Cruel? Sure, but How Unusual?

Alito’s overlooked, important dissent on juvenile sentencing 

AP Images
One of the most interesting dynamics on the Roberts Court is the emerging rivalry between Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito for intellectual leadership of the conservative wing. From time to time, Alito openly mocks Scalia’s “originalist” philosophy (see, for example, his concurrence in United States v. Jones , ridiculing the idea that “eighteenth-century tort law” can decide questions about global positioning technology). It’s a generation thing: Alito is a callow 62 to Scalia’s 76. Like young folk everywhere, he’s embarrassed for his friends to see him in public with crazy Uncle Nino. So spare Alito a shred of empathy for what happened during the opinions session Monday. For the first time in his tenure, Alito delivered a dissent from the bench. It was a stem-winder, too—largely ad lib, intemperate, and dripping with scorn for the Court’s majority. Yet Scalia’s bizarre electioneering rant against Obama the same day is now the talk of the legal nerdosphere. The outrage...

Why Does The Atlantic Hate Women?

The picture alone filled me with dread: a baby in a briefcase. (Do go look at Jessica Valenti’s hilarious compilation of images from this genre.) That sick feeling only increased when I got to the hideous ­headline: “ Why Women Still Can’t Have It All .” There they go again! Once again, The Atlantic has put on its spike heels to gleefully dance on feminism’s head, this time reviving the imagery of the “ mommy wars ” while trotting out an astounding successful woman to bemoan her failure. Veteran journalist Caryl Rivers has accurately diagnosed this as “ The Atlantic ’s Woman Problem .” Someone there doesn’t like us, except when we’re agonizingly single, or home with our babies, or killing off men’s careers. Someone there got stuck on some 1980s Time magazine misinterpretation of feminism as exhorting us all to be “career women” (does anyone really use that term?) in shoulder pads and sad little bowties, leaving our babies home alone, refrigerator open, to fend for themselves while we...

Almost Time To Go Back to the Boy Scouts

Last week, I was a guest at the LGBT Connect day at Netroots Nation, meeting all kindsa people I've mostly encountered online. You know how these kinds of conferences go: glasses are hoisted, gossip is swapped, and you learn the story behind the story. While there, I learned that the Boy Scouts are "reviewing" their anti-gay policy—a first step to rejecting it. You remember their policy, right? No atheists, no gays. They went to the Supreme Court in 2000 to defend that exclusion, winning the right to be wrong in a 5-4 decision penned by Rehnquist and joined by Kennedy. (Trivia: B oy Scouts of America v. Dale was argued on the LGBT side by Evan Wolfson, who then left Lambda Legal to found and run Freedom to Marry .) But 12 years has gone by, and the social tide has turned. And so the Boy Scouts are starting to clear their throats publicly in the direction of change, in official discussions like this one with David Crary, social issues reporter at the AP (who, by the way, I rely on on...

Ho-Hum, Another Day, Another DOMA Defeat

How boring are marriage equality wins now? So boring that yesterday's DOMA defeat isn't even on The New York Times home page this morning, as I write this. And yet it's a big deal. Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer were together for 44 years. (Do go see the adorable movie about their life together; they're a very cute couple.) They married in Canada in 2007, a marriage that was recognized by their home state of New York. But when Thea died, the federal government taxed Edie on her estate as if they were strangers. The ACLU brought the suit, there were some private grumbles that there were already plenty of DOMA lawsuits and that a plaintiff as well-off as Windsor wouldn't be sympathetic—but I don't think anyone wants a widow stripped of property that she's treated as her own for decades. And in any case, there are so many lawsuits at this point, who even notices the plaintiffs? Yesterday, a federal district court judge in New York ruled that, at least in this case, DOMA's Section 3 "does...

A Mayor for the Occupy Set

Jefferson Smith isn't planning to shed his activist and political organizer cred if elected to run Portland.

(Flickr / hotshot977)
In the early 2000s, Jefferson Smith grew a reputation in progressive grassroots political circles as the hulking 6’ 3” strawberry-blond force of nature behind Oregon’s The Bus Project , a non-profit merry band of allies named for a 1978 touring coach bought on eBay, which busied itself , training scores of young people in the mechanics of democracy, signing up tens of thousands of new voters, and selling t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Vote, F*cker.” In 2008, Smith won election to the Oregon House of Representatives, where he memorably convinced colleagues on both sides of the aisle to Rickroll the chamber , one word at a time. A well-styled and widely-circulated TED talk last summer on the structural opportunities of politics in the public interest added to his mainstream credibility as a big thinker. In some liberal circles, Smith, now 38, is the embodiment of the promise of netroots-generation politics: the idea that, as the Bus Project puts it, “democracy works best when more...

Payback Time

Here's how it works: Little red riding hood gets abused at home. Then she meets the man of her dreams. (Sometimes this happens after she runs away to escape the abuse, since wolves hang out in bus stations, scanning for prey. Or maybe it happens outside her middle school for delinquent girls. Opportunities are many.) Wolf showers girl with attention, love, sexual passion—all the things she's been starved for all her life. Then, after a few weeks, he asks her to prove her love by going out on the street or meeting men solicited on , where code words are used to signal that she's well under 18, so they can pay for their apartment, or food, or whatever it might be. Within another few weeks, her body is being sold eight to twelve hours a day. Her captivity is enforced by violence, isolation, coercion, branding, and constant supervision. After awhile, she's convinced that she's worthless, that no one else will ever love her, that police will arrest her and civilians would...

Young, Restless, and Not Voting

(Flickr/Matt Ortega)
This week, as the general election campaign “ramps up” for the umpteenth time, President Barack Obama has been conspicuous about talking to the young folks of America. He’s gone where they congregate—college campuses to talk about student loans and on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to slow jam the news and stand next to “The Roots,” absorbing their cool by osmosis. In the last presidential election, young Americans ate up the heaping spoonfuls of hope served to them by the Obama campaign— 66 percent of 18-29 year olds voted for him, while John McCain got only 32 percent of the same demographic. By comparison, in 2004 , 54 percent of the same age group went for John Kerry, 45 percent for George W. Bush. But the youth of 2012 are a bit more pessimistic than they were in 2008. According to a poll released late last week, 61 percent of college-age Millennials (the futuristic-sounding name given to the generation born in the late 1980s and early 1990s) are registered to vote, but only 46...

I Went to School for This?

A broader approach is needed to give students with debt the same opportunities their parents had.

For those who make the investment, college graduation is supposed to signify the transition from training for life to living it. But for many young adults in the class of 2012, this year’s ceremony will be more like an anticlimax. According to a new analysis of government data by the Associated Press , more than half of young college grads are either not working or working in jobs that don’t offer them enough hours, enough pay, or the promise of a future career. The AP reports: Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs -- waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example -- and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans. The report reveals a harsh reality for students, their parents, and an economy that needs trained workers in high-skill jobs. Today, young people facing job and income insecurity put off decisions that were once the hallmarks of maturity, such...

Tennessee Lawmakers Tackle Sagging Pants

(Flickr/ Tobyotter)
Tennessee's lawmakers have been on a roll with vital pieces of legislation, necessary to the well-being of their residents. There's the bill to protect teachers who tell students that scientific ideas like evolution and climate change aren't necessarily true . There's the bill to ensure public buildings can display the Ten Commandments (and other "historically significant documents") if they choose. But now, they've really hit the meat of important issues with a bill to outlaw saggy pants. The bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, creates a statewide dress code for public-school students , making it illegal to dress in an "indecent manner." In addition to sagging pants, sports bras may also be under threat, as the legislation forbids showing "underwear or body parts" if it "disrupts the learning environment." (As I remember high school, body parts seemed to distract and disrupt even when covered.) But despite the measures passing with overwhelming support (unanimously in...

Son, You Could Be Trayvon

I’m furious that Trayvon Martin is getting blamed for his own murder. If smoking pot in high school were an executable offense, as the Miami Herald seems to suggest, we would cut the U.S. population by about a third. Add tardiness to the list—again, as the Miami Herald seems to be doing—and I believe we could eliminate Social Security entirely. How was a young man shot and killed and the man who did it still hasn’t been arrested or charged? Does anyone believe for a minute that if things were reversed—if Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman—that Martin would be walking around free? (By the way, don’t miss Charles Blow grilling Joe Oliver, George Zimmerman’s acquaintance, on MSNBC; he starts about 8:33 minutes in.) Why, with someone dead, with the evidence of Zimmerman’s past vigilantism and domestic-violence charges and arrests and anger-management courses, with those horrifying 911 tapes, and all the rest, why is the man still walking around free? Look, Zimmerman may not be...

Occupy's Return From Hibernation

The movement will next take on foreclosures.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
As winter fades, the Occupy Wall Street movement is heating up again. But don’t expect the same focus on physical encampments and rowdy protests. While the blood of the 99 percent is still boiling at the injustice of growing inequality, in organizing meetings and workgroups, cooler heads are prevailing. This is Occupy 2.0—the mainstreaming of momentum. From my conversations with Occupy organizers and supporters, my sense is that the main thrust of organizing energy and attention will go toward Occupy Our Homes — a coalition of Occupy activists joining with existing grassroots groups to support families that are facing foreclosure or have been evicted by big banks. Prioritizing Occupy Our Homes is great choice for two reasons. First, the foreclosure crisis is immense and growing. Despite the recent mortgage settlement with state attorneys general that will grant 750,000 foreclosed-upon families a whopping $2,000 each (!), 4.2 million families have already been foreclosed upon during...

The Fashion Week Bill of Rights

Two veteran runway models work to bring safe labor practices to the glamour industry.

(AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
At the height of the 1990s supermodel boom, Linda Evangelista famously said of herself and her catwalk colleagues, “We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.” While Evangelista and her cohort, which now includes household names like Gisele Bundchen and Heidi Klum, commanded six-figures for their photo shoots, the reality for most working models then and now is that they earn close to the minimum wage and face long hours in unregulated working conditions. Models, many of whom are teenage girls, are also vulnerable to sexual harassment and pressure to pose nude. Tired of the exploitative conditions they faced as models, runway veterans Sarah Ziff and Jenna Sauers are launching Model Alliance , to coincide with Fall 2012 New York Fashion Week, which wrapped up this week. The nonprofit aims to bring protections to the industry and has partnered with the Fordham University Fashion Law Institute to craft the regulations. “There is a sense that fashion is frivolous, and that encourages...

Couture's Chinese Culture Shock

Chinese luxury consumers are becoming an important market but fashion's racial stereotypes persist.

AP Images
We’re witnessing a remarkable shift in China’s relationship to global fashion: once “the world’s factory,” in Asian American fashion scholar Thuy Linh N. Tu’s words, China is now poised to be the world’s mall. While China remains a poor country with an average annual per capita consumption of $2,500 (in contrast, the U.S. per capita average is $30,000), China’s rising number of millionaires and the Internet-enabled diffusion of Western fashion consumer culture are quickly transforming the communist nation into what The New York Times has called “The Shoppers’ Republic of China.” Today, young Chinese—like Lu Jing, a 22-year-old Beijing resident who told the China Daily that she earns $943 a month and saved up for a $3,200 Louis Vuitton handbag by surviving on instant noodles and taking public transportation—make up an new consumer class. Fashionistas between 20 and 30 years old are buying luxury fashion and micro-blogging about it on Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter) where...

Missing the Arab Awakening

Fears of radical Islam and a depleted budget may keep the U.S. from shepherding a Middle Eastern transition to democracy.

On January 25, Egyptians marked the one-year anniversary of their revolution with another massive demonstration in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of what has become known variously as the Arab Spring, the Arab Awakening, or the Arab Uprising. Whatever term one chooses for the events that began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor in December 2010 and soon swept through Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria—the last year has marked a decisive shift in the modern history of the Arab world. Though the situations in different countries have and will continue to take different paths, the people of the region have voiced their unmistakable rejection of the political and economic arrangements that have dominated their countries for decades. But what of the United States' role in the current era of transition? As I wrote in The American Prospect one year ago, the Egyptian uprisings offered President Barack Obama an opportunity to make good on the unfulfilled promise of his historic June...

Occupying Grand Central Station

OWS rings in the new year with a fight against NDAA.

Sargeant Shamar Thomas protests against NDAA Tuesday at Grand Central Station.
Five hundred people returned to Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve, with drums, chants of "Whose Year? Our Year!", and a tent, which they say they gave to police in exchange for entrance to the park. An hour before midnight, police and occupiers attempting to remove metal barricades around Zuccotti had a violent confrontation and, by 1:30 a.m., police had cleared activists from the park. Tuesday, occupiers mobilized against the National Defense Authorization Action signed by President Obama on New Year's Eve. After a lunchtime march to the offices of New York senators, occupiers gathered in the Grand Central train station, where multiple people were arrested while leading "People's Mic" recitations of an anti-NDAA script. The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA have become a lightning rod for Occupy actions, including Philadelphia—where activists presented "Fascist of the Year" awards to actors portraying their Senators—and Iowa, where they occupied the hotel headquartering the...