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Archive for February, 2012

And the Empire Crumbled, ’til All that Was Left…

[ 60 ] February 2, 2012 |

Argentines getting twitchy:

Fast forward to 2012, the 30th anniversary of the war. Prince William, a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, is flying to the Falklands tonight to begin a six-week mission as Britain prepares to dispatch an advanced warship to the islands, prompting Argentina’s Foreign Ministry to declare that Britain is “militariz[ing]” the conflict and sending Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson “in the uniform of a conquistador.”

And there goes Gibraltar:

Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s new centre-right Prime Minister, meanwhile, is to demand talks over the future of the colony without the involvement of authorities in Gibraltar.

His call marks a hardening of Madrid’s position over its controversial claim for the return of the Rock. Under the previous Socialist Spanish government, the authorities in Gibraltar had been included in three-way talks with Madrid and London. Madrid was unimpressed after Mr Cameron told a meeting at the Council of Europe last week that the future of Gibraltar depended on the wishes of the colony’s 30,000 inhabitants.

Questioned by Spanish MEPs, Mr Cameron said that Britain backed the Rock’s right to self-determination and that going against the wishes of its people would amount to “recolonisation”. In response, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, the new Spanish Foreign Minister, wrote to William Hague, his diplomatic counterpart, stressing that there was no mention of auto-determination in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Spanish diplomatic sources insisted that Mr Garcia-Margallo’s letter was “not in the tone of a protest”. But Mr Garcia-Margallo called on Mr Hague to explain the British stance regarding the Rock.

Scotland is barely hanging on:

The Scottish Government was formed after the May 5, 2011 parliamentary election at which the SNP gained a clear majority with 69 of the 129 seats at Holyrood and a mandate to govern until the next election in 2016.

Prior to the Your Scotland, Your Referendum consultation, the Scottish Government conducted the National Conversation between August 2007 and November 2009 inviting public comment on a range of potential changes to the country’s constitution.

It began with the publication of a discussion paper Choosing Scotland’s Future, and culminated in the publication of Your Scotland Your Voice, a White Paper laying out options supported by detailed policy papers. The independence referendum consultation, Your Scotland, Your Referendum was launched by the First Minister on Burns Night, January 25, 2012.

At this rate, William will be lucky to succeed to the crown of Wessex.


An Apercu, With Further Evidence

[ 47 ] February 2, 2012 |

Roy, on “Mitt Romey’s tendency to reveal himself as a clueless rich prick”: “But as I have discussed here many times, part of the conservative project, especially since the multiple Republican scandals of 2006, has been to turn conventional ideas of decent human behavior on their head.”

Shorter Verbatim Glenn Reynolds: “Frankly, I think he’s got a point. People whose livelihood comes from the government — whether the very poor, or the government employees — are doing fine.”

[Cartoon, of course, by the great Ruben Bolling.]

First As Farce, Then As More Farce

[ 59 ] February 2, 2012 |

I’ll bet this will help almost as much as the Cain endorsement and the Palin quasi-endorsement! I don’t think anyone thinks Newt is a viable candidate anymore, at least apart from himself and the LGM comment sections, but can’t his campaign be allowed to die with some dignity? Actually, come to think if it, that wouldn’t be Newt. Hopefully he’ll be able to secure Alan Keyes before Super Tuesday.

Yet More Komen

[ 8 ] February 2, 2012 |

I think it’s safe to say that the answer to the key question here is “no”:

Can you trust a breast cancer organization whose staff and board lie about medical science, including breast cancer?

Today, amidst the outcry surrounding the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to demand that its state affiliates terminate a successful five-year relationship working with Planned Parenthood clinics to increase access to breast cancer screening for low-income and uninsured women, it dawned on me that there is another pressing question here not being asked.

Why has the world’s largest breast cancer advocacy organization hired senior staff people and elected to its board individuals who misrepresent, or are allied with those who misrepresent, medical and public health evidence, including about causes of breast cancer?

Directing your dollars away from Komen makes it much more likely they’ll go to actual cancer treatment, much less likely that your money will go to filing silly lawsuits against other charitable organizations:

Yet this is an organization that has repeatedly come under fire for its extravagant promotion of itself as an organization dedicated to a “cure,” when only a small portion of its expenses go to, you know, curing cancer. Komen itself cops to portioning just 24 percent of its funds to research – and 20 percent to fundraising and administration. For an organization with reported revenues of nearly $350 million, that’s still a lot of money for research. It’s an awful lot for itself, too.

Yet Komen remains pretty damn territorial around that whole “cure” thing. In a 2010 story for the Huffington Post, writer Laura Bassett pointed out that, according to Komen’s own financial records, it spends almost “a million dollars a year in donor funds” aggressively going after other organizations that dare to use the phrase “for the cure” – including small charities like Kites for a Cure, Par for the Cure, Surfing for a Cure, Cupcakes for a Cure, and even a dog-sledding event called Mush for the Cure. Let me just give you that number again. A million bucks a year. Robert Smith, better watch your back.

In addition, see these excellent pieces about why the right hates Planned Parenthood and Komen’s wingnut founder.


[ 10 ] February 1, 2012 |

My major goal in election-related blogging is to provide some coverage of state-level politics, which I pay a good deal of attention to. This is particularly true in states that I have lived (OR, NM, TX, TN, OH, RI) and states that I have spent a lot of time (most of the American West outside of California, as well as Kentucky, West Virginia, and New York) so I’ll probably focus on those, but will also look at key issues on state ballots around the country.

I’ll start this with the other and possibly equally important election that took place Tuesday night. While Mitt was busy doing what everyone knew he was going to do anyway, OR-1 had a special election to replace the erratic David Wu, who had recently resigned. This should be solidly Democratic country, but the district mostly makes up the western suburbs of Portland, so theoretically the right kind of Republican could compete there. While I tend to be skeptical of the ability of a single local election to have much predictive power. National pundits always want to nationalize an election and that’s often a mistake.

So I don’t want to read much into Tuesday’s election, where Democratic candidate Suzanne Bonamici beat Republican Rob Cornilles 57-37. This is meaningful because Republicans were showing guarded hope of making this election close. With neither candidate doing anything self-destructive, it became a potential look at how a swingish district in a blue state might roll this fall. A 20 point victory is right where a healthy Democratic candidate should be in OR-1. This district went Obama 61-36 in 2008, Kerry 55-44 in 2004, and Gore 50-44 in 2000. Were this a 5 point race, we might have had reason to worry about Oregon in November, but assuming the relative status quo, this is a pretty good sign that Obama might be in pretty good shape in a state he doesn’t want to have to contest.

On the other hand, Democrats dumped $1 million into this race to make sure this was the result and the margin. Probably a good idea, but it wasn’t completely uncontested.

And Now, the Punchline

[ 12 ] February 1, 2012 |

If Prick Erry weren’t the kind of person who is happy to send innocent people to be executed and then do what he can to stop inquires that might stop more innocent people from being executed, I could almost feel sorry for the guy:

On primary day, Rick Perry’s extinct presidential campaign released its final donation numbers: $20.1 million. Hours later, he scored 6,742 votes in Florida. How pathetic was this? Four years earlier, in the very same position — still on the ballot, out of the race — Fred Thompson won 22,668 Florida votes. So far, adding up all the caucus votes and primary ballots, the Perry campaign (not counting Super PACs) has spent $851.88 per vote.

There are bad presidential campaigns. There are really, really bad presidential campaigns. And then there are presidential campaigns that are substantially worse than Fred Thompson’s. (Although maybe this was just Thompson’s allegedly remarkable way with women.)

Speaking of failed Republican campaigns, one way a candidate who should logically be incapable of winning a Republican primary can become the inevitable winner by February 1st is if his closest competition has no particular interest in such mundane matters as “running a professional campaign.”

The Environmental Legacy of War

[ 18 ] February 1, 2012 |

We are now out of Iraq, at least sort of. So now everyone can start putting their bad memories of the American occupation behind them, right? Of course, Americans forgot this yesterday, after all Real Housewives of Lubbock is on. But the Iraqis have a lot of reminders. Among them–massive and unmitigated pollution.

“Open-air burn pits have operated widely at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Department of Veterans Affairs notes on its website. On hundreds of camps and bases across the two countries, the U.S. military and its contractors incinerated toxic waste, including unexploded ordnance, plastics and Styrofoam, asbestos, formaldehyde, arsenic, pesticides and neurotoxins, medical waste (even amputated limbs), heavy metals and what the military refers to as “radioactive commodities.” The burns have released mutagens and carcinogens, including uranium and other isotopes, volatile organic compounds, hexachlorobenzene, and, that old favorite, dioxin (aka Agent Orange).

The military pooh-poohs the problem, despite a 2009 Pentagon document noting “an estimated 11 million pounds [5,000 tonnes] of hazardous waste” produced by American troops, the Times of London reported. In any case, it says, the waste isn’t all that toxic, and there is no hard evidence troops were harmed. Of course, one reason for that lack of evidence, reports the Institute of Medicine (which found 53 toxins in the air above the Balad air base alone), is that the Pentagon won’t or can’t document what it burned and buried, or where it did so.

The little media attention that has been paid to this massive pollution has dimly illuminated its potential impact on U.S. troops. Left in mephitic darkness are the contractors, often impoverished South Asians, who did the dirty work at the bases, as well as Iraqi civilians who live and farm nearby. The Times of London reported that “open acid canisters sit within easy reach of children, and discarded batteries lie close to irrigated farmland,” causing people to sicken and rats to die “next to soiled containers.”

The environmental issue is a hearts-and-minds thing. When Iraqis babies are dying of cancer, they will remember why this is happening. I realize that environmental considerations are never going to be a top priority during wartime, proper mitigation of pollution is a very important issue, both for the ecosystem and for the people who live in it.

Barack Obama’s Holiday Card List

[ 14 ] February 1, 2012 |

If Obama wins reelection, he’s going to have a long list of holiday cards* to send out. Sure, he’ll have all sorts of fundraisers to thank. He’ll even give the normal lip service Democrats give to unions have their massive get out of the vote efforts, even though he won’t really do much for them over the next 4 years.

But Obama’s most elaborate holiday cards will have to go to the many Republicans assisting him in his reelection efforts by saying and doing things most designed to motivate the Democratic base. Of course, Mittens and his “I’m not concerned about the very poor” deserves a big thanks. If you’re not even going to make Democratic strategists work to create a narrative that paints you as a plutocrat, why are you even running?

There’s also the states. John Kasich deserves his own invitation to the Obama reelection party. His attack on public unions has made Ohioans so angry that, despite the bad economy and the cultural issues that have always made older, whiter states like Ohio difficult for Obama, a recent poll has him defeating Romney 49-42. Given Obama’s problems, that’s a big lead. Romney’s plutocrat image won’t play well in the Buckeye State. I’m far from saying Ohio is some kind of a sure thing for the Democrats, but this is a very good sign. And a good sign for Sherrod Brown’s Senate reelection campaign too.

In all seriousness, yes the economy still sucks and gas prices are high and there’s lots of reasons Obama could lose this, including the 40 billion dollars of Citizens United money that is going to paint Obama as Osama on every commercial break for 4 months. But the Republicans are really screwing themselves here. Given that the presidential election is fought state-by-state, I think we should all appreciate the Republicans destroying themselves in so many key battleground states. If Romney can’t win Ohio, I don’t see how he wins the election. Wisconsin Democrats are more motivated than any in the country. Minnesota Republicans are trying to get a right to work a person to death bill on the ballot; that’s sure to help Romney in a red-leaning but theoretically competitive state…. Indiana is really Republican and of all the states Obama won in 08, it seems the least likely to vote for him again. But Mitch Daniels’ own right to work a person to death law isn’t very popular with voters and won’t help Romney be able to ignore the Hoosier state.

And then you have Arizona. Jan Brewer, evidently concerned that Scott Walker and Nikki Haley were outcrazying her, has decided to declare a full-fledged war on public sector unions. She is shepherding a bill through the Arizona legislature that bans collective bargaining for public sector unions, barring cities and counties from paying workers who are using work time to do union business, and eliminating payroll dues deductions. Essentially, Arizona is moving to make public sector unionism illegal. Republicans estimate this will save taxpayers $550 million over seven years. That savings isn’t from paying lawyers to negotiate union contracts either–they are openly saying that they will slash the salaries of government workers.

Now I don’t know if Obama can win Arizona. I do know it is the #1 McCain-voting state that Obama is targeting. It is a very strange state. But its extremism and a motivated Latino populace might make this competitive, especially if Brewer continues to alienate new sectors of the state.

If Obama wins, we have so many Republicans to thank. I hope they continue helping the president will reelection.

* Yes, I am saying “holiday card” intentionally in the hopes of irritating a conservative.

Our Open Government

[ 12 ] February 1, 2012 |

Josh Fox, the maker of the documentary Gasland and whom one might call today’s Ida Tarbell, was arrested today at the order of House Republicans during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. Why? They tried to film it.

Open government at its finest! It’s far easier to destroy the nation’s environment if you can keep anyone from reporting on it.

Fighting the good fight

[ 21 ] February 1, 2012 |

To the ever-loving shock of all concerned, Bérubé does just that:

First, it is going to be very hard to tell people that many college faculty members are exploitatively underpaid. It’s going to be a particularly tough sell in communities already devastated by prolonged economic hardship. But it might be possible to play on the still-widespread belief that college professors are professionals and that parents who are sending their children to college should have some expectation that professors have the professional resources — offices, phones, mailboxes, e-mail and library access, meaningful performance reviews, participation in department governance — that make it possible for them to do their jobs. Let’s say you need an attorney, I suggested, and you go to a firm that fobs you off on an associate who has to consult with you in a hallway because he doesn’t have an office. Who would stand for that? Is it O.K. that your kid is going to a college that treats its faculty that way?

Second, it is going to be even harder to tell people that non-tenure-track faculty members need a measure of job security and academic freedom if they are going to be able to do their jobs. It amounts, I suggested, to telling parents, students, administrators, and legislators that they have to fight for the right of professors to challenge their students intellectually, free from the fear that they will be fired the moment they say something unfamiliar or upsetting about sexuality or evolution or American history or the Middle East. This argument will resonate with people who understand what higher education is all about. They are a subset of the American electorate, but they know why academic freedom is essential to an open society, and they believe in the promise of higher education. The question is whether they can be persuaded that the promise of higher education is undermined when three-quarters of the professoriate is made up of los precarios.

Bucking the frame

[ 11 ] February 1, 2012 |

(This isn’t only one of them posts, it’s the bastard child of this and this one.)

I feel this post nips too obviously at the heels of previous ones, as I’m not going to be discussing anything I haven’t discussed before. Creating a claustrophobic environment is a technical accomplishment that can be done irrespective of the environs in which one shoots a scene. Cramped quarters help, obviously, but they’re not necessary. That said, the quarters in the second half of the Doctor Who episode “Time of Angels” are quite cramped, so the fact that director Adam Smith chose the default shots of his principles to be medium- and medium close-ups exacerbates what would’ve been a feature of every frame anyway. To wit:

Doctor who time of angels2012-02-01-09h35m38s29

That’s the Doctor discussing the impending arrival of the Angels with the soldier-clerics assigned to assist him. Important here isn’t merely the framing—though compositionally, the soldier-clerics bookending the Doctor can’t be considered insignificant—but the tightness of it. The shallow focus leaves only those three in focus—although Amy’s still visible by virtue of her ginger dress, not unlike a certain someone else—but the shot’s overstuffed with folks in a way that completely obscures the background. Given that that the imminent threat isn’t any of these three shot-stuffers, obscuring the background denies the audience access to whatever it is that might be lurking in the dark.

Point being, it’s not just that this shot is claustrophobic, but that the claustrophobia it elicits is deliberately obfuscatory: by focusing, shallowly, on these three, the dangerous statues currently spooky-fishing* their way towards them are perforce crushed from the frame. They’ll be revealed in shot/reverse shot sequences shortly thereafter, but the tight framing here makes the situation in which the Doctor et al. find themselves seem all the more hopeless. Consider:

Doctor who time of angels2012-02-01-09h38m03s201

This is the Doctor coming up with one of his patented plans, but the framing still indicates that whatever trap he’s in still possesses the upper hand. It’s entrapping him, not the other way around. Of course, this entrapment is but a preface to a spectacular escape, and the way in which Smith films this desperation is but a means to increase the glory that said escape entails, but the heightening of this effect is a significant moment in this season.

Rarely do the Doctor’s plans include genocide, no matter how malevolent the species he’s dealing with. Daleks and Cybermen he traps in other universes or the empty space between them, but this Doctor? He disappears his enemies like a Chilean dictator—erasing them from history—or outright murders the last of them if they pose a threat to Earth.** There’s much more to say, but for now I’m focusing on the abreaction of Doctor and audience to the claustrophobia he and it encounter. It’s cathartic, most certainly, but there’s purging and then there’s purging, and only one of them is just and healthy.

*I can’t directly link because Comedy Central is a … but the relevant material’s at 3:58.

**As in “The Vampires of Venice,” which I’m also teaching today. Stupid three hour classes.


The empty idea of private property

[ 73 ] February 1, 2012 |


I suppose very few non-lawyers have ever heard of Shelley v. Kraemer, and more than a few lawyers would need to be reminded about the case’s substance as well. Shelley involved a racially restrictive private real estate covenant (a contractual promise between a buyer and seller of land which also binds successors of the buyer), that limited ownership of a residential property to people not of “the Negro or Mongolian race.” JUSTICE GRAMSCI ruled that:

In granting judicial enforcement of the restrictive agreements in these cases, the States have denied petitioners the equal protection of the laws and that, therefore, the action of the state courts cannot stand.

This decision essentially ignored the state action doctrine: the doctrinal principle that constitutional rights only protect people against government, rather than private, action. If the state action doctrine were to be interpreted to apply to the enforcement of “private” rights generally, this would would mean that, as a practical matter, there would be no state action doctrine. In this sense Shelley can be interpreted as a remarkably radical ruling. Extending its logic generally would mean that any time a private party tried to use the power of the state to do something that the state itself would be barred from doing — such as, for example, ejecting a person from a premises because of his race — the state would be barred from doing so.

Shelley was never extended in that way, and it remains an outlier ruling, that can’t be integrated with the standard state action doctrine. But the principle at its base — that the enforcement of “private” rights by state violence, i.e., the law — is ultimately a form of government action, is a potentially powerful one.

In this regard, consider Gov. Chris Christie’s remarks about how civil rights activists would have been happy to have state-wide referenda on civil rights issues in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. I have a piece here about the apparent historical ignorance that underlies the evident absurdity of that claim. I think it’s useful to remember that the patron saints of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, fiercely opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not only or even primarily on the basis of states’ rights arguments, but more particularly on the basis of arguments about the sanctity of private property.

Such arguments are a good example of a peculiar blindness to which many libertarians are prone. After all, in a context such as the Jim Crow South, “private” property meant the right to use the power of the state to enforce a state-sanctioned racial caste system. In this crucial sense, there was nothing “private” about it. “Liberty,” in this context, meant the liberty to use state violence to enforce the existing racial hierarchy. Under such circumstances, it should be especially clear that the line between the “public” and the “private” spheres is in a crucial sense always something of an illusion.

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