Saturday, June 13, 2009

Moral Purity and the U.N.

Americans, concerned about their image as a human rights violator, last November elected Barack Obama to lead us back to righteousness. One of the first things the new President did in order to fulfill his mandate to restore moral purity to American foreign policy was to order the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba because it's important to avoid the very appearance of evil.

Very well, but the case is even stronger for dissociating ourselves not just from the figment of evil, but from the real thing. In this instance the real thing resides at the United Nations.

Here, courtesy of Ed Lasky, are four reasons why the United States should pull out of the U.N.

In elections last Wednesday:

  1. Libya was elected President of the U.N. General Assembly. The Libyan minister for African affairs has been designated for the post.
  2. Sudan has been elected vice president of the General Assembly.
  3. Algeria has been elected chair of the Assembly's Legal Committee, known in the U.N.'s streamlined bureaucracy as the Sixth Committee.
  4. Iran has been elected vice-chair of the Sixth Committee.

Closing Gitmo is a precipitous and foolish idea. The detainees held there were treated better than we treat convicts in many of our prisons in the United States and certainly better than they would be treated were they imprisoned in the countries in which they were captured. The only reason for closing it is symbolic, and it's not even clear what the symbol is.

Pulling out of the U.N., on the other hand, would be an act of genuine moral substance since it has become a haven for thugs and tyrants who are handsomely recompensed for blustering and threatening the free people of the world and accomplishing next to nothing on behalf of those who suffer.


Gravitational Mysteries

There are four fundamental physical forces that operate throughout the universe - the strong nuclear, which holds the atomic nucleus together against the force of repulsion of positively charged protons; the weak nuclear, which mediates radioactive decay; the electromagnetic, which is the force between charged particles and/or magnetic poles; and gravity. Of these four, gravity is by far the weakest being 10 to the 40th power times weaker than the electromagnetic force, which is in turn 100 times weaker than the strong nuclear force (which is why the SNF can hold protons together against the force of their mutual repulsion, at least over very short distances).

Gravity is the force with which we are perhaps most familiar, and yet no one really understands much about it. We can measure it and predict its effects, but when it comes to understanding it scientists are at a loss. It is indeed strange, when we think about it, that an object like the earth can somehow pull another object, like your body, without there being any discernable physical connection between them.

This is, however, just one of the mysterious aspects of gravity. New Scientist has a piece in which they briefly outline current thinking on each of the following questions about gravity:

  1. What is gravity?
  2. Why does gravity only pull?
  3. Why is gravity so weak?
  4. Why is gravity fine-tuned?
  5. Does life need gravity?
  6. Can we counter gravity?
  7. Will we ever have a quantum theory of gravity?

The most interesting to me is #4 but check them all. It's a very interesting article.


Double Standard

As a minority who overcame a difficult childhood to rise to the top of her profession, Sonia Sotomayor has a compelling story, and Republicans who would block her nomination must be animated by the worst sort of motivations. At least that's the narrative we've been hearing, but those who are telling it have very short memories. Colleen Carroll Campbell reminds us of another compelling story:

Eight years before Sonia Sotomayor burst onto the national scene with her hardscrabble life story and bid to become America's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, another judicial nominee almost made history. Honduran immigrant Miguel Estrada was nominated in 2001 to become the first Hispanic on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a post seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

Estrada's rags-to-riches story and sterling resumé had the same star quality as Sotomayor's. Estrada barely spoke English when he arrived in America at age 17, but he wound up graduating with high honors from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, editing the Harvard Law Review and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. After a stint at a prestigious New York law firm, Estrada served as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York and an assistant solicitor general in the Clinton administration. His bid for the federal bench was backed by the left-leaning American Bar Association, which awarded him its highest rating of "well-qualified."

Unlike Sotomayor, however, Estrada never enjoyed fawning press coverage or effusive praise from the liberal activists and politicians who have spent the past week pontificating about the need for ethnic diversity on our nation's highest courts. In fact, many of the same voices gushing about the "empathy" that Sotomayor's Hispanic heritage allows her to bring to bench once raged against Estrada.

The key difference between Sotomayor and Estrada: Estrada is a conservative. Senate Democrats, wary of seeing a Latino Republican nominee advance toward the Supreme Court, spent more than two years blocking his nomination. Although he had the votes to be confirmed, Estrada withdrew his name in 2003 after it became clear that he would not be granted the courtesy of a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

Estrada's case marked the first time a filibuster was used to defeat an appeals court nominee. Yet the hard partisan line taken against Estrada by Senate Democrats was hardly unprecedented.

But Democrats' amnesia on judicial appointees doesn't end with Estrada:

Many of the same Democrats now extolling Sotomayor's underprivileged childhood showed no appreciation for the humble beginnings of conservative judges Clarence Thomas and Janice Rogers Brown, two African-Americans raised by sharecroppers who faced fierce confirmation battles on their way to the bench. And the same liberal activists who warned of a Catholic cabal on the Supreme Court during the confirmation hearings of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito have made nary a peep about Sotomayor's Catholicism, perhaps because they regard her as the "right" kind of Catholic -- one who does not actively practice her faith.

And this doesn't include all of George Bush's other appointees whose nominations languished and died in the Senate because the Democrats didn't want Bush's selections making judicial decisions.

Then there is the total memory loss suffered by the President himself:

President Barack Obama recently called on senators to judge Sotomayor "on the merits" and eschew the "political silliness that has come to surround the Supreme Court." That challenge would carry more weight had Obama himself met it during his Senate tenure. When evaluating Roberts' nomination in 2005, Obama acknowledged that "there is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified" but said he was more concerned about "what is in the judge's heart" than his resume. Citing what he perceived as Roberts' lack of enthusiasm for affirmative action and abortion rights, Obama rejected him.

The President's calls to eschew petty partisan fights over judicial nominees are risible, given his and his party's history of doing exactly that, but, even so, Republicans shouldn't follow the Democrat example. They should consider Ms Sotomayor on her merits, not on the basis of who nominated her. If she's qualified they should confirm her, but if it turns out that she's not the shining star the administration is making her out to be, Republicans should firmly oppose her.

That's how grown up statesmen behave.

Thanks to Jason for the link.