Saturday, March 04, 2006

Black Flight

Shay of Booker Rising links to an interesting article about black flight from Minneapolis public schools (she, in turn, got the article from Dean Esmay). I'm a Minnesota transplant, not a native, but I still take more than a passive interest on what goes on here. And this story certainly qualifies as interesting.

I remain conflicted on school choice proposals. This article was not particularly helpful in resolving that conflict, because it didn't give me a lot of information that would be important to me in making my decision. For example, though the "open enrollment" plan the Minneapolis metropolitan area has includes suburban public schools, the article itself only focuses on charter schools. Since the suburban public schools here are amongst the most elite in the nation, I'd be curious to see how they play out in this program (Shay thinks that the moment black students start arriving en massse to majority white schools, this program can kiss itself goodbye). The article just asserts that Charter Schools are "accountable", but doesn't say how (and my reading on the subject implies that at least some have been taking parent's for a ride). Also, I think the article shows a more complex story than some of its cheerleaders let on. While Mr. Esmay claims "'black flight' [is] not making the public schools any worse, because everybody admits that after decades of funding increases and 'reforms,' they can't possibly get any worse," not even the article is willing to sign onto that message, admitting that "[s]ince the state doles out funds on a per-pupil basis, the student exodus has hit the district's pocketbook hard. The loss of students has contributed to falling budgets, shuttered classrooms and deep staff cuts, and a district survey suggests more trouble ahead." Contrary to Esmay's Panglossian outlook, this does represent a problem if we, for whatever reason, concede that charter and outside schools can't accommodate the whole district. And that, I think, is a fair assumption--between kids with disabilities to troublemakers to just plain old underperformers, there are plenty of people who for one reason or another will be stuck in the inner city schools. Do we just abandon them?

That being said, Esmay and Shay probably would claim at least a comparative advantage over the status quo, and I'd be hard pressed to argue. I can't in good conscience tell any parent to keep their child in a school system that is failing them that miserably. But this moves me to my second objection (or perhaps, hesitation) to going full-out on school choice. If implemented to its full extent (and assuming that Shay's predicted white backlash doesn't materialize, which is far from certain), I think both Shay and Dean think that school choice represents a long term solution to the problem of schooling poor inner-city youth. I, on the other hand, disagree, and think it represents a short-term patch. Over the long haul, I have serious reservations about a permanent policy of shipping kids here there and everywhere for school.

I made this argument in a previous post regarding school choice, citing Charles Lawrence III (who, for the record, is black and sends his children to D.C. public schools--let there be no claims of hypocrisy here). I'll briefly reprise it for you here:
[Lawrence] thinks that we should view schools as a community issue, rather than just a collection of individuals acting as education consumers. In a school choice model, a community that has (say) 10 school age children might see them all attend different schools (or be home-schooled). This may be somewhat appealing because we like a breadth of choice. But I think we also lose something in such a situation. Education isn't just textbooks and word problems. I do believe it is some way intricately connected in a community of learning, an environment conducive to intellectual and personal development, both inside and outside school walls. When what was a cohesive community splinters of into dozens of fragmented individuals, those bonds are lost, and I think that students will suffer for it.

Lawrence says that instead of individualist solutions, we should look toward collective proposals that will both strengthen the community and rebuild the schools themselves. For example, he proposes that we extend affirmative action benefits to students of any race who attend integrated schools, to discourage white flight (one of the primary causes of inner-city school attrition). Presumably, he would also support endeavors like local tutoring organizations, daycare, and community-based academic resources, to cultivate a healthy academic community rather than focusing on particular persons. I am not hostile to individualism by any stretch, but I think schools are a perfect example of where its better to build bridges rather than break bonds.

School choice has intuitive appeal to me because it lets people who are stuck in failing schools get a real education. But at the end of the day, nothing can substitute for race and class-integrated communities, where people learn not just algebra, but also how to look out for each other. Does this mean I oppose school choice? I can't bring myself to say I do. But I do think it has to be seen as a waypoint, not a destination. The destination is a time where every neighborhood has a school that is not divided along hierarchal lines, where students of every background learn together, play together, work together, and grow together. Utopian? Maybe. But we can still work toward the dream. At the very least, the affirmative action for integrated school alums proposal seems like a promising avenue for reform. So, I once again recommend Professor Lawrence's article to all interested parties (here's the link--warning, PDF), and remind school choice advocates to celebrate, but tread lightly.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Question of the Christians

In a recent article I penned for The Carleton Progressive, I lauded Kansas Senator and staunch evangelical Sam Brownback for his aggressive stance on Darfur and North Korean human rights, and urged Democrats, on these issues at least, to "Be Like Sam." That article followed up on a prior blog post, in which I wrote that "If being a hard-right Christian Conservative makes you more likely to support a Darfur intervention, then I can't bring myself to indict the whole movement." But of course, on other issues, such as homosexuality, the Christian right is a massive barrier to progress and human decency. So the question is: what to make of the Christian Rights flirtations with progressivism?

In what appears to be a chance coincidence, two of my favorite commentators have written up thoughts on the matter today. First, Alan Stewart Carl argues in the same vein as my own aforementioned pieces. He notes that on some of history's most pressing moral claims (slavery, woman's suffrage, and civil rights, to name some), Christians and other religious actors have been on the front lines for progress. Remember, he's not just Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he's the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Carl ties this in with the evangelical movements laudable support for Darfur intervention, condemnation of human rights abuses, and focus on the AIDS crisis in Africa. As a result, Carl condemns the reflexive anti-religious sentiment present in some corners of the secular left. And I'm hard pressed to disagree.

Another great recent example of religious faith being used for stellar moral ends (albeit in this case Catholicism, not Evangelicalism) was shown in a recent New York Times editorial on illegal immigration. Congress is thinking of passing a law that would greatly expand the definition of "alien smuggling" to include nearly any humanitarian acts of charity--caring for a neighbors baby, or working in a soup kitchen that serves illegals. In response, the Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, issued a very simple response. If the bill passes, Catholics should defy it. Good old fashioned civil disobedience to an unjust law. How can we critique this?

On the other hand, Michelle Cottle's article in The New Republic today raises fair points of its own. Every few weeks, it seems, an article comes out in the mainstream press about how the religious right is going to step beyond its traditional focus on sex, sex, and sex, and start aggressively advocating for other Christian priorities as well. You know, those little things like environmental stewardship, caring for the poor, and ending racism. But, while they may genuinely believe in these values as well, their faith without deeds is meaningless. And at the end of the day, there are few to no deeds to go along with the words of mainstream evangelical groups.

Cottle gives the example of the latest evangelical effort to start focusing on global warming. In what seemed like a auspicious start, the Evangelical Climate Initiative quickly received a major grant from the (secular) Hewlett Foundation. The problem is that Hewlett also funds some family planning efforts. Theoretically, this "problem" isn't one, as environmental justice and contraception are clearly severable issues. But alas, the evangelical hard right went up in arms anyway, wondering--in what can only be described as paranoid delusions--if Hewlett's grant wasn't actually just a closet effort to fund more abortions. Aside from the question of how (and why) one would choose a global warming initiative to enact pro-choice policies, if one was to take that--shall we say, indirect?--route toward the end, why would one fund an unabashedly pro-life organization to do it? Alas, such protests fell on deaf ears. When it turned out that an evangelical film by an evangelical company starred a gay actor--same thing. No more focus on the uplifting message of the movie, or how it showed evangelicalism in a good light. All of that is swept aside to the tune of "no-promo-homo." In general, the organizations themselves, even as they pay lip service to other ideals, have and are maintaining a laser-like focus on a few conservative wedge issues.

The net result is that individual conservative Christians can--and, as Brownback shows, do--look past the "sexy" issues to advocate on human rights. But as an organized political entity, any proposal that doesn't relate to abortion, gay marriage, and abstinence is just spinning its wheels. To make one more Catholic analogy, consider efforts by Catholic legal scholars to take a more condemnatory stand on Bush's torture policy. Surely, this is a pretty clear violation of Catholic doctrine? And sure enough, Princeton Professor Robert George (one of most prominent right-wing religious Catholics--he's affiliated with The Family Research Council) announced he was game--if his fellows would group the announcement as part of a general "ringing affirmation of the Church's teachings on torture, capital punishment, abortion, and marriage and sexual morality." To which Eduardo Penalver, another Catholic legal theorist, responded:
I'm all for taking on sacred cows, but I don't understand the inability of many conservatives to simply acknowledge the evil of this administration's policies with respect to torture without bringing up abortion.

Prof. George would surely admit that the multiplication of issues he proposes would needlessly dilute the force of the truth he welcomes speaking to this administration about the evils of its torture policies. So I have a somewhat different invitation, which I offer as a friendly amendment: Why don't we sign a joint statement (now) condemning in the strongest possible terms the torture practiced by this administration (which was, after all, the topic of Michael's post), and when Democrats control ANY branch of the government or have any appreciable influence on national abortion policy, we can sign a joint statement about abortion?

As far as I can tell, the proposal has now stalled out.

So where does that leave us? The net result is that Christian values can, and often are, a source of support for progressive policies and forces around the world. That can't be ignored. Thus, anybody who condemns religion--even the very religious--solely on the basis of it being religious is wrong. Clearly, unambiguously, inarguably wrong. But the recent history of the evangelical and Christian right movement has shown pretty convincingly that they will not, as full political organizations, expand beyond their meat-and-potatoes "sex" issues to join hands with progressives on any major scale. I'm thrilled that many evangelicals support a Darfur intervention. But can you imagine what our nation's policy toward Sudan would be if they put even a quarter of the effort they put into barring all abortions into stopping all genocide? The ideals are there. The institutional will is missing. That's the bottom line.

Threat Construction

Phoebe Maltz's (self-described "Francophilic Zionist") coverage of anti-Semitism in France is precisely what I would have written if I were as intelligent as Phoebe Maltz. From earliest to latest, here, here, and here. The latter is particular appealing to me, as it eloquently lays out how I think Jews are viewed around the world--but I think in Europe and academic circles particularly:
Or, to put it somewhat more clearly: It cannot possibly be that fantastic to be a Jew in France at the moment. Just as, way back when, Jews were seen as rich and thus evil by the poor because they were associated with the aristocracy, and yet were never able to really join the aristocracy because, well, they were Jewish, today's Jews are considered to be at once the enemy of the downtrodden and a part of a Semitic, non-European, anti-Western population invading France. Jews get to be symbols of the West to those such as Halimi's torturers, and of the East to the pork-soup crowd.

In the 19th century, it was well documented that the aristocracy portrayed Jews as rabble-rousing communists, while rabble-rousing communists shouted that Jews were bourgeois. Same thing today: we're simultaneously the privileged Westerners and the barbaric, sub-human Orientals.

Phoebe's post also clarifies a point of contention lodged by Ampersand at Alas, a Blog on my original post on the subject. The Chicago Sun-Times editorial I linked to said that the French government was downplaying the anti-Semitic element to the attack, Amp said that, well hold it, French government folks joined a massive march against the anti-Semitism that motivated the attack. According to Phoebe, the solution to the discrepancy appears to be that universal political attribute: flip-flop. At first, the government minimized the role anti-Semitism played in the assault, but faced with growing outrage in the Jewish community they made an about face. Also, before I forget, nice catch on the issue of Steyn's credibility--though to be fair he's not the only source I've read raising alarm at the rise in anti-Semitism in France.

I will defend Steyn on the point that saying "Israel is the greatest threat to world peace" is an anti-Semitic view to hold. Amp argues that it is plausible to think that "the most likely hotspot to directly or indirectly cause WW3 is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank." Maybe...but I have two objections to that line of argument. First, I don't think most people answer the question in that particular mode, nor do I think that the questioners intend it to come off that way. I could say that America is the greatest threat to world peace simply because we have the most potential to do harm and are the target of a lot of dislike. But to me, that question is more designed to get at "which country is most likely to go out an aggressively start an international conflict," to which I think Iran or North Korea are far and away clearer choices than Israel. That ties in to my second objection, which is that no matter how you cut it, the answer to that question has normative implications for the named country. Let's say that I buy that the West Bank controversy is the conflict most likely to spill over into WW3 (and I'm not sure that I do). That doesn't necessarily make Israel the greatest threat to world peace. To do that, you need to answer two more questions, which I think are progressively more absurd. The first is that the West Bank conflict is unambiguously Israel's fault. If they aren't the blameworthy party, then the peacebreaking effect of the West Bank shouldn't be laid at their feet. Second, I need to agree that the injustice of the occupation is worth sparking an international conflict over. If it isn't, then I should feel more threatened by the radical imams or whomever who are making a particularly stubborn border conflict into the most likely nuclear holocaust scenario.

So really, there are three statements I need to affirm before I can get at that answer, each one a bit harder to plausibly argue than the one before. The first is that the occupation is the most likely hotspot to spark WW3. The second is that this conflict is primarily Israel's fault. The third is that this is an injustice worthy of war. If I answer no to the first statement, then my answer to the survey question shifts to North Korea or something. If I answer yes to the first but no to the second, then my answer becomes Palestine (or, if I feel they're roughly equal at fault, then "Israel and Palestine"). And if I answer yes to one and two, but not three, then my answer becomes "whoever made the crazy decision that the West Bank occupation was worth plunging the world into darkness and despair over," which almost definitely isn't Israel but could easily be Iran or the Arab League. Say what you will about Israel's settlement policy, but the folks who think that Israel harbors global territorial domination ambitions (*cough* Hamas *cough*) have crossed into the realm of paranoia. Put bluntly, even the most anti-Israel interpretation of Israel's interests can't seriously argue that Israel wants the Palestine issue to turn into a global war--and if it does go global, it's going to be some other actor making the push. And since "the Jews [want to] control the world" has a pretty well-developed history as an anti-Semitic myth, I don't feel bad about accusing said paranoids of being anti-Semitic.

Personally, I'm not sure if I buy one, I definitely don't buy two, but to the extent that I do buy one (and assuming arguendo that I buy two, which I don't even think I have to for the purpose of the claim that I have to make), since I don't think that the I/P conflict comes close to justifying another world war (and I do think it's possible to justify one--WWII was a just war, in my view), the "greatest threat to world peace" becomes whatever actor turns said conflict into a global conflagration. The wildly obvious answer to that query is Iran. Which means that, even starting from the premise that "the most likely hotspot to directly or indirectly cause WW3 is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank," the conclusion I'd logically come to is that "therefore, Iran is the greatest threat to world peace."

So to sum up briefly: saying that a country is "the great threat to world peace" is inherently a normative claim. So to say that Israel is said country, you have to believe a) that the West Bank is the hotspot most prone to global escalation b) that Israel is completely or primarily at fault in the region and either c) that those who would push this conflict from local to international are right or d) that Israel is the one making that push. Since this syllogism is illogical bordering on irrational, I think it's fair to question whether or not it's adherents might have adopted some anti-Semitic sentiments from their travels in our lovely (Jewish-controlled) world.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Transcendentally Right

A brief appendix to my Risks and Rewards in Theory post, where I claimed that Cindy Sheehan was "consistently, extremely, and transcendentally wrong on almost every issue." The flip side of her is Barack Obama, who appears to be right on nearly everything. Kind of incredible, actually.

See Kevin Drum for the latest in Obama amazingness. To wit:
The federal government would pay 10 percent of the $6.7 billion in annual health costs for retirees that are weighing down General Motors, Ford and Chrysler if they'll commit to building more fuel-efficient cars, Obama proposed in a speech Tuesday before a panel at the National Governors Association conference. He called it a "win-win proposal for the industry."

Specifically, he wants the auto industry to do the following:
Ramp up new fuel standards that will result in production of 65 billion gallons of alternative fuels per year by 2025.

Mandate that the federal government buy only flex fuel vehicles.

Within ten years, mandate that every car in America is a flex fuel vehicle. Include a $100 tax credit per vehicle to ease the pain.

Put yellow gas caps on all flex fuel vehicles.

Provide a $30,000 tax credit to any gas station that installs E85 pumps (i.e., a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline).

Matt Yglesias is less hot on the idea on a policy level, although he recognizes that it is political gold. He thinks that it may violate WTO rules (though he doesn't explain how, and I don't see the violation on first pass. If having complete national healthcare isn't a WTO violation, then how does partial coverage become one? Explanation appreciated). At the moment, Yglesias hasn't convinced me (though he definitely didn't pour his full argumentative talent into dismantling the plan). So I stand with Carpetbagger Report that this is win-win-win for Democrats, and they should press hard for it.

Just showing, yet again, that Obama is the golden boy.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Realistic Assessment

I'm not much of a Realist when it comes to foreign policy. That's not to say I don't care about protecting America's interests abroad, just that it isn't the overriding concern. The sort of Cold War mentality where we prop up evil dictatorships to keep them out of the Soviet column is abhorrent to me. So, if someone says "we need to intervene in Sudan because their oil resources are a vital strategic interest," I'm skeptical. But if they say "Sudan's in the midst of a genocide--we need to save lives!" I start paying closer attention.

But not everyone is like me. And that's why this New Republic article laying out the Realist case for a Darfur intervention is so important. It's clearly written, compelling, and urgent. Everyone should read it.

The gist of the argument is that we need to check China's influence in Africa. Basically, every time we withhold economic or political support to an African regime because they're hacking the limbs off their citizens (or whatever), China rushes to fill the gap. So when the US delayed giving Nigeria the arms shipment they wanted, they just ran to China, who said "sure thing!" China offers economic, military, and political assistance to all comers, and (and here's the important part), a shield via its security council veto against meaningful international sanction.

This is where Sudan comes in. Sudan is one of China's biggest client states. And, by committing genocide, Sudan is also the biggest human rights violator in the region. If the US doesn't intervene in Darfur, the message is that China's influence can prevent meaningful sanction over literally any governmental policy. And we, for obvious reasons, don't want that: it would give a blank check to any machete-wielding militia with government support, it would make human rights in the region a dead letter, and it would eliminate any hope the US had of competing with China for regional influence (after all, why bother abiding by pesky American rights standards when China will give you the same support for free?).

I buy the analysis. But since I'd be willing to intervene even without that argument, I'm not the important guy here. It's on the rest of you now. Go forth, and read.

Mississippi Irony

Mississippi takes a step to ban all abortions. Boo. But this clause I find intriguing:
Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, persuaded the House committee to approve an amendment that says the state would provide free education and medical services to any child born in the state, until age 19.

Scott said her proposal could extend beyond the public schools and Medicaid already offered. She said it could make a significant difference for a poor woman who's trying to decide whether to have an abortion.

"Anyone who wants to take this language out of this bill is not for life," Scott said.

This would be a spectacular policy. And I agree with Representative Scott--a clause like this is make-or-break for being truly "pro-life" (as opposed to "pro-birth").

But here's the delicious irony. This clause would have never passed by itself. This sort of universal education and healthcare commitment is definitely not up the GOP's alley, neither in Mississippi nor anywhere else. But Scott convinced them that it kind of went part and parcel with a true pro-life position (and again, she's dead right), so they threw it in.

Now, the next step in the "banning abortion" theater game (assuming the bill gets passed by the full legislature) is where a federal Court immediately enjoins its enforcement. This isn't even a close call--even if the Court thought that abortion should be criminalized, it has to obey higher Court precedent (which is really clear in this case). But, Courts try, whenever possible, to only strike down the unconstitutional aspects of a bill. If they can "sever" the unconstitutional parts from the constitutional parts, they will. The "ban abortion" clause and the "free education and healthcare" clause are clearly separable, that is, you can enforce one without enforcing the other. So the latter will likely be preserved even if the former goes down in flames.

The upshot is that Mississippi's abortion ban will immediately be struck down, but the children's welfare statute will remain on the books, fully enforcable. Which puts MS politicians in the lovely position of either acceding to a massive new liberal program, or having to repeal healthcare for poor children (can you see the ads?).

Sometimes, the straightest path...

(TMVer Justin Gardner with the heads up)

Risks and Rewards in Theory

One of my pet theories is that only actions in which their is a potential for really bad consequences also have the potential for really good consequences. Take judicial power. I am a supporter of judicial interventionism. I recognize that this could potentially lead to catastrophically bad results (e.g., Dred Scott). But I see it as the only way to lead to good/right results. That is to say, a non-interventionist approach, to me, is a guarantee of moderate suckiness. The same discretion that enables wildly unjust results also unlocks the potential for achieving just results. Since I want to preserve the potential for justice in the system, I support judicial power, but keep a careful eye on it to make sure it's being used for good and not evil (I recognize that these are hotly disputed terms, but that's a subject for another post). Similarly, Ian F. Haney Lopez observed that any use of race conscious thinking could theoretically be perverted to racist ends, but if we're serious about ending racism, race conscious thinking is absolutely necessary, so that's a risk we're going to have to take. Focusing solely on when it goes wrong means foreclosing the only options that offer the chance of getting things right.

An interesting example of this is Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrat most hated by Democrats this side of Zell Miller. I'm kind of ambivalent to old Joe. On one hand, he's been far too willing to defend really bad government policies, serving as a GOP foil to legitimate Democratic attacks on the Bush administration. I think the charges of "Fox News Democrat" are overstated, but not completely drawn from whole cloth either. I'm certainly less of a fan than I was even a few years ago. If The New Republic was revisiting its presidential endorsement issue from 2004, I'd expect and hope that they would not give it to Lieberman (of course, I supported Clark in 2004).

On the other hand, the same maverick streak that places Joe on the side of Bush on issues I'd rather he'd not be, also means that he's been ahead of the curve on a bunch of issues I'd like the Democratic party to push harder on. The Department of Homeland Security? His idea. And in general, Lieberman's constant press for more security funding has been superb. So all in all, I'm willing to overlook, if not forgive, Lieberman's flaws as a politician. I don't support the primary campaign in Connecticut to knock Lieberman out of office (and it's not based off a generic opposition to challenging one's own incumbents--I support Ciro Rodriguez's effort to take back his seat from Henry Cuellar). The attributes that make him sometimes do really dumb things also sometimes make him do really awesome things--I want to preserve that.

I look at Lieberman and see a flawed but ultimately defensible politician. Sure, when he's wrong, he's wrong in a much bigger way than Senator Mainstream Democrat. But on the other hand, he's right bigger too. One can debate about where we should draw the line--but I think it's unfair to cast Lieberman as some sort of uniquely evil man. So when someone makes a Nazi analogy to Joe, calling him "Herr Lieberman", I think that crosses a very serious line. Godwin's Law aside, I blogged specifically on why, in "ordinary political disputes" (which, for better or worse, the anti-Lieberman campaign is), ethnic slurs (by which I mean epithets designed to have particular potency based on the target's race, religion, or background) should be considered out of bounds. See the linked post for the full argument, but implicitly comparing a Jew to a Nazi obviously qualifies--even if one doesn't think that Nazi comparisons are per se wrong, it's qualitatively different when one does it to a Jew because of their unique history. That it was endorsed by one of the more popular liberal blogs on the web is even more distressing, and shows an inability of some persons to divide between political opposition and personal slurs (H/T: The Plank).

Of course, like the proverbial coin that flips tails fifty times in a row, there are those people whose "maverick" streak causes them to be consistently, extremely, and transcendentally wrong on almost every issue. Cindy Sheehan jumps immediately to mind. Even though we both identify as progressives, she still manages to take that value system and morph it into complete idiocy. I probably feel about Sheehan what many people feel about Lieberman (of course, I think I'm right and they're wrong, but whatever), but I'm not going to engage in any sort of "hate speech" against her (calling her a "bitch" or "pseudo-Stalinist pinko" or however one puts down a white female leftist these days). I'll just keep on saying that I think Sheehan is clearly, completely, indisputably wrong about nearly every issue she opens her mouth about. Despite what the right would like, that doesn't make me question progressivism inherently. It just reminds me that any good theory (like progressivism) has the potential to be used for evil. If it doesn't, then it likely isn't flexible enough to actually be a good theory.

So to recap: strong theories will inherently risk being wrong big sometimes (Lieberman) or even all the time (Sheehan). But that isn't, by itself, a reason to reject the theory. It's just a reason to be more vigilant in its application.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Introducing the Kennedy Court

The hyper-partisan Texas redistricting map is coming to the high Court. I think that partisan gerrymandering is one of the great evils of modern American politics, and would love to see the Court take a stand on it. Will it? Tough question.

Again, let's assume that Alito and Roberts vote conservative, giving us our standard 4-4 liberal/conservative split. The wild card, then, is Justice Kennedy. In this TMV post I touched on my sentiment that Kennedy will drift slightly to the left over the next few years and occupy O'Connor's spot as designated swing vote (most people would probably have placed Kennedy slightly to the right of O'Connor previously). I believe that in past cases, Kennedy has signaled severe discomfort with partisan redistricting, but has expressed concern that there is no workable standard for remedying the problem. He's had several years to think of one, and I think he really wants to lay down the law here. I think that Kennedy's normal cautious, centrist mentality can be overcome (and hard) if he's presented with a case that nakedly violates his sense of justice or fairness. That explains how a judge widely considered to be moderate could write such sweeping and uplifting opinions in Lawrence v. Texas, Roper v. Simmons, Lee v. Weisman, and Romer v. Evans (to name a few). This topic, by my reckoning, seems to be elucidating the same sort of visceral reaction in Justice Kennedy that those cases did. Couple that with just how blatant the partisan interest was here, and the Justice Department's political hacks overruling its career appointees, and I think it might push Kennedy over the edge.

Many legal wags named the previous manifestation of the Court "The O'Connor Court," because of her critical role as the pivotal "5th vote" in so many cases. Kennedy seems poised to fill her role. And this case will be highly indicative of what that means for legal doctrine and the nation as a whole.

TNR Takes a Step

Apologizes for the lack of blogging--this week is looking to be a doozy. Hopefully I'll settle in as the week progresses.

Anyway, apparently the next Editor in Chief of The New Republic is going to be Franklin Foer. I'm a fan of the choice--Foer is a gifted and talented writer (as even the churlish folks at DKos admit), and think he will do great things for the magazine. Everyone is marveling at how painless the process is--apparently, TNR leadership battles are normally editorial bloodbaths. Hooray for unity!

Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall put in good words, Kevin Drum thinks that TNR's one barrier to greatness is its refusal to say outright that Iraq was a mistake. Maybe so, I don't know. Comments?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Quote of the "Day"

"Day" is in quotations because this was written in an article published in 1979. The topic is an author's futile quest to find objective moral norms:
Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked.
Buying and selling each other is depraved.
Those who stood up and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot--and General Custer too--have earned salvation.
Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
There is in the world such a thing as evil.
[All together now:] Sez who?
God help us.

From: Arthur Leff, Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law, 1979 Duke L.J. 1229, 1249.

Eyes and Ears

Interesting editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times about the rise in European anti-Semitism, and the concurrent rise in Europe ignoring it. Scary stuff. I don't endorse all the rhetoric about Islamists taking over the world (though I think we do need to remember that is the agenda of the radical wing of the Muslim world, I always think articles like this overstate how prevalent this sentiment is amongst the rank-and-file), but the rising tide of anti-Jewish violence in Europe and elsewhere cannot be ignored--no matter how much France might want to.

It's important to call this what it is--anti-Semitism. That it isn't being covered might partially be about Islamic appeasement, but I reject calling that the whole story--that's as demeaning to the victims as the French police or the British papers who refused to say that their was a Jewish link to the cases. Murder of Jews isn't a political tool you get to trot out to show just how really bad the Islamists are. It's bad because killing Jews is bad, period. And not covering the murder of Jews as Jews is a form of anti-Semitism, irrespective of how it plays into our global conception of what the war on radical Islamism is.

H/T: The VC, see also Captain's Quarters.