Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Clinton Backs Romanoff in Colorado Senate Primary

Bill Clinton has parted ways with the White House and has announced his support for Andrew Romanoff in Colorado's US Senate primary. President Obama has endorsed incumbent Michael Bennett, who was appointed to the seat after Ken Salazar resigned to become Secretary of the Interior. Romanoff says that President Obama offerred him a job in order to keep him out of the primary.

Daily Kos Suing Its Former Pollster

Daily Kos is suing Research 2000, its former pollster. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas made the announcement on the liberal blog today.

According to Moulitsas, several statistics experts examined poll data compiled by Research 2000, and these individuals concluded that the results were fabricated. Moulitsas says that Research 2000 defrauded Daily Kos.

Dissenting Justice has also criticized Research 2000 poll results. For example, in February 2010, Daily Kos/Research 2000 produced a survey that purports to demonstrate extremism among Republicans. The results, however, are flawed in several respects. See Major Flaw with Daily Kos Poll on Republican Ideology: No Context.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Conservative Bloggers Claim NRA Issues Gag Order on Kagan

Several conservative bloggers claim that the National Rifle Association has ordered its board members not to discuss the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Kagan has not really expressed a public view on many issues. While this likely makes her confirmation an easy task, it also troubles many liberals and conservatives.

Because Kagan is probably the "best" nominee that conservatives can expect (short of an openly conservative pick), many conservative organizations will probably avoid a big fight and hope for the best. Perhaps this explains the NRA stance (if the reports are accurate).

Liberal groups are really the ones that should worry the most. Kagan could end up being more moderate or conservative than liberal (like former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor). No one really knows how she will operate as a judge.

Kagan Hearings Prediction: Very Bland

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan begin today. I have one prediction regarding the hearings: they will be very bland.

Kagan has a thin trail of scholarship, and her work for the Clinton administration apparently did not include much written analysis. Accordingly, it is difficult to determine her political views. This will make it difficult for Republicans to brand her as a "judicial activist," although undoubtedly they will try.

I doubt that any Democrats will seriously challenge Kagan in any substantive way, and if she faces tough questions from either side, she will probably give answers that reveal very little about her ideology. So, if you are making popcorn for the hearings, add lots of butter and prepare a strong drink.

Senator Robert Byrd Has Died at 92

Senator Robert Byrd has died at the age of 92. The New York Times has an extensive obituary.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mexico Files an Amicus Brief Urging Court to Find AZ Immigration Law Unconstitutional

Mexico has filed an amicus brief urging a federal court to invalidate SB1070, a controversial Arizona immigration law. The New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf filed the brief on behalf of Mexico. Mexico says that it seeks to protect the interest of its citizens who travel abroad and to prevent an erosion in US-Mexico relations. It its within the discretion of the judge whether or not to consider papers filed by nonparties.

This fairly routine development (filing an amicus brief) has become much more dramatic due to several misleading articles (like this one on Fox News), which state that Mexico has "joined" the litigation challenging the law or that Mexico has filed "a suit" against Arizona. These reports are misleading and untrue. An amicus brief is not a lawsuit. A party filing an amicus brief does not "join" the lawsuit.

Who Gets Second Chances in the US

Eliot Spitzer, once shamed into retiring from his position as Governor of New York due to a prostitution scandal, is valiantly returning to co-host a primetime CNN program with Kathleen Parker. I am a fan of giving people second (and third and fourth. . .) chances. Nonetheless, I am always struck by the way in which our society distributes second chances and how social privileges allow people to land well after a fall. I wonder where the "prostitute" is today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

If Gen. McChrystal Had "Come Out" to Rolling Stone, He'd Be Gone. . . .

If, rather than berating his commander-in-chief in an internationally read magazine, General Stanley McChrystal had simply said he was gay, then he would have been subject to discharge from the military under existing law. He would have been subject to discharge even if he replaced his criticism with praise and respect -- and then said "I'm gay." I offer this thought for people to consider as they debate military protocol and the merits of dismissing McChrystal.

Support the Troops (Fire McChrystal)!

Remember the empty phrase "support the troops" that pro-war types hurled as a conversation stopper during the Bush presidency? Very often, Iraq War supporters said that people who criticized Bush, questioned the need for the offensive, or challenged the veracity of the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction were showing a lack of respect for the troops.

If that logic was heartfelt, I wonder whether these same individuals will support the firing or resignation of General Stanley McChrystal who, along with members of his staff, became unplugged during an interview with Rolling Stone. The article reports scathing criticism of the Obama administration by McChrystal and his team.

The news has occupied the media and blog world all day. A CNN blog is reporting rumors that McChrystal has already tendered his resignation. Certainly, I would lack confidence in him if I were President Obama.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Poll Shows Charlie Crist Leading US Senate Race in Florida

A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll has Independent Charlie Crist with an 11-point lead over Republican Marco Rubio and a 28-point lead over Democrat Kendrick Meek in a 3-way race for US Senate. Although the results of this poll show Crist with a much larger lead than other recent polls, virtually all of the other polling data regarding the US Senate race in Florida show Crist with a slight lead.

Crist abandoned the Republican Party to run as an Independent because he is quite unpopular among Florida's conservative Republican base. Had Crist run as a Republican, Rubio would probably have trounced him in the primary contest. Crist, however, enjoys a great deal of support among Independent voters and among moderate Democrats and Republicans.

The Telegraph Reports That Rahm Emanuel Is Calling It Quits (Updated)

The Telegraph has published a late-night bombshell: Rahm Emanuel will leave his White House position later this year. The Telegraph article describes Emanuel in terms that many other media have utilized. It reports that the "pragmatic" Rahm is leaving because he has grown tired of the "idealism" among President Obama's inner circle.

Earlier this year, several media outlets published articles that praise Emanuel as a political strategist. These articles emerged as many liberals criticized Emanuel. At the time, several bloggers viewed the articles as an orchestrated "swan song." Perhaps these bloggers were correct.

Update: The White House has dismissed this story as rubbish.

Update II: Emanuel says the story is "b.s."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gates Says Obama Might Veto Bill Containing DADT Repeal Measure

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that President Obama might veto a military spending bill that contains a provision allowing for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The proposed measure would repeal DADT following the conclusion of a military review (slated to end in December 2010), a finding by the military that ending the policy would not compromise military preparedness, and the promulgation of policies by the Defense Department implementing an end of the anti-gay law.

Gates said that the larger bill contains spending initiatives that Obama opposes. But Republicans also vigorously opposed the repeal language, and Obama did not openly solicit its inclusion in the bill. Instead, Senator Joe Lieberman and Representative Patrick Murphy proposed the measure. Furthermore, Pentagon officials, including Gates, opposed the repeal measure, and Obama has pursued a very guarded approach to this matter. During the interview, however, Gates said that he "think[s]" that Obama would veto the bill whether or not it also included the repeal provision.

A Volley of Questions
Will Obama actually veto the bill? Will he veto the bill due to spending measures or because he opposes the repeal provision? Can Congress repass the measure as a stand-alone policy or as part of a new bill that does not contain offending spending measures? If Congress repasses the measure, will it do so prior to the conclusion of the Defense Department review of DADT? Is the threatened veto simply a way of eliminating the repeal measure and allowing the DADT review to go forward without Congressional input? If Obama vetoes the measure, will this enrage GLBT advocates, eroding support for Obama among liberals? What do you think?

Police in Gainesville, Florida Release Dog on 10-Year-Old Boy; Yeah - He's Black

Last week, police in Gainesville, Florida released a dog on Bryce Bates, a 10-year-old black child. According to an article in the Gainesville Sun, police were responding to a call from a woman who reported a burglary in progress. Around the time that police arrived, young Bryce rode his bicycle to check the mail for his mother.

Bryce said that he witnessed a police car coming towards him at a very fast speed and that he jumped from his bike, fearing that the car would hit him. The officers, part of a K-9 unit, exited the car and released a dog to pursue Bryce, who was running home to his mom in fear. Bryce sustained several bites from the dog.

As officers began to investigate the incident, they discovered that the woman who reported the burglary apparently has a mental condition that causes her to hallucinate. What condition caused officers to believe that a child riding a bike on a summer day was a burglar?

Personal Tidbit
As an 11-year-old in Gainesville, cops pulled me aside as I walked to a playground in my neighborhood. They said that "someone" told them that I was trying to steal a car. I also ran from them -- after they started to leave. To this day, I still have never attempted to steal (nor have I ever stolen) a car.

The delusional neighbor who called the police said that several male and female "foreigners," possibly teens, had burglarized her home. Little Bryce is 10-years-old and weighs 85 pounds.

Harry Reid Might Be The Luckiest Senate Candidate

It is too soon to predict what will happen in the Nevada race for U.S. Senate, but Harry Reid's challenger Sharron Angle seems determined to prove that she is not ready for primetime. Check out this video footage from 8Newsnow.com, a local Las Vegas television station.

Finally, according to many websites -- including TPM -- Angle tried "to gain support for a prison drug rehabilitation program that would involve prisoners quitting drugs cold turkey, with saunas and massages as part of treatment -- an idea promoted by the Church of Scientology." During the Republican primary, Sue Lowden, Angle's opponent, ran a humorous ad criticizing the plan. Lowden, of course, ran into trouble for her own bizarre positions. Lowden suggested, for example, that healthcare reform could be accomplished if the country returned to a barter system, in which patients brought "chickens" to their physicians in exchange for medical services. Oh, Nevada!

Here is the prison massage campaign ad:

Frightening Acts of Violence Against Census Takers

The Washington Post has published a frightening article that describes several incidents that Census takers have faced while conducting house calls. Here is a clip from the article:

Since they began making follow-up house calls in early May, census takers have encountered vitriol, menace and flashes of violence. They have been shot at with pellet guns and hit by baseball bats. They have been confronted with pickaxes, crossbows and hammers. They've had lawn mowers pushed menacingly toward them and patio tables thrown their way. They have been nibbled by ducks, bitten by pit bulls and chased by packs of snarling dogs. . . .

Sherri Chesney, 46, said she was cursed and spat at during follow-up visits in Houston. One day, she encountered a woman working in her garden. Chesney showed her census badge, she said, prompting the woman to launch into a tirade: "I don't need the blankety-blank government snooping in my business." Then she threw a metal patio table at Chesney, who escaped injury by ducking. . . .

In a rural part of California's Nevada County northeast of Sacramento, two census workers told authorities that a man ordered them off his land. He mentioned his submachine gun, then followed them down the drive with a crossbow in hand. No charges were brought against the resident, the sheriff's department said.

A homeowner in Marion, Ohio, called police, saying he had just used his baseball bat against a stranger on his property. The perceived interloper was a census taker who told police the resident flew off the handle as soon as he mentioned the word census. The census taker was struck in the forearm, warding off blows from the aluminum bat. The resident was charged with felonious assault.

Mental fitness is a terrible thing to lack.

Eugene Robinson Says Obama Must Meet His Afghanistan Deadline

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, one of President Obama's biggest media supporters, says that Obama must keep his promise and begin troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011. Recently, General David Patraeus said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that "[w]e have to be very careful with timelines" and that withdrawal could not occur unless certain "conditions" were met.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NYT Reporter Who Wrote The Afghanistan Mineral Story Bashes Bloggers; Apologizes

On Monday, New York Times reporter James Risen published an article that made a remarkable claim. According to Risen, US scientists had recently discovered vast mineral deposits in Afghanistan worth at least $1 trillion.

Suspicious bloggers immediately jumped on the report. Many of them (myself included) pointed out that the story of mineral deposits in Afghanistan emerged as early as the 1980s and as recently as 2007. Indeed, a 2007 joint report of the US Geological Survey and the Navy similarly claimed that the nation had rich mineral reserves.

Some bloggers even questioned the timing of the story. The war in Afghanistan has become the subject of increasing criticism. Some commentators suggested that the story was a Pentagon-planted narrative seeking to rally public support for the war.

Risen Strikes Back
During a telephone interview with Yahoo News blogger John Cook, Risen attacked bloggers who questioned his reporting:
"Bloggers should do their own reporting instead of sitting around in their pajamas....

The thing that amazes me is that the blogosphere thinks they can deconstruct other people's stories. . . .Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don't know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think.
Risen shared a Pulitzer for breaking the NSA story in 2006. Despite this fact, his recent defensiveness is offensive and unprofessional. Furthermore, Risen cannot dispute the fact that his recent report about Afghanistan's mineral reserves did not uncover any new data. Nonetheless, Risen asks, "If it wasn't news, then why didn't anybody write about it?" Apparently, Risen did not read the blog articles that questioned his story. They contain numerous citations to articles that covered this issue in the past. Cook also provides links to similar reporting in his blog post.

Perhaps realizing that his angry words would become public, Risen called Cook after the interview and offered an apology to bloggers:
"I was taken aback by some of the criticism, and didn't sleep well last night, and was upset about it. I apologize."
Closing Comment
Clearly, the professional media could benefit from the scrutiny of hardworking and thoughtful bloggers. The general animosity Risen expresses towards bloggers is unwarranted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

House Democrats Ready to Give Huge Gift to NRA

House Democrats are trying to pass a bill that would impose new disclosure requirements for corporate campaign expenditures. Sponsors hope that the measure will mitigate concerns arising from the Supreme Court's controversial ruling in Citizens United.

In order to secure passage of the bill, House Democrats are ready to enact a provision that would exempt the National Rifle Association from the bill's requirements. According to Politico,
The proposal would exempt organizations that have more than 1 million members, have been in existence for more than 10 years, have members in all 50 states and raise 15 percent or less of their funds from corporations. Democrats say the new language would apply to only the NRA, since no other organization would qualify under these specific provisions. The NRA, with 4 million members, will not
actively oppose the [bill], according to Democratic sources.
While the language would exempt the NRA, other advocacy groups, like unions, would have to comply with the bill's disclosure requirements. If Congress passes the measure, expect litigation.

The Pentagon "Helping" Afghanistan To Sell Mineral Rights

The New York Times has reported that US geologists have located almost $1 trillion in mineral deposits. The deposits include minerals such as iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium.

According to the article, the deposits are newly discovered. A recent article in Chinamining.org, however, reports that in 2007, China signed a $3 billion deal with Afghanistan to mine copper in the country. Also, in 2007, the US Geological Survey and the Navy released a report touting the rich "undiscovered" minerals in Afghanistan. The fact that officials in the US and in other countries already knew about the minerals has led to speculation that the New York Times article is being used to raise support for the Afghanistan War, which has drawn increasing criticism.

Here is the most interesting quote in the article (in my opinion):
The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

“The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We are trying to help them get ready.”
During the Bush presidency, anti-war demonstrators chanted "no blood for oil." Now, what will they chant? Another question: Can an occuyping force really "help" the occupied country sell its precious resources?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Los Angeles NAACP: It Is Ok To Admit You Were Wrong

The Los Angeles NAACP protested a Hallmark graduation card, mistakenly believing that the recorded message involved characters discussing "black whores." Instead, the characters were discussing conquering the universe -- including "black holes."

Racism undoubtedly exists, but not in this card. Nevertheless, Hallmark has pulled the card. I suppose it was not a best seller.

Here is news coverage from a local news station.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Will Arizona Try to Bring Back Dred Scott?

Arizona Republicans might introduce a bill this fall that would deny birth certificates to children born in the United States, but whose parents are not lawfully present in the country. Presumably, the purpose of the law is to make it difficult or impossible for these children to establish their citizenship.

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that "all persons, born. . .in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States" (italics added). This is known as "birthright citizenship." Some Republicans have sought ways to eliminate birthright citizenship, including by constitutional amendment.

This constitutional provision reverses the infamous Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, which held that blacks -- whether slave or free -- were not citizens of the United States and therefore were not entitled to assert rights in US courts. Apparently, some lawmakers in Arizona want to bring back a portion of the law stated in Dred Scott.

I suspect that most of the conservatives on the Court would rule that this law violates the Equal Protection Clause. Although the Constitution is ambiguous in most places, this language is pretty clear. Furthermore, while the Constitution does not mandate that states issue birth certificates, it does not allow states to treat citizens as if they were aliens.

Charlie Crist Vetoes Abortion Bill

Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed a Republican-sponsored abortion bill that would have required a woman seeking an abortion to pay for an ultrasound and receive a description of the fetus from her medical provider. Women would not have to comply with this requirement if they could substantiate that they were the victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or sexual trafficking.

Earlier this year, Crist left the Republican Party and is running in the US Senate election as an independent. Most polls show him leading his challengers Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More on the Anti-Incumbent MYTH

I have written two articles (see here and here) that contest the widely reported notion that results in recent congressional primaries provide evidence of a raging anti-incumbent fervor. When incumbents have lost (and not many have faced defeat), other factors -- like ideology -- explain the results. Despite this fact, media commentators continue to describe election results through the problematic lens of anti-incumbent fervor.

Larry Sabato, an esteemed Professor of Political Science at the University of Virginia, has conducted some empirical research on the subject that debunks the anti-incumbent theme. Sabato observes that only four congressional incumbents and one governor have actually lost their election bids this year. By contrast, 200 incumbents have won their primary contests, and many of these individuals ran unopposed or had comfortable leads throughout their campaigns.

Furthermore, over the last 40 years, an average of 6 to 7 incumbents have lost primary contests per election year. This year's numbers are in-line with that trend (or even show a stronger performance by incumbents). Sabato also agrees that ideological differences, along with corruption and party-switching, explain the defeat of incumbent candidates.

This analysis does not mean that incumbents will not face acute vulnerability in November. Instead, it strongly suggests that media reports generally linking election results with anti-incumbent fervor are grossly inaccurate.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Charlie Crist Still Leads Rubio and Meek in Latest Quinnipiac Poll

Yet another poll shows Florida Governor Charlie Crist leading his rivals Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek in the upcoming U.S. Senate race. The Quinnipiac poll has Crist ahead with 37% of the vote. Rubio has 33%, and Meek has 17%.

Crist recently left the Republican Party after it became clear that he would lose the primary to Rubio. Although Crist, a moderate, enjoys support from large numbers of Independents and Democrats and from a significant number Republicans, a higher percentage of conservative voters will participate in Florida's Republican Party primary (compared to the general election).

Conservatives despise Crist's centrist politics and favor Rubio, a rightwing conservative. Crist smartly abandoned the GOP ticket after it became apparent that conservative ire would cost him the nomination.

I Repeat: There Is "Very Little Evidence of Voter Anger Towards Incumbents"

After a string of primary elections last month, media commentators robotically ran stories reporting the vulnerability of incumbent politicians. Blanche Lincoln's failure to capture 50% of the votes in a strong 3-way contest and Arlen Specter's failure to win his first shot as a Democrat provided the most often cited evidence of incumbent jeopardy. But aside from these two contests, there was very little evidence of incumbent vulnerability.

Now that Lincoln has won the run-off election, there is still very little tangible evidence of voter anger towards incumbents. Even if polls show discontent, this might not translate into election losses for incumbents. Furthermore, these losses might result from other factors, such as ideology.

So far, only a few incumbents have lost their bids to retain an existing office. It is unclear, however, whether these losses resulted from anti-incumbent rage. Specter's loss, as I have analyzed elsewhere, likely resulted because he could not convince faithful Democrats (the folks who vote in congressional primaries) to support him following his lifetime in politics as a Republican.

Furthermore, during last month's Arkansas primary, Lincoln simply failed to capture a majority of the votes in a strong 3-way contest. In addition, labor and other liberal groups provided ample cash for Bill Halter -- Lincoln's strongest challenger. Ultimately, however, Lincoln pulled off the victory.

Two Republicans lost reelection bids in Utah (Sen. Robert Bennett) and in Nevada (Gov. Jim Gibbons). Their defeats, however, probably result from ideology or political scandal.

In Nevada, Gov. Gibbons had to deal with a nasty divorce and allegations of adultery and sexual assault. Also, among Republicans, more conservative factions in the party have threatened or ousted establishment candidates who, after getting elected, represented an entire state and not merely the partisans who vote in primary elections. Rand Paul's effort to retool his image following his controversial statements about civil rights demonstrates that Tea Party politics might not have mainstream appeal.

It is difficult to predict what will happen electorally in November. Thus far, however, the media's anti-incumbent spin is greatly exaggerated.

Statement By White House Official Shows Contempt for Electoral Process

Ben Smith of Politico says that Rahm Emanuel a senior White House official called him last night and condemned labor unions for pumping money into the Arkansas Democratic Senate primary. Incumbent Blanche Lincoln, who had the support of President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, defeated challenger Bill Halter in a run-off election. Labor unions strongly backed Halter.

Lincoln opposes several initiatives backed by labor groups, and she has sparked criticism among more liberal factions in the Democratic Party. Despite all of the melodramatic reporting of a surge of anger against incumbents, Lincoln won the election 52%-48%.

Now that Lincoln has actually won the election, at least one of her supporters in the White House has begun to gloat. According to Smith, the unnamed White House official made the following analysis of union support for Halter:
Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise. . .If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.
This reasoning is horrific on many levels. Most importantly, it shows a great disrespect for the political process. Although I do not believe it is inherently unethical for presidents to favor political candidates, the idea that private groups waste money by supporting their preferred candidates (as opposed to White House-endorsed contenders) shows great deal of contempt for the political process.

Eddie Vale, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO had sharp words for the White House official. Vale says that the labor union is not beholden to Democratic Party:
If that's their take on this, then they severely misread how the electorate feels and how we're running our political program. . .When they say we should have targeted our money among some key house races among Blue Dog Democrats — that ain't happening."

Labor isn't an arm of the Democratic Party. . .It exists to support working families. And that's what we said tonight, and that's what we're gong to keep saying.

Final Take
The White House quote looks like a signature Rahm Emanuel hit. Agreed?

Monday, June 7, 2010

After Passage of Healthcare Legislation, White House (Finally) Tries to Sell It

Recognizing that the public remains deeply divided and confused over the healthcare legislation, the White House will finally undertake an extensive marketing campaign to tout the substance of the law. According to the New York Times, allies of President Obama will work on the marketing strategy. They will also form and fund a nonprofit entity to accomplish the task.

Opinion polls continue to show that the public is split on the wisdom of the legislation. Several polls also show that a solid majority of people support that law -- once they learn about its content. These polls indicate that the a significant portion of the public is ill-informed about the substance of the legislation. Furthermore, many commentators have criticized the Obama administration for failing to respond sufficiently to attacks on the healthcare legislation.

The public distortion of the legislation could have negative consequences for Democratic candidates in November. This is undoubtedly a strong catalyst for the marketing campaign.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Arizona School Withdraws Request for Artist to Lighten Faces on Mural

A Prescott, Arizona school has occupied the center of a controversy for nearly a week. The school commissioned an artist to paint a mural with an environmental theme using pictures of students who attended the school. A Latino child is among the most prominently displayed figures in the mural.

During the painting of the mural, passersby hurled racial epithets at the artist. Steve Blair, a member of the city council, criticized the mural during his radio show, invoking the jaded "I'm not a racist, but. . . " and the "I have black friends" lines in the same breath:
"I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's president of the United States today and based upon the history of this community when I grew up, we had four black families - who I have been very good friends with for years - to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'"

On Wednesday, Blair again emphasized that "I'm not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it's a word I can't stand."

Blair questions whether the mural is representative of Prescott, noting, "The focus doesn't need to be on what's different; the focus doesn't need to be on the minority all the time."

Blair said he has received a number of calls from long-time Prescott residents who ask, "Who authorized that graffiti on the wall?" He added: "What these people don't like is somebody forcing diversity down their throats."
Apparently, the mere presence of a Latino child is unsettling to some people in the community. Although the child is an actual student at the school, his presence in the mural means that the artist is "forcing diversity down the[] throats" of whites in Prescott.

Furthermore, the nonracist Blair describes the Latino child as black and somehow manages to connect him with President Obama (who happens to be black). Equality is so beautiful!

The school also received complaints, which led officials to ask the artist to "lighten" the faces of children depicted in the mural. School officials denied any racist intent and said that they were not responding to angry callers.

After a national uproar, however, school officials have now switched their position and have withdrawn the request to have the mural altered to depict lighter children. The school principal said he made a mistake; the superintendent also said that the request to lighten the students' faces was wrong.

Meanwhile, Blair has lost his radio show. And he is still complaining about the mural:
"It looked like a guy, in my opinion, a black guy, brown guy holding a stick, and flowers and stuff, what was it supposed to mean?
Perhaps he'll blame some "black guy, brown guy" for the loss of his radio show.

Friday, June 4, 2010

OpenLeft Announces The Death of Amateur (White Heterosexual Male) Progressive Blogging

Recently, the New York Times announced that it was incorporating the liberal blog FiveThirtyEight, authored by Nate Silver. In response, Chris Bowers of OpenLeft has declared that amateur progressive blogging has died.

What evidence does Bowers cite for this proposition? Several liberal bloggers have taken paid jobs at professional sites like the Washington Post and Salon.Com. Also, other progressive blogs have become large professional and money-making operations. Finally, bloggers have used their blogging experience to obtain paid consulting positions, which they perform along with blogging. Ergo, the amateur liberal blog has died.

Ahem. There are many liberal bloggers who make little or no money from their efforts. Bowers' essay indicates a pesky problem within the liberal blogging community. Larger, more established blogs -- often those run by whites, men or heterosexuals -- are the only ones that get serious attention among many so-called liberals. Developments at these blogs supposedly represent the status of the blogging world at large. Therefore, if many or most of these blogs are chasing dollars and becoming professionalized, then amateur blogging no longer exists.

Well, there are many liberal bloggers, especially many who write on feminist, race and LGBT politics. Bowers' essay attempts to recognize the power of monied interests, but to make this point, he slights the efforts of people who represent diversity in the blog world.

Bowers laments the death of amateur progressive blogs, suggesting that liberals are being co-opted by larger institutions. Perhaps Bowers should read blogs outside of his comfort zone. Let me know if you need a list of suggested reading, Chris.

CBS Says Documents Show Kagan Is A Liberal

CBS legal correspondent Jan Crawford believes that she has unearthed material that proves Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has a "liberal opinion on social issues." Perhaps that conclusion depends on the meaning of the word liberal. It also depends upon the facts and issues presented in the cases the documents analyze.

The documents are legal memoranda that Kagan prepared during her clerkship with the late Justice Thurgood Marshall. Kagan has said that writings she authored during her clerkship reflect the position of Justice Marshall, rather than her own personal views. Nonetheless, some of the documents explicitly describe Kagan's own beliefs.

In one memo, Kagan was possibly worried that the Court would use the particular case at issue to undo precedent protecting the right to an abortion. Crawford implies that this proves Kagan supports abortion rights. But even moderate and center-right judges (like Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor) have agreed that the Constitution protects abortion rights.

Another case involved a school district's voluntary desegregation plan. Kagan wrote that the plan was "amazingly sensible" and that lower court rulings recognized the "good sense and fair-mindedness" of local officials. Crawford does not provide any facts regarding the case, but this language alone does not prove that Kagan is a liberal. As recently as 2007, Justice Kennedy asserted that under certain circumstances, local officials would not violate the Constitution if they adopted voluntary desegregation plans that intentionally took race into account. At most, Media commentators often describe Kennedy as a moderate, but he most often votes with conservatives in split decisions.

Crawford also cites a memo in a case in which a plaintiff argued that New York must recognize his proxy marriage performed in Kansas. These marriages were prohibited by New York law. Marshall suggest to Kagan that the "Full Faith and Credit Clause" required recognition of the marriage. Kagan said that the position was "at least arguably correct."

Crawford says that this language shows that Kagan could support same-sex marriage rights. This is probably a stretch. First, the language cited from Kagan's memo does not represent a ringing endorsement of plaintiff's position in the case. Also, the case was about Full Faith and Credit, not a constitutional right to a particular type of marriage. Furthermore, during her confirmation as Solicitor General, Kagan, answering a Senate questionnaire, stated that there was no constitutional right to same-sex marriage. At best, it is unclear what position Kagan would take on this issue.

The strongest evidence Crawford presents is language that suggests Kagan disagreed with a case that made it tougher for criminal defendants to prove a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Marshall was the lone dissenter in that ruling, which predated Kagan's clerkship.

Finally, Crawford does not state what position Kagan advised Marshall to take in these cases. Other commentary regarding Kagan indicates that she often disagreed when Marshall tried to push more liberal positions than she believed existing law allowed. Even if Kagan has some liberal instincts, it is unclear how this fact would shape her positions as a justice on the Supreme Court.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rue McClanahan Dead at 76

Rue McClanahan, one of my very favorite television actresses, has died at the age of 76. She had a "massive stroke." McClanahan is best known for her remarkable portrayal of the Southern seductress Blanche Devereaux in the campy hit series Golden Girls. RIP, Rue!

Three Questions Regarding White House Job Offers to Political Candidates

The Internet is buzzing with reports that President Obama, to some extent, tried to secure employment for at least two Democratic congressional candidates. Last month, Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania said the White House offered him a position to coax him out of a race against Arlen Specter. The White House confirmed that statement. Now, Andrew Romanoff says that the White House offered him three different positions in order to persuade him not to run against incumbent Senator Michael Bennett from Colorado.

The story has become a leading news item, but most of the reporting fails to address three important questions. First: is this conduct illegal? Second: is it unethical? Third: is this common or traditional behavior among presidents?

I suspect that the conduct is not illegal. Whether it is unethical is a more philosophical point, but people should at least address it, rather than implying that the actions are inherently wrong. Finally, I also suspect that for a large part of U.S. history, presidents have dangled potential employment and other incentives under similar circumstances.

According to Obama's critics offering jobs to political candidates makes him a "Washington insider," which betrays his rhetoric of "change." Running as a Washington outsider is a popular strategy among political candidates -- especially those candidates desperately seeking a job in Washington. But, if people actually believe that the Washington insider label has any substantive value beyond its use as a campaign slogan, they are too gullible to engage in political analysis.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gore v. Gore: Al and Tipper Ending Marriage

Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper Gore released a statement today stating that they are ending their 40-year marriage. Politico has the news:
In an “Email from Al and Tipper Gore,” the couple said: “We are announcing today that after a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate.

“This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration. We ask for respect for our privacy and that of our family, and we do not intend to comment further.”
This is one political couple that I actually believed could remain together. At least the separation does not appear to involve a lot of acrimony.

Amateur Sociologist Richard Cohen Has A Theory About Class and Crime

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has published a provocative essay that attempts to analyze the relationship between class and crime. Cohen asks whether liberals got "it wrong" on class and crime. He concludes that they did.

Cohen argues that acts of violent crime are dropping across the nation -- even though the country is experiencing a "Great Recession." Accordingly, Cohen concludes that liberals are wrong to link class and crime: "[T]he latest crime statistics strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does." Cohen's essay suffers on many levels.

First, Cohen simplistically portrays liberal social theory regarding crime. Sociologists have definitely linked the absence of meaningful economic opportunity with crime, but they have never advanced this as the sole cause of criminal behavior.

Furthermore, theories that do link crime and class address the relationship in a far more complicated fashion than Cohen even attempts to do. Cohen believes that if crime and class are indeed related, then a short-term economic downturn should necessarily give rise to a spike in crimes. The academic research on criminal behavior, however, does not centralize this simplistic aspect of the crime/class relationship.

Although sudden economic deprivation could certainly motivate some criminals, sociologists have focused on the longterm effects of poverty. After decades of empirical research, some of the brightest minds have concluded that entrenched and concentrated poverty can present such a formidable barrier to legitimate economic opportunity, that individuals turn to crime. The removal of jobs can also lead to behaviors that seem rational under the circumstances, but which harm the law-breaking individuals and their communities even more. William Julius Wilson's informative book When Work Disappears could have informed Cohen's analysis.

Finally, Cohen's use of statistical information is sloppy. Cohen cites to a recent preliminary FBI report which finds that in 2009, violent crimes decreased over 2008 levels. Cohen, however, fails to place those statistics within an historical context. The 2009 FBI report, for example, makes the following observation about robberies:
Although robbery overall showed a decrease, cities with populations less than 25,000 showed increases in robbery. Robberies also increased in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties, 0.7 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.
Also, as the FBI's own disclaimer states, the data are compiled as a result of voluntary reporting by local law enforcement. The FBI warns readers not to use the data to make strong conclusions -- particularly of a comparative nature by jurisdiction:
Figures used in this Report are submitted voluntarily by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. . . . Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.
It is very important to test and rethink established theories. The relationship between crime and class, however, deserves more than Cohen's pseudo-sociology.
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