Video of the day

Loved this video of what languages sound like to foreigners.  Once this young woman speaks in English, you realize just what she’s up to in all ther other languages and it’s pretty awesome.

Failure to rehabilitate

Sometimes, you really just can’t beat good satire to make a point.  Brilliant piece in the Onion:

15 Years In Environment Of Constant Fear Somehow Fails To Rehabilitate Prisoner

WOODBOURNE, NY—Reportedly left dumbfounded by the news that recent parolee Terry Raney had been reincarcerated on charges of assault and battery, officials at Woodbourne Correctional Facility struggled Tuesday to make sense of how the prisoner had not been rehabilitated by 15 years of constant threats, physical abuse, and periodic isolation. “It just doesn’t seem possible that an inmate could live for a decade and a half in a completely dehumanizing environment in which violent felons were constantly on the verge of attacking or even killing him and not emerge an emotionally stable, productive member of society,” said chief warden Albert Gunderson, who noted that, as hard as it was to believe, Raney’s recidivism proved that his criminal impulses had not in fact been corrected by the sense of grave distrust he felt toward every other person in the facility, including both fellow inmates and prison authorities, every day since 1999. “We surrounded him with a combustible mix of rival gangs and made sure that he was consumed by a round-the-clock sense of terror that the slightest misstep on his part could result in a sharpened piece of scrap metal being shoved into his neck, and yet he still leaves this facility with the same criminal thoughts and violent mindset as before? I’m truly at a loss for how this could have happened.” Gunderson then noted his additional confusion at how the man’s criminal record and the social stigma of his prison sentence had somehow failed to land him a steady job immediately upon his release.


The Senate vote to reject Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division yesterday was simply shameful.  Adegble’s sin for which he was denied (despite being supremely qualified)?  Representing an appeal on racial grounds for Black man convicted of killing a cop.  Oh, and the appeal was upheld.  Suffice it to say, that I’m not fan of cop killers, but I’m pretty sure they deserve the same rights to due process of law and equal protection as anybody else.  Much to their disgrace, the Fraternal Order of Police does not agree and their heavy lobbying got seven spineless Democratic Senators to cave.  Presumably the Republicans would have voted against most anybody for the position who had, you know, worked for Civil Rights.  Great piece from Dahlia Lithwick:

Adegbile’s cardinal sin? He worked on a Legal Defense Fund appeal (that the NAACP had already been involved in before he took the position) contending that there was racial discrimination in Abu-Jamal’s trial and then, later, on a brief arguing that the jury instructions in Abu-Jamal’s trial were constitutionally improper. This was a contention thatprevailed in a federal appeals court. Later the LDF represented Abu-Jamal in a Supreme Court case when prosecutors sought to reinstate his death sentence.

To be clear, then: Adegbile was not himself a cop-killer. He didn’t help a cop-killer get off and roam free with false claims of innocence. What he did do—which fits pretty readily within the historic mandate of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund—was to help ensure that the American criminal justice system, and especially the death penalty, is administered fairly and constitutionally. As a representative of anorganization that is institutionally dedicated to ensuring that justice is administered fairly, he fought for fairness and (totally unfair!) judges agreed that unfairness occurred…

The right-wing smear squad raced to label Adegbile a “cop-killer’s coddler,” or a “pro-criminal cop-killer.” Not unrelatedly, his other sin? Adegbile argued the Voting Rights cases at the Supreme Court, the ones making the radical argument that racial bias still exists in some voting schemes. I guess legal advocacy is just always wrong if it’s done by the NAACP…

And so the claim that Abu-Jamal deserved to be spared the death penalty because of an injustice perpetrated in his trial is converted to a liberal party trick, a scam that conflates rooting out legal injustice with lionizing and celebrating killing. Civil rights advocacy is cast as an act of grotesque political and legal fraud. And the notion that the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division should have ever fought for civil rights has now become disqualifying…

But the campaign to discredit Adegbile isn’t just a referendum on what discrimination means today in America and how we’re permitted to correct it.  It’s also a referendum on the most basic premise of any functioning legal system: that even the guilty deserve representation and that the justice system cannot operate if we don’t work to correct systemic injustice. [emphasis mine]

And this paragraph with historical context is awesome:

But as of today, you are as guilty as your guiltiest client, and your representation of that client—especially if it is both zealous and successful—is now disqualifying as well. Cop-killers deserve no lawyers and their lawyers deserve no role in government service. It’s not hard to imagine the scorching Fox News headlines, under the new standards set forth by the Judiciary Committee today: “John Adams Frees Vicious Patriot-Killer in Boston Massacre.” “John Roberts Unsuccessfully Defends Serial Killer in Florida!” “Anarchist-Loving Felix Frankfurter Advocates for Sacco and Vanzetti!” Clarence Darrow! Lover of Killers, Monkeys, and Commies; Disgrace to Legal Profession!.” “Murderer-Coddler John Paul Stevens disqualified from Supreme Court at 80!

Also some great commentary from the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen:

1. Willie Horton never really went away: We will never know whether and to what extent Wednesday’s vote would have been different—and whether the entire debate over his qualifications would have been different—if Adegbile were white and had a name that everyone could easily pronounce. But we know precisely how his opponents in and out of office used his race and his name against him.

Remember this the next time Hatch, lion of the Judiciary Committee, unleashes one of his epic riffs about the majesty of the Constitution and the rule of law and the need to put aside “political expediency” in the name of neutral principles. Today’s vote will chill the work of every public-minded attorney who thinks she may one day want to become a public servant. That’s a tragedy that transcends the Adegbile nomination…

2. Anyone you represent can and will be used against you: The Adegbile vote also reveals that it is now acceptable in politics to blame a lawyer for the clients he represented in the past—not just the clients he represented personally, but also those that his organization had long represented before the lawyer joined up. And not just in a hopeless case in which frivolous claims are made, but in a close case in which a conservative federal appeals court ultimately endorses the lawyer’s views…

But the irony is dense. The Senate’s rejection of Adegbile, in the fashion in which it occurred, demonstrates how much work is left to do on civil rights in America. In a month, Debo Adegbile went from being a man poised to fight against America’s deep racial divide to being a victim of that divide. There have been worse days in the recent history of the Senate, but few that I can remember.

Some other great posts on the topic here, here, and here.

Honestly, I find episodes like this just utterly depressing for what they suggest about the state of our democracy.  Truly shameful.




Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s photos of the day, earlier this week:

Marcelle Fressineau's team heads down the trail toward Nome during the official restart of the Iditarod dog sled race in Willow, Alaska
Marcelle Fressineau’s team heads down the trail toward Nome during the official restart of the Iditarod dog sled race in Willow, AlaskaPicture: NATHANIEL WILDER/REUTERS

Ukraine is all Obama’s fault!

I just had my class read former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ The Parties vs. the People.  And while I think Edwards goes to far in his critique of the parties and partisanship, the Republican’s absurdist and knee-jerk response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine has me admitting that Edwards is certainly onto something.  I’ve read a number of posts, etc., so far on this point, but Kristof’s is definitely the best I’ve seen:

Shrewd reporting about the Ukraine crisis comes from The Onion, which declared that American reaction is evenly divided — between the “wholly indifferent” and the “grossly misinformed.”

In the latter category, it seems, belong the chest-thumpers who blame the Crimea catastrophe on President Obama.

“We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression,” scolded Senator Lindsey Graham (revealing his own weakness: grammar). “President Obama needs to do something!”

Likewise, Senator John McCain complains that Obama’s foreign policy is “feckless,” so that “nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”

Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, worries that Russia is “running circles around us.” The Washington Post warns in a stinging editorial that “President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy.” The Wall Street Journal cautions that the basic problem is “Obama’s retreat from global leadership.”

Oh, come on! The villain here is named Putin, not Obama, and we should have learned to feel nervous when hawks jump up and down and say “do something!” We tried that in Iraq. When there are no good options, a flexing of muscles by NATO or by American warships in the Black Sea would only reinforce President Vladimir Putin’s narrative to his home audience while raising the risk of conflict by accident or miscalculation.

I love this point:

The basic constraint is that there are more problems in international relations than solutions. [emphasis mine]

And some nice historical context:

The critics I cite often rely on two fallacies: first, that Putin is driven by Obama’s weakness; second, that the seizure of Crimea is a great win for Russia.

The Soviet Union didn’t invade Hungary because of President Eisenhower’s weakness, nor Czechoslovakia because of President Johnson’s weakness. Russia didn’t help dismember Moldova because of George H.W. Bush’s weakness or invade Georgia because of George W. Bush’s.

We don’t have much leverage because Putin cares far more about Ukraine than he does about being in the G-8. So, by all means, let’s raise the cost of aggression with banking sanctions (which proved most effective against North Korea and Iran), but let’s also recognize that, in the long run, it’s Putin who has stumbled here.

Russia has just driven Ukraine into the West’s orbit and acquired a long-term headache.

I’m far from an expert on international diplomacy or Russian domestic politics, but it takes only the most cursory reading to understand 1) no matter how much the Republicans complain, this is overwhelmingly about Putin and Russia, not Obama; and 2) no matter what, there’s just not a hell of a lot we can do; 3) we are actually doing what we can.  Hard to imagine any American president– Republican or Democrat– handling this much differently and to pretend otherwise is just naked and stupid partisanship.  The stuff we can do?  We’re doing it!  And Republicans are just shamefully pretending otherwise.  I’ll conclude with the conclusion of EJ Dionne’s column on the matter:

There’s also this. A remarkably broad cross-party consensus has quickly coalesced around two propositions: the first, that we will not commit U.S. military forces in this crisis, but secondly, we should use every realistic form of pressure at our disposal to contain and then reverse Putin’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Must we pretend to disagree even when we agree?

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