Monday, June 15, 2009

Arnold, Hiss, Rossi

From the U.S. Constitution: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

Does being an American citizen and scoring two goals for Italy in a 3-1 win over the U.S. count?

Friday, June 12, 2009

So Don't Look Back

Election day in Iran today. Good luck, Mr. Mousavi.

Update 6/13/09: Big Orange writer/Young Turk Cenk Uygur explains why A-Train's "victory" doesn't pass the smell test. Clifflyon, also at Kos, posts some digests from Farsi websites, essentially telling us that Mousavi's supporters are out burninating, Mousavi may or may not be under house arrest, and some ayatollahs are calling for a new election because this one got so effed up. It's a mess over there. Honestly, Big Orange is doing as good a job as anyone covering this.

Update 6/15/09: More from Big Orange. This guy's reporting all the rumors flying around about what's going on over there, but there isn't a whole lot of corroboration because there isn't a whole lot of information coming out of Iran right at the moment. Twitterati can follow the rumor mill as it develops by searching for #IranElection. There are significant reports that Khameini has called for an investigation, an about-face which seems to lend credence to the idea that Rafsanjani was making noise about removing him...

Update 6/16/09: Mike comments with a Post article that links to this poll that showed a hefty A-Train lead going into the poll. Problem is, though, the poll also predicted that no one was going to reach 50% and that a runoff was imminent. So a narrow A-Train victory would have been credible, but 63% still strains credulity. Also, the poll said 77% favor increased democracy (such as directly electing the Supreme Leader) and the same proportion favor increased relations with the US. So it's unlikely A-Train gets a landslide despite that, even if he is an economic populist. It's possible, but not probable, and I still think the most probable outcome is that the vote tally was fudged a bit.

The Others

The Holocaust Museum shooting has inspired The Washington Post's Michael Gerson, who freakily had a column about international Holocaust denial run on the day of the shooting, to write a piece trying to deal with anti-Semitism. It's a tough subject for anyone to tackle in a single column. Hell, it took James Carroll 700-plus pages to deal with just the Catholic Church's role in anti-Semitism. And it's fair to say that Carroll's book, which is an excellent read, just scratches the surface of the phenomenon as a whole.

Gerson quotes Museum director Sara Bloomfield, who hints at anti-Semitism's reach:
Anti-Semitism has existed with and without Christianity. With and without the right wing. With and without the left wing. With and without democracy. With and without economic problems. With and without globalization. With and without a Jewish homeland.
Gerson, predictably, concludes that anti-Semitism exists at odds with liberty. This is not a poor assessment - clearly, if you want to control someone's religious beliefs, you're not a friend of liberty. But this is interesting because it implies something more fundamental to human nature at work.

I think it's natural for people in a society to want other members of the society to conform. We like order in our societies, and look down upon those that would disrupt that order. Those that don't adhere to some extent to the line set by their society become the pariahs, the "others." And Jews? For the last 2000 years (with the exception of Khazaria in the 9th century and modern-day Israel) we have been the ultimate non-conformists. In societies built around Christianity and Islam we have stubbornly held to our beliefs and traditions. We're the world's others.

But what about in America? Certainly, if there's any non-Jewish society that has accepted Jews as part of its own, it's America, right? This is true to a great extent, and yet, Jews here are still an "other." Our holidays are weird, our customs strange, and our beliefs are poorly understood. Your average American probably couldn't tell you what Yom Kippur was, and probably still believes that the Old Testament God is vengeful and angry. These misconceptions and misunderstandings exist becaues even in America, we don't conform completely.

Which leads me back to the question of liberty. Gerson is not the first to claim this, but I'll quote him anyway:
But we do know that anti-Semitism has always been a kind of test -- a reliable measure of a nation's moral and social health. When the rights of Jews are violated, all human rights are insecure. When Jews and Jewish institutions are targeted, all minorities have reason for fear. And by this standard, America has cause for introspection.
To me, this isn't just because Jews are some sort of special canary-in-a-coal mine, but because a society's level of liberty can be judged by the rights it affords its "others," and Jews are the most common "others" in Western and Islamic societies over the past couple thousand years. America has dealt well with us as "others," and through its guarantees of religious liberty, has let us participate fully in American society. What's more, American society has accepted us to some extent, not fully understanding us but at least dealing well with us.

So in modern America there are groups that are far more otherized than the Jews. Atheists and gays come to mind immediately. It's nice to say that we should resist otherizing groups altogether, and that's certainly true, but good luck with that. We'll eventually accept atheists and gays into the fabric of American society in the way America brought the Jews in, but someone else will take their place in the role of pariahs. And what's more, people with narrow perceptions of American society will continue to rail against "others," be they Jews or what have you. Resisting this is noble. But it should be our goal, first and foremost, to ensure that even the groups most marginalized by our mainstream society are treated equally by our government and our laws.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shooting in Downtown DC

Some asshat shoots up the Holocaust Museum. Three people shot - no word from the Post yet on their condition. Scary stuff.

Update: Just two shot - the guard and the gunman, who shot each other. Freaky coincidence: this Gerson op-ed ran today.

Update 2: The above Post article has been updated with the perp's name: James W. von Brunn. Aravosis thinks he found the guy: some cranky old white supremacist dude.

Hey, Free Money!

Congratulations to the North Pacific nation of Palau, who just used Americans' irrational fear of 17 Chinese Uighur separatists to bilk us out of 200 million smackeroos. Of course, it would have cost us a fraction of that to grant them asylum (they would have been killed if they went back to China) and resettled them in, say, Raleigh.

But that would have been logical, and I don't think most people are thinking with the logical bits of their brain when it comes to Gitmo detainees. So congratulations, you just got us scammed by Palau because you're scared shitless for no good reason. Good job, you just more than doubled Palau's GDP.

Two final notes. We had already released a few of the Uighurs to Albania before they decided to stop under pressure from Beijing. How pissed off are those guys now? I mean, they end up in a depressing post-communist Balkan country and their friends are in a country that's basically a giant resort? Talk about a raw deal. Second, Palau is dependent on the U.S. for pretty much everything, to the point where Palauan citizens don't need a visa to come here for work or to live. So if Palau gives them citizenship, they can come and live here whenever they want.

More on Sotomayor

The ACLU has written an insanely extensive report on Sotomayor's judicial history. I didn't read the whole thing - it's 88 pages, ferchrissakes - but I'm sure it's interesting if you have the time. From the bits I skimmed, it looks like a mixed bag. During the national security section, they talk a lot about her deference to the federal government, which is disturbing - but they also point out that she joined an opinion which struck down the National Security Letter gag rule, which is good.

RIP Exclusionary Rule (1961-2009)

In legal circles, the exclusionary rule is the rule that forbids prosecutors from bringing evidence to trial that is acquired via an illegal search or seizure. The Supreme Court has been chipping away at it in recent years, but with a tenuous five-justice majority opposed to it, it's managed to hold on for a while, kinda like a terminally ill patient who just keeps rallying.

But if this LA Times article is any indication, Obama just pulled the plug with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor:
In two major rulings after she joined the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in 1998, she held that evidence could be used to convict a defendant even though police had violated his rights in seizing it. Sotomayor said that because the police and prosecutors acted "in good faith," the evidence need not be thrown out.

In 1999, Sotomayor upheld the crack cocaine conviction of a New York man despite what she called a "mistaken arrest." Last year, Sotomayor spoke for a 2-1 majority that upheld a man's child pornography conviction, even though she agreed an FBI agent did not have probable cause to search his computer.
This is unwelcome news for more than one reason. First, of course, it dooms the exclusionary rule - now there's a six-justice majority in favor of repeal, which means that Kennedy can wander off the reservation and Mapp could still be overturned. This means that cops can break the Fourth Amendment all they damn well please and it won't matter a bit, which basically renders the "illegal search and seizure" clause null and void, at least with respect to state prosecutions.

Second, it hints at Sotomayor's deference to executive and police power that is dangerous in terms of war on terror issues. Souter was a pretty solid vote in favor of maintaining due process in terrorism cases, and Kennedy - the swing vote - tended to side with the liberals. Now, there'll be a solid five-justice majority (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Sotomayor) who are not willing to exercise judicial power to maintain the rule of law. And that's dangerous.

(Via Brayton.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

OK, SCOTUS Nerds, Your Help Please

Not entirely sure what this means:
The Supreme Court ruled moments ago that Chrysler cannot yet sell most of its assets to Fiat, a move that has been opposed by three Indiana state pension and construction funds.

The ruling grants a stay in the sale as the court gathers more data and schedules a hearing on the matter.

It temporarily blocks the way for Chrysler to complete its merger with the Italian automaker and begin its new, post-bankruptcy life.
Ginsburg issued the stay, and didn't give a reason for doing so.

What does this mean? Is the Supreme Court about to consider ruling this government participation in private enterprise unconstitutional, and send us back to the Lochner era? Is this a takings case that the pension funds are filing, arguing that the government is forcing them to give up their Chrysler stock to the UAW and Fiat, and if so, why the hell would you file that suit if your other option is losing all of your stock in bankruptcy proceedings? I don't ask for much, SCOTUS watchers. Just tell me what all this is about.

Dooles (ptui)

I don't know why, but this made me laugh way too much.

What's In A Name?

Bizarre polling results are nothing new - just ask the Kerry pollster that thought he won Arkansas in 2004. Usually there are easy explanations, like a screwed-up sample, poor weighting, bad questioning, etc. That said, I have no idea what to make of this poll. A few notes:

- Only 40% of Americans think gay people should be allowed to marry. 59% of 18-29s do, however.

- 73% of people think gay couples should have inheritance rights. 67% of people think gay couples should have health insurance and employee benefits. 54% of people think gay people should be allowed to adopt (a majority, but still a shockingly low number).

- 40% of people still think gay sex should be illegal. (And what's up with that graph? Did America take a collective stupid pill in the late-'80s?)

- 69% of people think gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. The same percentage thinks they should be allowed to teach children. (I would be shocked by that last number, except that I just saw Milk the other night and I realize that only 30 years ago it took damn near a miracle to convince Californians to prevent an anti-gay witch hunt in the schools. So quite the improvement, there.)

These numbers are all fun to quote by themselves, but put together, they make absolutely no sense. A majority of Americans support the constituent parts of gay marriage, but only 40% support gay marriage? Huh? Does that mean that at least 14% of Americans support gay marriage and just don't know it yet?

I think it's more likely that Americans don't know what gay marriage is. I have a feeling that most Americans still think of civil marriage as more than just a legal agreement between consenting adults. As such, we still are unable to have an honest debate on this issue, since because of this failure to understand the limitations of civil marriage, religious babble gets drawn into an argument where is has no place.

What's even more confusing is the idea that support for gay civil rights appears to be hanging around in the high 60s, but support for gay people being allowed to do the thing that makes them gay is in the high 50s. Shouldn't support for the freedom of gay people to do whatever they want behind closed doors be higher than support for gay civil rights? I really don't understand how this works. My suspicion is that something about the question is loaded or unclear. If not, though, my fear is that people support civil rights in the abstract, but their support wanes when confronted with the fact that full civil rights means that activities they personally find icky would have to be legal.

In fact, is there really anything else beyond the "icky" factor driving this debate? I have yet to see an argument opposing gay rights that doesn't boil down to "ewww, that's icky." And far too many people think that ickiness ought to be a factor in our legislative process. (See: smoking bans, trans-fat bans, prohibition laws, yadda yadda yadda.)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Good Thing Lucy Wasn't Involved

I could post today on the murder of George Tiller and what that means, but a blog post about abortion is a Godwin waiting to happen. I'll just say my condolences to the Tiller family and leave it at that.

Instead, here's a hilarious video of Charlie Brown throwing out a first pitch at a Pirates game. Enjoy.