Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Future of the Nation

The Washington Post has a fascinating article on the so-called "Children's Parliament" of the Congo, an institution which makes my old Student Congress days seem like the mere extra-curricular that it was. Congo's civil service is in shambles, with untrained bureaucrats, a barely-existent infrastructure, no money to pay employees, and rampant corruption. So, in some areas of the country, local officials, in concert with the UN, have organized area teenagers into a "parliament" (really more of a quasi-judiciary) to help administer justice.
With government institutions, including the courts, hobbled by decades of corruption and neglect, one of the few bodies still reliably administering justice is a parliament run by, and mostly for, children.

Launched in 2002, the U.N. initiative has since taken on a life of its own, with 150 members and little day-to-day adult supervision.

One recent Friday, there were no adults in sight except those pleading for help from the children. The parliament's officers took a break from a busy schedule -- lobbying to free children from prison that morning, four cases in the afternoon -- to discuss their work.

"Mostly children bring cases here," said Arthur Omar Kayumba, 16, seated at a desk on which a folded piece of paper read "Vice-President."

"Sometimes they are accusing their parents of not taking care of them, or women are accusing their husbands of not supporting the children," he said. "Since January, we've had more than 105 cases."

The teenagers are elected by their peers, hear cases, negotiate with local officials, and issue decisions. The teenagers can't enforce laws on their own, but they can contact police forces, and even without formal authority they bring to bear a surprising amount of moral suasion. With access to resources and local radio stations, they host debates on a wide array of topics, such as gender discrimination. And many dream of a career in politics, to continue their work of rebuilding the strife-ridden nation.

The article notes that, in the Congo, children "grow up fast." Too many are forced to join militias, others are child laborers. In such a context, it is heartening that some children are "growing up", even if fast, by learning how to become civic leaders and statesman, not soldiers.


The Ames Iowa Straw Poll is today--a big event for the Republican Presidential field. Mitt Romney is the only top-tier candidate participating, which means two things: 1) He needs to win big unless he wants some serious questions to be asked about his campaign, and 2) the real excitement is on who places second and thus immediately moves into discussion about whether he should become part of the top-tier conversation.

Ron Paul, surprisingly enough, is one of the people who may very well make a splash at Ames. According to The Fix, he's got a fanatical base of supporters at the poll, and his speech apparently was very well-received. Here was my favorite part:
Paul urged that Roe v. Wade be overturned, proposed the elimination of the departments of Energy and Education and argued that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "could have been prevented if we had had a lot more respect for the Second Amendment."

Reduced gun control could have stopped 9/11? Really? Is Ron Paul really fantasizing about a shootout on Flight 93? Because I can't think of another way that statement even makes a remote amount of sense. I do recall a Washington Post after the attacks examining how easy it would be for terrorists bearing certain types of arms (specifically, shoulder mounted surface-to-air missiles) to stake out terrain outside of an airport and shoot down an incoming or departing flight. But I don't think that's what Paul had in mind.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Auditing" as Fundraising

This very well might be legal, but that doesn't make it any less creepy:
What 83 year-old William Sidwell of Queen City, Missouri found in his mailbox last week scared him. It was a letter from the Republican National Committee, but it seemed to bear grave news: "Our records show that you registered as a member of our Party in Schuyler County, MO," the letter said. "But a recent audit of your Party affiliation turned up some irregularities."

Audit? Irregularities? Was he in trouble? Were they threatening him?....

The letter, it turns out, is just a misleading pitch for a contribution to the RNC -- one of the "irregularities" cited in the letter is that "I cannot find a record of you taking a single action in support of the Republican Party -- not locally, not nationally!" A contribution, the letter suggests, would help set the record straight.

You can view the whole letter here. Again, the consensus seems to be that the letter is legal (if somewhat misleading), and most people reading the letter probably will see through it without much trouble. But still, there are undoubtedly some people (especially elderly people) who might be confused or scared, and its certainly a pretty underhanded tactic.

Fork in the Road

Consider the following statement: "In North Carolina a disproportionate share of the prosecutions for racial motivation prosecutions have been of Black people." [From Jerome McCristal Culp, Jr., The Michael Jackson Pill: Equality, Race, and Culture, 92 Mich. L. Rev. 2613, 2623 (1994)]. The reference is to "penalty enhancements" for having a racial motivation when committing a crime. This article is from 1994, so the fact is not necessarily accurate anymore, but it's useful for a thought experiment.

Now, imagine two separate deployments of this fact.

1) "Sure, we've added laws that protect against discrimination and racially-motivated crimes. But they are not actually enforced to protect minorities. In fact, in North Carolina, a large proportion of the racial motivation prosecutions have been filed against Black people!"

2) "You love to lecture us on how much racism there is against Black. But the truth is, White people have made loads of progress, while nobody talks about Black racism against Whites, which is now probably the bigger problem. Indeed, in North Carolina, where you'd expect there to be lots of anti-Black racism, its actually Blacks who are being charged with a disproportionate share of racially motivated crimes."

The same evidence can be used to support two opposite conclusions. The surplus of prosecutions against Black people for racially motivated crimes in North Carolina can be enlisted either to show that the laws aren't being enforced fairly or that Black racism against Whites is a bigger problem. It all depends on the assumptions you make. This is why throwing facts around without context is a fool's game in these sorts of debates. Facts only have meaning within the social contexts they swim in. How you perceive those waters will greatly influence how you perceive the facts.

Socialized Medicine?

Apparently, Hillary Clinton drilled a questioner at the National Association of Black Journalists Presidential Forum who accused her of supporting "socialized medicine."

Good for her. I like it when our candidates have some spunk and fight in them. And ending the charade that "social progress is socialism" (to paraphrase Earl Warren) is important generally, and in the health care debate specifically.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Maybe in Florida

Commenting on the incredibly strange case of Florida State Senator Bob Allen (R)--arrested for offering $20 to an undercover cop to give him a blowjob--Christopher Bracey accurately characterizes his defense as "I'm not gay, I'm a racist!" You see, Allen claims that he was intimidated by the officer, and stated that "This was a pretty stocky black guy, and there was nothing but other black guys around in the park." Allen then said he feared he "was about to be a statistic." So naturally, he offered oral sex, because as all of us know, even the biggest of Black men can be placated by the offer of a blow job.

Bracey finds it a bit odd that Allen would seem to prefer being labeled "racist" as opposed to gay. He speculates that Allen's support for a variety of anti-gay and "pro-family" legislation has made him particularly defensive on the issue. Even still, my intuition would be that American's are more likely to express distaste for racists than gay people. Maybe Allen is banking on the fact that the racist label never seems to stick to anybody for long.

In any event, a very weird story.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Boxing Blogging: 8/8/07

Tonight's Wednesday Night Fight card was absolutely wild, with all four televised fights making for excellent action (and a combined seven knockdowns). The network executives must be breathing a sigh of relief, because the original headliner, O'Neill Bell, dropped out unexpectedly, forcing a showcase fight for prospect "Mean" Joe Greene to the top billing.

Jose Hernandez (7-1, 2 KOs) UD6 Noe Bolanos (11-2, 6 KOs)
60-53, 60-53, 60-53

This was the last fight televised, but it gets mentioned first because it was the least interesting. That's not a knock--Hernandez scored a big knockdown in round one, and continued to land all throughout the fight with looping hooks and digging body shots. Even though he was over-matched against a taller, stronger opponent, Bolanos showed a big heart, landing some shots of his own, never not throwing back, and hanging around with a fighter who could beat him on the inside and outside. Both fighters were coming off their first career loss, but Hernandez was the one who bounced back. I'd also say he has deceptive power for someone with only two knockouts.

Luis Hernandez (8-0, 7 KOs) TKO2 Jesus Chabon (10-1, 7 KOs)

Jose Hernandez's brother opened up the evening, fighting for just the second time after taking a five year layoff to recover from a car accident. Facing fellow undefeated fighter Chabon, the two fighters went to war. After a non-descript opening round, round two was absolutely wild. Hernandez knocked down Chabon, and had him hurt enough so that he was forced to grab onto Hernandez, prompting a point deduction. But then Chabon caught Hernandez looking to finish the show, putting Hernandez down to the canvas himself. No matter. Hernandez rose to knock down Chabon for a second time, and though he made it to his feet, Chabon was wobbly and the ref called it off. I almost wanted him to get through the round just to see how you score it--I guess 10-7, Hernandez? In any event, Hernandez's power came through in his biggest test to date, and even with the five year lay off, he's only 24. He could be someone to watch.

Francisco Palacios (12-0, 6 KOs) TKO7 Louis Azille (19-4-2, 15 KOs)

Azille was originally scheduled to be in the main event against O'Neill Bell. But when Bell withdrew, Palacios was brought in on five days notice and the fight was moved to the undercard. Palacios is kind of a weird story--he has a stellar amateur background, but has fought only sporadically as pro--this was his 12th fight and he's already 30 years old. Azille, meanwhile, was a former title challenger whose only losses came against elite competition. Palacios, who had faced only mediocre competition in his career, was taking a major step up, and for the first six rounds, it didn't look good for him. Azille was pressuring him, taking away Palacios' huge height and reach advantage and beating him up on the inside. All Palacios was responding with were a few ineffective jabs, and he seemed to be doing just enough to lose. But Azille never really jumped on him, and in round seven it became clear that was a huge mistake. About thirty seconds into the round, Palacios unleashed a textbook uppercut-hook combination that floored Azille. Azille got up, but was dazed and a few more well-placed shots gave Palacios an upset TKO win in a fight I didn't have him winning a single round in.

Palacios has the pedigree that implies he could make a run, but this fight raises more questions than it answers. What was the fluke--his lackluster performance in rounds 1-6, or the huge knockout in round 7? Even though this was easily the biggest win of Palacios' career, I'd still like to see him against a few more solid fighters before he really takes the plunge into the division's deep waters. But with his career's slow start, he may not have that much time left to make his move.

Joe Greene (16-0, 12 KOs) KO1 Darryl Salmon (16-2, 4 KOs)

In my first post blogging boxing, I commented on Joe Greene's last fight, against veteran Jose Spearman. After that fight, I said that Greene certainly looked impressive, but Spearman is really the type of guy that a knockout artist like Greene should put away (he knocked up him down two times en route to a unanimous decision victory). Despite his glossy record, Salmon probably was a less difficult opponent than Spearman was. He had fought nobody--I mean nobody--of substance, and his last fight saw him losing to an 8-13-1 fighter. Greene absolutely needed a knockout in this fight if I were to take him seriously.

Boy, did he deliver. Salmon came out aggressive and firing--surprising, given that had not demonstrated much power even against his D-level opposition. But it paid off, with Salmon staggering Greene early and scoring a knockdown when Greene's glove touched the canvas. But he wasn't seriously hurt, and Greene came back to take control of the rest of the round. Finally, with about 20 seconds left, Greene unleashed a flurry, ending with two devastating headshots, that put Salmon on the mat for a full minute. It was a lethal KO, one that showed the finishing power Greene did not display against Spearman. Salmon, again, is not much more than a shiny record, but Greene's brutal knockout signaled that he is ready to take a step up in competition and fight some more established names.

Two Models of Color-Blindness

At his eponymous blog, Michael Dorf makes an interesting point about the ideology of "color-blindness":
Conservatives believe that GOVERNMENT decision-makers should always or almost always be color-blind in the sense that government should not make decisions that turn on race. Liberals believe that INDIVIDUALS should be color-blind but see ubiquitous evidence that they are not. In deciding where to live, with whom to socialize and all sorts of other matters, individuals make decisions based on race. The conservatives don't deny this, but they call the phenomenon "societal discrimination" or "voluntary segregation," and conclude that the government cannot take any race-conscious measures to remedy it. Liberals, by contrast, see the harms that result from numerous individual private race-based decisions as worse than the harms that result from race-based decisions by the government to remedy these private decisions. Meanwhile, the conservatives deny that such race-based government action is a "remedy" at all, because they deny that private race-based decision making is (at least constitutionally speaking) a harm.

Quickly adding the caveat that I'm not sure whether I want individuals to be "color blind" per se (my ideal world prefers that we can acknowledge difference without fear or degradation, rather than collapse as many "irrelevant" differences into each other so they have no meaning), I think there is a lot to this, and it raises an interesting to the call for color-blindness.

If Dorf is correct, then the color-blind ideology is necessarily a trade-off. We can make the government completely color-blind, thus effectively conceding a color-conscious "private" sphere. Or we can seek to make society more color-blind, but admit a color-conscious government to do it. Either way, we're conceding the existence of color-consciousness somewhere along the line. The only question is whether it is worse in the government or in the private sector.

When they are feeling particularly honest, conservatives have admitted this to be the trade-off. In his concurrence to the recent school desegregation cases, Justice Thomas stated outright that when "private" decisions like voluntary housing patterns cause "racial imbalance," there is no harm and no foul. And when introducing the "color-blind" principle itself in Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice Harlan assured his readers that:
The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty.

For the most part, governmental color-blindness has never been argued to stand in opposition to a society that still breaks upon racially defined lines.

Of course, conservatives could argue that without government reifying the existence of racial categories and their salience, color-conscious will wither away in the private sphere as well. The problem with this claim is that, for starters, it seems to be empirically denied by the French experience. More importantly, it's not clear how well that describes even the American experience. As Michael J. Klarman noted in his definitive work on the Jim Crow era:
Most Jim Crow laws merely described white supremacy; they did not produce it. Legal disfranchisement measures and de jure railroad segregation played relatively minor roles in disfranchising and segregating southern blacks. Entrenched social mores, reinforced by economic power and the threat and reality of physical violence, were primarily responsible for bolstering the South’s racial hierarchy. Legal instantiation of these norms was often more symbolic than functional. Thus, more favorable Court rulings, even if enforceable, would not have appreciably alleviated the oppression of southern blacks. [Michael J. Klarman, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality (New York: Oxford UP, 2004), 59-60]

So we get back to the original question. Once again, I believe that anyone seriously defending governmental color-blindness has to concede that, for the foreseeable future, social discrimination will remain present, salient, and extremely damaging to vulnerable classes in American society with little possibility of remedy. The people remain color-conscious--and more importantly, they remain color-conscious in the "classic" sense of privileging certain races and subordinating others. The governmental color-consciousness proposed by liberals would seek to be color-conscious in a progressive sense--attempting to break down those mentalities of privilege and the effects of subordination. Which color-consciousness is more dangerous? That is the question. Because color-blindness has, for the foreseeable future, already sailed.

Nothing Can Stop The US Air Force

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining why someone who had a crime committed against them, or was discriminated against in some way, might elect not to report it. Reporting crimes and mistreatment has costs--not the least of which is that there is often a risk of retaliation. And via Feministing, we have a textbook (and outrageous) case of just that happening in the US Air Force, which is trying a woman with "committing indecent acts" after she refused to testify after making a rape complaint against three men. The woman reported the rape, but after being harshly interrogated by a defense attorney without her own representation present (a violation of military policy), she decided not to testify in the case.

So the Air Force turned around and decided to charge her instead. And here is the unbelievable part (you thought I hadn't gotten there yet)--the Air Force granted immunity to the three men from sexual assault prosecution to secure their testimony against her.

The Air Force has, for a long time, been battling allegations that it has a culture of sexual assault that, in practice if not in word, effectively condones. These actions tell us that this culture remains alive and well.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has picked up the story.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Mikulski? MIKULSKI!?!?!

Daily Kos has a round-up of the Democrats who voted to drastically expand President Bush's surveillance powers, reportedly because they feared being tarred as "weak on security." With a President whose approvals are in the mid-20s, I'm not particularly sympathetic to "fearing" anything he might say. But nonetheless, there are some red-state Dems who do have to be wary about bills like these, and while I'm still disappointed in their votes, I can't say I'm too surprised.

That being said, there are some names here that scream out for explanation. Such as my home state Senator, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Maryland, of course, is one of the bluest states in the country, and Mikulski is normally a consistent liberal vote. So what on earth made her flip here? I have no idea. It's appalling.

Other Democratic Senators and Representatives who don't have the "it was my state/district" excuse:

Sen. Tom Carper (DE)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA)
Sen. Daniel Inouye (HI)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN)

Rep. Jim Costa (20th California)
Rep. Artur Davis (7th Alabama)
Rep. Brian Higgins (27th New York)
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (3rd Illinois)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Can Huckabee Make a Move?

Commenting on the recent Republican candidate's debate in Iowa, Steve Benen said of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that he "continues to show impressive qualities. If he had any money and Republicans liked this guy, I might even worry about him." Indeed, a constant theme I've heard in the chatter about Huckabee is that a) Democrats think he'd be a strong foe in the general but b) he has been able to get absolutely no traction or momentum in his campaign.

But a recent Washington Post/ABC poll could show an opening. Taken July 31st in Iowa, it has Huckabee tied for fourth with John McCain, behind Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson (in that order). Romney is way out in front with 26%, Giuliani has 14, Thompson 13, and Huckabee and McCain 8%. If Huckabee beats McCain and takes fourth outright, could that give him the boost he needs to start getting some second looks from disaffected GOP supporters? Possibly. It's hard to get too excited about fourth place, except that it would mean that he beat the once-front-runner, John McCain to get there. If Thompson underperforms, part of the story could be Huckabee's better than expected performance--especially if he breaks into double-digits.

I've heard murmurings that Huckabee doesn't appeal to the right-wing base of the party--perhaps because he hasn't exactly drunk the anti-tax Kool Aid? But conservative majordomo Captain Ed is seeing the same pattern I am. So maybe the right is realizing that--faced with potential apostasy on abortion from Romney and Giuliani (and, with his lobbying background, Thompson)--a few votes to increase taxes isn't the worst thing in the world. In the early primaries, a lot of the story is not who won and who lost, but who did better than expected and who did worse. If Huckabee gets that "better-than-expected" story, he could see a big bounce. The question then becomes, in our accelerated primary schedule, can he capitalize on the momentum fast enough to catch up with the front-runners?

Playing Both Sides

This article on how more Black women are dating White men is quite interesting. I have no problem with interracial dating whatsoever, but in the Black community there has been noticeable tension from Black women that successful Black men are marrying White women. Black women, by contrast, have faced a variety of internal and external pressures to stay within the race. This asymmetry was deeply unfair, and I approve of social barriers being lifted so that our dating standards are equitably distributed among the sexes.