Friday, August 21, 2015

Anchor Babies, Welfare Queens, and Other Gutless Euphemisms

I don't usually write about immigration because it's not my specialty, but I do know a thing or two about language. Earnest People™ are asking what term they should use instead of "anchor babies" because critics (rightly) believe it is a derogatory term, but right-of-center folks want a term to describe children who are used as excuses to stay in the country. 

Here's my suggestion:

"Greatly exaggerated phenomenon I use to express both my disdain for immigrants and signal my resentment of the continued growth of the welfare state despite the two not being closely related"

Doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it? Okay, maybe this:

"Undesirable brown child."

"Whoa, Jon. That's going too far!" you may be thinking. But it really isn't.

This continued conversation has context and that context is nativism.  Nativism is and always has been closely tied to racism--even leading to hate crimes--and there's just no getting around that. You can have non-racist reasons to oppose immigration, but "anchor babies" is a loaded term and you're kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

There is little evidence that a large number of unauthorized immigrants are coming to America with the intended purpose of having children to stay in the country legally. Yes, people have children while they're here. And sure, people have children for bad reasons all the time so I'm sure that some people do, in fact, come here with that intention. But there's nothing really to support that this is some sort of widespread scheme to do so and therefore that it warrants massive policy change. How do I know this? The law doesn't make it easy to have a kid get parents legal access to the Land of the Free: (Via WaPo)
In order to apply for such an option, the parent of a so-called anchor baby would need to do all of the following.
  • Wait for his or her child to reach the age of 21.
  • Leave the United States.
  • Return to their home country.
  • Have their child begin the lengthy process of applying for a family reunification immigration request.
  • Clear consular interviews and a U.S. State Department background check. (One or both would very likely provide evidence that said parent, at some point, lived in the United States illegally -- long enough for that "anchor baby" to be conceived or born. And despite widespread belief to the contrary, there is indeed a penalty for that.)
If a person has lived in the United States unlawfully for a period of more than 180 days but less than one year, there is an automatic three-year bar on that person ever reentering the United States -- and that's before any wait time for a visa. So that's a minimum of 21 years for the child to mature, plus the three-year wait. 
And, for the vast majority of these parents, a longer wait also applies. If a person has lived in the United States illegally for a year or more, there is a 10-year ban on that person reentering the United States. So, in that case, there would be the 21-year wait for the child to mature to adulthood, plus the 10-year wait.

Our immigration naturalization system is explicitly set up to not be unskilled brown people from Latin America, anyway. And if you think they're banking on American sympathy to let them stay, the tidal wave of deportations during the bulk of the Obama administration and the unabashed nativism from the GOP frontrunners undermines that naive (and likely nonexistent) assumption on their part.

But back to my point--we've seen this before. The "Welfare Queens" of the 1970s and 1980s was a racially tinged, sexist anti-welfare moniker  that was, to put it mildly, wildly overstated. Yes, some people cheat Welfare. People also cheat Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but you don't see too many politicians demagoguing about those gray haired goodfornothing bandits wreaking havoc on our national debt.


Nah. They were blaming women, particularly black women, as a political foil. "Anchor babies" is of the exact same stripe: women and children of color living off (white) America who earned their wealth the old-fashioned way. (The GI Bill, farm subsidies, and mortgage interest deductions, of course.) But I digress.

If you really want to make "anchor babies" a campaign or policy issue, then do so. But be honest about what you're saying. The problem is a broken system created and driven by the same old nativism responsible for the bulk of our counter-productive immigration laws for over a century. Racial resentment continues to drive politics in this country and the adults in the room should acknowledge that.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

From the Archive: Happy Fall of Vicksburg Day!

Over at National Review Online, David French had the audacity made the poorly conceived decision to print a defense the Confederate Battle Flag in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston. I won't link it here, you can find it if you want. 

I thought I'd take this opportunity to re-post a piece I wrote for my college newspaper about my feelings about the Confederacy and what I think people should do with that flag. I'm happy to say I've developed more as a writer since then, but this nevertheless captures my feelings on the subject. At least the ones that aren't best expressed with expletives. --JPB

While many of you will be drunkenly commemorating the 228th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, I will be at my job, proudly wearing my American flag necktie and thinking about another glorious day in the history of this country: July 4, 1863.

On that day, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee began his retreat from the battle of Gettysburg, and Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the town of Vicksburg, Miss., ending a 48-day siege. These two events marked the turning point of the Civil War.

By capturing Vicksburg, a port on the Mississippi River, Grant effectively had cut the Confederacy in two and reclaimed the mighty river -- a vital supply and transportation route -- for the Union.

Admittedly, the Union did not fight to free the slaves. Nonetheless, my ancestors enslaved in Meridian, Miss., were much closer to freedom that day because the South was losing its war to keep them.

My motives for writing this are not merely to inform you, dear readers, about a day in our collective history. I write this to boastfully sport my American patriotism and, if you will, my "Northern Pride."

This weekend, perhaps more than many other days here in southern Indiana, or if you are traveling southward, you are likely to see people ignorantly, arrogantly and brazenly flying the battle flag of the Confederacy on their cars, pickups and boats or wearing it on their person -- all in the name of "Southern Pride."

Even though Indiana was a "free" state and never seceded from the Union, there were many Confederate sympathizers in this part of the state during the Civil War, and Hoosiers undoubtedly fought on both sides.

Regardless, anyone -- be they Hoosier, southerner or other -- who dons that symbol today insults the entire nation and the holiday we celebrate.

The supporters of the Confederate battle flag cite their pride of their ancestors' sacrifices for what they believed. But that relic represents the belief in barbarism, racism, treason and such an incredible greed that they would send men (most without the finances to own slaves) to die to keep fellow human beings in bondage. The actions of the illegal government for which that flag stands cost the lives of roughly 600,000 Americans. The Confederate battle flag is nothing to be proud of.

Furthermore, the true and sinister meaning behind the battle flag of "Johnny Reb'" can be easily determined by looking at its uses in more recent history. Forget that the Ku Klux Klan (founded in part by venerated Confederate "soldier" Nathan Bedford Forrest, ahem) and other white supremacist groups use it today for decor at their rallies and militia barracks. People need to only look at the many filmed images of Southern demonstrations against desegregation during the 1950s and '60s to verify its truly evil connotations.

Next to the picket signs with slogans such as "Segregation forever," "White is Right" and "Niggers go home," you very often will see the "rebel" flag proudly waving in the Southern breeze. The people carrying their beloved banner weren't Klan members; they were everyday men, women and children of the South, standing up for what they believed. (Hardly a coincidence, it was in 1956 that Georgia prominently incorporated the Confederate battle flag into its state flag. Its presence was dramatically scaled down in 2001.) "Southern Pride," indeed.

So, this weekend, if you happen to come across the aforementioned standard of sedition while camping or being otherwise outdoors, remember where you saw it in case you need toilet paper later. 

As you run away from the drunken rebels with flag-in-hand, be sure to show your Northern Pride by wishing them a happy "Fall of Vicksburg" Day.

Have a safe and happy Fourth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Some Thoughts on Baltimore

NB: Given the sensitive nature of the subject, I reiterate that this is my opinion and should not reflect the views of my employer. -JPB

The unrest that is afflicting Baltimore in the wake of the arrest and death of Freddie Gray is an unfortunate but predictable outcome of years of abuse and neglect. Last year’s Sun investigation of Baltimore’s police brutality cases shined a light on engrained practice of tolerating and covering up police brutality. Such tactics temporarily shielded the police from outside scrutiny by media and kept Baltimore police out of the national spotlight. But those neighborhoods of Baltimoreans who knew and experienced that abuse have endured it for years with no reckoning of criminal justice.

The city has taken the positive step of making civil suit records public and searchable on a government website, but civil suits may take years to litigate and require resources the most vulnerable of Baltimoreans do not have. Without swift change in the day-to-day functions of city policing, piecemeal efforts on the back-end of reform will fail to quell the anger felt by the people of Baltimore.

Part of this problem is Maryland state law. Police personnel records—namely, their disciplinary files—are generally exempt from public information searches. Thus, officers who have a history of violence have no independent check on their behavior. If the Baltimore PD tolerates violent and repeated officer misconduct, as the Sun’s investigation showed it has, then officers are operating without any meaningful oversight vis a vis their interactions with the public.

Maryland is not alone in this secrecy. All but a handful of states provide considerable protections to police disciplinary records. Most Americans live under legal regimes that force them to trust police to oversee themselves. This imposed faith may work in some jurisdictions, but it is clearly failing in many others.

This widespread lack of accountability degrades the police’s relationship with the people they serve, undermining their legitimacy. As author Maurice Punch wrote, “[T]he crucial test for policing in a democratic system is accountability….For without genuine accountability, there can be no legitimacy; and without legitimacy the police cannot function effectively in democratic society.”

What we’re seeing in the streets of Baltimore is a criminal justice system without accountability and a police force that is suffering a foreseeable crisis of legitimacy.

Those who riot and loot should not be excused for their actions. Violence, mayhem, and theft are wrong, full stop. That does not mean, however, that the policing situation that led us to this point is excusable or without blame. When police abuse citizens with impunity and a community suffers years of abuse, the social fabric that holds communities together will unravel.

The solution is simple to say, but a challenge to implement: transparent and accountable policing. If Freddie Gray were the first man abused by Baltimore Police, we wouldn’t be watching kids throwing bricks at officers on our televisions or in our Internet feeds. The unleashed anger in Baltimore is a result of unchecked police power continuously roaming through neighborhoods and terrorizing their inhabitants.

The institutions that have protected violent officers will continue to do so and resist meaningful police reform, at their peril. The tolerance and protection of violent officers is a threat to both public and officer safety alike. Police cannot arrest their way into a restored community faith and ignoring the demands of peaceful protests will further erode police legitimacy. 

The onus is on state and local governments to make police transparency a priority. Police departments must make themselves more accountable to the people they serve and take proactive steps to reassure their citizens that they will discipline or fire their officers for misconduct.

There is simply no other way to prevent the fire next time. 

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Just What You Always Wanted!

ME! In your inbox!

Okay, so maybe this isn't the gift of your dreams, but at least I got your attention.

Last week I started publishing a newsletter, Taken Liberties. It'll be weekly(-ish) so it's not going to be a daily thing because, first of all, I'm not that productive. Second, it would be like putting my entire twitter feed in your inbox, thus sort of defeating the whole purpose of starting something new.

I wanted to compile something that's a little more personal than a blog. Whatever this blog's identity is (or was?), it wasn't particularly expressive of most of my personality. Opinions? Yes. Anger? Most definitely. But posts tended to either be rants or off-the-cuff observations, rather than a more reflective comments on what's been on my mind. My sometimes-churlish bouts of self-seriousness that peppered this blog will be absent from this new venture.

I enjoyed writing here and it certainly helped me grow as a writer, but blogs aren't what they used to be. I'm not killing TBS, so no need to delete this from your GoogleReader substitute RSS feed, but I will be spending more effort on maintaining the newsletter than I have been keeping up with this.

Anyway, if you like my writing, please sign up for the newsletter here.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Friday, February 27, 2015

Recent and Other Relevant Writing

In the past week or so, I've written a few pieces. Also, recent events have made past writing relevant again. So, instead of starting a newsletter like a lot of writers I know and admire, I thought I'd just bring them all together in one place and you can read as you like.

A recurring theme is American ignorance of history writ large. Over at Rare, I wrote about why Black History is important. (Hint: because it's American history.)

Generally speaking, the way America teaches history is deplorable. The watered-down fairy-tale version of our history can be found in our folklore, grade school textbooks, and throughout our media. Race aside for a moment, how we think about war, government, technology, religion, and nearly everything else tends to be framed in false dichotomies and trivial facts without contextualizing how and why events happened, let alone how events were perceived by those who lived through them.
 But in America, despite the best efforts of many, we cannot put race aside. Racism has been omnipresent in American history, but it has been far from static. Slavery and its justifications spawned a particularly awful strain of anti-black racism in America. Racism evolved to seek selfish economic ends and justify punitive unconstitutional laws. It has justified social and economic benefits to some while depriving them to others. It has allowed a tolerance of abuse by both government and private citizens. Racism has broken apart families and even the nation itself.

Relatedly, I wrote here at TBS about FBI director Comey's attempt to view the relationship between law enforcement and black communities historically. (He failed.)

Director Comey, trying to appear magnanimous, said
 “A tragedy of American life…is that young people in “those neighborhoods” too often inherit a legacy of crime and prison. And with that inheritance, they become part of a police officer’s life, and shape the way that officer—whether white or black—sees the world.”
This is circular logic at its most odious. Law enforcement, in its zeal to fight its war on drugs and crime, extracted scores of men from communities and put them into the criminal justice system. This deprived children of fathers and robbed the communities of economic resources. This,in turn, created the young black men that engender cynicism from today’s officers who “often can’t help” it.
While there is much to be said for back-end reforms that help former inmates return to society, the law enforcement executives who go around preaching about how to fix the men and communities they helped break in the first place tests the patience of anyone who recognizes the grotesque unfairness of our so-called justice system. It’s not all law enforcement’s fault, but they are reticent to acknowledge the role they have and continue to play in “those neighborhoods.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reclaiming Malcolm X

This weekend marks the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. Malcolm has always had a deep influence on my writing, beliefs, and intellectual life. His unflinching commitment to justice and dignity are the hallmarks of his legacy.

Oh, and scaring the hell out of white people.

But seriously, there’s nothing I’ve ever read or seen attributed to Malcolm that would put him anywhere near the Progressive Left, who tend to embrace him. The late author of his most recent major biography, professor Manning Marable, attempted to rationalize his placement in the Progressive pantheon. But there was no real link in his well-researched and well-written biography. At best, he mentioned some “anti-capitalist” rhetoric  in speeches to colleges (text by Damon Root):

In a 1992 speech at Colorado's Metro State College, Columbia University historian Manning Marable praised the black minister and activist Malcolm X for pushing an "uncompromising program which was both antiracist and anticapitalist." As Marable favorably quoted from the former Nation of Islam leader: "You can't have racism without capitalism. If you find antiracists, usually they're socialists or their political philosophy is that of socialism."

In historical context, Malcolm was living in the Cold War political dichotomy. The Soviet Union and other communist nations were pitted squarely against the United States and the capitalist countries. If United States capitalism permitted Jim Crow, backed assassinations in Africa, and supported South African Apartheid, I’d be against it too. But where politics and economics converged to the detriment of American minorities, the culprits were the American government and its tolerance and furtherance of American racism, not a system of free exchange and entrepreneurship.

Indeed, many of Malcolm’s most famous and impassioned speeches dealt with American hypocrisy and the national inability to respect the laws of the Constitution that supposedly guaranteed equal rights. He wasn’t judging America for its ideals or its promise of freedom, rather than its utter and undeniable failure to secure rights for black people.  

I write this not to claim Malcolm for libertarians or, least of all, the American Right. His legacy belongs to black people and America writ large, if they bother to embrace it.

People should remember Malcolm for what he was and what he stood for, not just as a symbol of scaring white people. He believed in the absolute right to self-defense and personal responsibility. He believed in small business and black empowerment.  He wanted jobs and dignity for black people, and he didn’t believe the government as instituted in the United States could provide it.

Similar to what I wrote in my lengthy response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ remarkable article on reparations, the fundamental divide in civil rights today shouldn’t be about desert or what America should do. Rather, the argument should be about what America could reasonably be expected to do. Just because we elected a black president does not mean the government has gotten remarkably better at delivering on the failed promises of the past two and a half centuries.

We’re still trying to get past the very same phenomenon Malcolm was talking about in this short speech excerpt:

More than 50 years later, so much has not changed.

I don’t know what Malcolm’s macroeconomic prescriptions would be if he were alive today, and I don’t care. But Malcolm was right to be skeptical of government action. Active government aimed at bettering black lives gave us the ’94 Crime Bill,  the 100:1 crack to powder sentencing disparity, Broken Windows, and Stop-and-Frisk. It will take years to repair the damage they caused in black communities, on top of the preexisting problems of poverty, ghettoization, and crumbling infrastructure.

And we simply cannot undo the catastrophe they’ve inflicted on countless black lives. 

Before we ask the government to do anything else, it must recognize the fundamental civil rights of black Americans. Just as Malcolm recognized, whatever the laws say doesn't mean anything if the police can abuse black people and get away with it. And it is undeniable that the police violence against blacks and others continues today through hostile day-to-day interactions, militarization, and wanton brutality.

As Ossie Davis eulogized him, Malcolm was our champion, and we should continue to honor him. We do this by fighting police brutality. We do this by demanding equal rights and human dignity now. And we should do this by any means necessary.

Malcolm X, RIP

bellum medicamenti delenda est

**I don’t know the source for this video, and it has clearly been edited.  But the segments seem to all come from the same speech and thus retain their relevance as individual parts or taken together.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Addendum on Comey's Invocation of Bill Bratton

This was originally included in my piece on Comey's speech, but it was too long as it was. That said, it's still worth noting. -JPB

That Director Comey decided to invoke NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to invoke his "seeing" each other metaphor is telling. In the wake of the Garner no-bill, the shooting death of Akai Gurley, and the #BlackLivesMatter protests, Commissioner Bratton proposed a heavily armed force meant to fight terrorism and manage crowd control during protest. Bratton said,

“[The new unit] is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests....[Those officers will] be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not. They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.”

Apparently, Commissioner Bratton "sees" people exercising their First Amendment rights the same way he sees murderous terrorism. Additionally, he wants to make resisting arrest a felony.

Nota bene: Resisting arrest charges are so flimsy and widely abused, they are used by criminologists to measure police violence against citizens.

If Director Comey is relying on Commissioner Bratton for guidance to fix police relations with minority communities, the situation will get much worse before it gets better.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

James Comey Can't Handle the Truth

Yesterday, FBI Director James Comey gave an impassioned speech about the “disconnect” between many minority communities in America and the police officers charged with keeping them safe. He listed four “hard truths” that the police and the public need to come to terms with in order to fix the current system.

The first “hard truth” was that “at many points in American history,” law enforcement has been used to oppress ethnic and other minorities through violence, intimidation, and brutality. Well, rather, Comey said, “law enforcement enforced the status quo…that was brutally unfair.”

This is less a hard truth than it is a watered-down history lesson. Convict-lease systems, in many respects, extended slavery well into the 20th century by using vagrancy and other charges to incarcerate black men and sell them into dangerous industrial slavery. Police were used to enforce segregation and violently break up peaceful marches throughout the Civil Rights Era. And, throughout our history, blacks have been the victims of wanton police violence for any number of reasons from John Lewis to Rodney King to Michael Brown to Eric Garner and countless others in between. Since Emancipation, when they lost the protection as a master’s property, black people—particularly young black men—have had an antagonistic relationship with the police, effectively without interruption.

The second “hard truth” concerned the research that indicated “widespread…unconscious [racial] bias.” (I never thought I’d see the day when the head of the FBI quote a ribald Broadway puppet show to explain “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”)

Again, there’s nothing very hard about this truth. We live in a society in which much of our population can remember Segregation, racial-political assassinations, and other forms of white racial terrorism. Racism isn’t just the uncle who tells nigger jokes after a couple beers. We live in a society that had racism built-in to its foundation—indeed, its founding documents—and killed more than half a million of its own citizens for the right to keep a portion of them in bondage in perpetuity. These same portion of people, mind you, have had the federal government recognize their full panoply of constitutionally guaranteed rights for just over 50 years.

Of course Americans still have racial hang-ups! That a man with such power and gravitas couches the utterly obvious with vulgar puppets and “unsettling research” speaks to the mind-numbing power of American denial.

Director Comey continues, attempting to soften the blow,
“But racial bias isn’t epidemic in those who join law enforcement any more than it is in academia or the arts. In fact, I believe law enforcement overwhelmingly attracts people who want to do good for living[.]”
I’ve had my share of bad professors, but I don’t remember any of them ever choking any of their students to death for writing exam answers on their forearm or shooting them to death for in-class sarcasm.

The monopoly on the use of force held by police officers makes them unlike everyone else in society. If all black Americans had to deal with were clutched purses and off-color jokes from art teachers, we wouldn’t be having this absurd excuse for a “national conversation.” The fear and loathing of young black men costs too many of them their lives at the hands of police officers. That is the hard truth.

The third hard truth actually would be useful, if Director Comey didn’t immediately undermine himself trying to explain it. “Something happens to people in law enforcement….After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel.”

That police work often involves repeated encounters in minority neighborhoods using heavy handed tactics that can’t help but affect how that community views them. The community of Ferguson, Missouri—a mostly black suburb of St. Louis—had nearly 33,000 arrest warrants issued for non-violent offenses in 2013, many of which stem from traffic tickets and related court fees. The town population is 21,135. In the wake of recent protests, arrestees too poor to make bail found themselves in a Dickensian debtors prison, unable to pay for their release.

Let’s ask them about their cynicism.

Director Comey builds a straw-man to set up his fourth and final “hard truth”: officers aren’t racist because they don’t arrest enough “white robbers and drug dealers,” because if they were, it would be easy to fix. It’s because black people do drugs and don’t have jobs so they “become part of [an] officer’s life.” You see, repeated interaction with black people makes police officers cynical and if the black people just had jobs, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

As the Ferguson arrest warrants show, it doesn’t seem to matter whether black people are doing the things that would normally necessitate them becoming part of an officer’s life. Being black and poor puts them in communities that experience frequent and often less-than-cordial contact with police officers.

Director Comey, trying to appear magnanimous, said
“A tragedy of American life…is that young people in “those neighborhoods” too often inherit a legacy of crime and prison. And with that inheritance, they become part of a police officer’s life, and shape the way that officer—whether white or black—sees the world.”
This is circular logic at its most odious. Law enforcement, in its zeal to fight its war on drugs and crime, extracted scores of men from communities and put them into the criminal justice system. This deprived children of fathers and robbed the communities of economic resources. This,in turn, created the young black men that engender cynicism from today’s officers who “often can’t help” it.

While there is much to be said for back-end reforms that help former inmates return to society, the law enforcement executives who go around preaching about how to fix the men and communities they helped break in the first place tests the patience of anyone who recognizes the grotesque unfairness of our so-called justice system. It’s not all law enforcement’s fault, but they are reticent to acknowledge the role they have and continue to play in “those neighborhoods.”

Even in Director Comey’s singular moment of policy sanity, when he recognized that the voluntarily reported data from state and local law enforcement on use-of-force cases is so inadequate it’s virtually useless, he said such deficiencies create space for ““ideological thunderbolts”.…that spark arrest and distrust.”

There were no ideologues or demagogues at the scene of Michael Brown’s body as it lay in a Ferguson street for four hours in August. The protests and outrage were immediate and visceral because of the repeated, well-understood maltreatment the public received from the Ferguson police officers. Law enforcement’s reaction to those protests reaffirmed the animosity that was present well before the national media could find Ferguson on a map.

Director Comey’s pleas for officers to “see” the people they encounter belies his assertion that it’s not about racism in law enforcement:

“Those of us in law enforcement must redouble our efforts to resist bias and prejudice. We must better understand the people we serve and protect—by trying to know, deep in our gut, what it feels like to be a law-abiding young black man walking on the street and encountering law enforcement. We must understand how that young man may see us. We must resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism and approach him with respect and decency.”  

“Lazy shortcuts of cynicism” is a euphemism for “ignoring the constitutional rights of young black men.” This isn’t a small problem rectified by a gut check imagining how a black boy might see a police officer.  Abuse ignores the limits placed on officers by the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Bill of Rights. Being young, black, and male is not enough to satisfy “reasonable suspicion” and police officers have an affirmative duty to respect that. Director Comey’s “ideological thunderbolt” boogeymen aside, such unconstitutional behavior is a widespread problem in law enforcement with or without Al Sharpton’s presence. Black and minority communities know this all too well.

As far as Director Comey’s direction that the public “give [police] the space and respect to do their work,” I would ask the director to give the police the same admonition. People should be free from interference from the police unless they are committing a crime against person or property. As the recent NYPD slowdown showed, it is possible to keep the peace even in a large city without issuing thousands of criminal summonses.

It is impossible to fix the chasm of distrust between the police and minorities so long as police continue to abuse blacks and other minorities in the communities in which they live. This is the one and only hard truth the police and the government need to face. The rest is just distraction.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Some Thoughts on Chait PC Piece

Twitter is predictably a-twitter with Jonathan Chait's latest in New York magazine on the scourge of political correctness.

It's an okay piece, as far as it goes. To generalize social media reaction: the Right is embracing it, the Left is annoyed. My reaction is: 4,700 words, really?

Chait conflates the censorious atmosphere and decisionmaking on many college campuses with the hyperbolic outrage that thrives in social media. He throws a lot of words trying to make them the same similar, but they're not.

Mute buttons, unfollows, blocks--these are all effective, defensive weapons at the disposal of any would-be commentator on social media. Yes, yes, the Left gets in a tizzy with trigger warnings (which are fine, generally, but can be taken well beyond their practical utility) and oversensitivity to comments about sexual, gender, ethnic or other differences. Sometimes they're justified, sometimes they just need to chill out. This is all true.

But say something about abortion rights or guns or God or whatever, and the Right does the same thing.

Self-righteous indignation about core values that others don't share is just how this whole social media thing works. It is at once the most democratic space and freest marketplace of ideas available. And it's extraordinarily messy.

Colleges that allow threats and intimidation of those who speak freely are curbing speech and they should be held accountable, but the general state of how colleges are run--from speech codes to rape investigations to how they invest their endowments--is a broader topic that I can't wade into here. Suffice it to say, caving to pressure to cancel a guest lecture is not a threat to free speech, broadly defined, and shouldn't be counted in the same category.

I assume some on the Right are embracing Chait's piece because they feel attacked and defensive about what they say and don't like being shouted down.

I could not care less.

The possibility of getting shouted-down is the one surviving, legitimate cost of coming into the public forum. So long as opponents are not banning books and using the government to silence or intimidate people--or tolerating violence or criminal harassment--it's their right. Indeed, the voting-with-your-feet/wallet is the entire premise of social interaction that libertarians say should guide the various decisions one makes in one's life. Don't like it? Turn it off!

There is a sense that self-selected social and traditional media consumption will make our (putatively) pluralistic society more fractured and segmented politically. Certainly, the decline of CNN and rises of more polarized media like MSNBC and Fox support this. I don't know if that's good or bad, or what the long term consequences of it will be on our political system--more gridlock and space between the major parties certainly seem likely--but this is what we all said we wanted: freedom (Right), democracy (Left), and the free exchange of ideas (libertarian).

No one said it was going to be pretty.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

UPDATE: A colleague suggested a fairer reading would say Chait was not so much feeling victimized here as he was calling for a discursive norm to reestablish itself on the political Left. I don't disagree with that, as I ascribed possible victimhood to some of the more pugnacious writers of the Right who have shared it approvingly, but I think my point holds. Lecturing the Internet on how we deal with each other is likely to have the same effect as talking at a wall.

The Internet is vast and there will always be shrill commentators on all sides. I don't find this quality particularly dangerous on the web, as social norms and associations will shift as practices either change or endure. I find Chait's piece mostly harmless, but the discursive equivalent of a longread about the crassness of blue jeans.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Justice Sotomayor on the Oklahoma Lethal Injection Protocol

Last night, the State of Oklahoma put a child killer to death by a questionable lethal injection protocol. I understand not mourning the loss.

Admittedly, as I've gotten older,  I have become anti-death penalty generally, but my policy preference does not trump the constitutionality of the practice. Clearly, some form of capital punishment is constitutional. However, that does not mean that all forms of capital punishment are permissible.

As a nation that is to be governed by laws, and until we ban capital punishment entirely, how the state carries out these increasingly problematic executions must be examined for constitutionality--specifically the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Sotomayor, joined by the three Democrat-appointed justices, makes a strong and well-reasoned constitutional argument why last night's execution should not have happened.

You can read it here, courtesy of the Marshall Project.