to stick to the poles for some of their tricks).