Adam Serwer

The Golden Days Of Slavery

Michele Bachmann signed a really tone-deaf pledge from a conservative religious organization in Iowa that declares that: Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President. Yeah, rather than take this too seriously, I'll just quote Robert George who I think had an appropriately mocking response in noting, "Black unemployment? Also low then, too!" A good rule of thumb for empathizing with black Americans is avoiding suggestions that we were better off as property.

Bloggingheads: Race-Bending Edition

I discuss the Jewish vote, race-bending, and Michele Bachmann with Dave Weigel : A couple of things: I do think that some Jews are put off by some religious Republicans' devotion to Israel, but I think it probably has less to do with superficial cultural differences than I suggested and more to do with a sense that the right's love for Jews is exploitative and not exactly sincere, since after all, how much can you like me if you ultimately think I'm going to hell for not believing in Jesus? The best analogy I can think of is white liberals who go out of their way to befriend a black person not because they're friendly or polite but because they're trying to prove something. As for race-bending and geek culture, I think I've said this before, but I suspect some white geeks are really protective of the canonical race of superheroes and the like because comic books and fantasy involve so much vicarious projection. In other words, while it's easy to imagine themselves having superpowers,...

Get Ready For Another Challenge To The Voting Rights Act

Rick Hasen notes that a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was recently dismissed for lack of standing has been reinstated by the D.C. Circuit, meaning that we could see another challenge to the VRA at the Supreme Court very soon. The challenge involves an attempt by officials in Kingston, North Carolina, to make city elections nonpartisan. Section 5 requires changes to local election practices in certain areas to be "precleared" by the voting section of the Justice Department: This is a big deal. I and other election law scholars believed that the Kingston case could well be a vehicle for the Supreme Court to finish the job in started in NAMUDNO and strike down section 5 of the VRA. But the standing issues seemed like a big hurdle, and so other cases (like the Shelby County case) have gained more prominence. The Supreme Court came very close to overturning the Voting Rights Act a few years ago, and the conservatives on the Court all but said that they'd do it given...

Colorism And Criminal Justice

Topher Sanders writes about a new study that confirms that skin tone can affect how harshly black women are punished for a crime: Villanova researchers studied more than 12,000 cases of African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina and found that women with lighter skin tones received more-lenient sentences and served less time than women with darker skin tones. The researchers found that light-skinned women were sentenced to approximately 12 percent less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counterparts. Women with light skin also served 11 percent less time than darker women. The study took into account the type of crimes the women committed and each woman's criminal history to generate apples-to-apples comparisons. The work builds on previous studies by Stanford University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and other institutions, which have examined how "black-looking" features and skin tone can impact black men in the criminal-justice arena. This is one of those...

Financial Sector Amnesty

In the midst of the bankruptcy reform debate, Senator Dick Durbin flatly stated that when it comes to Capitol Hill, the banks "frankly own the place." They might as well have said the same thing about federal prosecutors and regulators with responsibility over the financial sector. Starting in 2005, The New York Times reports , the Justice Department opted for "deferred prosecution agreements" with banks and mortgage companies in lieu of actually prosecuting them. According to the Times , "The guidelines left open a possibility other than guilty or not guilty, giving leniency often if companies investigated and reported their own wrongdoing." Many well-known companies have benefited. In 2004, the American International Group, the giant insurer, paid $126 million when it entered a deferred prosecution agreement to settle investigations into claims that it had helped clients improperly burnish financial statements. Deals over accounting improprieties also were struck that year by...

Fallout

Apologies, no links today because I had to leave early for a doctor's appointment.

Follow-Up On Geneva And Gitmo At Sea

I spoke to national security law expert Robert Chesney yesterday, who had some thoughts about the Geneva Conventions prohibiting the detention of prisoners of war at sea with relation to the Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame case. The aspect of the Geneva Conventions that does apply here is Common Article 3, no more and no less. It is silent on this particular question, so does not forbid this practice. All that said, I suspect one can make an argument that prison ships separately are forbidden as a matter of simple customary law of war. I’ve never looked into it, so that’s just a guess. But I bet there is support for it. But I also suspect that you would be hard pressed to show that this means a state cannot use a ship for interim detention when there are no other realistic options, as opposed to a prohibition on using a ship as the long-term detention option. The US obviously is aiming for the former, not the latter, and I think it would be very hard indeed to show this violates customary...

Marriage Equality And Salience

My post at Greg 's today argues that even as support for marriage equality is growing, those opposed are less willing to prioritize the issue: Support for same-sex marriage in New York varies depending on religion, with white Catholics being evenly divided at 48 percent opposed and 48 percent supporting. But white Catholic voters in New York approve of Governor Andrew Cuomo , who drove passage of th marriage equality bill, is at a nearly 3-1 margin. White Protestant opposition to same-sex marriage is even higher at 54 percent, and yet 60 percent of white Protestants approve of the job Cuomo is doing. What this suggests is that some of the people opposed to same-sex marriage rights nevertheless support Cuomo anyway. This gets to something I think polling has yet to properly examine — the dwindling importance of same-sex marriage to even those voters who voice opposition to it. The shift towards support for marriage equality isn’t just a matter of more people saying they support it. It’...

Thiessen's Definition Of "Catch And Release"

Marc Thiessen accuses the Obama administration of having a "catch and release" policy based on Vice Admiral William McRaven 's testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding detention at sea: The United States’ top special operations commander told Congress that because the United States has no place to hold captured terrorists we have simply been letting them go. In his testimony, Adm. McRaven used the phrase “in many cases,” which seems to indicate that not only has this happened, but it has happened in numerous instances. Well, exactly how many al-Qaeda terrorists have been taken into U.S. custody on Navy ships and released by the Obama administration? Who are these terrorists? Where were they captured? Who decided to release them? Where were they released? And what has become of them since? Look, it's possible that the U.S. has released some of the people who've been detained on Navy ships, but we have no way of knowing that, least of all based on McRaven's testimony...

"Food Nannyism" And Informed Consent

Ronald Bailey responds to the evidence that calorie labeling doesn't really affect people's eating choices and mocks "food nannyism," writing, "Nannies always know best and they never give up." Reason really hates food labeling, for reasons I don't entirely understand. It's one thing to point out that food labeling isn't effective, but as The Washington Post story suggests , for that reason it doesn't hurt businesses' bottom line either. But if the calorie labeling doesn't meaningfully improve public health, it at least provides the consumer with the data to make an informed decision. With labeling, it's harder to argue that your weight problem is someone else's fault, whereas nannyism seeks to prevent you from making your own choices -- by say, banning Happy Meals. Informed consent is a worthy goal in and of itself, even if people still choose to eat poorly. It should also go without saying, though, that food labeling isn't really much of an answer to the structural reasons for why...

GOP Voter Suppression And "Jim Crow"

I'm frustrated by the way Republican successes at the state level in 2010 have allowed them to pursue their long-term policy goal of making it harder for Democratic-leaning constituencies to vote, but I really think the comparisons to Jim Crow are an example of hyperbole that distracts from the issue rather than adds to it. Here's Steve Benen making the case, in reaction to Bill Clinton 's recent remarks on the subject: Yes, raising the specter of “Jim Crow” adds a racial/segregationist element to the debate, which the right obviously finds offensive. But it’s not unreasonable to consider these recent efforts Jim Crow-style tactics for the 21st century. The point of both is identical — identifying those the right doesn’t want to vote and passing laws that put barriers between them and the ballot box. The goal here is voter suppression, plain and simple. I agree, the goal is voter suppression, plain and simple. Republicans are passing laws that make it harder for Democratic-leaning...

DoJ Short-Circuits Its Own DADT Appeal

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently considering a challenge to "don't ask, don't tell" filed by the Log Cabin Republicans, just lifted a stay that allowed the U.S. government to continue enforcing DADT. That means that DADT can no longer be enforced even though it's on the way out anyway, which is good news. The order itself contains this interesting sentence, which cites Attorney General Eric Holder 's letter informing Congress the administration believes Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional: In addition, in the context of the Defense of Marriage Act, the United States has recently taken the position that classifications based on sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny. There's a satisfying irony to the fact that that the court denied the Department of Justice's request for a stay on DADT using the attorney general's logic on DOMA. It also provides a hint of how the administration's shift on DOMA tilts the scales in...

Fallout

The military's not so secret gender problem . The CIA analyst who found Osama bin Laden . I agree with this . Where are all the Revolutionary War films?

A Few More Points About "Gitmo At Sea"

I just wanted to address a few more issues regarding the two-month seaborne detention of terrorism suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame. Legal Authority: The U.S. is arguing that Warsame is subject to military detention under the 2001 Authorization to use Military Force because he is a member of al Shabab. “The detention of an individual covered by the AUMF is not considered different from a legal perspective if they’re held on a U.S. Naval ship or if they’re held on a U.S. Naval base," says Ken Gude , a human-rights and national-security expert at the Center for American Progress. "If they’re covered by the AUMF, they can be held by the U.S. military.” Gude points out that the U.S. has been conducting military operations in the region since the Bush administration. The ACLU's Ben Wizner , however, argues that this interpretation of the AUMF is strained. “It’s hard to fathom that Congress in 2001, was giving authority to hold without charge or trial, someone part of a group that did not...

Satisfaction

I'll just briefly summarize this 2,000-word post from John Aravosis on the Obama administration's latest gay-rights failure: The Obama administration has not merely ceased defending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, it has now filed a legal brief supporting a group challenging it in court. This is a "watershed moment" for LGBT rights that will speed DOMA's demise. The administration announced it was doing this on the Friday before the holiday weekend, ergo it is ashamed of its positions on gay rights and is trying to hide them from public view. Aravosis concludes: That is what I have problem with this historic moment. Even when doing something truly beneficial for our community, the administration has to find a way to muck it up. Yeah, it's the administration that's going out of its way to turn this into a bad thing.

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