Monday, August 29, 2011

Five Reasons Why Ron Paul Should NEVER Become President


[NOTE: I have published a new Ron Paul article on Huffington Post: Dear Washington Post: Ron Paul Is NOT a Champion of Civil Liberty]


[Related post: Ron Paul Supporters: Fighting Mad!]

Fans of Representative Ron Paul have recently begun to criticize the media. Paul's supporters believe that the media has unfairly neglected his perpetual bid to receive the presidential nomination for the Republican Party.

Perhaps Paul's supporters should reconsider their criticism of the media. For, if Paul actually received substantial scrutiny, his ideas would undoubtedly frighten most voters.

Paul is charismatic. He also comes across as a straight shooter. Some of his ideas -- like his opposition to militarism and the War on Drugs -- appeal to many voters, including liberals. His arguments about lower government spending and taxation sound good to folks who worry about budget deficits.

Paul's arguments, however, often lack an empirical basis. History has already demonstrated that many of Paul's proposed solutions will never work. Thus, while some of Paul's ideas sound solid in the abstract, they crumble once they are subjected to widely accepted theories about government and society.

Because Paul's ideas are faulty and dangerous, he would make a terrible president. Here are five reasons why Paul should never become president.

1. Paul would restrict abortion based on anecdotal "evidence," rather than science.
Ron Paul is pro-life. He says that he developed his views on abortion during his practice as an OB/GYN. Paul's official website states that: "[D]uring his years in medicine, never once did [Paul] find an abortion necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman." Paul's statement, however, is troubling for two reasons.

First, medical science -- as opposed to Paul's anecdotal "evidence" -- proves that abortions are sometimes necessary to protect the life of the mother. Second, Paul's statement also contradicts the constitutional test articulated by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and many subsequent decisions. According to established Court doctrine, states generally must make abortion available to protect the life and health of the mother. Even if Paul never witnessed a scenario where a woman needed a life-saving abortion, it is not difficult to imagine a situation where a woman needed an abortion to preserve her health.

Furthermore, conservatives have been trying to eliminate the health exception, which they believe amounts to "abortion on demand." According to the Supreme Court, however, a health condition means a psychological or physical condition which the doctor and patient decide warrants an abortion. While many Republicans want to limit abortion to life-saving procedures, Paul believes even this extreme exception is unnecessary based on anecdotes.

2. Paul has dreadful views regarding personal liberty and fundamental rights
Because Paul opposes abortion and everything done by the federal government (except the payment of his salary), he has proposed a bill called the "We the People Act." This bill, if passed, would prohibit federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from deciding whether state or local laws violate the "the right of privacy, including issues of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction. . .or. . .the right to marry without regard to sex or sexual orientation where based upon equal protection of the laws."

Essentially, Paul wants to remove federal courts from the business of deciding whether state laws violate the federal constitution! Contrary to Paul's vision of government, the Constitution secures certain rights enforceable against the national government and states. The Supreme Court has an important role in protecting those rights against invasion.

In the context of fundamental rights, Paul, however, wants to transfer this important federal judicial role to state courts exclusively. Undoubtedly, many state courts would sharply curtail liberties currently recognized by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, this proposal would produce a system where the substance of federal rights varied state-by-state.

In addition Paul wants to "repeal" Roe v. Wade. Since Roe is a judicial opinion, rather than a statute, he really wants a constitutional amendment reversing the ruling. Regardless, Paul's horrific proposals would endanger several personal liberties secured by the Constitution, including the right to terminate a pregnancy.

3. Paul would threaten the independence of the federal judiciary.
Paul's proposals show a striking disregard for the independence of federal courts. Although public opinion and the actions of the political branches influence court decisions, the courts do not operate as representatives of the electorate. Instead, the Framers envisioned a court system that would operate as a check against unlawful action by the government.

Paul, however, would remove a lot of substantive issues from the jurisdiction of the courts (see above). The We the People Act, which Paul has proposed, would also prevent the federal courts from "issuing any ruling that appropriates or expends money [or] imposes taxes. . . ." Supreme Court precedent, however, already prohibits courts from imposing taxes or expending money of the states. So Paul's proposal is unnecessary.

But Paul wants more than this. He also wants to prohibit any court ruling that "otherwise interferes with the legislative functions or administrative discretion of the states." This sweeping passage would virtually negate judicial enforcement of federal law -- including the Constitution (not to worry - this is what makes the proposal unconstitutional).

If a state passes a statute that mandated racial segregation in its public schools, a decision by the Supreme Court that enjoined enforcement of that law would interfere with the "legislative" and "administrative" function of the state. It does not take much analysis to discover the danger in this proposal.

4. Paul wants to repeal historic legislation that was responsible for curtailing racial and sex discrimination in the workplace and for prohibiting racial discrimination in places of public accommodation.
Ron Paul opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legislation prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Paul believes that the legislation violates the Constitution. Specifically, he argues that Congress lacks the power to pass the law and that the law violates the rights of employers.

The Supreme Court disagrees with Paul; so does the public. Americans have decided that they want a society in which employers cannot use race and sex as a basis for exclusion. Contrary to Paul's assertion, this vision is absolutely consistent with the Constitution, via both the Commerce Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Furthermore, Paul is simply rehashing the same arguments that Dixiecrats made as they struggled to maintain Jim Crow and white supremacy. People who lack knowledge of history might find Paul's statements about freedom to contract and association appealing, but they are simply a contemporary version of arguments that prevented women and persons of color from having economic opportunities. Paul would seek to reverse over five decades of social progress.

History proves that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was instrumental in achieving racial integration in southern schools. Until that act was passed, only about 1% of southern blacks went to school with whites -- despite the fact that the Supreme Court had decided Brown v. Board of Education ten years earlier. The legislation, however, tied federal funding for schools to antidiscrimination principles. The southern states sluggishly chose to integrate, rather than lose vital federal education assistance.

On the one hand, Paul opposes federal court enforcement of constitutional rights. At the same time, however, he opposes congressional remedies for racial and sex discrimination and enforcement of equal protection. Paul essentially wants to turn racial and gender equality over to the whims of the private sector and states. His ideas regarding civil rights are unsound, and they would undermine the nation's unfinished project of social justice.

5. Paul wants to erode the power of voters by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.
Over the course of history, the American people have amended the Constitution to provide greater power to voters and to enhance democratic participation. The Fifteenth Amendment allows people to vote regardless of race (although it took nearly a century to make this a reality). The Nineteenth Amendment allows people to vote regardless of sex. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment allows persons who have reached the age of eighteen to vote. Furthermore, the Seventeenth Amendment allows individual voters of each state to elect US Senators directly. Previously, the Constitution delegated this authority to state legislatures.

Paul and many other conservatives want to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. Although their arguments are not entirely coherent, most conservatives in this camp claim that repealing the Seventeenth Amendment would help protect the states against the national government. Others blame the growth of the national government on the inability of state legislatures to elect senators.

This position is flawed for several reasons. First, the Seventeenth Amendment is an important tool of individual liberty and democracy. Repealing it would contradict important values of American political life.

Second, the connection between the Seventeenth Amendment and growth of the federal government is sheer speculation; it is also incorrect. The government has grown because voters have decided that they need the government to deliver important services that states alone cannot secure.

Furthermore, most of the spending programs that Congress creates for the nation are voluntary. If states do not want to comply with federal regulations tied to spending programs, they can refuse the money. But state lawmakers do not want to anger voters by depriving them of important benefits, like school funding, healthcare, and safe roads.

Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment would undo a major element of America's move toward democracy. For this reason alone, Paul is unfit for president.

Final Thought
I applaud the efforts of Paul's fans to attract media attention for the candidate they support. This attention could lead to greater awareness of Paul's views among the electorate. If people actually hear the policies that Paul supports along with critical analysis, they will undoubtedly disapprove of his candidacy.

Please note: There are so many other reasons why Paul would make a terrible president. I hope to explore those issues in a future blog.

UPDATE:
I changed the first point (regarding abortion) to correct my inadvertent description of Paul as "pro-choice." I also made other stylistic changes. I regret any inconvenience.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Governor Perry's Dangerous Ideas for the US Constitution

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently entered the race to become the GOP's 2012 presidential candidate. Although many early reports regarding Perry have focused on trivial issues like his "Texas Swagger," some media are now beginning to give him serious scrutiny.

Today, Chris Moody, a Yahoo News blogger, analyzes seven ways that Perry wants to change the Constitution. Perry set forth these ideas in his book: Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington. He also mentioned them during interviews and while campaigning. If implemented, Perry's ideas would dramatically curtail the exercise of individual rights and liberties. They would also dramatically restrain the ability of Congress to engage in sound fiscal policy.

Perry wants to make seven changes to the Constitution:
Abolish lifetime tenure for federal judges by amending Article III, Section I of the Constitution.

Congress should have the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a two-thirds vote.

Scrap the federal income tax by repealing the Sixteenth Amendment.

End the direct election of senators by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.

Require the federal government to balance its budget every year.

The federal Constitution should define marriage as between one man and one woman in all 50 states.

Abortion should be made illegal throughout the country.
If You Want to Destroy Liberty -- Kill the Courts

Perry's ideas would imperil individual liberty. Particularly frightening are Perry's proposals for the Supreme Court. The Framers of the Constitution created the Supreme Court to act as a check against the other branches of the federal government -- and as a guardian against state governmental infringement of federal law. Perry would water-down the Court's important role in two ways. First, he would seek to eliminate lifetime tenure for judges. He would also seek to empower Congress to reverse Supreme Court rulings by a 2/3 vote.

Critics of judicial power often argue that the Court is antimajoritarian because federal judges have lifetime tenure. A lot of academic research has demonstrated that these fears are highly overstated. Regardless, lifetime tenure immunizes judges from retaliation by the political branches. If judges were subject to reappointment or -- even worse -- elections -- to keep their jobs, this would diminish the extent of their autonomy from political institutions.

Perry's proposal for a congressional override of Supreme Court decisions is also dangerous. Presently, Congress can reverse the Court's interpretation of statutes by a simple majority vote (it is unclear from Moody's post whether Perry knows this). The Court's rulings on the meaning of the Constitution, however, are final, unless the Court later reverses them --- or, unless "the people" amend the Constitution.

Congress can propose Constitutional amendments by a 2/3 vote, but 3/4 of the states must ratify the proposal. Perry would allow 2/3 of Congress to reverse the Court's interpretation of the Constitution without the involvement of the states. This proposal, which would make the Court vulnerable to the whim of Congress, would erode judicial autonomy that the Framers built into the Constitution.

Direct Curtailment of Individual Liberty

Several of Perry' other proposals more directly restrain individual rights. Perry, for example, favors constitutional amendments banning abortion and same-sex marriage. These are fairly standard Republican positions.

Perry, however, also favors a repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment, which allows for the election of US Senators by popular vote in each state. Recently, several other conservatives have advanced this proposal. The Seventeenth Amendment gives voters the right to elect Senators; previously state legislators had that power. The Seventeenth Amendment expanded the representation of the American people in Congress, and it gave voters more power to influence the actions of their representatives. Perry, like other conservatives, wants to take this power away from the people and give it back to state lawmakers. This would represent a serious erosion of individual political power.

Fiscal Nightmare

Perry's remaining proposals are fiscally unsound. First, he wants to amend the Constitution to prohibit Congress from taxing income. This proposal appeals to people who believe -- without any evidence -- that taxation has ruined the country. Perry's idea would make the notion of a functioning national government virtually impossible. A balanced budget amendment, which Perry also favors, would have a similarly disastrous impact on federal fiscal policy (see prior blog post).

Final Thoughts

I am pleased to see that some media have begun to scrutinize Perry. His Texas swagger -- whatever that is -- should not even occupy space in public discourse. It is unimportant.

Instead, the media needs to focus on Perry's ideas and proposals -- which he has detailed in a book and in numerous campaign speeches and interviews. Hopefully, Chris Moody's analysis of Perry's dangerous ideas for the Constitution will lead to even more analysis of his policy positions. This is not the time for Hee Haw journalism.

UPDATE

Chris Moody published the article scrutinizing Perry's views of the Constitution. This blog post has been amended to give attribution to Moody, rather than the Associated Press.

Friday, August 19, 2011

FYI: Recession Has Contributed Greatly to Federal Debt and Deficit

Even though the Republicans love to blame government spending alone for the deficit and debt, they are distorting reality (in other words - lying). As I have argued in prior posts, the recession has contributed greatly to the federal deficit and debt for several basic reasons.

First, tax revenue plunges during recessions because more people are unemployed and business activity declines. Consequently, individuals and companies have less tax liability. Also, during a recession, the government spends more money. The government has spent money to strengthen the economic safety net (extending unemployment benefits, etc.). It has also allocated money to rescue the financial system.

Increasing spending while taxes are falling will lead to a budget deficit. In order to pay the bills the government needs to borrow money. The tax cuts passed during the Bush administration has also contributed to declining tax revenue -- and consequently -- to the deficit and debt.

Although the foregoing arguments draw from basic economic concepts, Republicans refuse to acknowledge this fact in public debates. By emphasizing spending instead, they hope to gain political support for cutting social programs to assist the elderly and poor. Surprisingly, Democrats often fail to acknowledge the relationship between the recession and the national debt and deficit, even though that argument could help them rebut the Republican arguments about spending. In sum, both sides are miseducating the public.

For more on this issue, see:


Fiscal FactCheck (Factcheck.Org)

Debt Ceiling Deal: Preliminary Observations on the Deal AND Obama (Dissenting Justice)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blacks And President Obama: End the Love Affair?

Houston-based writer Michael Arceneaux urges blacks to end their love affair with President Obama. In an article published by The Root, Arceneaux contends that blacks treat Obama like a "boyfriend," rather than a president. He urges blacks to become more critical of Obama's policies and to accept reasonable arguments from other blacks who criticize the president.

Black support for Obama remains relatively high. While the overall public support for Obama has fallen below 40 percent (a number which shows erosion of happiness among Democrats), black approval ratings for Obama remain around 85%. Nevertheless, despite these high approval ratings, the economic conditions within communities of color are quite dreadful.

The recession has wiped out all of the gains in black wealth over the last 20 years, and black unemployment is about 3 times the rate for whites. Yet, Obama has agreed to a debt-ceiling compromise that will reduce government spending and make an economic recovery even more difficult.

Furthermore, while Obama frequently talks about the plight of the "middle class," he rarely mentions the poor or working poor in his speeches. When Obama wants to talk about unemployment and jobs, he travels to Ohio, but he does not go to East St. Louis or SE Washington, DC to hold a similar conversation. Although the disappearance of jobs in the industrial Midwest has definitely affected blacks, black urban poverty is a different social structure than poverty in the rust belt (see update below this blog post).

In the past, I watched with amazement the emotional reaction that Obama generated in people. I often described myself as a "designated driver," or someone who approached him soberly as a politician -- rather than a larger-than-life symbol of greatness and progress. When other blacks, however, criticized Obama, they often received condemnation. Persons ranging from Revered Wright, Tavis Smiley, Maya Angelou and Cornell West have received fervent criticism from blacks for either taking issue with President Obama or, as in the case of Angelou, supporting his competitor Hillary Clinton.

I believe that Obama raises a lot of complex issues for blacks. First, he is a symbolic figure of racial progress; accordingly, blacks feel happy about his presidency. Second, he is also often a victim of racism, which causes blacks to act defensively on his behalf (even exaggerating some claims in my opinion).

Despite these facts, racial allegiances should not cloud blacks' judgment about social and economic betterment. The fact that Obama is a symbol of progress means very little for persons who live daily in poverty, crime-ridden neighborhoods and whose children attend the most neglected schools in the nation. Moreover, defending Obama against racism from rightwing bigots will not change these substantive conditions of inequality.

So, I recommend a more sophisticated usage of race politics by blacks. Race remains important in American society -- as a battery of social statistics reveals. But an amorphous sense of racial pride should not render blacks silent in the face of policies that ignore their most pressing interests.

Unless blacks begin to treat Obama as a politician, then he will have no incentive to change his approach on issues related to race and poverty. If he can maintain nearly unanimous support among blacks simply by being a symbol of racial progress, then he need not take any political risks in order to deliver concrete -- rather than symbolic -- change.

UPDATE

I discovered an interesting proposal by Senator Gillibrand that addresses one of the issues discussed in this blog post: urban poverty. Gillibrand has proposed the Urban Jobs Act, which, if passed, would allocate money to help "at-risk" youth in Americas large cities obtain jobs. Gillibrand cites statistics showing the extremely high unemployment rates among black and Latino youths. The article does not mention whether President Obama supports the legislation. It also does not indicate that he had anything to do with proposing it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Donna Brazile Offers Obama "Four Options" to Get the Nation "Back on Track"

In a CNN op-ed, Donna Brazile offers President Obama "four options" to get the nation "back on track." Brazile is a staunch supporter of Obama. She is also a major Democratic Party insider. Brazile managed Al Gore's presidential campaign. She also currently serves as vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee.

Brazile encourages Obama to become a "bold executive" because congressional Republicans have unified to obstruct legislation and policies that many Americans support. Given her status as an ally to the president and an influential figure within the Democratic Party, Brazile has carefully framed her op-ed as offering advice for the president, rather than criticism. Nonetheless, her advice mirrors recent liberal and progressive criticism of the president that emerged following the debt-ceiling debates.

Here is a snippet from Brazile's op-ed:

Here are four options available to [Obama] right now:

1. Empower his Cabinet: A story on Thursday reported that the White House is going to begin releasing new job creation ideas each week. This is a good start, but President Obama needs to develop an economic action plan with his Cabinet that he can implement strictly through the exercise of executive power. This has the added political benefit of getting the president's bipartisan Cabinet members like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on TV, making Republicans in Congress look even less reasonable. And speaking of executive power...

2. Don't be afraid to be an executive: If President George W. Bush used the argument of the "unitary executive" to justify warrantless wiretapping and torture, surely President Obama can wield executive power to put Americans back to work while Congress dithers on. There's a big toolbox available, and the president needs to get aggressive in using it.

3. Flex monetary muscle: During the debt ceiling debate, some legal scholars pointed out that while the Treasury is limited in terms of how much paper money it can print, there is no such limit on the minting of coinage. They jokingly recommended the government could mint two $1 trillion coins and deposit them in the government's coffers to help pay off the debt. While this certainly isn't a real option, it goes to show how much authority the executive branch has on monetary policy.

4. Acknowledge the bully pulpit has changed: Because of the ever-shortening attention span exemplified by Twitter and the 24/7 political news media, the power of the presidency as a mover of public opinion has been diminished. However, the president still has a lot of power to cajole public and private entities into action. Whether that's persuading banks to lend, corporations to hire, or public and private institutions to reorganize, the president needs to hit the phones. Even if cold calls have been fruitless before, persistence is a virtue.
My Take

I agree with the heart of Brazile's argument, and I have written a blog post with similar themes on Dissenting Justice. I also believe that if Brazile -- who is a close ally of the president and party insider -- is offering public criticism of (or "advice" to) Obama, then many Democratic Party leaders are probably unhappy with his style of dealing with Congress. In the future, I expect others to make similar arguments. It is unclear, however, whether Obama can or whether he will modify his negotiating style, which has proven ineffective for dealing with a highly partisan Congress.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stanford Law Professor Encourages Black Women to Marry White Men

Ralph Richard Banks, a professor at Stanford Law School, has published an interesting essay in the Wall Street Journal: "An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage." The essay is adapted from a forthcoming book, "Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone."

Synopsis

In this brief analysis, Banks makes several claims. He observes that black women are the "most unmarried group of people in the U.S." Based on interviews with black women and other materials, Banks asserts that:
Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.
Banks further argues that due to high rates of incarceration and lower rates of educational attainment, black men are in "short supply" as potential husbands. And even when black women marry, they often marry "less accomplished" black men, which Banks claims could contribute to high divorce rates among blacks.

These observations lead Banks to the question his essay (and presumably forthcoming book) seeks to answer: "So why don't more black women, especially the most accomplished of them, marry men of other races? Why do they marry down so much and out so little?"

Based on his review of studies of Internet dating websites, Banks contends that black women are the least desired dating prospect for nonblack men. Still, according to Banks, black women are partly responsible for their own "intimate segregation":
Even if a majority of white men are uninterested in dating black women, that still leaves more than enough eligible white men for every single black woman in America. Moreover, many major urban areas have large numbers of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Latino men, some of whom, according to at least one study of Internet dating, are more responsive to black women than are black men.
Furthermore, based on a series of interviews he conducted, Banks asserts that black women do not seek nonblack husbands because they fear the relationships would not work or because they want "chocolate babies" (what Banks describes as a "primal" reason). Banks, however, contends that this self-imposed segregation is injurious and unnecessary.

If black women opened themselves up to the possibility of marrying nonblack men, then they "might find themselves in better relationships." Rather than marrying "down," professional black women, for example, could "discover that they are more compatible with a white, Asian or Latino coworker or college classmate than with the black guy they grew up with, who now works at the auto shop."

Black women could also acquire more "leverage" over black men. According to Banks, because there are so few black men to marry, a small number of eligible black men are potentially available for massive numbers of black and nonblack women. As a result, black men can dictate the terms of their relationships.

If black women, however, sought nonblack partners, they could increase their bargaining power with black men, which could benefit all black women. Banks sees a lot of potential in this bargaining power thesis: it could cause more black people to marry each other. Black women's increased leverage would allow them to keep black men from straying outside of their race (Banks notes that black men are more likely than black women to marry nonblack partners). Thus, Banks concludes that: "It's hard to resist the paradoxical possibility that, if more black women married non-black men, then more black men and women might, in time, marry each other."

My Response

Although I am fascinated by and a scholar on the topic of race and intimacy, I have numerous problems with this essay. Granted, the full book is not yet in print, and Banks may address some of my concerns in that longer discussion. Nevertheless, I will proceed with my analysis of this piece of the broader argument that Banks has offered.

1. Methodology

Although Banks refers to social science data in his essay, the bulk of the "evidence" he presents is anecdotal. Banks conducted numerous interviews with black women (he does not reveal how many), and he offers snippets from those discussions to substantiate his arguments. While similar observations about black marriage and dating have received wide coverage in black pop culture (e.g., Essence Magazine, Ebony, BET, etc.), the use of anecdotes (especially anecdotes that sometimes sound like a selection from grocery store literature) undermines the very complicated argument that Banks seeks to make.

2. Love on a One-Way Street

Banks also portrays black women as having complete control over their own destinies with respect to the race of their partners. This is a difficult claim to prove, and it goes against a large body of social science data. Banks cites studies of Internet dating websites for the proposition that black women are the least desired partners of nonblack men. This data is problematic because it cannot represent a random sampling of the entire dating population.

Nevertheless, Banks quickly dismisses the significance of his own research and contends that black women could still find enough willing white men as partners. Numerous sociological studies, however, show that blacks and whites have the highest rates of "intraracial" marriage of any groups in the country; well over 90% of blacks and whites marry within their own race.

Despite the erosion of many forms of prejudice in this context, empirical research consistently demonstrates that for blacks and whites alike, race remains an important factor in terms of intimacy. Neighborhood segregation also undoubtedly contributes to this marital racial pattern.

In spite of this evidence, Banks concludes that black women have the agency to revolutionize the racial dynamics of marriage and intimacy. This is a difficult argument to substantiate, and Banks does not do so in this short essay.

Even if there are enough white men who want to marry black women, it is unclear how black women would find them. If only a small percentage of white men actually want to marry a black woman, then it seems likely that a rational black woman would avoid expending emotions and resources on a quest to find the exceptional white man who wants to marry a black woman. Banks does not explain why a rational black woman would invite more uncertainty and difficulty into intimate relationships, which are already sites of vulnerability. Numbers alone do not dictate the terms of intimacy. Emotions, fears, lust and a host of other factors that Banks does not consider are also relevant.

3. Why Marriage?

Banks assumes that marriage is a social good, but he does not make the case for this. Marriage rates are declining across racial groups -- not just among blacks. Also, divorce rates are accelerating across racial groups. Furthermore, society is rethinking the role of marriage as a social institution in many respects.

While society is contesting and redefining intimacy and marriage, Banks assumes the ongoing value of marriage. Banks prizes marriage so much that he encourages black women to revolutionize racial dynamics that they alone cannot feasibly control in order to enter into this relationship. To Banks, the frequency of nonmarriage in the black community requires a "fix." Hopefully, Banks explains why he believes that marriage remains imperative in his book.

4. Other Issues

There are a few other issues that stood out in this essay. First, it is heteronormative. Banks only explores the racial dynamics of heterosexual marriage. That does not undermine the article, but it is unclear whether his conclusions have meaning beyond that specific context.

Furthermore, with respect to the claim that black women would gain leverage over black men if they considered nonblack partners, Banks does not address the possibility that white men could gain a similar type of leverage over black women who sought white male partners. If Banks is correct in his depiction of relationships as sites of bargaining, then the small percentage of white men who actually want to marry black women could presumably have leverage over black women, who, facing a short supply of black men, sought to marry outside of their race.

Moreover, a number of sociological reasons explain lower rates of marriage among blacks. Banks, however, suggests a singular "fix" for this reality: interracial marriage. It is highly doubtful that Banks' singularly focused solution could actually reverse or even impact at all such a multidimensional social trend. Also, if the solution is this simple, then one wonders why black women had not thought of or pursued it themselves. Actually, they have pursued this option and many others -- including remaining unmarried.

Finally, some of Banks' arguments are disturbing from a class perspective. Saying that professional black women who marry less wealthy men are marrying "down" depicts a class hierarchy that devalues poor folks.

I am not sure how much ground the final product will cover, but based on this short preview, Banks should certainly receive a lot of attention.

UPDATE: I edited the original post to add a couple of observations in the last section.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Is Obama A Leader?

After the passage of legislation to raise the debt ceiling, President Obama faced a round of criticism, primarily from his liberal base. Progressives and liberals, for example, condemned the deal because it focuses exclusively on cutting governmental spending, while it contains no provision regarding taxation.

The legislation cuts one trillion dollars in spending, and requires the creation of a bipartisan committee in Congress to make an additional two trillion dollars in cuts. The legislation, however, does not require the committee to consider raising revenue as a means of lowering the deficit -- even though, currently, tax revenue is historically low and spending is historically high. Both of these factors have combined to create the historically high deficit and debt.

Other liberals argued that in terms of spending cuts versus revenue increases, the former is a better choice during a recession. Because consumers and businesses are spending less, government spending provides a needed boost to the economy. Indeed, immediately after the passage of the debt deal, the stock market tumbled. Several analysts said that investors were worried that cuts in government spending would put downward pressure on an already sluggish economy.

Obama: A Lack of Leadership?

Since the passage of the debt deal, several critics have begun to question Obama's leadership. Progressives, for example, argued that Obama too eagerly conceded the liberal position on tax increases in order to reach a consensus with Republicans. Others argued that Obama himself is a moderate-to-conservative president and that he accomplished the very outcome he desired during the debt-ceiling negotiations.

Critics have made similar types of arguments throughout Obama's presidency. For example, liberals argued that Obama caved to Republicans on the stimulus (agreeing to a much smaller package) and healthcare reform (not pursuing the public option or a single-payer system). Still others argued that he is a moderate who desired the specific outcomes in these political battles.

In response to these critiques, Obama's defenders have invariably portrayed him as a "pragmatic" politician. On the other hand, they have depicted his progressive critics as politically naive. This blowback, in turn, has generated a healthy amount of debate.

Interestingly, fewer media and political commentators have defended Obama's handling of the debt crisis. Also, a broader base of individuals -- rather than the far left -- have begun to criticize his political leadership. Rather than defending Obama as a pragmatist, much of the commentary following the debt-ceiling negotiations questions his ability to lead.

Drew Westen: New York Times Op-Ed

For example, yesterday, the New York Times published a lengthy op-ed written by Drew Westen, a professor at Emory University. Westen, an Obama supporter, admits that he was "bewitched by [Obama's] eloquence on the campaign trail. . . ." Now, however, Westen wonders "what happened to Obama."

Westen links Obama's handling of the debt crisis to a string of political moments beginning with the debate over the stimulus. Westen argues that during these moments, Obama has failed to produce a compelling narrative to sell his values (whatever they might be):
[W]hen faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it.
Westen also criticizes Obama for trying to speak to all sides of political debates. In fairness to Obama, however, he ran for president as the candidate who would bring all perspectives to the table. He portrayed himself as a conciliatory candidate who would unify the country. He, unlike his challengers, was a "new" political candidate, who could move the nation from the divisiveness of the past. Consensus and bridge-building were his hallmarks. Accordingly, criticizing Obama for doing just this seems to overlook the way he portrayed himself as a candidate.

Nonetheless, as Westen observes, Obama's effort to please all sides makes his message incoherent:
Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, one that weds “revenue enhancements” (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling.
Surprisingly, Obama tries to please all sides even when the public largely supports liberal positions and when the conservative position could undermine the nation's well-being. During the debt negotiations, numerous polls showed that the public favored spending cuts and tax increases as a way of reducing the deficit. Obama stated that he agreed with this position.

Rather than capitalizing on public opinion, however, Obama only offered tepid support for a tax increase and ultimately signed a plan that mandates spending cuts exclusively. After liberals criticized the agreement, Obama said that lawmakers would be motivated to increase taxes. But if that were true, they would also feel pressure to cut spending without a statutory mandate.

Consequently, Obama's view on taxes is confusing. It is unclear whether Obama -- who agreed with the extension of tax cuts implemented during the Bush administration -- actually favors increasing revenue or not. If he really values tax increases, he could have used public support to his advantage. If he thought that lawmakers would be motivated to raise taxes this fall, then he could have promoted legislation that generally mandated deficit reduction, rather than specifically singling out spending cuts.

Furthermore, after the debt deal passed, Obama said that Congress should turn its attention to creating jobs. Obama, however, never told the public what this should involve. More importantly, most economists would probably agree that creating jobs will require additional government spending -- but, alas, the debt deal mandates the opposite path. Yet, Obama favors both the debt compromise and a jobs bill.

Zelizer: CNN Column

Today, Julian Zelizer, a Professor at Princeton and a CNN columnist, has written an article that raises similar criticisms of Obama (and the Democrats generally). Zelizer criticizes the Democrats for not putting forth a cohesive message and for failing to capitalize on public support (e.g., raising taxes on the wealthy) in order to advance their goals.

Zelinzer argues that if Obama does not develop and take a firm position on some coherent agenda, he will lose the next election. Voters, Zelinzer argues, want someone who fights for a set of defined values. Another way of saying this is that voters want a political leader. In this regard, Obama has failed miserably.

Final Thoughts

Obama could absolutely lose the next election if he does not build a cohesive message and develop the stamina to advocate a set of defined political goals. Obama's lack of leadership has become deeply troubling, and it risks making the Democrats virtually ineffective.

UPDATE

I am not dismissing the possibility that Obama actually desires centrist and right-leaning policy. Indeed, I have argued many times on this blog that Obama is a moderate and that progressives mistakenly viewed him as an ally. Either way, he is not leading the Democratic Party -- certainly not the progressives and disempowered people who staunchly supported his candidacy.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

S&P Lowers US Credit Rating: Blames Deficit and Messy Debt Politics

Standard & Poor's has lowered the US credit rating for the first time in 70 years. The US rating is now AA+ (down from AAA). Economists are not sure how badly (if at all) the negative rating will impact the US economy. Though lowered, the US credit rating only falls below the ratings of 12 other nations.

Blame the Deficit and No New Taxes

The Wall Street Journal provides several reasons for the downgrade. Prior to the debt negotiations, S&P had warned the US to reduce its budget deficit by four trillion dollars over the next ten years. Congress, however, only agreed to cut spending in the amount of 2.4 trillion dollars. Furthermore, Republicans adamantly opposed any deal that would result in tax increases. President Obama conceded the tax issue, even though S&P had already warned the government that anything smaller than a four trillion dollar reduction in the deficit would likely lead to a lowering of the US credit rating.

This news should vindicate progressives and other critics who believe that Congress should have included revenue measures in the debt deal. High levels of spending and dramatically lower tax revenue have combined to create the historically large deficit. Focusing only on spending could not prevent a reduction of the US credit rating.

Tea Party Politics

S&P also commented on the messy nature of US politics as a reason for the downgrade. In language that is often reserved for parts of the world experiencing major political unrest, S&P blamed the "weakened 'effectiveness, stability, and predictability' of U.S. policy making and political institutions at a time when challenges are mounting" for the rating reduction.

Although the Wall Street Journal does not indicate that S&P specifically mentions the Tea Party Republicans (Teapublicans) in its commentary, the behavior of extremists in Congress received much criticism during and after the debt negotiations. Members of the Republican caucus, particularly House Republicans, refused to negotiate with flexibility, and they foolishly insisted that taxes remain "off the table." This rigid position, combined with a very selfish and callous negotiating style has contributed to a reduction in the US credit. S&P had already warned the government to reduce the deficit by four trillion dollars. Reckless politics by the Republicans (and lack of stamina by Democrats) forced S&P's hand.

Fortunately, S&P commentary will not allow the media to blame US spending alone for the reduction -- although many sloppy or deceptive reporters will likely do so. Instead, both spending and a failure to raise revenue are responsible.

UPDATE

In a formal statement, S&P says that it "takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures the Congress and the Administration might conclude are appropriate." Nonetheless, it also concludes that in order to be effective, a deficit-reduction plan must have support from both both political parties and from the public. S&P also acknowledges that only the Republican plan disfavors tax increases and would reduce the deficit solely by cutting social programs -- and not defense.

Democrats will largely oppose a deficit-reduction plan that does not include tax increases. The public will not favor slashing Medicare and Social Security in order to preserve defense spending and tax cuts for wealthy Americans. Only Republicans would favor such an approach. The S&P position, though not formally stated, is abundantly clear.

UPDATE

The Obama Administration has criticized S&P for the downgrade. Apparently, the agency's math was off by two trillion dollars. US officials notified the agency of its error prior to the announcement of the downgrade, but it said that the downgrade should occur notwithstanding its erroneous math. Perhaps this means that the dramatic political situation in the country weighed very heavily on S&P's decision.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Onion on the Debt Deal: Very Funny, Very True

The Onion, a popular satirical magazine, has a very precise description of the debt deal. The essay mocks the extraordinary concessions the Democrats made to Republicans during the negotiations. Read about it here: Obama: Debt Ceiling Deal Required Tough Concessions By Both Democrats And Democrats Alike.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Stock Market Declines Sharply. Is Debt Deal to Blame?

The stock markets declined sharply today. Several sources point to various factors -- including the passage of the debt deal -- as the cause of today's dramatic decline.

Because the debt deal requires an extraordinary reduction in government spending, many analysts fear that this will worsen an already struggling economy. Governmental participation in the market for goods and services increases demand and generates economic activity. If this demand declines, however, then so will the overall volume of business activity. This is basic macroeconomic theory.

Bloomberg/Business Week:
Many economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, have said the U.S. economy would gain momentum in the second half of the year as gas prices fall and Japan's factories recover from the earthquake disaster in March. Slow U.S. manufacturing growth, a weak job market and concerns about spending cuts in the debt deal have cast doubt on those predictions.
The Street:
The parade of poor economic numbers has started to fuel speculation about a possible need for further monetary easing by the Federal Reserve, although the rise in inflation in recent months presents an obstacle to further stimulus. The deep pullback in government spending necessitated by the deficit reduction legislation, coming as it does amidst a time of high unemployment, added to nervousness over the economic outlook.
Some economists had already predicted that the spending cuts would harm the economy.

Paul Krugman

Krugman criticized President Obama for "surrendering" to the Republicans. Krugman also argued that cutting spending was bad news for a potential economic recovery:
Start with the economics. We currently have a deeply depressed economy. We will almost certainly continue to have a depressed economy all through next year. And we will probably have a depressed economy through 2013 as well, if not beyond.

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further. Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn’t work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record.

Indeed, slashing spending while the economy is depressed won’t even help the budget situation much, and might well make it worse. On one side, interest rates on federal borrowing are currently very low, so spending cuts now will do little to reduce future interest costs. On the other side, making the economy weaker now will also hurt its long-run prospects, which will in turn reduce future revenue. So those demanding spending cuts now are like medieval doctors who treated the sick by bleeding them, and thereby made them even sicker.
MSN Money
Joel Naroff, president of macroeconomic consulting firm Naroff Economic Advisors, disagrees with the plan on this fundamental level. "The idea that increasing taxes cuts jobs but decreasing spending doesn't is silly," he says. Instead, a decrease in government spending is going to slow economic growth, worsening an already dismal national economic situation. "It's going to slow growth. If you have slow growth, you're going to have less hiring. In some parts of the economy, there are actually going to be layoffs." In particular, Naroff foresees further job losses in state and local government.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Healthcare Reform, Florida Is Consistently Bad


Florida, along with several other states filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. But once the federal government began providing grants to states to assist them with healthcare delivery, some of the very states that oppose the legislation began accepting and applying for these funds. Not Florida!

According to an article in the New York Times, Florida has remained defiant and has rejected federal funding that the healthcare reform legislation provides to states. The impact of the state's refusal to participate, though consistent, seems like poor medicine for a populous state with so many poor and uninsured individuals:
Despite having the country’s fourth-highest unemployment rate, its second-highest rate of people without insurance and a $3.7 billion budget gap this year, the state has turned away scores of millions of dollars in grants made available under the Affordable Care Act. And it is not pursuing grants worth many millions more.

In recent months, either Gov. Rick Scott’s administration or the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature has rejected grants aimed at moving long-term care patients into their homes, curbing child abuse through in-home counseling and strengthening state regulation of health premiums. They have shunned money to help sign up eligible recipients for Medicare, educate teenagers on preventing pregnancy and plan for the health insurance exchanges that the law requires by 2014.

While 36 states shared $27 million to counsel health insurance consumers, Florida did not apply for the grants. And in drafting this year’s budget, the Legislature failed to authorize an $8.3 million federal grant won by a county health department to expand community health centers (emphasis added).
See more here.

Progressive and Liberal Criticism of the Debt Deal

President Obama has accepted a compromise to raise the nation's debt ceiling. In exchange for raising the ceiling, Congress will immediately slash over a trillion dollars from government spending. A "supercommittee" in Congress will then propose additional cuts of nearly two trillion dollars late this year. If Congress cannot agree to specific cuts, then the cuts will be made across the board.

The debt compromise only includes spending cuts. It does not include any mechanism to increase revenue, even though both lower revenue and higher spending have caused the historically high deficit. Also, President Obama initially said that revenue must be a factor in any compromise. He later abandoned that position.

Criticism from the Left

Many liberals and progressives have responded critically to the compromise. Here are some of those arguments.

Robert Reich

Reich, Secretary of Labor during the Clinton Administration, has offered a scathing critique of the proposal. Reich argues that:
Anyone who characterizes the deal between the President, Democratic, and Republican leaders as a victory for the American people over partisanship understands neither economics nor politics.

The deal does not raise taxes on America’s wealthy and most fortunate — who are now taking home a larger share of total income and wealth, and whose tax rates are already lower than they have been, in eighty years. Yet it puts the nation’s most important safety nets and public investments on the chopping block.
Glenn Greenwald

Greenwald, a columnist for Salon.com, attacks the notion that Obama was compelled to accept the slashing of safety net programs in order to prevent a default. Greenwald says that, instead, Obama wanted that outcome:
It appears to be true that the President wanted tax revenues to be part of this deal. But it is absolutely false that he did not want these brutal budget cuts and was simply forced -- either by his own strategic "blunders" or the "weakness" of his office -- into accepting them. The evidence is overwhelming that Obama has long wanted exactly what he got: these severe domestic budget cuts and even ones well beyond these, including Social Security and Medicare, which he is likely to get with the Super-Committee created by this bill. . . .
Jared Bernstein

Bernstein, an economist and former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, has written several essays criticizing the debt deal. Bernstein has criticized the lack of a revenue-generating provision in the compromise; he has argued that conservative ideologues were willing to sacrifice the health of the nation to get spending cuts; and he has argued that the debt compromise will inevitably lead to deep cuts in safety net and other important domestic spending programs.

Liberals in Congress

Liberals in Congress have begun to criticize the deal as well. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, described the proposal as "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich" and as a "shady bill."

Also, the debt deal apparently does not thrill Nancy Pelosi. The Washington Post reports that Pelosi offered lukewarm reactions to reports of the compromise:
First, Pelosi said of the deal: "We all may not be able to support it, or none us may be able to support it." Then, later in the evening she folowed up with this lukewarm comment: "I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide."
Conclusion

Despite these critiques, Congress will probably approve the debt deal. But if the bill passes without significant changes, it simply cannot represent a victory for President Obama -- unless he is really a fiscally conservative Republican in disguise.

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