Posted on 30-09-2010
Filed Under (Politics, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Christine O’Donnell is the gift that keeps on giving.  I am still puzzled by how she became a media personality.  It is probably the result of having an attractive visage that spouts outrageous stuff (click here for an entertaining and disturbing compendium). She does not seem to have any career accomplishments that would justify make her the latest loopy darling of the tea party.  Her employment the last few years was being a professional (losing) candidate in Delaware with recent mortgage troubles.

She is also the latest sanctimonious politician who does not live up to the morals she repeatedly and vehmently insists that she espouses.  A decade ago she went on Bill Maher’s show to give an extended performance on the need for morals and truth in public life and how “telling the truth is always the right thing to do.”  This applied even if the Nazis were at the door hunting for Jews because “God would provide a way to do the right thing righteously.”

Pity that the O’Donnell moral code does not seem to apply to her, or perhaps there is a “resume exception” to moral absolutes.

As a quick overview, she appears to have

  • misrepresented being a college graduate.  She finally received her degree in past month after settling outstanding tuition and taking an additional course.
  • sued an employer for lost income for (along with other harassment claims) preventing her from pursuing a graduate degree at Princeton, even though she appears to only have audited some undergraduate courses.
  • lied about attending Oxford University when she only attended a Phoenix Institute course at space rented from Oxford.
  • lied about attending Claremont Graduate University (would have been difficult without her college degree), but instead attended a conservative think tank, the Claremont Institute.  It does not appear to have been “graduate” course work either.
  • tried to weasel out after being caught by blaming unidentified opponents for posting the fake LinkedIn profile from which the information above was retrieved .  Given that she included Oxford University on another online resume (which was verified by her), this appears to be another lie.  She also lied about Oxford in her application to the Claremont Institute.  It must be noted that this is not the first paranoid claim about unidentified opponents.

Sounds like she needs to get back on Hannity to whitewash these claims or perhaps claim in Palinesque fashion that catching her lying infringes on her first amendment rights.  As Ben Adler notes with some amusement, it may be time for right wing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh whose attacked Barack Obama and Elena Kagan as elitists because they (legitimately) attended Ivy League schools to attack her for being an out of touch coastal cosmopolitan.  Its a shame that this unaccomplished insecure fibber has a punchers chance of becoming the United States Senator from Delaware.

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Posted on 30-09-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, History, India, Religion) by Rashtrakut

One Hundred and Forty Seven years after the dispute began, the Allahabad High Court rendered a Solomonic verdict designed to end a dispute that rocked and changed Indian politics over the last 25 years.  The court appears to have formalized the solution implemented by the British when riots first broke out over the controversial Babri Masjid.

The mosque was built on the orders of the first Mughal Emperor Babur on the site of either an old or existing Hindu temple that Hindus believed marked the birthplace of one of their prominent deities Ram.  The original British solution was to give both sides access to the site for worship.  Ninety years after the first attempt at a Solomonic compromise the issue flared up again in 1949 when idols were smuggled into the mosque  resulting in Indian government sealing the site.  The dispute picked up steam in 1984 and burst into Indian national consciousness when the Bharatiya Janata Party seized the issue to highlight simmering grievances of the Hindu majority.  The mosque was destroyed by a mob in 1992 resulting in riots across India.

Today’s decision split the site among three litigants (2 Hindu and 1 Muslim) and dismissed a couple of other cases.  The Sunni Waqf Board (which recieved the Muslim portion) has indicated it will appeal.  Given the political consensus rallying around this verdict it is likely that the Indian Supreme Court will uphold the decision.  With the troubled Commonwealth Games about to start, the Indian government must be breathing a sigh of relief at the calm that has greeted the verdict.  Oddly enough the street protests are occurring in neighboring Pakistan whose militants will add this to their litany of perceived grievances at the hands of India.

I am not surprised by the verdict.  It was the only way to resolve an intractable dispute.  But splitting the baby is not the solution for all such disputes in India in the future.  The Babri Masjid was not the only mosque built on the ruins of a Hindu temple.  However, the length of the dispute, the fact that the rights of Hindus to worship on the site had essentially been conceded in 1859, and the mosque being unused since 1949 were all special circumstances that made this verdict possible.  This will not be the case in other disputes.  At some point there has to be a statute of limitations for resolving medieval wrongs.  Hopefully with this verdict the statute has now run out.

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Posted on 30-09-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

I am not been a fan of Justice Scalia’s originalist theory that the United States Constitution must be interpreted according to the mores in effect when written e.g. cruel and unusual punishment is based on the standards in effect when the Bill of Rights was passed.  There does not appear to be much evidence that the founders intended to create a society whose mores were petrified thru time.  Oddly enough Scalia does not apply these principles to the interpretation of statutes.  There he ignores the legislative history underlying the statute and relies on the plain language.

I prefer the latter approach for the interpretation of statutes and the constitution.  Statutes and constitutional provisions often have unexpected consequences.  The burden should be on drafters to legislate exactly what they mean.  Relying on the plain language of the statute or constitutional provision obviates the need to play historical detective.  It is not always possible to reach a consensus regarding the intent of legislation created as a result of political compromise.  A plain text approach allows common sense to prevail (assuming that the provision is not loosely and broadly drafted) when language written 200 years ago has to be adapted to modern technologies or evolved social mores – e.g. when the bill of rights banned unreasonable searches the founders could not have imagined modern eavesdropping technology.

Interestingly there was a recent regime that used a version of Scalia’s originalist theory.  The Taliban regime in Afghanistan purported to implement Sharia law as supposedly practiced by the prophet Mohammed in the early seventh century.  Legal provisions that were progressive in 622 A.D. (guaranteeing any inheritance to daughters was not the legal norm back then) seemed archaic in the 1990s (the daughter did not receive an equal share).  Of course a fundamental difference with the ossified Taliban state is that the Quran and Hadith cannot be amended.  Even though there have only been 18 amendments in the 219 years following the Bill of Rights it is possible to crack Scalia’s petrified constitution.

Which brings up the subject matter of this post.  Fresh off his controversial trip to Washington, comedian Stephen Colbert takes Scalia’s viewpoint down the slippery slope.  Enjoy.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Original Spin
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

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Posted on 28-09-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

A bunch of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea seem unlikely candidates for a diplomatic showdown between China and Japan.  But the combustible mix of oil and natural gas reserves and aggressive nationalism egged on by Beijing to hide the regime’s ideological bankruptcy gives you a diplomatic explosion.  It also causes sleepless nights in Washington and other capitals concerned with managing the rise of China.  While this current spat seems to have been resolved, China’s aggressive adoption of imperial hauteur is ringing alarm bells across the Pacific Rim.

This blog has (before its unexpectedly long summer hiatus) noted China’s tensions with India.  China has also made (sometimes tenuous) claims to a bunch of islands in the South China Sea (which contain oil reserves) leading to tensions with Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.  This summer it essentially claimed exclusive rights to the Yellow Sea by objecting to a joint US-South Korean naval exercise aimed at North Korea.  Seoul is already peeved with China giving the rogue regime in Pyongyang diplomatic cover.  The recent saber rattling adds to the general alarm.

The last 20 years have seen the spectacular rise of China, largely by avoiding the type of spats that epitomized its foreign policy in the 60s and 70s.  But the result of its abandonment of Deng’s cautious foreign policy has been to force the Asian countries into Uncle Sam’s far more benign embrace.  So while China asks outsiders (i.e. Washington) not to meddle and tries to take down the Asian minnows one by one, America is reengaging in a region it had ignored amidst the distractions of Iraq and Afghanistan and so far has ignored Beijing’s bluster.  With North Korea in the midst of another dynastic succession and behaving more erratically than ever it is about time.

The effects of China’s policy also highlight the lack of wisdom in the muscular unilateral foreign policy that the neo-cons advocated during George Bush’s first term.  A great power that throws its weight around on every single issue soon finds that it is left with few friends.  While Beijing has cultivated clients among the world’s rogue gallery, it finds itself with very few friends in its backyard (other than the millstones North Korea and Pakistan).

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The facts are disturbing.  A plainclothes police officer pulls over a motercyclist for speeding on an interstate highway by waving a gun before producing any identification.  The motorcyclist captured the incident on tape with a camera in his helmet and posted the video on YouTube.  And remarkably the prosecutors throw the book at the motorcylist for having the temerity to record a public official in a public space, using wiretap laws intended to protect individual privacy.

Anthony Graber faced 16 years in prison for recording a public act while plainclothes officer Uhler’s irresponsibility in drawing his gun without producing any identification was defended as “appropriate” because the gun was never pointed at Graber.  The double standard on privacy does not seem to have bothered police or prosecutors.  Law enforcement regularly and aggressively challenges the rights of defendants to privacy, sometimes in their own home.  But these standards evidently did not apply to the men wearing the badge.

The last decade has seen a steady erosion of civil liberties.  However, today common sense won out.  Today Judge Emory A. Pitt, Jr. dismissed charges against Graber noting that “[T]hose of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. ‘Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes’ (“Who watches the watchmen?”).”  The judge dismissed the expectations of privacy by noting that the acts “took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable.”

The good judge also noted that the prosecution’s interpretation of the video camera on Graber’s helmet as a “device primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of oral communications” would make “almost every cell phone, Blackberry, and every similar device, not to mention dictation equipment and other types of recording devices” illegal.

So Graber walks free and Maryland’s effort to prevent private videotapes of the sort that exposed the Rodney King beating falls short for now.  In an age where President Obama invokes state secrets to reserve to right to assassinate an (admittedly vile) US citizen, it is a rare victory for liberty and common sense.

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