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The Voting Rights Act and the Paradox of Representation

[ 0 ] March 10, 2009 |

Yesterday, the Supreme Court considered a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires a federal remedy if a members of a minority group has “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” This provision has created a very complex body of law through a series of often badly split decisions. In the 1986 case Thornburgh v. Gingles, the Court held that the provision required the creation of “majority-minority” districts where a geographically compact minority had its preferences diluted through redistrcting. In yesterday’s case, however, the Court held that the VRA does not require the creation of “crossover” districts; that is, districts where a geographically compact group does not form a majority but constitutes a large enough portion of a district’s population to form a coaliton with white voters to elect their preferred candidate. Kennedy’s pluarilty opinion (joined by Roberts and Alito) argued that Gingles doesn’t require crossover districts, Thomas (joined) by Scalia concurred in the judgment but urged that Gingles be overruled, while the Court’s four more liberal members dissented.

This is a difficult case, and all of the constructions of the statute advanced by the various opinions are plausible. One thing to add is that the problem of representation is especially complex because redistricting regulations that enhance the possibility of minority candidates being elected also tend to hurt the electoral interests of the party that most minority voters prefer (concentrating minority voters is particular districts helps the Republican Party on balance.) This isn’t a question with a right answer; both the election of more minority representatives and ensuring that the partisan preferences of minority voters aren’t excessively diluted are valid considerations of representation. Given the difficulty of the problem and the inherently arbitrary nature of determining what percentage of minority voters triggers a crossover district requirement, there may be a certain wisdom in Kennedy’s opinion. This is particularly true since, as Justice Ginsburg noted in her short dissent, Congress is free to establish a requirement for crossover districts if it chooses.

It’s Only A "Culture War" When They Lose

[ 0 ] March 10, 2009 |

Steve, with respect to a bunch of social reactionaries being shocked, shocked that Obama would follow through on his explicit campaign promises regarding the abortion gag rule and stem cell research, asks:

Obama has weighed in on some culture-war issues, lifting the global gag-rule, beginning the process to scrap “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and yesterday ending Bush-era restrictions on stem-cell research. All of these steps, to my mind, were encouraging.

But they were also entirely predictable. Candidate Obama said he would take these steps, and sure enough, President Obama is doing just that. It makes sense for conservatives to voice their disapproval, but why are they shocked?

The answer, of course, is that Tony Perkins et al. aren’t surprised at all. Rather, they understand that the Politico is a sucker for stories about how liberals are “inflaming the culture wars.” Apparently, there was no culture war inflammation when George Bush enacted his silly (and ludicrously incoherent) stem cell policy, but for Obama to reverse this policy certainly does. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s not the point; these cultural reactionaries understand their media audience.

And this is yet another reminder about why talk about ending the culture wars doesn’t make much sense. People disagree about issues; that’s what politics as about, and glossing over this fact has the distinct tendency to perpetuate existing injustices.

Is This Our Future?

[ 0 ] March 10, 2009 |

One thing of note to add to this analysis of the Swiss health care system is that, as Ellen Immergut has pointed out, Switzerland is comparable to the U.S. in having an unusually large number of veto points that gave particularly high levels of power to minorities with a vested interest in the status quo. This isn’t to say that things will play out in the same way (the institutional structures are still different), and Matt is right that the Dems should be pushing a public option as hard they can. But it’s possible that something like the Swiss system is the most viable means of health care reform in the short-term. This is highly suboptimal, but if it’s intelligent in the details it could certainly be a major improvement over the status quo.

Finally, something more ridicluous than wingnut tea parties

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

So there’s a gathering of climate change skeptics taking place in NY. Since there isn’t a plushie convention rivaling for the public’s attention, the Times finds the International Conference on Climate Change to be newsworthy. There’s almost too much to mock, but this seems to capture the essential foolery of the event:

Many participants said that . . . the global recession and a series of years with cooler temperatures [ahem] would help them in combating changes in energy policy in Washington.

“The only place where this alleged climate catastrophe is happening is in the virtual world of computer models, not in the real world,” said Marc Morano, a speaker at the meeting and a spokesman on environmental issues for Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma.

Because really — few attributes establish one’s real world bonafides than the qualifying credentials, “spokesman on environmental issues for Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma.”

Looking further at the list of conference sponsors, bemusement is the appropriate response. Aside from the a roster of lobbying groups that corporate media continue to forgivingly describe as “think tanks,” we’re reminded once more of how pathetic the Congress of Racial Equality has become since Roy Innis decided that ExxonMobil was the greatest corporate friend that people of African descent have ever known. I’ve been thinking about the history of US social movements, and I can’t find a similar example of an organization that descended as far down the well as CORE has over the past 40 years. I realize that it’s a stretch to describe CORE any longer as an organization — unless we define “organization” as “Roy Innis and the crazy people with whom he shares his skull” — but still…..

When the going gets tough, the tough go golfing

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

These sublimely clueless musings from Lisa Schiffern at the Corner illustrate the strange belief system of the GOP’s true ideological base, which is made up mostly of the American version of what Orwell called “the lower upper class.” Axioms which are key to that system include:

(1) The hardest-working people in America can generally be found at an alumni mixer sponsored by any of our better colleges and universities.

(2) These people got into those schools and then made partner at Latham & Watkins because they worked harder than their fellow Americans.

(3) Raising the marginal federal income tax rate by three percent on the richest 1.5% of Americans is a form of “demonization.”

(4) A low-seven figure annual income does not make you rich. It makes you part of the “working affluent.”

Really, what can one say? Obviously anybody who can believe (1) hasn’t done a day of genuinely hard work in her entire life, and has no idea what that phrase even means. Beyond this the whole post is a textbook example of how utterly blind people like this are to class privilege in general, and what Pierre Bourdieu calls “cultural capital” in particular. Can Schiffern even imagine what it’s like to work at a job where you have to ask someone’s permission to go to the bathroom? Can she conceive of what it means to be in a situation where showing any resistance to an employer’s abusive and/or illegal behavior means taking a serious risk that you won’t be able to pay the rent this month? Does she really think there’s a tight correlation between maintaining a virtuous character and who gets into Princeton? Does she actually think that doctors and lawyers and such are the people who, to quote Orwell again, “make the wheels go round?”

Good grief.

What Happened at Midway?

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

Apparently there is still some controversy. The standard story is this; a flight of torpedo bombers approached the Japanese task force, and was massacred by Japanese combat air patrol. That CAP was then in poor position to fend off an attack made shortly thereafter by USN dive bombers, with the result that Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu were damaged beyond repair. Steeljaw at the USNI blog, however, has been in contact with a retired dive bomber pilot who claims that this story isn’t true. The dive and torpedo attacks did not take place is such quick succession that the absence of CAP can be pinned on the sacrifice of the torpedo bombers. The story, developed later, was in order to cover up what was a straightforward military blunder.

Take a look; it’s interesting reading.

Dreher, cont.

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

In the post Scott mentioned earlier, Dreher insists that the jarring juxtaposition that occasioned many readers to question his values and priorities, has been the subject of a significant misinterpretation. It’s the surprisingness of the “bisexuality is cool” claim that motivated his post, not it’s relative wrongness.

Many commenters remain, understandably, unpersuaded by his effort to explain his bizarre post. But it’s necessary to take Dreher at his word to fully grasp the depravity of his position. So let’s grant him: a) that a remark by one (horribly traumatized) parent is sufficient evidence to to grant that bisexuality is indeed “cool” in the high school culture of one East Texas town, and b) that while this doesn’t rise to the level of parricide in an index of moral wrongs, it is a disturbing and troubling trend that suggests something that was once right with the world has gone wrong.

The nature of the typical experience of non-heterosexual adolescents in our schools and our society is hardly a secret. The ostracization and bullying of those suspected to be non-heterosexual takes an enormous pyschological toll, and has life and death consequences, as evidenced higher rates of depression and suicide amongst non-heterosexual youth. They typically live in fear: fear that something is horribly wrong with them, fear of being rejected by their friends and family, and fear of violence. But: in one small town, at least for some non-heterosexual youth, there’s a chance this status quo might be changing. For anyone whose moral worldview contains any compassion, changes to this horrific status quo are a sign of hope. For Dreher, it’s the precise opposite.

Ask Me To Do…Well, Nothing, But Still

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

Via Hilzoy and Somerby, I’m afraid that this is not from The Onion:

My taste for luxury has evolved somewhat—I’m not nearly as taken with the M&Ms in the mini bar—but on entering a hotel room, I still immediately review the room-service menu, bask in the prospect of fresh, silky sheets, and inspect the bathroom to ensure I have fluffy, clean towels for every possible need. Then I spy one of those little placards, nestled among the tiny soaps or hanging from the towel rack, asking me to reuse my linens: “Save Our Planet … Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once … Please decide for yourself.” And, like that, my hotel buzz fizzles.

I’ll admit that I sometimes choose not to participate in this program and request fresh towels and sheets every day. Before you write in scolding me for being a wasteful person, let me qualify that by saying it’s not the program, in theory, I’m against. I’m all for saving the environment. But I don’t want to be guilt-tripped into going green. It’s the two-facedness of it that gets me—save our planet! Conserve our resources! It’s up to you, hotel guest. Forsake that washcloth (or two!), or those crisp sheets that are your right when you pay for the room, and to what end—so the hotel can save money on laundry? How many natural resources are wasted printing all of these little signs? [Now that’s a rigorous and highly plausible cost-benefit analysis! –ed.] Here’s an idea: Instead of printing out a placard for every room in the hotel, wash my towel.

Well, it’s bad enough that hotels provide the option of not having their sheets and towels washed daily for people who don’t want the service. But to note (truthfully) that their interests happen to provide environmental benefits — I think we can all agree that the managers of luxury hotels are history’s greatest monsters.

I was going to ask why on earth Slate would publish such a thing, but, I dunno, it’s kind of nice to have a definitive example of “I wish the world was a better place as long as it doesn’t affect me in any way and I don’t have to do anything or even have my pristine mind troubled by any negative facts” fake-progressivism readily at hand.

Crackpot of the Day

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

Rod Dreher.

In addition to the obvious, if you read the article that so shocked Dreher for reasons other than the people being butchered with swords in their beds, is that the the alleged “bisexual culture” he adduces at a suburban Dallas high school is about as plausible and rigorous as a Caitlin Flanagan joint. The entirety of the evidence presented is a single incident of a single woman hitting on the daughter of a man who is still outraged by the posture of his daughter’s ex-boyfriends, who infers from this that “it’s like it was almost cool to be bisexual.” If you find this convincing evidence that bisexuality is not only not stigmatized but cool in Texas high schools, please contact me about restructuring your mortgage as soon as possible.

…In fairness, as Weiner notes in comments the oral sex culture epidemic has reached even wholesome Archie comics. Horrifying!

Sunday Night Video, The Apocalypse of the Bush Era Edition

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

Siegelman’s Conviction Upheld

[ 0 ] March 9, 2009 |

Although with a couple completely evidence-free convictions overturned, and the main verdict upheld essentially because of extreme deference to the jury. The real problem here is the vagueness of the underlying law, which permitted a conviction on exceedingly thin inferential evidence. I agree with Lizardbreath that this seems like a good pardon candidate on the legal merits, although politically, I’m not so sure…


[ 0 ] March 8, 2009 |

If the critic points out that a Frederick or a Bonaparte made mistakes, it does not mean that he would not have made them too. He may even admit that in the situation of these generals he might have made far greater errors. What it does mean is that he can recognize these mistakes from the pattern of events and feels that the commander’s sagacity should have seen them as well.

–Carl Von Clausewitz, On War Book II Chapter V (Critical Analysis)

…ok, so he didn’t actually write that today. But still, seems relevant to… well, something.