Showing posts with label Conservative. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conservative. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NRA Gun Ad Attacking Obama

I don't have any deep analysis here. I just want to know what do you think of this new NRA advertisement. Slate writer Matt Yglesias tweeted that he was
"Pretty comfortable saying that the president’s children are in fact more important than yours"

What do you think?

Louis Seidman: Is the Constitution Outmoded??

After the electoral stomping that President Obama gave to a hapless Mitt Romney as well as the slow transformation of once solidly red states into purple or even blue states, many people on the political left are chafing at limits on Presidential and/or majoritarian power. Whether it's Al Sharpton and Rachel Maddow getting their talking points from the White House and dutifully coming out against whatever the "evil Republicans" are doing or immigration rights activists urging the President to meet their goals through executive orders or law school deans jawboning the Supreme Court to not invalidate a law because the President really wanted it, some folks aren't fond of limited government or separation of powers, at least as long as their guy is in charge.

There's an unseemly amount of outrage, among the Right and the Left that the other side is able to thwart their goals by using procedural mechanisms built into our system of governance. This is currently most obvious among the Left but that's just because the Left is politically ascendant while the Right is still slightly better at unified opposition-or at least it was until the fiscal cliff deal.

If you ever took a civics or political science class, you know that we have three co-equal branches of government. The President doesn't get to make law, only enforce it. The courts can interpret but have no enforcement capacity. Congress can withhold money and write law but can't tell the executive branch what to do. So theoretically, each branch can prevent the other two from carrying out unlawful or unconstitutional actions. And human nature being what it is each branch tends to be jealous of its powers and prerogatives. Purely from spite one branch may oppose another branch and limit its options. This rivalry and jealously should work to the citizens' advantage as there is no all powerful centralized government which can create, enforce and interpret law all at once.

That's the theory of our Constitution.

But reality is quite different. There has been, almost from the beginning, a tendency for the President to stretch his authority and break rules. Sometimes there are strong people in Congress and the Courts to, figuratively speaking, throw something high and inside to make the President stop hogging the plate, so to speak. Sometimes, however, there aren't. Often, majorities don't see why they shouldn't win on everything.

There have been increasingly loud mutterings on the Left about getting rid of the Senate filibuster, having the President raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, dropping the electoral college, eliminating the Senate, ignoring the rule that spending bills must start in the House, and urging Presidential executive orders on every hot button issue that twists their knickers. 

Recently Louis Seidman, a Georgetown law professor, wrote that the time had come to junk the Constitution. Unfortunately he didn't say what to replace it with or, in my view, make a cogent argument about why the Constitution was bad. Seidman made the by now obligatory ad hominems that the Founders were long dead white men, had no idea what challenges we faced today, and were often racist slave owners. That's all true and all in the context he was using, completely irrelevant. Those same dead white men also placed freedom of speech and the right to jury trial in the Constitution. It seems a bit, well, difficult to blast something that you don't like as coming from evil white slaveowners and then keep quiet about things you do like but which came from those same evil white slaveowners. 
In the face of this long history of disobedience, it is hard to take seriously the claim by the Constitution’s defenders that we would be reduced to a Hobbesian state of nature if we asserted our freedom from this ancient text. Our sometimes flagrant disregard of the Constitution has not produced chaos or totalitarianism; on the contrary, it has helped us to grow and prosper.
This is not to say that we should disobey all constitutional commands. Freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property are important, whether or not they are in the Constitution. We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation.
Nor should we have a debate about, for instance, how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses. Some matters are better left settled, even if not in exactly the way we favor. Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states. There is even something to be said for an elite body like the Supreme Court with the power to impose its views of political morality on the country. If we are not to abandon constitutionalism entirely, then we might at least understand it as a place for discussion, a demand that we make a good-faith effort to understand the views of others, rather than as a tool to force others to give up their moral and political judgments.
If even this change is impossible, perhaps the dream of a country ruled by “We the people” is impossibly utopian.  If so, we have to give up on the claim that we are a self-governing people who can settle our disagreements through mature and tolerant debate. But before abandoning our heritage of self-government, we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.
The professor assumes that everyone agrees that the Constitution is preventing progress and must be changed. I don't agree. It's frightening that he thinks the laws and constitutional restrictions against government taking of life, liberty or property should be followed just because we respect them, not because they're the law. We're supposed to have a legal system based in law, not fleeting respect. Respect is an arbitrary thing. As the country becomes ever more diverse it is critical to have baseline rules everyone understands. Seidman gives short shrift to the fact that there is a process both to amend the Constitution and to even start from scratch. The problem from Seidman's pov though, is to do that requires agreement from a wide variety of people with different viewpoints. The results might not be what he was expecting. I think Seidman is high on his own supply. But he may have a point that we need to change some things.

So give it a shot. You are Willy F***** Wonka and this is your chocolate factory! You are King or Queen for a day. The below questions are only examples. Don't let them limit you.


You and you alone can rewrite the Constitution. What stays or goes?

Free Speech? Commerce Clause? Police Searches? Presidential Authority on War?

Get rid of state authority completely? No private ownership of guns?

Place abortion rights and equal pay for women in the Bill of Rights?

Ignore the rules about being able to confront witnesses at trial?

Allow 15 yr olds to vote? Prevent people on welfare from voting? Have intelligence tests for voting?

Ban all forms of affirmative action? Make hate speech unprotected by First Amendment?

Eliminate standing armies? Get rid of the Federal Reserve?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Marine Joshua Boston on Gun Ban: Unconstitutional Laws aren't Laws

The atrocity at Sandy Hook caused much discussion about what the United States Congress and/or the President can do about gun violence in this country. There has been a lot of talk about Senator Dianne Feinstein's proposed assault weapons ban, Vice-President Biden's task force on guns and President Obama's hints about assault weapons bans or other possible actions that he can take without Congressional approval. As you might imagine almost none of these ideas have gone over very well with people with expansive or as they would term it strict constitutional views on gun rights. One man who is getting some attention for speaking out against such possible gun control legislation is (former) Marine and Afghanistan Veteran Joshua Boston, who recently responded online at CNN to Senator Dianne Feinstein's proposed assault weapons ban legislation
in pretty much the same manner as King Leonidas responded to a Persian demand to throw down his weapons all those centuries ago. His letter in full is just below:

Senator Dianne Feinstein,
I will not register my weapons should this bill be passed, as I do not believe it is the government's right to know what I own. Nor do I think it prudent to tell you what I own so that it may be taken from me by a group of people who enjoy armed protection yet decry me having the same a crime. You ma'am have overstepped a line that is not your domain. I am a Marine Corps Veteran of 8 years, and I will not have some woman who proclaims the evil of an inanimate object, yet carries one, tell me I may not have one. 
I am not your subject. I am the man who keeps you free. I am not your servant. I am the person whom you serve. I am not your peasant. I am the flesh and blood of America. I am the man who fought for my country. I am the man who learned. I am an American. You will not tell me that I must register my semi-automatic AR-15 because of the actions of some evil man.
I will not be disarmed to suit the fear that has been established by the media and your misinformation campaign against the American public. We, the people, deserve better than you. 
Respectfully Submitted,
Joshua Boston Cpl, United States Marine Corps 2004-2012

This letter quickly went viral. It summed up succinctly and some would say ominously the issues faced as the US struggles with the problems posed by gun violence. In order to further illuminate his stance Cpl. Boston was recently interviewed. He reiterated his viewpoint and gave a little more insight into where he was coming from regarding the right to keep and bear arms.  He didn't take anything back.


As you can see these beliefs are fervently held. One person can be written off as a kook or gun nut. But if Boston is just the tip of the spear so to speak, this could mean that any legislation, even if passed, won't have the desired impact, just as the previous ban did not. After all rifles are used for a very very small portion of murders. Check out the 2011 numbers for handguns or for other weapons used.

Let's dive a little deeper and use a quick analogy to see if we can understand where Boston and people like him might be coming from. Since 1973 there has been a right to have an abortion. Millions of people consider that fundamentally settled law and don't much care to hear the other side's objections. If there ever were a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade and/or a President and Senate that would appoint justices who would do such a thing, I expect that roughly 50-55% of the country would have a serious problem with any new anti-abortion laws that proliferated. In fact I think that millions of people would simply and proudly refuse to abide by such laws, viewing them as unjust and unconstitutional. Period. I do not see any scenario in which the heads of NOW or NARAL would simply say "Well the law's the law" and agree to accept it.

Well you may not agree with the analogy but I think that is pretty close to how many gun rights people view Feinstein's proposed legislation. You are never going to get them on board because in their view owning a weapon is a fundamental constitutional right. Unlike abortion, there is a specific amendment which supports their POV. Giving that up is simply not an option. Feinstein's proposed legislation wouldn't just ban the future sale or importation of "assault weapons" however those might be defined. It would also require anyone with a grandfathered weapon (various semi-automatic handguns, rifles and shotguns) to register them under the National Firearms Act. This is the same law under which machine guns are handled. So according to Feinstein, owning a semi-automatic weapon means that the government could and should treat you exactly the same as if you own a machine gun. That is you should be on a national list and agree that the BATF and/or other agencies could stop by your home at any time with or without warrant to inspect your weapons and insure that you are abiding by every single law which applies. You wouldn't be able to transfer this weapon without governmental permission. Any violation could result in fines, criminal charges and/or confiscation. There are also extra fees and other restrictions but I think you get the idea. It would be a massive expansion of governmental control over legally acquired handguns. It would have the over night potential of turning millions of gun owners into criminals. Obviously this is the proverbial camel nose under the tent. 

So Feinstein's legislation could be dead on arrival. It certainly won't get much (any??) Republican support in the House. If passed, we know of at least one person who would ignore it. And I imagine there are several others. Here however there are valid and important competing claims to the cries of defiance and "Come get them" emanating from some gun owners. In a republic, aren't we often obligated to obey laws that we don't like? Isn't that the whole point of civil society? Isn't the military sworn to uphold the law and the Constitution? If people feel free to ignore laws they don't like how can we possibly have a functioning society? Who the bleep does Boston think he is? If Feinstein's law passes will overfed weekend warriors really have the guts to stand up and tell the US government to stick it where the sun don't shine? Regulating guns is not the same as banning them, after all.

I don't have the answers to those questions. All I can say is that obedience to the law is not always or even necessarily the highest moral good. A country that can't seem to find and remove 11-20 million illegal immigrants is a country that will not be able to nationally register, track or ban upwards of 200 million semi-automatic weapons. We do need to have a national conversation on access to guns. We also need to talk about many other things. But having that conversation with senators and mayors who have already shown their contempt for the Fourth and Fifth Amendments doesn't make me think they will show any more respect for the Second. I think that many gun rights advocates will be getting in touch with their inner Thoreau.

It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law so much as for the right. 
If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law
-Henry David Thoreau


Was Boston showing contempt for his oath of enlistment? 

Do you support an updated and improved Federal Assault Weapons Ban?

Do you think a Ban will pass?

Can you ever justify breaking the law? If so, when and how?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Chick-fil-A, Boycotts, Gay marriage and Common Sense

The President of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, made statements that expressed his opposition to gay marriage for religious reasons. He is a conservative Christian.
'I think we’re inviting God’s judgment when we shake our fist at him, you know, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." And I pray on God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try and redefine what marriage is all about,' he said. 
This immediately started requests for retraction and calls for boycotts, accusations of discrimination and most ominously government officials telling him to stay out of their vicinity.
This really touches on something that I've noticed for a while now and I don't think it's healthy. Both right and left do it.
  1. The turning of honest difference of opinion into heresy that must be zealously stamped out.
  2. The attempt to hurt someone's business for political reasons.
  3. The attempt to get around free speech protections by recasting ideas as hate speech or discrimination.
  4. The attempt to use government to achieve the first three points.

Whether we think that Dan Cathy is a bigot or not, his position on marriage, that it's between one man and one woman, is one held by millions of Americans, including until quite recently, President Obama. Remember this quote?  "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix." Of course the President said that before he was elected but I know he was being honest with us.  Perhaps Mr. Cathy will also "evolve" when he runs for President. Do we really want to say that everyone who supports traditional marriage is a hateful individual?

Is it a good idea to mix politics and business? This is a trickier question because obviously there are some instances where I do think boycotts are useful but those tend to be cases where the company is engaging in illegal or unethical  behavior (i.e. discrimination or pollution). I understand why people might oppose a new strip club or liquor store opening up in their neighborhood. But those examples aside is it good for you as an individual to only engage in commerce with people that agree with you on everything? Do you for example, not shop at Whole Foods because the founder and CEO, John Mackey is a free market libertarian who opposes ObamaCare and unions and doesn't believe in climate change? Or maybe you do shop at Whole Foods because the founder and CEO, John Mackey is a vegan who has been extremely helpful in the battle to increase standards for humane animal treatment, promoted organic foods and sustainable farming, has donated his stock portfolio to charity and placed caps on executive pay. Is it good for the country as a whole if everyone starts to disengage from people who are not like them? I don't understand the urge to punish people you don't agree with until they change their tune. The world is full of people who think my views are just as silly as I think theirs are. That's life.

If you work in a large corporation as I do there's an excellent chance that you will run across people in positions of authority that will have rather different views than you do. Take it from me it's NOT a good idea to get into political discussions with your direct supervisors about affirmative action, the war in Afghanistan or feminism. But if you discover that your boss's boss's boss thinks that Glenn Beck has it right, do you continue to work there? Or if you are of more conservative bent and you learn that the company CIO thinks the problem with this country is that it needs a good dose of Euro-style social welfare and confiscation of guns, do you stand up and tell her off and then quit? Or in those situations do you say, hey I need this job and as long as I am treated fairly I will stay? Because after all, business is business and those idiots people have a right to their opinions.
There is not as far as I know any claim that Dan Cathy oversees a corporate culture of gay hatred. He has not as far as I know publicly used anti-gay slurs, called for beatings of gays, claimed that he would refuse to hire, promote or serve gays, made anti-gay jokes, or made snide comments about Broadway or West Hollywood. All he did was say he believes that marriage is between a man and woman and contribute money to organizations that feel the same. For that Boston's Mayor Tom Menino sends a letter to Chick-fil-A stating that they are not welcome while Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Aldermen are also making noises about preventing the company from expanding in Chicago

Whatever you think about Dan Cathy or his views, do you really want a government star chamber deciding, for purely political reasons, to try to prevent a company from doing business? That is a pretty obvious, blatant and ugly violation of the First Amendment. If you support that because you happen to think that Dan Cathy is a twit, then would you also support a local government in a more conservative area trying to prevent a lesbian bookstore from opening or demanding to know if a Curves franchise owner believes in abortion rights or sending questionnaires to a dance club to find out the owner's stance on interracial dating?
I think that any new boycott of Chick-fil-A will peter out just like the previous ones did. Remember that NAACP boycott of South Carolina or Target stores? Exactly.


Is it automatically bigotry to support traditional marriage?

Do you occasionally do business with people who hold different political beliefs than you do? If so where do you draw the line?

Is it smart business to put your religious or political views out there for debate?

Should local governments try to prevent Chick-fil-A from expanding?

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Supreme Court, ObamaCare and Moral Claims of Freedom

The Supreme Court has spoken. The constitutional battle over ObamaCare is over. The President and his much derided solicitor general won on most of the legal merits and the policy implementation. Even as the Supreme Court (rightly in my view) rejected the Administration's argument that the Commerce Clause allowed a mandate to purchase health care coverage, it (wrongly in my view) allowed the individual mandate to stand by wrongly characterizing it as a tax. Very few people besides Lauryn Hill, Wesley Snipes or Irwin Schiff question the government's ability to tax and spend so the Supreme Court called the mandate a tax and allowed it to stand.

So that is that. Short of a (currently unlikely) Romney victory and (quite unlikely) total Republican November sweep of the House and Senate, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a settled issue. There are some Republican governors who are threatening, as is their right, to refuse to set up exchanges or expand Medicaid while for the 33rd time the House voted to repeal the law but those are die-hard responses that won't "pull up ObamaCare by its roots" as some desired.

One thing that I've noticed is that partisans on either side make the mistake of personalizing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hence the name ObamaCare). This explains the insane "I will break him" attitude of many Republicans and the joy of some PPACA supporters who didn't really look at the fine print.

Too many PPACA supporters make the mistake of assuming that all opposition must, by definition, be based in dislike for the President. This is not the case. There are two major objections to the PPACA, which are shared in different ways by principled dissidents on both the left and right as well as some libertarians across the board.
First, there has been a reduction in freedom. This is the critical issue to people who tend libertarian and/or are opposed to the mandate. 

Unfortunately many people on the left and/or supporters of PPACA miss this entirely. They assume that anyone who invokes this concern is either a useful idiot (if they're leftist) or a liar (if they're on the right). Well maybe. But remember we talked recently about how many people on the left place equality and compassion as the highest and in some cases only moral values. This is an excellent example of that. In order to supposedly move towards equality and compassion the people who support the mandate are perfectly willing to reduce your freedom to make choices about what sort of health care you want. Now think about some of the other power-mad people that are in executive office around the nation. Can you imagine what a President Bloomberg might do with such powers? What sort of nation do you want? Do you want an activist relatively unrestrained centralized government?
I live in Michigan which has a higher than normal amount of truly obese people of all races. It's especially bad for Hispanics and Blacks. All else equal, obese people cost the public and private sector more in medical coverage. They clog the health care system with their (preventable) diseases and conditions. The slender, underweight, normal sized or moderately overweight workers pay money into a system that transfers much of that money to obese care. Why should I pay money to subsidize some free-loading fattie? So OBVIOUSLY we need a mandate that obese people (BMI of 31 or greater, or body fat pct of 32% or higher) join a health club and maintain that membership until their BMI falls to 28 or lower. To make it nice and constitutional we'll just levy a tax on porcine people who refuse the new mandate or can't lose the weight. Sound good?? Well if I happened to own a health club I would love this idea. 
People that drive trucks use more gasoline, contribute more to global warming and damage roads more quickly. And those doggone people won't stop buying trucks even as gasoline stays above $3/gallon. So OBVIOUSLY we need a mandate that everyone purchase either a Volt, a Focus, a Leaf, or a Nano. So those of you who like your Rams or F-150s sorry pal. You're hurting the economy. But why stop there?
There's a doctor shortage, This affects health care. And that's commerce. Too many smart people are going into law or finance. This is an OBVIOUS resource misallocation. Don't these people know that they owe it to us all to make the right choice? We'll just mandate that certain people become doctors. After all chances are that they're receiving some form of government tuition assistance. And should they disagree well that's no problem, we'll just refuse them student loans and make them pay added penalties on any income earned outside of the medical field. We'll soon have more doctors to treat the expanded patient base.
Now that we've accepted that anything (including inactivity) that impacts commerce can be taxed and mandated why not just go for broke. Business hiring decisions have a much larger immediate economic impact than health care provision health care. Corporations are sitting on trillions in cash and refusing to hire people. This hurts the economy. In fact it's economic treason. So let's just mandate that corporations hire people until the unemployment rate is at 5% or lower. Those companies that refuse will have to pay a penalty tax. The Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Treasury will oversee this program.
And so on. You may think I am being ridiculous. Maybe I am. You may think there are political, legal or constitutional barriers. You may even think some of those are good ideas. But I don't think any of them are good ideas. And I think they are slightly more likely than they were a month ago. The government has unparalleled coercive powers. I don't think it's a coincidence that after the PPACA was upheld we see NYT editorials endorsing the idea of using eminent domain to seize homes that are underwater and give them to other investors for resale or using the power to draft to create a national service cadre of lower paid/unpaid young workers that would undercut unionized labor.

Secondly, the law doesn't solve the problem it was meant to solve. It does not bend the cost curve. How could it? Big pharma maintains protection from cheaper generic drugs. Hospitals have greater incentives to merge. There is no legal mechanism to limit or prevent premium increases. All else equal there will be greater demand for roughly the same supply of services. That means, premiums will increase, as mine already have. It makes it more difficult, if not impossible to push for a single payer program in the US and may increase medical costs abroad.
Who are the people who lack health insurance. Well some are the long-term unemployed. Others are illegal immigrants, who will still be uncovered under this plan and will still be seeking assistance in the ER. Others are people with conditions that are simply so expensive to treat that their insurer has kicked them off their plan and/or other insurers have refused to cover them. Others are employed people who either can't afford coverage or who work somewhere where coverage isn't offered. And finally there are people who, affordability aside, have made a rational choice they they don't currently need health care insurance. 
This last group (the smallest) has received much scorn and opprobrium for supposedly driving up insurance premiums. People speak of them with contempt. They tend to be younger and/or in better health so they are much desired as customers by insurers because they will tend to pay premiums but cost very little in coverage. I don't understand why it is okay to speak with disdain of people standing on their own two feet but if someone has an unkind word to say about a welfare recipient, who is taking from the system, then that's a bad thing. At the very least it's safe to say that this law will have some unintended consequences.

Obviously some people are not fans of the 9th amendment, the 10th amendment or of a Federal Government with limited enumerated powers. That's fine. Evidently portions of the Constitution don't mean what I thought they meant. Cool. Hey I'm no constitutional scholar. I'm just an IT guy.

But, if we did decide that we really really really wanted a Federal Government with limited and enumerated powers and that the 9th and 10th amendments were actually meaningful amendments rather than the redheaded ugly stepchildren of the Bill of Rights, what changes would we need to make to the Constitution since evidently some parts just aren't clear??? This is not a rhetorical question. My concept is that government should stick to its limited roles but otherwise leave me alone.

Now that the issue has been settled, at least in the courts:

What are your thoughts?

Do you at least understand the opposing side (whatever side that is)?

Do you think this will be an issue in the November election?

Do you want a limited federal government or a large unlimited federal government?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chris Rock, Melissa Harris-Perry, Conservatives, Racism and Patriotism

You may have missed it but Chris Rock had a tweet on the Fourth of July that sent some easily and perpetually outraged conservatives off the deep end.

Happy white peoples Independence Day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks.

Additionally Professor Melissa Harris-Perry had a piece about what the Fourth of July meant to her. 

This also sent many of the same (mostly white) conservatives into fits of rage. Actually the points made by Chris Rock and Professor Melissa Harris-Perry weren't really all that different from the points made by our very own Janitor in his Independence Day post.

One thing which is important to remember is that the people who define themselves as Black and/or are defined by others as Black in the American context generally have ancestors that arrived on these shores before 1820 and in many cases as early as the 1700's or before. And even if they don't have those particular ancestors, as long as they LOOK like they do, they will be treated as if they do. So even if you're a recent Somalian or Malian immigrant who just got off the boat or plane, even if you lack certain cultural heritages shared by other Black Americans you're gonna get the same treatment.

Now I just want you to imagine something. Let's say that Black people had deliberately and despite everyone begging them not to do so, started the bloodiest and most destructive war this country had ever seen, one that divided families and pitted fathers against their sons, brothers against brothers. Let's say that Black people specifically and proudly rejected the United States government and said they wanted a nation based on the age old principles of Black supremacy, which should be obvious to anyone who is intelligent, by which they primarily meant other Black people. Now imagine that even after Black people badly lost this war, they never really admitted to themselves that they lost or that their cause was wrong. Instead they worked overtime to alter the historical record so that the cause of the war was not actually their ownership of a despised minority and their eagerness to split the nation, but instead the war was all a tragic misunderstanding caused by among other things big government racial egalitarians.  And let's say that over time this attitude seeped into the Black media, which did all it could to portray the fighters as noble though tragically outnumbered warriors. And finally let's stipulate that far from reaching some sort of understanding that the revolt was wrong, Black people put up statues and monuments to those who led the revolt, spoke fondly of the revolt and every chance they could waved revolt battle flags. Do you think that if Black people had done and were doing this, that they would be accepted as patriots by conservatives or shunned as single minded bigots with dangerous revanchist fantasies?

Well we know the answers to that don't we?  Conservatism has many strains but since the sixties or so, conservatism has increasingly worn a Southern racist face. Think about this. The same people who are attempting to chastise Chris Rock or Professor Perry as insufficiently patriotic or horribly ungrateful never ever ever have an unkind word to say about Confederate memorials, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Daughters of the Confederacy, Southern Partisan, Secession Memorial balls and parties, and any other host of mainstream organizations, events, literature, parties, books and other media designed to remember and celebrate the people who started the ugliest and bloodiest war in American history, primarily because they believed in white supremacy and wanted to ensure their right to hold slaves and expand slavery. No that's all ok.
But let a Black person point out that prior to 1865 most Black people were slaves and those that weren't were often at a very real risk of becoming a slave and suddenly that's the crime of the century. No, apparently Black people, alone among humans, should have a memory that eliminates all the bad things. In fact some conservatives, such as Michael Medved, think that slavery wasn't that bad and Black Americans are better off for it  while others, such as Mark Krikorian argue that Haiti would have been better off with more, not less, colonialism and slavery.

Again, let's try this argument out in some different historical contexts. The modern state of Israel would probably not have come to exist without Hitler. His genocide of six million Jews and weakening of the British Empire gave the Jewish groups in Palestine both moral suasion over the Western powers as well an opportunity to create facts on the ground. Does anyone in their right mind really think that Israelis should weigh the lives of their ancestors against their modern state and say, "Yes, too bad about them but what the heck it was worth it?". Uh no.

Similarly does anyone go to the Lakota Sioux and say "Why don't you stop talking about Wounded Knee. After all some of you people got casinos out of it?" Probably not.

Finally if you went to Germany and everywhere you looked you saw Nazi flags, Iron Crosses, streets and monuments named after prominent Nazis and local "Nazi Veterans Day celebrations" wouldn't you think that some Germans had some issues on which they needed help?
People remember. They remember the good and the bad. And it is pointless to try to make them do otherwise. And frankly it is somewhat insulting. Many people on this planet organize their lives on what some people consider to be completely mythical events that happened 2000-4000 years ago. So it is rather silly to suggest that people forget about things that happened just a mere 200-300 years ago or in some cases in living memory.  America is a great country. But it also has committed multiple sins. America is the freedom to live as you want AND it is also the rubbing of salt into a slave's wounds after whipping for purely sadistic reasons.
Jackson begins his narrative with several instances of harsh treatment he received and witnessed during his time as a slave, including the role of women in the horrors of slavery.  He says of the slave owner’s wife, “The sight which most delighted her eyes was to see a slave whipped,” and one of her daughters grew up to murder Jackson’s sister by having her whipped to death.
If we intend to tell the truth and be honest we have to remember both sides. We should remember for example that some Black people fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War. Why? Because the British offered freedom and some of the would be Americans did not. Were they bad people? No they weren't. They were doing what it took to secure their freedom.

We have got to stop whitewashing things. Tell the truth and let people make up their own minds. The controversy over statements by Professor Perry and Rock show that history is not really about happened. It's more about how we intend to shape the story of what happened for current day political reasons. It's often propaganda.
h/t Harvey's Global Politics

Should black people just forget the uglier parts of history?
Do conservatives secretly feel guilty about the American history of slavery? After all it wasn't conservatives who were agitating for abolition.

Why do conservatives freak out anytime someone mentions the bad parts of American history?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Naomi Schaefer Riley: Arrogance and Ignorance

I can outline but do not fully understand such scientific concepts as Schrodinger wave equation, general and special relativity, Olbers' paradox, Planck's law, the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, study of fluid mechanics, Bernoulli equation, or several other ideas that are basic building blocks of modern physics and engineering. I've got the big picture on some of those ideas but definitely can't go into the nitty gritty details or the mathematical equations. Why? Well I took a few classes some decades ago and enjoy reading about them but I'm not a physicist or an engineer. So I'm not the man to speak with authority about any of those topics in either an applied or theoretical sense.
Imagine if I didn't let that little lack of knowledge or any basic credentials in physics stop me. Suppose I sauntered into a convention of physicists discussing string theory and smugly informed them that not only were their equations and calculations all wrong but also their entire field was balderdash, completely worthless. I declared the only reason they were involved in the field was because of a Eurocentric bias against non-Western modes of understanding the Universe. So to me, they were all, by definition, losers and racists with a special hatred of black people.

Let's say that, once challenged to share my credentials and experience in the field, provide some evidence of my claims, or even simply show that I had even read some of the sources which I was categorically dismissing, I arrogantly responded that I hadn't read any of their simple-minded twaddle and had not the slightest intention of doing so. If I were asked to leave it wouldn't be censorship. It would be an incident of experts involved in grown folks' discussion realizing that I was neither expert nor grown and had nothing of value to add.
Former Wall Street Journal writer Naomi Schaefer Riley did what I just described above, only being a conservative, she substituted black studies (history, sociology, everything) for physics. She was invited to give her opinion on the field by the Chronicle of Higher Education. When you're writing critically for something which is read by actual educators and scholars you need to come correct but Riley did not. You can read what she wrote here. Her essay shows that she has such incredible contempt for anything investigating the history, culture, or sociology of black people that she not only thinks such academic endeavors are not worth her time, she doesn't think they're worth anyone's time.  For example:

You’ll have to forgive the lateness but I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them....
Seriously, folks, there are legitimate debates about the problems that plague the black community from high incarceration rates to low graduation rates to high out-of-wedlock birth rates. But it’s clear that they’re not happening in black-studies departments. If these young scholars are the future of the discipline, I think they can just as well leave their calendars at 1963 and let some legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America. Solutions that don’t begin and end with blame the white man

OK. By all means please read the entire piece yourself. Riley had more to say, much of it nonsensical in my view but make up your own mind. The biggest problem with what she wrote is that she freely admits she didn't even read the dissertations she was mocking. Because to her it's just not worth her time. In some aspects her know-nothing attitude is akin to what Dubois had to deal with at the turn of the century.
Now I do not believe that social sciences are quite as rigorous as the disciplines of physics or mathematics (personal bias) but I do believe that before you dismiss something you need to at the very least know something about it. That's true in every discipline, soft or hard science, music, sport, art, whatever. It's an academic and logical crime to jump to a conclusion without even evaluating the evidence. Clearly Riley was not willing to engage in fair criticism; her mind was already made up beforehand. So the Chronicle of Higher Education(CHE) decided maybe it would be for the best that she blogged and critiqued elsewhere. On cue, the usual suspects started screaming and crying about academic freedom and political correctness and censorship.
This all misses the point. Riley's puerile and viciously lazy condemnation of an entire academic body of knowledge is really quite breathtaking in what it reveals about the thinking of SOME right-wing, mostly white conservatives.
  • There is nothing that black people have done, are doing or will do in America that is worthy of rigorous study.
  • The only reason anyone would study black history, sociology, anthropology, etc is because they hate white people.
  • Black studies are only of worth to the extent that they agree with a conservative ideology around race.
  • Even if some black person somewhere did something worth studying, black studies departments lack the ability to produce such study.
That pretty much sums it up. Never mind that there are such esoteric fields as Judaic studies, seminars on Ottoman economics, scholarly books about music printing in Leipzig during the 30 Years War, or a myriad of other popular or obscure topics in which some number of people study, become expert, teach and obtain doctorates. Only the study of Black people , and especially the study of Black people by Black people seems to call forth such putrid bile by the right wing. 
Riley ignores the fact that there is of course no reason that you could not be both right-wing and an expert on Harlem Renaissance poets or Negro Baseball league economics. You could be damn near fascist and know more than any living soul about sharecropper political economy in the Mississippi Delta of the late thirties or musical sharing between 1920's Cuba, Jamaica and New Orleans. So you can make your own judgments on why Riley is so fearful and contemptuous of Black studies. You can also read what Black Ivy League scholars had to say about their field here.

1) Was the CHE right to part company with Mrs. Riley?
2) Do you think black studies is a worthwhile field of endeavor?
3) Is it fair to condemn something without examining it?
4) Can you explain special relativity in ways that I could get it?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Racism: Beauty and The Beast

It is occasionally comforting to imagine that the people of evil spirit all look evil or ugly. That way you can tell who they are ahead of time and avoid them. It is also comforting to imagine that the election of a black President meant that America was finally starting to move past its ugly history of white supremacy and racial hatred towards a "post-racial" era. However, both of those ideas are complete fairy tales. Racial hatreds persist. And it's not just the stereotypical obvious skinheads or toothless inbred Southerners driving pickup trucks who spew racial hatred of the other, especially black people. Nope this stuff is nationwide. It's found in high-class and low-class people. People of great beauty and people of astounding ugliness can agree on how much they hate blacks. People who are living paycheck to paycheck and people who can light Cuban cigars with hundred dollar bills can find camaraderie in their shared disdain for citizens of African descent.

I am talking of course of two recent incidents. One incident involved mathematician and conservative columnist John Derybshire. The UK born Derbyshire (who is a walking example of why I think the US should have a more restrictive immigration policy) has a long history of writing hateful pieces about Black people. But in a recent piece for Takimag, he outdid himself in a scornful rebuttal to the idea that Black parents have to caution their children how to behave around whites, particularly white police officers. You can go read it there if you like. Basically his "argument" is that most black people are stupid and violent. He also thinks blacks are lazy and primarily have jobs via affirmative action. He sums up by saying he warns his children to avoid black areas or events with large numbers of black people. This is a typical excerpt.

(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”
(12) There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high. Thus, in those encounters with strangers that involve cognitive engagement, ceteris paribus the black stranger will be less intelligent than the white. In such encounters, therefore—for example, at a government office—you will, on average, be dealt with more competently by a white than by a black. If that hostility-based magnifying effect (paragraph 8) is also in play, you will be dealt with more politely, too. “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

There was actually some conservative push back. A conservative economist was actually one of the first people to call for The National Review to fire Derbyshire for his Takimag article. The National Review did "fire" Derbyshire. Derbyshire himself did not seem too bothered by this. He has self-identified as a racist since at least 2003. No one who has ever read a representative sampling of his work can honestly say they weren't aware that Derbyshire has a special dislike for Black people and NAMS (Non Asian Minorities-Derbyshire is married to a woman of East Asian descent and evidently makes exceptions for that group).

The second incident of note was that a Chicago area bartender named Jessica Harr, decided to share with the Facebook world how much she hated Black people. She called for expulsion of blacks, used racial slurs, talked about how ugly and dumb black people were and said she'd never hire any blacks. Of course when the s*** hit the fan this MENSA member made her page private but by then it was too late and her employer decided that it was probably best if Harr found a new place to earn money.

UPDATE: Proof owner Mike Bloem, who waited almost 24 hours to respond to the situation, had this to say about the incident: "Proof would like to confirm its belief in equality, fairness and tolerance to all our friends and partners. Sadly, on occasion, we are all exposed to ignorance and racism. We believe that by continuing to be true to our ideals and leading through our actions that each of us can be an agent for positive change." 
Yeah, whatever. The truth of the matter is that women who look like Harr usually don't have a problem getting hired in the nightclub/food service/hospitality industry. I am certain that in a short period of time she will have a new gig. And perhaps she will only share her racist rants in person instead of on Facebook. Problem solved, right?

Well, not really. The issue is that Derbyshire and Harr both appear to have lots of supporters, judging by the comment boards of some conservative websites. And as I stated Derbyshire's attitudes have been crystal clear for years. He didn't all of a sudden decide that he hated Black people. So I don't really understand why now The National Review decided that it could no longer publish his work. The other interesting thing to me is that Derbyshire's relative openness about his attitudes is almost of benefit to me. I know exactly where he stands. I know that he doesn't like me and won't give me a fair shot. But Harr is the sort of person who smiles in your face but goes home to rant about how she wants you expelled from the country. Unless I'm looking for it, I may miss it. I have worked with and for people like Harr in the past. There's always some seemingly non-racial reason they have for why they're moving forward and you're not. And it's always delivered with a smile. Such people are dangerous.

1) Do you think the US is more racist now than before the 2008 election or are people just dropping their masks?
2) Is it fair to fire someone for what they wrote on their Facebook page? How about private email?
3) Had you heard of Derbyshire before now? Is there anything he said that was true? Do you think his attitudes are common among conservatives?
4) Why did The National Review decide to sever ties with Derbyshire now?
5) Ever worked with open racists?