Friday, January 14, 2011

Fast Times at Wall Street High

My Aunt had a poster up in her kitchen, directed at her then-teenage children. It said something to the effect of "Attention Teens: Tired of being bossed around by your parents? Move out! Get a job! Pay your own bills! But hurry -- while you still know everything!" The joke, of course, being on the prototypical rebellious kid, angry about how his parents were stifling him, man; how they're just a huge load on his shoulders and don't do anything for him -- aside from feed him, clothe him, shelter him, pay for most of his expenses, etc..

It seems like Wall Street is going through a similar thing right now:
Daniel Loeb, founder of the Third Point Management hedge fund, wrote a scathing December rant to fellow Obama Wall Street bundlers – fundraisers who tap their own networks of friends to drive cash to the campaign — suggesting the perfect holiday gift for each of them: A book about battered wives who can’t leave their abusive husbands.

“I am sure, if we are really nice and stay quiet, everything will be alright and the President will become more centrist and that all his tough talk is just words,” Loeb wrote. “I mean when I am alone with him – at $30,000 a plate fund raisers – he’s really nice and once I got invited to the White House!”

Meanwhile, Wall Street profits are ballooning, after the industry was bailed out after it had proceeded to light itself on fire, and, oh yeah, we staved off a global financial meltdown in the process.

So it's not really akin to battered wife syndrome -- a really offensive analogy upon approximately 12 milliseconds of reflection -- but the emo teen thing. President Obama won't let the I-Bankers snort their metaphorical blow (or perhaps, their non-metaphorical blow -- this is Wall Street, after all), and so they're throwing a temper tantrum even as they wallow in piles upon piles of cash they would have never earned had we decided that Wall Street was not, in fact, too big to fail.

Grow up.

The GOP's Ambassador

When he isn't advising folks to quit speaking the language of living in the "ghetto" (he says -- I'm not kidding -- he meant the Jewish ghetto, so presumably, his objection is to Hebrew), Newt Gingrich likes to think of himself as a "go-between" for the GOP and minority communities. No, I don't get where he got that idea either.

And now, Gingrich has started talking about what the GOP needs to do to build upon their 2010 victories in 2012. In order to rack up a suitable governing majority to begin 2013:
Republicans need to spend at least 30 percent of their time campaigning to black, Hispanic and other minority communities ....

Interesting! And what should they say in those meetings?
....and emphasize lowering taxes instead of social programs such as welfare.

Great plan, Newt! Finger on the pulse.

Via Chait.

I've Got ... Site Specificity

In a stunning upset, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) has not just issued a platitude about "cutting government spending", but has actually identified specific areas for cuts. And those cuts include, amazingly enough, reductions in the defense budget (to the tune of nearly $70 billion). Other reductions include a pay freeze for federal employees, cutting the federal workforce, and selling excess federal land (which isn't really a spending cut so much as it is a temporary cash infusion).

One doesn't have to think Rep. Brady's plan is wise to at least give him credit for doing what so many Republicans have shied away from doing -- saying "I will cut this." So good for him.

Still, it's worth noting that Brady's plan would shave less than $200 billion off the deficit, not an insignificant figure, but hardly the whole hog. If Republicans are going to insist that tax cuts aren't something we, quote, "pay for", we're not really going to be in a position to do any serious tackling of the budget deficit.

Refusing to Hate

Two years ago, I wrote a post about Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor who worked in Israeli hospitals, and whose children were killed in front of his eyes when an Israeli shell landed on his house during Cast Lead. Dr. Abuelaish, who had spent his life working to save lives and bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, became one of the most visible victims of the conflict because the only person he could think to call to help his family was an Israeli journalist friend, who took the call live on air.

Despite his immense loss, Dr. Abuelaish never wavered in his belief that the only way forward was peace between Israel and Palestine. He has become a symbol for those who have suffered the most and yet have not given in to despair, have not fallen into the abyss. And those of us who have no suffered as has he disrespect his name and legacy when we permit ourselves to harbor the fires of hatred and extremism which he has so tellingly rejected.

The Telegraph has an excerpt of Dr. Abuelaish's new book, I Shall Not Hate. It is well worth your time. And while I continue to hope that Dr. Abuelaish's children are the last price, I also know that it is men like he who will finally bring peace, justice, and coexistence to all persons in Israel and in Palestine.

Two Feet of Snow


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Segregation Forever

Wake County, North Carolina, has been long renowned as one of racial integration's few enduring success stories. But it's looking like that chapter will come to an end, as a newly elected Tea Party school board is planning to eliminate the district's integration efforts, instead (I'm not kidding) promoting a policy of concentrating poor and underprivileged students in a few schools, isolated from other pupils.

You look at the rhetoric here -- "no to the social engineers", opposition to "forced busing" -- it's literally a mimicry of the first wave of putatively "post-racial" opposition to school integration that we saw in the 1970s. The kindest thing you can say about this board is that it is indifferent to the project of educating underprivileged children (the idea that schools chock-full of concentrated poverty would be better for those kids is so far removed from empirical observation of what makes for effective schools that I'd laugh if I wasn't so angry. It's the sort of claim that would strain the credibility even of a credible speaker, which this school board is not). The least kind thing you could say is that they are taking affirmative steps to dismantle one of America's great civil rights stories.

The other thing I want to point out is what one might call (or I might soon be calling -- I've been kicking this idea around for awhile) "oppression realism". The great legal realist Karl Llewellyn had a famous article, Remarks on the Theory of Appellate Decision and the Rules of Cannons About How Statutes are to be Construed, 3 VAND. L. REV. 395 (1950), in which he demonstrated that for any canon of statutory construction, there was an equal and opposite "counter-canon" that could be used to interpret the statute in the precisely opposing way. Hence, judges have exceptionally broad latitude to interpret statutes however they please while still writing opinions that are perfectly "legalistic", in the sense of adhering to well-established legal conventions of how judges ought to behave.

And so it seems, sometimes, with our publicly stated desires for how we want minorities to act in our society. There is no stability to the requests, they are infinitely malleable to account for whatever particular policy outcome folks want to impress on a racialized issue. Out in Tuscon, Arizona, the right-wing is calling folks who support ethnic studies programs "Bull Connors" because they're "segregating". So apparently, what we want is mixing -- all blending together as Americans. Except back in North Carolina, we hear the exact opposite criticism: As one "libertarian" think tanker (lord only knows what libertarianism has to do with this) put it: "We are losing sight of the educational mission of schools to make them into some socially acceptable melting pot." Oh yes, the melting pot -- that longstanding bane of the conservative racial vision. Integration, separation -- which is it? Nobody knows. It's Calvinball.

I have to contrast this move by Wake County to the reaction of the denizens of Walthall County, Mississippi, when they found out that their "school transfer" policy was being struck down as contributing to school resegregation. One White parent, who had always considered the transfer issue to be a simple matter of student happiness, not race, reflected on the upshot of the policy: "But if all that adds up to segregated schools?" he asked, and then paused for a while. "That wouldn't be right, no."

It was a poignant moment for me, when I read that quote. Nobody's perfect, and nobody should be expected to measure out all ends. The measure of man is that, when faced with the consequences of their actions, they are willing to stand for justice. But over in Wake County, they are taking affirmative steps to undo racial justice -- deliberately seeking to turn back the clock decades. It's tremendously sad.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Cultural Currency of the Blood Libel

When Jeffrey Goldberg suggested that there might be educational benefits to Sarah Palin's misappropriation of the term "blood libel" to describe folks criticizing her overheated brand of political rhetoric in the wake of the Tuscon, Arizona massacre, I was dubious. The blood libel -- referring to the allegation that Jews use the blood of murdered non-Jewish children in various religious rites -- is (I thought) one of the more prominent elements in our collective history of anti-Semitism. Who didn't know about it already? Hell, we already had a prominent modern day iteration quite recently when a Swedish paper alleged that Jews were seizing Palestinian persons and harvesting their organs -- and then again as a putative explanation for why the bloodthirsty Zionist regime was bothering to help Haitians after the earthquake (since humanitarianism was obviously out of the question).

I should have known better. It isn't just Goldberg's readers who were unfamiliar with the term -- various friends of mine I chatted with today were also either unaware or only had a dim recognition of the concept prior to Palin's gaffe today. And now that I've had that recognition, I recall me asking a similar question of various non-Jewish friends of mine sometime as an undergraduate, as part of a broader poll of their views on Jews and Jewish issues. Specifically, I asked them something to the effect of "True or False: Though the practice has been discontinued, at one point Jews used the blood of non-Jewish children as part of important religious rites." I'd say about 20% of the respondents answered true, which, even granting a potential "fucking with the questioner" contingent, was still a disturbing figure.

Unfortunately, I think there are virtually no chances "that Sarah Palin will actually come out and apologize and learn something about the blood libel and try to raise consciousness about this." So an opportunity wasted, but an education that the problem still exists all the same.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Futility of Distinguishing Between the Far-Left and Far-Right

There's a cottage industry in trying to pin down the politics of Gabrielle Giffords' would-be assassin (thankfully, it looks like she will survive). Jim Lindgren, claiming that he merely wants to "take the political argument off the table", argues that the best way to do so is to point out "that Loughner was more probably a mentally deranged left winger than a mentally deranged right winger." In support of this, Lindgren cites, for example, Loughner's apparent opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

But I think obsessing over whether Loughner was "really" extremely right-wing or left-wing is worse than just partisan, it's impossible. Why? Because whether they identify as "left" or "right", extremists of this stripe tend to say more or less the same things. Professor Lindgren's observation that rabid anti-war views are an indicator of being "left-wing" is simply flawed. Certainly, it's probably true that there are more mainstream liberals who are anti-war than mainstream conservatives. But once you reach the margins, you see plenty of extreme anti-war rhetoric emanating from the old-school, paleo-con right. If someone yells out that the Iraq War is an imperialist project of our Zionist Occupied Government, I have no earthly way of telling if that's the product of someone who identifies as "far-right" or "far-left". Frankly speaking, once you reach the fringes that folks like Loughner inhabit, it's more or less impossible to tell the difference between the far-right and far-left. The extreme ends of the political spectrum, far from being polar opposites, tend to wrap back around the edges of reality and link up again.

Moreover, extremists left and right don't seem to view each other as enemies, but as fellow sojourners. Cynthia McKinney has been very happy to associate with members of the far-right fascist fringe. The Palestine Telegraph, which I suspect identifies itself as "left", has prominently featured David Duke on its front page. Pushing (slightly) closer to the center, Code Pink attempted to make common cause with the Tea Party. This isn't exactly a rare phenomenom. Hell, there's a long history of at least a grudging respect and accommodation between White supremacists and Black nationalist organizations.

So the question isn't really whether Loughner is "left" or "right" -- a question to which I'm dubious has a coherent answer. There are certain hallmarks of extremist movements -- belief in imminent totalitarianism, wild conspiracy-mongering, racism and/or anti-Semitism, calls for violence against public officials, mistrust of basic governmental institutions (like the currency system), to name a few. And it's a bad thing when politicians of any stripe to tap into that id. The self-identification of either the politician who plays in that mud, or the extremists who listen to it, is besides the point. The fact of the matter is, since "we’re not teetering on the brink of totalitarianism, officials in positions of responsibility probably shouldn’t run around the country saying we’re teetering on the brink of totalitarianism."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Justice DeLayed....

Disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), found guilty on money laundering charges, was sentenced to three years in prison, plus ten years probation today.


The University of Chicago college magazine has listed The Debate Link as one of its top ten best University of Chicago blogs: "Third-year law student David Schraub × (U.S. law + Israel) = funny, thoughtful, acclaimed blog." I'm listed alongside such luminaries as the Becker-Posner blog and "This is Jasmine". Hot.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Getting Chippy

I was going to post on this yesterday, before the Giffords shooting became the key story.

Claiming it promotes racial hostility and "ethnic solidarity", the Attorney General of Arizona has ordered Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American studies program shut down. Similar Arizona programs targeted at the life and history of Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Native Americans were unaffected. The program is open to students of all backgrounds, although most of the students partaking are Latino. The Arizona AG, Tom Horne, has a history of tension with the Latino population in general and this program in particular -- students enrolled responded to a speech by one of Mr. Horne's aides designed to argue that Republicans were not anti-Latino by turning their backs and raising their fists in the air. And of course, this decision comes at a time when tensions between the White and Latino population of Arizona are at their peak. It's almost impossible to view the decision to outlaw this program as simply another salvo in the ongoing battle between White and Latino Arizonans as to whether the latter are truly equal members of the state.

Richard Jeffrey Newman has a good post on the topic at Alas, a Blog, and I wanted to riff a bit on a point I made in the comments over there.

There's a lot of talk regarding these sorts of programs that they play towards a politics of victimology, that they encourage these kids to see themselves solely as the beaten down, crushed, hopeless objects of White racism. As an alternative, the proposal is that we teach American history as the story of a bad past, albeit with some Whites who "got it", and then a progressive shift towards more and more White people "getting it" until today, when racial problems are mostly a thing of the past.

What is strange, though, is that this latter program seems to me to be sending a considerably stronger message of passivity towards Latino students. Teaching the history as the story of White people progressively "getting it" doesn't provide any agency to the Black or Latino or Native American communities. It reinforces their status as objects, passive recipients of the abuse and later grace of the White majority, and it doesn't provide any narrative elements by which they can build themselves up, as opposed to waiting for White justice to strike again. If anything, it is a far more "victimizing" narrative than the ethnic solidarity alternative, which tends to be very si, se puede (or, as the Black nationalists put it, “do it for self, brother”).

That's why these programs are typically associated with higher achievement levels, not lower ones (and that seems to be the case in Tuscon, where the students enrolled outperform those who are not). Sure, these programs say "you've gotten fucked over, hard". But any remotely historical program will teach that, and moreover, these kids are living their lives, so they’re going to know that anyway. But instead of saying "but then the White folks saw the light and it all got better, and if you're good boys and girls they'll do right by you too" — a very passive, objectifying, stultifying way of looking at it — it says "but our people fought back, and won our rights, and earned our spot, and if they can do it, you can do it too, no matter what obstacles you face." It's the educational equivalent of a halftime pep talk. "White people are racist, ergo, you're doomed" is a bad message. "There is racism out there, and it's still a big problem -- but look at all the people who fought it, and beat it, and made the world better for themselves and everyone around them," is a salutary, inspirational message.

The other sentiment floating around here is that these programs turn the enrolled students into radicals of some sort or another. This does seem to rest uneasily with the claim that it enforces Latino passivity -- radicals aren't exactly known for sitting on their hands -- but put that aside. As I noted a few years ago in a similar case, a young student being a radical for awhile isn't exactly the worst outcome in the world. Many of our great intellectuals (liberal and conservative) spent time as youthful radicals. I was far more radical when I was in high school than I am now, and I think I turned out alright.

We can say that maybe turning your back on a public official and raising a fist isn't the most mature act in the world, but guess what -- teenagers aren't really known for their maturity. Certainly, this manner of acting out -- seeking to make a political statement, however misguided or inappropriately expressed -- is a far cry better than many of the other ways 17-year-olds can act immature. I'll trade a little juvenile political theater for higher graduation rates any day of the week.

Finally, lest we forget, we live in capitalist, competition-driven system. There's not only no harm in teaching kids to come out of school with a burning desire to fight for what they want, it's the whole point. If you're coming from a place where you don't have a lot of advantages and don't have a lot of social capital backing you up, it's probably a good thing to come out of school and into the real world with a bit of a chip on your shoulder -- a belief that you've got something to prove and a determination that you're capable of doing it. That, again, is something salutary. It shouldn't be discouraged.