Friday, April 04, 2003

Political Correctness Run Amok. For years and years I've been perplexed by the demonization of political correctness. I'll admit, I'm probably missing the boat on this one. But I've always been puzzled by people who spit the words contemptuously out of their mouths. The way always saw it, political correctness was about taking a few simple steps to prevent yourself from needlessly upsetting someone. I saw it as no more insidious that good manners, but I'm clearly in the minority on that one, because a lot of people seem to think that political correctness threatened free speech.

I'm beginning to see the point of their concern. But, as I think I've mentioned before, political correctness has been changing. It used to be associated with the left, with the insistence that we use non-offensive terms for describing people. And I'm down with that stuff. If I want to offend someone, I will, but I certainly don't want to offend someone by mistake. But the new political correctness is coming entirely from the right these days. Bill Maher lost his show, ironically titled "Politically Incorrect" for saying that flying a plane into a building is a lot less cowardly than launching a cruise missile at a target thousands of miles away. Now that some time has passed, maybe we can sit back and judge that comment. Does anyone want to defend the position that launching the cruise missile requires more guts? Do you think anyone could make an argument? Do you think there could be any serious disagreement at all? I doubt it. But he lost his job because "he shouldn't have said it".

No, if you're one of these anti-P.C. people, shouldn't you be all over that one. A man losing his job for saying something which was true, but which he shouldn't have said. Now, Bill Maher offended a lot of people with that remark. A lot of people seemed to think that he was impugning the bravery of the soldiers in the U.S. military. I don't know where they got that from. Nothing he said would indicate that conclusion. But people were offended, advertisers started panicking, and the show was shelved. Don't cry for Bill Maher, though, he's back on HBO, a channel with some balls.

We're getting a lot more cases of the P.C. police lately. Nothing like a war to bring that out, and once again, it's coming entirely from the right. Most recently, Sen. John Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts and candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, has called for "regime change" in America. Apparently, this is an outrage. I can't figure out why. Think about it: Bush is the president, Kerry wants to be, and there's an election coming up in a year and a half. What result do you think Kerry is rooting for in the 2004 election? Even in time of war, presidents face electoral challenges from the opposition party. FDR won a very tight race in 1944. But, for some reason, Republicans and others are screaming bloody murdered, apparently outraged that this America-hating traitor wants Bush to be voted out of office in 2004. What gives? Does this make any sense? Can't we assume that all of the would-be presidential candidates want Bush to lose?

So why does Kerry get singled out? Two reasons: one, he could win. The White House has been worried about Kerry from the beginning. More imortantly, because he used the words "regime change". You see, you're not allowed to use the words "regime change" with respect to President Bush, because that creates a comparison between Bush and Hussein, and that's not fair.

Bullshit. Bush wants to regime change Saddam Hussein through warfare. Fine. Kerry wants to regime change Bush through politics. Fine. What is the problem here?

The lesson here is just this: political correctness is a bipartisan phenomenon, but it is still highly associated in most people's minds with the left. Many of the dangerous, pernicious, freedom-stifling effects that conservatives claim are just as prevalent (if not more, as I believe) on the right. Watch this war for the clearest example. They used to attack us for not supporting the troops. Then, we made clear how much we support the troops. So, they claim that we say we support the troops, but that you can't really support the troops if you don't support the president, because, as commander-in-chief, the president is the uber-troop. This would be funny if it weren't so dumb. The point is that dissent is being demonized, and has been demonized ever since 9/11. It's getting worse now, and we've all got to be vigilant and strong. Mark my words, this war is going to have descendants, and one of those descendants will be in progress during campaign 2004. It might be the long-term ccupation of Iraq, or it might be war with Iran or Syria. I don't know. But the Republicans are going to keep this going indefinately, and someone in Washington, or someone in the media, is going to tell us that voting against George W. Bush in 2004 is unpatriotic, if not treason. It's going to be said. Maybe by Ann Coulter, maybe by Tom Delay, I don't know. But that idea is going to planted in the public mind, and some of the public will believe it.

Get ready. The election is coming, and it's going to be really, really ugly.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

New Wrinkle on the Weed Case. Big news from TalkLeft on the Ed Rosenthal case. If you recall, Ed Rosenthal was a grower and distributor of marijuana in California. He was operating under the California state law permitting the cultivation of pot for medicinal purposes. The jury was not informed of this fact, and they convicted him under federal anti-drug laws. Once they realized, after the trial, what was really going on, several jurors, joined by California prosectors, began campaigning to overturn the conviction. Well, the latest is that one of the jurors has come forward, admitting to the judge that she sought outside legal advice relating to the case and shared that advice with another juror. This may not sound like much, but it's huge. Mr. Rosenthal should immediately be granted a new trial.

If John Ashcroft weren't such a hypocritical asshole, the government would decline to re-prosecute following the tossing out of the verdict. But then, if Ashcroft weren't such a hypocritical asshole, Rosenthal never would have been prosecuted in the first place. Stay tuned for developments, and while you're there, add TalkLeft to your bookmarks. It's a great site for politics and news relating to criminal law.

UPDATE: Brutal Hugs puts this issue into the context of the war on drugs, and throws out some powerful stats showing just had badly we are losing. There are a lot of alternatives to the war on drugs, which is ridiculously expensive, totally ineffective, and has some pretty negative consequence, but those alternatives never seem to get discussed by politicians of either party. That means pivate citizens like us have to take it to the politicians, not simply wait for "leadership" that will never come. I'll be discussing this issue much more in the future.
The New Civil Rights Movement. The rally yesterday was fantastic. I haven't had so much fun in ages (well, without alcohol). There were only seven of us on a 60-person bus. Rutgers - Camden Pride!! [Seriously, it was embarassing. But some of us got together on the bus and are discussing creating a new progressive activism group at the law school. If this goes anywhere, I'll let you know.] We were dropped off right outside the Supreme Court building just before 9:00am. There was already a large rally growing quickly. There were numerous speakers representing various interests, and the crowd was filled with contingents from law schools and colleges all over the country. It was fun to read all of the signs and T-shirts the people had brought. One guy had a T-shirt with Clarence Thomas's picture on it, which read "Every brother ain't a brother." That one got a lot of attention. One sign said "My SATs are higher than yours, Mr. President." There were several signs pointing out the hypocrisy of a white rich-kid legacy-admit ostensibly upholding the principles of meritocracy.

Let me branch off at this point and address something important. Meritocracy is a code-word for racism. There are no two ways about it. Oh, I know, it sounds like a nice idea, and there are plenty of honest Joes who honestly feel that meritocracy is the way to go. Like my friend Lima Beanz. But whenever you hear someone in Washington talk about meritocracy, listen close. They don't talk about legacy admissions. They don't talk about colleges which regularly admit the dim sons of major contributors. They don't talk about athletics. Think about it, Lima Beanz. A true meritocracy would destroy college sports, and hurt those professional sports which rely on collegiate players. Do you really think Allen Iverson should have gone to Georgetown? And if he hadn't, then what? He might have gotten himself into the NBA anyway, but maybe not. And even if he had, he wouldn't have had those couple of years in Georgetown to mature. But, more to the point, notice the fact that people only seem to praise meritocracy when they are attacking affirmative action. There has never been, and there never will be, a true meritocracy in this country. And the dirty little secret is that nobody wants one. Get used to it. And, given that, why should we allow the benefits to rich white kids to continue while we eliminate the benefits to minorities? Isn't that racist?

Consider also that the holy Bible of meritocracy, the standardized test, is itself racist. Or, more specifically, classist. This is inevitable, unfortunately. I don't think you can write a test, other than pure mathematics, that doesn't have some sort of bias, but it would be nice if someone decided to try. But that's only one problem with standardized testing. Think about this: what is a standardized test supposed to test? What does the SAT test? Intelligence? Studies suggest strongly that the SAT is a very poor predictor for intelligence, academic success, or professional success. So what does it test? It tests how well you take the SAT, and that's all it tests. There is a fee for taking the test. Re-taking the test costs more. There is a huge fee for the major SAT-prep courses, which promise to add points to your score. Once again, this translates directly into an unfair bias toward the wealthy. If you have the money, you can get pretty damn good at taking that test, and you can add serious points to your score. You can go to better schools than some poor fool who can't afford the prep materials or the re-takes. Meritocracy my ass.

What I learned yesterday at this rally is that affirmative action is crucial to the future of racial justice in this country. For all the barriers that we throw in front of minorities in this country, we throw them this little bone of affirmative action, which really isn't much. We don't give them a decent education. They don't have the same access to health care as affluent whites. They get higher sentences for the same crimes, they get lower wages for the same jobs, and they face social prejudices every day that most white people cannot even imagine. Against that, we allow some of them to get into college, despite the fact that they haven't been given the same tools to succeed as affluent whites have been given. If they fail, it because they haven't been given the tools to succeed. If they succeed, it is because they have worked harder to overcome the barriers they faced. It's true that the system will never be fair until there is bottom-up reform of the entire education system, but that isn't on the political agenda of any major party. Since Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case which outlawed segregation, the government has refused to address the fundamental problems in the education system which fail to provide a decent minimum standard of education to all Americans. And, for a variety of reasons, the shortcomings in the education system are a far greater burden on minority children than on white children. The real solution to the problems of minority access to higher education must be found in public education reform. But until that happens, affirmative action must be maintained.

The thousands of people at yesterday's rally understand this. They understand that affirmative action creates as many problems as it solves, and is in no way the ideal solution to this problem. But they notice that the people who want to eliminate affirmative action have no plan to address the underlying issue. Their demands, our demands, are very simple. Fix the system first. If you are so offended by racial preferences in higher ed. admission standards, fine: tear down the racial barriers that make them necessary. Until the fundamental issues are addressed (whether successfully or not, let's at least acknowledge the problem and try to find a solution), any attempt to eliminate affirmative action is racist on its face, and must be fought on those terms.

The rally yesterday was overwhelmingly made up of students: law students, college students, and high school students. The young people are leading the way, picking up the fight that their parents abandoned. Martin Luther King's dream has not been accomplished, and much of the progress made in the 1960s has been lost. Its so encouraging to realize that so many young people are aware of these issues and fighting for change. The rally yesterday was referred to several times as the beginning steps of a new, youth-led civil rights movement in America. I don't know if that's just crowd-pleasing rhetoric, but it was an effective call-to-arms for everyone there. Is this the beginning of a new civil rights movement? I don't know. But it should be. It must be.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Get On the Bus. Posting will be light tomorrow. Well, it was light today, but that's just because I didn't have much to say. But tomorrow it will be light because I'll be in Washington, D.C. Tomorrow, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the big affirmative action cases coming out of the University of Michigan. This is a huge case, as it will likely determine the future of affirmative action for at least the next few years. Whatever happens when the decision finally comes down, it won't be the last chapter. The most likely result is that affirmative action will be saved, in some form or another, by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who holds the crucial swing vote in this case. Renhquist, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy will certainly produce an opinion openly hostile to all forms of affirmative action, as they have in the past. Breyer, Stevens, O'Connor, and Souter will most likely join with Ginsburg in upholding at least one of the affirmative action systems under review, and laying out the latest set of rules governing the use of racial preferences in higher education admissions. But, Ginsburg is widely expected to step down at the end of this session, and Bush will surely attempt to replace her with a Scalia clone, as he more or less promised to do during campaign 2000. If you hate blacks, you have a lot to be happy about. When Texas, California, and Florida (hmm... one of these things is not like the others) abolished affirmative action within the last several years, all of them saw an immediate and precipitous decline in minority attendance in colleges and graduate schools of over 75%. The importance of that statistic cannot be overstated. In today's world, it is all but impossible to get ahead with out a college degree (and difficult enough to get ahead with one). Factor in the shitty public education most minorities receive when compared with whites, plus the well-documented racial biases of the standardized tests used in college admissions, and you have the recipe for a permanent racial underclass in this country.

The good news, though, is that all three active Philadelphia sports teams won today. The Phillies beat the Marlins 8-5, the Sixers beat the Magic in OT, and the Flyers trounced the pathetic Pirates of Pittsburgh 6-1. The Mets, on the other hand, got their asses handed to them, 15-2, by the Chicago Cubs. So at least we have something to smile about.

I'll be back at some point, either tomorrow night or Wednesday, with a full report on my adventures in our nation's capital. Right now, I'm going to bed. I have to be at Rutgers at 5:15am to catch that bus. Fight the Power!

UPDATE: I should clarify: I won't actually be going to the Supreme Court. It's a huge case, and very unlikely that we'd have any chance of getting in. But there will be rallies and events and stuff, so I've been told. Should be fun.
Opening Day. In this very difficult time, when American lives are at risk half-a-world away, it's important to keep something for yourself to simply find enjoyment in. It does no one any good to worry all the time, and we should get on with our regular lives as much as possible. Based on personal anecdoctal experience, no one actually needs to be told this. Most of my friends seem moderately to extremely disinterested in the war. But for those of us who do worry, we now have something to help take our minds off of it. Major League Baseball is here.

As a Phillies fan, it's been about ten years since the opening of baseball season presented any kind of excitement or optimism. This year, I am excited, and I'm hoping for a prety good year. Jeff Cooper over at Cooped Up has been cooped up a little too long, appartently, because he thinks the Mets will beat Philly to land the 2nd place spot on the NL East standings. I disagree. Philly pride!

I should mention that Prof. Cooper, who operates an excellent blog which I read frequently, could hardly have done more to get under my skin than to predict that the Mets would pass the Phillies this year. I despise the Mets, even more than I do the Yankees. [I should point out that I hate every New York sports team... every last one. The Mets are my least favorite New York sports team.] I now feel, despite our broad agreement on many political and legal issues, a deep and resounding contempt for Prof. Cooper. I mean, it's one thing for my friend Mosco to be a Mets fan, because (judging from his blog) he is clearly insane. But Prof. Cooper, on the other hand, has shown no signs of mental infirmity up to this point. It's very distressing.

Look, I don't know much about baseball. I like it, but I'm not one of those fans who knows lots of trivia about its history. I know very little about it's present, actually. But I am prepared to predict that the Phillies will finish this season ahead of the Mets in the NL East standings, and will win the majority of their games against the Mets. If Prof. Cooper thinks otherwise, it calls into question his judgment in every other regard as well.

The Phillies and the Mets won't face each other, if I read the schedule correctly, until mid-May. I will be watching.

At the time of writing, the Mets are losing to the Cubs 10-2 in the bottom of the sixth.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Looks Like Somebody Fucked Up Here. Via Talking Points Memo, loads of articles about just how badly Donald Rumsfeld fucked up this whole war plan. I'm a little up in the air on this. Some of my fellow liberals are suggesting that Runsfeld is being scapegoated to cover Bush's ass, but I don't think so. From what I know of Rumsfeld, these stories seem prety plausible to me.

Rumsfeld Faulted for Troop Dilution. "Current and former U.S. military officers are blaming Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his aides for the inadequate troop strength on the ground in Iraq, saying the civilian leaders "micromanaged" the deployment plan out of mistrust of the generals and an attempt to prove their own theory that a light, maneuverable force could handily defeat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein." This could play very badly for the Administration. Rumsfeld probably has some good points to make about career military guys who can't get there heads out of the cold war model. The fact of the matter is, however, that if a civilian political decision made over the objection of the career military fails, and the military starts crying "I told you so," then the guys who made the decision are in a world of shit.

Rumsfeld based his war plan on the assumption that Iraq would not fight. The military guys said "We need more troops." Rumsfeld said "Not if they don't fight." "What if they do fight?" "They're not going to fight." They fought. We need more troops. It'll take tham a couple more weeks to get there. Now we have to decide whether to invade Baghdad with what we've got, or to give Saddam Hussein a huge political/public-relations win by waiting three weeks until we're ready. That's an ugly choice.

War's Military, Political Goals Begin to Diverge. "Ten days into the invasion of Iraq, the political imperative of waging a short and decisive campaign is increasingly at odds with the military necessity of preparing for a protracted, more violent and costly war, according to senior military officials." This is exactly what I'm talking about. This country was never solidly behind thi war, pretty much until it started. And when it started, we all pretty muc thought it was going to be pretty easy. That is to say, we were all told, by Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, and others, that it was most likely going to be pretty easy. So far, it hasn't been. Even the disloyal Iraqi in the south are fighting. Even Iraqi dissidents who fled the country to escape Saddam Hussein are returning to fight against the Greater Satan. Our supply line is stretched, our troops are underdeployed and undersupplied.

"Top Army officers in Iraq say they now believe that they effectively need to restart the war. Before launching a major ground attack on Iraq's Republican Guard, they want to secure their supply lines and build up their own combat power. Some timelines for the likely duration of the war now extend well into the summer, they say." The Administration does not want to hear this, and it really doesn't want to read it in the Washington Post. Most analyses that I've heard suggest that if the war isn't over within a month of when if began, the Administration may have a political problem. One month would be mid to late April. "Well into the summer" is three months longer than that.

What this means is this: from a political point of view, this war is going pretty badly so far. From a military poit of view, it's a different story. We need more troops before we can go after Baghdad, but our progress through the rest of the country has been outstanding. We have to dedicate far more resources to protecting out supply lines than we thought, but we can do that. Despite these setbacks, and I would call them "major" setbacks, I don't envision any possibility that we could lose this war (and by "lose" I mean leave without removing Saddam from power). It's just going to take longer. I know things can get hairy out in the desert when the summer hits, but our troops can handle it. This is a problem for the civilian leaders who fucked this up. Let the military run itself, and they'll take care of the rest of the war, on their timetable.