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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 26

[ 1 ] October 1, 2007 |

William Hubbs Rehnquist was flushed into the world 83 years ago today.

During his ascent toward the Supreme Court, where he would eventually serve nearly 20 years as Chief Justice, Rehnquist established himself as a vigorous defender of 19th century racial custom. While serving as a clerk for Associate Justice Robert Jackson in 1952, a youthful Rehnquist drafted an infamous, spritely memo in which he insisted that Plessy — the 1896 case validating the constitutionality of segregation laws — was “right and should be reaffirmed.” As he explained to Jackson,

in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are. One hundred and fifty years of attempts on the part of this Court to protect minority rights of any kind — whether those of business, slaveholders, or Jehovah’s Witnesses — have been sloughed off, and crept silently to rest. If the present Court is unable to profit by this example it must be prepared to see its work fade in time, too, as embodying only the sentiments of a transient majority of nine men.

Rehnquist elaborated on this point in another memo the next year, when he informed the justice that “white people of the south don’t like the colored people,” and that the Court could only do so much to alleviate the burdens placed upon minority rights. (These observations, it should be recalled, came less than a decade after World War II had seemingly demonstrated the perils of racial majoritarianism. Then again, Rehnquist’s wartime duty was limited to stateside meteorology, and so his sensitivity to the war’s broader ideological meanings may not have been terribly well sharpened.)

Although Jackson and the eight other justices failed to accept his deference toward herrenvolk democracy, Rehnquist continued to fight the good fight as a private attorney in Phoenix. While the national civil rights movement pursued federal legislation with greater urgency, Rehnquist donated his time to “Operation Eagle Eye,” a voter-suppression effort organized by the state’s Republican Party. For several years, he and other GOP lawyers assembled themselves into flying squads that harassed south Phoenix voters — most of whom were African American and Latino — and challenged their credentials as they waited in line. Rehnquist’s goonery eventually helped earn him a position in the Nixon Justice Department and, before long, on the highest court in the land. Somewhat perversely, William Rehnquist was confirmed to the seat last occupied by John Harlan II, the grandson of Plessy’s lone dissenter and an important advocate for racial equality in his own tenure on the court.

In his 34 years on the bench, Rehnquist helped drag the court rightward, to such a degree that traditional judicial conservatives like John Paul Stevens eventually appeared liberal by comparison. He continued to take a dim view of individual (and especially minority) rights, interpreting the Equal Protection Clause in the sort of narrow terms that would have made his 19th century forebears proud. And in the Chief Justice’s waning years, the Rehnquist Court bequeathed to the nation the singular error known as the Bush Presidency, which — among its other constitutional sins — has presided over (arguably) the worst decline in civil rights since the second Cleveland administration.

All that said, we would be amiss in overlooking Rehnquist’s gift for music. At the annual 4th Circuit Judicial Conference, the Chief Justice used to lead friends and colleagues in rousing choruses of old-time American songs, including an enlightened ditty known as “Dixie.”

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Tales of the Sea: The Orzel Incident, Part II

[ 0 ] September 30, 2007 |

Part I

ORP Orzel broke into the Baltic, searching for German targets. The search was not immediately successful, however, and the situation onboard Orzel began to deteriorate. The captain became severely ill, and mechanical problems arose. Because of the German advance, no Polish port remained for Orzel to return. Her sister, Sep, faced a similar situation, with her crew deciding to seek refuge in Sweden. Orzel made for Tallin, Estonia, arriving on September 14. Like Poland, Estonia had regained its national independence in the wake of World War I. Along with Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania, it emerged from the wreckage of the Russian Empire. With British support, Estonian forces had defeated both Russian and German forces and even threatened Petrograd. Unlike Lithuania, Estonia did not come into direct conflict with Poland.

Unfortunately, Orzel was an unwelcome visitor. The Estonians wanted no part of Polish-German War, and feared Russian intervention. The Soviet successor to the Russian Empire had not relinquished its claims on the Baltic, and the Soviet invasion of Poland was deeply worrying to the Estonians. For their part, the Germans immediately stepped up pressure on the Estonian authorities to intern the ship and return both it and its crew to Poland. The Estonians complied, and shortly thereafter began to dismantle the Orzel’s military equipment. With few good options left, the crew, led by XO Jan Grudzinski, decided to try an escape. Their plans received a boost when the British naval attaché visited and left his card. At 3am on September 18, sailors from Orzel incapacitated a pair of Estonian guards and cut the mooring cables. Orzel quietly got under way, and promptly ran into a mudbank. Grudzinski ordered the boat to full power, which alerted the Estonian authorities. Under sporadic gunfire, the boat escaped Tallin and submerged. The two incapacitated Estonian guards remained onboard Orzel as unwilling guests.

Free, the crew of Orzel decided to continue the fight. The two Estonian guards were dropped off at Gotland, and Orzel proceeded to search for German ships through September and early October, as the last pockets of Polish resistance collapsed. Having no luck, she evaded Kriegsmarine hunters, made it through the Danish Straits, and set sail for England. On October 14, she surfaced just outside Rosyth, was met by a British destroyer, and entered the harbor. The crew decided, like so many other Polish escapees, that they would prefer to continue fighting rather than be interned in Great Britain. The Royal Navy initiated repairs and a refit to Orzel immediately, and brought her back into service in early December. During the refit process, the crew was visited by both the Polish Prime Minister and the Commander of the Polish Navy in exile.

The flight of Orzel had an unfortunate impact in Estonia. The terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact divided Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union, and had placed Estonia firmly within the Soviet sphere of influence. The Soviets used the escape of Orzel as pretext for aggression, arguing that the flight indicated that Estonia was not neutral, but rather a pro-Polish belligerent. The Soviets immediately demanded military bases on Estonian soil, and an uneven treaty of cooperation was forced upon the Estonian government. The Red Army invaded in June 1940, and annexation was completed by August. The Wehrmacht conquered Estonia in 1941, incorporating the territory into the Reich rather than granting its independence. The Red Army returned in 1944. Estonia would regain its independence in 1989.

ORP Orzel conducted several missions in Royal Navy service in late 1939 and early 1940. In February 1940, King George VI visited Rosyth and met with Orzel’s crew, having bestowed the Distinguished Service Order on Lt. Commander Jan Grudzinski in December. In early April 1940, Germany launched Operation Weserubung, aimed at the conquest of Denmark and Norway. On April 3, troop transports disguised as civilian traffic began leaving German ports. The full German assault was launched on April 9, resulting in a quick Danish capitulation. The Norwegian component of the operation was more complicated, and represented the greatest mobilization of German surface seapower of the war. Much of southern Norway was seized in short order, but Norwegians in the north continued fighting with French, British, and Polish support. On patrol off Norway, not far from the site of the Battle of Jutland, Orzel sighted the German freighter Rio de Janiero. Acting according to prize rules (a courtesy the Germans rarely extended to Allied shipping), Orzel surfaced and challenged the suspicious ship. The Germans responded by attempting to flee, resulting in the launch of two torpedoes by Orzel, both of which hit. The German ship sank in five minutes, along with its contingent of German soldiers. Over the next five days, Orzel continued to harass German shipping to Norway, although none of her attacks were successful. She evaded German aircraft and surface vessels and returned to Rosyth in late April.

The Allied situation began to deteriorate in May…

To be continued.

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To the Last Day and Beyond

[ 0 ] September 30, 2007 |

Ah, there’s nothing more fun that having four teams alive without having clinched on the last day of the year (especially when the one you have a rooting interest came back from the dead.) Officially, of course, I’d like a Mets win and Phillies loss, but absent that I have to say that a four-way tie with multiple play-in games would be pretty much the coolest thing ever. Play-in games are great…

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Gad, that prick has been tormenting me for years, although it used to be because he could pitch. And the focus on the scoreboard by the Mets announcers is beginning to grate; I can’t really generate any enthusiasm for hoping the Nationals win (although it is appropriate that it once again comes down to the former Expos.) The Phillies have been the better team; they deserve to be in. And Edroso‘s not even drunk-blogging the game. The only good thing today is that my gym’s erratic satelite system for once worked in my favor, as they couldn’t get Channel 11 so at least I only had to hear most of it…

…at least there might be a Rockies/Pads play-in!

…I’d also like to know why the Mets’ network isn’t covering the press conferences instead of beach volleyball. But make sure to tune in for the Mets playoff preview at 6:30!

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Nice Life

[ 0 ] September 30, 2007 |

At least subprime mortgages have been a good deal for someone:

Countrywide Financial Corp. Chairman and CEO Angelo Mozilo cashed in $138 million in stock options over the last year, switching his trading plans as the mortgage company went into a tailspin, it was reported Saturday.

Between November 2006 and August, Mozilo changed the plans outlining how many of his shares would be sold monthly, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Mozilo unloaded 4.9 million Countrywide shares, most of which he bought through exercising options.

But, in fairness, without allowing executives to engage in this kind of self-dealing there wouldn’t be any incentives companies could use to get brilliant executives to protect the interests of their shareholders

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Further Proof that Our Criminal Justice System Really is All About Retribution

[ 0 ] September 30, 2007 |


I’m not excusing what Dr. Charles Friedgood did, but it seems to me that it’s well past time to let him out of prison.

It’s also worth noting (as the article does), that there is a class action suit pending against the state Parole Board for its universal no-parole policy for violent offenders, at least under Pataki. Friedgood, 89 and dying, isn’t the only person who has stayed in jail longer than humane because of this policy. Jean Coaxum (scroll to the bottom of the page), a true rehabilitation success story, was denied parole four times despite already serving much longer than the court-imposed minimum sentence, being very ill with Hepatitis that went untreated while she was incarcerated, and being universally recognized as a model prisoner. New York’s Office of the Appellate Defender won her release last year.

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To the Regret of Democrats Everywhere

[ 0 ] September 29, 2007 |

Newt is out. The Republican primary remains in the odd position where it seems logically impossible for everyone to win except Huckabee, who seems to be running behind the ghost of George Romney in the polls.

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Great Moments in Religion

[ 0 ] September 29, 2007 |

John McCain.

So far, bloggers near and far are scratching their heads over McCain’s facially ignorant claim that the Constitution established a “Christian nation.” I wouldn’t, though, agree with Tristero that McCain’s Constitutional exegesis reduces him “to the level of a Holocaust denier.” Holocaust deniers — about whom nothing salutary can usually be said — almost never seem to be as unprepared as McCain was for this interview. For someone who professes to hold deep religious convictions nourished by five years as a POW, McCain genuinely appears not to know what the hell he’s talking about.

For years, you’ve been identified as an Episcopalian. You recently began referring to yourself as a Baptist. Why?
[It was] one comment on the bus after hours. I meant to say that I practice in a—I am a Christian and I attend a Baptist church. I am very aware that immersion is part—as my wife Cindy has done—is necessary to be considered a Baptist. So I was raised Episcopalian, I have attended the North Phoenix Baptist Church for many years and I am a Christian.

What prevents you from taking that final step of undergoing the baptism?
I’ve had discussions with the pastor about it and we’re still in conversation about it. In the meantime, I am a practicing Christian.

So the baptism is something you still might do?
Oh, sure, yeah. But, some of the factors haven’t got so much to do with religion as they have to do with just—I’m in conversations with [my] pastor about it, as short a time ago as last week. But I would not anticipate going through that during this presidential campaign. I am afraid it might appear as if I was doing something that I otherwise wouldn’t do.

I dunno, John. You could always accept baptism and, like, not make a big deal about it.

Obviously, a candidate’s religious beliefs matter only to the degree that they might shape actual policy choices or messianic, expensive foreign adventures; it doesn’t matter a gingersnap to me that McCain conveys the impression of a man who rarely thinks about religion in any sophisticated way. It might be illuminating, for instance, for him to say that he’s thinking of leaving the Episcopal Church because of its liberal stance on capital punishment, affirmative action, and gay rights. Maybe the Baptists offer him a more satisfying home for the reactionary social views that today’s Republican voter base requires. But who knows? Maybe his religious beliefs are just as boring and ecumenical as most American “Christians.” Or maybe he just likes a good bath.

But like Scott pointed out, if McCain’s candidacy were still viable, this sort of incoherent bumbling might actually matter.

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Russian Literature Bleg

[ 0 ] September 29, 2007 |

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

So there’s a short story from the Soviet era, late Stalin I think or shortly thereafter, about a group of friends and acquaintences with a number of lingering personal and sexual conflicts and jealousies. An official announcement is made by the government that for one day, Soviet citizens will be allowed to murder one person without any legal reprocussions. The story revolves around the ways in which this group of people prepare, offensively and defensively, for that day.

If anyone has a clue about the author or title of it, I’d be immensely grateful.

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Sophistication

[ 0 ] September 29, 2007 |

Must read: Marc Lynch on Biden’s meaningless, preening “sophistication.” It’s one of those ideas that might sound like it’s worth thinking about for out three seconds if you don’t know much about Iraq. But it’s different, it’s complicated, it’s sophisticated.

What I don’t exactly get is why 74 US Senators are enabling Biden here. If they think this makes it look they’re supporting a “clean exit strategy” they’re not thinking very hard, or assuming their constituents won’t either. I’d like to think most of the 74 know this is a pretty terrible idea (perhaps that’s overly generous), so I’m left looking for the political angle. It’s not at all clear to me.

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What a Coinky-Dink!

[ 0 ] September 29, 2007 |

The Verizon policy chief behind the selective attempt to stop NARAL from paying Verizon to set up an IM network turns out to be…an anti-choice former Congressman who explicitly endorsed the GOP plank to make abortion 1st degree murder in all 50 states, and not surprisingly was strongly opposed by NARAL. Verizon will have to decide whether it wants someone to let personal and policy grudges hurt the company…

..a commenter suggests that the decision of Verizon wireless was not connected to Tauke, which is certainly possible. Either way, this is a good time for Verizon customers to into that new i-Phone they’ve been thinking about…

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It Can Always Get More Pathetic

[ 0 ] September 29, 2007 |

In his latest attempt to revive his stillborn campaign, John McCain — beloved, you may remember, earlier in this decade by the media and an inexplicable number of liberal pundits for an alleged refusal to pander — decides to engage in rank religious bigotry, arguing (among other things) that a Muslim is not qualified to be President of the United States and (in a Orwellian retelling of history) that the Constitution established a “Christian nation.” It’s even more disgraceful because it won’t work.

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Gene Mauch Memorial Last Week of the Season Open Thread

[ 0 ] September 28, 2007 |

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I’ve always thought the pennant race was more exciting than the post-season, and at least in one league this year he have a great finish. Where did the people who care about baseball in Philadelphia come from? Can the Padres keep winning without Bradley and Cameron? Can the Rockies run the table for the last two weeks? Will their incredible luck catch up to the Diamondbacks? Can the Mets win a game against the Marlins? That’s why they play etc…

…Mets up 12-0 in the 8th on Saturday. In fairness, I’d have to give them at least a 15% chance of winning this one…

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