9 Republicans Who Can Give Modern Liberals Hope

Published: mic (June 28, 2013)

While most liberals remember the exact moment when Barack Obama became a national figure — i.e., his delivery of the Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention — few recall that one of the central messages of that brilliant speech was giving the other side its due. To use his own words:

“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.”

It says a great deal about American progressives that this was one of the central themes of the speech responsible for the meteoric political rise of their subsequent champion. Indeed, in keeping with this spirit of ideological tolerance, I thus offer the following alphabetical list of the top nine Republicans who offer hope to liberals.

1. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Naturally, Christie’s most famous bipartisan moment (or infamous, depending on your perspective) was his candid praising of Obama’s performance when Hurricane Sandy struck his state last autumn. That said, there is far more in his record that warrants respect from liberals. When confronted with Islamophobia during the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque or his decision to appoint a Muslim to the New Jersey Supreme Court, Christie employed his characteristic bluntness in denouncing such bigoted attitudes as “crap.” He has similarly bucked the hard right in his insistence that Republicans recognize the reality of global warming (although some liberals worried that he recanted when he referred to climate change talk as a “distraction,” he was referring to speculation that it had specifically caused Hurricane Sandy rather than the theory in general). Finally, he has long been a supporter of moderate policies on gun control and immigration reform, supporting expanded background checks and certain rifle bans for the former and a path to citizenship for the latter.

2. Senators Jeff Flake (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), John McCain (AZ), & Marco Rubio (FL)

When the Senate voted 68-32 earlier this week on a sweeping immigration reform bill, much of the credit belonged to the four Republican members of the “Gang of Eight” who shephered the measure through byzantine parliamentary procedures and past staunch right-wing opposition. Much of this, of course, can be chalked up to political pragmatism, given how the growth of the Hispanic population seemingly necessitates a more pluralistic approach to Republican political brandmaking. That said, there are also many pundits who discount the importance of Hispanic voters to the GOP’s future as a national party, which makes the decision of Flake, Graham, McCain, and Rubio to alienate the conservative base somewhat riskier than it appears at first glance. More important, though, is the simple fact that the bill for which they incurred such major risks is one of the offers a realistic path to citizenship for the eleven million illegal immigrants residing in our country even while strengthening our border security, deftly achieving both conservative and progressive goals in a single stroke.

3. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy & John Roberts

When Chief Justice John Roberts famously joined the Supreme Court’s liberal wing to create a 5-4 majority upholding Obamacare, he not only salvaged the president’s signature legislative effort, but saved the court from a reputation as a mere rubber stamp for the Republican agenda. Nor was this was the only occasion in which he did so, as Roberts also joined the liberal majority on issues ranging from a District Court’s right to overturn Proposition 8 (California’s referendum banning gay marriage) and Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration laws. In the last two cases, of course, Roberts was joined by Anthony Kennedy, who has also supported progressives on matters such as gay rights (writing the majority decisions in cases protecting the right of homosexuals to seek discrimination protectionbanning anti-sodomy laws, and overturning the Defense of Marriage Act), and abortion rights (incurring conservative wrath by joining liberals in maintaining Roe v. Wade even as he later upset liberals by voting to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act). While Roberts and Kennedy aren’t the only judges to occasionally “switch sides,” even on the aforementioned issues, they are most conspicuous in seeking to keep the “swing vote” tradition alive on our highest bench.

4. Senator Rand Paul (KY) & Congressman Ron Paul (TX)

As I mentioned in an earlier editorial, liberals and libertarians share a lot of common ground when it comes to their support for civil liberties against the encroachments of America’s growing security state. That is why so many on the left have rallied behind the Paul clan as they have decried the military-industrial complex, the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War, and PRISM. What’s more, Ron and Rand Paul share a great deal with progressives on key domestic issues, such as supporting the right of states to liberalize their marijuana laws and recognizing the racism inherent in the federal drug war. Although father and son do differ on many issues, both men have risen to the forefront of the libertarian movement by championing many of the values shared by their leftist counterparts. In particular, both have consistently championed reducing the growth of the military and law enforcement establishments that are not only costing tax payers billions of dollars, but immersing us in morally compromising wars and imperiling freedoms such as those guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment or cherished in George Washington’s Farewell Address.

None of this is being written to argue that liberals shouldn’t disagree with positions taken by these politicians on other issues. Indeed, many of our criticisms of the modern right-wing — such as the obstructionism of congressional Republicans or the vilification of the left regularly practiced by libertarians and arch-conservatives — are more valid now than ever before. Even so, we must never forget that ideological pluralism is just as vital to liberalism as its other demographic counterparts. As Obama himself once said:

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Paula Deen and John Galliano Have More in Common Than You Think

Published: mic (June 25, 2013)co-author Tillie Adelson

As the culinary world continues to be rocked by the scandal over Paula Deen’s racist remarks, the fashion world is being revisited by a similar specter from its past — i.e., the ghost of John Galliano.

The ghost has broken his silence. He’s been torn down to his simplest form or “Galliano in the Wilderness,” as Vanity Fair is choosing to call it.

It’s been about two and a half years since Galliano went on a hateful diatribe in Paris. Now he has broken his silence and has chosen to speak to the public who once relished in his genius. This is the man who brought the fantastical feathers to his work and the chiffon cut on the bias. The man who ended each runway show with a costume: he was the definition of camp and brought glamour and drama to each piece of work. This kind of artistry can never be taken away from him.

This brings us to Paris: February 23, 2011. Cobblestoned streets lined with cafes, patrons imbibing their nightly wine as they watch the “City of Lights” morph from day to night. What made this night different from all other Parisian nights? John Galliano: head designer at reputable and storied couture house Christian Dior found himself at La Perle, his neighborhood haunt and a stone’s throw from his flat.

Although it was unknown to his adoring fans and cohort (with the exception of his closest confidantes) Galliano had been operating under a dangerous cocktail of medications and alcohol. This night was no exception. Even in an industry known for its lenience toward hedonistic excesses, it was clear that Galliano had crossed a line.  First there was his verbal assault at La Perle, where he had attacked the man for his Asian background (“Fucking Asian bastard, I’ll kill you”) and the woman for being Jewish (“Dirty Jewish face, you should be dead”).

To make matters worse, the British tabloid The Sun posted a video four days later of Galliano telling a Jewish woman, “I love Hitler. People like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed, and fucking dead.” Even his superficial comments about not wanting world peace for “people that are ugly” seemed tame by comparison.

Instantly, Galliano went viral: for all the wrong reasons.

This news hit the fashion industry like a hard rock. It was time to make a decision about the future of John Galliano. First, there was the widely publicized humiliation, his dismissal from Dior, Saks Fifth Avenue pulling his men’s collection from their floors, and the criminal charges (anti-Semitic and racist remarks are illegal in France).Things culminated in his public disavowal by actress Natalie Portman — who ironically, was the face of the Dior fragrance at the time, and refused to wear a Dior confection to the Oscars that year.

This was promptly followed by two years of apologies, synagogue visits, and rehab. Now, with an interview and feature story in Vanity Fair, Galliano is hoping that this up close and personal character study can convince the public to decide that his days of repentance have come to an honorable end and will warrant forgiveness.

Two questions come to mind.

First, to what extent should a professional legacy be tarnished by revelations of severe character flaws?

It’s noteworthy to mention that not everyone in the fashion world shunned Galliano after the 2011 scandal broke. Some of his closet allies stood by him personally and professionally. Soon after the incident, Galliano entered rehab, and upon his return to the real world, supermodel Kate Moss asked him to design the dress for her wedding five months after the incident. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, is also a longtime friend and supporter of Galliano, and as such published a spread of his work for Moss’ wedding. Neither Wintour nor Vogue ever released an official statement on Galliano’s fall from glory, but putting such a spread in Vogue was a statement in and of itself.

The other question is whether, in an era that is oversaturated with celebrity proclamations of remorse, to what extent can these apologies be taken seriously anymore?

In a strange way, the answers to both these questions can be reduced to a single word — catharsis. As defined by H. L. Mencken (in an essay, ironically enough, devoted to defending the death penalty), the Aristotelian notion of catharsis hold that societies have a visceral need for the “salubrious discharge of emotions, a healthy letting off of steam” whenever there is a sense that they have been wronged. For better or worse, public figures like John Galliano are held in such high regard that society itself feels wronged, even betrayed, when they fatally undermine our confidence in their character. When such a wrong is perceived to have occurred, the needs of collective social catharsis dictate that it must somehow be rectified.

Has Galliano rectified it? It seems like he has relieved it for himself, certainly. Few can doubt that he earnestly desires to move on from this incident. Then again, in his interview, he focuses a great deal on how these were manifestations of his subconscious mind. Over and over again he seems to relapse into the language of excuses — not denying accountability, per se, but still attempting to contextualize his past rather than simply accept it. He cites professional projects, personal traumas, and just about anything else he can to send the message that the monster who appeared on those Paris streets wasn’t really him. It leaves the reader with a sense of questions only partially answered.

Then again, what could he say? If he is an anti-Semite, could he ever openly admit it? If he isn’t, how could he reconcile what he said with his true inner convictions?

Can the public truly determine that Galliano has paid his dues, that he has showed his respect and fully come around?

It’s hard to know. But as more celebrities embarrass themselves by slipping into the realm of the un-PC — and there is no doubt that many more will do so — this is a question that we will need to answer.

3 Ways Police Screw Up Science When Investigating Rape

Published: mic (June 24, 2013)

Anyone with a passing interest in the politics of 2012 will recall the drivel spewed by the likes of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock on so-called “scientific” facts about rape. Ironically, though, there IS recent scientific work that has provided us with valuable information on rape, most notably in the areas of ascertaining the credibility of victim reports and tracking down the actual perpetrators of sexual assaults. Unfortunately, that science is being woefully underutilized, as outlined in the three points listed below.

1. Advances in neurobiology explain why rape victims may respond in ways that make it seem like they’re lying, regardless of whether or not that is actually the case:

Thanks to imaging technology, scientists have learned that victims of traumatic experiences often experience a temporary impairment of the prefrontal cortex of their brains, which is instrumental in forming memories and recalling information. Because their cognitive processes instead become controlled by the amygdala, which records emotional experiences, trauma victims will frequently recall their ordeals through fragments of sensory information. This results in rape victims being unable to provide the kind of straightforward narratives which police interrogators often demand when collecting information. As a recent article in Slate magazine explained, coherent accounts of rape attacks can be culled when victims are asked to recall tactile, aural, and olfactory information, which can then be studied to uphold its veracity or uncover inconsistencies. Unfortunately, it is very common for officers to instead demand linear stories, which given the functioning of the victim’s brain at the time of the alleged incidents is often impossible to provide. Even worse, behaviors that are believed to reveal dishonesty — such as uncontrollably smiling and laughing during interrogation or maintaining a flat, unemotional affect — are actually normal psychological responses to the immediate aftermath of a trauma. As a result, many rape victims are dismissed as liars for reasons that science clearly shows have nothing to do with their credibility. This is despite the fact that …

2. Methodologically rigorous studies have found that only a small (albeit not inconsequential) fraction of rape reports are false:

The primary challenge in estimating the percentage of false rape claims, as a study by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women points out, lies in separating cases which were pursued or dismissed based primarily on police hunches (which are heavily susceptible to observer bias and thus scientifically unsound) from those that have been subjected to a “thorough, evidence-based investigation.” While the report emphasizes that it is impossible to ever know with certainty the precise number of erroneous charges, “estimates narrow to the range of 2-8% when they are based on more rigorous research of case classifications using specific criteria and incorporating various protections of the reliability and validity of the research.” In other words, based on the most reliable data available to us, anywhere from 46-out-of-50 to 49-out-of-50 alleged rape victims are telling the truth. Such sobering statistics underscore the moral imperative facing law enforcement to follow up on rape allegations as swiftly and proactively as possible. Indeed, because even one false rape charge is enough to warrant heavy caution against overzealous pursuit of alleged offenders, the 1-out-of-50 to 4-out-of-50 innocent defendants deserve the scientific means that can exonerate them just as much as the real rape victims. This is important because …

3. The scientific means that do exist are neglected to a shocking degree:

Back in 2004, a Justice Department report found that at least 221,000 rape kits had been left unprocessed by police departments which claimed to lack the resources necessary to analyze them. Although the Debbie Smith Act was passed shortly thereafter to provide law enforcement with the funds they said they required, the $151 million in annual financing was usually diverted to other purposes, so that experts today believe the number of untested rape kits has reached at least 400,000. As websites like EndtheBacklog.org make clear, the consequences of our legal system’s dereliction are devastating. When rape kits are actually utilized, prosecution of cases is often prompt and effective, as the kits avail forensic scientists of the advantages of modern DNA technology by providing “detailed instructions for the examiner, forms for documenting the procedure and evidence gathered, tubes and containers for blood and urine samples, paper bags for collecting clothing and other physical evidence, swabs for biological evidence collection, a large sheet of paper on which the victim undresses to collect hairs and fibers, dental floss and wooden sticks for fingernail scrapings, glass slides, sterile water and saline, [and] envelopes, boxes and labels for each of the various stages of the exam.” Because they so frequently fail to receive follow up, however, “the crime of rape has a 24% arrest rate” while “a rapist has a 74% chance of getting away with the crime.”

It doesn’t take any courage to denounce rape as heinous. In these politically correct times, denunciations of sexual objectification and expressions of sympathy for assault victims have become cliche. Yet while it is easy to take for granted that most people are on the right side of a moral question that is so clearly black-and-white, societies are judged not by the platitudes they spout, but by the policies they pursue. Given that the science exists to help us better determine the credibility of rape claims and effectively prosecute offenders, there is no reason for us to continue experiencing problems in these areas. If we truly grasped rape for the abhorrent epidemic that it is, we would have already fully availed ourselves of these resources in technology and knowledge. Our failure to do so is one of the great shameful facts of this era.

3 Ways PRISM and Edward Snowden Have Exposed Obama As a Hypocrite

Published: mic (June 23, 2013)

As Edward Snowden continues his flight from the grasping arms of the federal government, President Obama finds himself in the most unenviable position that can face an ostensibly idealistic politician.

He looks like a hypocrite.

When I made this observation in a panel discussion last week on HuffPost Live, moderator Josh Zepps correctly pointed out that I was in danger of begging the question. “You’re presupposing that his position [on PRISM] is inherently hypocritical,” he explained. “It may be that he’s had a legitimate change of heart and that the boundary of where he thinks individual liberties should lie in a world where terrorists can get their hands on nukes has actually shifted more towards the security state model.”

As Zepps explained, he was “all ears” to hear that case if Obama is willing to make it. While I fully agreed with that statement, I added that any presupposition about Obama’s earlier position made by myself and the president’s other progressive critics was entirely due to the president’s own actions. As I put it at the time:

“If Obama made an alteration in his position at some point during his presidency, he should have articulated that at the time and made it clear to the American people that this was how he stood. So the perception of hypocrisy that exists, even if one’s going to argue that it’s rooted in a sincere shift in opinion on his part, is still his fault.”

There is a lesson here for future political leaders, one that can be neatly divided into three parts:

1. Remember what you represent:

When Americans elect a leader, they are voting not merely for a resume and set of pre-stated political positions, but for a symbol. Although there were many symbolic themes interwoven into Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, one of the most prominent was its opposition to the excesses of the post-9/11 national security state, from Guantanamo Bay and the PATRIOT Act to the Iraq War and the growth of the military-industrial complex. While Obama has taken meaningful steps toward addressing some of these problems (and deserves more credit than he receives for this), his support of a program like PRISM betrayed the deeper principles that underlied progressive opposition to those specific issues.

2. Remember who you represent:

While it is entirely conceivable that Obama genuinely believed PRISM was necessary, there is no excuse for him failing to inform the American people at the time. The most commonly accepted excuse — i.e., that doing so would have jeopardized national security — is fatally undermined by the extent to which this type of reasoning has been abused over the years, most infamously in the run-ups to our bloody and costly wars in Vietnam and Iraq. More importantly, if a program that curtails our civil liberties can indeed be justified by national security considerations, there is no reason to assume that Americans can’t be provided with just enough information to be aware of whether or not they want to support it without learning so much as to compromise its potential effectiveness. Claiming that decisions of this magnitude should be made without popular consent, or even knowledge, is an insult to the very notion of democratic governance.

3. Remember that today’s politics is tomorrow’s history. This means that you, like everyone else, must be constantly mindful of the role you’re playing:

The Roman Stoic philospher Seneca summed this up best when he proclaimed that “Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.” I would add to this that it is not simply the role in which one is cast, but the quality of one’s performance upon being cast in that role, that determines the nature of the contribution one makes to the larger human story. In Obama’s case, he asked to be cast in a wide range of very special roles: Inspiring symbol, first African-American president, first genuine progressive president in a generation, healer of the wounds inflicted by the Bush era … and, as I explained in an earlier editorial, champion of civil liberties. While Obama clearly appreciates that it is an honor to have had these various parts assigned to him, he has failed to grasp the far more important truth, which is that he must continue to earn that honor every day. That doesn’t mean that he can’t reshape the parameters of one of his roles if he feels that circumstances compel him to do so, but it does mean that he must account for this when he does so. In the case of PRISM, it is entirely possible that the American people would have rejected his attempt to reconcile his earlier support for civil liberties with the alleged necessity of this program; indeed, many would have even insisted (as they’re doing anyway now) that he had reneged on his earlier promises. That said, no one could have claimed that he hadn’t at least been mindful of the role he had been assigned to play, regardless of how they felt about his success in actually playing it. His actions with regard to PRISM are hypocritical not because he failed to reconcile his avowed values with a policy that contradicted them, but because he never even tried.

Until more developments occur in this story, there is not much more to really say about all this. The man who became president as the foe of institutional evils now appears for all the world to be just another Big Brother, breathing down the neck of a whistleblower who exposed him to the world. With George W. Bush, at least, the world knew what it was getting all along. Barack Obama, on the other hand, claimed to be something different. The liberals who provided the lifeblood of his successful presidential campaigns will not be quick to forget this.

The Sad Reason Edward Snowden is Our Generation’s Biggest Symbol

Published: mic (June 19, 2013)

Is Edward Snowden a hero?

There is an anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, that best answers that question. It comes from the early years of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, back when the newly-elected president was meeting with labor leaders to address their concerns about the plight of the working class. After pleading their case and sensing that their one-man audience was sympathetic, they asked whether he would take the initiative to fight for their rights. His response:

“I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.”

Flash forward 80 years. In the aftermath of the revelation that the NSA has been using a clandestine electronic surveillance program known as PRISM to spy on ordinary Americans, the outrage has been palpable. It is hard to visit a news website or political message board without seeing progressives and libertarians venting at a federal government that, once again, has disregarded their most basic constitutional rights. Few can argue that those who oppose our government’s activities have not been vocal in their protests.

At the same time, while we still know how to complain, we seem to have forgotten how to act.

Bear in mind that the grounds for bold and effective action have rarely been stronger. Regardless of how one feels about the threat of Islamofascist terrorism, the various programs set up over the past dozen years to combat it — from the tenets of the PATRIOT Act to PRISM — are a blatant violation of the rights ostensibly guaranteed to every American. As the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution clearly dictates (and in light of the circumstances I think I am justified in quoting it in full), “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

If we are to protect our constitutional rights, however, it is important that we do more than give public vent to our discontent. Idealistic rhetoric and blood-stirring denunciations may be good for the soul, but unless they are wedded to realistic programs for change, history has shown that they rarely have a meaningful impact on government policies. That is why it’s high time we call upon our generation to do two things:

1. Millennials must make our case to our elders.

As a recent Pew Research Center/USA Today poll discovered, 54% of adults believe Snowden should be charged with treason. Although they were split down the middle as to whether the NSA had a right to collect the telephone and internet data of ordinary citizens (48% approving compared to 47% disapproving) and whether the leaks were in the public’s interest (49% approving compared to 44% disapproving), the very fact such a schism exists shows that they are at odds with today’s young people, 60% of whom believe Snowden’s leaks served the public interest. Until our generation inherits the reins of political power in the next decade or two (assuming we haven’t abandoned our ideals by then), it is important that we actively work to impart our beliefs to our elders. The mantra should be to “trickle up” – i.e., to communicate as conspicuously and persuasively as possible our dissatisfaction with the status quo. When our grandparents did this, they pressured the government to stop appeasing big business and their laissez-faire enablers and instead use its power to fight for the working class; when our parents did this, they pressured the state to end the Vietnam War and enact legislative protections for African Americans suffering in the segregated South. If our antecedents could effectively act in an era without the internet or cell phones, we have no excuse for failing to do so in our own comparatively easier times.

2. We must organize around the principle of upholding the Fourth Amendment.

While conservatives tend to detest the ACLU and liberals generally harbor comparable sentiments toward the NRA, both organizations are noteworthy for their skill in advocating for the constitutional amendments its members feel need to be championed. Indeed, even when the cases made by these groups are somewhat spurious (for example, as I explained in an earlier editorial, the Second Amendment is not as cut-and-dried as many particularly staunch pro-gun advocates like to claim), few can deny that they are effective in implementing many of their central policy goals. Given the millennial aversion to all things “establishment,” it perhaps makes sense that we are reluctant to engage in the grubby wheeling and dealing that comes with organized lobbying. Nevertheless, if we want to achieve our goals, we can’t just talk heart; we have to act smart. To use the NRA again as a case in point, we should pay attention to how effective their grassroots politicking, stemwinding, and fundraising (and, admittedly, less savory palm greasing) was at opposing Obama’s gun control legislation earlier this year, even measures like requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales which were supported by 91% of the American people. If we want to make a difference, we have to emulate what works.

This brings me back to my opening question: Is Edward Snowden a hero?

Yes, but only because our generation (myself included) has been so conspicuously lacking in heroism.

Even though we didn’t know about the PRISM program specifically, we have long been aware of the national security overreaches that have traced at least as far back as 9/11, if not indeed further. Had we talked to others on these matters instead of simply buzzing amongst ourselves, and had we advocated through a lobbying group as effective in protecting the Fourth Amendment as the ACLU and NRA are at protecting the First and Second, it is entirely possible that we wouldn’t have needed a Snowden to inform us of a program like PRISM. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the apathy-induced cancer in our civic psyche that allowed PRISM to occur in the first place may never have metastasized in the first place.

Considering that progressives and libertarians have every reason to unite around this issue, and since I opened this piece with a quote from our greatest Democratic liberal president, I can think of no better way of closing it than with an observation from our greatest Democratic libertarian president (as a side note for history buffs, I highly recommend this cute story on Cleveland’s advice to a five-year-old FDR):

“A government for the people must depend for its success on the intelligence, the morality, the justice, and the interest of the people themselves.”

Prop 200 Ruling: Voter Suppression Is Just 21st Century Racism

Published: mic (June 17, 2013)

First the good news: Champions of civil liberties should celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday overturning an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship to vote.

By empowering county registrars to “reject any application for registration that is not accompanied by satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship,” the “proof of citizenship” provision of Proposition 200 resulted in a disproportionately high number of voter registration rejections for Latino, other minority, and poor applicants, thereby discriminating against (to say nothing of discouraging) potential low income and/or non-white voters. Even worse, the purported goal of the statute — to curtail voting by illegal immigrants — was belied by the fact that “Arizona failed to identify a single instance in which an undocumented immigrant registered or voted in the state.”

Finally, for those who were unmoved by the disturbing spectacle of a state using a non-issue as an excuse to practice racial and socioeconomic disenfranchisement, there was the simple reality of the measure’s unconstitutionality. As Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out when writing for the court’s 7-2 majority, Congress is clearly vested with the power to establish the “times, places and manner of holding elections.” Because federal registration forms (and consequently their state equivalents) only require prospective voters to state by oath that they are American citizens, under penalty of perjury, Arizona went beyond the proper scope of its powers by requiring naturalization documents.

At the same time, it is important to remember that Proposition 200 was only a single battle in a larger war.

As demographic trends are making clear, non-white voters are rapidly increasing both in sheer numerical size and in their overall share of the American electorate. While this may not have posed a problem for the pre-1964 GOP, the nomination of Barry Goldwater that year, the so-called “Southern Strategy” used by Richard Nixon in the next two elections, and the racial politics employed by Ronald Reagan have all resulted in an intense aversion among minorities toward the Republican brand. Although the seemingly logical solution would be to find meaningful ways of reaching out to non-white voters, much of the conservative base remains wedded to coded racist policies, from opposition to welfare (which, despite popular misconception, has been proved to neither disproportionately benefits minorities nor exist primarily as a crutch for those who could work but simply choose not to) to prejudice-based desires to restrict Latino immigration (as embodied by the claim of the co-author of an influential Heritage Foundation study that Hispanic immigrants are less intelligent than white Americans). Indeed, even as I write this, a proposed bipartisan immigration reform measure is being stymied in Congress by severe right-wing backlash.

With racial progressivism thus ruled out, Republicans are left with only two options.

The first is to nominate as many non-white political candidates as possible for high profile offices, in the hope that ethnic identification will siphon off minority voters (whether this would work remains to be definitively determined).

Barring that, or perhaps even alongside it, is the plan to simply prevent non-whites from voting.

That is why 19 states have passed laws and executive actions intended to hinder non-white voting since 2011 (most of which, like the Proposition 200 clause, are based on entirely groundless claims of voter fraud). It is why the Supreme Court is scheduled to issue a decision on whether to overturn key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which laid the foundations for the voting protections offered to minorities today. It explains why the Supreme Court conservatives who sided against Arizona encouraged the state to find other means of accomplishing its goal, such as asking the federal government to include state-specific instructions on its form and taking it to court if it refuses. Finally, it explains why a major backlash from the right-wing against the Supreme Court’s recent decision is inevitable, and how even though none of the critics will dare acknowledge that they are motivated by a desire to suppress non-white voting, they will nevertheless continue to find a plethora of bugaboos to prop up and find creative new methods of fighting them that just so happen to hinder minority voting.

While it is tempting to herald Monday’s victory as a blow against legalized racism, as a matter of fact it is little more than a thumb plugged into just one of the cracks in the dike of electoral oppression. It may be too early to say who will ultimately win this war for America’s soul, but there can be little doubt that we have only heard the opening salvos.

Why Philanthropic Ozwald Boateng is the Angelina Jolie Of Fashion Designers

Published: mic (June 16, 2013)
co-author Tillie Adelson

There is a phenomenon about celebrities that we have decided to dub the “Bono effect” or more currently the “Angelina Jolie effect.” In summary, it refers to the tendency of the rich and famous to engage in conspicuous charitable and/or philanthropic endeavors for reasons that smack more of self-aggrandizement than genuine nobility of spirit. While few would be inclined to fault those who are motivated by a sincere desire to give back to a world that has elevated them to success (often as much through sheer good luck as through the tried-and-true verities of hard work and talent), there is still the unshakable sense that some celebrities are, for lack of a better way of putting it, showing off. It’s why the television show South Park was able to mine such comedy gold off of Bono’s endeavors … and why, on the other end of the spectrum, projects that deserve more time and attention fail to receive it.

This brings us to Ozwald Boateng. Imagine a modest home: in North London where the mother is a skilled seamstress, perhaps with patterns and swatches of fabric lying around the room. A father whose affinity for smart dressing is an impressionable characteristic to his young son; that son receives the gift of a bespoke suit (a suit that is made by one person) at the age of five thus piquing his interest in the skill of tailoring. That son nourishes that interest and eventually grows up to be a fashion designer, on the famous Savile Row (where the likes of Alexander McQueen earned his beginnings). Said designer comes into his own with bold suiting for men and creates a fashion house of his own.

In short, if you have an affinity for men’s tailored suits, you’ve probably heard of Boateng by now. Many people forget what an art form a tailored suit is: it’s a skill that requires diligence, technique, and talent. A bespoke suite is a true fashion statement. Men’s fashion is often overlooked because admittedly there are not as many options for men, but if you’re creative, you are able to work with what you have and push those limits. For example, Boateng is known for his bold colors, where he has taken the traditional idea of a men’s tailored suit and, while keeping that intact, made its elements visually stimulating, exciting, and most importantly: contemporary.

Boateng staked his claim in the fashion world several years ago, opening his flagship store in 2007 on Savile Row, considered by fashionistas (Moi!) and industry professionals alike to be the Buckingham Palace of tailoring and the most prestigious place to learn the skill. In 1994 he was the first tailor to debut his collection at Paris Fashion week. Boateng’s talent lies in his skills for provocative color and ideas. He pairs classical pieces and coloring with bold embroidery and pops of bright yellow and green. It would not be his fashion show without a bright color to catch the audience’s eye. The sharpness of the suit paired with the attention grabbing color evokes a wide range of emotions.

With his expansive fashion career in full bloom, he is now dovetailing off said success to influence the politics in his ancestral country, and influence he may: although a native of England, Boateng was born to Ghanaian parents, and in the past he has discussed the ties he feels to his heritage. Unfortunately, the region to which Boateng can trace his genealogy is the same one, which “The Economist” described back in 2000 as “the hopeless continent.” Its world image is one of rampant bleak poverty, violent social instability, and brutal political repression. Yet to a large extent, this reputation is unfair. As The Economist itself acknowledged eleven years later, labor productivity and international trade in Africa have increased since the start of the century, while inflation, foreign debt, and budget deficits have dropped. As a report by consulting firm McKinsey declared, “The rate of return on foreign investment is higher in Africa than in any other developing region. Global executives and investors must pay heed.”

This is where Boateng has stepped in with his new organization, the Made In Africa Foundation. As the website points out, its goals are to “provide finance for feasibility studies for African businesses and projects involved in the development of major infrastructure projects across Africa, introduce a funding mechanism to assist successful businesses in Africa to transform their existing investments and prospects, and give Africa independence through development and infrastructure.”

What makes this mission statement noteworthy is that it reflects more than public preening from the individual some have referred to as “the coolest man on earth.” It also shows a clear-eyed understanding of the problems facing Africa, the latent economic and human potential of the continent, and meaningful ways in which philanthropists and government agencies which wish to help the region can effectively do so. Yet even though his charity effort has not received a great deal of attention, he is still making himself heard for matters near and dear to him.

Although Boateng may not be receiving proper accolades for his work in Africa and his name is not yet synonymous with that of Bono or Angelina Jolie, he is still at the top of his game in one of the most competitive industries in the world. Fashion has been known to be frivolous, but it seems more and more designers are able to influence the world in more ways that one. Ozwald Boateng is just one example of this kind of ideal but he’s a great one and hopefully more designers will follow suit.

Pun intended.

Dear Obama: Stop Acting Like Dick Cheney — Sincerely, Liberals Everywhere

Published: mic (June 18, 2013), Live Interview with Huffington Post (June 19, 2013)

Our commander-in-chief had a lot to say during Monday night’s interview with Charlie Rose, but CNN aptly summed it up in four words:

“I’m no Dick Cheney.”

If I may, Mr. President, I’d like to respond to that claim with a question I bet all of your supporters (many of them now erstwhile supporters) are asking:

“Yes, but why the hell aren’t you Barack Obama?”

I’m not sure if he’d like to be reminded of this, but once upon a time, he was an inspiring figure. His supporters respected him for his willingness to articulate politically risky truths with a boldness usually reserved for rabid ideologues … and his detractors feared him for the very same reason. Although some of his critics today still insist that he’s a closet radical (a statement born far more out of conservative and/or libertarian hyperpartisanship than a rational assessment of his record), the reality is that the Obama who won 69.5 million votes in 2008 bore only the faintest resemblance to the one whining to the pundits yesterday.

Exhibit A: Barack Obama’s statement in 2005 about the PATRIOT Act:

“Giving law enforcement the tools they need to investigate suspicious activity is one thing — and it’s the right thing — but doing it without any real oversight seriously jeopardizes the rights of all Americans and the ideals America stands for.”

What a contrast that makes between the man who bravely spoke out against the PATRIOT Act’s J. Edgar Hooveresque activities and the one who now defends PRISM, a program that by all accounts makes the chicanery of the PATRIOT Act look like Harriet the Spy hijinks.

For Exhibit B, let’s look at these excerpts from a speech in 2006 on campaign finance and lobbyist reform:

“Americans may have grown accustomed to big money and special interests exerting too much influence in Washington, but even they have been shocked by what appears to be a systematic takeover of our democracy by high-priced lobbyists …

“The recent scandals have shaken the very foundation of the American people’s faith in a government that will look out for their interests and uphold their values.

“Because they don’t just lead to morally offensive conduct on the part of politicians. They lead to morally offensive legislation that hurts hardworking Americans.”

Most damning of all, however, is Exhibit C. While many liberals and independents had been impressed with Obama since his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, it was the message of his 2008 presidential campaign that truly brought them into his corner. Here is a passage from the speech in which he announced that he would be making a bid for the White House, delivered in front of the same Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln once orated his legendary “House Divided” speech:

“For the last six years we’ve been told that our mounting debts don’t matter, we’ve been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we’ve been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we’ve been told that our crises are somebody else’s fault. We’re distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.

“And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what’s filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It’s time to turn the page.”

What, pray tell, has Obama done to effectively address these concerns? It isn’t enough to simply denounce his failures as being the result of a leftist ideology (a disingenuous approach at best, given how Obama has surrounded himself with Clintonian DLCers) or a sell-out (which is to state, if not the obvious, at least the unoriginal). What matters isn’t simply that Obama hasn’t succeeded so far; it is that he has shown no real motive to learn from his past mistakes.

What we need is a president who will stand up to the institutions over which he currently presides instead of make excuses for them. We need a president who will oppose drone strikes because they’re morally wrong, who will denounce the plutocrats and lobbyists who shape the economic agenda churned out by conservative and libertarian think tanks and legislative caucuses, who will stand up to the interest groups in his own party when they recklessly inflate our already staggering debt, who will call out the stupidity of global warming deniers and demand that we confront this ecological crisis before it’s too late.

We need a president who will remember his duty to protect and defend the Fourth Amendment, which will be the subject of my next editorial (in my opinion one of the most important I’ve ever written).

Instead we have this man who seems to believe that the best defense is a good excuse. Well, I’m sorry, Mr. President, but that isn’t going to cut it. If you want your critics to stop comparing you to Dick Cheney, here is a bold suggestion:

Stop acting like Dick Cheney.