Sunday, January 25, 2015

Biggest clown in the car

Donald Trump on the GOP presidential field: “It can’t be Mitt. Mitt ran and failed!”

So says the man whose companies have gone bankrupt four times and whose main qualification for the presidency is his business experience.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

ending the filibuster for the Supreme Court

When Harry Reid et. al. nuked the filibuster for judicial nominees, they exempted nominees to the Supreme Court. That is, under current rules, Supreme Court nominees can still be filibustered even as nominees to every other federal court cannot be. At the time, the exemption was explained because, the explainer explained, no one would ever actually filibuster a Supreme Court nominee, so nuking that filibuster was not necessary. Which was completely absurd. If no one would ever try it, then why create an exemption to allow them to do it?

It's also simply wrong. There's absolutely no reason to believe that the minority party would not filibuster a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Imagine, for example, if Justice Scalia suddenly died and Obama appointed some well known liberal to replace him. Do you really believe that Mitch McConnell would not use the filibuster to stop the nomination out of respect for some alleged tradition? I don't think there's any question that in any high-stakes SCOTUS nominee--where the justice to be replaced is different from the ideology of the president, guaranteeing that the nominee would change the current ideological slant of the court--the minority party would be willing to filibuster.

So the Supreme Court exception to the current no-filibuster rule makes no sense. But this also makes no sense. Why would the Republicans take the Supreme Court filibuster off the table now? Are they really so confident that they will regain the presidency in 2016? Have they looked at the electoral map recently? And are they really willing to bet that none of the five justices in the current conservative majority won't die or become incapacitated during Obama's remaining two years in office? That's insane. I can't believe they will really get rid of the Supreme Court filibuster for at least the next two years.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Where is my $25,000?!?!?

I mentioned this case twice before. Between 1999 and 2009, almost every time I flew anywhere, my itinerary began with Philadelphia International Airport and I had Arabic flashcards in my pocket. I want my money!!!!

(via NozBro)

More Yemen (can't get enough)

I really do think that a de facto split of Yemen is likely, between the Houthi-ruled North and the Sunni/AQAP dominated South. Sure, there are potential splits in several Arab countries these days where the central government does not exercise actual control over all of the internationally recognized territory (e.g. Libya, Iraq, and Syria). But Yemen is a little different because fairly recently it was split between two different countries, the Yemen Arab Republic (aka North Yemen) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (aka South Yemen). The two were only united in 1990 (with a Southern revolt attempted in 1994). The collapse of the Soviet block facilitated the unification of Yemen, but the North-South divide existed before South Yemen became officially communist in 1969.

Once you draw a line like that on the map, it is hard to erase completely. And the history of other world powers recognizing two different Yemens makes it easier for them to agree to officially recognize partition than it would be without such recent history. (Of course, if the South is dominated by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as opposed to another Sunni faction that is not a clear AQAP front, that would pretty much preclude any international recognition of the South).

Arab Sprung

With the resignation of President Hadi, I believe that means that every head of state that came to power because of the Arab Spring is now out of power. Mohammad Morsi was deposed as leader of Egypt in 2013. Beji Caid Essebsi defeated the incumbent Moncef Marzouki and became President of Tunisia late last year. And Libya, well, Libya has had several transitional heads of state since Qadhafi was deposed, none of which were ever really fully in control.

Then again, that fact doesn't really mean much, as the reasons that the original post-Arab Spring leader left office is different in the different countries. Essebsi's victory in the 2014 election followed by a peaceful exchange of power suggests that the Arab Spring succeeded in that country. What happened in Egypt, Libya, and now Yemen suggests that it failed (as it also failed in places where the government wasn't completely overturned like Syria and Bahrain).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

King Abdullah dies (the KSA one)

We are back to having only one King Abdullah in the Middle East.

I bet the new Saudi king will bring no noticeable changes to the kingdom. There won't be a real chance for anything different until they run out of brothers from the current ruling generation and it finally passes to the next one down (and even then, things probably won't change very much).

Hollywood is not capable of dealing with the Iraq War

Now I want to see American Sniper just to see if it is as awful as Matt Taibbi says it is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Inmigración but no immigration

One long running trope in any discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the charge that leaders of the Palestinian Authority say one thing to the foreign press on English and another thing to their own people on Arabic. The charge used to be directed primarily against Yassar Arafat, but since his death, I have heard people claiming that Abbas and others do it too.

Coup! Coup! Coup

The law that requires U.S. aid to be cut off to regimes that come to power through a coup was intended to discourage coups in U.S.-allied countries. Instead, it seems to have just discouraged the U.S. from calling extra-legal seizures of power a "coup."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sigh, it's SOTU time

Each year, this country has a grand tradition, I complaint about how stupid the State of the Union Address is. Once of these days people will pay attention to me. Or maybe they will just notice on their own that behind all the pomp and bluster, we have a Presidential speech that almost always means nothing. It is extremely rare for any of the new exciting proposals a president raises in a SOTU to see the light of day afterwards.

Remember universal pre-K? Two years ago, President Obama boldly proposed making universal pre-K a law across the land. It is a very good idea, IMHO. Nevertheless, it went nowhere. Congress never even voted on it. While local governments have instituted pre-K programs since that speech (most notably in New York City), pre-K programs were initiated by local governments before 2013 too. It's not clear that the SOTU address did anything to advance the issue. He might as well have demanded a permanent moon base. Oh right, that one was done already.

I continued to be mystified why everyone else thinks this speech is an important event rather than a big empty show. And so, once again, I continue my lonely struggle against the SOTU.

The whine cellar: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 2012 2013 2014


The Islamic Ban on Images of Mohammed is Real

Yes, I realize that it has not always been universally recognized by Muslims that representations of the Prophet Mohammad are not allowed. But Islam is a living religion. Its beliefs and practices evolve over time. Fundamentalists deny it, but that is the simple truth about any living religion.

Just about every sect of modern Christianity bears little relation to the Christianity practiced in Jesus' time or just after his death. Modern Judaism has little in common with the ethical and supernatural belief system that prevailed in the Kingdom of Judah 2700 years ago. Neither of those facts mean there are no Christians or Jews today.

Similarly, there is nothing contradictory to recognize that in the past many Muslims, including well-respected religious scholars, did not believe that any representation of Mohammad was prohibited while at the same time recognizing that in modern Islam, any such representations are often considered to be blasphemous. Talking about history might bring some perspective to the debate, but it does not prove that any true believing Muslim who might be offended by pictures of Mohammad is wrong about his or her own religion. Modern Islam exists as it is understood to exist by its adherents today.

What about legalistic fooforaw?

The NYT today quotes from Antonin Scalia's dissent in U.S. v. Windsor:
The “legalistic argle-bargle” in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, Justice Scalia wrote, suggested that it was only a matter of time until the court established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Did the Justice make a Simpson's reference in his 2013 dissent? (Apparently, I'm not the first one to ask that question)

Jindel is behind the times

I think it's hilarious that Bobby Jindel is claiming there are Muslim-only enclaves where shariah law applies and which are "no-go" for non-Muslims throughout Western Europe while he is traveling in Western Europe. The claim was so outlandish even Fox News retracted it. I hope these guys can get to him while he is still on the continent.

The funny thing is that there actually once was a real Muslim enclave in Western Europe. In the Thirteenth Century, Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire forced all Muslims to leave Sicily. (The Muslims were the descendants of colonists or converts from the period of Muslim rule over the Island that ended with the Norman reconquest of the island at the end of the Eleventh Century.) Frederick resettled them in Lucera, a city in Apulia in mainland Italy. Within the city limits of Lucera, the Muslims were allowed to govern themselves and apply Shariah to their community within the city. That experiment in permitting a heathen religion to operate freely within Christiandom ended in 1300 when Charles II of Naples sacked Lucera, slaughtering many of the Muslim inhabitants, with the survivors either converting to Christianity, being sold into slavery, or fleeing to Albania.

Anyway, I learned about the history of the enclave when I recently read this book about the Crusades. Every time I see some rightwing nut talking about Muslim enclaves in Europe, I wonder if their information isn't a little bit out of date and they didn't hear the news that Lucera was sacked 815 years ago.

The meaning of MLK

It occurred to me this morning (the day after the Martin Luther King Day holiday here in the U.S.) that  MLK Day, unlike all those other long weekend holidays, has not yet lost its original meaning with the public. On Labor Day, there may be a parade, but few people watch it or think about labor issues Memorial Day has become a marker for the beginning of summer, Veterans Day and Presidents Day are barely celebrated other than a possible day off from work or school, and a day for retail sales. But the news was filled with stories about Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday. Politicians spoke about his legacy (even if they got what he believed wrong, it was still about the civil rights leader, either as he really was or as he is now imagined to be). The day really was about Martin Luther King.

I wonder if that is just because the holiday is relatively new. You could argue that MLK has maintained its original meaning because the issues of racial justice are still relevant to today. But it's not like we don't have labor issues anymore, or veterans to be memorialized. I bet eventually MLK's real message will fade and it will turn into something like the others: a public holiday but not day for any meaningful reflection. We're not there yet, so I guess I should enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

French President's approval rating doubles

But it is still only 40%.

Considering that the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack is probably the high water mark for his approval ratings, this really just shows how deeply unpopular Holland is.