Saturday, February 04, 2012

Election 2012: Mexico vs. Kenya

It's like the World Cup over here! The birthers turn their eyes to Mitt Romney, whose father was born in Mexico and thus, based on a chain of logic too disconnected from the text and historical interpretation of the 14th Amendment for me, as a budding constitutional law professor, to lay out without wanting to shoot myself, may not be a "natural-born citizen" under the 14th Amendment.

But don't worry -- though they do entertain the argument for a little bit, WND ultimately concludes that "even under the strictest interpretation of Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, Romney is a natural-born citizen." Given that WND is still pumping the Obama-birther conspiracy theory, that's no small concession!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Econ on the Up and Up

The clownish character of the Republican primary field obviously can only help Obama's chances in 2012. But ultimately, the key factor in any re-election campaign boils down to one thing. The economy. In a bad economy, all sins by the challenging party will be forgiven. And that means that the best way for Obama to win reelection is for the economy to start improving.

And on that front, there is some very strong news flowing out of the December jobs report. 243,000 jobs added last month, with unemployment dropping down to 8.3%. Is 8.3% the most exciting figure ever? Nope. But it is a sign that the last few months improvements are no fluke, and dropping below 9% is a milestone.

Again, with 11 months before election day and each month being better than the last, the trend lines are looking good. It may be that Mitt Romney (or whoever the GOP nominates) will have to win on the strength of his policy and personality. Good luck with that.

Komen's Reversal

The Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood (which provided essential breast cancer services to low-income women) has to rank pretty highly on any list of PR disasters for non-profits. Previously, Komen had managed to stake out a leading position in the field of women's health without having politicized itself. That's no mean feat, but it's completely ruined now. Moreover, they apparently thought they could sneak this decision under the radar and thus were caught completely off-guard by the explosion. And the rationale they relied on -- that this was a "non-political" decision prompted by PP being under (politically-motivated) federal investigation -- was transparent non-sense that insulted everyone's intelligence.

Anyway, Komen has now seemingly reversed its decision. Note that this does not undo all the damage -- having stepped into this maelstrom, any decision they take from here on out will be seen as political. And it is notable that Komen's press release is just ambiguous enough that its unclear just how much renewed cooperation between Komen and PP we'll see -- the release simply affirms that current PP grants will be funded and PP can continue to apply for future grants (but obviously, there's no guarantee they'll be accepted). Under normal circumstances the vagueness wouldn't be enough to worry me, but when you shatter your organization's integrity over the space of a week, suddenly you don't get the benefit of the doubt.

One thing that this controversy did demonstrate is that pro-choice forces still can shake the earth when they need to, and they can do so even when they're taking on a (formerly) venerable organization like Susan G. Komen. It's a paradoxical sort of optimism -- being forced to demonstrate that yes, your movement still has bite -- but it is worth noting.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Occupational Therapy

I'm obviously sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street's general ambitions, such as they are. I think income inequality is a very important thing. I think we have to have a serious conversation about insuring a true participatory democracy and a serious conversation about corporate influence over politics. I think we have a political and economic system that is overly concerned with the needs of the well-off and nowhere near enough with those of ordinary Americans (much less poor Americans).

But Occupy Wall Street also can be infuriating. I gestured at it in this post, when I talked about how OWS seemed afraid to flex its own muscle because that implied the chance of true failure. Instead, they portentously declared that things like "making demands" would be just giving into the very system they were trying to challenge, that it would be in essence selling out to the man, and then launched into some sanctimonious sermons about changing paradigms and shifting mindsets and other rejected high school debate counter-plans.

And so, about half a year later, where is OWS? Effectively nowhere. And what has it accomplished? Effectively nothing. It managed the impressive feet of mobilizing a massive number of progressive-minded citizens, and then managed the even more impressive feet of walking away without having gained anything. Okay, yes, it put income inequality "on the table". But does anyone see any concrete changes going anywhere? I don't. And so, I suspect, pretty soon we'll see it slide right back off the table.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Call on Me

Sometimes when Jill and I are talking about education policy and politics, she mentions how one of the most problematic mythologies around education is the idea of the super-teacher -- that if teachers just want it enough and are committed enough, that will be the silver bullet that ensures every child gets a solid education. The problem being two-fold -- first, it's unreasonable to expect teachers to be superhuman, and second, that teachers are limited in what they can do absent fundamental, structural reform. Moreover, the super-teacher claim also is often used as a way of concern trolling against improvements in teacher working conditions -- the idea being that because "good" teachers are these altruistic Lifetime TV stars who are in it because they are "called" to the profession, they don't (or shouldn't) care how much money they make, how many hours they have to work, or what condition their classrooms are in.

This last argument was the one put forward by Alabama state Sen. Shadrack McGill (R):
“If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach.

“To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK?

“And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do. It’s the ability that God give ‘em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn’t matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.

“If you don’t keep that in balance, you’re going to attract people who are not called, who don’t need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance.”

One notes, of course, that this appears to make teaching different from nearly every other profession and, indeed, the basics of capitalist economics. For most professions, we assume that people are not altruists who do what they do "for love of the game". We don't assume they're purely mercenary, but we do think that performance is tied to pay and compensation. And the corollary is that if you want better people, you shell out more dough. If I'm repairing my roof, I can hire a cheap contractor who will likely do a shoddy job, or I can hire a more expensive one who will do the job right. You get what you pay for. This idea that the way to increase performance is to reduce pay so you only get the most "passionate" applicants is not, shall we say, a universally accepted principle, and certainly one Sen. McGill applies in his own life (he just voted to give himself a 67% pay raise. Apparently he's not "called" to legislate?). But teachers, for some reason, are a special case.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Message is Lost in All That Tinfoil

Shorter Walter Myers: Black people are so blinded by race-loyalty that they won't even listen to my sober and well-reasoned arguments that Barack Obama is turning us into socialist Cuba!
I can certainly see why my black Christian friends would be protective of Obama as the first black President, but what has alarmed me is the unusually high percentage of these well-educated and successful people who simply won’t listen when you try to make them understand that they have fallen for a socialist-leaning President with little respect for the Constitution.....

Where the Democrats have succeeded is to use Obama as a Trojan horse to import class envy, government dependence, and the notion of an all-encompassing federal government into the psyche of the American people, and especially so in the psyche of black America. Instead of accepting the conservative ideals of limited government, self-reliance, and economic opportunity, which best accord with the Christian worldview, blacks have been convinced that more government control, government entitlements, and redistribution of wealth are the keys to a better tomorrow. And they accept this view of America with virtually no objection, to everyone’s peril. What they don’t understand is that the socialist philosophy they have accepted is like a steely hand in a velvet glove. Until it’s too late, you won’t know what it is made of. Just ask the people of Cuba and Venezuela. The dire warnings of Italy, Greece, and Spain hold little influence over them as to what America will become if it continues in this direction. As long as they have Obama, their charismatic leader, they will continue in their faith in him, come what may.

Now, we can't actually evaluate this argument on its "merits", for a variety of reasons, the most salient of which is that Mr. Myers doesn't actually make it. He just takes it as axiomatic that Obama is a socialist and that he is behaving with reckless disregard for the Constitution. As they say on wikipedia, "citation needed". One could presumably also quibble with whether free market capitalism really is the most Christian of all economic systems, but since one of my pet peeves is Christians explaining to me what Judaism means, I'll refrain from doing the same back at them. I could also query how we know that the U.S. new "socialist" slant will turn is into Cuba, as opposed to, say, Sweden (where does Sweden lie on this continuum anyway -- and how did they manage to arrest their descent into totalitarianism? Maybe we can ask them for tips!).

Okay, no. I need to focus. Is there any "there" there at all? That is, is there anything about the Obama presidency in particular that makes Blacks particularly resistant to contemporary conservative alternatives?

Well, the first thing we need to do is check the numbers. In 2004, John Kerry got 88% of the Black vote. That number jumped to 96% for Obama in 2008. So basically, Black voters went from overwhelmingly supporting the Democratic nominee to slightly-more-overwhelmingly supporting the Democratic nominee. That suggest that Black voting patterns have less to do with the race of the candidate and more a general, substantive, political ideology that is more in accord with Democrats than Republicans.

That being said, I do think that the Obama presidency is solidifying the ties between the Democratic Party and the Black electorate (well, as much as those ties can be said to have been at all pliable in the first place). Why is that? Well, one answer is the immediate resort of the Republican Party to crude racist dog-whistles. But I think the deeper issue is that Obama reveals how a significant swath of the country will respond to a talented and successful Black man. Specifically, they'll deny it: they'll deny that he is in fact talented, that he succeeded on his own merits. Everything about him, from his place of birth to his supposed personal strengths (like oratorical skills), will be dismissed as a fraud. All his successes will be considered just a manifestation of affirmative action; the stealing of a spot rightfully reserved for "one of us".

The message, in other words, is that even if you do everything right and follow the dotted lines, you'll still be counted as a liar, a cheat, and ultimately, an enemy. And that's arguably the most disheartening message of all, because it breaks the implied promise that post-Jim Crow American made as the covenant of its reform, to wit: that from here on out, if you work hard and play by the rules, your race won't be held against you in public or private life. To many Blacks, that promise is simply unsustainable given the manner in which Republican opposition to Obama has manifested.

New research has demonstrated that Whites seem to view racial progress as zero-sum [link fixed -- DS], that is, as Blacks start to do better in America, they interpret that as indicating a worsening of their own position (and an unjust one at that). The very fact of Black success is interpreted as evidence of "reverse racism" against White. This sort of mentality is of no recent vintage, and it fundamentally can't allow for Black progress. It's not even restricted to Black liberals: look at Michael Steele.

The upshot is that for the Black electorate, there really is only one effective option. The primary conservative alternative -- do-it-yourself, don't make demands out of White America -- is a dead letter, because the very fact of Black success automatically breeds resentment and envy, no matter how it is generated. It's the old double-bind between Du Bois and Washington:
[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!).

No matter which way the turn or which tactic they try, some people are going to be angry that somewhere, sometime, a Black person is getting away with something. There's no way to simple duck that problem, so they have to meet it head-on. And while Democrats aren't exactly crusaders for overcoming racism, they at least have space in their coalition for it. That's more than one can say about the GOP.

Rectal Dysfunction

Not actually symmetrical, but still, LOL:
Over in the [Virginia] state senate, Sen. Jill Vogel (R) has introduced a bill that would require all women seeking an abortion “to have an ultrasound image taken to determine the gestational age of the fetus.” Piqued by the unnecessary intrusion into a woman’s doctor-patient relationship, state Sen. Janet Howell (D) sought to level the playing field.

“If pregnant women should have to get an ultrasound before having an abortion, men should have to undergo additional medical procedures before getting a prescription for erectile dysfunction,” she noted, and introduced an amendment to Vogel’s bill requiring that men “undergo a digital rectal exam” for pills like Viagra:
On Monday Howell expressed her disdain for legislation requiring the ultrasound by proposing an amendment she described as a simple matter of fairness. Her amendment said that before being treated for erectile dysfunction, a man would have to undergo a digital rectal exam and a cardiac stress test.

As far as I know, rectal health has little to do with sexual dysfunction except for geographic proximity (well, and I suppose depending on what sort of sex you're into). But the stress test certainly does, and in any event, it's funny, and these ultrasound laws are obnoxious and patronizing, so, you know, goose and gander.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Converting the Nonbeliever

Credit where it's due: I would not have expected Balloon Juice's Doug to agree to drop the term "Israel-firster". And the reasoning is sound too: Plenty of progressives who are doing legwork in trying to change American and Israeli policy for the better find it offensive and alienating, so why be a schmuck. Moreover, as Doug points out, it concedes ground that doesn't need to be conceded: namely, that the problem with the GOP's Israel policy is that it cares too much about Israel, that it is too concerned with Israel's well-being.

Of course, this is precisely what is under contestation, and Ackerman is quite right when he says its a debate we can win on the merits. The fact is that the GOP has evinced nothing that demonstrates a true commitment to Israel's continuation as a Jewish democracy, providing a lot of lip service but no nuance or understanding (and more importantly, no inclination to listen to the mainstream of Jewish voices who, for example, find one-stateism to be an anathema).

In any event, given that the American electorate as a whole remains overwhelmingly favorable towards Israel and wishes to see it survive and thrive, trying to attack Republicans by calling them too pro-Israel is like attacking them for loving puppies too much. For whatever reason, Republicans think they've got an uncontested lay-up on the Israel issue, and it's past time it got swatted back in their face.

A Waste of Democracy

Alejandrina Cabrera, s city council candidate in heavily-Spanish-speaking San Luis, Arizona has been removed from the ballot after a judge ruled her English ability wasn't good enough to qualify. This was in accordance with Arizona's state law establishing English as the official language.

I have to think that, particularly as applied to this case, the law has to be unconstitutional. The hook would be the Equal Protection Clause (though it is times like this when my hostility to Luther v. Borden shines brightest), but in general it is fundamentally undemocratic for the state to impose substantive barriers to keep certain types of candidates off the ballot. The whole principle of a democracy is that the people get to decide what sort of person represents them, and if the people want to elect someone whose primary language is Spanish but whose English fluency is (in the candidate's own words), about a 5 out of 10, that's their prerogative.

When you compare that to the view of the City Attorney, who said that the decision was correct because a vote for Cabrera "would have been wasted, because [voters]c could have voted for someone better prepared to be an elected official," and the fundamentally authoritarian nature of the law becomes clear. The state is preventing a candidate from running for office because -- regardless of what the voters might think -- the state thinks that other people would be a better elected official. This is, more or less, how Iran conducts its "democracy", and it remains a sham even when it makes its way to one of the fifty states.

Now, to be sure, some set of neutrally-applied procedural hurdles -- such as attaining a set number of signatures, may be okay. But notably, such laws only effect persons who by virtue of their failure have already demonstrated themselves unlikely to obtain substantial, much less majority, support. Here, by contrast, the target of the law seems to be someone who could plausibly be elected -- and the insistence on trying to force Cabrera off the ballot seems to imply that she poses a real threat to her political opponents in San Luis. Well, that's democracy -- sometimes the voters vote for someone other than you. The solution is to be more appealing to the electorate, not rig the system so your opponents can't get on the ballot.

(And we won't even get into the nauseating nature of the comments on CNN's piece. I have to remind myself that internet commenters are not a representative cross-sample of America lest I despair of this whole national project altogether).

Primary Errors

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's County) is launching a primary challenge to incumbent Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). Now, challenging an incumbent is always difficult, and all the more so when the incumbent is a mainstream liberal (as Cardin is) in a liberal state (as Maryland is). One would presume that Muse would have to find some way to run to Cardin's left, to attract Democratic primary voters who might find Cardin too white-bread for their tastes.

So what's Muse's gambit? Speak at an anti-gay marriage rally in Baltimore, that's what! While it is true that African-American Democrats remain leery of gay marriage, overall overall about half of all Marylanders, and nearly 70% of all Maryland Democrats, favor the change. In a Democratic primary, running against two-thirds of your own electorate on a high-profile issue is not the way to unseat a perfectly popular, respected incumbent.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Zionist Space Conspiracy Continues

At trivia last week, one of the categories was "Conspiracy Theories". We debated just putting down "Jews" for every answer. I mean, what are the odds it'd be wrong?

Of course that being said, everyone knows that the lunar landing -- if not the moon itself -- is just one large Zionist conspiracy. The team of Israeli scientists seeking to make Israel the third country to land a probe on the moon by the end of 2012 is clearly just trying to cover their tracks.

(Title references this post).