Friday, September 07, 2007

No Aid Will Come

Taken entirely from Balkinization (apologies, but there is no way to condense this):
Jean Améry, on the experience of having been tortured by the Nazis in the late 1930s, from At the Mind's Limits (1964):
Not much is said when someone who has never been beaten makes the ethical and pathetic statement that upon the first blow the prisoner loses his human dignity. I must confess that I don't know exactly what that is: human dignity....I don't know if the person who is beaten by the police loses human dignity. Yet I am certain that with the very first blow that descends on him he loses something we will perhaps temporarily call 'trust in the world.'...

The expectation of help, the certainty of help, is indeed one of the fundamental experiences of human beings, and probably also of animals.... The expectation of help is as much a constitutional psychic element as is the struggle for existence. Just a moment, the mother says to her child who is moaning with pain, a hot-water bottle, a cup of tea is coming right away, we won't let you suffer so! I'll prescribe you a medicine, the doctor assures, it will help you. Even on the battlefield, the Red Cross ambulances find their way to the wounded man. In almost all situations in life where there is bodily injury there is also the expectation of help; the former is compensated by the latter. But with the first blow from a policeman's fist, against which there can be no defense and which no helping hand will ward off, a part of our life ends and it can never again be revived.

From the formal Declaration of U.S. Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency of the United States of America; January 2003:
DIA is aware that Padilla has had extensive experience in the United States criminal justice system and had access to counsel when he was being held as a material witness. These experiences have likely heightened his expectations that counsel will assist him in the interrogation process. Only after such as Padilla has perceived that help is not on the way can the United States reasonably expect to obtain all possible intelligence information from Padilla. . . . Because Padilla is likely more attuned to the possibility of counsel intervention than most detainees, I believe that any potential sign of counsel involvement would disrupt our ability to gather intelligence from Padilla. Padilla has been detained without access to counsel for seven months -- since the [Department of Defense] took control of him on 9 June 2002. Providing him access to counsel now would create expectations by Padilla that his ultimate release may be obtained through an adversarial civil litigation process. This would break -- probably irreparably -- the sense of dependency and trust that the interrogators are attempting to create.

I am increasingly frightened by what we are becoming as a nation.

I'm Not Dead, Just Sleeping

And sleep is a wonderful thing.

But to prove I'm not dead (as if this post isn't sufficient), here's some stuff I've been reading over the past few days.

The DSCC has announced its bumper sticker for the '08 elections. It's actually pretty good. Although Michelle Cottle is right that watching James Carville in this context is just awful.

Republican Presidential "hopeful" Duncan Hunter on Guantanamo Bay:
They've got health care that's better than most HMOs. And they got something else that no Democrat politician in America has: They live in a place called Guantanamo, where not one person has ever been murdered.

Beach-front property, good security, low crime....I wonder how the public schools are in the area? Although, I do wonder if we should be bragging that most Americans have significantly worse health care than what's available at Gitmo.

Kenneth Waltz, one of the doyens of the foreign policy realist school, on power: "To say that militarily strong states are feeble because they cannot easily bring order to minor states is like saying that a pneumatic hammer is weak because it is not suitable for drilling decayed teeth."

Sweetner as Feminist History (via FLP, originally from Overheard in New York

There's a bunch of great posts over at De Novo, but this argument PG puts out on Richard Sander's proposed study of how affirmative action affects bar passage rates is my favorite.

Post-law school salary curve. It's actually interesting--particularly the big gap in the $80,000 range.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Back to School

I'm heading back to college tomorrow (senior year -- very scary). This week has been a nightmare of packing and travel plans, and presumably the next few days will show similar anarchy before I can truly settle into the dorm. I'll try to get back to posting as soon as I can.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Stress Fractures

In conversations with my friends, I've been very confident that Democrats will win the Presidency in 2008. Our candidates are far stronger, we're far more energized, the environment is too favorable, and the running disaster that has been the Bush administration marks 2008 as another perfect storm year for the Democratic Party. It's obviously too early to declare anything a lock or rest on my laurels, but things are looking very optimistic.

One thing that could derail a Democratic victory before the campaign season even starts is a faux-reform proposal by partisan Republican activists in California seeking to change the way the state allocates its electoral votes. Currently, like every state but Nebraska and Maine, California gives its 55 electoral votes in a winner-takes-all fashion. The ballot proposal would change that so the winner of each Congressional District gets one electoral vote. So, even though California is a pretty safe Democratic state, this shift would change its electoral vote allocation from 55-0 to something like 36-19--a free 19 electoral votes for the GOP. Since the effort (needless to say) isn't being pushed in red states like Texas or Indiana, it basically is an effort to rig the election playing field for Republicans (incidentally, even if the plan was adapted nationwide, it'd still be a bad idea--gerrymandering Congressional Districts is bad enough without it implicating Presidential politics). It's worth noting that a similar proposal was pushed in Colorado in 2004, but Democrats refused to support it and it didn't pass.

One thing that continues to amaze me about this country is just how little disorder there was in the wake of the disputed 2000 election. It can be difficult to remember just how raw emotions were then. Democrats genuinely felt cheated out of an election they won, fair and square. The Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore aroused some of the most bitter emotions that institution has ever seen--apparently, Justice Souter was ready to resign over it. And yet, aside from the "Brooks Brothers Riot," there was no real violence, and the concept of our democracy never truly felt threatened. Folks just regrouped and got ready to fight again. Many--most--other democratic nations would not have been able to accomplish that. And that is an incredible testament to the power of our constitutional covenant.

But 2000 was the year we cashed in our democratic credit, accrued over centuries of building representative institutions that, though sometimes flawed, were widely seen as fair, open, and most importantly, reflective of neutral procedures that produced the actual, legitimate winner. We drew on that credit to move past 2000. But if something like that happens again, in the form of this bogus and nakedly illegitimate California referendum, to swing the election away from the winner of the popular vote (and unlike in 2000, if the California proposal passes a Democrat could win a popular landslide and still lose the electoral college), I genuinely don't think our democracy will be able to handle the stress. There will be disorder, and protests, and potentially rioting.

The California proposal was deliberated placed on a June ballot where turn-out is expected to be low--the better to sneak it in under the noses of voters for whom it is made out to be an innocent election reform. It cannot pass. There have been a lot of political dirty tricks in the past couple of years; a tragic many of them done with the explicit or implicit support of the governing party. But none has the potential to threaten the very foundations of the republic the way this scam does. It cannot be allowed to pass. And while I applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for coming out against in, the national Republican Party needs to call its boys off and either get this thing off the ballot, or make sure it goes down in crushing defeat. This is their baby, and thus their responsibility.

Professor President

Jason Zengerle objects to Barack Obama listing "constitutional law professor" as part of his experience in "public service." Personally, I love that Obama was a law professor (technically a lecturer, since he wasn't tenure-track, but I've heard from U.Chicago sources that he had a tenure-track position whenever he wanted it--which he didn't). As I've relayed to many of my friends, after eight years of being run by an over-promoted fraternity leader, I could stand for a little brilliance in the Oval Office. And while, as an aspiring law professor, I've often joked with my friends that there are few people who would call training new lawyers a "public service," in all seriousness I think the scholars who are trying to illuminate our collective understanding of the law, and set budding attorneys on the right path, are truly doing a great deed for the American people, and deserve to be lauded for it.

Fortunately, virtually all the comments in Zengerle's post agree with me, so I'm not alone here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

College of Marin?

Recently, I've been getting a steady trickle of hits from a website affiliated with the College of Marin, a two-year college out of California, all heading to the archived posts of the last week of July, 2005. Unfortunately, the site they're coming from is for students only, so I don't know what they're doing here.

So if any of y'all are reading this, just slake my curiosity: what assignment brings you to my neck of the woods?

Thanks. Oh, and happy labor day!

Discrimination Hurts

The Financial Times has a really interesting article on the large quantities of skilled professionals who leave their companies due to discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping.

DC Are You With Me?

Why DC rocks:
Every day you can meet someone who turns out to be the smartest, most well-informed person you’ll ever know on a given subject. It’s like living in the best university in the world but without all those essays to write.

Via Yglesias.

I end up writing the essays anyway (in the form of my blog), but the point still stands.

I'd Watch

xkcd goes Firefly.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


I must be slipping if Dale Carpenter caught a racial reference that completely slipped by me in the Larry Craig case. I mean, for heaven's sake, Carpenter's a Republican! And he's out CRTing me? I got to get my act together.

Anyway, this is from the tape recording of the police officer who arrested Senator Larry Craig:
Karsnia: I just, I just, I guess, I guess I’m gonna say I’m just disappointed in you sir. I’m just really am. I expect this from the guy that we get out of the hood. I mean, people vote for you.

Carpenter queries what work "the guy we get out of the hood" does in this context:
It seems to me that the phrase, “the guy that we get out of the hood,” is an implied racial reference. It refers specifically to blacks, though one could say the officer meant to refer only to young black men from the ghetto who, in the officer's view, are prone to commit crimes.

Either way, it’s still race-specific in a case that otherwise has no obvious racial dimension. To shame Craig into telling the truth, the officer could have used a different example, like, “I expect this from some punk we get off the street.” Or, “I expect this from some low-life, but not a Senator.” It’s also fairly clear from the context that the officer is not associating blacks with bathroom cruising, but with dishonesty and "disrespect" toward the police.

Why would Karsnia use a race-specific reference in this context? First, the officer may associate blacks in general, or at least those from “the hood,” with bad conduct. In the heat of the exchange, this particular example is the one that first comes to his mind because black men from poor neighborhoods are the kind of people he would most associate with dishonesty and disrespectful behavior.

Second, the officer may have expected that Craig would immediately understand the reference and be especially shamed by it as a law-abiding white person. “Not only were you engaged in this tawdry behavior but now you’re acting like a black thug who lies to a police officer about it," he seems to be saying. I doubt the officer would have used the “hood” reference if he’d been talking to a suspect who was black. It simply wouldn’t have worked against a black suspect, whether that suspect was from "the hood" or not. It would have backfired even if used against, say, a wealthy black lawyer in a business suit. Further, in the presence of a black person the officer would have been sensitized to using a racial reference. It only works as a shaming technique if it’s one white person speaking to another, with no blacks around to object.

The whole thing passed by unnoticed in their conversation; one of the interesting things about it was how matter-of-fact it was. Craig had no audible reaction to the comment except to insist that he is "respectable" — unlike those people from "the hood." The officer made no other racial reference, and of course used no blatantly racist slur, which would be unacceptable in senatorial company.

Many commentators have tried to argue that "hood" is a race-neutral term. It is true that "hood" sometimes refers to whatever neighborhood you hail from, and moreover some White people live even on blocks that we'd commonly refer to as "hood." Nonetheless, the predominant association of "hood" is referring to heavily minority, poor areas of the inner city. And unless it is used in a specific ironic or quasi-ironic context (as in a White rapper looking to gain credibility by talking about his 'hood), it is fair to assume that the image it is meant to evoke is of such a neighborhood (and someone "we get out of the hood" is a Black man). The folks spinning circles about how "hood" could mean anything seem to be missing the point. Carpenter concurs:
Some commenters suggest that because "the hood" can have non-racial meanings, the cop must not have intended to refer to inner-city blacks here. But coded race references work, when they're used, precisely because they can have non-racial meanings; in a society that condemns overt racism, they provide deniability.

I agree that the reference to "the hood" can mean lots of things. I've heard gay people refer to predominantly gay neighborhoods as the hood. The language of hip-hop has seeped into popular culture and has been appropriated to refer to lots of things, depending on context. But the question is, what's the most likely meaning of "the hood" when a white cop is interrogating a 65-year-old white suspect and trying to shame him into a confession? That he's lying like the people in a poor white neighborhood? Like the people who live in crime-prone neighborhoods in general? I doubt it....

Another issue being raised as a diversion to the main point is whether the cop himself is racist. Folks are saying that--even granting a racial connotation--this statement doesn't "prove" that he is. I agree, and I'm rather uninterested in whether the cop is "racist" in the classical sense of coming home from work to attend his weekly cross burning. This statement is meaningful not because it gives folks an opportunity to tag a person a "racist", it matters because it illustrates a broader societal racist perception or mien that associates Black ("ghetto", "hood") with criminality, worthlessness, and lack of respectability. Precisely because it is a social perception, individual persons can float in those waters and simply absorb the standpoint without actively identifying as a racist (and probably consciously disavowing possessing any racist beliefs).

I think it's really important to separate these out. There can be racism without racists, in the sense that there can be widespread, socially salient perceptions, behaviors, or policies that act to disadvantage certain people on basis of race, without a significant proportion of people who actively believe that people should, in fact, be disadvantaged on basis of race. If it is to have any meaningful bite, "racism" is the existence of forces which subordinate certain people on basis of race--not the belief that people should be so subordinated. Certainly, regardless of what we call it, the former is the real problem while the latter is just contributory, and since "racism" is our general-purpose word for identifying harms of a racial variety, I call these forces "racism." Others prefer "White supremacy", "structural racism," "institutional racism", or any number of other terms. Tomato, to-mah-to.

Fighting against racism (or whatever we end up calling it--"the problem"), in such an environment, means attacking these negative perceptions, behaviors, and policies wherever they crop up--but that doesn't mean that the people who espouse them are "racists" in the sense defined above. The split is important because, in theory, people are more receptive to remedying a racist perception than they are to admitting that they, themselves are racist.

I have noticed, however, that folks anxious to defend policy that perpetuate racism in America are very keen on redefining the attack on the policy to an attack on the person, complaining that "you're calling me a racist" and thus draping themselves in the cloak of victimology (the very banner they claim to despise). In response (because I'm a nice guy), I phrase the linkage in ever more attenuated fashion (e.g., from "people who support racist policies" to "people who support policies that perpetuate racism"), but it really doesn't seem to do much good, which leads me to believe that the folks making the "are you calling me a racist" defense secretly like it because it serves as a shield from having to grapple with the actual substance of the critique. The irony is that, in doing so, it actually strengthens (doesn't prove, but strengthens) the case that these folks are actually racist(-as-persons)--albeit ambivalently so--because they are laboring so hard to evade the question that what might otherwise be chalked up to a general social milieu has to be seen as at least somewhat self-conscious.

See also ebogjonson and Alternet