Thursday, April 30, 2009

Souter Retiring

This is big news., April 30, 2009 · NPR has learned that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is planning to retire at the end of the current court term.

The vacancy will give President Obama his first chance to name a member of the high court and begin to shape its future direction.

Souter has recently been referred to as one of the Court's "liberals". This is a stretch, but it is clear that Souter showed an amazing degree of independence from the Republicans who appointed and supported him. I've always been impressed by his writing and work on the court.

For instance, in this week's oral argument on the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act:

Justice David Souter disputes that the day is all that different, laying out the recent empirical evidence of voting disparities and government misconduct.

It was expected that Obama would have opportunities to make one or more appointments early in his term. Just this week rumors surfaced that Clarence Thomas has floated the idea of retiring if he can reach an accommodation with Obama on a replacement. Whoever is appointed to replace Souter will not change the balance of power on the Court, but it does give Obama a chance to start making an impression on the Court's makeup and direction.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Perfection is for those who don't have pressing things to take care of... We don't have time, we have children." - Eileen De Los Reyes

My friend Audrey has one of the most important jobs I know: she's a public school teacher. She's just started a blog about her experiences and what she's learning about inequality and how we need to raise our children so we'll have the kind of humane society many of us are trying to get to.

I love this blog. It's smart and personal, and you can really see how much she loves her kids, and why they love her. I'll definitely be going back, and I've also added it to the blogroll.

Free David Duke!

Q: What do a vile, racist, former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a dissident Iranian-American journalist have in common?

A: They're both in prison for thought crimes. And if you want Iran to release Saberi, and yet you're taking pleasure in Duke's imprisonment, I suggest that you're guilty of hypocrisy.

You already know the story of Roxana Saberi: she's an American journalist, she's been living and reporting in Iran for about six years, and she's now been sentenced to eight years in prison. The trumped up charge is espionage, but even the "legitimate" charge, reporting without a journalism license, is equally disturbing. If the government can decide who is permitted to practice journalism then it can, as it is doing here, silence opposition voices. There's plenty of reason to think that Saberi's imprisonment is the work of hardliners who are trying to torpedo any easing of relations between Iran and the United States (see Powers, Gary Francis). Still, there is no question that Iran is deserving of every bit of condemnation that civilized people can generate.

But what about that racist dog David Duke? He's now imprisoned in Prague on suspicion of denying the Holocaust, which is a crime in most European countries. In American politics it's hard to come up with a scummier specimen than Duke. Still, where does the Czech Republic come off prosecuting people for books they published in the United States years ago?

I think he's every bit as deserving of being released as Roxana Saberi, but that position is clearly not universal on the left. For instance, take a look at the comments over at HuffPo. Here's a sampling:

Some people don't seem to realize that when they travel to a foreign country, they become subject to the laws of that country. Break the law there and you go to jail there.

The European laws regarding holocaust denial are very well known. You would have to be an inherently stupid individual to travel to Europe if you were a holocaust denier, especially if you had written a book about it.

Exactly! He would have been arrested even if he did this in France.

Wow! I live in Prague. Good on the Czech police. As far as I am concerned they can lock him up and throw away the key. The planet is too small for people like this

Having just gotten over eight years of a government that felt free to investigate and spy on anyone who disagreed with government policy, you would think we would be more sensitive to the need for freedom of expression and freedom of thought.

No more thought crimes. Free Roxana Saberi and David Duke.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

A Walking Seal

One of the key arguments we regularly hear from creationists is that evolution can't be true because there are no transitional fossils. At least, they argue that what they call macroevolution can't happen because there are no transitional fossils between species, which would be predicted if one species had evolved into another.

Of course it's a lie, but most people who have the misfortune of encountering creationists don't know enough about the evidence to disprove it, so you might be interested in this new story of a newly discovered transitional fossil, a walking seal, so different from any existing animal that it has its own genus and species, Puijila darwini.

You should go over and take a look. It's pretty interesting, including a 3-D reconstruction of the fossil.

By the way, interesting name, huh? In a move that must be particularly galling to creationists, it was selected specifically to honor Charles Darwin, who predicted the existence of this very animal in The Origin of Species.

"A strictly terrestrial animal, by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted into an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brave the open ocean".

So if you find yourself talking to one of those godbots, and they start blathering about the lack of transitional species, tell them about this one.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

And for what?

I haven't read all four torture memos yet, but I have printed out and I'm definitely planning on slogging through them. Watch this spot for more on those. Suffice it to say, though, that the memos confirm the worst of the allegations in the ICRC report we covered here recently.

Still, even without seeing the memos, the facts are bad enough.

We're constantly hearing from apologists for torture that we had to do it, and that torturing people prevented all kinds of additional, and more lethal, terrorist attacks. The truth, however, is very different.

This story from today's Times shows why. WASHINGTON — The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum.

That's right. Apparently if you work for the CIA, you get to slam a defensive guy against a concrete wall, subject him to freezing temperatures, or keep him awake for eleven days in a row just for the hell of it.

Hmmm. Do you think it's too late to change careers?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss.

Peace, freedom, and women's rights under Islam.

You undoubtedly recall that women's rights, or the lack of them, were a big selling point for the war in Afghanistan. And truly, even though Bush said it, there is no gainsaying the horrific abuses that women suffered under the Taliban. Fortunately, we were able to invade, overthrow the Taliban, and create a more Western-friendly government.

Unfortunately, the Shiite minority learned from the Taliban, and now they're imposing similar oppressive measures on Afghan women. Under a new law adopted by the Afghan parliament and signed by our friend, Hamid Karzai:

One provision makes it illegal for a woman to resist her husband’s sexual advances. A second provision requires a husband’s permission for a woman to work outside the home or go to school. And a third makes it illegal for a woman to refuse to “make herself up” or “dress up” if that is what her husband wants.

Not all Afghan women are accepting this new law. Dozens of young women braved crowds of bearded men screaming "dogs!" on Wednesday to protest an Afghan law that lets husbands demand sex from their wives. Some of the men picked up small stones and pelted the women.

"Slaves of the Christians!" chanted the 800 or so counter-demonstrators, a mix of men and women. A line of female police officers locked hands to keep the groups apart.

I actually supported the invasion of Afghanistan. After the 2001 terrorist attacks I didn't see how we could fail to go after the people who carried those attacks out. At this point, though, it's getting hard to see how the current government is any improvement over the guys who we unseated.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lake Champlain, at 400 and on the internet

I wanted to call attention to a new blog from my friend Kevin Brown. His description explains what it's about: Words, music, and images inspired by the power of Lake Champlain

But one of his images might give you a better idea of what to expect.

Hop on over and take a look. I think you'll like it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Senator Franken

It's not necessarily the end of the road (not by a long shot, now that the Republicans have discovered the joys of our litigious society and the uses of litigation to overturn legitimate elections), but the news from Minnesota's three-judge panel is clear: Al Franken is the new senator from Minnesota. The judges determined that "Franken is entitled to receive the certificate of election" after defeating Coleman by 312 votes.

"Franken received the highest number of lawfully cast ballots in the Nov. 4, 2008 general election," the ruling stated. With recently added absentee ballots counted, Franken upped his lead over incumbent Norm Coleman to 312 votes.

The odious Ben Ginsberg, Bush's henchman in overthrowing the 2000 election of President Al Gore, promises an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Islam, religion of women's equality

"We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls," he said, according to the newspaper. "We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women."

In this case, in case you're wondering, it's the story of an eight year old girl whose father married her off to a creditor to satisfy his debts. Call it slavery if you want, I won't object.

(CNN) -- A Saudi judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, a relative of the girl told CNN.

The most recent ruling, in which the judge upheld his original verdict, was handed down Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza, where late last year the same judge rejected a petition from the girl's mother, who was seeking a divorce for her daughter.

The relative said the judge, Sheikh Habib Al-Habib, "stuck by his earlier verdict and insisted that the girl could petition the court for a divorce once she reached puberty."

The head of the Saudi so-called human rights commission claims that they're trying to stop child marriages, and they claim that they've even stopped one (!!) of them. Maybe they should try just a tiny bit harder.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Real Life in the Projects

Gang Leader for a Day Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
What do people know about the Robert Taylor Homes? Mostly that it was considered to be one of the worst places in the country.

What do people know about the people who lived there? Almost nothing.

People in America need to know more about the lives of poor people. In this book, Sudhir Venkatesh recounts his six years of spending time with gang leaders, community leaders, and families at the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. He stumbles into his situation by encountering a group of young black men in the stairwell of a housing project, where he starts out by trying to administer a survey he composed. First question: "How does it feel to be black and poor?" (This is not the last display of the shocking naivete he brings to his project, sometimes to the detriment or even danger of himself and his subjects.) He quickly learns that he isn't going to learn anything by asking surveys like that, and his new approach, hanging out with the leader of the gang that controls the crack business in the building, pays dividends.

I rank this book up there with Praying for Sheetrock in its ability to give us an intimate look at how poor people really live in the United States.

View all my reviews.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Do you like your liberty?

Easy question, right?

How about this one: do you like the death penalty?

Or: Do you like the death penalty for other people? Especially poor people?

Then maybe this story should interest you.

The key to protecting all of us from government power is the right to trial by jury, and the Founding Fathers recognized that the right to trial by jury is a hollow right without the effective assistance of counsel. It's right up there in the Bill of Rights.

So the story. Despite the slight unpleasantness they had in the past (reminder: there was a period when as many people were released from Death Row because they were innocent as were actually executed), they still have the death penalty in Illinois.

Sure, you're still supposed to have a trial, and be convicted by clear and convincing proof, and the state has to meet enhanced constitutional protections before the death penalty is issued,

But that only works if your lawyer can afford to defend you.

In a novel legal move, court-appointed attorneys for a man charged in a double murder want the state barred from seeking the death penalty because a state fund to pay for the defense of capital cases has run out of money.

Without the funds, Assistant Public Defender Marijane Placek said, her office would be unable to pay for the help of expert witnesses, depriving her client, Brian Gilbert, of an adequate defense.

Gilbert is charged in the 2007 fatal stabbing of his girlfriend's two sons, Marquise, 12, and Quinton Jackson, 14, after a quarrel over housework.

Death penalty cases can take more than five or six years to go to trial, twice as long as typical murder cases. After more than a dozen Death Row inmates were exonerated by DNA and other evidence, death penalty reforms were passed earlier this decade, boosting the cost of capital cases even further. In response, state lawmakers established the Capital Litigation Trust Fund to defray the additional costs.

In a motion filed Wednesday, Placek informed Circuit Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. that the public defender's annual allotment in the fund had been used up. She wrote that Gilbert has a long-standing, severe mental illness and that the case will require a massive amount of work to prepare for trial.

"We have no money to defend the death penalty," Placek said Thursday in an interview. "And for this reason, our client can't get a fair trial."

Why is this important? I think it's important that everybody get an adequate defense, but let's get past that: Everybody needs access to an adequate criminal defense. Everybody is a potential criminal defendant. And not everybody is poor enough to qualify for the public defender, but hardly anyone can afford to hire a lawyer for a major criminal charge, death penalty or no.

So if you know a public defender, thank him or her: they're protecting all our rights.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What's indecent?

I'm fond of pointing it out when Islam is revealed as the sexist, oppressive force that it is, but don't get the idea that I'm singling Islam out.

Here, for example, are two photographs published this week in Israel.

They look very similar, don't they?

See if you can play "Junior Detective" and find the differences.

All done?

That's right, the top picture has two women, both members of the Israeli cabinet. The bottom picture is the same shot, but it has replaced the two women with men.

Now why would somebody do that? It's because the bottom picture was published in an ultra-Orthodox Israeli newspaper that determined that publishing the pictures of women would be indecent.

If you ask me, what's indecent is oppressing women and distorting the truth.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Homophobia story suspended

Earlier today we posted a story about homophobia in a Canadian nursing program. Because questions have arisen concerning the veracity of the story, it has been taken down until we can be more comfortable with the facts as originally reported.

Caribou Barbie--the gift that keeps on giving