Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 8th, 2010

On opinions that cannot be stated—and opinions that can

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The Nasr firing has aroused much comment. Here’s the end of a Greenwald column on the event, which he lists several journalists fired for voicing opinions offensive to the Right:

. . . With the Nasr firing, here we find yet again exposed the central lie of American establishment journalism:  that opinion-free "objectivity" is possible, required, and the governing rule.  The exact opposite is true:  very strong opinions are not only permitted but required.  They just have to be the right opinions:  the official, approved ones.  Just look at the things that are allowed.  The Washington Post lavished editorial praise on the brutal, right-wing tyrant Augusto Pinochet, and that caused no controversy.  AP’s Washington Bureau Chief Ron Fournier got caught sending secret, supportive emails to Karl Rove, and nothing happened.  Benjamin Netanyahu formally celebrates the Terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel that killed 91 civilians and nobody is stigmatized for supporting him.  Erick Erickson sent around the most rancid and arguably racist tweets, only to thereafter be hired as a CNN contributor.  And as Jonathan Schwarz wrote of the Nasr firing:

William Barr is on the board of directors of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. Barr was a senior adviser in the Reagan administration, which attempted to assassinate Fadlallah, missing him and killing more than eighty bystanders.

Having someone who was part of the slaughter of 80 civilians in Lebanon on your Board is fine.  And having a former AIPAC official with an obvious bias toward Israel (just watch Blitzer in this 5-minute clip if you have doubts about that) is perfectly consistent with a news network’s "credibility." But expressing sadness over the death of an Islamic cleric beloved by much of the Muslim world is not.  Whatever is driving that, it has nothing to do with "objectivity."

All of this would be so much more tolerable if CNN would simply admit that it permits its journalists to hold and express some controversial opinions (ones in accord with official U.S. policy and orthodox viewpoints) but prohibits others (ones which the neocon Right dislikes).  Instead, we are subjected to this patently false pretense of opinion-free objectivity.

The reality is that "pro-Israel" is not considered a viewpoint at all; it’s considered "objective."  That’s why there’s no expression of it too extreme to result in the sort of punishment which Nasr just suffered (preceded by so many others before her).  Conversely, while Hezbollah is seen by much of the world as an important defense against Israeli aggression in Lebanon, the U.S. Government has declared it a Terrorist organization, and therefore "independent" U.S. media outlets such as CNN dutifully follow along by firing anyone who expresses any positive feelings about anyone who, in turn, has any connection to that group.  That’s how tenuous and distant the thought crime can be and still end someone’s career.  It’s true that much of the world sees some of Hezbollah’s actions as Terrorism; much of the world sees Israel’s that way as well.  CNN requires the former view while prohibiting the latter.  As usual, our brave journalistic outlets not only acquiesce to these suffocating and extremely subjective restrictions on what our political discourse allows; they lead the way in enforcing them.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 1:50 pm

When the police control the press

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Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Media

Big Bang, Big Boom

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Via Open Culture:

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Science, Video

Unequal justice in the West Bank

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Matthew Yglesias:

Nick Kristof from the West Bank:

“If we try to enter our land, settlers will be waiting, and we will be beaten,” said Muhammad Moqbel, a 71-year-old Palestinian from the village of Qaryout who pointed to fields that he said had been stolen by settlers. Last year, he said, he was hospitalized with a broken rib after settlers attacked while he was picking his own olives.

Rabbis for Human Rights has helped Palestinians recover some land through lawsuits in Israeli courts. And Rabbi Ascherman and other Jewish activists escort such farmers to protect them. The settlers still attack, but soldiers are more likely to intervene when it is rabbis being clubbed.

Discussions of settlements in the West Bank that take place in the United States tend to get very abstract. But it’s worth hearing about incidents like this—not high politics, but low thuggery—and then tracing back to the high politics. It’s of course possible in principle that Jewish police officers and Jewish soldiers who answer to Jewish politicians who answer to Jewish citizens could enforce the law in a manner that’s even-handed between Jewish citizens and non-Jewish subjects, but it’s not brain surgery to see that this isn’t going to work out in practice. It’s nice that some Jewish activists stand up for the rule of law in the West Bank, but there’s no way for such activism to create a sustainable and just equilibrium unless it leads either to Israeli withdrawal from the area or else to binationalism.

And you ought to read the entire Kristof column.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:56 am

BP’s rule: Bribe in advance

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Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress:

Last month, Judge Martin Feldman, a federal trial judge in Louisiana, handed down a poorly-reasoned opinion lifting the Obama Administration’s temporary moratorium on new oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Judge Feldman’s most recent financial disclosure form indicates that he is heavily invested in oil companies.

Today in New Orleans, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will consider whether to stay Feldman’s decision. According to a new report by the Alliance for Justice, however, it is unlikely that these Fifth Circuit judges will approach the case without the perception of bias.

Judges Jerry Smith and Eugene Davis, both of whom are assigned to today’s panel, attended expense-paid “junkets for judges” sponsored by an oil-industry front group:

[Judge Smith] attended a seminar hosted by the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE) in Big Sky, Montana, for which he was reimbursed transportation, lodging, and meal expenses. FREE is a think-tank that promotes free-market environmentalism rather than environmental regulation and is funded largely by corporations like ExxonMobil and conservative foundations. FREE hosts industry-funded seminars for judges, often including leisure activities such as golf and horseback riding, to “explain why ecological values are not the only important ones.” The year that Judge Smith attended the seminar, FREE received $70,000 from ExxonMobil, of which $20,000 was for “Federal Judicial Seminars,” $30,000 was for “General Operating Support,” and $20,000 was for a “Climate Seminar.” . . .

Additionally, in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008, Judge Davis attended the same seminar as Judge Smith run by the FREE Foundation, the free market environmentalism group described above, and sought corresponding reimbursement for transportation, food, and housing.Judge Davis has attended another of other judicial seminars, and in fact, was ranked tenth in the country on a list of judges who accept free trips.

Both men also worked as oil-industry litigators before their appointments to the federal bench, and Judge Davis owns as much as $30,000 in oil investments. The third judge on the panel, Judge James Dennis, has not received any free trips from the oil industry, but he is heavily invested in oil stocks with investments that may total as much as $305,000.

Should this oil-soaked panel nonetheless decide to reinstate the drilling moratorium, the industry may appeal that decision to the full Fifth Circuit. Of the sixteen active judges eligible to hear such an appeal, ten of them have oil investments, including the court’s Chief Judge.  In addition to owning as much as $330,000 in oil investments, Chief Judge Edith Jones ranked fourth of a list of judges who have attended junkets.

A full list of the Fifth Circuit’s judges and the extent of their financial holdings in oil companies is copied below: &

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:49 am

Iran’s Hairstyle Laws No Laughing Matter

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Max Fisher for the Atlantic:

The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s new dictate on acceptable male hairstyles might seem absurd, even silly. The government agency has drawn international attention by requiring Iranian men to choose from a handful of "Islamic" haircuts. But the restrictions, another in a long line of Islam-touting regulations on the daily life of Iranian citizens, are no joke. That they are arbitrary and bizarre is precisely the point.

Whatever you think of the Iranian leadership’s judgment, it’s unlikely that they feel particularly threatened by spiked hair or frosted tips. While the regime often cites religion in such laws, Koranic scholars will find little in Shia doctrine forbidding hair gel. The regime’s chief goal is control of the public sphere, which it has aggressively pursued for years. Westerners will be most familiar with the clunky black chador forced on Iranian women by the often violent Islamic police. There are also tight controls on the media, on who may attend private social gatherings, and even laws forbidding unmarried, unrelated women and men from publicly interacting. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees these restrictions as essential for maintaining , and the more that Iranians agitate for democracy the more he will respond by grinding personal freedoms into the sand.

Iran has endured authoritarian rule for a century, but state control has accelerated to Soviet extremes over the past decade. In the 1990s, Iranian leadership split over whether or not Iran should adopt what was commonly described as the "China model" of gradual economic liberalization and increased foreign ties. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ultimately decided against the plan, worried that political liberalization would follow and ultimately threaten his authoritarian rule. But the lengthy public discourse had convinced a number of Iranians–especially within the middle class–of the benefits of opening the borders and markets. Many of these business-oriented but largely apolitical Iranians joined university liberals who had long called for democratization. As the forces of globalization pressured Iran from without and reformists pressured Iran from within, the regime became increasingly insecure.

Demographically, Iran should be a democracy. It has high literacy and education rates, a large and vibrant middle class, independent labor and business communities, and a strong tradition of political organizing and involvement. The regime retains authoritarian rule in large part because it firmly controls so much of Iranians’ public lives. The regime typically increases these controls in times of social unrest. The baseej, an informal citizen militia loosely tied to the state, can closely monitor their neighbors and brutally enforce state restrictions. Many Iranians become so consumed with navigating these complicated laws that public spaces become places of fear and self-censorship. Because phone taps are common and because your neighbor might be a baseej who closely monitors whoever enters your home, even private spaces are suffocated by state control. Regulating hair styles may not seem like it would be very effective, but this move is part of a sweeping, pervasive strategy to engineer individual freedom out of every imaginable aspect of public life.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Obama’s promise of transparency: A total lie

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Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:44 am

The Worst U.S. Supreme Court Decision of the Term

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Joanne Mariner at FindLaw:

What was the worst ruling of the Supreme Court term that just ended? Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the corporate campaign spending decision that President Obama criticized in January, could make a strong claim to that title, but defenders of the First Amendment would point to the Court’s ruling two weeks ago in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

The Humanitarian Law Project case involved peace and human rights activists who sought an injunction that would allow them to advise and train militant groups to use lawful means to achieve political ends. Specifically, the plaintiffs wanted to train Kurdish nationalists in Turkey on how to use international law to resolve disputes peacefully, and how to petition ‘representative bodies such as the United Nations" for relief. They also wanted to engage in political advocacy on behalf of the Kurds in Turkey and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

Both of the groups with which the plaintiffs sought to communicate had been deemed ‘foreign terrorist organizations" under US law. Because of this designation, the plaintiffs’ proposed speech was arguably barred by a federal law that criminalizes the provision of ‘material support" to terrorist organizations, including support in the form of training, expert advice, personnel, and services.

The Court acknowledged that the case involved content-based restrictions on speech, normally an area in which the First Amendment requires the judiciary to enforce stringent protections against government overreaching. Yet in a 6-3 decision, the Court’s conservative majority, joined by departing Justice John Paul Stevens, rejected the plaintiffs’ claims. The Court found that the government’s compelling interest in preventing terrorism outweighed the plaintiffs’ free speech rights.

Indeed, it reached this conclusion without even asking the government to provide empirical evidence to show that the goal of preventing terrorism would actually be served by the speech restrictions at issue.

Heavy Sentences for Negotiating Peace

Human Rights Watch, together with the Carter Center, the International Crisis Group, and several other peace, human rights, and humanitarian aid groups, filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Humanitarian Law Project. Noting that the challenged statute imposes sentences of up to 15 years in prison for the crime of providing advice and training to a designated ‘foreign terrorist organization," the groups explained how their own activities might potentially expose them to such penalties.

The groups were unanimous in their condemnation of terrorism and terrorist methods. But as they told the Court, ‘peace-making, conflict resolution, human rights advocacy, and the provision of aid to needy civilians sometimes requires direct engagement with groups and individuals that resort to or support violence," including those that have been designated as terrorist.

The Carter Center, for example, said that in the course of trying to address bloody conflicts in places like Uganda, Nepal and Gaza, its representatives might meet with members of armed factions to seek to mediate peaceful solutions. Human Rights Watch offered concrete examples of meeting with designated terrorist groups like the FARC, the ELN, and the LTTE (also known as the Tamil Tigers), in order to confront them with evidence of human rights violations and advise them of their obligation to respect international law.

The human rights and humanitarian aid groups explained their logical understanding of the First Amendment’s reach. ‘If a U.S. human rights organization issues a report that documents the LTTE’s use of child soldiers, condemns the practice, lists a set of concrete recommendations it believes the LTTE should adopt to cease the abuse, and provides specific advice as to how the LTTE should implement the recommendations in practice, there is surely no doubt that this activity is fully protected by the First Amendment," their brief argued. ‘The mere fact that it is communicated to the LTTE (an entity engaged in some illegal conduct) rather than The New York Times editorial board cannot remove this kind of peaceful speech and advocacy from constitutional protection."

Continue reading. Naturally, it was Obama’s DoJ arguing so strenuously against the right to free speech. Obama is a horrible disappointment in the area of civil rights, where he is to the right of Cheney. (Cheney did not set up an assassination program against US citizens.)

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:38 am

New York’s Child Victims Act Shouldn’t Be Political, But It Is

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Marci Hamilton at FindLaw:

Last week, the New York Child Victims Act (available at http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S5893A) was defeated in the Senate Codes Committee. For New York’s children, it was a choice that favors child predators, and therefore a bad day. However, it was an interesting session and the bill will be re-introduced next session — and every session until it is passed, according to sponsors Assemblywoman Marge Markey and Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson. The only impact is that child predators have one more year to operate under the anonymity afforded by New York’s extremely short statutes of limitations for child sex abuse.

The bill embodies the same type of statute of limitations (“SOL”) reform that I’ve advocated in multiple columns here at FindLaw, and in my book Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. It would create a short 5-year extension for criminal and civil SOLs for child sex abuse, and it would open a “window” of one year for all past victims to come forward without having to worry about expired statutes of limitations. The extension is too short in my view, but the window is absolutely crucial to identifying child predators.

As I’ve explained, such reform is the only tried-and-true method for identifying hidden child perpetrators, as the enactment of the legislation establishing the California SOL window proved. In this column, I’ll further discuss New York’s continuing experience with reform for children.

The Recent History of the New York CVA

After the CVA thrice passed in the New York Assembly, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told the Senate that he would be more than willing to get the bill to the floor in the Assembly again, but first, it needs to be passed by the Senate.

Thus, the Senate’s Codes Committee was the first stop. As noted above, the CVA was voted upon there, and lost last week. However, the CVA never even made it into a committee meeting when now-convicted Sen. Joseph Bruno was the Senate Majority Leader, so the fact that the bill even got a vote in a Senate Committee was history itself.

This legislation for child protection should have been a no-brainer. Instead, it has become thoroughly political. Reportedly, New York Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos ordered Republicans to vote against it in a bloc, and they did so in Committee — even those who had told survivors they favored the bill and would vote for it.

If there had been any doubt about the source of the most virulent opposition to the bill, Senator Lanza made it crystal clear: It continues to be the Catholic Conference. Lanza basically spoke from their playbook, claiming that giving child-sex-abuse victims the ability to go to Court would “ruin” the Church, and that the introduction of the bill was driven by anti-Catholic animus. He became quite passionate, insisting that no one was going to “destroy my church.” Sen. Flanagan, too, took his cue from the Catholic Conference, claiming (inaccurately) that the same bill has bankrupted the Church in California.

In sharp contrast, the hero of the day for children was …

Continue reading. The Catholic church has no principles: it just wants to hold onto its money, regardless of the harm it did to children.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:33 am

The future of city buses

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Pretty cool, as described in New York by Robert Sullivan:

You would never guess it from the dispiriting news coming out of the MTA, but if you want to see the future of New York, then head up to the Bronx and take a bus. This is not the future of New York in which everyone has a solar-powered jet pack that takes them high over the city’s organic farmyards. Nor is this the apocalyptic future in which the final few New Yorkers with health care live just beyond the moat that surrounds what was once called Yankee Stadium. This is the future as seen in a new bus line: the Bx12 Select Bus Service, or SBS, for short.

The future highlighted by the Bx12 SBS takes as a very depressing starting point the fact that the New York City subway system, once the envy of the world, is stalled. Not literally—as when we sat on dark, un-air-conditioned cars between stations on the way to Simon and Garfunkel reunion concerts—but still, our subways are strained under a ridership that has grown 60 percent since 1990 and a permanent budgetary crisis that has, over the past two years, only gotten worse. Last month, faced with an $800 million budget gap, the MTA canceled two subway lines and 37 bus lines and dramatically reduced late-night and weekend service. No one is expecting Albany’s fiscal situation to improve anytime soon.

If this were, say, Shanghai, one could imagine the federal government sweeping in and not just restoring transit funding but modernizing and expanding our underground tracks. Shanghai didn’t even have a subway system until 1995, and it is now in the midst of dramatically expanding it to 22 lines. But this is not Shanghai; this is New York, where the first subway line was built in 1904 and many lines still use the antiquated (and sometimes dangerous) signal system that was installed about 25 years after Edison patented his lightbulb. The New York subway system’s grandest plan at the moment involves completing one new line on Second Avenue. It was proposed in 1929. It is currently scheduled to open its first branch in 2016. It will stretch 33 blocks, or just under two miles.

So the future of movement in New York—how we get from home to work, how we navigate the city—is not going to be about subways. But what about the bus? True, buses are what most people think of when they think of not getting anywhere: senior citizens waiting in lines, guys counting out change, double-parked cars. They are less sexy than subways and tend to be ignored until the MTA announces another round of service cuts. The last time buses were new was in the forties, when they were installed around the city as a cheaper, more flexible alternative to streetcars.

To a large extent, flexibility remains the bus’s chief advantage—unrailed, they can go wherever we want them to go—and they’re a relative bargain. But over the last decade, in a few transit-enlightened cities around the world, the bus has received a dramatic makeover. It has been reengineered to load passengers more quickly. It has become much more energy-efficient. And, most important, the bus system—the network of bus lines and its relationship to the city street—has been rethought. Buses that used to share the street with cars and trucks are now driving in lanes reserved exclusively for buses and are speeding through cities like trains in the street. They are becoming more like subways.

One city that has transformed its bus system is London, which in 2001 hired a New Yorker named Jay Walder to help overhaul its transit system. At the time, Londontown was gridlocked. Walder looked at the Tube, then carrying about 3 million daily passengers, and then looked at the bus system, which was carrying almost 6 million. “The recognition was that it was virtually impossible to get anything done on the rail system quickly,” Walder recalls. “So we set out to work on the buses. And what you found was that buses were already the backbone, and you had the opportunity in a relatively short time to make them a lot better.”

Last summer, Walder was tapped by Governor Paterson to become head of the MTA…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:30 am

Not quite so funny as it seems

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This video of Israeli soldiers on patrol in Hebron has been making the rounds:

It’s cute, but Andrew Sullivan explains:

It sure was a fun video. But a little context makes it less so. The street in Hebron they were dancing on is restricted to Jewish settlers, who make up just one percent of the town’s population. The Palestinians who live on the street cannot leave their homes through the front doors because the Israeli occupiers welded their doors shut in 2000. Here’s a video from B’Tselem showing how one woman has to clamber across a rooftop just to leave her house. She also claims she is the object of relentless harassment by the settlers, subsidized by you and me.

More info from B’Tselem:

Over the years, Israel established a number of settlement points in and around the Old City of Hebron which had traditionally served as the commercial center for the entire southern West Bank . Israeli law-enforcement authorities and security forces have made the entire Palestinian population suffer in the process of protecting Israeli settlement in the city. The authorities impose a regime intentionally and openly based on the “separation principle”, the result of which is legal and physical segregation between the Israeli settlers and the Palestinian majority.

This policy led to the economic collapse of the center of Hebron and drove many Palestinians out of the area. The findings of a survey conducted by B’Tslem in November-December 2006 show that at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in the center of Hebron have been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of the housing units in the relevant area. Sixty-five percent (659) of the empty apartments became vacant during the course of the second intifada. Regarding Palestinian commercial establishments, 1,829 are no longer open for business. This number represents 76.6 percent of all the commercial establishments in the surveyed area. Of the closed businesses, 62.4 percent (1,141) were closed during the second intifada. At least 440 of them closed pursuant to military orders.

The main elements of Israel ‘s separation policy are the severe and extensive restrictions on Palestinian movement and the authorities’ systematic failure to enforce law and order on violent settlers attacking Palestinians. The city’s Palestinian residents also suffer as a direct result of the actions of Israel ‘s security forces…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:23 am

Vie-Long and Dovo

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I used the smaller horsehair brush today. It did a fine job, though perhaps a tad small. Still, I need to use it a bit more to be suire: it could be a matter of breaking it in. It made a good lather with the Dovo, always a reliable soap. The Gillette NEW with a much-used Bolzano blade did a fine job: a smooth and easy shave, and a splash of TOBS Eaton College aftershave set me up nicely.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2010 at 9:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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