Monday, March 31, 2008

Quiet Injustices

There are many arguably unjust aspects about American society. Some of them are quite hotly debated in the public arena, but others seem to maintain themselves more quietly. For example, I consider the denial of marriage equality to gay and lesbian citizens to be a grave injustice, but it certainly is not absent from our public deliberations about what it means to live in a just America. However, other topics which seem to equally implicate our fundamental values, such as felon disenfranchisement or the status of American colonial possessions (e.g., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and yes, the District of Columbia), manage to exist without being the subject of intense public debate.

I say this because, despite being of obvious moral and ethical import, I've yet to read a convincing justification for the current status of the District of Columbia. The last time the topic came up in Congress, the main argument deployed against it was constitutional, not moral. It's not that I don't think constitutionality matters, but it does raise the question -- why not amend the constitution? The point is, there's really no argument that the status quo is radically undemocratic vis-a-vis D.C. (and Guam and American Samoa and the Marianas and all our other colonial possessions). But this is not considered to be a "problem". At least with gay marriage, which I also think is a rather clear case of definitive injustice, the topic is recognized as being within the realm of politics and debate. But nobody is grilling our presidential candidates about whether they support Puerto Rican representation. By and large, even civic-minded voters don't have this issue at the front of their minds. There is no groundswell of outrage that we're depriving millions of American citizens of their voting rights for no discernible reason.

Why not?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Last Train Home

I'm flying back to Carleton tomorrow (well, today, but in college a day doesn't end until you sleep). Nothing new, obviously, except it's my last time going back. Actually, again, not really, given that I plan to come home for Passover and will inevitably visit some law schools. But again, it's the symbolism of the matter.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Afrocentric Schooling in Toronto

At the American Prospect, Dana Goldstein has a good article up on the debate over establishing afrocentric schools in Toronto, Canada. Though the background of Black students in Toronto is different from typical state-side patterns (the former are more likely to descend from Caribbean immigrant families, the latter from slaves), both share problems with school performance and graduation rates. She concludes:
Toronto certainly isn't alone in trying Afrocentric education as a way to combat the high dropout rate among black students. In Ossining, New York, the diverse local public school district has been experimenting with African drumming lessons and masculinity support groups for black boys. These activities take place during school-day elective periods or as after school extracurriculars, meaning students are gleaning the benefits of both culturally relevant schooling and the increased tolerance of diversity that researchers have found is inculcated in students of all races who attend integrated schools.

Unfortunately, Afrocentric public education, no matter what its effects on self-esteem, hasn't yet proven successful at raising low income black children's academic achievement. Another argument against such programs -- one that's been made by Ontario's Premier McGuinty -- is that students of all races and ethnicities would benefit from Afrocentric teaching. In Ossining, for example, wouldn't all third graders enjoy lessons in African drumming? In Toronto, teachers have already had success teaching multiracial classes about probability through a lesson on racial profiling. If those creative educators are siphoned off to a black-only school, the rest of the student population will be denied the opportunity to tackle an important sociological issue while learning math in a new and exciting way.

The good news is that with almost 300,000 students, 30 percent of whom are immigrants and over half of whom speak a first language other than English, the Toronto school district is large and diverse enough to encompass multiple experiments in how best to educate at-risk kids. One Afrocentric public school won't rip Canadian integrationist values to shreds, and, if successful, the new program could someday provide educators with innovative examples of how to make school more culturally relevant to students of color.

I think that hits it about right.

Blackened Pots

That anyone, much less a respected law professor, would consider citing to an Ann Coulter column in discussions of bigotry and prejudice literally dumbfounds me. She does not "joke", she is not "over the top". She is a monster, albeit one whose poison is limited thankfully to columns and speeches. Coulter is a brutal, vicious bigot who long ago deserved to be run out of polite conversation. It astounds me that some folks on the right who consider themselves to be respectable thinkers haven't grasped that yet.

Justice and Assumed Relationships

From Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford UP 2000):
Onora O'Neill...argues that people (and perhaps some other creatures) who dwell together in the ways I have discussed stand in relations where principles of justice ought to apply. An agent stands in relations of justice with all those others whose actions that agent assumes in the background of his or her own actions. In going about our own business we assume that many others will or will not do things whose institutional and causal consequences can affect our lives and actions, and we likewise implicitly assume our actions as institutionally and causally connected to the lives and actions of others. On O'Neill's account, people have obligations justice to others insofar as and on account of this fact that they assume the specific agency of others as premisses for their own action.

The citation to O'Neill is Onora O'Neill, Toward Justice and Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), ch. 3.

Rejected in the Times

I really hoped these two kids had a "clarifying talk" before this New York Times magazine article, on pro-virginity students at Harvard (there's a novel topic! [/sarcasm]) came out:
Keliher smiled and said he was “a little bit” attracted to her [Fredell] — “in very superficial ways,” he added. “It’s something we laugh about — if we dated.”

But Fredell did not laugh. “No!” she erupted, and with increasing volume, “No! No! No! I can’t emphasize enough that there is nothing between me and Leo! It’s just that we’re not compatible in that regard.”

Otherwise, that would really suck.

As for the article itself: meh. I totally agree that feminism fundamentally means women have control of their own body. If they don't want sex, fine -- and I agree that there are a lot of sexualizing messages out there that push women towards sex when they might not want it. But if women do want sex, also fine -- and there are a lot of really harsh memes out there as well that judge women as sluts and whores, or say that they're worthless, or warn that they'll never be happy, if they do engage in sexual activities. And that's bad too. Being feminist means breaking down these damaging perceptions on both sides. But I'll tell you -- while I've seen plenty of feminists get really annoyed when "virginity advocates" get self-righteous and imply that they're better than women who have pre-marital sex, I've never seen feminists condemn the choice to stay abstinent in of itself. Because that would be utterly inconsistent with what feminism means.

Via WWPD

Death Is Nigh

The flip side of my view, when in the absence of my science major roommates to explain everything to me, that the world is amazing and magical, is that, also in the absence of my science major roommates, the world always seems on the brink of cataclysmic doom.

I don't even know what a "strangelet" is, but apparently we might be creating one and it will consume the earth. Or possibly just a minuscule black hole, which will grow and swallow the universe (we're expecting the latter to simply "evaporate" in a puff of radiation).

I found this through what Bean calls a frivolous law suit. Well, who will be laughing when the whole earth is converted to "strange matter"? Presumably not Bean (or anyone else)!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Boxing Blogging: 3/28/08

Though boxing fans everywhere celebrate Cory Spinks losing last night (not because we have anything against him, but because it makes it less likely he'll "grace" our TV screens in the near future), I mourn for Kassim "The Dream" Ouma, who just lost his third straight bout via unanimous decision against Cornelius "K9" Bundrage. Recap of both tonight's and yesterday's action below.

Thursday

Devon Alexander (15-0, 8 KOs) UD12 Miguel Callist (24-7-1, 17 KOs)

Ugh and ugh. After a couple of entertaining undercard mismatches on the Don King webcast (which went off surprisingly smoothly, incidentally), this fight was the epitome of a stinker. Callist ran, and ran, and ran and ran. He couldn't have created less action if he was sitting in the audience. Alexander did his best to walk him down, but ultimately, if someone is fleeing for their life in the ring, there is not all that much you can do. Hopefully Alexander will move on to bigger and more entertaining pay-days, and hopefully Callist will never be heard from again.

Verno Phillips (42-10-1, 21 KOs) SD12 Cory Spinks (36-5, 11 KOs)

It's a pretty sad day when a Cory Spinks fight is the more exciting of the two main events, but that's what happened tonight. The fight wasn't all that exciting, but it wasn't bad, and it certainly beat the crap out of the execrable Alexander/Callist bout that preceded it. Phillips' victory was a little controversial (though I don't think it was a "robbery", as some have said). I personally judged it a draw, though I could see it going either way. But when I'm judging bouts, I have a lot of trouble giving credit for the type of pitty-pat punches someone like Spinks throws. I don't think you need to be a slugger to win rounds, and I respect the defensive stylings of a Spinks or, say, a Winky Wright. But ultimately, this ain't amateurs. The goal isn't to simply land punches, it's to hurt the other guy, or at least land flush. So most rounds, where "nothing" happened I gave it to Spinks on accuracy, but in those rounds where Phillips did connect with a couple solid punches, it was very difficult for me not to give him the nod even where Spinks might have had the superior work rate.

Friday

Mike Jones (13-0, 12 KOs) UD8 Germaine Saunders (27-6, 17 KOs)

Not the most action-packed fight, but a good test for the prospect Jones, as the 38-year old Saunders gave him some veteran looks he'd never seen before (and also, unlike Jones' other opponents, survived to the final bell). I scored it a draw, but don't object to Jones getting the tight decision victory. I wouldn't say he looked phenomenal, and he did seem a bit flummoxed at times, but he stayed the course and got the win, and ultimately that's what good fighters need to do. Certainly, Jones will learn from it. For Saunders, it's his third straight close loss, all against good opponents, but disappointing nonetheless.

Henry Lundy (10-0-1, 6 KOs) D4 Darrell Jiles (8-0-1, 3 KOs)

Far and away the most entertaining of the match-ups I saw, I was surprised this was only a four rounder. Two undefeated prospects, with good pedigrees and an exciting style, certainly took a risk facing each other. Ultimately, neither paid the price as they fought to a hard-earned draw where both had their moments and the pace was kept throughout. Ultimately, I think Jiles has more of a future, simply because he's younger and has a great boxing build. Furthermore, even though he shouldn't have been engaging in an inside fight with the smaller, more muscular Lundy, he showed he could operate in tight, which is a good sign for his versatility as a boxer. But both guys showed that they're worth keeping an eye on.

Cornelius "K9" Bundrage (28-3, 16 KOs) UD10 Kassim Ouma (25-5-1, 15 KOs)

Over at MVN, I engaged in a protracted battle over whether this bout was worth watching -- specifically, whether Ouma still had it in him to be an elite fighter. I've made no secret I'm an Ouma fan (I don't see how anyone can not be, given his life story), but my argument was that all his problems were mental, not physical. Ouma at his best is an elite guy at 154 pounds, but Ouma is not always at his best, which at least in part has to be due to the immense trauma he's experienced throughout his life.

After watching his fight tonight, I'm more convinced than ever that it's a head problem for Ouma. For a couple moments in the middle rounds (after K9 was cut), the old Kassim Ouma was back, and he was giving Bundrage serious problems. It was beyond obvious that Ouma has more natural skill and gifts than the physically imposing but limited Bundrage. But for too long, he fought lethargically (and Ouma is normally a "punches in bunches" type of guy), like he wasn't really interested in being a boxer anymore. And so even if it is just in his head, I really don't know if he'll ever regain the focus and mental clarity he needs to become a world champion again. I gave him a close decision that might have been judging with my heart over my head, but I can't say he looked particularly impressive.

As for K9, I was reminded all over again why I don't particularly like him (again, with the caveat that my heart was against him fighting against Ouma). He fights dirty, he wrestles, he clinches like he wasn't hugged enough as a child, and he's offensively limited except for his right-hand. I'm glad referee Steve Smoger took a point away for excessive holding, because Bundrage has an annoying tendency to just skirt under that point deduction line, often by simply varying up the fouls he performs. But that rant aside, this is a career best win over his most credible opponent yet, even if Ouma is on the downslide. So maybe he'll parlay it into a bigger fight where he will get back to being smoked. We can only hope.

Going briefly back to Ouma, there is a documentary film, "Kassim the Dream" coming out detailing his life story, including his harrowing time as a child soldier in the Ugandan army. ESPN previewed a bit of it, and in one clip Ouma said that boxing was "therapy" for him and all the horrors he's lived through. I can only, only hope that his recent downturn is because his therapy is finally complete, and he doesn't feel the need to fight anymore. Because no one in the world deserves to live a happy and successful life more than Kassim Ouma.

FM 3-24

FM 3-24 is the Army and Marines' counter-insurgency manual. It was written in part by one Sarah Sewall, who is now an adviser on the Obama campaign. In the Weekly Standard, Dean Barnett, not seeming to know this, blasts her along with Samantha Power as embodying "dovish idealism" in the course of his critique of the "Obama Doctrine." It's a lot of juvenile giggling over "climates of fear" (because serious people know that fear distracts us from the important task of killing people) and very little in the way of hard-nosed analysis.

In addition to pointing out some other bone-headed errors ("Her name is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you dumb douche."), Spencer Ackerman helps elucidate why the "critique" is substantively flat out wrong.
What Barnett will never understand is that the real danger from al-Qaeda isn't just the people who've joined al-Qaeda. It's the much larger cohort of people who could join al-Qaeda, and the larger-still cohort of those who would not actively help the U.S. destroy al-Qaeda. Those latter two population clusters are where any anti-al-Qaeda strategy has to focus. And there, yeah, climates of fear -- in other words, the experience of people pinioned between the militia on the corner and the U.S.-backed regime that it fights. Those people come to hate the U.S. Lots of them. And it only takes a small number of them to decide to act on that hatred.

....look at who AQI is. According to this fascinating briefing that Bits Bacon gave last week, we're talking not just about fanatics. We're talking about the people brainwashed by al-Qaeda into coming to Iraq to blow themselves up -- brainwashed thanks to propaganda victories that the Weekly Standard's chosen policies, like the Iraq war and torture, have yielded. That's the swamp that Dean Barnett and his homies will not only fail to drain, but they'll expand, over and over and over again, no matter how decisively the last five years have shattered everything they believe in.

We'll never win a war like this if we keep rebuilding our enemy in the midst of destroying it. Barnett and his crew just aren't bright enough to grasp that, or how to avoid it. So we need a new leadership that can.

One of the best arguments for an Obama presidency is that he has been bringing together some of the brightest experts in the world, from all backgrounds, together in his campaign. I'm not saying that the best and brightest always have the right answer. But if there is one thing we've learned from this administration, it's that trusting questions of national security to politicized amateurs is a luxury we can no longer afford. More than any other candidate, Obama offers the chance to break free from that trap.

Via Balloon Juice

Casey for Obama

Obama picks up a huge endorsement in Pennsylvania from Governor Senator Bob Casey. This is important not just because Casey is obviously a big name in the state, but because he's a very credible figure among the White, working-class voters with whom Obama has struggled. Obama will hold his big city base in Philadelphia -- it all comes down to how much he can penetrate into Clinton territory mid-state and out towards Pittsburgh. Casey's endorsement is definitely a boon towards those efforts.

The World is an Amazing Place

Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.
--Ovid, 43 BC - 17 AD

Every once in awhile, I look out on the world and marvel at where we are. The pace of technological improvement, and humankind's ability to adapt to it, is nothing short of amazing. My roommates are all science majors, and sometimes I grill them to explain to me how these things works. But I'm on Spring Break now, and they're not around. Which means I return to my default position of simple wonder.

We can send streaming pictures -- whole movies -- around the world in minutes, without anything connecting the source and the recipient. We can speak to people instantaneously across the world on our cell-phones. We can transmit pictures and sound over wavelengths and have them heard worldwide.

Do you realize that, prior to the 19th century, it's likely that no human being in history had ever traveled faster than 60 miles per hour (and lived to tell the tale, at least)? Today, we not only do it as a matter of course, but people as young as teenagers control highly complex machines that dance around each other at break neck speeds. An interstate highway lane change must look like a high-wire act to a medieval man or woman, but we do it without batting an eye.

Similarly, human adaption to flight has been remarkable. The Wright Brothers' glider first went off in 1900. By World War II -- less than 50 years later -- passenger air service was already well established. We went from flight being impossible, to flight being a normal part of our travel options, in the space of a single lifetime.

And the innovations keep coming -- in medicine, in telecommunications, in mathematics, in physics, in everything. But I'll tell you what: we could not have a single new technological invention ever again, and our lives would still rock. Most of the big problems in the world are not ones of technology. They're about distribution, or morality, or diplomacy. It's not that we don't know how to treat AIDS -- we just can't get the medicine to the right people. It's not that we don't know how to irrigate farmland, we just don't have the resources to get it to the poorest regions of the world. But the technology -- that's all there.

And that's amazing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Marty on Wright

Martin E. Marty, a theology professor at the University of Chicago, has an article up defending Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's controversial pastor.

Around these parts, Marty is known because he's on the board of St. Olaf's college across town, at one point serving as interim President. But he's also one of the most prominent and prolific scholars of religion of our times, authoring over 5,000 articles and recipient of over 75 honorary doctorates.

Anyone who is serious about religion in America knows to take Marty seriously when he speaks. His article is a must read.

Power On

Is Samantha Power coming back? In the course of defending comments that Obama might not automatically draw down troops upon becoming President ("Take for example that 3 am phone call [from Clinton's campaign commercial]... She is not going to answer the phone and play a voicemail she recorded in 2007. That is crazy. She is going to judge the situation in 2009. Of course she is going to take into account what the generals have to say about the Iraq situation and what they are saying on the ground."), she added:
And, to the delight of many in the crowd, she even hinted that she could be part of that hypothetical cabinet. "Because of the kind of campaign that Senator Obama has run," Power said, "it seemed appropriate for someone of my Irish temper to step aside, at least for a while. We will see what happens there."

How awesome would that be? Also, good response to the substantive attack.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Organic Jurisprudence

Guess the speaker:
A philosophy that is imposed from without instead of arising organically from day-to-day engagement with the law isn't worth having. Such a philosophy runs the risk of becoming an ideology, and I'd spent much of my adult life shying away from abstract ideological theories that served only to obscure the reality of life as it's lived.

It's Justice Clarance Thomas, in his autobiography, My Grandfather's Son (p. 238).

It raised my eyebrow 1) because I agree with it, which is a rarity with myself and Justice Thomas, and, more importantly 2) because it really runs counter to how I think Justice Thomas is perceived in the public eye. Perhaps more than any other Justice on the Court, Thomas is seen as the one whose legal writings are the most ideological, the most divorced from arguing about practical impact or contemporary import, in favor of a very tight allegiance to originalism.

I picked up the quote from a short, accessible review of Thomas' book in the Harvard Law Review. In the review, the anonymous author argues that Thomas' jurisprudence on race, where he tends to break from strict originalism, is reflective of this personal experience. Having experienced the brunt of racist America throughout his public life, Thomas cannot help but utilize that in informing his judicial opinions (even though his prescriptions differ drastically from most other Blacks in similar positions). Elsewhere, where this lived experience is not present (such as on abortion), he feels more comfortable retreating to the theoretical. Together, Thomas' judicial inconsistency is not resolved, but it does make more sense.

Zinger

The only good thing about really dumb people is that they sometimes prompt brilliant responses.

For example, take your average really dumb person:
Possibly the most preposterous notion to come from the radical Left is that blacks should be given free money expropriated by force from everyone else as a reward for having ancestors who were given a hard time — just like the ancestors of every human being on the planet. I won't insult the reader's intelligence by explaining the absurdity of thinking this unjust and profoundly moronic concept would improve race relations.

And place him next to D at LGM:
Mmmm, somehow I think insulting your readers' intelligence might actually be a steeper challenge than you think.

Bang!

Hypnobama

All glory to the Hypnobama.

Seriously, if anyone can to the transposing that Patrick wants, do it, and you've got a link. I love Obama and still think it'd be hilarious. In the meantime....

When Does Originalism Start?

The 15th Amendment officially enfranchised Black Americans. Hence, I presume that Blacks did not get the chance to vote for the ratification of it, or the other Reconstruction Amendments (obviously, they didn't participate in the drafting). It was only going forward that Blacks actually were officially included in the constitutional process. And, if practically speaking Blacks were only let in on truly equal terms after 1965, then only the 25th, 26th, and 27th amendments can truly be said to have been drafted and ratified with the true assent of the American population writ large.

What prompts this observation? John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport have a new paper on SSRN entitled The Desirable Constitution and the Case for Originalism. Essentially, the thesis is that originalism is a superior form of constitutional adjudication "because it promotes constitutional interpretations that are likely to have better consequences today than those of nonoriginalist theories." The reason is that constitutional texts are approved by super-majorities, which helps protect minority interests and creates the type of consensus necessary for entrenched laws. Since the only time constitutional meaning is affirmed through super-majoritarian means is during the ratification process, that is the best lens for ascertaining the optimal constitutional meaning. Originalism is thus justified because and only because it represents the contours of a broad, super-majoritarian consensus.

I skimmed the article, but the part I was really interested in was where McGinnis and Rappaport deal with that ever-present anti-originalist objection: that Blacks were simply not included in this decision making process for much of America's history (the discussion is on pages 39-43). This raises a larger question of when originalism starts. If originalism is justified by the existence of broad consensus among constitutional ratifiers, originalism only makes sense as a interpretative project where such consensus was present. If a given group is excluded, it's impossible to claim broad consensus, and the whole project is suspect, at least until the exclusion is rectified. And even then, the project only works going forward. It can't claim retroactive legitimacy from the people hitherto excluded.

M&R concede that Black exclusion represented a severe constitutional failing. But, they argue, this failing was mostly corrected via the passage of the Reconstruction amendments, which, facially at least, eliminated the problem. M&R also concede that, for at least a century afterwards, Blacks remained excluded in spite of the existence of these protections. But they say that this was due to a failure of originalism -- had the amendments been construed as they were originally meant, then Blacks would have been able to participate.

The problem is that this response doesn't work within M&R's own paradigm. For starters, it is unclear why creating nominal Black inclusion in the 19th century accords retroactive legitimacy to amendments passed during the period of Black exclusion in the 18th. Perhaps, amendments 16-28 are now in the clear (though not entirely, as I'll get into below), but amendment 1-12 certainly still retain the taint of original sin, if you will. Amendments passed in the future do not and cannot alter the conditions under which laws were enacted in the past. Hence, M&R can't really grant super-majoritarian legitimacy to original meanings cast prior to the period of Black inclusion.

Second, M&R's argument is premised on the existence of actual, not theoretical, inclusion and participation. Even if a group, such as Blacks, is officially free to participate in the political marketplace, so long as there are practical bars, the over-arching consensus M&R strive for remains absent. Hence, the effective absence of Black political participation in the century after the reconstruction amendments also casts doubt on the existence of consensus, and by extension, the legitimacy of post-Reconstruction amendments. M&R do say that they view this absence as a failure of non-originalism, not originalism, but that's besides the point. Regardless of why participation wasn't present, so long as it was absent we cannot assume broad social consensus. This, as my opening paragraph indicates, pushes the "start" of originalism out past 1965, with only the 25th amendment on up qualifying.

But the final problem M&R run into is that I believe, under their framework, the Reconstruction amendments are tainted too by the specter of exclusion. Remember, M&R give legitimacy to constitutional texts not because of abstract moral theorizing that tells us that clauses like "equal protection" or "free speech" are cool. They gain legitimacy because they're drafted under conditions of broad participation and consensus. But Blacks still couldn't participate in the drafting of the Reconstruction amendments, and hence those amendments also don't actually represent super-majoritarian consensus either.

This is easy to look past, because it seems apparent that had Blacks been included, they obviously would have voted in favor of these amendments. But this isn't quite true -- as M&R concede, it's entirely possible that they would have demanded additional clauses and protections, for example, ascertaining social rights (they also say they might have tried to protect affirmative action. I think that the case for permitting voluntary affirmative action is far stronger under putatively originalist frameworks than the argument against it -- in fact, I've seen no evidence whatsoever making the case against it beyond mere assertion. It is claims such as this which make me skeptical of originalism's supposed "neutrality" writ large). More importantly and fundamentally, we have no idea what the drafting, debate, text, or ratification would look like under those conditions. Trying to salvage the event through historical counter-factuals is vain endeavor -- but that runs true in both directions. It's equally speculative to assume that the constitution would look roughly the same, as it would be guess at what or how much might have changed. Hence, what would be truly accurate to argue is that originalism is irredeemably corrupted when texts are drafted outside of situations consisting of full and equal participation, and we have to look to other justifications for our preferred interpretative schema in such cases.

At this point, M&R fall-back considerably from their original position. They claim that, even granting the existence of continued defects in the constitution, the costs of fixing them by judicial fiat (or junking the constitution entirely) are outweighed by the costs, particularly that of legal instability and constitutional dissension. This is less of a response than a capitulation -- it admits that their metric may end up reifying political decisions cast under Black exclusion, but claims there is no away around that without trashing the rest of their model. At which point, I don't think they can be surprised if Black legal theorists and their allies advocate doing just that. Stability, after all, is not a boon when we're stabilizing an injustice. Uncertainty about whether you have equal rights is still better than certainty you don't have them. And none of these issues are ones that directly relate to M&R's thematic argument for why originalism is justified: the existence of a super-majoritarian consensus, because we're already beyond the point at which such consensus could be reached. Once this structural argument for legitimacy is abandoned, and we move to more contested issues of weighing (such as the need for legal stability), then the apparatus becomes vulnerable to attack from other competing values, and it loses whatever claim it had to immunity from non-originalist critique.

So, to conclude: the exclusion of Blacks from the political community means that the original consensus surrounding constitutional amendments passed in this period is nullified. Consensus can't be extended retroactively, so the passage of the Reconstruction amendments doesn't impact the original infirmity of the bill of rights and original constitution. And consensus requires actual, not theoretical, ability to participate, so neither can we claim that amendments passed in periods of de facto Black exclusion have true originalist legitimacy. Consequently, M&R's contemporary originalism can only start with those amendments passed under conditions of full and equal participation, which gives us an originalism of amendments 25-27, but nothing else. If originalism is to survive in the future, it has to kill off its desire to rescue the past. There is no way to salvage original meanings of constitutional clauses drafted under conditions of mass exclusion. Originalism can only work in situations where the entire community is participating. Where this did not occur, we must find other paths to constitutional interpretation.

Mismatch

In my in-box advertising an upcoming boxing event, here's one of the match-ups on the undercard:

Tyrone Brunson (18-0, 18 KO's) vs Francis McKechnai (3-14, 3 KO's).

Gosh, I wonder how that'll end? Seriously, how is that match even sanctioned?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Everything Turns Gray

I ran an errand for my mom today, dropping off a vacuum cleaner to be repaired. When I got there, the man looked at me and said "oh, your wife called ahead about this!"

Mom, of course, was thrilled, but now I'm going to the mirror to check for gray roots.

Disconnected Originalism

I'm not an originalist, for reasons I can and have expounded on at great length. But that doesn't mean I don't understand it's appeal, particularly to lay persons not used to thinking about theories of interpretation. When we make a statement, we want it to mean what we want it to mean. We get upset when folks take our words to mean something we did not intend. "That wasn't what I meant!" is a common lament of those who feel that the interpretation of their words has deviated from their original intention. Originalism, of course, appeals to that same instinct. If I don't like my words to mean something different from what I meant them to mean, why should want anything else for my constitution?

The problem is this linkage is one of original intention. But, for reasons I outline in this post, most originalists today have abandoned original intent as unworkable, in favor of original meaning or understanding. These two forms of originalism don't connect with that intuitive "I want to mean what I want to mean" formula. Hence, we have a disconnect between how originalism is academically justified and operationalized, and it gains popular support and legitimacy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ideal or Necessity?

The Washington Post had a good article today exploring the differences in how Whites and Blacks perceive the status of race in America, and some of the psychological reasons for the disparity. This claim was the one I found most illuminating:
The intriguing question prompted by Eibach's study is why whites and blacks are unconsciously drawn to different yardsticks. Eibach said one reason might be that racial equality means different things to whites and blacks: Whites see it as an ideal, blacks as a necessity. When people evaluate progress toward idealistic or optional goals -- saving for a vacation -- they tend to focus on progress made. But when people think of necessities -- paying the rent -- they focus on how much they are short.

That's a really important insight. White folks can wax lyrical about how we're getting closer to those ideals that animated the constitution and the American dream, because by and large they already possess them. It's other people for whom we're falling short. But for Blacks, those guarantees -- liberty, life, pursuit of happiness -- are not luxuries but necessities. And insofar as they do not have them, they're going to focus on what's missing, rather than the distance we've made from slavery to today.

The entire article is chock full of other good insights. I highly recommend that you read it in full.

The Wealth Gap

One thing I've continually tried to impress when talking about contemporary racism is that it is an independent point of oppression from class. I have many friends -- liberal and conservative -- who don't understand this. A few months ago I was talking with a friend of mine, who I adore and who is brilliant, about affirmative action. She said she could supported it for Black kids who come from poorer areas, but she did not understand it for those who grew up in wealthier areas like Bethesda. The point being that racism is a subcategory of classism. At worst, racism is bad because it makes certain people disproportionately poorer. Where there is no poverty or economic deprivation, though, there is no racism or disadvantage.

This sentiment is wrong, for reasons the above linked post helps explain. But today I observed an even more dangerous claim that I hope is not becoming a trend. I had assumed that most of the folks making the race/class conflation were only making the point in reference to the present day. Surely, in the epochs of American history where the gains of the Civil Rights movement were not yet actualized, we could recognize that Blacks of all social classes were impacted by White racism?

Or perhaps not. Marty Peretz passes along a brief statement by Morton Klein, current President of the Zionist Organization of America. Here's what he wrote:
OBAMA'S PASTOR RAISED IN PRIVILEGE, NOT POVERTY

How do I know?

It happens that, as a Philadelphian, I attended Central High School – the same public school Jeremiah Wright attended from 1955 to 1959. He could have gone to an integrated neighborhood school, but he chose to go to Central, a virtually all-white school. Central is the second oldest public high school in the country, which attracts the most serious academic students in the city. The school then was about 80% Jewish and 95% white. The African-American students, like all the others, were there on merit. Generally speaking, we came from lower/middle class backgrounds. Many of our parents had not received a formal education and we tended to live in row houses. In short, economically, we were roughly on par.

I attended Central a few years after Rev. Wright, so I did not know him personally. But I knew of him and I know where he used to live – in a tree-lined neighborhood of large stone houses in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. This is a lovely neighborhood to this day. Moreover, Rev. Wright's father was a prominent pastor and his mother was a teacher and later vice-principal and disciplinarian of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, also a distinguished academic high school. Two of my acquaintances remember her as an intimidating and strict disciplinarian and excellent math teacher. In short, Rev. Wright had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. It was hardly the scene of poverty and indignity suggested by Senator Obama to explain what he calls Wright's anger and what I describe as his hatred.

The point we're supposed to gather from this is that, since Wright did not grow up in "poverty", he did not experience "indignity" but "privilege". But to act as though only impoverished Blacks faced racism in 1950s Philadelphia is unreal. We know that racism acted upon Blacks of all social classes. MLK, too, hailed from an upper-middle class background. W.E.B. Du Bois was born in a solid economic setting in Massachusetts. But in the America of that era, there was nothing "comfortable" about it. So they got angry. And they fought against it.

I'm not saying that poverty doesn't matter. But racism still acts upon middle and upper class Blacks. Indeed, there are reams of scholarship about how the Civil Rights movement was primarily a middle class struggle that was indifferent if not actively hostile to lower-class Black people -- the only ones, according to Klein, who had anything to get upset about. But if anything, Wright is proof that there is no sector of the Black population that is immune from racist indignities, because you can't buy off racism.

Booing Peace

It's moments like this that show the worst elements of some in the Jewish community:
Twelve-hundred Jews booed you last month.

This happened at the "Live for Sderot" concert at the Wilshire Theatre on Feb 27. All three presidential candidates each appeared on screen to deliver a videotaped statement of support for the Israelis undergoing a brutal campaign of terror in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared first, spoke clearly and decisively and received a smattering of applause. Then you came on. The crowd jeered throughout your brief statement and booed and hissed at the end of it. I didn't have the opposite of an applause meter with me, but I'd say the reaction hit a low point when you said we must all look forward to a day when "Israeli and Palestinian children can live in peace."

Jimmy Delshad, the Persian Jewish mayor of Beverly Hills, bristled. "Palestinian?" he told me. "It's like he has to throw that in our face."
[...]
That brief audition was as clear a demonstration as any of something I've noticed happening over the last few months: the giant sucking sound of Jewish support for the leading Democratic candidate.

There a couple of things that could be noted here, particularly that the type of Jew that is engaged enough to attend a "Live for Sderot" concert might differ from the average. That being said, I actually have a friend who is from Sderot (a border town under consistent rocket attack from the Gaza Strip), and I certainly think that Jews (and human beings) of all political stripes have an obligation to stand for its security and the safety of its inhabitants.

But booing peace for Palestinian children? "Bristling" when their lives, too, are brought up? Claiming that it is something that he "threw in your face"? It's sickening. For that is the dream, isn't it? We can disagree over how to get there and what needs to be done, we can be adamant (correctly) that Israel's security must be maintained. But the end of this trip has to be a world where Israeli and Palestinian children live in peace. One in which either has peace, but the other has fear and strife, is no world I wish to live in.

They boo, I say it louder: I look forward to a day when Israeli and Palestinian children can live in peace.

Now, who out there among my Jewish friends wishes to boo me for saying it?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Media's Third Toxic Story

TalkLeft links to a Times (London) article purporting to show Obama's "third toxic mentor." The first was Tony Rezko (not a mentor), the second was Rev. Wright (okay), and the third is Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones. Like Rezko, Jones, we are told, has some ethics problems. Okay, that's bad. But the article tells us (buried eight paragraphs deep) that none of them have any link to Obama. That's good, yes? Well, apparently, it's irrelevant, because he "can ill afford another scandal related to his former Chicago allies."

Look, there's a lot of corruption in Illinois. And in Washington, for that matter. If every Republican who had ever counted Rick Renzi, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Richard Pombo, Bob Ney, or hey, John McCain (remember the Keating Five?) as a colleague was permanently disqualified from higher office, we'd have a problem. We need to crack the culture of corruption. If Jones is guilty on that charge, then by all means, take him down. But this guilt by association -- particularly on issues outside of the policy arena -- trick the media has been on is getting out of hand.

Kmiec Endorses Obama

Doug Kmiec, a former attorney for the Reagan and Bush (I) administrations, has announced he is endorsing Obama.

Kmiec isn't a big name, and I already gave away what salience there is by noting Kmiec's significant links to the modern Republican Party. But it raised my eyebrow because Kmiec is not an ex-conservative who's seen the light. Even as recent as last July I sparred with him (I'm vastly overstating my relevance, of course -- he wrote a column, and I responded to it. The odds he ever read my response are rather slim), and it was not the first time.

As best as I can tell, Kmiec's endorsement is based solely upon disgust with the war in Iraq. He reiterates his opposition to gay marriage and abortion, his support of federalism and limited judiciary -- the works. And while he expresses hope (audacious hope?) that Obama's actions will match his rhetoric on such issues as race and human rights, his only positive reason for his decision came in this passage:
Our president has involved our nation in a military engagement without sufficient justification or clear objective. In so doing, he has incurred both tragic loss of life and extraordinary debt jeopardizing the economy and the well-being of the average American citizen. In pursuit of these fatally flawed purposes, the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment.

This, more than anything else, shows how the GOP coalition is fracturing at the seams. At the same time as moderate Republicans are finally recoiling from their affiliation with far-right social conservatives, social conservatives (at least in the rank and file) are beginning to rebel from supporting the Iraq war. Which leaves a Republican Party consisting of Paul Wolfowitz...and very little else.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Hillary Two Step

On the one hand, Kevin Drum is right: The paranoid rantings by Obama supporters that Hillary Clinton is only staying in the race to damage the Illinois Senator enough so he loses in 2008, clearing the path for her in 2012, are crazy. There is nothing to suggest that Clinton would do something so suicidal, or that she doesn't recognize how it would crush her own ambitions four years down the road. Clinton's running a tough campaign, maybe too tough, but she's not in it for sabotage.

On the other hand, there's Jerome Armstrong, who's really been on an anti-Obama tiff recently: "I can't help but recognize that the call to shut down the nomination battle before all the votes are counted, hopefully a position held by a vocal minority, is unfortunately reminiscent of the Bush supporters mantra against Gore in Dec of 2000."

Umm...no, anymore than calls for Huckabee to leave the race when he was getting walloped by McCain were akin to Bush/Gore. Clinton is certainly closer than Huckabee was, but all parties seem to agree that she has a very scant shot at winning. It's perfectly rational to say that it's now time to bow out gracefully, before this fight drags on any longer.

For a long time I've been of the position that the protracted primary fight between Obama and Clinton wouldn't hurt Democrats, because fundamentally it's because we have two stellar candidates to choose from and it's a tough choice. But these last few weeks have seemed to give us a turn for the worse, with a lot sharper exchanges -- not so much between the candidates themselves, but between their allies. If it keeps up like this, it's going to be tough to unify in time for the general, and that does worry me. Only Democrats could blow an election because of too much talent to choose from.

Subjective Orientation

Matt Yglesias and Rob Farley made a point yesterday about how liberals and conservatives are looking at foreign affairs that I hadn't thought of. Here's Matt:
It's striking how much of conservative thinking about national security these days centers around subjective factors -- determination, emboldening, "claiming victory" -- rather than on objective assessments. Objectively speaking, withdrawing from Iraq would cut off a major line of recruiting for al-Qaeda while simultaneously freeing up vast quantities of American manpower and other resources. How "bold" that makes al-Qaeda leaders feel (and you've got to figure these fuckers were pretty "emboldened' already when they blew up the twin towers, right?) has nothing to do with anything.

Farley goes on to argue that this is actually a rather common thread in America. Personally, it reminds me a lot of the so-called Green Lantern Theory of American foreign policy (that America, as the hegemon, can accomplish anything it wishes so long as the Will of the American People stands behind it). But insofar as these terms take primacy in our discussion of such issues as the war in Iraq -- such that we're more concerned about showing "resolve" than we are about actually creating a safer and more democratic role -- we begin to run into trouble.

DeMarcus Nelson

DeMarcus Nelson is my favorite player on the Duke Basketball team. Plagued by injuries, he seemed to have been around forever. But with Duke getting knocked out in round two by #7 West Virginia (who would have thought missing 15 straight 3s would lead to such problems?), Nelson's career is finally over. And worse yet, he ended it on a terrible slump -- really having off games both against Belmont and the Mountaineers.

Speaking as someone who ended his own competitive days (in high school debate) on a really rough run, I know how much that sucks. It's obviously tough to lose, and tough to end your career, but there is special agony to knowing that you finished on the down slope.

So Nelson, just know that you've still got a fan, and I wish you luck in whatever you do for the rest of your life (basketball or otherwise).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Boxing Blogging: 3/21/08

Sure, everyone is watching March Madness. And I am too. But I'm also making time to watch the boxing, and was treated to one of the biggest upsets ever to air on Friday Night Fights: Andy Lee getting stopped by Contender Alum Brian Vera.

But first the undercard:

Aaron Pryor, Jr. (9-0, 6 KOs) UD8 Alphonso Williams (10-4, 8 KOs)

I thought the fight was a draw, but I can't really protest Pryor eking out a tight unanimous decision victory (I can protest the ludicrous 79-73 card one judge gave though). But Pryor, a very tall middleweight, was sorely tested by a game Williams, who had him hurt in rounds one and seven. Williams had a tendency to throw wide and smother himself, which limited his effectiveness, but Pryor couldn't keep him on the outside -- a problem for someone as tall and lanky as the undefeated prospect. Ultimately, Pryor gets the nod, but he needs a lot more time in the gym if he's going to step any further as a professional.

Matt Remillard (13-0, 7 KOs) UD4 Jesus Salvador Perez (25-19-3, 14 KOs)

Yawn. Remillard looked ordinary, and Perez looked like someone who is now 2-17-1 in his last 20 (which the former title challenger is). Remillard did knock down Perez once in the first, but aside from that it was a rather drab affair (I'll admit flipped over to catch the basketball for much of it).

Brian Vera (16-1, 10 KOs) TKO7 Andy Lee (15-1, 12 KOs)

First of all, congratulations to Vera, who fought an outstanding fight. I admit, I did not give him a chance against Lee, who many thought was a burgeoning star. The first time I saw Vera fight, it was a majority decision win against Samuel Miller that I thought had a whiff of home cooking to it. The second time, it was him getting blitzed in two rounds by Jaidon Codrington. Lee, being a class ahead of both of these guys, looked to blow out Vera, and that's precisely what I thought would happen.

And in the first round, all signs pointed to my prediction being accurate, with Lee scoring a knockdown. But Vera stormed back and began to hurt Lee, simply through constant pressure and a good chin. I thought Lee blew some chances by not jumping on Vera when he had the chance -- he was repeatedly stunning the smaller fighter with lefts, but didn't follow up. Vera's heart kept him coming forward, and it's always a mistake to let someone like Vera stay in the fight.

In round seven, Vera had Lee hurt and was battering him around the ring. Now, I'll join the chorus of folks who question the stoppage as early. Lee was getting hit and was clearly hurt, but he was throwing back. In fact, he landed the last punch of the fight -- a solid counter reacting to a flush shot Vera placed that ultimately prompted the referee to step in. The ref had been giving Lee a look for quite awhile, but I'm not sure how I feel about waving the fight off in the middle of the ring when both fighters are trading. It's a controversial way for a rising star like Lee to lose his "0", and this sport has enough controversy already.

But none of that should be used to take anything away from Vera. He came back from on the canvas, walked through some brutal left hands, and took the fight to Lee. He earned a lot of respect from me tonight.

Expulsion

This is a great story about how biologist P.Z. Myers was expelled from a screening of "Expelled." Apparently, the producer of the movie (which is about how "big science" is suppressing creationism) left specific orders that Myers -- a prominent critic of the creationist movement -- was not to be let in. But they did unknowingly admit Myers' companion that day -- atheist writer Richard HDawkins.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Friends and Lovers

A new study shows that guys mistake friendly gestures by women as sexual come-ons, and sexual come-ons as friendly gestures. Thus guaranteeing us a life of misery and solitude unless by sheer dumb luck we're tackled on the sofa by our to-be paramour. So to all my female "friends" who really were just willing me to jump them, much apologies.

Also, Ezra's right: examples of which signals were which would have been a nice addition to the article.

(Men, of course, as so tastefully commented by LitBrit, er, "wear their hearts on their sleeves", if you will).

Power Couple

Rumor on the street is that super-prof Cass Sunstein, who recently announced he is leaving Chicago for Harvard Law School, is involved with former Obama adviser and all-around BAMF Samantha Power. Power, of course, is based out of the Kennedy School.

Sunstein was previously linked with Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum -- who, coincidentally, just turned down an offer from Harvard Law School and will remain at Chicago.

[This is my equivalent of celebrity gossip]

What Goes Around

Over at the new Convictions blog, Richard Ford makes a point I hadn't thought about with regards to the development of conservative race jurisprudence:
The equal protection clause is now as likely, if not more likely, to block race conscious efforts to remedy racial injustice as it is to block racial discrimination as conventionally understood. And so ironically, making it difficult to establish an equal protection violation-- once a conservative position--may soon be in the way of conservative efforts to reverse and prohibit race conscious remedial policies.

There are three directions this can go. The first is a loosening of the standards, making it easier for both traditional civil rights plaintiffs to show proof of discrimination but also easier for those blocking efforts to remedy racial injustice. Observing the recent Snyder case, this is how Professor Ford sees things progressing. The second option is that the rules remain tight, and conservative advocacy groups find it harder than they initially suspected to undermine affirmative action and other such programs because the bar is set really high for proving intentional, specific discriminatory patterns.

The third option, of course, is that the bar is set low for those attacking racial remedies and high for everyone else. I won't say that's the most likely outcome, but it's not impossible either.

Post-Election Huckabee

I wanted to post this yesterday, but I want to reiterate how impressed I am by Mike Huckabee's defense of Rev. Wright:
And one other thing I think we've gotta remember. As easy as it is for those of us who are white, to look back and say "That's a terrible statement!"...I grew up in a very segregated south. And I think that you have to cut some slack -- and I'm gonna be probably the only Conservative in America who's gonna say something like this, but I'm just tellin' you -- we've gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told "you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus..."

And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.

Back when Huckabee was running, I described him someone with "a lot of personal charm and charisma" but "a lot of positions that are -- bluntly -- crazy." And that's true. But the thing about crazy people is sometimes they're crazy in the best possible way. Huckabee has a lot of good stances on many issues (such as immigration). On the campaign trail, trying to get the GOP nod, he walked a lot of them back. But now that he's free from pursuing the nomination, he can go back to saying things like this -- things that you rarely hear institutionally powerful Republicans say, but things that have a lot more power coming from someone like Huckabee than even an orator as powerful as Obama.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Fun With Killing Hitler

Time Travel rookie mistakes (via Reason).

This is getting to be a trend.

Black Conservatism Revisited

First of all, I want to thank all of the folks who have helped touch off this conversation and have given me so many kind words, particularly Andrew Sullivan for the original link, Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con and the Dallas Morning News, Jim Buie, Robert George, Rafique Tucker (who gets special shout-out as a fellow Marylander), and all the other folks who have left comments or emailed me. I really think this is an important conversation to be had, and I'm particularly gratified that so many people have been so willing to accept with an open mind the existence of parallel Black political orientations which don't perfectly map on to what we normally think of as "liberal" and "conservative".

I wanted to take this opportunity to tie up a couple loose threads in my brief exposition of Black Conservative ideology, the most glaring of which was relying a bit too heavily on separatism as a unifying factor of Black Conservativism. To be sure, I think that it is a very important strand in Black Conservative thought, and one that exists left and right. But someone inquired how Clarence Thomas (who is quite tied in with an important "White" institution, after all) fits into this metric. And he doesn't -- at least, not quite. Justice Thomas is clearly not a separatist. But he does, I believe, subscribe to the more critical aspect of Black Conservatism -- a deep skepticism that Whites will abandon racism, particularly due to high-minded moral appeals. But unlike the separatists, Thomas' Black Conservatism simply urges Black people to accept that racism will be there and will always be there -- and win anyway. Elsewhere I called it the "hit me with your best shot" strain of Black Conservatism -- that which does not kill Black people makes them stronger, so rather than complain or fruitlessly war against the existence of racist people and racist institutions in American life, just grit your teeth, lower your shoulder, and win the game.

Now, this may make sense for Black people. The reason I say I respect Black Conservatism is that -- in a world where racism still is an important constricting force -- it's important to let Black people decide for themselves how they want to adapt to it. I don't think I have the right to ask Black folks to constantly be warriors for integration. But, I don't think White folks can take this same position. It's one thing for a Black person to say to his fellows, "look, Whites are always going to be racist, so you got to figure out a way to survive in that world rather than wasting your energy on a fruitless quest to end racism." It's quite another for a White guy to tell Blacks, "look, we're always going to be racist, so you have to figure out how deal with that and thrive anyway." Black conservatism is a very convenient philosophy for White people, because it essentially assumes the worst in us, absolving us of our duty to overcome racism. I think our response to Black Conservatives has to be one of respect, but also of a burning desire to prove them wrong -- to show them that, yes, we can and will extend the hand.

But anyway. Ultimately, then, the unifying force in Black Conservatism is not separatism (though many are, to varying degrees), the unifying force is the belief in the permanence of racism. Black Liberals seek ways to obliterate racism, Black Conservatives seek ways to thrive in spite of it.

So that's the main thing. The other quick point I wanted to expand on was where conservative Black Conservativism differs from conservatives who are Black (someone asked why I wouldn't characterize Ward Connerly as a Black Conservative). The short answer is that the latter simply doesn't believe that racism is a major factor in affecting the life chances of Black people anymore -- their problems lie on other axes. Needless to say, these can start to bleed into each other -- the line between saying racism exists but you should simply push past it through the will to succeed and saying that racism is not really that important is thin, but it is there. Blacks who are conservative don't necessarily believe that racism continues to be a big player in the affairs of Blacks, Black Conservatives think it's a permanent feature of the landscape, but that can't be an excuse for failing.

Job Huntin'

I have a job interview today. Wish me luck as I venture from the warm confines of the intertubes into the harsh reality of the real world (although, ironically enough, this job might entail me blogging).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech

It's here, it's brilliant. I think it particularly shows the complexity of the interplay between Black Liberals (Obama) and Black Conservatives (Wright) that I explored in this post. Obama is not in Wright's camp. But he understands why folks are, and he and his coalition see their goal not to disrespect or stomp on them for their lack of faith in White people, but to simply go out, and prove them wrong.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bear Bottom

As someone who keeps a casual eye on the stock market (and who, of course, wants a functioning economy upon graduation), obviously I'm concerned with Bear Stearns sudden collapse. When a titan that big falls, the shock waves are going to be massive no matter how swiftly the government moves to stem the damage. One hopes that our public institutions are up to that task -- but the track record of this administration hardly inspires confidence in that respect.

But the other thought that persistently nagged on me was the very fact that Bear Stearns (through J.P. Morgan and the U.S. Federal Government) was getting bailed out in the first place. Obviously, I superficially see why this is so -- if they didn't, we'd be faced with a massive economic meltdown. But something rings uncomfortable to me that the powerful are insulated from the risks that they take by virtue of their power. If I kidnap folks and enslave them, I face life in prison at least. If a corporation does it, they're faced with a fine. A stiff fine, perhaps -- but shouldn't the executives and officials who concocted this deal also face criminal charges? Cigarette companies knowingly released a poison on the market without telling anyone of the risks. Yes, they get sued -- but the CEOs aren't being arraigned for manslaughter. Powerful actors consistently get to privatize the gains and publicize the busts. It's only the little people who have to worry about their own skin.

Like Darren Hutchinson, I'm not opposed to the Bear Stearns bail-out per se. But when I see it juxtaposed against strident opposition to public aid for other folks, who haven't behaved nearly as irresponsibly as Bear Stearns and whose mistakes have not wreaked nearly the havoc on American society, I grow white with anger. All this talk about "personal responsibility" and "welfare queens" and "no hand-outs", it's utter bogus. If you matter enough, the government will be there to back you up in the end. It's merely a question of who we think matters.

Obama's Race Speech

This looks interesting:
Far from putting the controversial issue of race behind him, Barack Obama has decided to address the issue head on in a speech Tuesday.

"I am going to be talking not just about Reverend Wright, but the larger issue of race in this campaign — which has ramped up over the last couple of weeks," Obama told reporters in Monaca, Pennsylvania.

Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod characterized the speech, to be delivered in Philadelphia, as "a discussion on race and politics."

It'll be interesting to see which direction he goes with this. The momentum, obviously, towards going even more aggressively post-racial. Obama remains well positioned to do this, and it's the politically safe choice given the continued fallout from his affiliation with Rev. Wright.

But -- while I think it's important for Obama to sound themes of racial reconciliation, and I have no doubt he will -- I hope he displays enough political courage to remind (White) American voters that race is not a non-issue in America, that significant gaps still exist between our ideals and our reality, and that it does nobody any favors to simply slide on past the continued effects of racism in the American polity. If he manages to say that, without antagonizing a primarily White audience, it would be an impressive display even for someone blessed with Obama's considerable political gifts.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Black Conservatives in Large and Small Caps

About a year ago, I penned a post entitled "Taking Thomas Seriously", about the particularly political ideology held by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In it, I noted that both liberals and conservatives misunderstood Thomas' orientation because they tried to map him onto "standard" (White) political categories. Thomas is a conservative, yes, but specifically he is a Black Conservative, which is a very particular philosophical tradition that does not perfectly align with plain old vanilla White conservatives.

Not all Black conservatives are Black Conservatives (that is, there are conservative Black people, such as Ward Connerly, who I would not identify as part of the Black Conservative tradition), and, more importantly, not all Black Conservatives are conservative (in that, on our "traditional" left/right axis, some would be placed on the left). However, because most people, particularly most Whites, aren't familiar with Black Conservative ideology, it leads to significant misunderstanding about where its adherents are coming from when they do show up on the national stage. All this is preface to point out that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he who has nearly derailed Obama's campaign, is a Black Conservative. To be sure, he's not a conservative (needless to say, capitalization matters in this post). But he's not a "liberal" either -- his political alignment doesn't comfortably fit onto models premised on White ideological positioning. Black Conservatism, like Black Liberalism, is not wholly divorced from "standard" Conservatism and Liberalism -- but at best they intersect at odd angles.

Black Conservatism essentially operates off the premise that racism is an ingrained and potentially permanent part of White-dominated institutions. As a result, Black Conservatives essentially tell Blacks they can only rely on themselves to get ahead in America -- counting on White people to be moral or "do the right thing" is a waste of time. Politically, this means building tight-knit communities that emphasize the patronizing of identifiably Black institutions, with the end result being social independence from White America. In this, it mixes at least partial voluntary self-segregation with a significant aversion to external dependency, with Whites and White institutions being defined as outsiders who can't be trusted. Every dollar that flows out of the Black community and into the hands of White America is a dollar that is in the control of a group that, at best, has a unique set of interests that can't be counted on to converge with those of Black people. Contained within this school are thinkers as far-ranging as Derrick Bell, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Clarence Thomas, Huey P. Newton, and Malcolm X. Black groups and leaders who were/are not Black Conservatives include W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall, and yes, Barack Obama.

Black Conservatism holds obvious parallels with traditional paleo-conservatism (hence the name): the mistrust of outsiders, looking out for one's own people first (and concurrently, self-reliance over dependency), lack of faith in high-minded moralism and ideology. But since African-Americans are a minority people in the United States, some other qualities are grafted on which are less familiar to majoritarian conservatism: most notably, the nation is considered to be an outsider, making the ideology significantly less inclined towards patriotism than the average White conservative. The "anti-American" elements, normally associated as a far-left belief, actually are a closer relative to conservative xenophobia: the analogy would be White American Conservative: United Nations :: Black American Conservative : United States. Each represents a distant governmental body, run by outsiders, which represents a putative threat to group autonomy. The mistrust of authority, often characterized as a left-belief, becomes a right-ward belief once its conceptualized as mistrust of foreign authority -- within their own communities, Black Conservatives often create very rigid hierarchal models (particularly on gender issues). Ultimately, though, what Black Conservatives preach is independence: As Marcus Garvey, an key Black Conservative writer in the early 20th century put it, "No race is free until it has a strong nation of its own; its own system of government and its own order of society. Never give up this idea."

Virtually all the controversial statements said by Rev. Wright make the most sense as expositions on Black Conservative ideology. His disclaimer of the pursuit of "middle-class-ness" is a term of art; he's flaming Black people who are more concerned about looking good to White people than they are about insuring the health of their own community -- including those who haven't yet moved up the ladder. His extraordinarily grim predictions about the state of racism in America are textbook Black Conservative arguments, as are his efforts to break down the idea that America is a particularly moral government that can be trusted (rightly, when he notes that America too has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism in Latin America and supported it in South Africa; wrongly when he alleges that we infected Black folk with the AIDS virus).

I'm not saying I agree with all of his points -- I'm not a Black Conservative, and as I outlined in the Thomas post, I'm not sure that a White person can morally adopt the premises of Black Conservatism. But we can't understand what we're yelling about until we properly position it within its philosophical school. This is why I feel confident in asserting that Obama and Wright are not of a political kind -- they operate from totally different ends of the Black Conservative political spectrum. Obama is an integrationist, the very act of running for President means that he believes that there is a space for Blacks in our hitherto White-dominated government, and all of his speeches, policies, and writings have indicated he believes that there is hope for an America that is not separated and divided on racial lines. All of these positions would be derided as doe-eyed idealism by a true Black Conservatism. And if there is one thing Obama can't be accused of, it's of being too much of a pessimist.

UPDATE: Welcome, Andrew Sullivan readers! One thing I wanted to get at in this post, but didn't get to, was how Wright's remarks fit into a particular model of Black theology, which I also identify as fundamentally in line with Black Conservatism. Wright's Jeremiads differ not at all from classic White Evangelism, except in who they condemn.

Ultimately, as I told Andrew, the interplay between Black Conservatism and Liberalism is, I believe, representative of the Janus-face in the Black political psyche. All but the most hardened Black Conservatives would, I believe, admit that they would prefer a world in which racism had ended, where people of all backgrounds could live in trust and harmony. They just think of it as an idyllic fantasy; one that distracts Blacks from the every day need to survive and flourish in a world where the fantasy is not the reality. And Black Liberals, in their more despondent moments, wonder if the Conservatives are right -- if their long struggle is ultimately futile; if White people ever will truly accept Blacks as equals, brothers and sisters. Wright is more than Obama's crazy uncle -- he's the other side of Obama's message of hope. Obama represents those Blacks who still have faith in the ability of America to ultimately overcome racial stratification. Wright represents those who can no longer believe.

UPDATE #2: I wrote a follow-up post to tie up some loose ends -- primarily how Clarance Thomas' vein of Black Conservatism fits into this model (basically, I leaned too heavily on separatism as the defining element of Black Conservatism, when its really skepticism of America overcoming racism on the basis of moral appeals).

Post-Finals, Pre-Breakdown Roundup

I'm feeling ill, and I've canceled my trip to Berkeley. I'm also extraordinarily high-strung given that I just finished all my finals. Maybe a round-up will cheer me up.

Right-wingers are playing a sick game of one-upsmanship on the Obama/Wright controversy (the winner questioned whether Obama is a good father of his kids).

Speaking of which, Hilzoy nails me precisely when she says "I do not feel, myself, like lecturing African Americans about the precise level of anger they should feel towards this country, or the extent to which they should identify with it....any more than I would want to tell a rape victim that she is, frankly, just a little too upset by her experience."

A Maryland bill which would enhance the rights of gay couples advanced in the legislature, but advocates think that bills which would legalize gay marriage or civil unions outright won't make it this session.

Bear Stearns is teetering on the edge of collapse, bringing the market down on top of it.

The head of the Pittsburgh City Council has written a scathing letter to Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kerns (R), who cited the body as an example of council "taken over" by gay activists.

Out of Arkansas: "A bailiff who forgot about a woman locked in a courthouse holding cell and left her there for four days without food, water or access to a bathroom has been suspended for 30 days but will keep his job, officials said Wednesday." The women was an illegal immigrant, which the cynic in me thinks might have something to do with the wrist-slap punishment.

The 10 worst products for men ever created is out. It makes me cross my legs in sympathy.

Finally, most new law partners remain male. But I thought the gender gap was just a matter of letting the new, "equal" generation come down the pipeline?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Burning that Candle Power

Eric Johnson wonders if we're wasting intelligence on law students:
For every extra bit of talent that matriculates into business school, real wealth will be created, our economy will grow stronger, and people will be better off. For every extra IQ point that heads to medical school, more lives will be saved, more pain will be soothed, and people will be healthier.

But, since justice in America is based on the adversarial system, isn’t every bright law student just cancelled out by another equally bright classmate? Is the legal profession just an arms race that squanders talent in the overall scheme of things?

These questions are not limited to the litigation context. Think of the tens of thousands of hours of brilliance that goes into outsmarting the tax code. I sure don’t blame folks for doing it. But does the effort leave us all better off?

Of course, the nine billion posts warning anyone with a pulse to stay away from law school strikes me as proof that you can't be too smart to enter a field everyone appears to hate.

But I'm different -- I want to teach, not practice. Of course, there's an equally strong case I'm just option F on Amber's taxonomy of law school attendees.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

That'll Show 'Em

Ezra Klein on the FAA's fine of Southwest for being a bit too lax on their safety inspections:
This is why we need government in certain industries. The Libertarian solution here -- that a plane would crash and the market would punish the irresponsible -- would be sort of shitty for all involved.

As someone who used to fly ValuJet, allow me to concur full-throatedly.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

They Have No Gay People

ABC News reports:
Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian teenager fighting to stay in Europe after his boyfriend was reportedly executed in Iran, has lost a plea for asylum in the Netherlands and will be sent back to Britain, where he could face deportation to Iran....
[...]
Kazemi, 19, came to Britain to study in 2005. He has said he intended to return to his country until he learned that his boyfriend in Tehran, whom he had been dating secretly since he was 15 years old, had been arrested for sodomy and hanged, according to Kazemi's lawyer.

Kazemi appealed for asylum in Britain, writing in a letter accompanying his request, "I wish to inform secretary of state that I did not come to the U.K. to claim asylum. But in the past few months my situation back home has changed. The Iranian authorities have found out that I am a homosexual and they are looking for me."

He continued, "I cannot stop my attraction to men … If I return to Iran I will be arrested and executed like [my boyfriend]. Since this incident … I have been so scared."

A British court denied Kazemi's request in 2006 on the grounds that Iran does not systematically persecute homosexuals.

I have no idea who in their right mind thinks Iran's persecution of homosexuals is not "systematic", but the upshot is this kid probably will hang.

Of course, some of the commenters to this post probably think he was a criminal for trying to escape in the first place.

And the New Champion...

The Washington Post scores major points for not just analogizing the Democratic war for the nomination to a boxing match, but actually interviewing legendary trainer Angelo Dundee to get his "expert" opinion.

Sad Congressmen

Is Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) really opposing the new House ethics legislation because it'd hurt Congressional self-esteem?:
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, registered his displeasure with the proposal by using a parliamentary tactic to delay the vote. Just after 8 p.m., Abercrombie forced a vote on a motion to adjourn, which only served to delay the vote on the ethics resolution until an hour later. The vote failed 177 to 196, with 14 Democrats voting in favor of it.

Afterward, Abercrombie railed against the proposal to resounding applause on both sides of the aisle.

“With this proposal we are indicting ourselves, yielding and retreating to those who would tear this House down and denigrate us as crooks and knaves and hustlers…we cringe before our critics,” he said. “If we have no respect for ourselves—how to we expect it from anybody else?”

Abercrombie is normally a pretty solid progressive, making this all the more ridiculous. Here's a thought: people will think higher of you if you set high standards of conduct and are transparent about meeting them.

How Do Suicide Bombers Level Up?

US intelligence agencies are going to start monitoring online games for terrorist activity.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What If?

The Geraldine Ferraro flap is actually old terrain in this campaign. Responding to the same charge (that Obama wouldn't be where he was today if he wasn't Black), Cass Sunstein rejoined:
I have no idea how Obama would be regarded if he were white. (He might be regarded as this generation's Jack Kennedy; the two have a similar quickness, youth, charisma, and capacity for humor.) But for any successful politician, there are many necessary conditions for their success. Would George W. Bush be president if his last name were not Bush? Would Al Gore have become vice-president if his last name had not been Gore? Would Senator McCain be a serious candidate for the presidency if he had not been held prisoner in Vietnam? Would Bush, Gore, or McCain be where they are today if they were African-American or Hispanic? (What kinds of questions are these?)

This time around, Klein applies the what if machine to Ms. Clinton:
[I]f Hillary Clinton were a black man, it's unlikely that she would have been a national political figure for the past 15 years, as it's unlikely that she would have married another man from Arkansas, and unlikely that the country would have put an interracial, same sex couple in the White House. But so what? This is an election, not Marvel's "What If?" series.

The candidates are who they are. Obama is a fantastic candidate as a Black man. Clinton is a fantastic candidate as a White woman. It's impossible to know where they'd be if their identity axes were differently located. But that's true of all our politicians. We just only seem to care when they're not White men, because those are the "strange" politicians.

Of course, if I believed there was anyway to transubstantiate personality wholesale onto another identity, it would seem more likely that someone from a traditionally politically marginalized group -- Black or female -- would be more likely to become a successful politician if they were a White man, because they'd have all their talent, drive, and ambition, but wouldn't have to deal with dumb questions like this. Maybe we should ask ourselves if every White male candidate is talented enough so they'd still be seen as a contender even if they were a Black woman.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Phone-Hating

Kevin Drum collects a bunch of bloggers saying how much they hate using the phone. Count me in their number, though until now I didn't realize I had company. I don't mind talking in person, and I'm a big fan of AIM, but I loathe calling folks on the telephone.

I think the problem is that phones imply intentionality. If you're IMing someone, it's very spontaneous -- "oh, you're online, so why don't we chat?" Even email is very casual. But you know exactly what you're doing when you call someone on the phone. You know you want to speak to the receive, and they know it, which for introverts makes every phone call like asking your crush on a date. You're always afraid they'll wonder why this loser is bothering them.

Manchild in the Prison Land

Here's a picture drawn by a nine-year old Canadian boy (or as Colorado state representative Debbie Stafford would call him, the next generation of terrorists), currently incarcerated in Hutto Prison in Texas. It's where we keep folks with immigration issues. Not crimes, usually, just administrative proceedings, but it's a prison anyway -- and one with a long record of abuse. Some of them are American citizens, who have done nothing wrong. Others are simply waiting for outstanding immigration questions (such as an amnesty application) to be resolved. It's the first time since Japanese Internment that we've imprisoned children.



UPDATE: More information about Hutto Prison can be found in this heart-wrenching New Yorker article.

One of the things that scares me about housing innocent people -- including children -- in these prisons is that the American prison system, even in its normal operations, is hardly a model of human rights enforcement. The folks operating Hutto prison, as the New Yorker article points out, have their background in guarding prisons, not social services. Brutal things happen in prison: torture officially-sanctioned rape, Abu Gharib-esque behavior -- it's well beyond what can be justified even for hardened criminals. That it may be happening to innocent children -- many who were fleeing this sort of brutality in their home countries -- terrifies me.

UPDATE #2: Since some folks are calling his parents "criminals", and blaming them for coming to the US illegally, a quick overview about this kid's case specifically. His family is from Iran, but the fled to Canada after credible threats of political persecution (the father had allowed a friend to use his print shop to make copies of The Satanic Verses). During this time, the son was born in Canada, and is a Canadian citizen. However, Canada eventually rejected their asylum application, and they were all sent back to Iran, where they were predictably tortured. They paid $20,000 to forge some documents and try again. However, their plane was grounded in Puerto Rico after a passenger had a heart attack, and a US customs official spotted their forged documents. They were told they had to make their asylum application in the US, which they proceeded to do. However, while the process was pending, they were held in Hutto Prison.

My understanding of asylum applications is that they are made after one crosses the border. There are excellent reasons for this to be so: first, I'm not sure how one would apply for asylum while still inside a country (such as Iran) that doesn't have diplomatic relations with the US, and second, even if relations did exist it'd be rather cruel to force folks to stay in a place where they have credible fears of persecution (up to and including torture) while they wait for American bureaucratic machinery to grind along its way. So they come here, and make their pitch from within our borders.

This kid's family, of course, didn't even want to come to the US in the first place (and really, after they way they've been treated, who could blame them), but asylum seekers as a class aren't going to come with visas. If they were in a position where they could wait for a visa, they probably wouldn't be needing asylum. Calling folks such as this "criminals" is an example of a malfunctioning soul.

Spitzer-fire

On NY Governor Elliot Spitzer's "links" to a recent prostitution bust, what LGM says:
# If I were in charge of writing laws, I do not believe that anyone belongs in jail for procuring or (certainly) selling sex for money, or that any criminal offense more severe than a ticket for the purchaser should be involved.

# If poor sex workers are thrown in jail under existing laws, then affluent white johns sure as hell should be too. This goes double for people who have positions that might allow them to work to repeal laws they don't feel are just

Unlike, say, David Vitter, Spitzer hasn't made a career over making one's sex life a political issue, but he has as AG broken up quite a few prostitution rings. That's hypocrisy enough for me to call him out.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Modern Day Slaves

The U.S. Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida has agreed to hear, under the Alien Tort Statute, the case of three Cuban nationals who were trafficked by the Cuban government to Curacao and held there as slaves.
The Defendant and the Cuban government trafficked the Plaintiffs from Cuba to Curaçao under threat of physical and psychological harm including the threat of imprisonment. Upon arrival in Curaçao, the Plaintiffs' passports were taken and they were held on the grounds of the Defendant, along with scores of their compatriots. The workers were only allowed to leave those grounds under the guard of Cuban government agents. They were forced to work in slave-like conditions for 112 hours per week performing drydock services on ships and oil platforms. The pay for their work, the complaint alleges, was paid to the Cuban government. (In discovery, Defendant admitted that it credited Cuba on a debt it was owed by Cuba in exchange for the labors of the Cuban workers). The complaint alleges a situation in which the government of Curaçao was likely complicit due to the circumstances in which the Plaintiffs were transported to Curaçao and held there. Further, the Plaintiffs were denied all protections of the laws of Curaçao for injuries they suffered there, and, when any of the workers were injured or complained, they were promptly deported to Cuba and treated as enemies of the state. If they escaped and were caught, they were likewise deported to Cuba and punished. Plaintiffs, however, successfully escaped the Defendant's drydock facility, and were hunted by Defendant and agents of the Defendant within Curaçao and by the agents of the Cuban government all the way to Colombia, where they were granted political asylum. The United States then granted Plaintiffs parole to enter the United States.

In the 19th Century, slave trafficking was punishable by death. I don't support the death penalty anymore, but for greed-saturated corporations that cooperate with totalitarian regimes to acquire slave labor, it makes a tempting argument for itself.