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For Kids, Life Means Life

[ 25 ] January 17, 2008 |

Sentencing youthful offenders (that’s kids who are convicted for crimes) to life incarceration violates virtually every human rights norm out there. According to Human Rights Watch, there are only 7 people outside the United States who were sentenced to life in prison while minors.

Wanna guess how many kids are currently locked up for life in California alone?

227. In one single solitary state.

For the U.S. as a whole, the number of people serving life without parole for offenses committed as minors is 2,225. According to an editorial in yesterday’s LA Times (which is, I think, far surpassing its rival the NYT in terms of quality of opinion page content), not only have these kids received lifetime sentences for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 17, but they were also sentenced without the possibility of parole. Which means there is absolutely zero possibility that theyw ill leave prison alive.

As should not be surprising given the US’s record of human rights violations through incarceration (and given the numbers quoted at the top of this post), we are an outlier on this issue. Waaaaaay outlier.

And it’s yet further proof that the idea of prison as rehabilitation remains a cruel joke.

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Progressives Created Camp Delta

[ 0 ] January 17, 2008 |

Quite possibly the most backwards historical claim you’ll read all day, from You Know Who:

The progressives believed in authoritarianism and out-of-control executive power precisely because they were progressives. And the story of American liberalism in the 20th century from Wilson to FDR and from FDR to LBJ and Richard Nixon (whom I consider basically an anti-Communist liberal) is the story of ever-expanding executive power. And, today’s compassionate conservatives flirt with similar temptations.

Perhaps I missed something about the last seven years, but it seems to me that when George W. Bush spoke in 2000 of “compassionate conservatism,” he wasn’t offering vague promises to eradicate habeas rights, create lawless surveillance programs that deliberately evade Congressional or judicial oversight, or to effectively nullify legislation through executive signing statements. If Goldberg wants to call this proto-fascist, it’s really his call, but there’s certainly nothing “progressive” or “liberal” about it. Somehow, though, I don’t think this is the problem with “compassionate conservatism” that Goldberg has in mind. Rather, he’s probably thinking of folks like Mike Huckabee, whose absurd economic proposals have been inexplicably criticized as somehow “progressive” or “populist.” For Goldberg, progressive tax structures — even when they aren’t actually progressive at all — are indebted to “progressivism,” which is of course “liberal,” which is of course “fascist” and authoritarian.

That’s the best I can figure.

As for his insistence that progressives like Wilson were authoritarians who sought ever-widening executive power, I don’t even know where to begin. To the extent hat we can actually define progressivism in a coherent way, it’s safe to say that American progressives, to the contrary, were primarily interested in making democratic institutions more — not less — responsive to the public interest. This accounts for the progressive interest in ballot referenda, recall votes for elected officials, direct election of US Senators, term limitations and civil service reforms, all of which were designed to bring more — not less — public influence to bear on the state. To the degree that progressives pursued “authoritarian” strategies and “executive” power, they did so primarily out of an interest in (a) curbing what they viewed as predatory corporate power that had made captives of legislative bodies; (b) mitigating the social conditions that might lead to the sorts of popular revolutions to which economically stratified industrial societies seemed especially prone throughout the 19th century.

To that latter end especially, progressives sought factory reform, labor laws, improved zoning ordinances, as well as investigative and punitive bodies that could deal with infractions. They also regarded public education as an appropriate instrument for asserting control over working-class (and non-Anglo) urban youth — but they did so not merely out of an aggressive desire to “assimilate” the children of the “foreign-born,” but also out of a conviction that education was a means to redistribute social and economic opportunity. Progressives were also enthusiastic about the expansion and modernization of, say, municipal police forces, which they viewed as equally essential to the maintenance of the civic order — but they were also obsessed with the “professionalization” of law enforcement, which among other things meant that suspected criminals should not be tortured and held without charges or access to lawyers. To see any of this as mildly authoritarian is fine, but to link it to “out-of-control executive power” is just howlingly ignorant. The truly authoritarian solutions would have included the harassment, mass arrest and summary deportations of ideological “undesirables,” as well as the creation of chauvinistic immigration laws that deliberately excluded Asians as well as the “Slavic” and “Mediterranean” races. All of these things happened, of course, after the “liberal fascist” Wilson was either incapacitated by a stroke or gone from office and feeding carbon to the soil.

All of this underscores a simple point that for the first time in my life allows me to say that Michael Ledeen is making sense. In Ledeen’s unexpectedly brutal review of Goldberg’s book he argues that Pantload, at the end of the day, doesn’t know fuck-all about fascism. The same can be said for his observations about early 20th century American progressives.

That’s right. Jonah Goldberg is so goddamned dumb that he makes Michael “Throw a Country Against a Wall for Democracy’s Sake” Ledeen seem like a reasonably bright person.

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Reproductive Freedom (And Its Enemies) Round-Up

[ 32 ] January 17, 2008 |

Mike Huckabee:

And you also have states that not only practice abortion, but if Roe v. Wade is overturned, we haven’t won the battle. All we’ve done is now we’ve created the logic of the Civil War, which says that the right to the human life is geographical, not moral. I think that’s very problematic. That’s why I think that people like Fred Thompson are dead wrong when he says just leave that up to the states. Well, that’s again the logic of the Civil War – that slavery could be okay in Georgia but not okay in Massachusetts. Obviously we’d today say, “Well, that’s nonsense. Slavery is wrong, period.” It can’t be right somewhere and wrong somewhere else. Same with abortion.

Leaving aside the gross offensiveness of the analogy, the thing is that Huckabee is right. The “leaving abortion to the states” position makes no sense given the moral stakes involved. If women have a fundamental right to control their reproductive destinies, this right should not vanish when they cross state lines. If the small minority of people who seriously think that the fetus is a human person ever create a social consensus to this effect, conversely, it would be ridiculous for abortion to be a serious violent offense in Alabama and not only legal but state-funded in New York (particularly because as long as abortion is available in some states some women from your state will take advantage.) Which is why virtually nobody actually believes that abortion should be “left to the states” (including, of course, Fred Thompson.)

Meanwhile, abortion rates are at their lowest level since 1975. It’s important not to read too much into this data — it depends on a lot of factors — but it is true that abortion access in many states has been seriously compromised after Casey. as Melody Rose discusses here. (I reviewed her excellent book on the subject here.) I think one of the biggest issues in reproductive freedom is the availability of RU-486, which is the most promising way of addressing geographic disparities in abortion providers and arbitrary legal regulations.

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Spinning For Rudy!

[ 2 ] January 17, 2008 |

I see some of the passengers on Rudy!’s sinking boat are once again claiming that he didn’t compete in any of the early states, and the authors of the article let this pass without comment. The main problem with this argument is that it isn’t true. In fairness, I guess you can’t expect his supporters to just tell the press “the more people see of NineEleven, the less they like him,” but it wouldn’t hurt for the reporter covering the story to point out little details like the large amount of time and money Giuliani spent in New Hampshire.

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Cold Soup

[ 6 ] January 17, 2008 |

When I see that someone has combined 1)the debate forum capability of usenet with 2)the High Broderite idea that we need to “come together” or some such expressed in the underused metaphor of “blue” and “red” states, I frankly don’t understand why we haven’t solved global warming when we’re capable of such remarkable innovations.

Is intrade taking bets on the date that the whole site turns into a “Draft Donald Trump” organization?

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And I Hear He Once Killed a Bear with His Bare Hands

[ 0 ] January 17, 2008 |

David Petraeus and I wear the same running shoes, but the similarities end there. Runner’s World, via Danger Room:

Today, he arrives for his workout at precisely 6:30 a.m., ready to hit the road in his New Balance 992s and an Army T-shirt. The subject quickly turns to running. “When we bring a new guy in, I take him out for a run,” says Petraeus. “I’ll go out hard, then ramp it up around five miles to try to waste him”… Of the 21 soldiers who began the 5.7-mile loop, only four (including Nordby and Martins) hang with Petraeus to the finish. He comes in at a pace under six minutes per mile, impressive for a guy with a metal plate in his pelvis and a gunshot wound on his chest (courtesy of a training accident).

I often force my graduate assistants to hold to a grueling 6 minutes per kilometer pace, sometimes for as long as two kilometers…

…comment of the day from Treb: “Please tell me he’s wearing pants.”

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Cross of Gold

[ 0 ] January 17, 2008 |

Stupid question here from someone whose knowledge of markets is roughly equivalent to his comprehension of particle physics:

Why, as I’m listening to right-wing radio — which I do more often than I care to admit — do I constantly hear advertisements urging me to sink my fortunes into gold? It’s uncanny. I understand that gold prices have risen and the dollar is teh suck, but when I hear someone pitching gold on AM radio, I can’t help but think I might as well be considering an investment in magic beans.

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In Case You Weren’t Aware, Prison Is a Bad Place for Women

[ 15 ] January 16, 2008 |

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: prison is not a fun place to be for anyone, but especially not for women. Why is it so bad for women, you ask?

Well, for one thing, because of drug war policies that have a disproportionate impact on women, more women than ever are ending up in America’s prisons and jails.

And once they’re there, the conditions are even worse than the horrid conditions in men’s prisons. In some states, there is so little room available in women’s prisons, that women are being randomly assigned to men’s prisons, where they are segregated, their freedom of movement is even more limited, and they face other discrimination with regard to the availability of education, job training, etc.

But wait! There’s more! Around the country, incarcerated women face being raped and sexually abused by the men “guarding” them. As detailed in a recent RH Reality Check column (reposted on AlterNet), guard-on-prisoner sexual assault occurs frequently. Sometimes, the guards do not even seek consent. Other times, the guards bribe women for sex, allowing them to have cigarettes, books, and other privileges. In those situations, though there may be “consent,” there is no real consent because the women have no real option other than to say yes. “No” could mean retaliation including (but not limited to) loss of privileges and embarrassing searches. And should a woman report that she has been assaulted, she is often placed in solitary confinement “for her own protection.”

To make matters worse, birth control and emergency contraception are rarely available to incarcerated women, abortion can be difficult (to impossible) to obtain (barring a lawsuit), and children are – almost without exception- removed from their incarcerated mothers immediately after birth (which, itself, often happens in shackles).

All of which is to say this: as long as we’re incarcerating women in such great numbers (which I obviously think we shouldn’t be, but that’s for another post), we have got to be more attentive to treating them better. Just because they’re hidden away behind barbed wire and guard towers doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

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Bush to Whales: Drop Dead

[ 0 ] January 16, 2008 |

Sonar kills whales, but the Navy wants to use sonar in exercises to prove strike group readiness, because sonar also (indirectly) kills submarines. Some discussion of this came up last year in response to a Marc Kaufman article on the effects of sonar on whale populations. Specifically, the Navy wants to conduct sonar exercises off the coast of Southern California, because of some coastal conditions and because the multiple bases and airfields in Southern Cal afford the opportunity for particularly intense exercises.

Because of the potential threat to whale populations, the exercise plans came into some conflict with the Coastal Zone Management Act and the National Environmental Protection Act. Earlier this month, a federal court established strict restrictions on the Navy’s ability to conduct these exercises. The President, however, has determined that these restrictions threaten national security. Accordingly, the Navy doesn’t have to abide by them.

In its defense, the Navy does take some measures to prevent damage to whale populations, and its argument about the necessity of sonar training isn’t absurd on its face. I suspect, however, that the whales will draw little comfort from the fact that the sonar we’re killing them with is protecting their freedom.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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Limbaugh vs. McCain

[ 34 ] January 16, 2008 |

I agree with Ezra that Rush Limbaugh announcing a war against not only Huckabee but McCain seems significant — barring some miracle like Fred Thompson being discovered alive the GOP establishment is going to rally around Romney, although McCain’s background is substantially more conservative on balance. (McCain, apparently, can’t be forgiven his momentary dalliance with fiscal sanity and his offenses against the Bush cult.) While Romney should be favored for the nomination, I don’t think this settles the question: McCain would have no more chance against a credible establishment-approved orthodox conservative than he did in 2000, but remains alive because there’s isn’t one in the race.

All of this looks promising for the Democrats, even though I think that the negative effects of a long primary per se are overstated. If the establishment candidate wins, this is good because either Clinton or Obama should beat him easily, and if it comes to that he seems like the least bad president of the awful GOP field. If he doesn’t, McCain is a more viable nominee in theory, but he would win with many powerful elements of his party bitter about his victory; that seems like a pretty promising worst-case scenario for the Democrats.

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 37

[ 31 ] January 16, 2008 |

One of the great traitors of the Civil War era, John Cabell Breckinridge, was cut loose into the world on this date in 1821.

Born less than a year after the Missouri Compromise, which prohibited slavery in most of the Louisiana territories, Breckinridge came to despise the arrangement, believing it had unfairly prohibited slaveholders from transporting and enjoying their property wherever they chose. His views on state sovereignty were derived from his grandfather, for whom he was named. As a state representative, the elder John Breckinridge had introduced a famous resolution in 1798 asserting the fiction that individual states had a constitutional right to nullify federal laws. The Kentucky Resolution, along with its companion in Virginia, became one of the pole stars for states’ rights ideologues throughout the 19th century. Over the next several decades, the Breckinridge family itself divided into uncomfortable factions over this very issue. When South Carolina attempted to invalidate a federal tariff law in 1832, Robert Breckinridge — young John’s uncle — voted to condemn the act in Kentucky’s legislature, arguing in effect that his own father had been mistaken to assert the right of nullification.

As a member of the third generation of Kentucky’s royal family, John C. Breckinridge was an ambitious and successful lawyer who scaled the state’s political ladder to the US Congress, where he represented the 8th District during some of the more tumultuous years of the 1850s. In 1854, Breckinridge joyfully voted to approve the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the 1820 Compromise and turned the Kansas territory into a magnet for pro-slavery goons and abolitionist messiahs like John Brown.

Having done his part to further sectional hostilities over the extension of slavery, Breckinridge ascended to the executive branch, where he served as helpmate to James Buchanan, inarguably one of the worst presidents in the nation’s history. Less than a week after his inauguration to office as Vice President, Breckinridge yelped with glee as the Supreme Court issued its ruling on a case involving a slave named Dred Scott. Indeed, he was so thrilled with the court’s ruling that he paid to have copies of Roger Taney’s majority opinion printed and scattered across his home state.

Following his term as Vice President, Breckinridge and his pro-slavery Southern partisans cleaved the Democratic Party in two for the election of 1860. His futile campaign for the presidency assured Abraham Lincoln’s election. When his own state chose not to join the movement for secession, Breckinridge — by then occupying a seat in the US Senate — defied the majority sentiments of his fellow Kentuckians (including his uncle Robert) and vocally supported the Confederacy in its armed rebellion against the Union. In so doing, Breckinridge set forth the novel argument that “the United States no longer exists,” that the withdrawal of twelve states had “dissolved” the Constitution and that the federal government no longer had any power to conduct business. In disbelief that his state would not endorse or join the Confederacy, Breckinridge insisted that Kentucky had been taken over by pro-Union conspirators.

Predictably evicted from office by his Senate colleagues and made an “orphan” by the state of Kentucky, Breckinridge proudly accepted “the musket of a soldier” and fought in defense of chattel slavery. When the end of the war at last arrived in April 1865, Breckinridge held a dispiriting post as Secretary of War. As much as anyone in the Confederacy, John Breckinridge deserved to wear a hemp necklace; after several years of exile in Cuba, Canada and the UK, however, he received a grant of amnesty and returned home in 1869. Twelve years after his death, a statue in Breckinridge’s honor was cast in front of the Fayette County courthouse in Lexington.

Last year, Raoul Vega — a sporadic blogger from the Lexington area — offered this sensible appraisal of the monument :

What I would like to see more than anything else would be the destruction, Saddam style, of the statue of Breckinridge. It might be replaced with some other worthy Kentuckian, or even with Abraham Lincoln, who was, after all, born in the state. Cassius Marcellus Clay, an abolitionist born in Kentucky and educated at Transylvania University, would be one option. Barring that, I’d like this added to his statue:

JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE

BELIEVED THAT THE RIGHT OF WHITE PEOPLE TO OWN BLACK PEOPLE WAS WORTH KILLING FOR

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Annals of Obscurity

[ 20 ] January 16, 2008 |

I just sent off what I hope were the final revisions to an article that was graciously accepted for publication by a journal in my field. I wrote the initial draft from August-October 2004; completed and revised it in mid-2005; shopped it around to two different journals over the next two years; and received an acceptance with mild revisions in September. The article will likely appear sometime in early 2009, at which point at least a half-dozen people will actually read it.

Really, you’d think fascist academic types would be a little more nimble than this.

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