Wasted Democracy

So, Elaine Marshall defeated Cal Cunningham in the run-off primary for the Democratic nomination for the US Senate seat to take on Richard Burr.  I voted for Cal in the original primary because the DSCC was behind him, and I figured that was good enough.  He finished 9 points behind Marshall, who had a plurality but not the 40% necessary to avoid a run-off.  If only Cal had conceded then, he could have avoided a very decisive 60-40 loss tonight, saved a lot of people time and effort, and allowed Marshall to put her resources towards defeating Richard Burr rather than him.  I don’t really blame Cal much on this– the type of person to run for Senate is not generally the type to concede without a run-off.  Mostly, I just think it’s a shame.

Today, I actually switched my vote to Marshall because the more I saw of Cal, the more he struck me as nothing more than a pretty face.  Marshall doesn’t inspire me at all, but I sense some more depth there.  I think the biggest factor in my switch was Cunningham’s attack on Marshall for having the temerity to suggest we might want to raise the retirement age for social security.  Damn right we should raise this– we have a long term structural deficit to worry about.   Naturally, Marshall backed off and emphasized the “study this” bit, but Cunningham’s suggestion that we cannot even talk about such things really bothered me.

The other reason for the title of my post was this whole stupid run-off anyway.  I get that you want candidates who have a sizable amount of support, be it 40% or 50%, but there’s a much simpler way– instant run-off voting.  Simply allow voters to rank the candidates the first and only time the go to the polls for an election.   It’s ridiculous and wasteful to go through this whole campaign so that when I showed up at my precinct at 7p tonight, I was voter number 40.  As you know, I’m not big fan of the typical voter, but if people get used to instant run-off and ranking preferences, they can surely handle it as well as the current system and save a lot of time, effort, and money in the process.

Soccer rant (part deux– it’s the accountability)

Sunday’s soccer games demonstrated all that is wrong with soccer.  You had an Italian team who’s main strategy seemed to be to fall to the ground any time an opponent came near in the hopes of earning a free kick.  Meanwhile, a Brazilian player, Kaka (I really think he ought to rethink that name), was red-carded after a mild elbow to the opponent’s was greeted by the opponent violently throwing his head back and grabbing his face.  The referee was totally fooled and Kaka was booted from the game.

Soccer does not need instant replay during the game– there’s just far too many quick, subjective calls– it would ruin the flow.  Nonetheless, video review after the game would make a huge difference.  Imagine if Kaka’s red card could be revoked (thus he’s allowed to play in the next game) and the absurd actor actually received a red card and multiple game suspension.  Sure, there’s times when its questionable, but so much of the time players are taking completely obvious dives and faking injuries simply because they get away with it and there’s almost no accountability (they do risk a yellow card during the game).  If players knew that their actions were liable for video review after the game and possible sanction, this would dramatically cut down on all the pathetic acting and pretending that is such a black mark on soccer.

Supporting terrorism

The Supreme Court made a very interesting ruling yesterday on terrorism upholding a law that allows entirely peaceful advice and support to terrorist organizations.

The court ruled 6 to 3 that Congress and the executive branch had legitimate reasons for barring “material support” to foreign organizations deemed to be terrorists in the USA Patriot Act…

The aid groups that challenged the law had trained a Kurdish group in Turkey on how to bring human rights complaints to the United Nations and assisted them in peace negotiations. They suspended the activities when the U.S. designated the Kurdish organization, known as the PKK, a terrorist group in 1997. The groups wanted to give similar help to a group in Sri Lanka, but it also was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1997…

It is easy to see how money is “fungible,” Roberts wrote; funds used for humanitarian aid to the groups could free up money that could be used for violent ends.

I think that’s a pretty slippery slope to get into.  If I buy a vicious drug dealer lunch, it frees up more of his money to spend on guns and drugs.   Over at Balkinization, Mark Graber has a nice extended riff on this point:

The Supreme Court has decided that making speech cheaper increases investment in violence. Chief Justice Roberts in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project claimed that non-profit groups that instructed terrorist organizations on how to pursue goals peacefully enabled those organizations to divert more of their resources to terrorist activities. This is a remarkable perversion of traditional free speech doctrine. Conventional First Amendment wisdom treats speech as a preferred substitute for violence. Policies that make speech cheaper (i.e., not punishing speakers) supposedly make individuals and groups more likely to speak than maim. The Roberts Court apparently disagrees. A 6-3 majority thinks human rights organizations that provide material assistance to humanitarian activities sponsored by terrorist organizations permit those terrorists to shift more of their scarce resources into murderous activities. Apparently the justices believe terrorists organizations operate on fixed budgetary constraints. Fifty percent for bombs; fifty percent to feed the starving. If this view is correct, then by providing a terrorist organization with material to make bombs, I would cause that group to shift more of their existing budget into humanitarian activities.

In all fairness, this is no easy case and there are a lot of difficult issues to balance here, but I do think it sets up some potentially pernicious precedents.  I also found it notable that the majority opinion keeps on insisting how narrow the law actually is, despite the use of very vague language “material support” in the law.   It strikes me as only a matter of time before the law is used to clearly infringe on free speech and I suppose the Court can revisit it then.  Though, generally if a law is clearly “overbroad” and can be used to constrain Constitutionally protected activities it will be struck down.  As written, the present law strikes me as overbroad, but the Court clearly disagrees.  On the positive side, their opinion clearly tries to place limits on the pure restrictions of speech that would make this overbroad.  Still, it does seem perhaps only a matter of time before someone is arrested for “support” of Al Qaeda along the lines of “I think Al Qaeda is great” which seems to be a dangerous infringement of 1st amendment rights.

Muslim swimwear

So, we were having a nice family time at the pool on Sunday, when into the pool came a little girl, no more than 10, dressed like this:

I’ve got to say, it really bothered both me and Kim.  Especially because her little brother was in a totally ordinary swimsuit showing plenty of skin.  I honestly think this over-modesty think is horribly offensive to both women and men (though, at least men are not expected to be covered head to toe on sunny 95 degree days). It suggests that not only should a woman, or even little girl, be allowed to show any skin at all, but that somehow men cannot be trusted to not fall prey to lust should we see a woman’s shins, knees, or elbows.  This is not about religion, but culture, and I truly resent a culture which places the oppression of women so front and center.

I brought this up in class today, and we had a really good decision.  Of course, a lot of this discussion was about the degree to which it is a woman’s choice to dress like this (clearly not, in the case of a 10 year old). Today’s Dear Prudence in Slate, actually gets right to this issue:

Q. To Wear or Not To Wear: I am a young woman in my early 20s, and I am Muslim. For over 10 years, I chose to wear a scarf on my head, but the problem is I don’t want to wear it anymore. I started wearing it on my own because I believed in it, but for several years now I have been reconsidering. I wish I could just take it off, but I have several problems: One, my family is very religious and would freak out if I did. (I tried to bring up the subject once with them and they reacted very badly.)…Two, should I take it off, I live in a small, tight-knit Muslim community, which would talk endlessly about it, and it would “ruin” my family’s reputation, as it were. At the moment they are held in high regard in the community, and particularly my dad, who is seen somewhat as a religious leader. I don’t want to shame my family in this way, nor alienate myself from them, which I know would happen if I took it off, because I am very close with them. What should I do?

Clearly, it is really not this young woman’s free choice to be wearing the head scarf right now.  I love Prudie’s response:

A: Thank you for this fascinating insight into one woman’s struggle. Non-Muslims are constantly hearing that wearing the hijab is a matter of choice and covering or not covering should be up to the individual woman. But in your case, it’s not really a choice, is it, if uncovering will mean shame to your family and your being ostracized from them? [emphasis mine]

I certainly don’t think it is the place of the government to outlaw it, as in France, but I sure don’t have to like it.  I see people dressed like this and I see the oppression of women.  Period.

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