Saturday, December 16, 2006

10% Is Nothing

One of the more popular "race-neutral" alternatives to Affirmative Action is the so-called "10% plan" adopted by Texas in the wake of the Hopwood decision. In essence, it automatically grants admission to any Texas state university any student who graduates in the top 10% of his or her class. It has effectively mantained diversity at Texas Universities--mostly because there are enough heavily segregated schools where nearly all of the student body (and thus, the top 10% as well) is Black.

However, as Ilya Somin powerfully demonstrates, 10% plans are worse in nearly every possible respect than traditional affirmative action plans--even hard quotas. Traditional affirmative action rarely accounts for more than 20-25% of any entering class. But at the University of Texas' flagship campus, a full 71% of the class is comprised of top 10%ers. That gives almost no flexibility to admissions directors to try and find balance, admitting students who attended more rigorous schools but were not in the top 10%, or have special talents or experiences that aren't manifested in a GPA.

Somin continues:
To be sure, this result could happen with traditional racial preferences as well. However, the ten percent plan affects a great many more admissions decisions than even the most rigid old-style affirmative action systems do. Rarely, if ever, do traditional affirmative action plans determine the admission of more than 15-20% of a school's student body. By contrast, at the University of Texas at Austin, over 70% of the student body was admitted under the ten percent plan. While some of these students would surely have gotten in anyway, it is highly likely that the ten percent plan leads to much larger sacrifices of academic merit than do racial preferences similar to those used at most other academic institutions.

Second, and probably much worse, the article notes that the formula creates perverse incentives for students to try to game the system by transferring to weaker schools or taking easier classes. While neither the article nor other evidence I have seen provides precise data on the numbers of students who do this, the effect may well be large. When I lived in Texas in 2001-2002, I met quite a few people with high school-age children who had switched to weaker schools in order to take advantage of the plan, or were considering doing so. Obviously, there is no similar perverse incentive created by traditional affirmative action. With a system of racial quotas or "plus factors," both white and minority high school students still have incentives to go to strong schools, in order to maximize their college admissions chances.

Third, the tradeoffs inherent in the ten percent plan are less transparent to both students and the general public than those involved in racial quotas. As a result, it is more likely that harmful effects will remain unmonitored and undetected. If public universities are going to strive for racial diversity, the costs and benefits of doing so should be as transparent as possible.

Finally, the ten percent plan also has the effect of disadvantaging high-achieving minority students who go to strong schools and - in part for that reason - fall short of the top ten percent in their class. Not only are these students disfavored relative to minority students attending weaker schools, they are also disfavored compared to whites in weaker schools as well.

I've noticed this dynamic in situations outside of the "10% plan." When debating the merits of the Louisville and Seattle plans, one thing that impressed me about all the "race-neutral" alternatives is that they all seemed to worsen the negative aspects of affirmative actions. Students would have to travel even further, academic standards would become less relevant, assignment would have no bearing on any remotely meritorious characteristic and would often be completely random. The only advantage was that they didn't "use" race--but yet, everyone knew they were an end-around for racial diversity as well! It's incoherent.

Of course, one could say that 10% plans have the advantage of not explicitly race-based, which might excuse them under a pure "color-blind" view. Yet, as Somin notes, you would then have to excuse not "explicitly race-based" efforts by the Jim Crow South to preserve racial hierarchy (of which there were many).

In the end, if we're going to pursue racial integration in the schools, we might as well be overt about it. It's not just more honest--it also works better for all concerned.

Friday, December 15, 2006

On The First Night of Chanukah

My voters gave to me....Second Place!

I'm thrilled. Really, I am. To think, I started this blog before I even entered college. And now it is getting recognition from all corners of the world. 2nd place in a category that nominally includes 1,500 blogs is quite an accomplishment. And I thank every person who voted for me and this blog.

Oh, and as for the real Chanukah present--I got a $25 iTunes gift card. Which I proceeded to immediately use to buy the "Final Fantasy IX" soundtrack. Delightful.

So, Happy Chanukah, and congratulations to the champion!

Naughty or Nice

Buried at the end of an Obama-related post over at Captain's Quarters, I noted a very interesting observation:
The issue for Obama is the vulnerability he has to scandal. His trump card will be his outsider status and his candor. Obama represents the hope of a change from business as usual in Washington, a uniter instead of a divider -- the kind of meme that elected the last two Presidents, of course, and we have seen the resultant increase in partisan rancor over the last 14 years. If Obama's relationship with Rezko gains any traction, it threatens to hurt Obama's greatest strength.

Emphasis my own. I was six when Bill Clinton first ran for President, so I really don't know to what degree he ran on a platform of inspiration and unity and whatnot, but I certainly recall the "uniter, not a divider" rhetoric of George W. Bush in 2000. I always understood it as distancing from the vicious attack machine of the Republican Congress, whose constant scandal-mongering and ill-advised impeachment push had seriously turned off voters to the entire concept of Republican leadership.

Of course, "uniter, not a divider" rapidly became a sick joke with regards to the Bush administration, which without fail has set out to divide the country as deeply and as passionately as possible. That's how a guy like me went from supporting the Iraq war in 2002 to a bona fide anti-Bush firebreather in the Daily Kos vein.

Even still, however, I wonder whether there might be a grain of truth to the idea that "unity" pledges are ultimately self-defeating. This is not a happy thought for me, as I am a to-the-bone supporter of Obama's brand of politics.

But consider: Politics feeds off a division. Politicians need to formulate a reason to vote for you, which means voting against the other guy. Normally, that division comes down simply on a policy level--politician A argues that his opponent's plans are ill-advised, weak, or wrong, and the opponent responds in kind. However, if A attempts to take the high road and reach out to his opponent's base, that paradigm doesn't work as well. B's policies aren't under attack, they're being co-opted. That leaves B with two responses: Either a) press even harder to show policy distinctions, which means focusing on the most extreme elements (or perceived elements) of A's beliefs, or b) go straight mudslinging. Either way, it's a recipe for increased, rather than decreased, negativity. Since one can't counter nice with nice, one has to go naughty. And political discourse gets dragged down with it.

Agree? Or am I being too cynical?


Last Push! Let's finish the vote strong.

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Also, before I forget, I added Captain's Quarters to the blogroll. Welcome aboard! (I'm sure he's thrilled).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Vote For Me!

Note: As long as voting remains open, this post will stay at the top. Newer content will appear below.

The 2006 Weblog Awards

If you want to cast a vote for this blog in the 2006 Weblog Awards (Best of the Top 3501 - 5000), you can do so here. You can vote once a day, so I'll be bumping this post to the top each day.


12/14 11:25 AM: Well that will teach me to be optimistic. About anything. Not only did I have a sucky day in general, but my 35 vote lead completely evaporated, with Blue Gal storming ahead by as much as 70 before settling down at 47 when I went to sleep. Currently, she's up 53.

12/13 Midnight: The blogs are finally starting to space out. I'm sitting on a 34 vote lead over Blue Gal, who herself is up 17 on CDR. Good news for me!

12/12 Midnight: Today was a big day. The current tally stands as follows:

The Debate Link: 361
Blue Gal: 349
CDR Salamander: 339

This is my largest lead in some time (a whopping 12 vote margin!). I like the trend lines, but its too early to celebrate--after all, I came back from an even greater margin to take this lead in the first place!

12/11 Midnight: I guess miracles can happen. The race is in a dead heat, with Blue Gal 4 votes ahead of The Debate Link 4 votes ahead of CDR. I made up some serious ground today. At this pace, I may well yet pull this baby off.

12/10 Midnight: Blue Gal and CDR seemed locked in a battle for first (there within a vote of each other now. I'm 25 votes behind, nestled comfortably in third. Unless I stage a rally, it looks like that's where I'll stay. Do you believe in miracles?

12/09 Midnight: As Friday draws to a close, here are the top 4:
1) Blue Gal: 125 votes (22.77%)
2) CDR Salamander: 113 votes (20.58%)
3) The Debate Link: 99 votes (18.03%)
4) Geeky Mom: 74 votes (13.48%)

It drops off significantly after that.

12/08 Bump: After a fast start, The Debate Link is fading hard. I'm now in third place, and threatening to drop back into fourth. Get on it, TDLers!

"Fit the Description"

The Washington Post has a stellar story in today's "Style" section about the experiences Black men in Queens have with the police. It's extremely powerful.
The stomach flutter starts as a cop strolls up, or a patrol car flashes its lights, or two officers stand atop the escalator at the Jamaica Center in Queens and run their eyes over the subway riders.

"I see a cop and I can't help it -- I feel butterflies," said Tareaphe Richards, 21, a college student with an oval face and husky good looks. "They'll pull me aside sometimes because they say I fit the description. Yeah. Young black male. I always 'fit the description.'"

One of the problems with trying to impress upon White America the immense psychic (and other) damage racial profiling inflicts upon Blacks is that the practice (and its pervasiveness) is so foreign to them.
The Washington Post interviewed 12 young black men in Jamaica -- streetwise and college students alike -- and each said he had been stopped by police at least three times. The Post interviewed 12 young white men in Greenwich Village and Tribeca in Manhattan. Just one of them reported ever being stopped by an officer, for skateboarding in a subway station.

I've never been stopped "on the street" by a cop. But I do remember one time when I was a teenager playing "hide and go seek in the dark" by my house. I was crouching behind a leaf pile in my front yard, wearing a dark hoodie, when a cop pulls up behind me. It could not have possibly looked more like a stakeout, and I knew it. So I stood up and heartily waved at the cop, who looked at me for a moment, then kept driving. There is no way in hell he would have just kept driving if I was Black.
Richards lives in Jamaica and serves as a youth minister at his church. A year ago, he walked to church in his finest suit, hands jammed in his pockets. As he rounded a corner on a street of single-family houses, two officers spotted him and one raised his gun, ordering him: Take your hands out of your pockets!

The police were investigating a shooting from the night before and feared Richards was a Dapper Dan gang member in search of more victims.

The cop's hands wavered; Richards could smell the adrenaline, his and theirs. In a methodical voice he said he-was-taking-his-hands-out-of-his-pockets-and-raising-his-arms-over-his-head.

Fear? Embarrassment burned worse. "I felt violated, I can't even explain it," Richards said. "Imagine someone I minister to seeing that."

If it happened once, maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal. But that's the problem--it's pervasive. It's a fact of life. And it happens again, and again, with real consequences.
You'd like to think that's it and turn to Deacon, but Richards has another story. A few months later, he drove his church's white van to a youth basketball game. He had 11 black teenagers in his care. A police car flashed its lights and Richards pulled to the curb.

"They said there was an incident the night before with a van," Richards says, his face wrinkling in disgust. "I asked them, 'And that van, it had my church's name printed on the side of it?' "

The officers didn't appreciate his humor. They told the kids to get out and spent an hour ransacking the van. Richards arrived at the gym so late that the team had to forfeit the game.

Communities need cops. They need people who will do a tough job in dangerous neighborhoods to keep people safe. But the police can't do its job effectively if its wards are afraid of them as much as they are afraid of the criminals. Communities need cops, but cops need to maintain the support of their communities as well.
Richards has something else to say. He had given a lot of thought to becoming a police officer; he had even scored in the 99th percentile on the police test. Good salary, benefits, retirement after 20 years -- what's not to like, except this:

"How could I become something that everyone is scared of now? How could I risk becoming what scares me?"


Nothing witty this time. Just go vote Debate Link.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's Written Apology Time

The Salt Lake Tribune (just a hunch, but I suspect not part of the liberal media) reports on a immigration raid at a local factory:
HYRUM - If only for a few minutes, Maria felt like an "illegal alien" in her homeland - the United States of America.

She thought she was going on break from her job at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant here on Tuesday, but instead she and others were forced to stand in a line by U.S. immigration agents. Non-Latinos and people with lighter skin were plucked out of line and given blue bracelets.

The rest, mostly Latinos with brown skin, waited until they were "cleared" or arrested by "la migra," the popular name in Spanish for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees said.

"I was in the line because of the color of my skin," she said, her voice shaking. "They're discriminating against me. I'm from the United States, and I didn't even get a blue bracelet."

Steve Benen: "If the DHS really conducted an immigration raid by separating people based entirely on their skin color, somebody better lose their job over it."

Wrong. Someone should lose their job. And the department should get sued. And they should have to pay a massive settlement for forgetting that it is no longer 1925. And then they should get someone to explain to America's Latino population that our immoral crackdown on undocumented workers is absolutely nothing they need to be concerned about whatsoever.
In Cache County, minorities make up 12 percent - Latinos are 8 percent - of the population of 98,000 people.

Women were crying as they were handcuffed with plastic ties and put on the buses. Some weren't allowed to get their belongings from their lockers. Maria, who declined to use her last name, argued with an agent because she was getting the coat for her 34-year-old niece, Blanca, who was arrested.

"She [the agent] told me, 'Do you think it's going to be cold in Mexico?' "Maria said, holding back tears. ''I've never seen people get treated como animales."

Maria was able to give Blanca a goodbye hug and promised to pack up her trailer. Gloria Alvanes looked for her husband at the plant. He called a relative before he was arrested and taken away. She said she is upset because she doesn't understand why the government is treating undocumented workers as criminals when most of them are just here to work. Alvanes has been married to her husband for five years, but he hasn't become a legal U.S. resident because the immigration process is taking longer than they expected. Now, she and her daughter, Marilyn Cornejo, a high school junior, are worried because they have a tight budget, it's 12 days before Christmas and there is no money for an immigration lawyer.

"What do they want us to do?" Marilyn asked. "Do they want us to drop out of school and get jobs?"

At five schools in Cache County, counselors comforted students who feared their parents had been taken into custody. Some school leaders explained to Latino students what was happening and made sure there was someone at home.

Latino leader Rolando Murillo, who happened to be at Mountaincrest High School in Hyrum, talked with about 100 students, including children whose parents are in this country legally but who fear "la migra."

"La migra is a nightmare for them," he said.

As usual, the immigration debate forgets that we're dealing with actual human beings. "Being Brown", as one of the women at the plant put it, is far more relevant to how their treated (como animales) than "being human." And that is a shame. A shame to the DHS, and a shame to the nation.


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Silence Is Ungolden

Solangel Maldonado at BlackProf has some interesting thoughts on the recent poll on racism I just blogged on, as well as a panel discussion.
Jared Taylor of American Renaissance magazine stated that Americans spend too much time talking about whites' racism against Blacks, but never address Blacks' racism against whites. As an example, he pointed out that Blacks can call whites "crackers" without any repercussions, but whites cannot use the "N" word. Although I do not believe this is a good example, it might be worthwhile to examine whether Blacks should be able to use potentially offensive words when referring to whites. According to Mr. Taylor, whites live in constant fear of saying something that might offend Blacks. Is this true? If so, does this "fear" hinder opportunities for cross-cultural communication and impede the development of personal and professional relationships between Blacks and whites?

Taylor is not my favorite human being, to say the least. When even FrontPageMagazine calls you a "white nationalist who has clearly rejected a multi-racial society," that's a pretty powerful sign that the charge of being a racist is not hyperbole. I have no clue how he got included on a panel on a major television network.

That being said, I agree with Professor Maldonado: Taylor's "cracker" "N-word" example is really dumb, but there is something to be said for the notion that White people walk on egg-shells when talking to Blacks. This doesn't get discussed for a variety reasons. Obviously, its difficult to start a discussion when the topic is "we're anxious about having discussions." Moreover, the Whites who do tend to broach the topic tend to be the ones like Mr. Taylor, who are appalled they can't say the "n-word" on equal grounds with Black people, rather than White people who honestly want to pursue the topic in good faith. Because of that, the public discourse on race conversation tends to come from a particular wing of Whites that doesn't seem interested in truly pursuing a race-equal society. And thus, Black people look warily on the topic as a whole as well.

This is problematic. Patricia J. Williams notes that race topics are made to be unmentionable
[both] blacks and whites will feel keenly circumscribed. Perhaps most people never intend to be racist or oppressive or insulting, but by describing zones of vulnerability, by setting up regions of conversational taboo and fences of rigidified politeness, the unintentional exile of individuals as well as races may be quietly accomplished and avoided indefinitely. [Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights 65 (1991)]

Breaking this discursive impasse has to be considered a top priority for anti-racism scholars in the years to come.


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Insult to Injury

In the last congressional election of the cycle, Democrat Ciro Rodriguez has defeated incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla to take the 23rd Texas District for the Donkey.

Henry Bonilla (R) - 32,165 45.68%
Ciro D. Rodriguez (D) - 38,247 54.32%

The district is heavily Latino and heavily rural, though it does include portions of the San Antonio area.

The race was a run-off because Bonilla could not crack 50% of the vote in the first round of elections. Yesterday, he ran behind his election day total (around 48%), giving Ciro the victory. What to we glean from this?

Well, in part, the results can be explained by the simple fact that Democrats are energized right now and Republicans are demoralized. But I think there is more to it. Given the extent that many people were seen as voting "against" the GOP rather than "for" the Democrats, there was always a risk of buyer's remorse setting in. The Democrats, by taking both the Senate and House, exceeded many people's expectations. It's entirely possible that when they woke up the morning after election day, they'd be like, "oh crap, what have we done?" The election of Ciro Rodriguez in a post-election day race he was seen as an underdog in is a signal that voters are comfortable with the idea of a Democratic House and Senate, and are at least willing to give us a shot. That's good news for Democrats hoping to consolidate their gains come 2008.

Congratulations to the victor!


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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Self-Fullfilling Prophecies

I was catching up with an old friend today, and the subject turned to Affirmative Action. My friend is a Republican (but the sensible sort), and was discussing a paper she had written in opposition to AA. One of the arguments she made was the popular claim that Affirmative Action hurts Blacks by increasing White resentment because it is perceived that they are getting something they don't deserve. My first thought on that front is what Pittsburgh Law Professor Richard Delgado pointed out--it doesn't seem borne out by the facts. In the era since we've had Affirmative Action, the public image and perception of Black Americans has improved dramatically. Many experts chalk that up to the increased presence of African-Americans in higher education, elite jobs and industry, and overall prevalence in the daily lives of White people. It's possible that this is just masking some negative effect AA has on popular views of Blacks. But it seems that any reduction in Black public image, if there is one, is outweighed by the positive effect of increased Black presence directly fostered by Affirmative Action.

But after reading about this controversy at Tufts University, I realized there is another issue in play here. The people who think less of Blacks or think them "undeserving" of their spots in elite colleges are the same as those opposing Affirmative Action! By and large, I haven't noticed the people who support Affirmative Action also subscribing to the view that Black students are inferior. So to the extent that there is a correlation between AA and views of Black inferiority, it's self-fullfilling! At Tufts, a conservative publication wrote up the following Christmas Carol "parody":
O Come All Ye Black Folk
Boisterous yet Desirable
O come ye, O come ye to our University
Come and we will admit you,
Born in to oppression;
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

O Sing, gospel choirs,
We will accept your children,
No matter what your grades are, F's, D's, or G's,
Give them all privileged status;
We will welcome all.
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

All come! Blacks, we need you, Born into the ghetto.
O Jesus! We need you now to fill our racial quotas.
Descendants of Africa, with brown skin arriving:
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

O Come All Ye Black Folk!

Made out as a critique of Affirmative Action, this carol reveals more than it intends to. It just assumes that all the Black students at Tufts are D or F students, underqualified, accepted only to fill a racial quota. Even under the most cynical view, this is highly doubtful. Satirical or no, it is still a racist poem, and the overlap between the anti-AA and anti-Black camps should be disturbing.

The point is that I don't think the people who subscribe to the view of Blacks as undeserving of their earnings are the ones best suited to dictating policy on reparative action for African-Americans. They should not benefit from a problem of their own making.

Meanwhile, an interesting poll was just released detailing America's views on racism. Unsurprisingly, there were some racial splits, with 84% of Blacks but only 66% of Whites believing that racism was a "somewhat" or "very serious" problem. However, I would have lowballed even the 66% figure, so I think that's pretty good news. Twice as many Blacks compared to Whites reported being victims of racial discrimination (50% to 25%). Excerpt from the article:
Professor Jack Dovidio of the University of Connecticut, who has researched racism for more than 30 years, estimates up to 80 percent of white Americans have racist feelings they may not even recognize.

"We've reached a point that racism is like a virus that has mutated into a new form that we don't recognize," Dovidio said.

He added that 21st-century racism is different from that of the past.

"Contemporary racism is not conscious, and it is not accompanied by dislike, so it gets expressed in indirect, subtle ways," he said.

That "stealth" discrimination reveals itself in many different situations.

A three-year undercover investigation by the National Fair Housing Alliance found that real estate agents steered whites away from integrated neighborhoods and steered blacks in to predominantly black neighborhoods.

Racism also can be a factor in getting a job.

Candidates named Emily O'Brien or Neil McCarthy were much more likely to get calls back from potential employers than applicants named Tamika Williams and Jamal Jackson, even though they had the same credentials, according to a study by the University of Chicago.

I think publicizing the degree of "stealth discrimination" in America is absolutely crucial to revitalizing anti-racist sentiment here.


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Debate This!

The L.A. Times has a neat article on the growing trend of "performance debate," roughly speaking, debate that utilizes unconventional "guerilla" tactics to subvert doiminant debating paradigms and offer new ways of looking at topics. The simplest version is the kritik. But several teams go well beyond that:
At a recent Malibu contest, Brett Beeler of Cal State Fullerton stopped mid-sentence in a debate and asked teammate Caitlin Gray for a document.

As she rummaged around, Beeler impatiently left the podium and whispered heatedly at her. The tiff escalated, and suddenly he slapped her.

The judge of the debate came unglued. "You need to leave right now!" he shouted at Beeler.

But the slap was an act — a way to breathe life into the otherwise dry debate topic, a court case involving domestic violence.

"I really did believe it was an incident of domestic abuse," said the judge, Orion Steele, a professor at the University of Redlands. "It took me a good half-hour to cool down." Then he awarded the victory to Fullerton.

Each of Fullerton's two-person debate squads uses a strategy tailored to individual members' backgrounds.

Puja Chopra and Parija Patel, both of Indian descent, sit down and meditate in debates to symbolize that arguing over legislation is pointless because true change must come from within.
When performance teams face each other, things can get pretty weird. Long Beach State once faced two women from Concordia College in Minnesota who stripped down to G-strings and talked about reclaiming their bodies from objectification by men.

The all-male California team couldn't get past the distraction. "Their brains left them," said Neesen, their coach.

Another contest pitted a Fort Hays student dancing with a chair against a Northwestern team reading the script of "Dr. Strangelove." The topic was federal control of Native American land.

Another prominent tactic is quoting rap lyrics in rounds.

Kevin Drum says that actions such as this "better suited for a career on Fox News than the debaters of my parents' generation."

I don't think that's true, and I think it mistakes the role of these performative debates. Although the L.A. Times tries to pitch performance debate as in opposition to obscure post-modern philosophers, there are actually very deep theoretical roots to this sort of debate. Much of the argumentative justification for why this sort of debate is legitimate, what its impacts are, etc, stem directly from the most cutting edge philosophy out there today. In other words, it isn't just theatrics--it's got a real and sustained connection to important educational concepts. To take the rap lyrics example, I've quoted with approval Professor Paul Butler's stellar article Much Respect: Toward a Hip-Hop Theory of Punishment. That rap music, as an expression of the lived-experience of at least portions of Black America, may have something to tell us about policies and procedures that disproportionately impact Black Americans shouldnot surprise us. Ultimately, the use of rap lyrics is not meaningfully different from, say, the law and literature movement. Many scholars have discussed the importance of narratives as a means of giving credance to suppressed voices--driving home the oppression they face and the horrors they've realized. Dry debate over abstractions, they argue, makes it easy to rationalize oppression--but it's much harder to say that this person in this story has been treated justly and fairly.

One can argue that this type of debate isn't ideal, or find flaws in it. And that's fine. One could also argue that certain judges tend to fetishize it at the expense of fairly adjudicating rounds, and I'd probably agree with that too. But I still think that the presence of performative strategies in debate is legitimate, and it catches way more flack from traditionalists than can really be warranted based on the educational precepts debate claims to uphold.


Even performative debaters still want you to cast a ballot...

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Stalag 2006

I'm going to excerpt this piece about the classic movie Stalag 17 the exact same way Andrew Sullivan does:
While Stalag 17's [American] prisoners are planning their escapes, and the Germans are trying to stop them, both sides keep referring to this dopey sort of rulebook called "the Geneva Conventions." These appear to be rules about the fair treatment of prisoners - I dunno, not torturing them, for instance - and even the Nazis obey them. Weird, huh?

A lot hinges on them, as a plot gimmick, but the characters seem to take them for granted. Even though it's a war, there are still things you don't do. Which, if only for story purposes, explains why the movie isn't two hours of Otto Preminger holding William Holden's head under water ...

This isn't supposed to take anything away from the Nazis as the villains of the piece --you can see it in the kommandant's beady little burgher eyes that he wishes he could get around the Conventions - but the rules are the rules.

Even if the rules are - how did the Attorney General put it? - "quaint."

But here's the thing. If you accept that the Geneva Conventions are just an annoying formality, like recycling - and I guess we do now - it ruins the whole movie. There's no drama in it. Because the Third Reich isn't even trying. The prisoners get mail from home. They get visits from the Red Cross. They aren't even kept in cages. No one hoods them, or electrocutes them, or pretends to execute them, or places them in a "stress position" or walks them around on a leash. At one of the darkest points in the story, one of them is forced to stand for a few days without sleep. Like that even hurts.

Don't the guards want their country to win? ...

It is rather amazing, when you think about it.


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Resigned To Corruption

According to Paul Mirengoff, there is a simple and profound difference between Democrats and Republicans on corruption:
One of the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats usually becomes evident when there's a scandal. When Republicans are caught misbehaving, they normally resign. Recall Rep. Livingston who immediately called it quits over a sex scandal. By contrast, Bill Clinton, with the solid support of his party, was clinging to power even though he had committed perjury in connection with a sex scandal. If such Republicans aren't inclined to resign, the odds are good that either their caucus or their constituents will promptly toss them overboard.

Interesting theory. Let's test it, shall we?

In the last congress, there were 18 Senators and Congressmen who were under federal investigation. 14 were Republicans. Of those, four resigned while in office. For two (Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham), it occurred roughly concurrent with a criminal conviction, so no props. Tom DeLay did resign prior to any criminal conviction, but only after trying to seize even more power for himself, and certainly (as his new blog shows with no sense of shame or remorse. Still, we will count Rep. DeLay as having resigned in the face of scandal. That's one. And Mark Foley also resigned pretty much as the scandal broke, so that's two.

Of the 10 remaining Republicans, two (Sen. Bill Frist and Rep. Jim Kolbe) had announced their retirement at the end of the term, but did not resign (and were not popularly thought of as having been forced into retirement due to scandal). Two more (Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Curt Weldon) ran for re-election but were defeated, while Katherine Harris became the GOP's Senate candidate and lost her seat that way. The five remaining GOPers are still in Congress. They are Reps. Rick Renzi, Jerry Lewis, and John Doolittle, and Senators Ted Stevens and Arlen Specter. Lewis was the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Doolittle was the House Republican Conference Secretary, Specter was the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, and Stevens was the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair (and Senate pro tempore). So these aren't small fish. With the exception of Senator Specter (where it is happening for reasons wholly unrelated to corruption), I am aware of no calls for any of these people to relinquish their committee assignment.

Of course, this list does not include politicians whose scandals have not yet prompted a federal investigation (like Dennis Hastert). Still, even with the limited data that we have, some interesting themes develop. On the one hand, 9 of the 14 officials under investigation are no longer in Congress. So that's a point in the GOPs favor. On the other hand, only four of those nine left voluntarily, and only two of those left because of scandal. So that's a point against. There also has been no discussion of action against those Congressmen who have refused to relinquish their seats, as there has been in the case of three of the four Democrats under investigation (Reps. Jane Harman, Alan Mollohan, and William Jefferson; the fourth is Sen. Bob Menendez). At least one corrupt politician was given the opportunity to be promoted (Harris in Florida). Ultimately, only 2 of 14 GOP elected officials under investigation left office due to scandal, or 14%. That isn't a great margin, and certainly not enough to warrant Mr. Mirengoff's claim.

Though none of the four investigated Democrats has left office, there have been significant actions taken against them. Harman was denied a coveted chair of the Intelligence Committee, in part because she was seen as too close to Israel (which is related to the federal investigation into her connections to AIPAC). Jefferson, of course, was stripped of his committee assignment, and many prominent Democratic voices have urged that he be denied reseating come 2007. Compare that Republicans, which tried to specifically protect Tom DeLay from punishment in the event he was indicted. Moreover, since there are 3.5x as many Republicans as Democrats under investigation in the first place, and Republicans only resign due to scandal at a rate of 1 in 7, there are simply fewer Democrats available to do the "right thing", because fewer are doing the wrong thing in the first place.

In the end, the most even-handed assessment I can make is that: a) there are more corrupt Republicans than Democrats; b) when caught, individual Republicans may be marginally more likely to resign than Democrats who are caught; and c) Democrats are more likely to punish their non-resigning corrupt politicians than are Republicans. Any corruption, of course, is too much corruption, and both parties are not nearly committed enough to rooting it out for my tastes. But to suggest that the GOP is more responsive to corruption in its midst is simply fanciful, and the data does not bear it out.


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Drug War

Despite my hippie reputation, I'm a pretty straight-laced guy. I don't smoke, drink, or do drugs, and I never have. I also do not buy libertarian arguments that drug laws are per se immoral as a "victimless crime," and agree that in theory, drug distribution is something the government can regulate and/or criminalize.

That being said, the manner in which the drug war has been prosecuted is so destructive, militarized, and excessive as to deprive it of any legitimacy it otherwise would possess. It is discriminatorily targeted at minority communities, it takes away needed resources from other law enforcement priorities, it leads to absurd political competitions amongst elected officials to appear "tough," and it has ushered in a police culture of complete disregard for law, legal restrictions, and basic norms of justice in the pursuit of conviction at any cost.

I got this picture from The Agitator, whose coverage on drug war excesses has been stellar. Tell me, does this picture represent the America you and I think we live in?


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Crossing Poland

A long while back, I wrote a post positing that if Hitler had not invaded Poland, nobody would have cared about his genocide. Obviously, had Hitler not been expansionist, the death toll of the Holocaust would have been greatly reduced, but it still would have been horrific--the number of German Jews alone killed was around 200,000. The "it's not our problem" line of thinking allows us to ignore atrocities that are contained within one country's borders, and thus sanctions the mass killing going there. This dynamic, I argued, was going on in Darfur. And without any sort of regional implications, the Sudanese regime apparently would be allowed to continue killing with impunity.

But the thing about "contained" catastrophes is that it's hard to contain them. Refugee pressure, ethnic allies in neighboring countries, and generic instability can all push an intramural conflict into an interstate conflaguration. And it appears that might be what's happening in Darfur:
The crisis in Darfur has exploded in recent weeks, and now threatens to drag fragile neighboring countries into a regional war.

Both Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) have become engulfed in fighting that involves a toxic mix of rebel groups, government forces, armed militias, and civilians.

"It's not a steady deterioration," Jan Egeland, the outgoing UN humanitarian chief, told reporters last week. "It's a free fall, and it includes Darfur, eastern Chad, and northern Central African Republic."

In the past month alone, nearly 60,000 Darfurians have been forced from their homes to escape massacre at the hands of Arab militias known as the janjaweed. Aid workers, UN personnel, and independent observers say the janjaweed are backed by Sudan's government, but Khartoum has repeatedly denied this charge.

In eastern Chad, hundreds of aid workers have been evacuated due to increased hostilities between military forces and anti-government rebel groups, while Arab militiamen have ventured deeper into the country to conduct assaults, resulting in the displacement of nearly 100,000 Chadians.

And atrocities committed by a variety of rebel groups and armed bandits over the past few months have forced tens of thousands of people from the CAR to cross the border into Chad.

"The internal conflicts in Darfur, Chad, and the CAR are now linked by the regional presence and movement of armed groups, arms, and civilians across the three borders," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "And of course, the regional governments are using these insurgencies to carry out a proxy war against each other."

It would indeed be ironic if the prospect of an all-out regional war is what finally motivated the international community to get serious about ending the killing (when it's probably too late). But what lesson do we take from this? When we try to ignore internal conflicts as "not our problem", they become "our problem" because they metastasize into major threats to international stability. Had we not been locked into this short-sighted mindset, we could have nipped the Darfur situation before it got out of hand (and saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the process). Now, it may very well be too late. As with when Hitler crossed into Poland, the only way to stop the genocide now, in all likelihood, is to hope the right parties win the war.


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Sunday, December 10, 2006

God's Work

Jeffrey Goldberg has a fascinating review of Jimmy Carter's new book, Peace Not Apartheid, which has come under withering fire for its anti-Israel slant. This passage made me smile:
Carter, not unlike God, has long been disproportionately interested in the sins of the Chosen People. He is famously a partisan of the Palestinians, and in recent months he has offered a notably benign view of Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization that took power in the Palestinian territories after winning a January round of parliamentary elections.

There are differences, however, between Carter's understanding of Jewish sin and God's. God, according to the Jewish Bible, tends to forgive the Jews their sins. And God, unlike Carter, does not manufacture sins to hang around the necks of Jews when no sins have actually been committed.

But the more interesting part of the review was about the interplay between the book and evangelical support for Israel. Conservatives have tried to tag Carter's book as a sign that Democrats no long support the Jewish State. The problem is that there is no evidence that Democrats care a whit what Carter has to say on the subject. When questioned on the issue, Nancy Pelosi remarked:
With all due respect to former President Carter, he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel. Democrats have been steadfast in their support of Israel from its birth, in part because we recognize that to do so is in the national security interests of the United States. We stand with Israel now and we stand with Israel forever. The Jewish people know what it means to be oppressed, discriminated against, and even condemned to death because of their religion. They have been leaders in the fight for human rights in the United States and throughout the world. It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously.

That's a pretty strong repudiation.

But Goldberg claims that the primary targets of Carter's book (in terms of who he's trying to persuade) are not liberals but fellow evangelicals, whom he wants to pull away from pro-Israel politics. The right-wing love for Israel always struck me as a rather odd position--it's not like there is a long history of Christian love for Jews, and Jews have steadfastly refused to ally with the evangelical right on pretty much any substantive issue they care about. Carter may think that they might be crackable:
Why is Carter so hard on Israeli settlements and so easy on Arab aggression and Palestinian terror? Because a specific agenda appears to be at work here. Carter seems to mean for this book to convince American evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel. Evangelical Christians have become bedrock supporters of Israel lately, and Carter marshals many arguments, most of them specious, to scare them out of their position. Hence the Golda Meir story, seemingly meant to show that Israel is not the God-fearing nation that religious Christians believe it to be. And then there are the accusations, unsupported by actual evidence, that Israel persecutes its Christian citizens. On his fateful first visit to Israel, Carter takes a tour of the Galilee and writes, "It was especially interesting to visit with some of the few surviving Samaritans, who complained to us that their holy sites and culture were not being respected by Israeli authorities -- the same complaint heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier."

There are, of course, no references to "Israeli authorities" in the Christian Bible. Only a man who sees Israel as a lineal descendant of the Pharisees could write such a sentence. But then again, the security fence itself is a crime against Christianity, according to Carter; it "ravages many places along its devious route that are important to Christians." He goes on, "In addition to enclosing Bethlehem in one of its most notable intrusions, an especially heartbreaking division is on the southern slope of the Mount of Olives, a favorite place for Jesus and his disciples." One gets the impression that Carter believes that Israelis -- in their deviousness -- somehow mean to keep Jesus from fulfilling the demands of His ministry.

I'm not sure how much credibiliy Carter has in the evangelical community these days, so I'm not sure how effective his plea will be. Nevertheless, it does perhaps foreshadow a worrisome trend.

At the end of the day, Leon Hadar remarks:
I'm not sure whether Carter doesn't like Israelis or hates Jews but from my perspective, he would go down in history as someone who made a huge contribution to Israel's security through his successful mediation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

That should be true. Obviously, Carter did Israel a great service in brokering the peace treaty with Egypt. I am perfectly content to remember him for that, and proceed to forget every thing else he does in the region for the remainder of his life.

Jefferson Morley has a round-up of folks talking.


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That's New Orleans

Corrupt Congressman William "$90,000 in the freezer" Jefferson won re-election in a run-off against fellow Democrat Karen Carter. Given the controversy, he won surprisingly comfortably--57% to 43%.

Obviously, this is a black-eye to Democrats trying to claim the mantle of fighting corruption. On the other hand, he may not be an embarassment for that much longer. Anyone want to venture an over/under on how long he'll remain in Congress?


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