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SCOTUS Split On Voter ID

Oct 20 2014 @ 3:20pm

In a ruling issued at the unusual hour of 5 am on Saturday morning, the Court allowed Texas’s voter ID law to remain in place for the upcoming elections, citing concerns about disrupting the voting process. But not all of the justices were on board:

A majority of justices rejected an emergency request from the Department of Justice and civil-rights groups to keep the state from enacting a law that requires citizens to produce prescribed forms of photo identification before they could cast a ballot, while three justices—Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—dissented. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” wrote Ginsburg.

The order was delayed, apparently, because Ginsburg insisted on issuing a dissenting opinion. Rick Hasen digs into her six-page dissent, which he sees as laying the groundwork for a future battle:

Importantly, Ginsburg concluded that the effect of the law in its entirety would be to diminish voter confidence in the system. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” she wrote.

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A Smashed Pumpkin Festival

Oct 20 2014 @ 3:00pm

Caroline Bankoff recaps one of the stranger stories from this weekend:

Keene, New Hampshire’s annual Pumpkin Festival – which features a community-wide effort to “set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place,” according to CBS Boston – saw at least 14 arrests and dozens of injuries this weekend as hordes of Keene State College students and their guests took to the small town’s streets for no apparent reason other than to cause trouble. The Boston Globe reports that hundreds of people were seen “throwing bottles, uprooting street signs, and setting things on fire,” as well as overturning cars and dumpsters. Cops outfitted in SWAT gear responded with “tear gas, tasers, and pepper spray.” The Keene Police Department claims that one group of rioters “threatened to beat up an elderly man” while others threatened the lives of the cops, who had to call for backup from nearby towns.

Will Bunch raises his eyebrows:

[I]f you have a few minutes, read the news accounts of what happened in New Hampshire – the youths who set fires and threw rocks or pumpkins were described as “rowdy” or “boisterous” or participants in “unrest.” Do you remember such genteel language to describe the protesters in [Ferguson] Missouri? Me neither. …

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A Breakthrough With Boko Haram?

Oct 20 2014 @ 2:12pm

On Friday, news of a ceasefire between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram raised hopes that the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok might finally be released, but with the truce already in doubt, nobody is daring to celebrate too soon:

Two senior government sources said on Saturday that they hoped the release would be completed by Tuesday. On Friday, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh announced a deal with Boko Haram for a ceasefire that would enable the release of the girls, who have been held since April.

But within hours, Boko Haram had already broken the ceasefire, killing at least nine people in two attacks – one on the village of Abadam on Friday night, and another attack on the village of Dzur on Saturday morning. “I can confirm that FG (the federal government) is working hard to meet its own part of the agreement so that the release of the abductees can be effected either on Monday or latest Tuesday next week,” one source told Reuters by telephone.

Atta Barkindo questions whether the ceasefire is genuine:

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Trusting In The Polls

Oct 20 2014 @ 2:03pm

John Sides recommends it:

[T]here is the question of whether polling misses might mean that the Democrats end up with a slim Senate majority after all.

There are reasons to be skeptical that this will happen. It’s not just that we can’t easily predict whether the polls will over- or under-estimate one party’s vote share, as discussed by Nate Silver and by Mark Blumenthal & Co. And it’s not just, as Josh Katz and Sean Trende have found, that Senate polls already tend to be pretty accurate at this point in time — especially when candidates have a 3- to 4-point lead, as do Republican candidates in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana.

The other key point is this: Late movement in Senate polls tends to be in the direction of the underlying fundamentals.

Sean Trende agrees:

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Kobani: ISIS’s Stalingrad?

Oct 20 2014 @ 1:42pm

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani

Last night, American military transport planes delivered weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to the Kurdish fighters still holding the northern Syrian border town of Kobani against a lengthy siege by ISIS militants:

The supplies were not provided by the U.S., but instead came from other Kurdish forces outside of Kobani, the official told FP. U.S. aircraft merely facilitated the airdrops. American warplanes have been bombing Islamic State targets in and around the city for weeks, but the airdrops escalate that effort and mean that the U.S. is now facilitating direct assistance to the Kurdish fighters defending the city.

The defenders of Kobani welcomed the aid but warned that it would not be enough to decide the battle. Much still depends on how much help Turkey will allow across its border. Obama reportedly gave Erdogan advance notice of the drop on Saturday night, but Juan Cole interprets it as defiant of the Turks’ wishes. Since then, Ankara has been sending its usual mixed signals:

In comments published by Turkish media on Monday, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan equated the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD, with the PKK. “It is also a terrorist organization.

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Fifty Shades Of Racism?

Oct 20 2014 @ 1:17pm

Reviewing James Booth’s Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love, Alexander Adams praises the biographer for pushing back against Larkin’s more vociferous critics, especially those who dwell on his private sexism and racism. About the latter charge:

Any biographer has to take into account the criticism Larkin has faced for racist comments made in private letters. Those who are quick to apply the label ‘racist’ are usually unwilling (and NPG x12937; Philip Larkin by Fay Godwinunable) to distinguish causes and types of racism.

Racism is a spectrum of views, ranging from the pseudoscientific conviction that certain groups are genetically superior/inferior to a dislike of certain cultural manifestations. The causes of racist sentiment can be anything from displaced dissatisfaction, cultural prejudice, political partisanship, religious conditioning and nationalist sentiment in time of war right up to paranoid delusion. Dyspeptic misanthropes often express disgust in racist form when their frustration is of a general unfocused kind.

There is no suggestion that Larkin ever uttered a racial insult to a person’s face or engaged in any discriminatory behaviour (indeed, Booth presents examples of where Larkin supported the careers of non-white authors). Booth points out that Larkin only voiced racist opinions to receptive individuals (Amis, Monica, etc) in private and often undercutting epithets with irony or self-mockery.

While true, this does not make Larkin’s racist expressions false.

It would be surprising if a culturally conservative white Englishman with mild nationalist sentiments did not resent some of the cultural changes of Britain from the 1950s onwards, just as it is equally unsurprising that he felt somewhat ashamed of his prejudices and unwilling to hurt anyone directly. Booth has no need to excuse Larkin’s prejudices, just as we should have no reason to require excuses. HP Lovecraft’s racist view on life is an essential part of his writing; Larkin’s racist comments about West Indian cricketers and Indian doctors are peripheral and irrelevant to understanding his poetry.

There is also a very English Amis-Larkin cultural sub-text here: the ironic private use of racist and sexist language as a kind of mock meta-protest at the forces of progress. Jonathan Raban, in a review for The New Republic, discussed this question – without flinching from the actual words – this way:

In 1978 [Larkin] wrote to Robert Conquest: “We don’t go to Test matches now, too many fucking niggers about.”

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Getting Ebola Under Control

Oct 20 2014 @ 12:58pm

Yesterday and today brought a few bits of good news:

According to the BBC, the Spanish nurse who was the first person to contract Ebola outside of West Africa has tested negative for the virus (a second test is required before she’ll be officially free of the disease). And the United States has reached an important milestone: the 21-day monitoring period for the 48 people who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola in Dallas, ended on Sunday and Monday. Aside from the two nurses who cared for him, there have been no new infections.

Things are also looking up in Africa, where two countries have been declared Ebola-free:

On Friday, the World Health Organization announced that Senegal had completely contained the spread of the disease, and now on Monday Nigeria has joined them.

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Obama Departs The White House En Route To New York

There have been posts I’ve written over the past decade and a half on this blog that have left me with a very heavy heart. Absorbing the full meaning of what was revealed at Abu Ghraib was one; reflecting on the horrifying child-abuse in the Catholic church was another; reacting to president Bush’s endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment or president Obama’s half-assed decision to re-fight the Iraq War one more time were not exactly easy posts to compose. I confess I find it hard to write dispassionately about these kinds of things. The abuse of children; the torture of prisoners; the madness of permanent warfare; and the citizenship and dignity of gay people: these are first order questions for me. I understand, as we all must, that politics is an inherently flawed, imperfect, deeply human and always compromised activity. But some things are not really open to compromise. And torture is one of them.

The mounting evidence that president Obama’s long game may well mean the entrenchment and legitimization of torture and abuse of prisoners is a deeply painful thing to report on. He’ll say otherwise; they’ll reach out and insist otherwise. But the record, alas, is getting clearer by the day. We have seen Obama’s rock-solid support for John Brennan’s campaign to prevent any accountability, even to the point of spying on the Senate Committee tasked with oversight, across his two terms. We have watched as the White House has refused to open up its own records for inspection, as it has allowed the CIA to obstruct, slow-walk and try to redact to meaninglessness the Senate Intelligence Committee’s still-stymied report on torture. Our jaws have dropped as the president has reduced one of the gravest crimes on the statute book to “we tortured some folks,” while doing lots of “good things” as well.

Now for the moment when the stomach lurches. The Obama administration is actually now debating whether the legal ban on torture by the CIA in black sites and brigs and gulags outside this country’s borders should be explicitly endorsed by the administration in its looming presentation before the UN’s Committee Against Torture (which might well be an interesting session, given the administration’s consistent refusal to enforce the Geneva Conventions).

One has to ask a simple question: what on earth is there to debate? Torture as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment has already been banned by the executive order of the president, and it is not bound by any geographical limits. Here, moreover, is the text of the Detainee Treatment Act, pioneered by torture victim John McCain, making it even more explicit:

(a) No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

(b) Construction. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose any geographical limitation on the applicability of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under this section.

Well: here is the explanation, as given by Charlie Savage in the NYT yesterday:

Military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.

The CIA’s lawyers want more time to study whether banning torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in line with the law and Obama’s executive order would have “operational impacts”. But how could it when torture and mistreatment are hereby forever banned? Doesn’t it imply that the CIA still sees an option for restoring torture in the future, especially if a pro-torture Republican wins the presidency?

A strong case for this interpretation can be read here in a post by David Luban. It’s essential, if complex, legal reading for anyone concerned that Obama, by taking the CIA’s side in this debate and promoting and exonerating those implicated in past torture, has actually left open the real possibility of this darkness descending again.

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know-dope-shirts

Jon Walker asks around:

“About four months” is theoretically the absolute fastest that stores could begin selling recreational marijuana in the District after the D.C. Council adopts new legislation, according to Rabbi Jeff Kahn. As the operator of Takoma Wellness Center, one of D.C.’s three functioning medical marijuana dispensaries, he is uniquely positioned to provide insight into this question.

But a year to a year-and-a-half is more likely:

One big hold up could be the council and the local regulators charged with writing the final rules.

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Why Networking Makes You Feel Icky

Oct 20 2014 @ 11:42am

Jordan Gaines Lewis explains:

Describing ourselves on paper, while blindly attempting to live up to the expectations of others, makes it all feel like a giant lie, doesn’t it? Of course, personal statements and cover letters add a particularly thorny dimension – we have to brag about ourselves.

An amusing study in an upcoming issue of Administrative Science Quarterly suggests that putting ourselves out there professionally actually makes us feel dirty. Literally.

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