Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Failures of white liberalism

For the record, I am white and liberal.

John J. Dilulio Jr., having served as an adviser to George W. Bush, is probably not a liberal, but he has had an influence on them by his popularization of the term "superpredator". He was famous for stirring up the panic that this new breed of youth was remorseless, and a blood bath would wash over the land. 

This did not turn out to be true, in a similar manner to how fears about crack babies were overblown, and how youth weren't really playing "the knock-out game", and how not only was "wilding" questionable in terms of how it was understood, but that the Central Park Five were not the rapists.

To be fair, we are learning new things about psychology and the brain all the time, so it may have seemed like a reasonable conclusion for Dilulio, except for how many people heard "superpredator" and "gang members" and pictured "Black".

Now, as an adviser to LBJ, Pat Moynihan probably was liberal. His report The Negro Family: The Case For National Action was sympathetic to African Americans and saw many factors in the legacy of slavery and of continued discrimination that led to the poverty and problems. Unfortunately, it still pathologized Black people.

The Moynihan Report came from 1965, but over twenty years later when I was a high school student it was still influencing how people thought and how teachers taught. They didn't refer to the report, but looking back I can see that's where it came from.

This is a gross simplification, but where we were at was that Black people had problems. If you were conservative you blamed them, and if you were liberal you blamed society for what it had done to them, but you were still thinking of them as separate and as a mass. Viewing them as victims may have made liberals more sympathetic, but it didn't mean you wouldn't get nervous when you saw dark skin approaching.

When you start viewing some of this, guilt is a natural reaction, but it may not be that useful. The structure that is in place does a good job of separating races, and whom you get to know, and whom you see, and this is perpetuated by entertainment and publishing and how news is reported, all of which is disgusting.

I suppose this is why I have focused my reading more on learning about what different people were doing at different times. There is oppression, but there is resistance too.

And they are not a monolith. Some Black people may be very passive, and some are criminals, though if you look at some of the factors there are problems, but mainly they are individuals. We don't look at aggressive panhandlers and think that all white teens are that way. We don't look at a rise in the rate of unwed white mothers and blame slavery. (Actually, we slut shame instead.)

What I am clumsily saying is that sympathetic objectification is not strongly superior to hostile objectification.

It's unfortunate with the social sciences that they seem to have a harder time responding to progress. Often in physics or biology it can be pretty easy to test, see the error, and keep looking until a new hypothesis works out. It doesn't mean that new one won't be replaced later, but people see change all the time and accept it.

But here, very nice, well-meaning, people who are trying to be progressive get stuck because someone said something that sounded reasonable once, but was also wrong. To actually make progress we are going to have to move beyond that.

I try to be educated about that, but it still wasn't until about a year ago that I start realizing how many involved Black fathers I knew.

(And the world just lost one of the really good ones last week. We'll miss you Uncle Carl.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Crime Bill

One of the big criticisms against Hillary Clinton is her support of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 - hereafter referred to as the Crime Bill.

I'm going to come right out now and say that I don't see the logic in holding it against her when Sanders voted for it. Yes, he made a speech against it, but then he voted for it and cast himself as tough on crime in later political races. That seems wrong, but I also find it stupid that people focus more on her support as a 16 year old girl for Goldwater than her not that much later support as an adult for McGovern.

As it is, there were reasons to be both for and against the Crime Bill, and they aren't all the reasons that are perceived today.

It was a response to increased shooting violence, often related to drugs and gangs, but it was also inspired by the Waco Siege and a 55 year old white entrepreneur opening fire at a law firm in San Francisco. It's understandable that people were afraid.

Here are some of the provisions:

Federal Assault Weapons Ban - this is where it came from, but it expired in 2004, and attempts to renew it lead us into a whole different kind of argument. Still, there are a lot of people who would support this now..

Driver's Privacy Protection Act - Set up rules for privacy with DMV records. Abortion opponents had been using driving license databases to track down providers and patients, but California had already started working on these laws after DMV record access allowed Rebecca Schaeffer's murderer to track her down.

Creation of state sex offender registries - when someone gets in trouble for not registering as a sex offender, that started with the Crime Bill.

Mandatory drug testing for those on federal supervised release - As drugs were seen to be a big part of the increase in crime, this would have been a pretty natural inclusion.

Violence Against Women Act - I do know advocates for women who find that VAWA does more harm than good, but as written it was supposed to help prevent and investigate violence against women, as well as increasing grants for battered women's shelters and creating a National Domestic Violence Hotline.

New federal offenses were added, some related to gang membership which may have been unconstitutional.

Community Oriented Policing Services were funded - I know why they thought this would help, and also that it didn't.

Three Strikes and you're out - I believe some states had been moving in this direction previously, but yes, this was a part of the Crime Bill, and a destructive one.

Federal Death Penalty Act - 60 new death penalty offenses were created.

Elimination of inmate education - Previously inmates could be eligible for Pell Grants and this was taken away.

Those last two shed some light. It has been well-established now that administration of the death penalty is racist, though it may not have been as well understood then. There was an attempt to include a provision to remove the death penalty if it could be shown to be racist, but I don't believe that made it into the final bill.

There was a lot of contention on the bill. It started out as bipartisan, but one of the big hoped for items was money for rehab programs, and it was argued against as "welfare for criminals". I know some people did end up having more funding for rehab programs, so they appear to have gotten part of that, but could the Pell Grants have been taken away as a bit of tit for tat? Surely that is part of the problem with omnibus bills, but that is how Congress works.

Also, many of those new death penalty crimes were offenses that would be strongly associated with gangs, like a drive-by shooting resulting in death, or a carjacking resulting in death.

The gangs were seen as a scourge (and members as "superpredators"), and there were reasons for that. Doing something made sense, but most of the improvements that have happened have not been seen as a result of the Crime Bill, and harmful results have been seen. I'm not sure all of that would have been obvious.

Anyway, we're going to delve into that a bit more tomorrow, but let's just note that disparate sentencing for crack versus other forms of cocaine was already there, as well as the introduction of drugs into the population, and racially biased policing - all already present.

Actually, that leads to one interesting provision that I didn't mention. The Crime Bill required the Department of Justice to issue an annual report on use of excessive force by law enforcement officers. I didn't mention it earlier not because I forgot about it, but because the reports were not issued.

Perhaps that should be revisited.

There are a lot of articles out there, but here are a few:

Monday, May 02, 2016

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

I want to do some historical review this week, and I have some memories of this.

I had to look up some dates, and I think the conversations I remember having about it had to have happened before DADT was enacted. There had been a lot of conversation about gays in the military at the time. (That was what we called it then; we might use a different term now.)

I remember it because one of the RAs in my dorm had been in the military (Navy, I think), and had to leave (probably an undesirable discharge, but it could have been dishonorable). He was interviewed by the local news channel.

One thing we found out is that there were two people with Michael's name on campus, because the other one started getting flack after the article aired. Given that this is close to twenty-five years ago, perhaps it's not too surprising, but I can imagine that happening today too, and worse with the online elements. I hope not.

Mainly though I remember it being considered progress that there were less restrictions on serving. Michael was not at a point in his life where he wanted to go back, but he believed it could be good for other people.

I mention this because then in 2011 when DADT was struck down, it was seen as a repressive, outdated policy. That makes sense, but it was not merely a repressive policy in itself. It was a policy that was a step up from a previous repressive policy - or series of policies - going back to the Revolutionary War. It is possible that President Clinton should have been bolder, but it might have gone a lot less smoothly.

That was never my area of greatest information. I left on my mission not that long after Clinton's inauguration and then didn't read a paper for 18 months. I am not the best person to play Monday morning quarterback on DADT.

I still think it can illustrate that context is important. We don't usually get where we want to go in a single step (and not only due to a lack of consensus on where we want to go). Things still happen, and sometimes they work out.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Band Review: Madmartigan

Madmartigan is a rock band from Austin, Texas.

While I have not seen any evidence that the name is a reference to Willow, some of their song titles ("Waltz of the Chupacabra", "Riding Dragons...") at least make it seem possible based on an interest in fantasy.

The construction of the titles makes it seem like they aren't taking anything too seriously, and band photos show them having a good time. The overriding feeling of the music is a bit more serious. There is a plaintive quality to the delivery, and it is reflected in the lyrics. "Paper Thin" is a good example:

You are a tornado and I am just...
Feeling kinda paper thin, falling over through the wind.

It may be that the obstacles that they see in the world appear to call for mythic heroes, and they don't feel that is what they are bringing to the fight. If so, that's okay; lots of people have that concern, and it can help to have it put into song.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Band Review: Time Atlas

Time Atlas is an alternative pop/rock band from Minneapolis.

Their video for "Falling" provides an interesting contrast. The baby-faced on the lead singer Grayson DeWolfe could make you question how much experience any of them have with the world falling down. It is not a harsh sound, but the lyrics and the music nonetheless come through. There is a sensitivity and depth to what the band expresses, and it maintains a sense of hopefulness.

Musically the band is pretty solid, especially noticeable in the guitars on "Sleepless Nights".

Their web information indicates that they are currently working on more music. That feels like a good thing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Can the Republican Party be saved?

Mind you, I have no specific interest in saving them, but the question came up recently in talking about the upcoming convention. That seems more likely to turn into a shootout than a glorious step forward, but life goes on, and can this party be salvaged?

You could also argue it's a false question. While it is hard to imagine any of the current Republican candidates winning the presidency, there are still Republicans in Congress and state positions, with the party being very entrenched for some positions. That they look like they are in self-destruct mode right now primarily comes from looking at the presidential race.

There is a lot of concern about that particular race. The new Cruz/Kasich alliance is interesting, but seems a little late in coming. Cruz naming a running mate is interesting, and may show more aspirations for 2020. Still, their actions have to be seen in light of them wanting to become president more than anything else.

Because of that, I find it more interesting that Lindsey Graham just criticized Trump on foreign policy. Yes, Newt Gingrich defended the speech, but he's more of an outlier. Graham being so negative on Trump, and even Romney's less recent comments show a GOP that is not happy with Trump's popularity.

Being able to win the presidency is important. You can do a lot of obstruction with Congressional control, but actually moving forward in destruction would be greatly aided by control of the Executive Branch. Can the Republicans get back there? Only if they acknowledge their role in getting here.

No, the Republican party is not responsible for Donald Trump's ego; that particular monster has other origins. However, the machinations that made it seem reasonable for someone like W to hold office is at least on Karl Rove, if not on the whole party, and the building up of party allegiance based on thinly-veiled racism and class warfare, that is on them.

Did they think that people didn't know what the dog whistles really meant? Of course they knew! That's why they were effective! If you wanted an electorate that was sophisticated enough that they would continue to stick to the codes, then they shouldn't have been promoting such complete ignorance. Yes, some of that is on media, but the GOP was complicit.

If the GOP wants to become a viable party again, they need to do the kind of soul-searching that turns up that both Donald Trump thinking he could run, and his run being well-received are the natural results of the political stage they have been setting. This is not a fluke.

And then they are going to have to find something else to stand for. It can't be always letting corporations get their way as job creators, because that gets proven wrong too easily to work on an educated electorate, and not educating the electorate gets us back to Trump.

It shouldn't focus on vilifying any groups of people based on race, gender, religion, or income level. Once again, that leads to Trump.

Perhaps that needs to be the new baseline - are we promoting the kind of things that make a man who is only coherent when he is being bigoted seem like the best man for the job? If the answer is "yes", this may not be the best strategy. Okay, you're thinking that's too obvious, but if you remember that the concern isn't so much about it being wrong, but about it growing out of control, then you can see how things would get mixed up.

Honestly, there has been enough of a conservative shift in the Democratic party that you could almost send it the other way, where yes, you only have Democrats, but then you have the ones who are what Republicans used to be versus those who are more progressive (we will get into some of the flaws here next week). They could change names so it would be two parties again.

But I know some people will find that insufficient, so I say bring back the Whigs! They had many values that could be consistent with conservatives. They fell apart over slavery, but perhaps in a post-slavery world they could make it work.

Yes, I see the potential flaws with that too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A quick note on primaries

I know there have been some concerns for third party voters on being left out of primaries. I do think something should be done about that; I don't think it should be allowing them to vote in either of the main primaries.

My reasoning is largely based on memories of liberal friends who were registered Republican so they could vote for the candidate with the least chance of winning the general election. I'm not sure that they ever had much of an impact, but the thought that people might vote for the purposes of weakening a party stuck with me. Granted, that option is still available, but at least make them go through the trouble of registering.

The primary is not about who ultimately wins, but who represents your party in the general election. Granted, it's hard to get there without the support of one of the main parties, but in an essentially two-party system, that's how it goes.

Potential solutions can get tricky. The secret ballot is valuable, so you don't want to compromise its security. Currently having separate ballots for each party resolves that.

It might be helpful to look at how third parties choose their candidate. In Oregon for governor and president we have often had three other candidates represented. Do those party members caucus, or are candidates selected by party heads?

Another option might be an all write-in ballot. This could be handy in showing whether the independent and third party voters are leaning more toward the Republican or Democrat slate. This year there has been more of a focus on people who would like to vote for Sanders being shut out, but there are probably a fair amount of Libertarians out there that are not registered Republican but might be interested in that ticket.

Okay, you might be thinking but those are terrible people who will vote for Trump, but they could also try voting for Sanders so Trump has a better chance of winning. I'm not comfortable with deciding anyone's general vote doesn't count, but in the primaries, I kind of am.

One thing about that is that frequently, with Oregon having a late primary, my vote for the presidential candidate has come after the issue was already decided. Sometimes I would vote for the purpose of sending a message, and always I would vote because I believe it's important, but I do understand feeling like you don't get a say in the primary, and that's not a great feeling.

However, what I also understand is that for a long time I was the only Democrat in my family, but it was a choice I made, based on my values. As imperfect as that is, it means something to me.

If you specifically don't want to be a Democrat, but you still feel like you should have a say in who represents the party, no. You're not getting the fundraising calls. You're not taking the surveys. It's not for you.

Maybe you can work harder to make your own party more prominent. While we haven't had a successful third party presidential run yet, there have been for lots of other positions, and that can be built upon.

Maybe you don't want to be affiliated with a party at all. Okay, then the general elections are for you. If you feel strongly about a specific candidate, there are probably things you can do to help the campaign.

There are lots of options, some of which don't infringe on others. Focus on those.