Saturday, April 30, 2011

Call for Papers: Afro-Asian American Studies Conference 2011

An old friend of mine whose currently a grad student at UPenn is helping organize Intersections: A Conversation between African American and Asian American Studies.
In the past century, key political moments have brought together Africans, Asians, and members of their respective diasporas in the Americas. Events such as the Pan-African Conference of 1900, the Bandung Conference of 1955, and the American ethnic nationalist movements of the 1960s and 70s instigated a discourse on the generative potential of Afro-Asian and Afro-Asian American connections. In recent years, an increasing body of scholarship has addressed and theorized this history of contact, critically assessing as well as extending it to include events ranging from the antebellum debates over coolie labor to the 1992 LA riots. As graduate students and scholars in African American and Asian American studies, how might this comparativist trend inform the work we do within our respective disciplines? This conference seeks to center this question by calling for papers that either explicitly theorize connections or cover themes that are central to both disciplines (such as migration/diaspora, labor/slavery, legal racialization, etc). While we invite papers that specifically illuminate Afro-Asian American intersections, we also invite abstracts that are rooted in either Africana or Asian American studies. Through this call for both papers and people, we intend to contribute to the critical conversation by opening a space to map out and create connections between African American and Asian American studies.
The conference will be from November 18-19, 2011 (paper proposals due June 1), and it is grad student-friendly (I'm assured that includes law students, kids!).

Bridge Burners

Jesse Taylor has a really interesting post up (H/T: Adam Serwer) on the broader "birther" narrative, and how it intersects with the various anti-Obama conspiracy theories that center around Obama not being who he says he is. He's not American, he's not intellectual, he's not there on his own merits:
The reason this smacks of racism to so many minorities is because it's the same thing that every minority goes through when they succeed. If you're young and black, you're sent the message that you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and succeed, and stop whining about how you're such a victim. If you do succeed, however, you've inherently victimized some cohort of white person, probably because someone gave you a leg up that they didn't have. You can never win and never succeed on your own merits, unless you happen to pull a Bill Cosby and savage your brethren for not having your success. Merit, particularly for blacks, is not a matter of what you've done, but a matter of what you're willing to let your success say about the unwashed hordes who trail behind you.

Barack Obama is suspect in the eyes of birthers because he is a prominent minority who refuses to burn the bridge behind him. Whatever his failures as a President and as a leader, he is not willing to turn his race into a badge of shame in order to curry favor.

This double bind reminds me of something I wrote awhile back on another blog (devil of time tracking that comment down), regarding the way Blacks are treated when they adopt "Washingtonian" (self-uplift) versus "Du Boisian" (moral case for equality) approaches to racial politics.
[W]hen [Du Bois] is the primary voice of the Black community, people criticize them for being insufficiently Washingtonian (why are you always demanding stuff out of the White community? Why don't you get your own house in order first -- try doing something for yourself rather than getting stuck in this dependency loop!). What we see now is a classic double bind: if Blacks are Du Boisian (trumpeting the moral case for equality), they need to be Washingtonian (solve your own problems -- stop asking so much out of Whites!); when they're Washingtonian (fine -- we'll stop looking to Whites and concentrate on self-improvement), they need to be more Du Boisian (what, you won't talk to White people anymore? Racists!).

Ta-Nehisi Coates raised similar themes with respect to why Booker T. Washington's program was such a massive failure.
The dominant logic of the post-Reconstruction era held that the real problem wasn't white racists, but carpetbaggers and meddlers from up North who'd elevated illiterate blacks above their station. The white Southerner, presumably, had no existential objection to blacks, they just didn't want to live next door to them or have an illiterate and morally degenerate population electing their politicians. To this Washington, and much of black America, said Fine. Cease fire. You let us be, we'll let you be.

In retrospect, this was a grievous error. In point of fact, whites actually did have an existential objection to black people. Their beef wasn't that illiterates and moral degenerates might get too much power. Quite the opposite. Their beef was that blacks would prove to not be illiterates and moral degenerates, and thus fully able to compete with them. To see this point illustrated, one need only look at the history of race riots in the South. When white mobs set upon black communities they didn't simply burn down the "morally degenerate" portions--they attacked the South's burgeoning black middle and working class and its institutions. They went for the churches, the schools and the businesses. It's one thing to be opposed to black amorality. It's quite another to be opposed to black progress. The lesson blacks took post-Atlanta Compromise was that whites had used the former to cover for the latter. These days, it's popular to bemoan the fact that Washington has fallen into disfavor. But it wasn't blacks who proved the Atlanta Compromise fraudulent--it was the whites of that era.

We see this outward hostility towards minority accomplishment all the time. Being a Black magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School (or a Latina summa cum laude graduate of Princeton) just means you were affirmative action baby. Writing a best-selling book means a White guy ghost-wrote it for you. White folks complain about Black dependency, and then complain about teaching people of color to take control of their own destiny as promoting "racial hostility" (even though the programs in question empirically raise the performance of the enrolled students).

And no, this can't be attributed to affirmative action -- it predates that program by quite some time. Marcus Garvey sarcastically defined a "negro" as "a person of dark complexion or race, who has not accomplished anything and to whom others are not obligated for any useful service." He was riffing off the anthropological trend whereby any African culture discovered to have made any substantial contributions to art, culture, politics, whatever, was suddenly not "really" Black. Du Bois made a similar observation. The problem here is exactly what Taylor lays out -- "merit", for Blacks, has nothing to do with the normal qualities of attainment (educational, political, or otherwise). That can always be attributed to someone else. "Merit" occurs when you're willing to turn on everyone else -- which is to say, it has nothing to do with merit at all and everything to do with confirming certain White ideological predispositions.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play

Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli has severed the state of Virginia's connection with King & Spaulding, which has been in the news for agreeing to, then withdrawing from, representation of the House of Representatives in the DOMA litigation. K&S partner Paul Clement then resigned in protest, and the whole thing has been a massive mess for the Atlanta-firm.

The consensus is that K&S withdrew under pressure from Coca-Cola, one of its biggest clients. Virginia is not as big a money-source as Coke, but the bigger point is that there is no winning move here for a large, wide-ranging firm like K&S. Once they agreed to represent the pro-DOMA side, they were doomed no matter what they did. I agree that they had an obligation (upon entering into representation) to see it to the end, but the only true winning move would have been not to get involved in the first place.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Moot Court Finals Roundup

Good luck to my friends participating in the final round of the University of Chicago's moot court competition. The three judge panel is comprised of Judges William Fletcher (9th Circuit), Diane Sykes (7th Circuit), and Jeffrey Sutton (6th Circuit). At a lunch talk featuring the three, the host started by introducing the panelists: "To my far right -- physically at least -- Judge William Fletcher."

* * *

Group pushing a resolution honoring the King James Bible also thinks Obama may be the anti-Christ. As The Agitator puts it: "This one may be more difficult to disprove."

Releasing the birth certificate doesn't satisfy the "where's the birth certificate?" crowd. Huge surprise.

Jonathan Freeman remarks on his experience "role-playing" as a Palestinian negotiator (the Israelis were represented by persons affiliated with pro-Palestinian perspectives).

Wisconsin Republicans may finally just repass the anti-union bill, which is tied up in court challenges due to them missing some procedural hurdles as they tried to ram in through minus Democratic presence. This would end the legal problems, but it would return the bill to the news -- hardly what the six Republicans facing recall want at the moment, I imagine.

TNC -- who doesn't make the charge lightly -- declares the wild anti-Obama conspiracy theories, from birtherism to ridiculous aspersions on his academic record, as racism of the bone. Incidentally, I think it was Matt Yglesias on Twitter who observed that, if Obama was an "affirmative action" admittee to Harvard Law, that's arguably the single best case study for the validity of the program, seeing as he graduated magna cum laude, was President of the Law Review, and, oh yeah, became President.

Right-wing Israeli organization honors a Rabbi who urged Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs (the award was presented by Daniel Hershkowitz, a minister in the current Israeli government representing one of Bibi's furthest-right coalition partners).

I'm pretty sure Rick Santorum's accusation that Planned Parenthood practices eugenics is going to be revealed as one of those "not intended to be factual statements" (where, as in Kyl's similar gaffe, "not intended" means "absolutely intended").

Is there anything distinguishing this bill from that overturned in Romer v. Evans?

Worse Than My Lai

Former Bush administration official John Yoo has finally found a limit on executive power: Forcing federal contractors to disclose contributions to government officials. He says the "only" purpose for such a law is to pave the way for harassment and retaliation (not, apparently, transparency and fighting corruption).

TPM confirms that the editorial is silent as to whether "the President has the executive power to torture executives to force them to disclose their political donations."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Now?

President Obama released a copy of his long-form birth certificate today, thus proving ... absolutely nothing, since the conspiracy-nuts peddling the "birther" nonsense are not amenable to rational discourse.

But it does raise the interesting question -- why now?

In terms of why President Obama had refrained from releasing the certificate to this point, a couple of reasons had been floated. First, the simple fact that he shouldn't have to -- the President of the United States should not have to dance to the tune of conspiratorial lunatics. Second, that it wouldn't do any good -- and lo and behold, birthers are still birthers. Third, a political calculation that allowing the birthers to burble around in GOP circles was a political boon -- the GOP couldn't fully disavow them without infuriating their base, yet the publicity over the issue was radioactive with the center.

Okay -- so what changed? It's hard to know. The closest answer I can give -- and it strikes me as a little 8-dimensional chess-ish -- is that it helps raise the political profile of Donald Trump, who can embarrass the GOP in new and exciting ways. Trump is already taking credit for the revelation -- even though it reveals him as a pathological liar since he had just claimed the certificate didn't exist -- and Sarah Palin agrees. The more that Trump is seen as a stand in for "Republican leader", the more the media might have to take seriously his presidential bid. And a Trump nomination would be a gift-wrapped present for this president.

Still -- it strikes me as a little convoluted, no? Other theories welcome in the comments.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

College is a Tough Time To Be Straight

The Texas state house has passed a bill requiring all state universities with "alternative" sexuality centers to provide equal funding to "traditional values" sexuality centers.

I find this ... more than a little strange, and I think the problem is a series of bad analogies. This is a somewhat a theme in the field, as we found out when Robert George forgot there was a difference between holding gay rights positions and actually being gay.*

Here, I just don't know what parallel these het-friendly centers would serve. One college conservative who had pushed for the legislation (after admitting that his real hope was eliminating these centers altogether) complained that while folks can freely strut about campus saying homosexuality is okay, if he wears a t-shirt accusing it of being immoral, suddenly there is a whole big controversy. Double-standard! Except ... not -- if I walked around asserting that heterosexuality was immoral, would there not be quite a bit of outcry? If public reactions to brutally caricatured claims by radical feminists is any indication, the answer is a pretty emphatic yes. It's all in where you put the baseline -- and the ability to assume heterosexuality is so entrenched as to not even contemplate the possibility of a "to-the-bottom" critique of it is the linchpin of heterosexual privilege that proves the asymmetry between the two orientation's social standings.

More generally, the purpose these centers serve is to function as a secure place for a community which often experiences severe alienation and hostility on college campuses. Is there any sort of analogue for heterosexual students? The Texas Observer deservedly mocks the whole concept:
Imagine the plight of the heterosexual student stepping on to a college campus for the first time. How will he fit in? Should he tell his new roommate about his alternative hetero lifestyle? Will he be bullied, just like he was in high school, where he was mercilessly teased for being a sexual deviant? Where does a straight person turn?

There's no parallel straight sexuality centers because there is no analogous experience that they face. There is a political inequality, to be sure -- the position that LGBT individuals are equal human beings is getting official representation, and opponents of that view are not. But that doesn't track onto cognizable parallel between the life experiences of being gay versus straight.

There is one area where I think it does make sense to talk about a "straight sexuality" center, but I doubt it is what the Texas House has in mind. The broader moral commitment behind any center focusing on human sexuality is to encourage healthy, respectful sexual expression, and affirm the choices people make within those confines. That's something that's useful to people of all sexual proclivities, gay or straight, "traditional" or not. but I doubt the Texas House wants heterosexual students to feel comfortable expressing their sexuality in diverse ways either.

Now let's be clear: If someone wants to stay abstinent, they should feel perfectly comfortable doing so -- and if they don't feel comfortable, then they should be given the support they need to feel comfortable about it. But that's not separate from the commitment to supporting sexually active students; it's concurrent with it. They flow from the same principles. And I think any sexuality center worth its salt knows that.

* Side note: I picked out a Robert George article, The Concept of Public Morality, 45 Am. J. Jur. 17 (2000), to see whether, frankly, he was any good. After all, he has a pretty decent reputation as a jurisprudence guy, and while "What is Marriage" was utter tripe (the answer, apparently, is 90% naturalistic fallacy and 10% bad empirical claims), I thought that might not be his best work.

The article I read was decent, albeit not mind-blowing. In terms of philosophical approach we are radically separate, but I could appreciate his skill as an advocate on some of the more abstract questions (such as the trouble with the public/private distinction). In terms of specific applications, though, I think he's got very little going for him, and I was particularly distressed by what struck me as a marked authoritarian streak (I'm not the only one -- he quoted another writer making the same claim about him, one he said he hoped was at least partially tongue-in-cheek).

Straight Shooting Judges

The next complaint anti-gay litigants have with respect to the Prop. 8 litigation is that presiding District Judge Vaughn Walker, as a gay man in a long-term relationship, should have recused himself from the proceedings (via). Aside from the strangely apparent concession that Walker does suffer an inequality from the current regime, I find this a little hard to parse. It's just another reprise of the old claims that Black judges shouldn't hear discrimination cases -- and Judge Higginbotham's opinion on that question remains the alpha and omega for me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

K&S Withdraws from DOMA Defense, Clement Resigns

The big gay rights news today is that the law firm King & Spaulding, which had previously signed on to defend the Defense of Marriage Act at the behest of House Republicans, has withdrawn its representation in the face of outrage by liberal and LGBT groups. A lot of folks had wondered whether K&S would face a backlash in its efforts to recruit new attorneys, as the current generation is quite hostile to homophobia and legally-sanctioned anti-gay discrimination. Former Solicitor General Paul Clement, who was to lead the DOMA defense, has resigned from K&S effective immediately, and will continue to defend DOMA at another firm (Bancroft PLLC).

While I was heartened to see that the political muscle of the pro-equality community has grown strong enough that it could provoke such a reaction, I admit some unease for K&S' decision and some sympathy for Clement's resignation. Regardless of whether K&S was correct to take this case in the first place -- and I too find it mystifying that K&S didn't see these problems a mile off -- once they agreed to do it, it's disconcerting to see them then withdraw under fire. As Clement noted in his resignation letter, "Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do." There are lots of unpopular clients and positions out there, and they deserve representation.

Representing DOMA is kind of like representing a guy who robbed a convenience store. From an outsider's vantage point, you get him an attorney, work on the case diligently, and then hope the due process of the courts sees him convicted. Same with DOMA -- it deserves to have its day in court, and at the end of that day, it deserves to be struck down.

UPDATE: Clement is getting praise from across the legal profession, including from Clinton SG and liberal icon Seth Waxman (currently a partner at WilmerHale).

Justly Enriching the Blogosphere

A hearty welcome to Just Enrichment, a new blog authored by a cohort of soon-to-be-graduated Harvard Law students. I know a few of the coauthors, and they're swell folk. So it should be good.

One of the ones I know, former Harvard Law Review articles chair Dustin Cho, has an interesting piece up on the new movement amongst law reviews regarding "exploding offers". Dustin's suggestion that authors simply ignore these deadlines is a little ballsy for my tastes though -- perhaps I'll wait until my second article goes out before trying that move.

Syria Poised To Join the UNHRC?

They're in a good spot, as they are among the four candidates for four open slots in the Asia bloc (the other three are India, Indonesia, and the Philippines). It is, of course, possible that other candidates will emerge or that Syria's candidacy will otherwise be rejected. But I'm predicting a more Libya-like path -- election, then eventually suspension as what we all already know becomes too embarrassing to bear even for a body as deeply stained as the UN's human rights apparatus.

In related news, Syrian tanks are reportedly firing into the homes of sleeping families.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Topsy-Turvy World

Make sure you read this headline carefully: Israeli civilians shot by Palestinian security forces after trying to break through checkpoint. I didn't even realize the PA had security checkpoints, but apparently they do. This one is outside Joseph's Tomb, a Jewish holy site under PA control.

In order to insure the security of worshipers, the IDF and PA run coordinated pilgrimages to the site on a regular basis. However, apparently some Hasidic Jews regularly attempt to visit at irregular intervals, often late at night. This shooting -- which the IDF is not characterizing as a terrorist attack, though they have condemned it -- occurred during one such instance. The PA forces saw "suspicious movement" and fired warning shots at an approaching vehicle. Unfortunately, their fire hit the car, killing one and wounding four (the dead man is a nephew of an Israeli governmental minister). The PA has detained the officers for questioning.

It is a story I've read a million times, but the roles reversed. The lesson being? Security is hard. Innocent people try to get around checkpoints, but people manning checkpoints don't know they're innocent. Tragedies happen, civilian lives are lost. It's a terrible thing.