MAY
06
2007
Four More Years

Today is this blog’s fourth birthday, and as you can see, I’ve done a bit of a redesign. The old design was intentionally cluttered, because that’s how my desk looks. But I figured that, as I say at the bottom of all my e-mails, “non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitam,” which means not to multiply entities beyond necessity. It’s Ockham’s Razor (a.k.a. Occam’s Razor), a principle devised by a 14th-century English monk. Today, we say, “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

I’m No Liberal

Not that I think ‘liberal’ is a dirty word, as the right has managed to convince America. It’s just that from my ideological perch to the left of both parties, I’m free to point out hypocrisy on either side. So today, just to let everyone know where I stand, it’s time for some internecine sniping.

I’d like to think that I take no prisoners, but I have my own agenda here. Leftists don’t win victories by leaning on conservatives—that’s how liberals get want they want. Leftists win favorable policy outcomes by leaning on liberals.

Let’s look, for example, at Hilary Clinton. I was doing just that, watching a somewhat unfortunate jump cut from her speech on the Senate floor in October 2002 voting for the war “with conviction” to the speech she gave last week explaining why she wants to “sunset” the AUMF.

It looked as though in a split second, the proud erect Senator in 2002 got four inches shorter. Four-and-a-half years ago, she was upright and proud to do her liberal inverventionalist duty in liberating the Iraqi people. In 2007 she looks browbeaten, slouching under the weight of the unpopularity of that very vote. She looks as though she’s literally kowtowing to anti-war voters, expaseratedly explaining why we should pass a non-binding resolution on a non-withdrawal plan which would keep a few score troops in Iraq instead of just… well, doing nothing, and defunding the war by this summer. How easy is that, Congress? It could not physically be any easier to bring the troops home this summer! And then you can come to the American people and say, “you elected us to stop the war and we did it—now give us the chance to finish fixing everything Bush screwed up.”

But of course the Democrats aren’t going to defund the war. they’re going to cave, and the reason is that the party is infested with moderates.

Clinton, and here I mean either one of them, is a self-proclaimed “moderate,” but in international relations terms, both the Clintons and the Bushes are ‘liberals’ who believe in interventionalism and the right of the more powerful countries to use military force to influence the internal affairs of another country.

Nowadays nobody even knows what ‘liberal’ and conservative’ mean anymore. Even conservatives are confused—here’s Charles Krauthammer last week:

The decision to go to war was made by a war cabinet consisting of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. No one in that room could even remotely be considered a neoconservative. Nor could the most important non-American supporter of the war to this day — Tony Blair, father of new Labor. …Everyone has the right to renounce past views. But not to make up that past. It is beyond brazen to think that one can get away with inventing not ancient history but what everyone saw and read with their own eyes just a few years ago. And yet sometimes brazenness works.

I was going to try and figure out if there was some hidden nuance to Krauthammer’s position, but when I Googled “Krauthammer neoconservative” I came up with the following gem from a column he wrote in 2005:

The current practitioners of neoconservative foreign policy are George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld.

Charles, you should really get back in touch with yourself… don’t be so remote. OK, so you can’t call “current practitioners” neoconservatives, which I guess proves that neoconservatism is just a crazy theory no rational person could believe is for real. These are not the droids you are looking for, American people!

Only kidding, Dr. Krauthammer; the next line does merit repeating:

They have no history in the movement, and before 9/11 had little affinity to or affiliation with it.

As if that was the problem.

Olmert, Blair Out—What About Bush?

Parliamentary forms of government are better at some things than others. Ironically, they’re often more representative than the American system (which was built as a reaction to the then-less democratic Westminster parliament) because of the way recall works differently in the two systems.

The institution of parliament is more democratic because it was based on the aristocracy, but evolved actual democratic features over time. The American system (I call it the Funkadelic model to distinguish it from parliament) happens to be stuck in a curious sort of amber when it comes to democracy. A few improvements and the extension of suffrage aside, it’s very hard to recall your elected officials in our government. As Paul Q. Hirst (himself an Englishman) once wrote,

The effectiveness of legislative bodies cannot be assessed in terms of their ‘representativeness’, in the sense of purporting to represent the wills or interests of a constituency from which is derived the mandate or membership of the body. Ironically, doctrines of parliamentary and popular democracy both involve this concept of ‘representation’: it serves to legitimate the claim of legislative bodies to be ‘sovereign’, unlimited in their right to make rules because they are the authentic expressions of majority will.

In other words, the presumption that elected officials represent ‘the people’ also gives them complete license to ignore the people while they legislate. In a parliamentary system, elections can be called at any time and a vote of no confidence is much easier and more frequent than an impeachment.

So Blair is stepping down because he’s no longer effective as a leader, and George Bush is a lame duck. If Prime Minsters can’t get legislation passed, they have to resign; Bush is just getting started with the vetoes. Likewise, Bush, his wife and his dog could be the only ones in the country supporting his war policy and we’d still have troops, as Barney himself has said.

By the way, Fox News raised the specter of a lawsuit by the President if the Democrats don’t come up with the war funding—hilarious!

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, meanwhile, has been hit with his own 9/11-Commission-like report by the Israeli government that basically accused him of carrying on as though he were president Bush. An editorial in Ha’aretz said, matter-of-factly,

We already knew the facts We did not need to wait to read in the report that Olmert was hasty, acted without proper judgment and was led into things to know that Olmert is the very last type of leader Israel needs today.

We did not need to wait for the long list of investigations into corruption and unethical behavior to know that in January last year a money- and real estate-loving lawyer took over – someone who particularly loves his rich friends.

We did not need to see the long line of suspects and interogatees that reached a peak under Olmert to feel that the State of Israel is gradually being transferred to the hands of cynical gangs with a low standard of management and leadership.

We did not need to wait because all this evil and disease did not start with Olmert, and not even with Sharon. They only brought it to a new level.

So why do we want Olmert to quit and the Knesset to be dissolved now? For one simple reason: the opportunity exists.

Sound familiar? If only the Democrats could get their act together, I’d have more respect for ‘liberals.’ More on this later.

Snowballs In Hell

Mark your calendars, I agree with President Bush and disagree with just about everyone on the left on something, and that is hate crimes legislation.

I know it seems like blasphemy (which I have no problem with), but hate crimes legislation is legally dubious. More importantly, it’s not a good idea. And it demonstrates, by the way, one of the problems with Bill Clinton-style liberalism as I see it.

I’m against hate crimes legislation for several reasons, but let’s start with equal protection under the law. As a matter of fact, my position on civil unions is fairly analogous here—civil unions and hate crimes legislation are actual examples of those ‘special rights’ we keep hearing about from the right. Instead, I firmly support gay marriage and keeping assault and attempted assault felonies, no matter who the victim or the perpetrator are. There’s also the argument, which I believe has some merit, that hate crimes are also unconstitutional in the sense that they comprise ‘double jeopardy,’ being tried once for the crime of actual assault, and once for being a racist, which is not, technically illegal.

But there’s a much better reason for opposing hate crimes legislation than its legal merits, which, as Orcinus points out, are now enshrined in legal precedent anyway. Likewise, not all crimes are hate crimes, but I’d certainly say that assault is almost always a ‘hate’ crime of one type or another. And I would be remiss not to point out that a large portion of the bill as it stands has to do with directing federal resources to combat hate crime, which I think is a very good idea. The problem with hate crimes is its punitive philosophy.

For defendants, the upshot of all this legislation is increased jail time if you are found guilty of assault, attempted assault, murder, etc. and you are found to have committed the crime as the result of a particular set of biases. That’s about as much thought goes into it—racist should get extra jail time, and balance is restored, right? It’s not only liberals who have this “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality, but you’d think they know better. The question is—does putting racists in jail for a few more years help the larger problem of racism in America?

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of sad, stooped middle-aged men on the subway who have just gotten out of prison. Prison tattoos are distinctive; the faded ink, the crooked lettering, and particularly the location are dead giveaways. Often I’ll see a guy adjust his shirtsleeves to hid someone’s name or initials crudely inked on the top of their hand between the thumb and forefinger. I have to cop to feeling nervous every time I see someone walking down the street with a tear tattoo—it means they killed someone in prison. Several tears mean more than one victim.

Let’s take a hypothetical case. One teenager beats up a teenager of another race in a street altercation. Bias prosecutions usually don’t just work on the basis of offender-victim racial comparisons prima facie, but let’s say the aggressor has a copy of The Turner Diaries or Message To The Blackman In America in his bag when the police pick him up. So the DA turns assault into aggravated assault with bias to prove that the county is serious about preventing hate crimes, and the kid who might have otherwise turned his life around in college or the army or wherever now gets sent away for a long time, to a suitable secure prison. Since he’s in for hate crimes, his only practical protection option is the Aryan Brotherhood, who are always recruiting. The problem is, in order to join the Brotherhood, you have to kill someone, and you can be killed for trying to leave—”blood in, blood out.” The Brotherhood operates both in and out of prison, by the way. So whereas you might have had a curious teenager who grows out of this kind of thing, now you have a dangerous racist career criminal for life.

By focusing on punishment as opposed to rehabilitation, hate crimes legislation commits the same fallacy as the War on Drugs. No matter how long you lock up one dealer, it won’t stop the societal problem, and you can get drugs just as easily in prison as outside. People who enter prison clean often leave addicts of one kind or another. Also, I don’t mean to be crude, but going to prison for violent homophobia is its own reward, no matter how long you get sent away.

Getting tougher on crime by increasing prison time may have created the burgeoning corrections industry in the U.S., but it’s not clear whether society, victims, or criminals are being helped by it. Harsher punishments evoke a gut reaction, but their value is overrated and often destructive.

For example, in some countries, both rape and murder are punishable by death. what ends up happening is that every rape becomes a rape-murder, because there’s no distinction between them. Likewise, the death penalty itself (the harshest sentence the state can grant) doesn’t do anything to suppress the murder rate in states that have it. That’s because most murders are either crimes of passion (unplanned), or planned beforehand, which almost always means they’re committed by someone who thinks they won’t get caught in the first place.

Now, the double jeopardy argument could be sidestepped by having hate crimes offenders take mandatory counseling or community service and so forth. But that’s not what these bills do—instead, they just harden racists and add to racial tension in this country. Look, I do not endorse hate crimes or hate criminals, but when something isn’t going to work it isn’t going to work.

Now, James Dobson and all those people who want Bush to veto the bill before Congress as promised are the last people I want to protect, but freedom of conscience is more important than even the kulturkampf.

Ignoramus In The Morning

Speaking of racism, I did want to mention the broader implications for society as a result of the probable end of Imus’ TV and radio career. They’re all good, by the way.

Treach said it best: “If you’ve never been to the ghetto, don’t ever come to the ghetto. ‘Cause you wouldn’t understand the ghetto.” I always begin by taking people at their word, so let’s, for a moment, assume that Imus was just trying to appropriate black vernacular to point out that… um… well, to say something of import about the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team. Was this just a gaffe? Does Imus deserve to lose his show over it? After all, he didn’t do anything illegal.

I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. What matters is the translation into ‘white’ English, or what the uninitiated call ‘context.’ Would anyone have an issue with Imus being fired for saying,

IMUS: “Those young women from Rutgers are some violent criminals and/or porn stars. They have tattoos.” Sidekick: “Some black prostitutes.”

Imus: “Those are some distinctively black prostitutes there, I’m going to tell you that.”

As a general rule, if you don’t know what you’re saying, you probably shouldn’t talk about it.

Now, can we reasonably conclude that Don Imus is a racist? Can we conclude from a single, off-handed reference that Imus harbors a deep-seated suspicion or animosity towards a particular ethnic group? Or should we really look at the balance of the man’s record before we pass a final judgment? The answer to all of these questions is yes.

Now, Imus got himself into real trouble by digging deeper and deeper every time he talked about it. Viz, his appearance on Al Sharpton’s radio show, where he told a black journalist, bizarrely,

Let me tell you, I’ll bet you I’ve slept in a house with more black children who were not related to me than you have.

So Imus got fired and is now suing CBS for breach of contract. He maintains, as commentators have been saying all along, that part of his job description (and apparently his actual contract) stipulates that he be “controversial.” This is a far cry from protecting the free speech of someone censored by a corporation for speaking truth to power, for example. This guy is a paid provocateur, and he wants his $40 million.

Imus aside, the incident has prompted a growing debate in this country about the acceptance of these kinds of slurs, even extending to black rap artists like Snoop Dogg. Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote back when this all started,

Now that Imus is officially out, the question is will Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the civil rights leaders, black professional and women’s groups march on say a company such as Koch Records and demand that they pull Snoop Dogg’s forthcoming album, The Big Squeeze? They should, and that means ignoring Snoop’s loud protest that he’s no Don Imus. He’s not, he’s worse.

While Imus’s “nappy headed hos” slur has been plastered all over creation, the “B” “H,” and expletive-laced rant that Snoop unleashed against Imus, has barely got a squint of mention.

In a perverse sense, though, they got it right. Imus paid the price for his bile. On the other hand, Snoop and his buddies simply have upped the price for their records, and profit from them. As long as the outcry from civil rights groups, and blacks remains feeble, scattered, and disjointed, they will continue to jingle the cash registers while self-righteously defying anyone to compare them to Imus.

Imus demeaned a basketball team; Snoop and his pals have demeaned a whole generation of young blacks, and especially young black women, and blacks have let them get away with it. That’s why Imus is their Frankenstein.

And in the time since that piece was written, civil rights groups did infact march on record company offices and Russel Simmons pledged to work to bleep some more words from the “cleaned-up” versions of rap singles and videos.

Look, even Snoop knows he fucked up. His punishment is to hear white suburbanites call him “my nizzle” for the rest of his life. The word everyone here is trying to avoid, by the way, is commodification. Rappers are marketing a product not just to black audiences, but to white audiences, who make up the majority of sales. They’re making a buck off presenting black culture in a certain light.

Rappers protest that they are just reflecting the reality of the streets, and they’re right. Geoffrey Canada noted that what hip-hop has become influenced by prison culture. When it comes to which rappers get picked up and promoted by record companies. We must also realize that ss long as there are gangsters, and likely long afterwards, there will be gangsta rap.

At least this is about corporate speech; thankfully no one has yet suggested the government get involved. Imus would have had to flash a breast, which is really hard to get kicked off for doing on the radio (Howard Stern has been trying for years). If you want your obscenity, you’ll probably have to leave the planet—extraterrestrial radio, and/or the global sewage drain that is the internet. That’s where Imus and his fans are going to end up. Mainstream culture will have moved on.

What’s at stake here are ‘community standards’ for acceptable speech. These are goalposts which are constantly being moved, and so it’s always going to thin out these dinosaurs like Imus or Howard Cosell at or near the point where public patience wears thin for this kind of crap. It’s particularly prevalent with white male sportscasters, because sports are a traditional bastion of privilege which is still accessible to otherwise marginal whites; as I outlined in a post I wrote entitled The Angry White Men,

A side note about white supremacist movements: Of course, the those most likely to suffer from this minor shift of political balance-of-power are the whites at the periphery of power, the working class whites of the type who are drawn to white power movements. These movements seek to regain that colonial advantage which would let their race’s weakest to enjoy their previous advantages over other races’ strongest.

There has always been speech considered ‘beyond the pale’ of network radio and television. Think of it as a national ‘community standard,’ not exactly legally defined, but we know it when we see it, to paraphrase that famous obscenity ruling. The standards for punishment are similar to the distinction between criminal and civil lawsuits. To bring all of this full circle, the civil courts are where to take hate crimes stuff, because that’s how our courts are set up to handle things like bias crimes.




 

 
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