Adam Serwer

Bankers Got It Hard.

I've liked The Economist 's coverage of corrections issues in the United States over the years, but a friend pointed out an amusing part of their last piece that my eyes somehow glazed over the first time I read it: Such cases account for only a tiny share of the Americans behind bars, but they still matter. When so many people are technically breaking the law, it is up to prosecutors to decide whom to pursue. No doubt most prosecutors choose wisely. But members of unpopular groups may not find that reassuring. Ms Thompson, for example, was prosecuted just before an election, at a time when allegations of public corruption in Wisconsin were in the news. Some prosecutors, such as Eliot Spitzer , the disgraced ex-governor of New York, have built political careers by nailing people whom voters don’t like, such as financiers. When I think of the cultural trends and social biases that have led to America having an excessively large, punitive, costly, and ineffective corrections system,...

Evaluating The Obama Doctrine.

The folks at the National Security Network asked me to moderate this panel on The Obama Doctrine at Netroots Nation over the weekend featuring Gen. Paul Eaton (ret.), Former Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain , former Assistant Secretary of Defense Larry Korb , and Center for American Progress' nuclear-proliferation analyst Max Bergmann . We touched on everything from drone strikes to the new nuclear START treaty, as well as the importance of reversing the ideological trend toward militarizing American foreign policy. Bergmann had the line of the day though, pointing out that people tend not to notice when you implement foreign policy that "doesn't suck."

Fallout.

Affirmative action in the form of legacy admissions doesn't make anyone angry. Dave Weigel on life in the gray zone. I don't know that I buy Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan . Happy to see Sara Mayeux blogging at Ta-Nehisi 's.

NBPP Obsession Gaining Momentum In Congress.

So now mainstream Republicans in Congress are latching on to the New Black Panther Party Case, with Senate Republicans pushing for a hearing and House Republicans pushing for a special prosecutor. All for a voter-intimidation case in which zero voters said they were intimidated. Meanwhile, during the Bush years the political leadership at the Civil Rights Division was in the business of pushing modern-day poll taxes, but Republicans didn't care because making it harder for minorities to vote made winning elections easier. Keep in mind there's already an internal Justice Department investigation going. If that concludes nothing went wrong -- and it probably will -- you can expect Republicans to investigate that as well should they win the House. I'm actually of the opinion that these race-related controversies aren't the silver bullets Republicans think they are. Obama is doing badly because the economy is doing badly. This stuff plays very well with a particular crowd; most other...

An Activist Court.

Via Monica Potts , Adam Liptak puts some numbers behind the idea that we are looking at an incredibly activist conservative court under Justice John Roberts : In its first five years, the Roberts court issued conservative decisions 58 percent of the time. And in the term ending a year ago, the rate rose to 65 percent, the highest number in any year since at least 1953. As for what this means in practice, no one's said it better than Jeff Toobin : In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party. Balls and strikes.

Webb And "White Privilege."

There are a number of things about Senator Jim Webb 's op-ed "The Myth of White Privilege" to dislike, starting with the fact that one of the awesome things about the existence of white privilege is that you can be part of a body like the U.S. Senate, which has a total number of zero elected black members, and write something titled "The Myth of White Privilege" without anyone batting an eyelash. That said, Webb's op-ed is considerably more nuanced than the title, acknowledging that "The injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history," although he makes the same mistake as Ross Douthat in repeating the conservative frame of zero-sum competition between whites and people of color. For some reason, Webb sees the existence of poor whites as proof white privilege doesn't exist, when it's largely a non sequitur. The existence of Southie or Appalachia does not change the fact that a white man with a prison record has an easier time...

Obama's Not Black Again.

Around the time of the 2008 election, there was an irritating trend of questioning Barack Obama 's racial authenticity by arguing that he's not "really black" because he is not the descendant of African slaves brought to the United States during the Middle Passage. That mostly went away when he started winning an overwhelming share of the black vote during the primaries, but in the wake of the Shirley Sherrod controversy, Maureen Dowd is attempting to lead a renaissance of stupid: But unlike Bill Clinton , who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand “the slave thing,” as a top black Democrat dryly puts it. Yes, we're back to Bill " Jesse Jackson ran a good campaign in South Carolina" Clinton being "blacker" than Barack Obama, as evaluated by that High Chancellor of American Negritude, Maureen Dowd, who is an expert on the subject because she talked about it with a black...

Defining Lynching Down.

My apologies for being in Shirley Sherrod overdrive recently, but this piece from Jeffrey Lord nearly made my eyes pop out of my head. After reviewing the Screws case, Lord concludes that Sherrod lied about Sheriff Claude Screws lynching Bobby Hall because he and his colleagues simply beat him to death rather than using a rope: It's also possible that she knew the truth and chose to embellish it, changing a brutal and fatal beating to a lynching. Anyone who has lived in the American South (as my family once did) and is familiar with American history knows well the dread behind stories of lynch mobs and the Klan. What difference is there between a savage murder by fist and blackjack -- and by dangling rope? Obviously, in the practical sense, none. But in the heyday -- a very long time -- of the Klan, there were frequent (and failed) attempts to pass federal anti-lynching laws. None to pass federal "anti-black jack" or "anti-fisticuffs" laws. A lynching is an extrajudicial mob killing...

The WikiLeaks "Afghan War Diary."

The remarkable thing about the WikiLeaks documents is that they reinforce what we already know about the war in Afghanistan -- the lack of a credible partner, the links between Pakistani intelligence and the forces the U.S. is fighting, the difficulty in building the Afghan Army and police. Which means for all the complaints about the media these days, the coverage of Afghanistan has been broadly accurate. If the war is out of sight and out of mind for most Americans, it isn't because they aren't getting a good idea of what's going on over there. The leaks may reinforce the idea that the administration's perspective is rosier than reality, but that isn't comparable to the Pentagon Papers revealing John F. Kennedy approved of the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, Lyndon Johnson flat-out lied about the war, or the fact that Richard Nixon had expanded operations into Cambodia and Laos. So far there isn't any previously undisclosed information in these documents that implicates the U.S...

Fallout.

Will Saletan dismantles the remaining excuses for labeling the NAACP racist based on the Sherrod video. Straight from an institution with exactly zero black elected members, Sen. Jim Webb says white privilege is a "myth." Joe Biden is very clean and articulate . I would have wanted to take a class on American manga in college, but I probably would have been too ashamed to actually sign up. Marcy Wheeler blogged from the panel on racial profiling and surveillance under Obama I was on at Netroots Nation earlier today.

IG: No Way To Know If Re-Entry Grants Are Effective.

Ryan J. Reilly reports on some frustrating news for re-entry advocates -- the Office of the Inspector General found that the systems for evaluating whether or not the programs receiving federal grant money are actually effective in reducing recidivism: According to the report, the Inspector General’s office could not determine if Office of Justice Program grants were successful in reducing recidivism rates because the office does not effectively track how the programs that receive grants spend their funds. The report included an audit of 10 grant programs worth $17.9 million from January 2005 through November 2009 which questioned how $5.2 million of that money was spent. The Inspector General found in the overall report, which covered three separate grant programs spanning from fiscal year 2002 through January 2010, that in many cases there was little documentation showing the office followed up with grantees after awarding them with funding. So part of what happened as both parties...

No One Could Have Predicted, Military Commissions Edition.

Chisun Lee : Decisions on two legal challenges to the Guantanamo military commissions system, both expected this summer, could undo half the convictions won so far before the tribunals and disrupt a number of pending cases. The appeals of two 2008 convictions attack several core aspects of the young trial system. One potentially explosive argument is that the most commonly charged offenses -- conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism -- are not war crimes that can be tried in a military court. The government insists there is longstanding precedent for prosecuting these acts through military justice. "Terrorism, though perhaps often by other names, is undoubtedly a war crime," Edward White , a Navy lawyer who represents the government in one of the appeals, wrote in a brief. Violators, he added "were historically liable to be shot immediately upon capture." These convictions occurred during the Bush administration, but not withstanding the rather obvious risks, Congress...

A Better NAACP?

North Carolina State University Professor Blair Kelley addresses the role of the NAACP in contemporary times, a question I tried to grapple with in my profile of Ben Jealous last year: Throughout the group’s history, the real strength of the NAACP’s organizational base has come from the work of local chapters, everyday people who used the NAACP as a vehicle for change in their own communities. The NAACP’s greatest success, the case of Brown v. Board, grew out of communities of struggle -- places like rural Summerton, South Carolina, where black parents united to improve conditions for their children. Local chapters of the NAACP are still involved in meaningful struggles throughout the country. For example, the North Carolina NAACP has been involved in contesting the erosion of integration in Wake County Schools. Wake County’s large and ever-growing school district had been heralded by educators around the nation for achieving success in blending poor and working class children of all...

What Happened To Abdul Aziz Naji?

Abdul Aziz Naji was a detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp who was involuntarily transferred home to Algeria last week after seven years in custody. Why "involuntarily?" He didn't want to leave Gitmo, not because it was awesome, but because he was worried about being tortured or killed when he returned home. Yesterday, his lawyers ( via Marcy Wheeler ) said neither they, nor his family, could reach him: The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees, said Naji's lawyers and family have been unable to locate or contact him since he was repatriated by the U.S. government. Naji's lawyers warned the government that sending him back to Algeria would expose him to danger because the Algerian authorities thought he might be a member of the GIA, a near- defunct terrorist group that has declared war against the Algerian government -- but he was transferred anyway. The backdrop to Naji's disappearance is the snickering of conservative...

Fallout.

Jill Filipovic on "rape by deception." Oh what, you didn't know Tucker Carlson wanted to join Journolist before he started trying to smear everyone on it? I'm pretty sure that Steve King thinks the existence of black people is racist. Noah Millman thinks that the Shirley Sherrod incident has turned out well for Obama .

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