Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gregory Djerejian is Back

After half a year's hiatus Belgravia Dispatch is up and running again. Today's provocative post argues that US foreign policy has been so preoccupied with terrorism that other important issues have been and continue to be ignored. As usual, he makes good arguments.

Forgive me for saying it, however, but the capsizing depression in the U.S. housing market, highly worrisome food and energy inflation, massive credit crisis to which bulge brackets banks have been brutally buffeted since July '07, and generally dismal economic milieu (which I believe very likely to get worse, with more regional banks very likely failing shortly) I would suspect is rather unrelated to al-Qaeda and terrorism, with few exceptions like Nigerian militants on occasion impacting oil prices after successful attacks, or the "geopolitical risk premium" as tensions with Iran wax and wane impacting oil prices as well. I take the time to differentiate our economic turmoil from the terror threat as too often terrorism has served as an all-purpose bogey-man these past years, and I think this thinking deeply flawed with unfavorable ramifications for our policy-making process.

[snip]

...our tottering relations with great powers like Russia, where our policy has veered into incoherence as Putin has effectively reversed democratization there in favor of some variant of state-oligarch-driven capitalist autocracy, as we dilly-dally over missile defense systems on their western borders that are, all told, likely not even necessary, but certainly of huge concern to the Russians. Nowhere in this discussion do we broach the massive challenges posed by a rising China, whether integrating them better into the international economic system, digesting the implications of the largest rural migration into cities I think in history, the environmental challenges China presents to itself, the region and indeed the world, or even, the fact that new political and economic architecture is being cobbled together in the Pacific Rim, too often with not enough U.S. involvement (despite Chris Hill's laudable efforts on North Korea, of which the boos and hisses only crescendoed the closer he came to success, discrediting the arrayed neoconservative nomenklatura disgruntled that diplomats dare deign do their jobs).

Nowhere either is there talk of the future of our relationship with India, where even at this late hour it is far from certain, indeed likelier not, that an agreement on the nuclear issue between Delhi and Washington will be agreed. Nowhere either do we highlight the critical imperative of resuscitating the scandalously moribund Arab-Israeli peace process, which despite the cheap theater of Annapolis, seems to have been sub-contracted out of late--via a combination of gross amateurism and neglect--to countries like France, Turkey and, say, Qatar. Nor even do we mention but perhaps in passing the pressing need for something akin to a Manhattan Project on energy, for greater movement on climate change, for our neglected relations with Central and Sough America (notably that rising BRIC Brazil), or the devastation being wrought through Africa via ongoing chronic conflicts and disease. I could go on, but these challenges matter too, do they not?

Lots more where that came from. More than Washington wants to admit.

A Law Professor discusses Cloning and Other Matters

Here is one of several questions on a final exam given law school students in 1997, followed by the professor's notes and comments. I'm not using italics here because plain type is easier to read. Quotations are in blue. LINK here to the source (pdf).

Mary and Joseph, a married couple in their early fifties, are residents of Bethlehem City, which is located in Futura, a state in the United States of America. Last year, their 23 year old daughter, Dolly, a second-year medical student at Futura State University, was in a serious car accident. Dolly sustained severe head injuries as a result of the accident, and was already unconscious when removed from the wreck. Despite the best efforts of the doctors at Bethlehem Medical Center, Dolly has been in a persistent vegetative state for the past year. She survives only with the assistance of respiratory, feeding and hydration tubes, and shows no sign of brain function. Doctors have indicated to Mary and Joseph that Dolly has no prospects whatsoever for recovery, and that the removal of the life-support system currently in place will cause Dolly’s death.

Perhaps due to her interest in medicine, or perhaps due to a natural morbidity, Dolly had the foresight to draft her own “living will” prior to the accident. The will grants Mary and Joseph joint authority “in making any and all decisions regarding medical treatment” on Dolly’s behalf in the event she becomes comatose, “including the decision to terminate life-sustaining treatment.” It is uncontroverted that the “living will” constitutes “clear and convincing” evidence of Dolly’s informed and voluntary wish to delegate authority to her parents regarding the decision to terminate life-sustaining treatment, and that such a conferral of authority is valid under Futura state law.

Grief-stricken at the imminent loss of their only child, Mary and Joseph have been following with considerable interest the rapid advances taking place in the field of human cloning. It seems that over the past five years, several hundred happy, healthy infants have resulted from the process, which involves taking a cell from a living person (so far, these cells have all come from infertile couples seeking to conceive) and slipping the cell into an egg cell whose genetic material has been removed. The emergent embryo, which will be a genetic copy of the adult cell donor, is then transferred to a woman’s womb, where it will develop in the usual fashion until birth.

Despite the controversy that surrounded the initial batch of cloned infants and the continuing opposition of most religious groups to the new technology, the U.S. Congress has thus far declined to ban the practice. Congress has established a limited set of federal guidelines regulating the medical practices and technologies to be used in the cloning of humans, but has otherwise chosen to leave the decision regarding the regulation and/or permissibility of human cloning in the hands of state legislatures. So far, 10 states have instituted an outright ban on the practice; another 10 have no laws at all pertaining to the
practice, while the remaining 30 have a patchwork of regulations with varying degrees of intrusiveness. Medical ethicists remain divided on the issue, but all agree that there is no scientific evidence that the hundred or so “clone babies” currently in existence experience rates of illness, behavioral disorder, psychological difficulty, or abuse at the hands of parents, that are demonstrably higher than children conceived in the traditional fashion.


After careful deliberation and consultation, Mary and Joseph have decided to remove Dolly from life-support. They have also decided that, prior to removing Dolly from life-support, they would like to take a healthy cell from Dolly’s body and have her cloned. They have based their decision in part on the belief that Dolly would want her genetic line continued, and in part on their feeling that a new child will help fill the void cause (sic) by Dolly’s imminent death. (Mary has already experienced menopause, and hence can no longer provide her own eggs for either natural conception or in vitro fertilization;
technology does permit her to carry to term a cloned embryo implanted in her womb.)

Mary’s and Joseph’s decision is also influenced by the fact that prior to the accident, Doily expressed an interest in becoming an infertility specialist, and had stated to her parents on several occasions that she saw nothing ethically wrong with the use of cloning either to help infertile couples conceive, or to facilitate a decision by grieving parents to reproduce a terminally ill infant or child. Dolly shared this view with a number of her friends, who are prepared to testify to that effect.

According to the doctors at Bethlehem Medical, there is nothing related to Dolly’s medical condition that would prevent her from being cloned. Moreover, the technology
required to carry out the procedure already exists in the infertility wing of the hospital. There’s only one problem: Futura is one of the 10 states that has banned human cloning.
According to the hospital’s lawyer, the state defends the ban on the grounds that i) human cloning violates “the sanctity of life and the bonds of family that lie at the very core of our ideals and our society”; ii) human cloning “makes our children objects rather than cherished individuals,” and therefore opens the door to such potential abuses as the cloning of individuals solely for organ harvesting; and iii) children conceived through the cloning process “may experience psychological damage, ostracism or even discrimination as a class, outcomes which the state has an deep interest in preventing.”

Moreover, the hospital lawyer has indicated that even if Mary and Joseph were willing and able to incur the additional expense and risk of transporting Dolly to another state in order to perform the cloning procedure, those states which permit human cloning all require proof of voluntary and informed consent from the individual who is to be cloned. An exception to this consent requirement exists where the individual to be cloned is a terminally ill minor, an exception that does not apply in Dolly’s case. In the hospital lawyer’s view, neither Dolly’s “living will” nor her general statements regarding cloning constitute sufficient proof for the purpose of meeting this consent requirement.

Mary and Joseph come to your law office to discuss their options. Specifically,they ask you to answer the following two questions:

1) First, they would like to know whether the State of Futura’s indiscriminate ban on cloning violates either Dolly’s constitutional rights, or their own constitutional rights, under the “substantive” component of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. You do not need to arrive at a definitive conclusion regarding these issues. Instead, make the strongest possible argument for each claim, then explore the weaknesses of each claim. Be sure to consider the possibility that Futura’s ban on cloning does in fact encroach on some constitutionally recognized rights, but is nevertheless constitutional.

2) Second, assuming Mary and Joseph decide to transport Dolly to a state that already permits human cloning, they would like to know whether they can mount a successful constitutional challenge to a possible state ruling that neither Dolly’s “living will” nor her general statements regarding cloning are sufficiently indicative of Dolly’s consent to permit the removal of her cells for cloning purposes. In answering this question, assume that under both the common law and statutory law of all states, Dolly’s general statements regarding cloning would not constitute “clear and convincing” evidence of her consent to be cloned, but might be considered evidence of consent under a “preponderance of the evidence” (that is, a “more likely than not”) standard.

When the exam was completed the professor's memo to his students [LINK here to the source (pdf)] included the following remarks:

One way to approach this question is to first consider whether Futura’s ban on cloning would violate the constitutional rights of Dolly if she were competent and decided to reproduce herself through cloning. If the answer is yes, then Futura’s outright ban would presumably be struck down, and we can move to the narrower question of whether consent requirements of the sort instituted in those states that permit cloning are also unconstitutional.

As most of you recognized, whether a decision to clone one’s self is constitutionally protected from government intrusion largely depends on whether such a decision falls within the ambit of “fundamental” rights recognized by the Supreme Court under the “substantive” prong of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. There are several related arguments for the “fundamentalness” of the cloning decision.

First, Dolly might argue that a decision to clone herself involves the right to procreate, a right the Court first deemed fundamental in Skinner v. Oklahoma. Skinner involved the selective sterilization of convicts, and hence was decided under the Equal Protection Clause; by definition, Futura’s outright ban on cloning involves no such classifications. Nevertheless, both the language of Skinner and a line of subsequent “right to privacy” cases decided under the Due Process Clause (Griswold, Eisenstadt, Carey, and Roe) all argue for a broad reading of the right at stake: a right to make decisions regarding childbearing free from government interference - at least absent a government showing that such interference is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. Moreover, although Griswold appeared to rest its opinion on issues of marital privacy and the sanctity of the home, Eisenstadt, Carey and Roe clearly extended the right beyond the boundaries of the home or marital intimacy.

Does cloning fall within this fundamental zone of procreation/privacy? As many of you discussed, the answer probably depends on the degree to which the Court embraces or rejects the notion of “tradition” as a mechanism for curtailing the scope of the “substantive” Due Process Clause. In Michael H., Justice Scalia argued that constitutionally protected substantive rights under the Due Process Clause must be defined at their most specific, traditionally recognized level. This is the approach taken in Bowers v. Hardwick, for example, where the right at issue is described by the Court not as the right to sexual intimacy between unrelated, consenting adults, but rather as the right to engage in homosexual sodomy.

As applied to this case, Justice Scalia’s approach might lead to an extremely narrow description of the right asserted by Dolly. Indeed, Scalia might argue that cloning does not even qualify as “procreation” under a standard dictionary definition of the term (for what it’s worth, Webster’s Dictionary defines procreation as “to bring a living thing into existence by the natural process of reproduction.“) Given the recent vintage of
cloning technology, it would be difficult to argue that a narrowly-defined “right to clone one’s self’ is “deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions.” Moore. In the absence of any deeply rooted tradition, Scalia would argue, and in circumstances where the states exhibit no clear political consensus on the issue, the Court has no business minting a new “right” or “liberty interest” to protect, but should instead evaluate Futura’s ban under rational basis review.

Whether a majority of the current Court would in fact embrace such a cramped reading of the right to privacy/procreate cases is not entirely clear. On the one hand, a majority of the Court appears to reject Scalia’s approach in Casey. In that case, Justice O’Connor not only defends an activity that enjoyed a record of protection prior to Roe that was spotty at best, but also uses relatively expansive language to connect the abortion right with the contraception cases, indicating that these cases all “involve decisions concerning not only the meaning of procreation but also human responsibility and respect for it.” Indeed, it might be argued that for a majority of the Court, the outcome in Bowers depended in part on the fact that there was a long-standing tradition of prohibiting sodomy, and that in the absence of such a specific, traditional prohibition on cloning, the Court must necessarily rely on general principles - such as individual autonomy, or reproductive freedom - in evaluating the constitutionality of Futura’s ban. Dolly might also point out that Bowers emphasizes the absence of any childbearing interest with respect to sodomy, and that such a childbearing interest (through admittedly untraditional means) does exist in this case.

On the other hand, the reasoning of the majority opinion in Washington v. Glucksberg appears to closely track Justice Scalia’s; not only does the Court identify tradition and “a careful description of the asserted fundamental liberty interest” as the “guideposts for responsible decision-making” in substantive Due Process cases, but the majority opinion also explicitly rejects a more fluid approach suggested by Justice Souter, in which tradition is understood as a “living thing.” Again, Dolly might argue that the analysis in Glucksberg rested heavily on the strong tradition against assisted suicide, a
tradition that is not present in this case; she might also argue that while Justice O’Connor provided the fifth vote for the majority opinion in Glucksberg, O’Connor went on to write a concurring opinion in which she appears to distance herself somewhat from the tradition-laden language of the four other members of the majority. Still, the Glucksberg opinion indicates at the very least a deep hesitance on the part of the Court to further broader the scope of interests protected under the substantive Due Process Clause.

A few of you suggested that a competent Dolly might have more luck couching her decision to clone solely as an issue of bodily integrity. Irrespective of whether cloning is or is not “procreation,” the argument runs, there clearly exists a long-standing tradition, both under the common law and under constitutional interpretation, of protecting an individual’s choice to reject even life-sustaining medical treatment. The same concern is evident in the abortion decisions; the state can’t force a woman to maintain a pregnancy against her wishes. Roe. If the state can’t force a woman to bear a child or accept life-sustaining treatment, why should it be able to control her decision to clone absent a compelling (or at least important) government interest?

The problem with such an analysis, of course, is that the Court has never interpreted the Due Process Clause to protect a person’s right to do whatever he or she wants with his or her own body. The prohibition on suicide is just one example of a constraint on bodily autonomy that the Court considers constitutional; other examples include prohibitions on the ingestion of illicit drugs, prostitution, and the sale of body parts. A focus on bodily integrity/autonomy does highlight the possibility, however, that the Court might apply a balancing test of the sort used in Casey and Cruzan. In those cases, the Court refrained from clearly identifying the decision to have an abortion or to reject life-sustaining medical treatment as “fundamental,” but did acknowledge such decisions as “liberty interests” that deserve some constitutional protection. Applied to our case, a Court might determine that Futura’s outright ban constitutes an “undue burden” on Dolly’s decision to replicate, while upholding regulations that severely restrict the circumstances under which cloning technology might be used.

It is important to recognize, however, that the term “liberty interest” is just as malleable as the term “fundamental right,” so that the use of a balancing approach by the Court does not avoid the definitional problems already discussed. For example, the Court might recognize a broad liberty interest in medically-assisted procreation, but still find Futura’s ban on cloning to be merely a restriction on one highly specialized technique among many. Under such an analysis, the fact that cloning might be the only means of bearing a genetically-related child for a handful of people like Mary and Joseph might trouble the Court; on the other hand, several of you were correct to point out that in Casey, Justice O’Connor expressed little concern for the fact that for some women, waiting periods and other restrictions might constitute an effective ban on abortion, and not merely an inconvenience incidental to an otherwise available right.

Mary and Joseph’s Claims

Most of the discussion above regarding the appropriate standard of review with respect to Dolly’s potential claim applies with equal force to any consideration of Mary’s and Joseph’s potential claims. Again, it’s worth considering first what Mary and Joseph’s claims might be if not complicated by the fact of Dolly’s incapacity - in circumstances, say, where Dolly is terminally ill but competent and consents to the cloning procedure. Under such circumstances, it might be argued that Mary and Joseph’s claim of a “right to procreate” through cloning is even more persuasive than Dolly’s, since a) any cloned child would be in fact a product of Mary and Joseph’s genetic mixture; b) Mary and Joseph might have no other means of bearing a child genetically related to both of them; and c) the cloned embryo would be implanted in Mary’s womb and Mary would carry it to term like any traditional pregnancy.

Described in these terms, it would be difficult to differentiate the cloning of Dolly from the use by other techniques commonly used by infertile couples to conceive - i.e. in
vitro fertilization, the use of donated eggs, and so on. None of these technologies are “traditional” as that term is commonly understood, and yet it is hard to imagine the Court sanctioning an outright prohibition on their use without a pretty compelling reason for doing so. The fact that these new technologies increasingly facilitate post-menopausal child-bearing raises further doubts that any constitutional analysis of cloning can rest simply on the “natural” limits of reproductive capacity.

Futura’s Interests - How Compelling?

Depending on how the Court resolves the “fundamentalness” issue, the Court would evaluate Futura’s justifications of its ban on cloning under either a) strict scrutiny (in which case the ban would need to qualify as “narrowly tailored” to achieve a
“compelling government interest”); b) rational basis review (in which case the ban would merely have to be rationally related to achieving an legitimate government interest); or c) a more fluid balancing test of the sort employed in Casey and Cruzan. (I should note, by the way, that the first two of Futura’s asserted rationales for a cloning ban are drawn almost verbatim from President Clinton’s Commission on Human Cloning, which sought to explain its recommendation for a moratorium on any attempts to clone humans. The third rationale summarizes some of the arguments offered by various medical ethicists in the debate surrounding cloning.) Below we consider each of Futura’s rationales in turn:

1) Preventing psychological damage, etc. As most of you recognized, the weakest rationale offered by the state appears to be its asserted interest in preventing a class of clones who may experience “psychological damage, ostracism or even discrimination as a class.” While the interest in protecting children generally, and cloned children in particular, is certainly legitimate and probably compelling, the means the state has chosen can hardly be described as narrowly tailored, and would therefore not support the Futura’s ban under any form of heightened scrutiny.

To begin with, the hypothetical offers no evidence of cloned children experiencing a disproportionate amount of psychological damage and social ostracism. But even if cloned children did experience such problems, the state surely cannot use possible evidence of societal bigotry against a class of children as a justification for preventing such children from coming into existence, any more than it can use bigotry to justify discriminatory child custody policies (Palmore) or discriminatory school assignment policies (Cooper). To hold otherwise would be to endorse a not-so-subtle theory of eugenics that might conceivably support state policies to prevent the birth of other groups who experience psychological difficulties, social ostracism and discrimination - e.g. minorities and the disabled.

Indeed, it is not clear that this rationale could survive even rationale basis review. As several of you noted, in Cleburne, the Court reject the state’s use of social ostracism against the mentally disabled as a justification for discriminatory policies against such persons, even though it declined to hold that the classifications based on mental disability constituted a “suspect” classification under the Equal Protection Clause. If the state wants to prevent discrimination against the cloned, it can pass anti-discrimination laws.

2) Preventing objectification. organ harvesting, etc. The state’s asserted interest in preventing the objectification of children and the possible abuses that might attend such objectification is only slightly more persuasive than the “social ostracism” rationale. Concerns about the “objectification” of children seem to rest on the assumption that cloned children will be treated differently from children produced in the traditional fashion, an assumption that is not supported by the evidence. And although the interest in preventing organ harvesting or other abuses against cloned individuals - including children -- seems compelling (particularly in light of some of the more far out reports that have come out since I wrote the exam, regarding the possible creation of headless clones!), the state has at its disposal a wide range of means (e.g. bans on organ harvesting, bans on child abuse, etc.) that already prevent commerce in humans or human body parts.

Although the “objectification/abuse” rationale would probably not survive strict scrutiny, and would not appear to justify an outright ban under an “undue burden” analysis (a range of regulations - from restrictions on who can clone to where cloning can be performed - could address fears of organ harvesting and other abuses without banning the procedure entirely), it might be sufficient under rational basis review. The state might argue, for instance, that the further development and widespread use of cloning technology will increase the risk of children and fetuses being bred for unsavory purposes, and make organ harvesting prohibitions more difficult to enforce. An outright ban might thus be considered rationally related to the state’s goal under the extremely deferential standards on display in Bower and some of the Equal Protection Cases decided under rational basis review (e.g. Railway Express Agency).

3) Preserving the sanctity of life/family bonds. This leaves the state with one last rationale - the notion that cloning violates “the sanctity of life and the bonds of family that lie at the very core of our ideals and our society.” That a state has a compelling interest in preserving an actual human life (i.e. preventing murder, suicide, etc.) is clear from the case law (Cruzan, Glucksberg). This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the state also has a compelling interest in preventing what it considers to be the “devaluation” of human life that might result from cloning. It might be argued that the abortion cases lend support to such an abstract “sanctity of life” concept, given that the Court finds the state’s interest in protecting the “potentiality of human life” to be compelling, without ever ruling that a fetus is a “person” or resolving the difficult
question of when individual life begins. Roe. Whatever we consider a fetus to be, however, it is clearly more than an abstract proposition; in any event, it is hard to see how a compelling interest in protecting potential life translates into a compelling interest in preventing potential life.

Similar problems arise when we consider the state’s interest in preserving the bonds of family. In other contexts, the Court has indicated that an individual has constitutionally protected rights to determine his or her familial relationships (Loving,
Moore, Zabiocki). The Court has also upheld state regulations that seek to preserve existing family bonds - freely chosen by the individuals involved -- in the face of what a majority of the Court considered to be the countervailing liberty interest of a biological father who wants to establish paternity (Michael H.). In none of these cases, however, do* we find the Court upholding state restrictions on an individual’s fundamental right to bear children or form a family solely on the basis of the state’s abstract judgment of what a family should look like. As several of you pointed out, cases like Moore would seem to
lend more support for exactly the opposite proposition - that the state cannot, and should not, make such judgments, but must instead base restrictions on family life on something
more concrete.

The question, then, boils down to this - can Futura’s moral judgment regarding the potential harms that cloning will visit on our current conceptions of life and family serve as a sufficient basis for instituting an outright ban? The answer appears to be yes if the Court evaluates Futura’s ban under rational basis review -- as many of you pointed out, it was just such moral judgments that the Court in Bowers found to be sufficient in upholding the ban on consensual homosexual sodomy at issue. Whether such moral justifications are enough to survived heightened review is a closer question. On the one hand, it might be argued that the moral judgments at issue with respect to cloning are far more profound than the moral questions involved in consensual sodomy - tinkering with the basic building blocks of life is obviously discomfiting, as are the possibilities of a world in which one’s child is one’s genetic twin, scientists claim they are God, and the very concept of individuality is called into question. On the other hand, to the extent that the Court is forced to grapple with such weighty issues, it might prefer to do so in the context of deciding whether cloning is or is not a fundamental right, rather than establish the troubling precedent that the state’s moral judgments, standing alone, can override an individual’s fundamental rights or liberty interests.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama at UC Law School

Three consecutive entries at VC react to a Times feature looking at Obama's record at The University of Chicago Law School. Lots of sage, lawyerly observations from all, with an avalanche of comments to boot. More than I ever needed to find.

Skimming the pile I come away with two observations:

First, this guy is under the microscope in a way that most people could not survive. A few comments noted that his opponent's record at the Naval Academy would be... no, they concluded... better not go there.

Second, Obama's tracks are so impressive that some observers doubted the truth of the Times story, particularly that part about being offered a position with tenure upon being hired. That part of the Obama story fell into the truly unbelievable category for these men whose life revolves around law school environments. [***ed. Jim Lindgren at VC dug further and has concluded this is wrong. Details at the link.]

Here is a link to the story, Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart

Link here to Jonathan Adler's note and a few comments.

Link here to Jim Lindgren's note and many more comments.

Link her to David Bernstein's remarks and a blizzard of comments, with EV toward the top.

Another Times piece links to Obama's course materials and this by Jodi Kantor, the journalist who put all this together:

Several readers have asked questions about Mr. Obama’s status at the school. Let me clarify: he started teaching as a lecturer, meaning as a member of the adjunct faculty. But in 1996, he was promoted to senior lecturer, which in Chicago’s parlance, made him a professor.

When the law school tried to hire Mr. Obama after his failed 2000 congressional race, it was for a tenured job, according to Daniel Fischel, the dean at the time. In our interview, I asked him if he meant “tenure-track,” and he said no. “He would be hired as a tenured professor,” he explained. The faculty would vote, but Mr. Obama already had their support, he added. [***This is probably incorrect. See note above]

There follows a bewildering number of comments from many sources. More than I can begin to summarize.

But this one was noted by someone at one of the other comment threads and is worth repeating. This column also by Jodi Kantor, reads like a transcript of an NPR News discussion group. He apparently interviewed four experts via conference call. Here " Akhil Reed Amar, a professor of constitutional law at Yale and a former clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer... compliments the quality of Mr. Obama’s exam questions."

First, As a constitutional law professor, I came away impressed — dazzled, really — by the analytic intelligence and sophistication of these questions and answers. A really good exam — an exam that tests and stretches the student, while simultaneously providing the professor with a handy and fair index to rank the class — is its own special art form. Composing such an exam is like crafting a sonnet or a crossword puzzle. We don’t have Obama’s answer key every year; but the questions themselves are in many instances beautifully constructed to enable students to explore the seams and plumb the depths of the Supreme Court’s case law. I am tempted to use variations of several of these questions myself in some future exam. (I won’t say which, lest I tip my students off.) When I read Jodi Kantor’s piece, I was very interested to hear that the University of Chicago Law School was willing to offer Obama tenure. In these materials I see why.

At this point, I'm sure, the reader's cup runneth over. But if more is needed, go to Randy Barnett's My Comment on Obama's Teaching Materials.

[Note to self: If I ever need the services of any of these guys from VC it will have to be pro bono. I could never afford the fees needed to pay for all the time they spend blogging.]

I also noticed this from the first link:

Mr. Obama arrived at the law school in 1991 thanks to Michael W. McConnell, a conservative scholar who is now a federal appellate judge. As president of The Harvard Law Review, Mr. Obama had impressed Mr. McConnell with editing suggestions on an article; on little more than that, the law school gave him a fellowship, which amounted to an office and a computer, which he used to write his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.”

I wondered how he worked that in. Now we know.

......................►►◄◄........................

Followup: I put together another post, A Law Professor discusses Cloning and Other Matters , which illustrates Obama's teaching style as of 1997. I left out his name deliberately so readers would approach it unbiased (but I did link the sources).
Unfortunately no one can find post since it will not turn up in searches. (No key words or phrases.) Too bad, because it took a very long time to reformat a pdf source to a blog using only this most primitive of wysiwyg/html tool.

Why Germany Has No Obama

Markus Feldenkirchen, writing in Der Speigel, clearly has a crush on Barack Obama, along with a lot of his countrymen. I hope nobody brings this piece to the attention of talk show hosts. They will immediately conclude that Obama is the next Hitler for sure. I never expected to see so many illustrations of Godwin's Law.

American Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's speech had ended an hour before and the skies over Berlin were taking on an ethereal reddish hue as the sun set. But Julian Metz was still glowing with enthusiasm. He spoke with nervous excitement, his words tumbling happily out of his mouth as if he had just lost his virginity. As indeed he had: his political virginity.

Julian Metz, a 27-year-old architecture student, had never before attended a speech by a politician, but he was determined to experience Obama. He arrived at Berlin's Victory Column three hours before the speech was scheduled to begin just so he could find a place at the front. He saw, heard and felt Obama, and in the end he even managed to shake the presidential candidate's hand. Metz was one of the few that got that close. Two-hundred thousand people turned out on the Strasse des 17. Juni to see Obama speak -- a crowd the likes of which one normally only sees if football is involved.

He had just become a part of history, or at least that is what Metz believed. "I felt that if he is voted into office, the world will change," he said, a tote bag from a local grocery store dangling from his wrist. He was electrified, infected with a new political bug, and he said that he now intends to become politically involved for the first time in his life. But there is only one problem. "Unfortunately," said Metz, "we have nothing comparable on the horizon in Germany."

For now, this is the one sobering message Barack Obama has left behind in Germany. His visit has raised a question, one that masks a deep longing: Why doesn't Germany have similarly inspiring politicians? Why can't Germany have its own Obama?

Germans may take some comfort in the fact that there is no Greek Obama, nor a Finnish or a South Korean Obama. The senator from Illinois appears to be the kind of rare political talent that even the United States sees only once in a great while. If John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in the 2004 presidential election, had given a speech in front of the Victory Column, his listeners would have been well-advised to bring along pillows -- just in case they happened to nod off during his remarks.

Nevertheless, the discrepancy between Obama and the political class in Germany couldn't be greater. The divide between the two is like the difference between night and day, between German folk singer Heino and the rock band Coldplay.

All it takes to recognize that difference is to compare their language. Obama's speech in downtown Berlin was a festival of big metaphors. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a keynote speech, her words are usually about as alluring as a ring binder. Her speeches are about mundane topics like commuter tax relief and pensions, and if she uses metaphors at all, they are more than likely references to holes that require plugging. And about the only image Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chairman Kurt Beck seems able to conjure up is of the butter everyone is scraping from his toast.

There is much to criticize about Obama, including his support of the death penalty and the fact that his speeches tend to be short on content. But what remains is an ability to generate public enthusiasm for politics that offsets many of his shortcomings.

This is how French writer Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry once described the key to instilling passion into people: "If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, ... teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." Obama has made this sentiment his mantra.

Obama, notwithstanding his unique abilities, is a typical product of American culture, the outcome of an approach to developing a child's personality that begins in kindergarten. In the United States, even three-year-olds are encouraged to bring their favorite things to school and explain them to other children. In high school, the art of giving presentations is a fixed part of the curriculum. The goal is to teach young Americans early on how to talk about one thing above all else: themselves. This too explains the audacious nonchalance with which someone like Obama presents himself -- an attitude that Germans find nothing short of astonishing.

But this is only one reason why Germany, despite exceptions like former Chancellor and SPD Chairman Willy Brandt, has produced mainly sober and often uninspiring politicians throughout the last 60 years. The passion and love of the stage that has helped make Obama an icon could have quickly destroyed political careers in Germany. Those with visions were advised to see their doctors.

Germans have had their fair share of experiences with charismatic speakers. After an entire people allowed itself to be seduced by Adolf Hitler, the architects of the postwar republic were more than justified in doing their utmost to protect the Germans from the seductive powers of an individual and, as a result, from themselves.

They devised a political system that emphasizes the party while placing little emphasis on the individual. They opted for an internal party selection process instead of the candidacy of individual politicians, a process that requires neither passion nor charisma, but does require a well padded behind. A political career in Germany depends far less on the people than on the party and its many manifestations, on entities like local party organizations, sub-districts, primary districts and intermediate districts.

But the party organizations value different characteristics than citizens do. Politicians can earn bonus points for a good attendance record and a pronounced ability to be patient. They can improve their prospects by spending the appropriate amount of time preparing the minutes of meetings, arranging for soft drinks at children's events or grilling bratwursts at summer barbecues. As praiseworthy as these activities are, they are easily performed without charisma.

The German system is designed to exclude demagogues, but it also cultivates mediocrity. It prevents the ascent of demons and geniuses alike, while paving the way for the political success of experts at the grill.

Unfortunately, the prospect of spending so many years grilling bratwursts and the like discourages many from becoming politically involved. Others eventually give up and move on to other fields. There were good reasons for Germany to place its trust in this system after the disgrace of the Nazi era. But now it seems that Germany is ready for change of its own.

It is no coincidence that there were so many young people in Obama's audience of 200,000 in Berlin. While not unaware of their own history, the generation of 25-year-olds feels far less inhibited by it than its predecessors. The younger generation is no longer susceptible to older Germans' instinctive aversion to passionate politicians. On the contrary, young Germans yearn for someone to inspire them instead of simply telling them what to do. They want to have the same rights as their generational counterparts in the United States.

For these reasons, it would make sense for Germany to open itself up to new forms when it comes to choosing its political leaders. Primary campaigns, in which candidates would have to present their cases to a broader public, would also increase interest in politics in general. And the political system in Germany would be instilled with new life if it could finally offer political outsiders real prospects.

Structures that were once conceived to protect democracy from its enemies are no longer necessarily current, now that 60 years have passed since they were created. The political parties should have the courage to change these structures, and thus to protect democracy from its new foes: lethargy and boredom.

H/T Nouri Kal

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jill Carroll is back at work

Update August 24... Welcome new readers. When I put this rambling piece together there was no way to know that Jill Carroll's captors would be apprehended in a few weeks. That makes the story even more compelling.
For those who are interested, I put up a brief post this morning with a few more links to the backstory. The Jill Carroll Narrative Continues.


[This is longer than I expected when I began writing. Be patient. Jill Carroll comes later, but she is the link to it all...]
This disturbing, sad report from YAR gets to me.

Sunday afternoon when I got word that my friend Joel Gulledge had been attacked by Israeli settlers in At-Tuwani. Joel was escorting some Palestinian children home from summer day camp when they were threatened by a masked settler with a slingshot. Jan Benvie, a friend and CPTer from Scotland, rushed the children away while Joel filmed what was happening. The settler caught up with Joel, grabbed his video camer and began beating him around his head with it while he punched him with his other hand. Joel didn’t fight back, but yelled for help.

This sort of thing has happened before to CPTers in Hebron and At-Tuwani. These have long been the regions where CPTers are most regularly the target of physical violence. Colleagues of mine have had their arms broken and lungs punctured and been stoned by Israeli settlers from the Havot Ma’on settlement.

So the attack itself is nothing new, but this attack hit closer to home for me. Just two weeks ago I said goodbye to Joel near his home on the north side of Chicago. Joel and I hung out together this summer at PAPA festival where he did a workshop on the situation in Israel/Palestine. And now I have the image of him being beaten in the face with his own video camera in my head.The threat of violence in CPT work has always been theoretical for me. The last time in my life I was actually physically assaulted was in junior high by a bully. How would I deal with getting punched in the face? I’d probably get a shot of adrenaline. Then I’d cry. Or at least I hope so.

This is the second time this week that I’ve had a friend get beat up. For the last two weeks I’ve been helping to facilitate training for 15 new CPTers here in Chicago. On Tuesday during an action at representative Rahm Emmanuel’s office, eigh trainees and one CPTer were arrested during a die-in calling attention to Emmanuel’s continued support of war funding. Andy, one of the trainees, chose to stay limp when police arrested him. In response, they swore at him, dropped him on his face in the concrete and kneed him hard in the back in front of the 8 other arrestees. It was extremely traumatic for everyone involved.

After the men in the group were released, I picked them up at a CVS parking lot near the police station. We stood in the parking lot for a few minutes while they had a piece of pizza and talked about their experience. Any compares his experience to a domestic violence situation. "I felt like a failure because the ones with the power told me that if I would just comply they wouldn’t have to hurt me," he said.

The situation for the Palestinian children is similar. As they are attacked time and time again they are told that the violence against them is their fault. If they would just leave Palestine they wouldn’t have to face the daily verbal abuse and taunts on their way to school or day camp. It is the message of the abuser to the abused. [The same shame-based argument was used in the civil rights fight to blame outside agitators or the local blacks themselves for anything negative that came from a demonstration. "The problem would not have happened if ya'll hadn't been demonstrating."]

Andy told us how ashamed he felt when he cried in the police wagon. I commented that when we’re physically attacked it connects us at a deep level with previous experiences of violence. In dealing with the intensity of both the current moment and the depth of our memories of violence, tears are a gift.

Joel will be coming home in a few weeks. But the Palestinian children will remain. Each time they are threatened by the settlers, each previous experience must come to the surface. As they grow older, will they still be able to cry? Will they maintain the nonviolent commitment of their parents? I pray for Joel and for the Palestinian children as they sleep in their beds tonight. May their bodies rest and may their dreams be filled with healing tears and laughter.

Remaining non-violent in the face of violence is the ultimate Christian challenge. Been there, done that. And yes, it can make you want to cry first and pray later.

His mention of CPT brought back the memory of Jill Carroll, the CS Monitor reporter
kidnapped two years ago and released after an extended, publicized ordeal.

Jill Carroll is persuaded that her captors had close ties, if not direct involvement, with the kidnappers of the Christian Peacemakers Team.

"Since my captors viewed all mujahideen as part of the same worldwide movement... it is unclear how many of these kidnappings were carried out by the same individuals who took me, and how many were carried out by separate but allied groups," she says.

It seems likely that Ms. Carroll's captors and those holding the Christian Peacemakers, including American Tom Fox, were at least communicating with one another.

After a quick search I came across a couple of timely links relating to Jill Carroll.

One was an
appreciation for Richard Bergenheim who died last week. He was the CS Monitor editor when Jill Carroll was taken hostage and was materially instrumental in working out details of her release.

Richard presided over the searing experience with the spiritual strength and practical compassion that characterized his three-year term as editor of the Monitor.

During Jill's captivity, Richard wheedled information out of often-warring US government agencies, negotiated with international celebrity journalists who claimed to know influential Iraqi sheikhs, upgraded the security provided to Monitor correspondents, and dealt with constant media attention.

"He was the steward of the decency and global engagement that the Monitor showed when the whole world was watching," said managing editor Marshall Ingwerson, a key ally in the battle to win Jill's freedom.

A very impressive legacy indeed.

And almost as a tribute to this man's efforts, Jill Carroll is back at work. Her piece at AlterNet is a must read report on how combat experience plants the destructive seeds of PTSD in returning veterans. Here are the opening paragraphs.

"We're Going to Be Paying For This For a While": Soldiers Bring the War Home

When veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bring their troubles home, police and judges often are the first to deal with them.

During 21 years in the Marine Corps, Jeff Johnson saw young adults walk into his recruiting office and newly minted marines walk out of boot camp just a few months later. Now working at the other end of that pipeline at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, he sees far different, troubling changes in those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The changes were dramatic. I'd never seen these kinds of changes in people," says Mr. Johnson of those wrestling with the mental and physical trauma of war.
The once upstanding service members were getting arrested for domestic violence and bar fights, and being pursued by police as they raced along streets at 100 miles per hour -- often with drugs or alcohol involved -- seeking to replicate the adrenaline rush of combat or to commit suicide by motorcycle or police bullets.
He was moved to action, creating a presentation about the mental injuries of war for police and other first responders, usually the ones called when a veteran hits bottom.
A year later, he's delivered his message more times than he can count and he's been in demand from police departments across the country, hungry to prepare for what they worry is a coming surge of mentally injured veterans.
"A lot of them were getting in trouble with police. If [the police] know what resources are out there then they can funnel them into that," says Johnson, who has one son who is an Iraq veteran and another entering the service.
Police departments, veterans groups, and individuals from California to Colorado to Massachusetts are taking similar steps. At the other end of the criminal justice system, a "treatment court" in Buffalo, N.Y., dedicated to veterans opened this year.


►►====OOOO====◄◄

I'm glad to learn that Jill Carroll is back to work.
So here's where I stop preachin' and go to meddlin'.

Posts that may be distantly related to the violence theme here are Intermittent Explosive Disorder (which is sometimes connected with combat experience but may well be just a bad case of a garden-variety nut with a bad attitude) and Virginia Tech Killings -- a Minority View (in which the perpetrator was a card-carrying nut for which the system was unprepared).

The larger question is how best do we as a society come to terms with violence and it's consequences? And what are reasonable measures either to prevent or ameliorate the violence to which we as human beings seem prone?

I have ideas but none of them stand up to reasonable arguments. For the moment I leave the reader who may have made it this far to think about it. I doubt anyone but me has read this long, rambling post, but in case someone has, feel free to leave a comment. Whatever you do, DON'T call your best idea a silver bullet.

Dr. Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

Randy Pausch died last week but my post about him from last September continues this week to be more popular than anything else. His Last Lecture takes over an hour and those who have seen snips owe it to themselves to watch the whole thing.

In accordance with his wishes, this lecture is public domain. Thanks to You Tube I am able to embed it. Readers are invited to set aside some time, get a cup of coffee, click to "full screen" and pay attention. If this doesn't make your life better you need more help than I can provide.


Rocketboom at ComicCon

Am I up to date or what?

Yesterday I heard a report on NPR that librarians are going to Comic-Con in droves!

Librarians !!! ???

I had no idea the Internet had impacted old fashioned books that hard. I gotta get out more.


Faith Communities Can Prepare for Bird Flu

[Reposted from April 26 with additional links. I was impressed with the idea so I emailed this post to anyone able to spread the word.]

It's not my habit to dispatch mass emails, but in this case it is an idea that deserves spreading.

I have been following Crawford Killian's
H5N1 Blog for the last few years. News cycles have stopped headlining the threat of a bird flu pandemic but the threat remains real. Because human to human transmission of the disease remains rare, fatalities from the H5N1 strain are still statistically small, but the virus is slowly making its way through animal populations around the world.

All that stands between the disease among birds (mainly chickens) and among humans is a mutant strain that can be passed from one human to another. A human to human (H2H) mutation of this flu could be a ticking pandemic bomb depending on how severe symptoms might appear in its victims. As of this writing the
WHO has validated 381 cases worldwide which have resulted in 240 fatalities.

Concerned readers can do their own homework, but the purpose of this email is to propogate an idea that has widespread implications, not only for a possible disease pandemic but any number of widespread catastrophies. Food shortages (now in the news), natural disasters, troubles of human origin either deliberate or accidental, and regional/local events calling for a rapic outside response come to mind.

This story is from Calgary. It's about bird flu, but the implications are much bigger. The moment I saw it I envisioned a trans-denominational network of task-oriented people of faith, crossing doctrinal boundaries to close ranks in the face of possible threats. We hear a lot about "faith initiatives." and this is an excellent example.

Marg Pollon knows her particular spiritual calling can be a lonely road.

Pollon has been urging faith communities in Calgary to make plans to play important, supportive roles in battling any major global pandemic.

But when talk of bird flu or a similar medical threat disappears from the daily headlines for long stretches, such a potential disaster goes out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

"I do feel like Noah sometimes," Pollon says with a smile.

"When I talk about pandemic preparedness, peoples' eyes can glaze over."

But Pollon soldiers on, convinced that Christian churches and their congregations can carry out vital work side-by-side with medical authorities should such a modern plague land on our collective doorsteps.

"It would be a living demonstration that the Christian message is authentic," says Pollon, who runs the Bridges of Love ministry. "My goal has always been to get churches out of their buildings and into their communities."

Pollon is the key organizer of a two-day conference of pandemic preparedness, set for May 14 to 15 at Rocky Mountain College, 4039 Brentwood Rd. N.W.

She's hoping representatives of many city churches will attend to see where their congregation might fit into a master pandemic plan.

"Churches can do a lot more than offer pastoral care and host funerals," Pollon reasons. "If large numbers of people fall ill, who is going to give medications to seniors, deliver food to shut-ins and offer child care when parents are sick?

"Churches already have the internal networks and grassroots connections to their neighbourhoods. Some are set up to host people by being involved in Inn from the Cold. Others have great kitchen systems to prepare food. It's about finding your best niche."

Pollon says a key issue is getting area churches talking to each other to make sure service duplication is limited. And while a pandemic's probability remains low, its impact could be devastating.

"And if it never comes, we will have still built these networks and connections between churches and their communities," says Pollon.

"We've been lucky in Calgary in that we haven't had a lot of emergencies or disasters in recent years. But that doesn't mean it can't happen here."

More information and registration is available online at www.bridges oflove.net or by calling Pollon directly at 263-5683.

A related website is Bridges of Love.

Predictions of the impact that an influenza Pandemic would cause range from two million to over one billion deaths worldwide, over the course of several months. The associated social and economic impact would reach even further. The timing of such an upheaval cannot be predicted but from all predictions it is considered to be very likely in the next five years. This will not be something happening ‘over there’ or ‘to them’. Our families, our churches, our organizations will all be affected, in whatever country or city we live. Governments are taking action and the business sector is also taking this threat very seriously.

How could the local church assist the health authorities and government agencies? Could the church stand in the ‘gap’ and be the shining light in the community? How will the church prepare? How will Christians individually as well as the church body respond?

H5N1 again:

This from The Salt Lake Tribune describes how the Mormon network in that state is prepared to help locally in the event of any widespread need.

Assuming there is enough vaccine to go around, Garrison said there aren't enough clinics or nurses to inject it.

Instead, Garrison's plan calls for training thousands of volunteers to give their neighbors and friends shots at their local churches. The county's 300,000 residents could be vaccinated in one day and expect waits of 10 minutes, said Garrison, who was recently named a Utah Public Health Hero by the Utah Public Health Association.

"We don't want to repeat what happened in New Orleans with Katrina. Everyone learned a great deal about what can happen if you're not prepared," said Garrison, who is on the Davis County Board of Health and lives in Kaysville.

The plan, which can be implemented for other outbreaks and is being copied by other counties, would set up vaccination clinics at local churches. People who don't want to go to a church would go to county facilities.

The county's 64 emergency vaccination centers would each have 188 volunteers with 36 people giving shots at one time. Once the county got word that it was getting the vaccine, the call would go out for volunteers, who would then be trained by the Davis Applied Technology Center, Garrison said.

He has no doubt that enough volunteers will step up.

"We're very well known for volunteerism and wanting to help our neighbors with no regard to their religious affiliation," he said.

Monday, July 28, 2008

TV Might (Not) Cause Autism

Jill Fallon points to a Cornell University study out today.

The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders.
[...]
Studies suggest that American children now watch about four hours of television daily. Before 1980—the first kids-oriented channel, Nickelodeon, dates to 1979—the figure is believed to have been much lower.
[...]
The Cornell study looks at county-by-county growth in cable television access and autism rates in California and Pennsylvania from 1972 to 1989. The researchers find an overall rise in both cable-TV access and autism, but autism diagnoses rose more rapidly in counties where a high percentage of households received cable than in counties with a low percentage of cable-TV homes.
[...]
If television viewing by toddlers is a factor in autism, the parents of afflicted children should not reproach themselves, as there was no warning of this risk. Now there is: The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends against any TV for children under the age of 2. Waldman thinks that until more is known about what triggers autism, families with children under the age of 3 should get them away from the television and keep them away.

Update: A couple of comments left here cast doubt on this study. I don't have the inclination to dig deeper, but do read the comments. I have a hunch that if the data were as compelling as the piece indicates we would have heard more about it.

Monica Goodling via TPM-TV (May, 2007)

This is a repost from Hoot's Wayback Machine. May 23, 2007.
Boring, but timely in light of today's news. The wheels of government turn ever so s-l-o-w-l-y . Lots has happened since this broke. Every time something like this comes along I'm reminded of a line one of my customers said: That whole stinking place is crooked as a bucket of snakes.


►►====O====◄◄

Josh Marshall's blog teevee show summarizes who Monica Goodling is and why she is important.
Saves a ton of reading homework, no?




But she can thread the tiniest needle in response to questions.
Only the most dedicated C-SPAN viewer has the patience to sit through most Congressional hearings. This one is no different.




Any resemblance between this post and the preceding post is strictly coincidental.
I swear.
I only noticed it after I added that second screen.
It is, however, a great juxtaposition of posts, don't you think ?


More links here...

Justice Injustice: Regent Grad Hired Only The ‘Pro-God’ And The ‘Pro-GOP’ At The DOJ

How Pat Robertson's law school is changing America. Last year from Slate. Links to Regent U. no longer work.

Ever wonder why some of us get all scrooched up about that church/state separation thing? One of those librul blind spots, I suppose.

A Word from the Religious Left (More)

Sara Robinson, who is Unitartian, comments on the shooting yesterday in a Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church. A man brought a shotgun, concealed in a guitar case, into the main sanctuary where children were performing and started shooting. Two people were killed and the perpetrator was taken into custody.



Nobody seems to know just yet what motivated the attacker. The information is coming out in drips and drabs as police put it all together, and the congregation retreats into itself to pick up the shattered pieces. As we've always noted here when things like this happen, mental illness will probably figure largely in the story when it finally all comes out. You don't have to be crazy to shoot up a church, but past experience suggests that it definitely helps.

But for those of us who've watched and worried about right-wing crazies for years now, there's the sickening feeling that our worst nightmare may have also come true here. Witnesses say that the man was shouting "hateful things." The FBI is standing by, investigating this as a possible hate crime. It's not out of the question: according to Out & About, a Tennessee gay news site, there was plenty going on at TVUUC for the right kind of right-winger to hate...
[snip]
After 25 years of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric about liberal hunting licenses and scaring us out of our treason and keeping a few of us alive as museum exhibits, it's natural that some of us would jump to the thought that maybe, at long last, somebody finally decided to grab a shotgun and go bag himself some libruls -- and decided (not unreasonably) that down at the local UU church, they'd be as thick on the ground as quail on one of Dick Cheney's private hunting trips.

Whatever the reasons turn out to be, there are at least two lessons I hope y'all take away from today's events.One is that you can bet that the members of this congregation will find a novel way to approach their healing -- and in doing so, they'll set example for the rest of us to watch carefully. If (when) mental illness becomes the issue, they will respond to this man and his family with compassion and justice, because that's the UU way. And if hate turns out to be part of the story, too, then Knoxville, TN is about to have a dialog on hate crime that will leave nobody in town untouched or uninvolved. That's the UU way, too.

The other is that this congregation's cool, brave response shows, once again, that it's past time to drop that old stereotype, and stop underestimating the courage and intelligence of the religious left in America. We've gotten incredibly short shrift over the past few decades -- not only from the religious right, which thinks we're the minions of Satan on earth; but also from fellow progressives, who think that "religious" is a synonym for crazy, dangerous, irrational, and definitely not an asset to the movement.

Secular progressives don't seem to understand that while politics is all about how we're going to make the world better, progressive religion tells us why it's necessary to work for change, and what "better" will look like when we get there. Liberal faith traditions offer the essential metaphors and worldview that everything else derives from -- the frames that give our dreams shape and meaning. It has an invaluable role to play in helping our movement set its values and priorities, understand where we are in the larger scheme, and gauge whether we're succeeding or not.
[...]
And then there's that long, tough history to draw on. The UUs, along with the Congregationalists and Quakers, have been at the beating heart of American liberalism since before the country was founded. We've faced down the ignorant and the arrogant, the terrified and the unreasonable, the cops and the courts and the Congress so many times that it's not even news any more. Civil disobedience is built into our bones (yes, *sigh,* Thoreau was one of ours, too), and we've come to regard it as one of our more important sacraments. These days, it's not only in our defense of gay rights and our gathering fury about torture, but also in our leadership role in the New Sanctuary Movement defending immigrants from ICE raids.

Update before sundown:

Sara's suspicions were correct.

Knoxville Police Department Officer Steve Still requested the search warrant after interviewing Adkisson. who was subdued by several church members after firing three rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun into the congregation.

Adkisson targeted the church, Still wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."

Adkisson told Still that "he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office."

Inside the house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

David Neiwert's followup is excellent.

Student Protest in Iran (Additional material)

Twenty years ago Iran's leaders commenced an official series of mass executions lasting several months so terrible that every anniversary of those events brings the country close to revolution.
Thus far Iran's despotic leadership has averted civil war employing the usual methods of history's tyrants.
These are tense times in Iran.

July 10

This video from Kamran Ashtary, an Iranian blogger working from the Netherlands, shows a measure of civil unrest in Iran that Americans now rarely see. Peaceful demonstrations in 2006 by immigrants wanting to be recognized were bigger and more widespread but far less dangerous to those demonstrating. I have a feeling that taking part in this kind of activity in Iran has more serious consequences than fines or deportation.

Civil rights demonstrations in the Sixties were as close as Americans came to political demonstrations of this magnitude. (Woodstock and the mob behaviors of the later Sixties are categorically different.)

Look long and hard at this clip.
Ask yourself whether a military attack on Iran will help these students in their cause or (instead) inspire large numbers of indifferent or fearful Iranian citizens to close ranks against an outside threat to their country.

I know how protests are seen in this country by everyday people. Most people tend to regard those protesting as a fringe group, possibly dangerous and almost certainly unpatriotic. Only when issues reach a tipping point in favor of what the protest was about do people start to change their minds.

People like these become heroes only in retrospect... and only if they succeed... and don't get killed first.




From a book review of "Iran: A View from Here" by Kamran Ashtary and Tori Egherman. Tori is his American wife.

With Iran so much in the news, it is easy to forget that behind the political intrigues there lies a vast country in which people do their best to live normal lives. In depicting some of the many faces of Iran, Tori and Kamran relate some of their feelings and experiences in Iran, not attempting to gloss over the difficulties and the mixed feelings it evokes. The positives are celebrated – Tori, as an American in Iran, has been met only with welcome and kindness: 'What never ceases to amaze me is how welcoming Iranians are to me, especially once they discover that I am an American,' she says – and the negatives are just as openly discussed: 'There are so many contrasts in this lovely country of ours. Iran will always be a place that I love and that I hate,' says Kamran.

American public knowledge of Iran is virtually non-existent. Most people I know could not find the country on a map of Asia, and would have no idea about Iranian history, religion or culture. Thanks to a drumbeat of fear-mongering from many places here (underscored by a corresponding drumbeat of sabre-rattling from Ahmedi Nezhad and company in Tehran) a growing number of otherwise ignorant Americans are being deliberately led into preparations for yet another military adventure in that part of the world.

My question is this: How many times do we have to make the same mistake?

Here is another link to a post from Mideast Youth from an Iranian expat in Germany, telling about mass executions in Iran in 1988. Events such as these have not been forgotten by everyday people there.

About 20 years ago, from August to September 1988, collective crimes were committed in Iran. As Ayatollah Khomeini drank the “poison chalice” and accepted the humiliation of peace treaty with his arch foe, Saddam Hossein, he calmed down his frustration by ordering the executions of the Iranian political prisoners who were spending their prison terms and some of them must have already be released. Khomeini named execution-commissions, mostly formed from devoted Mullahs, to fulfil his order within all political prisoners in Iran.

The exact numbers of executions of 88 and the conditions of executions have never been revealed by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) or by both the media and factions of the regime. Neither have been the cruel dimensions of these crimes mentioned or reported by IRI’s lobby groups in the West which primordially are defending IRI’s parasitic survival.

Different rates are speculated by both IRI’s deserters and rescuers. It varies from at least 4485 names published in the opposition media up to 30000 executions, as estimated by others.
[...]
The executed were buried in unmarked mass graves on the outskirts of the towns. In Tehran, one mass burial was accidentally discovered by an Armenian priest who had become curious as to why stray dogs kept digging there for bones. Most victims were young sympathisers of the left organisations and MOK. Many of them were arrested in their teens for reading or distributing an opposition pamphlet or a banned newspaper. The executions followed summary trials and soon included all other political prisoners–leftist and democratic opposition. Many were 12 to 14 years old when arrested.
[...]
In the twentieth year of the massacre, we all freedom-loving Iranians along with the families who lost their loved children in summer 88 demand the UN to officially condemn this massacre. It is in the nature of the IRI and obvious evidence that such massacres can repeatedly be committed in Iran as soon as the IRI exists.

The international judicial authorities are requested to summon the murderers of this genocide before an international tribune to be tried. Such a process will not exceed their rights. Such a tribunal is similar to the case of the Nuremberg Court which rightfully brought the Nazi criminals before the justice because of their crimes against humanity.

The students in the clip above being filmed by the authorities are not ignorant of this history. By taking to the streets they are literally risking their lives. A way must be found to protect, encourage and support them in their efforts. Dropping bombs into their country is not the best method.

The student protest in the above clip observes the 1999 student uprising. LINK LINK

July 8th is the anniversary of the student uprising that ended in bloodshed in 1999. Every year students commemorate this day. This year, there is a special commemoration. Iranians inside Iran are organising widespread demonstrations across the country in all major cities (More HERE). The people of Iran need the support of the international community in their uprising against the dictatorial Islamic regime.

Iran Press Service, July 17, 2004

Police forces, plainclothes men belonging to the conservatives-controlled pressure groups and special units of the Intelligence Ministry attacked students who were protesting peacefully in their dormitories the closure of a popular newspaper, setting rooms on fire, beating up students, throwing some of them out from windows killing one, namely Mr. Ezzat Ebrahim Nezhad and wounding score of others.

The attack triggered a wave of daily demonstrations by the students, demanding that “all those who ordered the attack and executed the orders” be identified and tried.
But as the protest movement became more radical and openly anti-regime, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, fearing for the survival of the regime, ordered revolutionary guards to crush the movement “at any cost”.
To the astonishment of the Iranians, President Mohammad Khatami approved the decision, regardless of the fact that he had been elected to the presidency thanks mainly to the massive votes of the students in particular and the young generation in general.


“For Iranian students, 18 Tir is the beginning of a turning point and the start of a process that marks the total lost of confidence to this political system”, Mr. Razavi-Faqih told Mr. Mohammad Reza Shahid, the correspondent in Paris for the Persian service of Voice of America.
“In fact, the brutal and savage attack on the dormitories, the crackdown on the demonstrations and the authorities failing to seriously identifying the attackers resulted in students and the Office for Consolidating Unity (OCU) to reach the conclusion that the attack was aimed at suppressing the students movement and a rampant coup against the wishes of the population for reforms. It also proved that no one can expect justice from this regime and this system, as seen from the case of 18 Tir, leaving no alternative but calling on international organizations, the United Nations and other human rights bodies to put pressure on the Islamic Republic to respect the rights of its citizens”, he added.

He was referring to the letter the OCU, which is the Iranian students largest organization, had sent to Mr. Kofi Annan, United Nations General Secretary, demanding to intervene with Tehran on their behalf and pressing the authorities to identify the authors of the 8 July “massacre”.

Update: July 28

Obama has now finished his trip abroad and returned to the campaign trail. Unfortunately, by advancing the notion of negotiation with Iran's despotic leaders (as opposed to launching a war) he become persona non grata to the Iranian resistance.

This morning's post from Serendip is bitter and heart-rending.

I must congratulate all the appeasers and liberals who still work hand in hand with the despots in Iran. But it is only fair to see some statistics and feel the “Blood money”, and then perhaps there may be some conscience left to react to those who still sing in favor of this regime.

This morning, according to Government controlled media, 29 people, mostly youth, who were arrested during night surges in recent unrests, were hanged by the neck in Tehran.The state-run news agency Mehr quoted the prosecutor general as saying, "The entire legal procedure has been exhausted on their cases at highest levels and they will be hanged."The Irony is that these 29 so called “criminals” were hanged exactly in conjunction with the anniversary of massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 (supporters of the main opposition MKO/PMOI).

Photos of the hangings and descriptions of those being hanged are at the link.

On June 10, the mullahs executed a 17-year-old boy named Mohammad Hassan-Zadeh in the northwestern city of Sanandaj for a crime he had allegedly committed when he was only 14.--According to the rights groups 114 youths face gallows for the crimes allegedly committed when they were minors.

The youngest is a 13-year-old boy named Ahmad Nowroozi sentenced to death by the mullahs' judiciary three years ago in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan.

Eight women and a man are waiting to be stoned to death. Under mullahs' penal codes, an individual sentenced to death by stoning, if a man should be buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her neck. Stones are thrown until the condemned dies.

As I read these accounts and the painful cries like those described here I cannot imagine why anyone would want to be the American president, especially in this time of world-wide political instability that makes the painful conditions in Iran, terrible as they are, one of many open sores all over the world. Burma, Zimbabwe, Sudan and North Korea come to mind.

Hopefully the next president will be more successful than the one we now have as "first among equals," leading the world as well as the United States. It should be clear by now to those in charge that whup-ass is not the most effective of foreign policies. I wish I felt better about the same understanding on the part of the electorate.